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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Skye Bolt leads Arizona Fall League in slugging

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Oakland’s hitting prospects continue to shine in the 2018 AFL.

Photo credit: Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

The Arizona Fall League is about a third of the way through its 2018 season, with each team having completed 10 games over the last two weeks. The Mesa Solar Sox are tied for the second-best record in the six-team league, and best in their own East division, but more importantly the Oakland A’s contingent of prospects is still mostly showing well. In our last update, the hitters were thriving while the pitchers were more of a mixed bag, and that continues to be the case.

Leading the way at the plate is outfielder Skye Bolt. He’s hitting for an impressive average and drawing his share of walks, but my attention is drawn to his power so far. His .750 slugging percentage leads the entire AFL and so does his .417 isolated slugging, thanks to a pair of homers and a pair of triples. He doesn’t quite hold the league lead in dingers (3) nor in total extra-base hits (5), but that’s mostly due to early discrepancies in playing time — he’s needed only 28 plate appearances (24 at-bats) to rack up 18 total bases.

Bolt: .333/.429/.750, 2 HR, 2 triples, 4 BB, 7 Ks, 1 SB

However, there is a down side to Bolt’s performance. Despite his gaudy numbers, he hasn’t yet made a habit of coming through when it counts — he’ll often fail in a big spot, but then succeed later in lower leverage or even downright garbage time. To make things worse, he’s batted third in the lineup in all but one of his games so far, so he’s specifically being counted on by his team to do some heavy lifting. Here’s a different look at his numbers:

  • He’s driven in five runs, but along the way he’s left 21 runners on base including a dozen in scoring position. He once stranded seven runners in one game.
  • All five RBI came on his pair of homers, but both homers came in absolute garbage time. They were each in the 8th inning of a blowout, once down 10-1 and the other up 16-2. He’s yet to drive in a run that means anything at all.
  • Both triples came with the bases empty, including once in the 8th inning up 11-5.
  • With runners in scoring position, he’s 2-for-12 with three walks. One of the hits was one of the garbage-time homers.

None of this is to say that we need to write off the positive things Bolt has done. Just as we shouldn’t get too excited about the good parts of a six-game stint, there’s no need to panic about the dark underbelly either. This is just added context — Bolt’s numbers are awesome, but maybe not quite as productive as they seem.

Is all of this just a fluke of sequencing, and we should predominantly be happy that the prospect is piling up extra bases at all? Or is it a red flag that he’s being exposed in the toughest situations, and only padding his stats at convenient, low-leverage moments? We won’t get the answer to that long-term question this fall, but at least it’s something to watch with Bolt — not just his overall numbers, but how and when he comes through.

Rest of lineup

Meanwhile, the other two A’s hitters are still holding their own. Eli White won’t stop getting on base, and Luis Barrera is showing sparkplug potential between reaching base and then stealing once there.

White: .400/.520/.550, 1 triple, 1 double, 3 BB, 6 Ks, 2 SB
Barrera: .263/.391/.421, 1 HR, 4 BB, 2 Ks, 4 SB

For White, add it all up (including 2 HBP) and he’s reached base in 13-of-25 plate appearances. It would be nice to see him either add some extra bases or cut his strikeouts (or both), since right now his success is buoyed almost entirely by a .571 BABIP, but for now we don’t need to complain too much about a hot start.

As for Barrera, speed has been the name of his game. Even his homer was an inside-the-parker, and he’s yet to be caught stealing. He’s also making a ton of contact, which is crucial for a speed-first player — he’s struck out only twice in 23 plate appearances.

Pitchers

The pitching breakdown so far: One hurler has been good, one has been alright, and the other two have struggled.

Bray: 4⅓ ip, 0 runs, 5 Ks, 1 BB, 0 hits
Coker: 3⅔ ip, 0 ER, 3 Ks, 2 BB, 2 hits
Duno: 3⅔ ip, 5 runs, 3 Ks, 3 BB, 5 hits
Sheehan: 4 ip, 2 runs, 2 Ks, 9 BB, 1 HBP, 0 hits

The highlight so far is 25-year-old Jake Bray, who is yet to allow a hit through his first 14 batters faced. It’s a tiny sample from a player on the older side for this league, but it’s nice to see anything out of the right-hander after a mostly lost season in 2018.

Bray spent the first two months of the summer trying to start, but it didn’t go well and he wound up on the disabled list until the final couple weeks of the season. However, in previous years he’d shown flashes as a high-strikeout reliever, so perhaps he’s getting back on that track.

Meanwhile, Sam Sheehan just can’t find the strike zone. He’s walked nine of the 20 batters he’s faced, and if you add in his HBP then he’s issued a free base to a full half of his opposing hitters. He technically blew the save on Friday, entering a 1-0 game in the 4th inning and going walk, walk, groundout, sac fly to tie the score. He’s been the textbook definition of ineffective.

Later in that game on Friday, teammate Angel Duno took the loss. To be fair, he gave up essentially a tiebreaking Rickey Run — walk, steal, steal, sac fly. It’s possible that could have been the catcher’s fault as much as anything, but Duno is still responsible for starting the sequence with a free pass. On the bright side, he did have a good outing last Monday, breezing through two scoreless frames while retiring 6-of-7 batters.

As for Calvin Coker, there’s not much to add beyond the numbers above. He’s been fine, nothing more and nothing less.

Takeaways? Nope, not yet, with each pitcher having made just three appearances. The closest thing to a conclusion so far is that Sheehan seriously needs to work on his control, but that was already apparent from his career to date (5.8 BB/9 in the minors). Otherwise, everyone else still has time to turn things around, for better or for worse.

Mesa plays again tonight, at 6:30 p.m. PT. Click here for today’s box scores, or here for the A’s full winter league stats (including Sean Murphy struggling in the Dominican).