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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Triple-A Nashville Sounds throw a no-hitter

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Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Four pitchers on the Triple-A Nashville Sounds combined for a no-hitter on Wednesday, against the Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals). The list:

  • Chris Smith: 6 ip, 4 Ks, 2 BB
  • Sean Doolittle: 1 ip, 2 Ks, 0 BB
  • Tucker Healy: 1 ip, 0 Ks, 0 BB
  • Simon Castro: 1 ip, 1 K, 1 BB

The starter was the 36-year-old Smith, who spent a couple months with the A’s at the end of 2016 and pitched surprisingly well. Next up was Doolittle, in Nashville on an injury rehab assignment. (Side note: Doo’s rehab is going well.) Then came Healy, who ranks No. 30 on our Community Prospect List. Finally there was Castro, a minor league free agent signing who is striking out 14 batters per nine innings this year.

The no-no was the seventh in Nashville Sounds history, according to the team, and the first since they became an Oakland A’s affiliate. It was also the 147th no-hitter in Pacific Coast League history, dating back to 1903; the seventh nine-inning combined no-hitter in PCL history (with the other 140 being solo efforts); and the third involving four pitchers. One of Nashville’s previous no-hitters was a perfect game by John Wasdin, who has spent time with the A’s as both a player and a minor league coach.

Oakland’s farm system is no stranger to no-nos recently. Late last year, Jharel Cotton came one out shy of a perfect game — a player on the other team pulled some bush-league antics in an (apparently successful) effort to distract him at the end, but that player got his comeuppance when he was DFA’d the next day.

The same day as Cotton’s bid, the Single-A Beloit Snappers were no-hit in the Midwest League. Then, on April 7 this year, in the second game of their season in the California League, the High-A Stockton Ports fell victim to a seven-inning no-hitter (shortened for a doubleheader). And last fall, A’s prospects Dylan Covey and Frankie Montas accounted for all but one frame of their team’s no-no in the Arizona Fall League.

Here’s play-by-play man Jeff Hem with the call on the final out on Wednesday.

The final score was 4-0, with Renato Nunez and Matt McBride contributing home runs for Nashville. Omaha is probably the worst-hitting club in the 16-team league (last or second-to-last in runs per game, hits, homers, and OPS), but don’t be a buzzkill.

Click here to see the box score!

Gossett and Blackburn heating up

The no-hitter is fun, but unfortunately it didn’t involve a lot of actual prospects on the pitching side. Smith and Castro are somewhere between depth and filler, and Doolittle is just slummin’ it while he rehabs. The only prospect of the bunch is Healy, a middle reliever.

So what about the big names? There are two, and suddenly things are going quite well for them.

The first is RHP Daniel Gossett, No. 9 on our CPL. His early-season struggles were punctuated by a high walk total, but he hasn’t issued a single free pass in his last three games, including two scoreless efforts (total: 21 ip, 18 Ks). Take it back through the beginning of May, and in his last seven starts he’s got the following line: 2.14 ERA, 42 ip, 36 Ks, 11 BB, 2 HR. After Gossett’s rapid rise last year it was easy to forget that he was basically new to Triple-A in 2017, and now he finally appears to be settling in.

Then there’s RHP Paul Blackburn, No. 26 on our CPL. He’s been scoreless in three of his last four starts, with the following line: 1.44 ERA, 25 ip, 17 Ks, 5 BB, 2 HR. The Brentwood product (Heritage High School) is already on the A’s 40-man roster.

But wait, there’s more! RHP Corey Walter is in Nashville now, and A’s AGM Billy Owens refers to him as the “pitching version of Jaycob Brugman” based on the way he’s quietly played well for years (via A’s Farm). Walter has made two starts since this most recent promotion, including a seven-inning gem and a shaky six-inning effort.

Their full season stats:

Name ERA IP K BB HR FIP
Corey Walter 4.60 15⅔ 12 3 1 3.57
Daniel Gossett 3.41 60⅔ 54 19 4 3.76
Daniel Mengden 2.21 20⅓ 20 5 2 3.89
Paul Blackburn 3.26 60⅔ 45 16 4 3.96

As for Healy, his line out of the bullpen: 17 games, 1.59 ERA, 22⅓ ip, 15 Ks, 10 BB, 1 HR, 4.67 FIP. The story is the same so far — his strikeouts have plummeted from last year, but so has his ERA. Something will eventually give; either his ERA will go up, or his K/BB will improve, but this contrast won’t continue forever. Also in the bullpen, RHP Jake Sanchez has thrown five innings (no runs, 5 Ks, 1 BB).

Barreto: Good news, bad news

Oakland’s top prospect, SS Franklin Barreto, got off to a monster start this year. By the end of April he was hitting .341, with a .949 OPS. But he was also striking out a third of the time and sporting a BABIP that could be described as “half,” as in, “half of all contact became hits” (.481).

I preached skeptical patience at the time. His success was ludicrously unsustainable in its then-current form, and my advice was for us to temper our excitement until he could get that K-rate down and put the bat on the ball more often. Only then would his high batting average be meaningful, in terms of signaling his readiness for a move to MLB.

This is what I was talking about.

Barreto, since May 1: .236/.262/.386, 64 wRC+, 3 HR, 2.8% BB, 29.0% Ks, .316 BABIP

Enhance.

Barreto, since May 19: .186/.197/.329, 27 wRC+, 1 HR, 0.0% BB, 39.4% Ks, .293 BABIP

Enhance.

Barreto, since May 28: .094/.094/.188, -43 wRC+, 1 HR, 0.0% BB, 53.1% Ks, .143 BABIP

Enhance.

Barreto, last 3 games: 0-for-13, 9 Ks

This is what it looks like when strikeouts catch up with a batter who relies on his hit tool for success.

Now that my warnings have been borne out, though, I can stop being a party pooper and return to my normal niche of optimistic encouragement. This new version of Barreto, the one who’s scuffling a bit in his first season in Triple-A at age 21, is more in line with human expectations. A bit of up and down, some growing pains, these are normal, and frankly he’s taken time to adjust to every level before eventually torching them. He’s still a Top 50 prospect and we still expect big things from him. Just maybe in August, or next year.

In that vein, the Sounds are giving Barreto a bit of a breather this week. He’s sitting for three games, purely for a break and not because of any injury, reports Hem. On the bright side, though, despite his recent slump he’s still leading the PCL All-Star voting for shortstop:

The only other Sounds player factoring into that balloting is Matt Chapman, sitting in fourth place at 3B.

So many dingers

There are 16 teams in the PCL. Out of all of those hitters, three of the top eight home run sluggers play for Nashville:

  • DH Renato Nunez is one off the league lead with 16 long balls, including four in his last eight games. He’s hitting for as much power as he ever has in his career, which is saying a lot for a slugger in Triple-A, and he’s also ticked his average and walk rate back up to encouraging levels in his second attempt at Triple-A at age 23. Rumors of his failure as a prospect last winter may have been exaggerated, though he still needs to settle on a defensive home.
  • 3B Matt Chapman is tied for fifth place with 14 jacks. So far in June, he has three in seven games ... but also strikeouts in over half his plate appearances. Like with Barreto, that says to me that we should still be excited but also maintain patience. Besides, there are plenty of other prospects to look at in the meantime who are more imminently MLB-ready. (Like the next guy.)
  • 1B/OF Matt Olson got a couple days in Oakland, and even got a plate appearance (result: RBI walk, because of course). He’s tied with Chapman at 14 HR. At this point he’s the one hitting prospect who is legitimately blocked, behind a pair of lefties who play his two positions — the MVP-level Yonder Alonso and the resurgent Matt Joyce. My ideal stance is “find room for him ASAP,” but I concede that I’m not sure how or where at the moment.

In other lineup news, OF Jaycob Brugman is being called up to the A’s. Woohoo!

Name Pos Avg/OBP/SLG HR BB% K% wRC+
Matt Olson OF .280/.371/.566 14 12.9% 25.7% 142
Matt Chapman 3B .253/.331/.582 14 10.5% 34.3% 129
Renato Nunez ?? .270/.330/.577 16 7.3% 28.9% 128
Bruce Maxwell* C .308/.366/.492 1 8.5% 12.7% 125
Franklin Barreto SS .278/.318/.453 7 4.6% 30.4% 98
Joey Wendle 2B .273/.306/.461 5 2.9% 17.9% 97

OF Jaff Decker is getting back in the swing of things since returning from his stint in Oakland (12 games): 11-for-40, .831 OPS, 2 HR, 5 BB, 9 Ks.

Thursday’s games

Full slate

Triple-A Nashville: 5:05 p.m., Corey Walter vs. Omaha
Double-A Midland: 5:05 p.m., Brett Graves vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: 7:05 p.m., Boomer Biegalski vs. Modesto
Single-A Beloit: 4:30 p.m., Brandon Bailey vs. Burlington

Link to box scores