The 2017 season is in the rear-view mirror, and there are still months to go before spring. We spent all year following the Oakland A’s top prospects, so now it’s time for a progress report on the state of the minor league system. We’ll start with our preseason Community Prospect List Top 30, and then add some of the outstanding new names that joined the organization this summer.
The first section of this post will be the big table of stats. We've got our Top 30 prospects, plus some new draft picks, midseason acquisitions, and then a few more of the best of the rest. After that we'll meet some of those relatively new names, and consider which of the existing Top 30 prospects have raised their stock with strong performances and which ones have taken a step back. Then we’ll wrap up with my take on an updated Top 25 list, with plenty of space in the comments for everyone else to share their version.
In the next post after this one, we’ll nominate our first ballot for the 2018 CPL voting.
Skip this intro and go straight to the big table if you don’t care about the details of the process.
Each player is listed at the highest level at which he spent what I deemed to be significant time, and his stats only include his performance at that level*. The levels refer to the Oakland A's (MLB), the Nashville Sounds (AAA), the Midland RockHounds (AA), the High-A Stockton Ports (A+), the Single-A Beloit Snappers (A), the short-season Low-A Vermont Lake Monsters (A-), and the Arizona Rookie League (RK). For midseason acquisitions, I’ve only included their stats from after joining the A’s organization.
*Exception: Sheldon Neuse’s numbers from A+/AA are combined due to rapid promotion
There wasn't a lot of room for the stats, so I had to pick and choose which ones to include in order to pack in as much punch as possible. It's meant to be read like this, from left to right:
- sample size (IP or PAs)
- big-picture, is he above or below average (ERA/ERA+, wRC+)
- underlying peripherals (K, BB, HR rates, FIP; also stolen bases when relevant)
I would have liked to include the slash line for hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG) but it's just a bit too much for such a small space — and anyway, when it comes to the minors I prefer the league-adjusted numbers because each individual league brings its own unique environment and competition level. In other words, the same raw OPS might mean wildly different things in different leagues. Finally, I put the pitching stats in green text in an attempt to differentiate them from the hitting stats.
A quick stats glossary
- A 100 wRC+ is average, and higher is better; a range of 75-140 is poor-to-great.
- A BB% around 8% is normal, with a range of about 5-12% being poor to great; for K%, average is around 20%, with 12-25% constituting great-to-poor.
- ERA+ works the same as wRC+ (higher is still better).
- Meanwhile, FIP reads like an ERA but is based on peripherals (K, BB, HR) instead of actual real-life runs. It’s meant to be predictive, and with prospects in particular we’re more concerned with their potential future performance than their past results.
The players in this table include our preseason Top 30, plus an additional 15 from the following groups: others who stepped up (SU), trade acquisitions (TR), and draft picks (DR). Players in bold got enough MLB time to graduate from prospect status. Players in
strikethrough are no longer in the organization.
|1||Franklin Barreto||SS||21||AAA||510 PAs, 103 wRC+, 15 HR, 5.3% BB, 27.6% Ks, 15 SB|
|2||Matt Chapman||3B||24||MLB||326 PAs, 108 wRC+, 14 HR, 9.8% BB, 28.2% Ks|
|3||A.J. Puk||LHP||22||AA||64 ip, 4.36 ERA, 86 Ks, 25 BB, 2 HR, 2.35 FIP|
|4||Jharel Cotton||RHP||25||MLB||129 ip, 76 ERA+, 105 Ks, 53 BB, 28 HR, 5.68 FIP|
|5||Frankie Montas||RHP||24||MLB||32 ip, 61 ERA+, 36 Ks, 20 BB, 10 HR, 7.13 FIP|
|6||Grant Holmes||RHP||21||AA||148⅓ ip, 4.49 ERA, 150 Ks, 61 BB, 15 HR, 4.02 FIP|
|7||Matt Olson||1B||23||MLB||216 PAs, 162 wRC+, 24 HR, 10.2% BB, 27.8% Ks|
|8||Bruce Maxwell||C||26||MLB||253 PAs, 84 wRC+, 3 HR, 12.3% BB, 24.9% Ks|
|9||Daniel Gossett||RHP||24||MLB||91⅓ ip, 70 ERA+, 72 Ks, 31 BB, 21 HR, 5.59 FIP|
|10||2B||22||AA||457 PAs, 128 wRC+, 7 HR, 7.4% BB, 9.2% Ks|
|11||Richie Martin||SS||22||AA||325 PAs, 77 wRC+, 3 HR, 7.4% BB, 17.5% Ks|
|12||Daulton Jefferies||RHP||21||A+||Missed almost all of season to injury|
|13||Renato Nunez||3B||23||AAA||533 PAs, 109 wRC+, 32 HR, 8.8% BB, 26.5% Ks|
|14||Norge Ruiz||RHP||23||A+||34⅔ ip, 5.71 ERA, 24 Ks, 12 BB, 4 HR, 5.24 FIP|
|15||Lazaro Armenteros||OF||18||RK||181 PAs, 131 wRC+, 4 HR, 8.8% BB, 26.5% Ks, 10 SB|
|16||Dakota Chalmers||RHP||20||A||Missed most of season|
|17||Chad Pinder||SS||25||MLB||309 PAs, 97 wRC+, 15 HR, 5.8% BB, 29.8% Ks|
|18||OF||25||MLB||162 PAs, 90 wRC+, 3 HR, 11.1% BB, 23.5% Ks|
|19||2B||27||AAA||510 PAs, 94 wRC+, 8 HR, 3.7% BB, 16.1% Ks|
|20||SS||22||AAA||272 PAs, 86 wRC+, 7 HR, 4.0% BB, 16.9% Ks, 10 SB|
|21||Logan Shore||RHP||22||A+||72⅔ ip, 4.09 ERA, 74 Ks, 16 BB, 5 HR, 3.43 FIP|
|22||Heath Fillmyer||RHP||23||AA||149⅔ ip, 3.49 ERA, 115 Ks, 51 BB, 19 HR, 4.57 FIP|
|23||Raul Alcantara||RHP||24||MLB||24 ip, 60 ERA+, 12 Ks, 12 BB, 5 HR, 6.74 FIP|
|24||Bobby Wahl||RHP||25||AAA||Made MLB debut, missed most of season to injury|
|25||Sean Murphy||C||22||AA||217 PAs, 69 wRC+, 4 HR, 9.7% BB, 15.7% Ks|
|26||Paul Blackburn||RHP||23||MLB||58⅔ ip, 133 ERA+, 22 Ks, 16 BB, 5 HR, 4.39 FIP|
|27||Chris Iriart||1B||22||A+||222 PAs, 74 wRC+, 10 HR, 6.8% BB, 40.1% Ks|
|28||Casey Meisner||RHP||22||AA||59 ip, 4.12 ERA, 37 Ks, 27 BB, 4 HR, 4.77 FIP|
|29||Skye Bolt||OF||23||A+||496 PAs, 104 wRC+, 15 HR, 10.7% BB, 27.0% Ks|
|30||Tucker Healy||RHP||27||AAA||42⅔ ip, 4.64 ERA, 34 Ks, 22 BB, 3 HR, 4.87 FIP|
|SU||Tyler Ramirez||OF||22||AA||243 PAs, 135 wRC+, 4 HR, 11.5% BB, 21.8% Ks|
|SU||B.J. Boyd||OF||23||AA||578 PAs, 122 wRC+, 5 HR, 5.9% BB, 12.8% Ks, 16 SB|
|SU||Nolan Blackwood||RHP||22||A+||57 ip, 3.00 ERA, 48 Ks, 18 BB, 2 HR, 3.84 FIP|
|TR||Dustin Fowler||OF||22||AAA||Didn't play after trade due to injury|
|TR||Jorge Mateo||SS||22||AA||147 PAs, 133 wRC+, 4 HR, 6.1% BB, 22.4% Ks, 13 SB|
|TR||James Kaprielian||POS||23||A+||Didn't play after trade due to injury|
|TR||Sheldon Neuse||3B||22||A+/AA||169 PAs, 176 wRC+, 7 HR, 8.9% BB, 27.2% Ks|
|TR||Jesus Luzardo||LHP||19||A-||18 ip, 2.00 ERA, 20 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 2.93 FIP|
|TR||Boog Powell||OF||24||MLB||92 PAs, 135 wRC+, 3 HR, 9.8% BB, 22.8% Ks|
|DR||Austin Beck||OF||18||RK||174 PAs, 77 wRC+, 2 HR, 9.8% BB, 29.3% Ks, 7 SB|
|DR||Kevin Merrell||SS||21||A-||140 PAs, 135 wRC+, 2 HR, 6.4% BB, 15.7% Ks, 10 SB|
|DR||Greg Deichmann||OF||22||A-||195 PAs, 171 wRC+, 8 HR, 14.4% BB, 20.5% Ks|
|DR||Nick Allen||SS||18||RK||154 PAs, 84 wRC+, 1 HR, 8.4% BB, 18.2% Ks, 7 SB|
|DR||Parker Dunshee||RHP||22||A-||38⅓ ip, 0.00 ERA, 45 Ks, 8 BB, 0 HR, 2.02 FIP|
|DR||Brian Howard||RHP||22||A-||31⅓ ip, 1.15 ERA, 29 Ks, 1 BB, 0 HR, 1.68 FIP|
* * *
The A’s had 10 prospects graduate to MLB from our preseason Top 30 list, which is more than the last two years combined. The farm produced a hell of a harvest this year, and in particular six members of the Top 10 made the jump (and a seventh at least made his MLB debut). In total they had 13 players achieve rookie status this season.
The lineup got the biggest boost. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson both burst onto the scene as two-way stars, swatting dingers and flashing leather, and they look like good bets to lock down the corner infield positions for the foreseeable future. Olson was one of the best hitters in baseball after his full-time promotion, and Chapman’s defense was so otherworldly at the hot corner that he finished runner-up for the Fielding Bible award despite playing only half the season.
Meanwhile, Chad Pinder found his way into the lineup in an unexpected way — by switching from the infield to the outfield. The super-sub looked like such a natural out there that most of Athletics Nation has him penciled in as a platoon-mate for Matt Joyce in 2018. Catcher Bruce Maxwell didn’t hit much and mostly made news off the diamond, between participating in political protests during the national anthem and later ending his year with an arrest for felony weapons charges. Outfielder ♡Jaycob Brugman♡ got a long look but was eventually traded away, having been replaced on the depth chart by sparkplug acquisition Boog Powell (a superior hitter and CF defender).
On the pitching side, the staff received lots of new names but even more earned runs. Starters Jharel Cotton and Daniel Gossett logged the most innings but got torched, with home runs being a massive problem that both will need to solve. Bay Area native Paul Blackburn looked sharp before succumbing to a (minor) injury in the final weeks, though he’ll have to prove his smoke and mirrors are sustainable.
In the bullpen, Frankie Montas reached as high as 102 mph on the radar gun and Raul Alcantara got up to 98, but neither had any idea where the ball was going and they each finished with ERAs over 7.00. They both have explosive arms but limited time remaining to refine their raw power; Alcantara is already out of minor league options.
Finally, two more graduates emerged from minor league free agency. Simon Castro pitched 37 innings of roughly league-average ball, and he re-signed with the team for 2018 (though he’s off the 40-man roster for now). UC Berkeley alum Michael Brady spent time as a mop-up man and put in enough service time to graduate, but he’s already left to sign with the Brewers. (Cesar Valdez also graduated, but I’m pretty sure that happened after he’d left the A’s and joined the Blue Jays.)
I didn’t have space to include WAR in the table above, so here’s a rundown (sorted by bWAR):
Long story short: The position players were mostly productive, on both sides of the ball. The pitchers will take a mulligan and try again in 2018.
Usually I pick five players for this category, but this year I’m sticking to three because the rest of the up-and-coming standouts came from trades or the draft.
Two outfielders found success in the upper minors. B.J. Boyd was drafted out of high school all the way back in 2012, and he finally found his breakout performance with the Double-A Midland RockHounds. His ceiling is still probably on an MLB bench, and he’s soundly blocked in Oakland’s current outfield landscape by several similar-but-better prospects, but he’s notably raised his stock.
He was joined by Tyler Ramirez, a 2016 draftee who fast-tracked his way up to Double-A in just one calendar year. He doesn’t bring a lot of speed or power and he’ll have to overcome a lack of size (5’9), but he simply would not stop hitting or getting on base all year long at multiple levels of the system.
The third pick is reliever Nolan Blackwood, who brings the rare combination of sidearm delivery and velocity over 90 mph. Another product of the 2016 draft, he spent the year closing for High-A Stockton, then joined Midland for their fourth straight championship run, then excelled in the Arizona Fall League.
Honorable mention: RHP Lou Trivino made the 40-man roster after a strong year of relief in the upper minors ... LHP Dalton Sawyer held his own in High-A and is worth watching next year ... OF Brett Siddall enjoyed a breakout for High-A as well ... RHP James Naile and LHP Zack Erwin aren’t strangers to the bottom fringes of CPL discussions, and both had positive experiences in 2017.
The last-place A’s had another busy trade deadline, most notably dealing away Sonny Gray, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Yonder Alonso.
The Sonny trade brought in three top-notch talents. Dustin Fowler has a chance to be Oakland’s CF on Opening Day, if he’s completed his recovery from a gruesome knee injury incurred last summer. Jorge Mateo brings a dynamic blend of speed and power while playing up-the-middle defensively. And pitcher James Kaprielian carries a high ceiling as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery.
The Doo/Madson trade is looking just as promising. Infielder Sheldon Neuse caught absolute fire after his acquisition, posting unbelievable numbers in both High-A and Double-A. He played a leading role in Midland’s title run, and then demolished the Arizona Fall League. Even better, he was the third piece in the three-player return, behind MLB now-closer Blake Treinen and teenage pitching stud Jesus Luzardo. The latter had just returned from Tommy John surgery and was virtually unhittable in a brief cameo in Low-A.
Alonso didn’t go until August, but he brought back Boog Powell, who we already mentioned in the Graduates section. If Fowler isn’t in CF on March 29, then there’s a great chance it’ll be Boog out there instead. He’s unlikely to fully repeat his awesome small-sample debut from last summer, but he offers a lot of things the A’s are short on (especially OBP, speed, and CF defense).
The offseason has also brought a couple relevant trades that aren’t listed in the main table above. RHP Brandon Bailey was probably a lock to crack the bottom of our new CPL, but he was sent to Houston for outfield prospect Ramon Laureano. The new guy can expect to take the vacated spot on the list, and in real life he’s also on the 40-man roster. On top of that, the Ryon Healy trade with Seattle brought back teenage shortstop prospect Alexander Campos, who was born in the year 2000 but don’t let that get you down old-timer.
On the other side of the coin, infielders Max Schrock and Yairo Munoz were traded away to the Cardinals for MLB outfielder Stephen Piscotty. Another infielder, Joey Wendle, somehow didn’t graduate to the bigs; he was eventually DFA’d and later dealt to the Rays.
For the second straight year the A’s held the No. 6 overall pick, and three total selections in the Top 50. This time they went heavy on high school players, to an extent they haven’t done since 2012. (Good news: That 2012 class is looking awesome right now, especially the high school picks).
The biggest names in the group are outfielder Austin Beck (1st round, No. 6 overall) and infielder Nick Allen (3rd round, No. 81). Beck’s high selection speaks for itself, but Allen was a steal in the 3rd round and eventually signed for late-1st-round money. Of course, they’ll each play at age 19 next season and have long roads ahead of them to MLB — think of how many years it took Matt Olson to get here, and he’s a success story. (Honorable mention to high school catcher Santis Sanchez, from the 5th round.)
The more immediately relevant additions came from the college crowd. Speedy infielder Kevin Merrell (Comp A round, No. 33) and slugging outfielder Greg Deichmann (2nd round, No. 43) both enjoyed monster debuts in Low-A, flashing exactly the skills you hoped to see from them. The draft also brought in a horde of intriguing pitchers, led by Parker Dunshee (7th round) and Brian Howard (8th round) — the pair was unhittable in their Low-A debuts. (Honorable mention to 3B Will Toffey, from the 4th round, plus several more mid-rounders who can force their way into this conversation next summer.)
These next three sections deal exclusively with the players on our preseason Top 30 list.
2. Matt Chapman, 3B (grad)
3. A.J. Puk, LHP
7. Matt Olson, 1B (grad)
10. Max Schrock, 2B (traded)
15 Lazaro Armenteros, OF
17. Chad Pinder, IF/OF (grad)
25. Sean Murphy, C
26. Paul Blackburn, RHP (grad)
Don’t be fooled by how short this list is — the improvement in Oakland’s system this year came mostly due to external additions, which aren’t included here. Also don’t fret that most of the Stock Rising list was made up of successful MLB graduates, plus the since-departed Schrock. Losing prospects to the MLB squad is a good thing!
Even better, the holdovers are significant. A.J. Puk was already a top name but now will be competing for the No. 1 spot after a dominant season, and catcher Sean Murphy should be a lock for the Top 10. Both players were 2016 draftees who made it all the way to Double-A in 2017, and Murphy opened eyes nationally with his defense at the Arizona Fall League.
One more name likely to make the new Top 10 is Lazaro Armenteros. He entered the year as an untested teenager, but now he’s arrived in the U.S. and performed well in his Rookie League debut.
Note: You could just as easily expand beyond our preseason Top 30 to add Mateo, Neuse, Luzardo, Powell, Ramirez, Boyd, Blackwood, and several draft picks to this list.
Staying the course
1. Franklin Barreto, SS
6. Grant Holmes, RHP
13. Renato Nunez, DH
18. Jaycob Brugman, OF (grad) (traded) 20. Yairo Munoz, IF (traded)
21. Logan Shore, RHP
22. Heath Fillmyer, RHP
28. Casey Meisner, RHP
29. Skye Bolt, OF
First, a disclaimer: This is not a bad list to be on. It means that the player probably had a solid year, or at worst had some ups and downs that cancelled each other out. They didn’t break out, but they also didn’t fall apart. They just plugged right along, somewhere near their median expectations, and that isn’t the worst thing in the world.
The list begins with Franklin Barreto, who played in Triple-A at age 21 and even made his MLB debut. He struggled with a bloated strikeout rate for most of the year, and he’ll have to fix that if he wants to reach his high ceiling since making contact is a critical part of his game. But that’s the type of roadblock that minor leaguers have to work through, and with his raw talent he’ll still compete to keep the No. 1 spot on the next CPL. He didn’t improve, but he didn’t bust either. Similarly, 21-year-old Grant Holmes had a decent year in Double-A — not good enough to jump up the system, but not bad enough to freak out about.
One key name entering 2018 is Renato Nunez. The slugger nearly led all of Triple-A with 32 homers, but he’s out of minor league options and can’t really play defense. Will he be shoehorned onto the Opening Day roster? Or will the A’s find a trade partner for him before then? He’s exactly where he was a year ago, on the fringes of the MLB picture but not quite forcing his way in.
Next up is Logan Shore, a fast-track candidate whose progress was slowed by injury. He was good enough when he did take the mound and his injuries weren’t major, so the potential is still there, but he mostly treaded water in 2017. Finishing out the list: Heath Fillmyer put in a full year at Double-A and was fine; Skye Bolt did the same in High-A; and Casey Meisner made it up to Double-A (yay!) but was pretty bad there (aww).
4. Jharel Cotton, RHP (grad)
5. Frankie Montas, RHP (grad)
8. Bruce Maxwell, C (grad)
9. Daniel Gossett, RHP (grad)
11. Richie Martin, SS
12. Daulton Jefferies, RHP
14. Norge Ruiz, RHP
16. Dakota Chalmers, RHP
19. Joey Wendle, 2B (traded)
23. Raul Alcantara, RHP (grad)
24. Bobby Wahl, RHP
27. Chris Iriart, 1B
30. Tucker Healy, RHP
A lot went wrong this year even though the farm system was still an overall positive. That’s a testament both to the depth it brought entering the season, and to the front office’s successful trading and drafting.
Lots of young pitching graduated to MLB but most of it struggled, as we already discussed. The book is far from closed on those players and some of them may even spend some more time in the minors, but either way they’re out of the prospect picture now.
Several of the remaining names are on this list because of injuries. Daulton Jefferies went down with Tommy John, Bobby Wahl suffered his annual malady like clockwork, and Norge Ruiz got hurt multiple times and was delayed by international visa issues. Dakota Chalmers didn’t specifically have physical problems but did sit out most of the season.
As for the rest, Richie Martin finished 2016 with a bang but didn’t carry any of it over to ‘17; he was eventually demoted back to High-A and still couldn’t really hit. Slugger Chris Iriart spent time on the DL but it was his untenable 40.1% strikeout rate that dropped him out of sleeper territory, while reliever Tucker Healy completely lost the massive strikeout rate that had put him on the list last winter.
Looking Forward: Updating the list
Subtitle: This is not a new CPL! This is just my take. And grover’s.
Alright, here we go. This is my first attempt at an updated list, but I’m stopping at 25 for now. Grover has also put together his version, so there are two different takes to look at. We’ll start the real CPL vote later this week, but here’s a teaser for now. Remember that I personally tend to favor track record and proximity to MLB slightly more than projected ceiling, so I side more with the upper-minors guys than many other people do and I might ignore a couple of Rookie League teenagers whom others love.
Grover’s list is provocatively interesting, and he’ll be explaining it soon in a couple of separate posts.
As for my list, here are a couple of notes:
- Puk is at the top because I see him as the best chance for a superstar from this group. Barreto didn’t fall, but rather Puk passed him (there’s a difference).
- I now see Murphy as the catcher version of Matt Chapman.
- I’m sticking with Fowler and Kaprielian in my Top 10 because the A’s just gave up literally Sonny Gray for them so I’ll give the benefit of the doubt on their future health for now.
- Nunez is still technically a prospect, so even with his faults he has to be on here somewhere.
- I know I’ve gone high on Ramirez, Howard, and Dunshee, but I loved their performances and the heart wants what it wants.
- Jefferies and Bolt are at that point deep on the list where they could just as easily swap out with a handful of other guys. I’ll probably change my mind on those last two spots many times before Opening Day.
- Again, I’m mostly not into the lowest reaches of the minors. Teenagers like Alexander Campos, Yerdel Vargas, Marcos Brito, and Oscar Tovar will interest me once they’ve started putting together relevant track records in U.S. pro ball. There is an elite level I can’t ignore (like Armenteros’ $3M bonus, or Beck and Allen’s draft pedigree), but beyond that I’ll personally wait to rank these youngsters.
What does your list look like? Let’s compare in the comments!
Oakland’s farm system had an excellent year, and A’s fans aren’t the only ones saying so. Over at MLB Pipeline, Jim Callis called ours the most improved system in the whole sport, claiming we “entered 2017 with a middle-of-the-pack collection of Minor League talent and now rank among baseball’s top tier.” And that’s even after graduating a third of our Top 30, and over half of our Top 10.
Along the way, the Double-A Midland RockHounds won their fourth straight Texas League Championship, and the Mesa Solar Sox made it to the finals in the Arizona Fall League. The draft went well, the trade deadline went great, and there were scant few major injuries. All in all, the State of the Farm is strong. At least this one thing went well in 2017.