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Arizona Fall League review: Oakland A’s hitters impress, pitchers not so much

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The 2018 AFL wraps up this weekend.

Angel Duno
Photo credit: Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

The Arizona Fall League plays its 2018 championship game on Saturday, but no Oakland A’s prospects will be involved. The Mesa Solar Sox finished just a half-game out of their division, thanks to a tie that left them one win short, so their season is officially over.

With the AFL wrapping up for another year, let’s take a look at how the seven A’s prospects fared.

Barrera, OF: .263/.328/.368, 1 HR, 3 XBH, 6 BB, 13 Ks, 6-of-7 SB
Bolt, OF: .247/.353/.493, 2 HR, 10 XBH, 12 BB, 22 Ks, 7-of-7 SB
White, IF: .344/.406/.459, 1 HR, 4 XBH, 4 BB, 18 Ks, 3-of-4 SB

A couple weeks ago, Luis Barrera represented Oakland in the Fall Stars Game and got two at-bats off the bench. He singled against a solid Double-A reliever (David McKay), but then grounded out in the 8th amid a rally that almost pushed his team to a comeback victory. Overall on the national stage this fall, he seems to have shown off his speed and defense while also doing a decent job making contact against some upper-minors competition.

Meanwhile, Skye Bolt put up some big numbers. In particular he flashed his power/speed combo, tying for third in the league in extra-base hits and eighth in steals — and nobody else stole more bases without being caught.

On the downside, I can’t help but notice that nearly all of his extra bases came off of the worst arms he saw. The majority of the AFL pitching was from the upper-minors, but somehow he pretty much only did damage against pitchers from High-A and Single-A. Sure, everyone else faced those weaker pitchers too, but some of his teammates (including Barrera and White) also got big hits against the more advanced competition. (Note: In Bolt’s final game, he did double twice off Triple-A scrub Shawn Morimando, so at least that’s something.)

To be clear, this isn’t a knock on Bolt, just the hedging of a compliment. It doesn’t change the fact that he mastered High-A last year and successfully made the jump to Double-A, nor does it take away from his obvious tools. It just adds a grain of salt to his otherwise encouraging performance this fall — we already knew he could crush lower-minors pitching, so this is nothing new. You’re perfectly capable of looking at the raw stats yourself without reading this post, so this is the most interesting tidbit I have to offer beyond the box scores, take it or leave it.

Finally, Eli White put up a nice small-sample performance but not one I would draw too many conclusions about. He hit .344, but it was on the strength of a .465 BABIP and with very little extra-base power. His .406 OBP was strong, but it benefited greatly from three HBP in just 69 plate appearances (turn them into three outs and he’d be down to a less shiny .362). His numbers are good so there’s nothing to complain about, but not in a way that raises his stock beyond what he’d already done in his breakout Double-A campaign.

In the end it was a nice showing for all three hitters, though not necessarily one that taught us anything new about them. White is still an up-and-coming sleeper who could travel from the 11th round of the draft up to at least an MLB bench, and Barrera and Bolt are still toolsy outfielders who have reached the upper-minors but now face decision time regarding whether the team will protect them from the Rule 5 draft (roster deadline is Tuesday). Well played to each of them, and hopefully we’ll get to keep following them all in the A’s organization next summer.

Bray: 3.09 ERA, 11⅔ ip, 10 Ks, 4 BB, 5 hits, 1 HR
Coker: 0.00 ERA, 11 ip, 11 Ks, 5 BB, 7 hits
Duno: 7.04 ERA, 7⅔ ip, 7 Ks, 4 BB, 9 hits, 1 HBP
Sheehan: 4.76 ERA, 11⅓ ip, 12 Ks, 14 BB, 3 hits, 3 HBP

Whereas the hitting contingent was made up of notable sleeper prospects, the pitchers were closer to fringe lotto tickets and their performances were accordingly mediocre. None have ever appeared in the upper minors, and only Coker is under 24 years old.

Perhaps my favorite of the group is Angel Duno, who enjoyed a breakout in High-A this season after converting to the bullpen. His AFL stats look ugly, but most of the damage came in one disastrous implosion in his debut outing. He settled down after that and allowed just two runs in his final seven innings, which isn’t bad considering it’s probably the toughest competition he’s ever faced.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well for his fellow Stockton breakout story, Sam Sheehan. The 2016 draftee (31st round) notched a strikeout per inning but walked more batters than he K’d. Overall, between walks and HBPs, he allowed free passes to about a third of the hitters he faced. It was no secret that he’s a pitcher with big strikeout potential but serious control issues to work on (around 6 BB/9 in the minors), so this was an exaggerated example of what we already knew about him.

At first glance, Calvin Coker appears to have been lights out. However, it must be noted that the 2018 draftee (15th round last June) got roughed up in his final outing on Thursday. He could have breezed through his inning in four batters, but instead an error extended things long enough for it to turn into a five-spot capped by a big homer — all of which turned a late 10-3 blowout into a 10-8 save situation.

The thing is, Coker committed the error himself, so while the runs still go down as unearned they are clearly his responsibility. Count those runs and his ERA would jump up to 4.09, much the same as Duno had his own record tarnished by one meltdown. This is precisely the kind of ambiguity that can arise from a small sample. All that said, let’s take a moment to appreciate that five months ago he was in college and now he just struck out a batter per inning in the AFL, which is a nice accomplishment to put on his early resume.

As for Jake Bray, he’ll turn 26 in a few weeks but he’s yet to reach the upper minors. He held his own this fall against a bunch of younger and yet more advanced competition, but I’m not sure there’s anything to take away from it for better or worse. The most important thing is that he’s healthy after missing half of the season to injury.

Other winter leagues

In other winter league news, catcher Sean Murphy is playing in the Dominican after missing most of the final two months of the season to a broken hamate. He hasn’t hit much (.549 OPS), but he at least swatted a couple homers and the important thing is that he’s back on the field. Meanwhile, Franklin Barreto is playing in Venezuela and has struck out only nine times in 81 plate appearances (11%), which feels like progress as he works on making more contact.

Click here for full winter league stats.