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National prospect lists don’t know what to make of Oakland A’s farm system

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Seven different A’s prospects made at least one Top 100 list, but is the overall farm Top 10 or bottom half?

Sean Murphy only made one Top 100 list.

It’s not easy making national prospect lists. It’s more of an art than a science, really. A healthy dose of subjectivity is unavoidable, and it’s impossible to please everyone. When it comes to the Oakland A’s farm this year, though, the results were particularly ... artistic. The key lists:

The good news is that seven different A’s prospects made at least one list, which is even more than last year (6). The names, and how many lists they made:

  • A.J. Puk, LHP (all 6 lists)
  • Franklin Barreto, IF (6)
  • Jorge Mateo, SS (6)
  • Dustin Fowler, OF (4)
  • Jesus Luzardo, LHP (3)
  • James Kaprielian, RHP (1)
  • Sean Murphy, C (1)

There are some things everyone agreed on, like A.J. Puk in the upper third of the Top 100 and Jorge Mateo rejoining the national ranks with a vengeance. Overall, though, the various sources have significantly different takes on Oakland’s collection of talent. Here’s where everyone landed:

MLB BA BP FG KL JS
Puk (32) Puk (30) Puk (30) Puk (30) Puk (13) Barreto (20)
Luzardo (60) Barreto (43) Barreto (63) Barreto (32) Mateo (39) Puk (21)
Barreto (66) Mateo (64) Mateo (79) Mateo (58) Kaprielian (56) Mateo (42)
Mateo (72) Fowler (88) Luzardo (88) Fowler (63) Barreto (94) Fowler (91)
Fowler (HM) -- Fowler (98) Luzardo (70) -- Neuse (112)
-- -- -- Murphy (81) -- Luzardo (113)
-- -- -- Kaprielian (HM) -- Beck (154)

Some observations:

  • There’s little question that Puk is the top prospect in Oakland’s system. Everyone also agrees that he’s one of the best youngsters in the entire minors, with three different lists putting him at precisely the No. 30 spot nationally. The last A’s farmhand who’s gotten rankings this high was pre-2016 Barreto, and before that it was Addison Russell.
  • Barreto has dropped from last winter but not too far. He entered the season with an average placement of 45.7 between these six lists, and this time around he’s averaging 53.0. All those strikeouts didn’t end up hurting his stock too much, at least for now. The range of his best/worst rankings has also increased, further illustrating the slight drop-off in industry confidence (12-thru-56 last year, and 20-thru-94 this year).
  • It appears that Mateo is the consensus headliner of the Sonny Gray trade. He’s the only one of the return trio (Fowler, Kaprielian) to make every list, and on top of that he placed above the others on each list they did make. Mateo didn’t finish below No. 79 at any source, while topping out twice around the 40 range.
  • The only two lists that picked identical contingents of A’s players were Baseball America and Sickels, who took the consensus three plus Fowler.
  • A few outliers: Pipeline loves Luzardo, especially relative to the rest of Oakland’s farm. Law loves Kaprielian, as the only one who included him (and fairly high up his list). FanGraphs is the only source who mentioned Murphy. And Sickels still particularly believes in Barreto.
  • Just missed the cut: Fowler got an Honorable Mention from Pipeline, as one of 12 prospects who just missed their list. Kaprielian got one from FanGraphs, among 38 extra names “in consideration.” Sickels took his list out to the Top 175, which allowed room to include post-100 nods to 3B Sheldon Neuse and OF Austin Beck.

Speaking of Beck ...

Where is Austin Beck?

The A’s drafted Beck at No. 6 overall last summer. He was widely considered a Top 10 draft prospect by the sources included in this post, so Oakland didn’t reach down for a surprise under-the-radar pick.

Beck was not included on a single Top 100 list. He was the highest pick from last summer’s class to not make a single list; the next one after him was No. 13 overall Trevor Rogers. The 7th and 8th picks (Pavin Smith and Adam Hasely) both made multiple lists, and the 9th and 10th picks (Keston Hiura and Jo Adell) both made every list. The 15th, 18th, and 19th picks (J.B. Bukauskus, Alex Faedo, Heliot Ramos) each made multiple lists. Sickels did find room for Beck toward the end of his extended list, but he also included the 20th pick (David Peterson) in his Top 100.

What I’d like to know is what changed between then and now. Beck was a consensus top 10 pick, but just a few months later he’s not one of the top 15 prospects to have come out of the draft class. The only thing that happened since the draft was a brief debut in Rookie Ball — Beck struggled for his first two weeks of pro ball before recovering and being fine for the next month, but still finished with poor overall numbers.

Even if you want to argue about tools and ceiling, there’s no case to be made. One key example is Giants pick Heliot Ramos, who made four lists despite being significantly lower on pre-draft boards. Beck matches or exceeds him in every tool according to MLB Pipeline, and yet Ramos is No. 63 on their list while Beck didn’t make it at all. They were both toolsy high school outfielders, but Ramos hit for a higher batting average for a month on some Rookie League backfields in Arizona (with a higher strikeout rate than Beck, by the way).

I can’t say I understand this analysis on the part of the national sources, but he’s a unanimous snub for now.

Farm system rankings

In addition to listing all the individual prospects, some sources also rank the 30 teams’ overall farm systems. Oakland ended up all over the place.

  • 7th according to MLB Pipeline (link)
  • 8th according to Baseball Prospectus (link)
  • 13th according to John Sickels (link)
  • 14th according to Keith Law (link)
  • 18th according to Baseball America (link)

So, they might be comfortably in the Top 10, or all the way down in the bottom half. I don’t know enough about everyone else’s minor league systems to have a strong opinion, but this is one of the best A’s farms I’ve seen in while and I’d have a hard time believing it’s not at least top-half in the league.

Baseball America cited high levels of risk as a reason for their conservative rating (h/t Ciderbeck), but I think they took it too far. They even put Oakland a few spots below the Angels, whose system is led by two teenagers, two 20-year-olds, and an international star who’s never played a day of U.S. pro ball (but the A’s have too much risk).

Meanwhile, I must admit that MLB Pipeline is being generous. Based on their own Top 100 list, they added up each team’s “Prospect Points” — 100 points for having the No. 1 guy, 99 points for the No. 2 guy, etc. Oakland tied for 13th with 174 points, and even if Fowler had cracked the bottom of the list they still wouldn’t have risen above 12th. They were the only team to make Pipeline’s Top 10 in the farm system rankings without also being in the Top 10 in Prospect Points, so Pipeline must love the depth of the organization as much as we do.

Having said that, Pipeline’s optimism is matched by Baseball Prospectus. That’s two major sources putting Oakland in the Top 10 farm systems!

Best Tools

MLB Pipeline also did a rundown of the best tools on their Top 100 list, and a few A’s showed up. Mateo won for fastest runner, with an 80-grade for speed. There were only four other 80s among the Top 100 guys in any tool — the fastballs of Shohei Ohtani, Michael Kopech, and Hunter Greene, and the hitting of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

On the pitching side, Puk was credited with the best slider, for which he received a 65-grade (his fastball got a 70). Luzardo didn’t top any category, but he earned honorable mentions for both changeup and control (both 60s, with a 65 fastball).

In terms of the rest of the A’s own Top 30 list, the other best tools were Sean Murphy’s arm (70) and fielding (65), Kevin Merrell’s speed (70), and Lou Trivino’s fastball (65). I was mildly surprised to see Murphy appear on only one Top 100 list, but hopefully he’ll leap up the rankings once he proves he can hit in the upper minors this summer.

Poll

Where would you rank the A’s farm system among all 30 clubs?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    7th
    (324 votes)
  • 36%
    13th
    (195 votes)
  • 3%
    18th
    (18 votes)
537 votes total Vote Now