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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Dustin Fowler heating up in Triple-A

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The CF of the future is inching closer toward the present.

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Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

When the Oakland A’s acquired Dustin Fowler last summer in the Sonny Gray trade, they spoke of him as their CF of the near future. However, after missing half the season to a significant knee injury, the team chose to start him in Triple-A this year so he could get his legs back under him and shake off any lingering rust.

It took Fowler a couple weeks to get going, with a 50 wRC+ in his first 16 games and no extra-base power to be found. But on April 23 he notched three hits, and in 10 games since then he’s been unstoppable:

Fowler, since 4/23: .413/.426/.717, 191 wRC+, 2 HR, 2 triples, 4 doubles, 4 SB, 2.1% BB, 6.4% Ks

* Posted four 3-hit games in this span, including one 4-hit day

He’s 19-for-46 over that stretch, with power and speed. The batting average is small-sample high, but otherwise this is the kind of hitter we were hoping for. He’s still not walking, but he never has — last year he was excellent in Triple-A and earned his way to the bigs despite a minuscule 4.8% walk rate. If he keeps his strikeout rate at that Schrockian low level, then I especially won’t care about the walks.

There’s no particular rush to bring up the 23-year-old immediately. Mark Canha is holding down CF just fine as long as he’s on fire at the plate, the Joyce/Pinder platoon has LF covered, and Stephen Piscotty is doing just enough in RF. He could replace backup Jake Smolinski yesterday, but I wouldn’t want to promote Fowler just to stick him on the bench, nor even in a mere part-time/platoon role with Canha or Piscotty. I want him playing every day if possible. Of course, if he keeps hitting like this then at some point the A’s hand will be forced and they’ll have to figure something out.

In the meantime, it’s nice to see Oakland’s big trade acquisition getting healthy and finding his groove.

Rest of the lineup

A couple other members of last July’s trade haul haven’t yet found Fowler’s level of success. Infielders Jorge Mateo and Sheldon Neuse are each below the Mendoza Line, but of course they deserve plenty of patience due to their aggressive assignments — the pair combined for just 78 games in Double-A last year and were then ushered up the ladder quickly. The month of May has started well for both, as Neuse is 4-for-11 so far and Mateo exploded on Thursday to go 4-for-5 with two homers.

The other positive standout alongside Fowler has been Franklin Barreto, back from his early-season tour of Oakland’s bench. His strikeout rate is still high, which was the one key thing for him to improve on, but he’s hitting the ball well anyway and even showing some power. He’s also walking quite a bit for the first time, which is promising because it may suggest he’s beginning to do a better job of recognizing which pitches to lay off. He doesn’t necessarily need a high walk rate to succeed, but he does need to quit swinging at whatever pitches were leading to Ks last year and hopefully we’re seeing the beginning stages of that adjustment.

Finally, outfield sleeper B.J. Boyd has cooled down from his own hot start. Since April 17 he’s 12-for-52 (.231 average, .595 OPS), and since April 25 it’s even worse (.206, .479). He lives and dies on BABIP and it hasn’t been there for him the last couple weeks, but for what it’s worth he’s still making tons of contact throughout this slump and rarely striking out.

Barreto: .288/.368/.525, 128 wRC+, 3 HR, 10.3% BB, 26.5% Ks
Fowler: .318/.345/.464, 107 wRC+, 2 HR, 4.3% BB, 11.2% Ks
Boyd: .279/.330/.349, 79 wRC+, 1 HR, 7.4% BB, 9.6% Ks
Mateo: .198/.235/.323, 35 wRC+, 2 HR, 4.9% BB, 26.5% Ks
Neuse: .171/.255/.207, 25 wRC+, 0 HR, 10.6% BB, 34.0% Ks

* Fowler leads the team with 8-for-10 stolen bases

** Veteran depth update: Nick Martini (104 wRC+, mostly walks), Slade Heathcott (103, mostly BABIP), and Anthony Garcia (99, mostly power)

Pitching depth

There’s been a lot of roster movement lately as the A’s have filled in for their own injuries and underperformers, so here’s a reminder of the current landscape.

Oakland A's pitching depth
MLB AAA
Starters

Sean Manaea (L)
Daniel Mengden (R)
Trevor Cahill (R)
Andrew Triggs (R)
Brett Anderson (L)

Relievers

Blake Treinen (R)
Yusmerio Petit (R)
Ryan Dull (R)
Danny Coulombe (L)
Lou Trivino (R)
Santiago Casilla (R)
Chris Hatcher (R)
Wilmer Font (R)

Disabled List

SP Paul Blackburn (R)
SP Jharel Cotton (R)
RP Ryan Buchter (L)
RP Liam Hendriks (R)
AAA starters

Kendall Graveman (R)*
Daniel Gossett (R)*
Chris Bassitt (R)*
James Naile (R)
Eric Jokisch (L)
Frankie Montas (R)*

AAA relievers

Josh Lucas (R)*
Emilio Pagan (R)*
Bobby Wahl (R)
Jake Sanchez (R)
Raul Alcantara (R)
Kyle Finnegan (R)
Jeremy Bleich (L)

Disabled List

SP A.J. Puk (L)
SP Grant Holmes (R)


* = on 40-man roster

Most of the rotation depth has enough MLB experience that they no longer qualify as prospects. A quick rundown:

  • Graveman was sent down after a wretched April in Oakland, and his first Triple-A game went poorly (5⅔ ip, 6 runs, 11 hits)
  • Gossett has been impressive since washing out of Oakland, except for that ghastly walk rate (0.96 ERA, 18⅔ ip, 19 Ks, 13 BB)
  • Bassitt finally got a start but got shredded (2 ip, 7 runs, 7 hits)
  • Montas hasn’t made any noise yet as a starter but we’ll let you know if/when he does

The only true prospect in this group is James Naile. He finally ran into a rough game in the unfriendly elevation of Colorado Springs, giving up five runs in four innings, but his own team scored 14 on the day so perhaps it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Naile, 2018: 2.41 ERA, 33⅔ ip, 27 Ks, 8 BB, 1 HR, 3.77 FIP

Here’s more on Naile, from Melissa Lockard’s recent interview with A’s Asst GM Billy Owens at The Athletic:

He’s matured. He’s gotten a little bit stronger. He’s able to sustain his velocity more. Coming out of college, he was 88-91, touching 91. Now he’s more firm in that 88-92 range and holding those 90-92s during the outing with that sink. Still has the slider. Improved the changeup through the years. We know Gil Patterson is excellent at adding a changeup.

As for the bullpen, the standout has been Wahl. He’s struck out 21 of the 54 batters he’s faced (38.9%), and his swinging-strike rate (16.9%) is fifth-highest in the entire Pacific Coast League (min. 10 innings). Better yet, he’s keeping the walks under control so far. His numbers are actually uncannily similar to his start last year, which earned him a trip to MLB (cut short by injury), but this time the 26-year-old is getting even better results.

Wahl, 2017 AAA: 4.15 ERA, 13 ip, 22 Ks, 5 BB, 3 HR, 13 hits, 4.49 FIP
Wahl, 2018 AAA: 1.98 ERA, 13⅔ ip, 21 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 9 hits, 2.68 FIP

Finally, Lucas is back in the pen after a brief DL stint, and Sanchez is back from a quick trip down to Double-A. Pagan breezed through two perfect innings in his Nashville debut, striking out half of his six batters. Veteran depth piece Simon Castro, who threw 37 innings for Oakland last year, was released on Thursday.

Friday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: 4:35 p.m., Frankie Montas vs. Memphis
Double-A Midland: 5:00 p.m., Joel Seddon vs. Corpus Christi
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Jake Bray vs. Inland Empire
Single-A Beloit: 3:30 p.m., Jared Poche’ vs. Lake County

The most interesting name is at the bottom of that list, as Poche’ (2017, 9th round) is looking strong this year now that he’s finally getting on a professional mound.

Link to box scores