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Arizona Fall League: A’s hitting prospects start strong

But Oakland’s pitchers have been a mixed bag in the first few games.

Luis Barrera hit an inside-the-park homer.
Photo credit: Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

The Arizona Fall League is off and running, with four days of games in the books. The Mesa Solar Sox have a 3-1 record so far, and the Oakland A’s contingent of seven players has helped more than hurt. For the most part, the hitters have been strong in the early going, though some of the pitchers have struggled.

Leading the way at the plate is outfielder Luis Barrera. He didn’t make our Community Prospect List last winter, but he’s stood as a sleeper for a while now and he showed signs of breaking out this summer. The 22-year-old finished the season with a fine showing in Double-A, and he’s carried that success over to his first couple of outings in the AFL.

In Mesa’s very first game on Tuesday, the score was tied headed into the 9th inning. Barrera came up with two outs in the top of the frame, and he drilled one to the wall. Before the defenders could even get the ball back in, he had raced all the way around the bases and slid across home for a go-ahead, inside-the-park home run.

Skip to the 1:48 mark of the video for the homer.

Barrera put on another show in his next appearance on Thursday. This time he stuffed the box score, with a single, two walks, and a stolen base. Once again he scored the winning run — the game went to extras and he was the bonus baserunner to open the 10th, eventually touching the plate on a walk-off sac fly. For a sleeper prospect who was already showing signs of a breakout, this has certainly been an encouraging intro to the AFL.

Next up is fellow outfielder Skye Bolt, who also reached Double-A this season and hit well there in a career-best campaign. The 24-year-old was relatively quiet in his first AFL outing on Tuesday, finishing with a single and a stolen base. The next day, though, he homered, singled, and notched an outfield assist. He stumbled on Friday, managing just a walk in five trips to the plate while stranding seven runners, but overall he’s already flashed his wide array of tools.

One thing to keep an eye on with Barrera and Bolt this fall is the upcoming Rule 5 draft. They will both be eligible, which means the A’s will have to decide whether to add them to the 40-man roster to protect them. Neither of them will be factors to reach Oakland yet next spring, but they’re both at least in the upper minors and possess speed — if one of them gains enough attention with a big AFL performance, might some desperate rebuilding club be willing to stash him on their bench next summer in order to steal a free prospect?

The other A’s hitter on Mesa’s roster is infielder Eli White. He’s a lock to make our CPL this winter after a breakout 2018 in Double-A, and he’s already racking up the hits in Arizona. His first game brought a single, double, HBP, and a steal, and he followed that up with three hits and a walk on Thursday. He only came up with one hit on Friday, but overall he’s reached base in half of his 16 plate appearances while playing mostly shortstop.

Barrera, OF: 2-for-8, 2 BB, K, HR, SB
Bolt, OF: 3-for-12, BB, 3 Ks, HR, SB
White, IF: 6-for-14, BB, HBP, 4 Ks, 2B, SB (1-of-2)

Put them all together, and through 40 plate appearances the trio is batting .324/.400/.529 with two homers and three steals.

Unfortunately, not all of the A’s pitchers have enjoyed the same good times as the hitters. Granted, the four right-handers aren’t on the same prospect tier as the position players, residing more in the range of fringe-lotto-tickets than true sleepers, but the fact remains that a couple of them have struggled.

The two top names are probably Angel Duno and Sam Sheehan, who impressed this summer as relievers with High-A Stockton. However, they both got roughed up in Mesa’s 10-3 loss on Wednesday.

Duno entered in the 3rd and retired only two of his eight batters, failing to even make it out the inning. He served up a bunch of sharp line drives and free passes en route to blowing a close game wide open. Sheehan came in later for garbage time and may have been even worse — he faced eight batters as well and walked five of them, including four in a row. A well-timed GIDP helped prevent anything past the one run he allowed, but it was still a dreadful outing.

On the bright side, the other two pitchers have fared better. Jake Bray also appeared in Wednesday’s blowout, relieving Duno in the 3rd and bailing him out of the rest of his jam. He then breezed through a quick 4th, ultimately striking out two of the five batters he faced.

The final arm debuted on Thursday. Calvin Coker, a 2018 draft pick who arrived in the AFL as a last-minute replacement for the injured Grant Holmes, made a real difference his first time on the mound. Mesa’s starter was getting shelled in the first two innings, but Coker came in to get the final out of the 2nd and then set down the side in order in the 3rd. With the early fire extinguished, the opponent didn’t score again until the 8th, giving the Sox time to come back and eventually win in extras.

Bray: 1⅓ ip, 0 runs, 2 Ks, 1 BB
Coker: 1⅓ ip, 0 runs, 1 K
Sheehan: 1⅓ ip, 1 run, 2 Ks, 5 BB
Duno: ⅔ ip, 4 runs, 2 Ks, 2 BB, 4 hits

Of course, the AFL is only four days into a six-week season. All of this is just the first of many small data points yet to come, so there’s no need to jump to any conclusions about anyone yet — whether positive or negative. For now, though, five of the A’s seven prospects have shown well in their first impressions.

Mesa’s next game will be on Monday, with the Bowman Hitting Challenge this Saturday followed by the normal Sunday off-day.

Click here for full winter league stats.