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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Bruce Maxwell injured, Matt Olson too hot to ignore

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s have a slew of MLB-readyish hitting prospects at Triple-A Nashville, but one of them will be out of the picture for the time being. Catcher Bruce Maxwell has gone on the disabled list with a strained oblique, reports Athletics Farm (via Sounds play-by-play broadcaster Jeff Hem). He isn’t expected back until at least mid-June.

This is a particularly unfortunate injury for Oakland’s youth movement. Other than Chad Pinder, no A’s hitting prospect has gotten more MLB time this year than Maxwell. There are two reasons for that — one is that his Triple-A performance has earned him those promotions, and the other is that his premium defensive position (catcher) has opened up some extra opportunities.

Maxwell, 2017 AAA: .308/.366/.492, 126 wRC+, 1 HR, 8.5% BB, 12.7% Ks (in 71 PAs)

In the meantime, the next catcher on the MLB depth chart is 29-year-old Ryan Lavarnway. He was signed as a minor league free agent and starred for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic in March, and now he’s hitting decently in Triple-A. He’s not part of the youth movement like Maxwell (though he is a former Top 100 prospect), but at least his presence means the A’s still have a perfectly viable backup catcher available in an emergency (i.e., Vogt or Phegley get hurt in the next month).

Lavarnway, 2017 AAA: .263/.352/.442, 111 wRC+, 4 HR, 11.1% BB, 19.4% Ks (in 108 PAs)

Best of luck in your recovery, Bruce!

Hot takes: It’s always a bummer when a player gets hurt, but this case is nothing to freak out about for now. He’s not out for the year or anything, and it didn’t look like he was getting an everyday chance before at least July anyway (barring injury to Vogt/Phegs). The next time the A’s want to call up a spare hitter for a few days, instead of putting Maxwell behind the plate and shifting Vogt to DH, they can leave Vogt where he is and bring up any other prospect they want and just DH that guy.

If the current recovery timetable holds, then Maxwell should be back well before missing any long-term opportunities. But obliques are notoriously difficult to predict, so let’s stay tuned on this one.

Free Matt Olson?

Last week, my Prospect Watch headline was that Matt Olson was heating up. In four games since then, he’s 9-for-19 with 2 homers, 3 doubles, and only 4 Ks. Yup, still hot.

This is the point of the season at which you might expect me to be starting a Free Bruggy movement. Jaycob Brugman, my favorite sleeper prospect, is healthy and hitting well in Triple-A (again), and the A’s are getting desperate at a position he can play (CF). And yet, that will have to wait, because Free Olson has become more urgent.

On April 23, Olson played in an MLB game with the A’s. He returned to Nashville’s lineup on April 28, and here’s what he’s done in 22 games since:

Olson, lately: .318/.396/.693, 177 wRC+, 9 HR, 11.9% BB, 23.8% Ks

That’s nine homers in 101 plate appearances over 22 games, which works out to somewhere in the range of 50-60 dingers over a full season. And he’s not striking out too much to achieve all that power, which has long been a key weakness in his game.

This is not a drill, folks. Olson is 23 years old, and he got a full season of Triple-A and an MLB debut under his belt in 2016. Now he’s clicking, and it’s getting too big to ignore. Remember when Maxwell went absolute ham last summer, and hulked out so hard that the A’s had no choice but to bring him up? Olson is almost that hot right now.

The question is, where do you put him? Oakland is already going out of its way to fit Chad Pinder and Mark Canha into the lineup regularly, as they should be, and I don’t want to interrupt that trend. There are four positions Olson could fill: 1B, RF, LF, DH. Between Alonso, Joyce, Canha, Khrush, Healy, and perhaps Pinder squeezed into the outfield, the landscape is already crowded. You can fit Olson onto the roster anytime you want by sending out the pointless eighth reliever, but can you fit him into the lineup once he’s here?

To me, the answer is obvious: It’s time to start moving on from the stopgap veterans, or at least one of them. Whether that means benching someone or working out an early-summer trade, I really don’t care. This year, and this team in general, can’t be about those guys, and it can’t be about spending two more months trying to milk a C-grade prospect out of a Trevor Plouffe deadline deal in late July. Not if the A’s want to win in the foreseeable future. The top priority has to be on the current group of rookies, on doing whatever it takes to bring up a guy like Olson right now when he’s as hot as he currently is.

Don’t waste another season being polite to a few veterans, A’s. Part of prospect development is getting the guy adjusted to MLB once he’s ready, and this is the time to do it. Free Matt Olson, and do it ASAP, in the next couple weeks. His development dictates it, and that’s the only thing that should matter when you’re rebuilding.

Rest of the lineup

A few notes on the other top hitters.

  • OF Jaycob Brugman is on a 10-game hitting streak, during which he’s 18-for-44 (.409, 5 BB, 10 Ks). I know the whole last section was about Free Olson, but, T-minus one more week of quality play and I’ll be ready for Free Bruggy as well.
  • 2B Joey Wendle is heating up after getting a late start to his season. He opened the year on the DL with a shoulder injury, and Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse reports that he suffered a small setback after his return to the lineup. Now he’s finally healthy, and the bat is coming back.
  • SS Franklin Barreto strikeout watch: He has K’d at least once in each of his last 12 games, but in total they accounted for only 22% of his plate appearances. That’s still higher than I’d like to see him, but at least it’s a continuation of progress, down from being above 30% to start the year.
  • LF Renato Nunez homered 3 straight games from Thu-Sat, and still leads the team in dingers (12). He’s slugging .597 in the month of May, and overall he holds a .295 isolated slugging percentage. And he’s probably the least popular of this group on Athletics Nation, which gives you an idea of how excited you should be about these prospects.
  • 3B Matt Chapman, in 8 games on the team’s recent road trip: 36 plate appearances, 10-for-29, 7 Ks, 7 BB, 4 HR, 2 doubles, 1.300 OPS. The key there isn’t just that he hit well, but also that he struck out in only 19% of his PAs while doing so. He still needs time in Triple-A, but a week like that is the kind of progress you want to see.
  • All seven of these hitters, from Maxwell to Olson to the guys on this list, all have a wRC+ mark of 100 or higher, denoting league average or better (in some cases, much better). This is the next step we’ve been waiting for. August is going to be fun, y’all.
Name Pos Avg/OBP/SLG HR BB% K% wRC+
Matt Olson OF .281/.369/.568 11 12.5% 24.4% 142
Jaycob Brugman* OF .357/.430/.429 1 11.4% 13.9% 133
Bruce Maxwell* C .308/.366/.492 1 8.5% 12.7% 126
Matt Chapman 3B .238/.336/.554 9 12.6% 31.1% 126
Franklin Barreto SS .314/.362/.500 6 5.8% 26.5% 125
Renato Nunez LF .244/.300/.538 12 7.1% 29.4% 112
Joey Wendle 2B .271/.304/.477 4 3.6% 17.9% 100

I’ve listed Renato as a LF because he’s getting legitimate time out there, with a team-leading 12 games at the position. He’s also gotten time at 3B and a couple games at 2B (lol), but with so much superior defensive competition in the infield it’s hard to see him ending up there. Lockard has more info on Nunez in LF.

Gossett finally has big game

Daniel Gossett managed only one quality start in his first eight outings this year. He’s had problems with walks, and that wildness has contributed to poor efficiency and short outings. He finally put together a good game on Monday, though.

Gossett tossed eight scoreless innings against Sacramento, and he didn’t walk a single batter. It was the first time this season he’d gone without either a walk or a run, much less both. His line: 8 ip, 0 runs, 6 Ks, 0 BB, 4 hits.

For all the preseason excitement about Gossett, he had basically no Triple-A experience entering the year. Some patience was in order, and it’s been needed after a slow start. Now we’ve seen our first glimpse of the right-hander working through his struggles.

Name ERA IP K BB HR FIP
Daniel Gossett 3.59 47⅔ 42 19 2 3.72
Jharel Cotton 2.25 12 13 1 2 3.93
Paul Blackburn 3.89 41⅔ 32 13 4 4.33
Daniel Mengden 3.38 13⅓ 15 5 2 4.51

Mengden is now officially back in the Triple-A rotation, rather than on a rehab assignment.

Tuesday’s games

Full slate.

Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Daniel Mengden vs. Omaha
Double-A Midland: 5:10 p.m., Corey Walter vs. Arkansas
High-A Stockton: 6:00 p.m., Angel Duno vs. Visalia
Single-A Beloit: 4:30 p.m., Matt Milburn vs. Wisconsin

Link to box scores