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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Dairon Blanco named All-Star MVP in High-A

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The speedster went 4-for-5 with a homer in the Cal League All-Star Game.

Photo credit: Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

The High-A California League held its All-Star Game on Tuesday, and the side featuring the Stockton Ports cruised to an 8-1 victory. The MVP of the game was none other than Oakland A’s prospect Dairon Blanco, who went 4-for-5 with a homer, a double, and a stolen base.

With only eight teams in the Cal League, and thus four clubs making up each All-Star squad, the first-place Ports had eight representatives on the roster. However, Parker Dunshee, Miguel Romero, and Skye Bolt all missed out on the action because they were promoted to Double-A instead, and Kevin Merrell didn’t make it into the game.

That left four Ports making appearances on Tuesday, with Blanco leading the way. He opened the game in the top of the 1st by reaching on an infield single, stealing second, and scoring on a hit by Stockton catcher Jonah Heim. His next time up, leading off the 3rd inning, he blasted an opposite-field homer to right for what turned out to be the deciding run. Just a couple frames into the game, the Ports had given their squad all the scoring they’d need.

Blanco added a single in the 4th, a flyout in the 6th, and a double in the 8th, but the damage had already been done. Teammates Heim and Nate Mondou also put together multi-hit games and each notched an RBI as well, though on the downside Brian Howard allowed the South’s only run on a solo homer in the 5th.

Blanco: 4-for-5, HR, double, RBI, SB, 2 runs
Heim: 2-for-3, RBI, K
Mondou: 2-for-5, RBI
Howard: 1 ip, 1 run, 2 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HR

Click here for full box score

It’s been an encouraging year for Blanco, who arrived last winter as a total question mark. The Cuban native had a two-year layoff from competitive play after leaving his home country, and at age 25 he’s already old for a lower-minors prospect, but his 80-grade speed was enough to get the A’s attention. Assistant GM Dan Feinstein had this to say at the time, via Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse:

“He has a track record of success in the Cuba, and possesses tools that are hard to come by. He’s very athletic, and a true 80 runner with the ability to play all three outfield spots. Profiles as leadoff hitter who will occasionally put one in the seats.”

He isn’t lighting the league on fire, but he’s holding his own in his first stateside experience. He’s doing a decent job of getting on base, and then he’s making the most of his speed once he gets there. In particular, his modest strikeout rate offers hope that he can make his fair share of contact and then let his wheels do the rest. You can’t steal first base, but you can slap a bunch of grounders and beat them out (53.6% grounder rate is top 10 in the league).

Blanco, 2018: .285/.336/.393, 97 wRC+, 1 HR, 7.4% BB, 19.3% Ks, 21-for-23 SB

There’s a long way to go before we can think about Blanco reaching MLB, and he doesn’t have unlimited time to get there given his relatively advanced age. But what he does have is an elite tool in his speed, and even if the rest of his game only turns out to be mediocre he might still find a useful role on the bench someday. The A’s didn’t spend much money to take a flyer on him, so if he pans out to any degree then it’ll feel like a free spin landing on the jackpot. Don’t hold your breath, but do keep your eye on him.

Bonus: Fresh off his All-Star performance, Blanco provided more heroics for Stockton on Saturday. With the score tied 3-3 in the 10th, and the bonus baserunner starting the inning on second, he grounded a single up the middle for the walk-off RBI.

Not a bad week for Blanco!

Howard promoted

Just a week after Parker Dunshee made his move up to Double-A Midland, fellow 2017 draft sleeper Brian Howard joins him in the RockHounds rotation after a promotion on Thursday. The 6’9 right-hander breezed through the High-A competition for two months, with his characteristically huge K/BB ratio and a low hit rate. The only blemish in his numbers is a slightly high homer rate, which is fair enough in the hitter-friendly Cal League.

Howard, 2018 A+: 2.38 ERA, 72 ip, 77 Ks, 14 BB, 9 HR, 53 hits, 3.86 FIP

That now makes four starters who have moved up from Stockton to Midland this year, along with Dunshee and top prospects Jesus Luzardo and Logan Shore. To take Howard’s spot in the rotation, Xavier Altamirano (2015, 27th round) was promoted from Single-A Beloit to the Ports.

Altamirano, 2018 A: 3.09 ERA, 70 ip, 63 Ks, 16 BB, 5 HR, 58 hits, 3.52 FIP

My stance on Altamirano this season (his third in Beloit) has been that he needed to move up to High-A in order to have a chance at becoming interesting, so now he’s at least done that. The right-hander, who turns 24 next month, joins a Stockton rotation that also features Zack Erwin, Matt Milburn, Evan Manarino, and Dustin Hurlbutt. With the big names all up in Midland now, the new group of Ports has the challenge of proving they’re more than org filler.

Bullpen

While Stockton’s rotation has gotten less interesting due to promotions, the bullpen is still stuffed with huge strikeout rates.

Sheehan: 3.98 ERA, 31⅔ ip, 46 Ks, 18 BB, 1 HR, 23 hits, 3.39 FIP
Duno: 1.66 ERA, 43⅓ ip, 49 Ks, 13 BB, 4 HR, 35 hits, 3.62 FIP
Tomasovich: 3.49 ERA, 28⅓ ip, 40 Ks, 20 BB, 1 HR, 25 hits, 3.89 FIP

After a rocky beginning to the season, Sam Sheehan is dominating. The righty has allowed just one earned run in his last dozen outings (14⅔ ip, 17 Ks), and for the year he’s striking out one-third of the batters he faces. Angel Duno is also hot, with one run in his last 11 games (16⅓ ip, 18 Ks). Lefty Andrew Tomasovich has given up a few more runs than that, but in his last 15 games he’s fanned over 35% of his batters (16⅓ ip, 26 Ks).

There’s also a new addition in the pen, as lefty Ty Damron (2016, 15th round) made the jump from Beloit last week. In his High-A debut he threw two perfect innings, striking out 4-of-6 batters faced.

Damron, 2018 A: 3.76 ERA, 26⅓ ip, 37 Ks, 14 BB, 2 HR, 31 hits, 3.51 FIP

The Ports now have four southpaws in their bullpen, between Tomasovich, Damron, Will Gilbert (2016, 8th), and Pat Krall (2017, 28th), along with two more in the rotation (Erwin, Manarino). Operation Find Lefty Depth is underway.

Lineup

Quick look at the top hitters.

Toffey, 3B: .277/.425/.447, 145 wRC+, 4 HR, 20.7% BB, 23.1% Ks
Heim, C: .297/.361/.445, 120 wRC+, 6 HR, 8.8% BB, 16.8% Ks
Mondou, 2B: .277/.342/.412, 106 wRC+, 6 HR, 8.0% BB, 15.0% Ks
Barrera, OF: .270/.336/.396, 100 wRC+, 2 HR, 8.6% BB, 20.2% Ks

Now that Bolt is up in Midland, the hot hitter is Will Toffey. He’s got a .903 OPS since returning from the DL at the end of May, and best of all he’s showing power (4 HR in 77 plate appearances since 5/31). His calling card is plate discipline, but if he can maintain some thump as well then he’ll become a truly dangerous hitting prospect. Jonah Heim has a 1.009 OPS in his last 19 games, and Luis Barrera is second on the team with nine steals (in 11 tries).

One new name making noise is Luke Persico (2016, 12th round), who has split time between 1B and the outfield corners this year. Over his last 27 games (since 5/23) he’s got a .921 OPS, though it’s largely based on an inflated BABIP. That’s pushed his season mark up to a 111 wRC+, albeit with mediocre power and walk rate. He had a couple hot months last summer in Beloit as well, so if he can continue his current success a bit longer then he could find his way onto the bottom of the radar.

Sunday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Raul Alcantara vs. Round Rock
Double-A Midland: Won 5-4, Brian Howard vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: 6:10 p.m., Xavier Altamirano vs. Modesto
Single-A Beloit: LIVE, Jared Poche’ vs. Quad Cities
Low-A Vermont: Lost 7-2, Jhenderson Hurtado vs. Aberdeen

Howard was mediocre in his Double-A debut (5 ip, 3 runs, 2 Ks, 2 BB, 4 hits). Altamirano will make his own High-A debut tonight.

Link to box scores