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Oakland A’s prospect watch: James Harris back in action for High-A Stockton

James Harris
Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

Outfielder James Harris spent the first six weeks of the season on the disabled list, but he returned to action last week for High-A Stockton. There’s good news and bad news in that statement — good that he’s back, but unfortunate that he’s still stuck at the same level as last year with the Ports.

Harris was drafted by the Rays back in 2011, in the first round out of Oakland Tech high school, and by 2015 he’d found his way to the organization of his hometown A’s. He quietly hit well in Single-A Beloit, but it was his performance in Stockton last year (120 wRC+) that put him firmly on the edge of our prospect radar. He even earned a late promotion to Double-A last summer, and nearly cracked our Community Prospect List during the winter.

Still only age 23, Harris was a name to watch entering 2017 but saw his progress hit the pause button. I don’t know exactly why he missed the beginning of the year — back in April, Athletics Farm reported that he “passed out a couple times during spring training and is undergoing some tests,” but I don’t know if that was related to his absence. Meanwhile, Double-A Midland’s four outfielders are all playing well, leaving no room for Harris to move up just yet even if he is ready to make that jump.

Harris, 2017: 10-for-38, 103 wRC+, 1 HR, 5 BB, 8 Ks

(Those numbers represent a decent enough start to his season, and he added a memorable moment on Thursday. The Ports went to extra innings against Lancaster, and both teams scored three runs in the 10th. Then, in the 11th, Stockton loaded the bases and Harris drew a walk-off walk to win it.)

Of course, having too many worthwhile prospects is a good problem to have, especially in the outfield where the A’s are weak at the highest levels, and if Harris kicks things back into gear then I have no doubt he’ll find his way up to Midland promptly. He’s only played nine games, so you could think of this like a rehab stint after missing so much time. But the fact remains that one of the RockHounds’ outfielders will have to move up in order for Harris to get his own promotion when he’s ready.

Thus the good news/bad news. It’s great to see Harris back on the field, but for now he’s just re-taking a test he’s already passed. It’ll be even better to see him finally get his swings in the upper minors.

Murphy also returns

Stockton got another player back from the DL recently: catcher Sean Murphy, last year’s 3rd-round pick and No. 25 on our CPL. He wasted no time getting hot, as he’s recorded a hit in each of his 10 games since returning, with a homer and a 1.017 OPS.

Murphy, since return: 16-for-41, 181 wRC+, 1 HR, 3 BB, 7 Ks

He has also thrown out 4-of-14 base stealers, using his 70-grade throwing arm.

Rest of the lineup

A look through the rest of Stockton’s intriguing group of hitters.

  • OF Tyler Ramirez doesn’t stop hitting. He’s started 52 games and reached base in 47 of them, including a current eight-game hitting streak (1.036 OPS). His 138 wRC+ leads the team. He does carry a .421 BABIP, though, so let’s not get too ahead of ourselves just yet.
  • Stockton’s other best hitters have been OF Skye Bolt and IF Mikey White, a pair of high picks from the 2015 draft. They lead the club in isolated slugging and both hold double-digit walk rates. White hit two homers on Thursday, including one that tied the game in the 10th to set up Harris’ aforementioned walk-off.
  • OF Brett Siddall (13th round, 2015) has shown signs of life after a slow start. After 22 games he sported a 59 wRC+, but over the last 14 he’s posted a 144 wRC+ and swatted four homers. That still puts him slightly below-average overall (93 wRC+), and it’s not enough to get him on my radar just yet, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
  • On the downside, 1B Chris Iriart is struggling. His 38.1% strikeout rate derives from a 25.8% swinging strike rate — one of every four swings is a whiff. That’s going to be a dealbreaker until he shows significant improvement in terms of making contact.
Name Pos Avg/OBP/SLG HR BB% K% wRC+
Tyler Ramirez OF .313/.409/.431 5 13.5% 25.7% 138
Sean Murphy C .287/.356/.479 4 8.7% 18.3% 130
Skye Bolt OF .248/.360/.460 5 13.9% 22.4% 126
Mikey White IF .247/.338/.460 7 10.6% 24.6% 120
Eli White SS .266/.365/.365 0 11.2% 22.9% 108
Seth Brown OF .251/.322/.430 10 9.6% 25.2% 105
James Harris OF .263/.349/.395 1 11.6% 18.6% 103
Chris Iriart 1B .217/.289/.394 8 7.2% 38.1% 87
Josh Vidales 2B .255/.327/.319 1 9.5% 20.9% 83

Ramirez and Brown lead with 230 plate appearances. Murphy and (especially) Harris have less playing time than the rest due to DL stints.

Next man up?

This lineup is still packed with fun names, even if some of them are fringe. As for the next men up, my picks would be Harris and Mikey White. Both are repeating High-A after full 2016 seasons in Stockton, with Harris coming off his successful campaign and White hitting much better this time around.

It’s time for the A’s to clear some of their veteran chaff out of Triple-A (Parmelee, LaMarre, etc.), which in turn could allow them to promote one of Midland’s current outfielders (Marincov, Vertigan?), which would clear space for Harris to move up. (Or, if Harris needs more rehab time, then Seth Brown is also repeating High-A and could be worth a look.) As for White, the RockHounds just put both of their starting middle infielders on the DL, so there’s certainly space.

Other than those two players (three with Brown), the rest of the top hitters are only two months into their High-A careers and I’m happy to let them plug away a bit longer before bumping anyone up. In fact, removing Harris and White/Brown from the picture would help clear more playing time for some of the other interesting hitters stuck in part-time roles (Vidales, Siddall, etc.). Let’s get this line moving.

Pitching staff

The Ports have seen some of their best arms promoted to Double-A lately, including starters Brett Graves and Evan Manarino. There haven’t been any exciting replacements, though, with some of those innings being filled by MLB guys on rehab stints. (Jesse Hahn started Thursday, and Sean Doolittle is listed on the roster now as well.)

Two new names:

  • LHP Cody Stull had a great 2016 in Stockton’s bullpen, but he got blown up in Double-A this year. He’s back with the Ports for now.
  • RHP Armando Ruiz (29th round, 2015) pitched reasonably well for Single-A Beloit last year (3.46 ERA, 3.22 FIP) and gets his first crack at High-A.
  • In addition, RHP Joey Wagman, an East Bay product who pitched for Team Israel in this year’s WBC, returned from the DL.

Here’s the remaining slate of top pitchers:

A.J. Puk 3.43 44⅔ 69 20 1 2.53
Logan Shore 3.12 34⅔ 32 6 2 3.20
Dustin Hurlbutt 4.25 48⅔ 50 16 5 4.11
Casey Meisner 5.03 48⅓ 53 13 7 4.40

Meisner and Puk are second and third among Cal League starters in swinging strike rate.

No one in the bullpen is really lighting it up, though lefty Jared Lyons has probably been the best of the group (3.91 ERA, 3.09 FIP). RHP Nolan Blackwood and LHP Will Gilbert have been among the league’s best at inducing grounders, but both have also handed out too many walks. Overall this staff is probably ready for some new blood — might I suggest starters Brendan Butler and/or Dalton Sawyer, both pitching great for Single-A Beloit?

Friday’s games

Full slate.

Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Chris Smith vs. Iowa
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Brett Graves vs. Northwest Arkansas
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Boomer Biegalski vs. Lancaster
Single-A Beloit: LIVE, Zack Erwin vs. Wisconsin

Reliever Carlos Navas started for Midland, but Graves came in after a few innings so I’m calling him the starter. And Zack Erwin (from the Brett Lawrie trade) is back on the mound for Beloit after an extended injury absence!

Link to box scores