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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Sleepers emerging in Single-A Beloit

Brendan Butler, comin’ atcha.
Justin Nuoffer | Nuoffer Photography

We’re a month into the 2017 season, and there’s still one team we haven’t looked at yet in this Prospect Watch series: The Single-A Beloit Snappers.

At this low level of the minors, we’re not usually looking at the organization’s top prospects. Rather, this squad is sort of a “best of the rest.” Half the roster consists of 2016 draftees who didn’t make the cut for High-A Stockton, and there are also several players who went pro as teenagers (either int’l signings, or high school draftees) and are being brought along slowly while they physically develop.

The latter demographic is your best chance of finding an already high-profile name in Single-A, and indeed the only member of our Community Prospect List Top 30 currently in Beloit is former high school pick Dakota Chalmers (now 20 years old). But the under-the-radar nature of this low level of the minors leads to one of the most fun parts of prospect watching — identifying potential sleepers, and then dreaming on them becoming unexpected stars.

Roster breakdown

Let’s set the scene by establishing the cast of characters. Draft picks are listed in order of the round in which they were selected.

Old Draft 2016 Draft Int'l sign
15. Edwin Diaz, 3B

6. Trace Loehr, IF

3. Dakota Chalmers, RHP
24. Heath Bowers, RHP
27. Xavier Altamirano, RHP
30. Brendan Butler, RHP
32. Michael Murray, RHP
33. Mike Martin, OF
5. JaVon Shelby, CF
6. Brandon Bailey, RHP
9. Dalton Sawyer, LHP
9a. Jason Goldstein, C
10. Mitchell Jordan, RHP
12. Luke Persico, OF
13. Nate Mondou, 2B
15. Ty Damron, LHP
21. Kyle Nowlin, 1B
27. Cole Gruber, OF
29. Matt Milburn, RHP
30. Nick Highberger, RHP
32. Collin Theroux, C
Yordys Alejo, RHP
Jesus Zambrano, RHP
Miguel Mercedes, 1B
Eric Marinez, IF
Luis Barrera, OF
  • Diaz, Loehr, and Chalmers were all high school draft picks. They are actually three of the youngest players on the team.
  • Goldstein was the Mariners’ 9th-round pick, who was subsequently acquired by Oakland for Dillon Overton.
  • Of the international free agents, the youngest is Zambrano, who turns 21 in September. In fact, Zambrano is the youngest player on the roster, beating out Chalmers by about six weeks.
  • RHP Boomer Biegalski (2015, 14th), LHP Andrew Tomasovich (2015, 21st), and LHP Will Gilbert (2016, 8th) all began the year in Beloit but have been promoted to High-A to fill spots vacated by injuries.
  • Barrera is on Beloit’s disabled list. So is LHP Zack Erwin, not listed above because he hasn’t played yet.

Top pitchers

Like Oakland’s other minor league affiliates, the Snappers are using a tandem starter system. That means they have eight starters, each tossing around four innings per appearance. So far, there are three who stand out above the rest (6 starts each):

Brendan Butler: 1.88 ERA, 24 ip, 31 Ks, 5 BB, 0 HR, 2.02 FIP
Dalton Sawyer: 1.44 ERA, 25 ip, 28 Ks, 6 BB, 0 HR, 2.08 FIP
Ty Damron: 2.91 ERA, 21⅔ ip, 24 Ks, 5 BB, 0 HR, 2.09 FIP

(Butler’s start on Friday, not included above: 4 ip, 2 ER, 3 Ks, 0 BB)

Of course, High-A Stockton’s rotation is already packed with top performers as well, so who knows how long it’ll be before space opens above for any more promotions. In particular it’s interesting to see Butler off to such a strong start, given his low draft position; he was good for Beloit last year, but not this good.

Meanwhile, Sawyer leads the team in two categories, via FanGraphs: ground ball rate (56.6%) and swinging strike rate (15.1%). That’s a combo that puts him squarely on my radar. (Butler is next-highest at 14.1% swinging strikes, while Damron is oddly low at 9.5% despite his high K-rate.)

Dalton Sawyer
Justin Nuoffer

The rotation features some more impressive strikeout rates:

Dakota Chalmers: 4.41 ERA, 16⅓ ip, 27 Ks, 14 BB, 1 HR, 3.91 FIP
Brandon Bailey: 3.43 ERA, 21 ip, 24 Ks, 7 BB, 1 HR, 3.10 FIP
Matt Milburn: 5.91 ERA, 21⅓ ip, 20 Ks, 5 BB, 0 HR, 2.59 FIP

Chalmers is the big name, sitting No. 16 on our CPL. He’s still walking nearly a batter per inning, so there’s clearly work to be done, but at least he’s missing a lot of bats along the way — 14.1% swinging strikes, just ahead of Bailey at 13.3%. Milburn’s only flaw has been a huge hit rate (.433 BABIP), so we’ll see if that lasts as the sample size grows. Michael Murray and Mitchell Jordan also own 3.00 K/BB rates.

In the bullpen, the top performers were Tomasovich and Gilbert, and they’ve already moved up to Stockton. The next-best is probably Nick Highberger. His 6.43 ERA isn’t pretty, but his line of 7 ip, 6 Ks, 0 BB, with a .500 BABIP, suggests patience are in order. (Unfortunately, Highberger got blown up again on Friday and also walked batters this time.)

Top hitters

The lineup got off to a strong start but has slowed down lately. Here are the hitters who entered Friday at or above league-average (stats don’t count Friday)

Name Pos Avg/OBP/SLG HR BB% K% wRC+
Nate Mondou 2B .354/.432/.443 0 11.6% 11.6% 153
Collin Theroux C .182/.308/.500 4 15.4% 38.5% 129
JaVon Shelby CF .229/.309/.422 4 9.6% 35.1% 109
Luke Persico OF .219/.315/.391 2 11.0% 15.1% 105
Edwin Diaz 3B .218/.282/.436 4 8.2% 34.1% 104
Miguel Mercedes 1B .221/.260/.441 5 4.0% 29.0% 98

Which profile do you prefer?

Mondou is hitting up a storm and leads the team in line drive rate, plus he never swings and misses (5.6%), but where will his batting average settle over the long haul? He has the tools to maintain a high average and his BABIP isn’t too far from sustainable at this level of the minors (.394), so he’s definitely one to watch. He entered Friday with a 10-game hitting streak and a 20-game on-base streak, but unfortunately went 0-for-5 and broke both. Meanwhile, Persico similarly avoids whiffs (6.8%) and also adds a bit of pop too. (Persico went 4-for-5 on Friday, not included above.)

Or are you more interested in pure power? Theroux is the leader there, as his four dingers have come in only 52 plate appearances, just over half the playing time the others have gotten. The downside, though, is that all four sluggers also carry enormous strikeout rates — a clear red flag that they’ll need to address as the year goes on. Shelby notably brings his pop at an up-the-middle position, as he converted from 3B to CF this year.

On the subject of Theroux: The San Mateo native was a 32nd-round pick who attended San Joaquin Delta College before moving to Oklahoma State. Local guy alert! This story from the San Mateo Daily Journal refers to him as a “defensive standout,” for what that’s worth.

Collin Theroux
Justin Nuoffer

Early picks

May as well make some early picks and see how they go! I’m buying Sawyer and Bailey in the rotation, with Butler settling in as solid and Chalmers gradually finding some consistency. Milburn and Damron both have some wonky small-sample gremlins to sort through before we can get a better idea of who they are.

In the lineup, I’m sticking with the guys who can make contact for now, which means Mondou and Persico. But let’s keep an eye on those all-or-nothing sluggers and see which ones start finding the all a bit more often than the nothing.

Of course, the real goal in Single-A is simple: Make it up to High-A. Any gaudy numbers posted in Beloit should be looked at mostly as an avenue to moving up to the next level, at which point the stats will be wiped clean and the next test will begin.

Friday’s games

Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Zach Neal vs. Round Rock
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Bracewell/Friedrichs vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m. Biegalski/Hurlbutt vs. San Jose
Single-A Beloit: Lost 7-4, Butler/Zambrano vs. Bowling Green

Matt Chapman and Mark Canha homered for Nashville.

Link to box scores