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Oakland A’s 2018 Community Prospect List #1: A.J. Puk is the top prospect

A tall lefty pitcher takes the No. 1 spot for the second time in three years.

He can almost touch home plate from the mound.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Our 2018 Community Prospect List officially has its first member, as pitcher A.J. Puk breezed to the top of the inaugural ballot with 121 out of 158 votes. That consensus is an even bigger compliment when you consider the Oakland A’s farm system is now one of the best in baseball, meaning Puk had real competition. The No. 1 spot isn’t always this obvious, though — two years ago another tall lefty (Sean Manaea) won by just a handful of votes. Here’s the current (somewhat lonely) list, including his winning margin (the difference between his % of the vote, and the % of the runner-up):

  1. A.J. Puk, LHP (+62%)

When the A’s got the sixth overall pick in the 2016 draft, it was their highest position since 1998. For a team on a tight budget, a premium selection like that is an opportunity to add the kind of superstar that can’t be bought in free agency nor easily acquired via trade. Back then Oakland used their high pick on a towering lefty named Mark Mulder, and this time around they went a similar route with A.J. Puk.

So far, so good. The 6’7 monster has shown the powerful arsenal that had him in consideration for the first overall pick in the draft, and on top of that he’s found some of the control whose prior absence had helped cost him that honor. His numbers last year in High-A and Double-A were eye-popping, including more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings and only three homers allowed in 27 outings. There’s little more you could ask for in a prospect’s first full season.

Of course, there are always more roadblocks to overcome. He still needs to show he can reliably work deeper than five innings per game, he needs to sharpen up his command and his secondary offerings, and he finished last season with a minor twinge in his forearm. At the end of the day there is no such thing as a pitching prospect, but at least this one has some of the best tools you can ask for. His encouraging performance and top-of-the-rotation ceiling earned him the nod atop our CPL, which is all the progress we can ask for yet from our top-of-the-draft selection.

Here is the process:

  • Five candidates will be listed on the ballot. The voting will take place in the comments section. I will start with a comment listing all five players, and then I will respond to that with five new comments in the style of “Vote: Player Name” for each candidate. Please do not reply directly to the official “Vote” comments, so that the ballot can stay together in one group.
  • Choose your ONE favorite by Rec’ing the comment with his name. Please only vote for one. The player who receives the most Rec’s earns the next spot on the CPL, while the remaining four players move on to the next ballot where they are joined by a new nominee.
  • In the comments, below the official voting, the community will nominate players to be put onto the ballot for the next round. Similar to the ballot, I will start with a comment calling for nominations, which can then be made as a response to my comment. The format for your comment should be “Nomination: Player Name”.
  • After the first nomination for a player has been put in, all other votes for that player will come from Rec’ing his comment. The player with the most Rec’s earns the nomination.
  • If a prospect is traded, his name will be crossed out, and all other players will be moved up a space. If a prospect is acquired, a special vote will be put up to determine where that player should rank.

* * *

The new nominee is Dustin Fowler. The outfielder was acquired in the Sonny Gray trade last summer, as the two teams swapped promising-but-damaged goods. Just as Gray brought his own injury questions to New York, Fowler had already seen his MLB debut end after one inning thanks to a serious knee injury incurred while chasing a fly ball. Despite that drawback, the A’s expect him to recover and compete for the starting job in CF this year. He doesn’t have the highest ceiling on this list, but he’s right on the cusp of becoming a good big leaguer.

Scouting grades: MLB Pipeline
Scouting reports: John Sickels
Hitter average rates: 100 wRC+, 8.0% BB, 20.0% Ks

Dustin Fowler, OF

Expected level: MLB | Age 23

2017 stats (AAA NYY): 313 PAs, 138 wRC+, 13 HR, 13 SB, 4.8% BB, 20.1% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and Sickels scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 60 | Arm: 50 | Field: 60 | Overall: 55

60-grade speed before the injury, 55 power; another hitter with aggressive approach that may be problematic against the best pitching; you can make a B+ case but my instincts hold me back a tad on this one. ETA 2018.

* * *

Franklin Barreto, SS

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 22

2017 stats (AAA): 510 PAs, 103 wRC+, 15 HR, 5.3% BB, 27.6% Ks
2017 stats (MLB): 76 PAs, 58 wRC+, 2 HR, 6.6% BB, 43.4% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and Sickels scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 50 | Run: 55 | Arm: 60 | Field: 45 | Overall: 55

Positives include power/speed combo, youth, track record of success at each level; questions include aggressive approach and long-term defensive position; ultimately I think he fits best at second base; although normally I am skeptical about players with contact/patience issues I am more optimistic in his case and will cut him some slack. ETA 2018.

* * *

Jorge Mateo, SS

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 23

2017 stats (A+ NYY): 297 PAs, 98 wRC+, 28 SB, 5.4% BB, 26.6% Ks
2017 stats (AA NYY): 140 PAs, 147 wRC+, 11 SB, 10.7% BB, 22.9% Ks
2017 stats (AA OAK): 147 PAs, 133 wRC+, 13 SB, 6.1% BB, 22.4% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and Sickels scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 40 | Run: 80 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55

Exciting power/speed combination; approach is aggressive and we’ll have to see how his batting average and OBP hold up but he has multiple ways to hurt the opponent; versatile with the glove, good-enough at shortstop, has played well during trials at second base and center field; needs some time in Triple-A but a very intriguing player. ETA late 2018.

* * *

Jesus Luzardo, LHP

Expected level: Low-A | Age 20

2017 note: Returned from Tommy John surgery prior to July acquisition
2017 stats (A-): 2.00 ERA, 18 ip, 20 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 2.93 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and Sickels scouting report:

Scouting Grades: Fastball: 60 | Curve: 50 | Changeup: 60 | Control: 55 | Overall: 50

Can hit mid-90s, throws strikes, both curveball and change-up draw positive reviews; main issue now is building up stamina and proving health; possible comp: Gio Gonzalez. ETA 2020.

* * *

Sean Murphy, C

Expected level: Double-A | Age 23

2017 stats (A+): 178 PAs, 130 wRC+, 9 HR, 6.2% BB, 18.5% Ks
2017 stats (AA): 217 PAs, 69 wRC+, 4 HR, 9.7% BB, 15.7% Ks
2017 stats (AFL): 83 PAs, .310/.410/.366, 4 doubles, 10 BB, 9 Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and Sickels scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 40 | Arm: 70 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

Excellent throwing arm and a reliable defensive catcher, will get to majors on his defense alone but future will depend on the bat; flashes above-average power and will draw walks but uncertain what his batting average will look like against the best pitching, has never hit particularly well with wood; some caution with the hitting is advisable but overall I like him. ETA 2019.

* * *

Vote in the comments below for your favorite of the five by Rec’ing his “Vote: (Player Name)” comment, and post your nomination(s) as well!