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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Franklin Barreto is getting on base in Triple-A

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He’s more than doubling his career walk rate, and he’s hitting too.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Triple-A Nashville Sounds have already lost some of their star names in the early going, with outfielder Dustin Fowler getting the call to MLB and pitchers A.J. Puk and Grant Holmes going down with injuries during the spring. They still have a few more of the Oakland A’s top prospects, though, starting with infielder Franklin Barreto.

This is Barreto’s second season in Nashville. He spent most of 2017 there, and by the end of the year he’d fought his way up to a league-average line — not bad for a 21-year-old. However, his strikeout rate (27.6%) was awfully high for a hitter whose game is largely based on making lots of contact, and that weakness stood as a key area to fix this time around.

So far the Ks are still there (26.5%), but a new development has emerged: Barreto is drawing walks now. Entering the year his career walk rate in the minors was 6.0%, but this year it’s more than doubled, up to 13.7% through 102 plate appearances. His OBP stands at .382, his highest mark since Low-A ball back in 2014 (minors career: .348). He’s doing all this despite a mediocre batting average.

Barreto, 2018 AAA: .271/.382/.529, 136 wRC+, 5 HR, 13.7% BB, 26.5% Ks

The strikeouts still need to come down, as it’ll be even tougher to make contact against MLB pitching. However, the increase in walks is the next best thing for now, as it suggests Barreto is at least seeing more pitches and laying off more balls. After all, you can’t walk if you’re chasing everything in sight. And indeed, he’s seeing more pitches per plate appearance this year — 4.17, up from 3.82 last year. A higher percentage of the pitches are balls, as well, though on the downside he’s still swinging-and-missing at the same high rate as last summer (13.4%).

More from Nashville’s hitting coach (link):

“[Barreto] has the ability to hit any single pitch, but that’s also a detriment to him because he feels he can hit anything, even out of the zone. If he takes a pitch, he gets into a better hitter’s count. It’s one of those things we really have to stay on top of him. He’s making a valiant effort to have a two-strike approach this year.”

Of course, Barreto doesn’t necessarily need to walk a lot to succeed. His table-setter profile is based on lots of hard contact, solid power, and excellent speed. In theory he could be the kind of guy who gets on base by posting consistently high batting averages. However, a few extra walks wouldn’t hurt, especially if they turn out to be a sign that the 22-year-old is learning to improve his plate discipline and approach. Stay tuned to see where this story line goes, but it’s definitely something interesting to keep track of.

Garcia stepping up

Last winter the A’s brought in their usual contingent of minor league free agents. These guys primarily serve as veteran depth, but every so often you find a diamond in the rough like Brandon Moss. It’s rare, and if you go into every season expecting to hit that jackpot then you’ll spend a lot of time disappointed, but it’s not impossible to unearth a legit contributor.

This year the name to watch is Anthony Garcia. The 26-year-old outfielder has found plenty of success in Double-A but has always stalled in Triple-A. The Cardinals gave him chances at that level in 2015 (brief but successful), 2016 (70 games of bleh), and 2017 (brief and terrible), but he was never able to stick. This time around, though, he’s become at least mildly interesting:

Garcia: .237/.345/.495, 115 wRC+, 6 HR, 9.5% BB, 20.7% Ks

His best skill is power, and indeed he leads the Sounds with six dingers. That’s not a huge total, but it’s been rising quickly — five of those came in just his last nine games, during which he’s 11-for-33 with a 1.233 OPS.

What impresses me most about Garcia is that he doesn’t sell out for that power. His strikeout rate is around average, which makes it low for a slugger. He fanned a few extra times within that recent nine-game dinger-heavy split (25.6%), but still within the realm of acceptability considering what he produced. Overall for the season his swinging-strike rate is only 10.3%, which isn’t tiny but supports the notion that he’s not a hacker. Between that and a healthy walk rate, he controls the zone fairly well.

None of this makes him a lock to break out or even reach Oakland at all, but it makes him the most intriguing veteran-depth flyer we’ve had in a few years. Despite all he’s got going for him he still has an untenably low batting average, and we can’t automatically expect that to go up significantly even if his low BABIP does normalize. But if he can get back up to the .280 range that he’s shown flashes of in the past, continue the strong plate discipline, and keep the dinger show rolling, then who knows?

Don’t hold your breath or anything, especially for a righty corner outfielder (one of the most crowded areas of the depth chart). But Garcia is starting to make enough noise to be worth listening, so let’s hear him out and see if he gets even louder.

Final note: The other depth outfielders aren’t doing much. Nick Martini has a 109 wRC+ but it’s almost entirely based on a high walk rate. Slade Heathcott has an 89 wRC+, too many strikeouts, and not enough power, all while shifting from CF to 1B on defense.

Rest of the lineup

There are only three other prospects worth following in Nashville’s lineup. B.J. Boyd is still treading water in his first long-term exposure to Triple-A, but at age 24 it’s not a dealbreaker that he isn’t succeeding immediately. The same is true for Jorge Mateo and Sheldon Neuse, who both had awful Aprils but are warming up slightly in May. They’re young and they’re short on upper minors experience, so slow starts are completely fair.

Neuse in particular is finally finding some hits this month (.297), but entirely thanks to BABIP (.550). He’s showing zero power and striking out in nearly half of his plate appearances for the month. He’s still yet to homer in 195 PAs in the upper minors, but for some reason no one is freaking out like they did with Sean Murphy last year. (As well they shouldn’t, since Neuse is on an extremely aggressive assignment just like Murphy was at the time.)

B.J. Boyd, OF: .281/.325/.360, 80 wRC+, 1 HR, 6.5% BB, 12.2% Ks
Sheldon Neuse, 3B: .194/.258/.241, 33 wRC+, 0 HR, 8.3% BB, 36.7% Ks
Jorge Mateo, SS: .190/.227/.298, 29 wRC+, 2 HR, 4.7% BB, 30.2% Ks

Note: Boyd is 5-for-6 in steals, and Mateo is 6-for-10.

Pitching

This year the A’s have been stretching out fireballer Frankie Montas as a starter, and the initial returns were terrible. However, Montas is showing signs of life recently, as each of his last two starts have yielded six innings and just one earned run apiece. More importantly, he struck out 10 batters in his last outing, against a Colorado Springs (Brewers) lineup that has torched the rest of Nashville’s rotation. It’s only a couple games so he still has a lot to prove, but at the very least it’s promising to see him turn his power stuff into actual strikeouts.

Some other notables:

  • James Naile didn’t have the same success against Colorado Springs, whom he faced in his last two starts. Both turned into disasters, totaling 12 runs in nine innings.
  • Daniel Gossett is staying warm in case of further rotation emergency, and at least he’s able to strike out minor leaguers (one out of every four batters he faces).
  • Chris Bassitt is finally in the Sounds rotation, but he’s yet to make a good start in three tries.

Full stats:

Gossett: 1.93 ERA, 32⅔ ip, 35 Ks, 14 BB, 1 HR, 3.56 FIP
Bassitt: 5.40 ERA, 20 ip, 20 Ks, 6 BB, 1 HR, 3.93 FIP
Montas: 4.18 ERA, 28 ip, 28 Ks, 10 BB, 2 HR, 4.04 FIP
Naile: 3.72 ERA, 38⅔ ip, 32 Ks, 11 BB, 2 HR, 4.11 FIP

As for the bullpen:

  • Bobby Wahl is still the standout with his enormous 38.3% strikeout rate, and 5.75 K/BB ratio.
  • Emilio Pagan appears to be getting back on track, at least in the stats columns.
  • Josh Lucas has only allowed runs in one of his eight games in Triple-A, and his walk rate is skewed by a wild debut outing in April in which he issued three of them.
  • J.B. Wendelken returned to Nashville after missing 2017 and then opening this year in Double-A. He threw a scoreless inning in his debut.

Wahl: 1.72 ERA, 15⅔, 23 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 2.59 FIP
Pagan: 1.80 ERA, 5 ip, 9 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HR, 2.93 FIP
Lucas: 2.08 ERA, 8⅔ ip, 5 Ks, 5 BB, 0 HR, 4.85 FIP

Who’s next in line for Oakland? The best guesses are probably related to roster status more than anything else. That means Gossett (rotation) and Pagan (bullpen), who are already on the 40-man roster and are also top performers in Nashville. However, if Wahl stays healthy and keeps pitching like this then at some point he’ll be too good to keep down. And of course, the landscape can change quickly as time goes on, so it’s a tough question to answer without knowing when it will be asked.

Saturday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Eric Jokisch vs. Memphis
Double-A Midland: 5:05 p.m., Corey Walter vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 6:05 p.m., Logan Shore vs. Inland Empire
Single-A Beloit: Lost 8-6, Wyatt Marks vs. Lansing

Marks got lit up for Beloit, but Lazaro Armenteros picked up another three hits. Shore is the other name to watch on that list.

Link to box scores