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Oakland A’s 2018 Community Prospect List #21: Nolan Blackwood brings the funk

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The sidearm reliever is a candidate to fast-track his way to Oakland.

80-grade pitcher derp face
Photo credit: Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

Last time, our Community Prospect List added its first pure reliever of the year. 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%)
  6. Jesus Luzardo, LHP (+37%)
  7. Austin Beck, OF (+14%)
  8. James Kaprielian, RHP (+2%)
  9. Lazaro Armenteros, OF (+41%)
  10. Grant Holmes, RHP (+18%)
  11. Sheldon Neuse, 3B (+68%)
  12. Greg Deichmann, OF (+17%)
  13. Logan Shore, RHP (+2%)
  14. Kevin Merrell, SS (+8%)
  15. Renato Nunez, DH (+7%)
  16. Daulton Jefferies, RHP (+9%)
  17. Nick Allen, SS (+24%)
  18. Ramon Laureano, OF (+44%)
  19. Tyler Ramirez, OF (+33%)
  20. Dakota Chalmers, RHP (+2%)
  21. Nolan Blackwood, RHP (+6%)

The last time we put a reliever this high on our CPL, it was Ryan Dull at 17th in 2016. Dull had already debuted in MLB by then after posting a sub-1.00 ERA in the upper minors, so he had quite the resume.

This time around it’s Nolan Blackwood. The sidewinding right-hander topped out at High-A during the 2017 regular season, and neither his ERA nor his strikeout rate were anything to write home about even at that low level. But beyond his stats, the assignments he’s gotten speak volumes about how the team feels about him, beginning with his year-long role as closer in Stockton.

When the minor league playoffs arrived, Blackwood got the call to help Double-A Midland win another championship — he even made one particularly clutch appearance in Game 4 of the finals. After the season he was sent to the Arizona Fall League, which is predominantly for upper-minors prospects. And now, he’s a non-roster invitee to MLB spring training, one of only three lower-minors prospects in camp (along with Logan Shore and catcher Santiago Chavez). The A’s have a lot of relief arms in their system, but this is the guy they keep choosing for the toughest tasks and fastest tracks.

It’s not hard to see what they like about him. Blackwood’s funky delivery is more than just a novelty, especially when paired with relatively normal stuff — sidearmers are usually using deception to mask a weak arsenal, but he can dial up to 93 mph on his fastball. Opponents put the ball on the ground 68.6% of the time against him last year, which is about as high of a rate as you’ll see in baseball outside of Zach Britton and fellow funkster Brad Ziegler. Even in the famously hitter-friendly Cal League he only gave up two dingers all year. He’s not coming out of nowhere, either, as he got mentioned on Keith Law’s top A’s prospect list last winter.

Blackwood still has to traverse two levels of the upper minors before he gets a shot at MLB, though his strikeout-heavy success in the hitter-friendly AFL was a promising preview. Once he does arrive, the question will remain whether he’s a late-inning option like Ziegler, a middleman, or merely a ROOGY. But the bottom line is that he has an excellent chance of reaching the bigs, where the value of quality relief pitching has skyrocketed the last few years, and the haste with which the A’s have continued to challenge him suggests he could get here sooner rather than later.

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 B.J. Boyd. The A’s drafted the outfielder out of high school all the way back in 2012, and after a long wait he’s finally becoming a factor on the farm. He didn’t quite get tabbed for the 40-man roster this winter, and he’s blocked on the current depth chart by fellow CF lefties Dustin Fowler and Boog Powell. However, he figures to get time at Triple-A this season and it’s easy to see him on an MLB bench sometime in the next couple years.

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

B.J. Boyd, OF

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2017 stats (AA): 578 PAs, 122 wRC+, 5 HR, 16 SB, 5.9% BB, 12.8% Ks

Scouting report from Melissa Lockard at Oakland Clubhouse (link):

Boyd has the tools of a prototypical lead-off hitter. Although he has never had huge walk totals, Boyd has a solid approach at the plate. He waits a long time on pitches and is able to pounce on pitches he can handle and spoil off pitches deep in counts. At the start of his career, Boyd looked to pull a lot of pitches out of the park, but over the past two seasons, he has been content to work the opposite field gaps and to hit the ball on the line. That approach has produced much better results for Boyd. He is one of the fastest players in the A’s system. As one of the better bunters in the organization, Boyd can use his legs to put pressure on the defense both in the batter’s box and on the bases.

Defensively, Boyd is able to cover a lot of ground in center and he has sure hands in the outfield. During his career, he has logged significant time at all three outfield positions. His throwing arm is only average, but he has improved considerably over the years in getting the ball back into the cut-off man accurately.

* * *

Casey Meisner, RHP

Expected level: Double-A | Age 23

2017 stats (A+): 3.98 ERA, 74⅔ip, 80 Ks, 20 BB, 9 HR, 4.30 FIP
2017 stats (AA): 4.12 ERA, 59 ip, 37 Ks, 27 BB, 4 HR, 4.77 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and MLB Pipeline scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 55 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45

Meisner’s velocity began to tick up in 2015, with the right-hander sitting at 90-93 mph and at times bumped the mid-90s, but adopting a lower arm slot last season negated that progress while also changing the shape and angle of his curveball and hindering his control. While velocity has been better in 2017, Meisner has been inefficient in using his height to create downhill plane to the plate.

Meisner’s size and durability bode well for him becoming an back-of-the-rotation innings-eater, possibly more if his stuff and control return in full.

* * *

Alexander Campos, SS

Expected level: Rookie Ball | Age 18

2017 stats (RK): 254 PAs, 136 wRC+, 2 HR, 16.1% BB, 15.4% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and MLB Pipeline scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 35 | Run: 55 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

Evaluators believe Campos has the potential to stick at shortstop. He’s an athletic and instinctual defender with good actions and the necessary arm strength for the position. Campos’ above-average speed translates on both sides of the ball, though he has gains to make as a baserunner. At the plate, the right-handed hitter is short to the ball and has good feel for the barrel, resulting in lots of line drives and some gap power, and he already has shown on-base skills with an advanced approach.

Campos has started to grow into his athletic frame since signing and should continue to tack on good strength. His defense-speed combination at an up-the-middle position gives him a possible floor as a big league reserve, though further progress at the plate could very well thrust him into the conversation as an everyday player.

* * *

Dalton Sawyer, LHP

Expected level: Double-A? | Age 24

2017 stats (A): 2.25 ERA, 56 ip, 64 Ks, 21 BB, 3 HR, 3.14 FIP
2017 stats (A+): 3.68 ERA, 66 ip, 74 Ks, 20 BB, 12 HR, 5.17 FIP
2017 note: Also made 2 emergency spot starts in Triple-A

Scouting report from Melissa Lockard at Oakland Clubhouse (link):

As a starter, Sawyer’s fastball sits in the 88-92 MPH range, but he has been clocked as high as 94 MPH as a reliever. He hides the ball well and his fastball tends to get on hitters quicker than most pitchers who throw it in a similar velocity range. Sawyer’s change-up sits in the low-80s and has downward action. ...

How Sawyer’s breaking ball develops will go a long way towards determining whether he stays in the rotation or moves into a left-handed relief specialist role out of the bullpen. ... Sawyer throws a hybrid breaking ball that could be called a slider or a curveball. It’s a big bender that also moves from one side of the plate to the other. The pitch is inconsistent, but it is an effective swing-and-miss pitch when Sawyer is throwing it well. ...

A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson saw a lot of Chris Sale in Sawyer’s tall left-handed frame and three-quarters release. Patterson and Stockton pitching coach Steve Connelly worked with Sawyer towards the end of the season on a tweak to make Sawyer’s motion even closer to Sale’s.

* * *

Parker Dunshee, RHP

Expected level: High-A | Age 23

2017 stats (A-): 0.00 ERA, 38⅓ ip, 45 Ks, 8 BB, 0 HR, 2.02 FIP

Scouting report from Melissa Lockard at Oakland Clubhouse (link):

Despite Dunshee’s dominating numbers with the Lake Monsters, he doesn’t have a power-pitcher’s arsenal. Dunshee’s four-seam fastball sits in the 88-91 MPH range and is true. Where he gets his most movement is on his secondary pitches – a changeup and a slider. Dunshee came to pro ball with the slider as his most effective secondary offering, but he threw his changeup more frequently with Vermont and it was an effective pitch for him. ...

Where Dunshee will find success is being able to keep hitters off-balance by mixing his pitches effectively and pounding the lower-half of the strike-zone. ... Dunshee is a good athlete who repeats his delivery well and has the frame to handle a starter’s workload. He may benefit down-the-road from adding a fastball with more movement to compliment his four-seam, either a two-seam or a cut-fastball.

* * *

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!