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Oakland A’s 2018 Community Prospect List #5: Sean Murphy is elite behind the plate

Optimistic take: He’s the Matt Chapman of catchers

The new Murphy’s Law: Thou shalt not steal second.

Our last vote on the Community Prospect list brought a rare twist, as the ballot ended in a perfect tie at the top. Sean Murphy and Jesus Luzardo each received 72 votes, which left it to me to cast the tiebreaking decision. My choice was Murphy. Here’s the current list, including their winning margins (the difference between his % of the vote, and the % of the runner-up):

  1. A.J. Puk, LHP (+62%)
  2. Franklin Barreto, SS (+56%)
  3. Jorge Mateo, SS (+22%)
  4. Dustin Fowler, OF (+24%)
  5. Sean Murphy, C (+0%)

Last winter, Sean Murphy ranked 25th on our CPL. He had just been selected in the 3rd round of the draft, and that distinction was enough to help him crack the bottom of the list. Now he’s in the Top 5.

Murphy’s calling card is his defense. On Thursday, MLB Pipeline ranked him fourth among all catching prospects, including a mention that he is “[one] of the better defenders at any position in the Minors.” His throwing arm earns even further praise, with an elite 70-grade — two other backstops received the same grade, but with a note that “Murphy [possesses] the most consistent footwork and release.” His defense alone is enough to virtually guarantee him an MLB career.

His hitting is less of a sure thing. His scouting reports suggest he has power, but it hasn’t yet shown up outside of High-A Stockton in the hitter-friendly California League. His plate discipline has been good, though, with consistently low strikeout rates at each level and more walks than Ks in the Arizona Fall League.

Add all that up, and you have the makings of the catcher version of Matt Chapman — top-notch defense and a game-changing throwing arm, power potential, and the ability to take a walk. That’s a best-case, super-optimistic way of looking at it, but the tools are there if he can maximize them. And he’s already on the fast track up, having graduated from High-A to Double-A halfway through his first full season.

And what about that tour of Double-A? Murphy’s bat fell flat there in 53 games, but I’m giving him a mulligan for several reasons. Foremost, it was an incredibly aggressive promotion and it’s a bonus that he even played there at all so soon after being drafted. Furthermore, Midland is notoriously a pitcher’s park, and he’s a catcher which should earn him some extra patience at the plate as he develops. He also added a pair of dingers in 35 PAs in the Texas League playoffs, for what that’s worth. And finally, he showed improvement in the AFL (albeit still with no power), making that his most recent and highest-level sample to date. If he struggles again next summer then I’ll take it more seriously, but for now I’m not moved by his initially shaky line in the upper minors.

Jesus Luzardo has an exciting ceiling and belongs in our Top 10, but he’s still a teenager coming off major surgery. My pick here is the more advanced catcher who already looks like a sure thing and also has the chance to be special when he gets here.

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 Grant Holmes. Like most of this list so far he was the product of a high-profile trade, in this case involving Josh Reddick and Rich Hill. Holmes was young for Double-A last year but held his own in the upper minors. He doesn’t have the highest ceiling of this group of prospects, and his changeup could reportedly use some work, but he’s got a lot going for him and has already climbed high up the ladder at an early age.

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

Grant Holmes, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 22

2017 stats (AA): 4.49 ERA, 148⅓ ip, 150 Ks, 61 BB, 15 HR, 4.02 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and Sickels scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 50

Relies on low-to-mid-90s power sinker, mixed with power curveball; change-up and overall command remain inconsistent and results don’t always seem to match the stuff; on the right day he looks like a number three or even number two starter but consistency issues could make him more of a four; it would be interesting to see how he would look in the bullpen although I haven’t heard of any moves in that direction. ETA 2019.

* * *

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.

* * *

Austin Beck, OF

Expected level: Single-A | Age 19

2017 stats (RK): 174 PAs, 77 wRC+, 2 HR, 7 SB, 9.8% BB, 29.3% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and Sickels scouting report:

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

Broad tools stand out with 60 raw power, 60 speed, 60 arm; results did not match reputation in rookie ball due to contact problems and there are concerns about ability to hit for average and get on base at higher levels; high-upside certainly but risk profile seems a bit higher to me than commonly realized, thus a touch of conservatism with the grade. ETA 2022.

* * *

James Kaprielian, RHP

Expected level: High-A | Age 24

2017 stats: Missed entire season due to Tommy John surgery

MLB Pipeline grades and Sickels scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 55 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 55 | Overall: 50

When healthy he can hit 99 while mixing in three strong secondary pitches and throwing strikes, but he’s been hampered with physical problems in pro ball; I love a healthy Kaprielian but we need to make sure he doesn’t turn into Kyle Zimmer and the grade reflects that uncertainty; monitor spring reports closely, if he’s healthy and maintains his stuff he’s at least a B+. ETA 2019.

* * *

Lazaro Armenteros, OF

Expected level: Single-A | Age 19

2017 stats (RK): 181 PAs, 131 wRC+, 4 HR, 10 SB, 8.8% BB, 26.5% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and Sickels scouting report:

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

60 speed, 50 or 55 raw power, needs polish with swing mechanics but draws positive reviews for bat speed and overall athleticism; glove needs work as well but could be OK in center with more experience; long way off but I like the upside and have a good intuitive feeling on this one. ETA 2021.

* * *

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!