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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Skye Bolt back on track in return to Double-A

Also, Midland hosts the Texas League All-Star Game.

Photo provided by Oakland A’s

When he was drafted in 2015, Skye Bolt was considered a boom-or-bust type of prospect. He had great raw tools, but the question was whether he could translate them into on-field success. In his first two pro seasons he treaded the waters of mediocrity and dipped into the hot springs of nagging injuries, but his potential remained strong enough to keep him on our Community Prospect List for the third straight winter — this time at No. 26.

Bolt punched his ticket to Double-A to begin 2018, but his first impression in the upper minors was not a good one. He played 11 games and went 6-for-45, for a .133 average and 14 wRC+, and just a couple weeks into the season he washed back down to High-A.

Bolt, AA (1st stint): .133/.220/.200, 14 wRC+, 0 HR, 8.0% BB, 34.0% Ks

After that demotion, though, he finally got hot. Granted, he was a 24-year-old repeating a level in the lower minors, but for the first time in his career he put together an extended stretch of excellence at the plate. He played 46 games for Stockton, stayed healthy throughout, and posted a 143 wRC+ with plus power and on-base ability. Finally, in mid-June, he earned his way back up to Midland. It’s going much better this time.

Bolt, AA (2nd stint): .261/.393/.478, 136 wRC+, 1 HR, 17.9% BB, 17.9% Ks

To be clear, that line spans only seven games and 28 plate appearances. It’s a laughably small sample, and the point here is not that he’s definitely figured out Double-A and primed to dominate henceforth. All we need to take from this budding resurgence is that whatever slump he was digging in April is done, and he’s back on track at the plate.

I have three favorite parts of that recent batting line. One is that he already hit his first Double-A homer, after flashing plenty of pop in hitter-friendly Stockton. Another is that there are no BABIP shenanigans fueling those stats, as his .294 mark is not notable in either direction. And finally, he’s controlling the zone better than he did his first time around, with a walk for every strikeout (as opposed to four Ks per walk in April). His patience and on-base ability are a big part of his profile, so it will be extra encouraging if he can continue to maintain them against tougher pitching as he climbs up the ladder.

Is Bolt on his way to booming rather than busting? We’ll find out eventually! But for now, in June 2018, he’s taken one more step in the right direction.

Rest of lineup

Quick update on the other top hitters.

Murphy, C: .306/.356/.534, 133 wRC+, 8 HR, 5.9% BB, 16.5% Ks
White, IF: .304/.389/.464, 131 wRC+, 6 HR, 11.6% BB, 22.8% Ks
Martin, SS: .318/.386/.454, 128 wRC+, 1 HR, 8.9% BB, 17.5% Ks
Ramirez, OF: .276/.356/.425, 110 wRC+, 5 HR, 9.8% BB, 26.2% Ks

This group has cooled off a bit lately, though they haven’t fully fallen off a cliff. Sean Murphy has been the model of consistency all year and his version of a recent slump still has him at a 95 wRC+ (with two dingers) over the last nine games. Eli White is 5-for-30 over the same span with a spike in strikeouts, but at least he’s still found a way to get on base (13.9% BB, 30.6% Ks). Richie Martin has a 90 wRC+ over his last 10 games, and Tyler Ramirez is still scuffling (last 18 games: 95 wRC+) but has at least addressed his recent strikeout problem (21.3% Ks in that same span, down from the mid-30s in the month before that).

Dunshee, Howard join Midland

Athletics Nation has been waiting all season for this, and it finally happened: Staring pitchers Parker Dunshee and Brian Howard are up in Double-A! They both dominated the High-A Cal League, and the 23-year-olds are now in the upper minors. For the first time, we can no longer criticize that they’re too old for their league.

Dunshee got a mulligan on his Midland debut. He gave up four homers in four innings, but then the rains came and washed away the whole game. The stats were erased, and it was like it never happened. If he’s going to be good and this lucky, then the rest of the league should truly watch out! His official debut went much better:

Dunshee, AA 6/22: 6 ip, 3 runs, 9 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HR, 7 hits (and 2 HBP)

Howard’s first time out wasn’t quite as good, but it wasn’t terrible either:

Howard, AA 6/24: 5 ip, 3 runs, 2 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR, 4 hits

Will they keep fast-tracking all the way up to MLB, or get exposed in the upper minors and flame out? We’re one more positive step toward finding out!

Rest of staff

With the promotion of Norge Ruiz to Triple-A, there are two more starters worth watching in Midland.

Luzardo: 3.08 ERA, 52⅔ ip, 60 ks, 14 BB, 4 HR, 3.25 FIP
Shore: 5.66 ERA, 35 ip, 24 Ks, 13 BB, 2 HR, 4.20 FIP

Top-top prospect Jesus Luzardo is still looking great, tossing five beautiful innings just about every time out. He’s really only been bad twice out of 11 tries in Double-A. However, there is one crucial consideration that comes with his short leash: He’s not yet experiencing a third time through the lineup. He’s averaging under 20 batters faced per game, and only four times has he made it as far as facing the third hitter in the lineup for a third time. He’s doing everything that’s been asked of him so far, but when pining for him to fast-track his way up to MLB it absolutely cannot be ignored that this massive test must be passed before we can envision him as an ace in Oakland.

On the other hand, Logan Shore is getting torched in the upper minors so far. He’s yet to toss a quality start in six tries, and only once has he completed the 7th inning or allowed fewer than three runs (and those didn’t come in the same game). He has plenty of time to turn things around, but it’s officially time to stop thinking of him as a true fast-track candidate who can fly up the ladder toward the back of Oakland’s early-2019 rotation. If you’re looking for quick movers who might help sooner than later, you’ll find them in the previous section of this post.

As for the bullpen:

Blackwood: 3.74 ERA, 33⅔ ip, 27 Ks, 10 BB, 1 HR, 3.39 FIP
Romero: 3.38 ERA, 5⅓ ip, 5 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR, 2.88 FIP

In the last Midland update we marveled at Nolan Blackwood’s hot streak, which stretched to the point of one earned run over 24 innings. And then ... on June 20, he came into a tie game in the 10th inning and faced 10 batters. He retired two of them, and the other eight collected singles (5 on grounders, one on a “soft liner”). Six of them scored, plus the free runner who began the extra inning on base (he counts as unearned). Welp.

Blackwood is a pitch-to-contact reliever, so this kind of blowup is always theoretically possible, but dang. It accounted for nearly half of his earned runs for the whole season (14), and this one outing will skew his numbers for the rest of the year. On the bright side, you can only lose a game once, so after the first few runs the rest didn’t really matter. Fortunately, his next time out he got back on track by recording five outs to seal a one-run victory.

Oh, and a nice beginning to Miguel Romero’s time in the upper minors!

All-Star Game

The Texas League All-Star Game was hosted by Midland on Tuesday, with special guests Rollie Fingers and Jose Canseco on hand to throw out and receive the first pitch. The game ended in a 2-2 tie after nine innings, but per Texas League rules it then went to a home run derby tiebreaker to decide a winner (which usually happens after the 10th, but this time was moved to the 9th due to exhausted pitching staffs) (h/t OA Online). Midland’s South team emerged victorious, though no RockHounds were involved in the final derby.

Eight Midland players made it into the game, including five hitters and three pitchers. Joel Seddon drew the start on the mound and threw a scoreless inning, and Blackwood later provided another quiet frame. John Gorman wasn’t so fortunate, though, as his first batter hit a popup that fell between middle infielders Martin and White; Gorman’s replacement let the inherited runner score to tie the game in the 9th.

On the hitting side, Martin led off and played the whole game at SS. In the 5th he doubled in the South’s second run of the day to take a lead that almost stuck until the end. Ramirez started in CF and J.P. Sportman at 2B, but both went hitless. Murphy (C) and White (2B) also made appearances but didn’t collect hits.

Martin: 1-for-4, 2B, RBI, caught stealing
Ramirez: 0-for-2, and committed an error
Sportman: 0-for-2
Murphy: 0-for-2
White: 0-for-1

Click here to see the full box score.

The Hounds did do some damage at the plate earlier in the day, though. Before the game, a regular home run derby was held and Murphy took the crown as Midland’s representative. Canseco also participated, because of course he did. Click here for more details from the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

Stockton standouts

Normally I only cover one affiliate in these Prospect Watch posts, but two fringe names in High-A Stockton have put up performances worth mentioning immediately.

First up is starter Matt Milburn, who spun a shutout on Tuesday against the Giants affiliate. He only needed 90 pitches to breeze through nine scoreless innings: 9 ip, 0 runs, 7 Ks, 0 BB, 5 hits. I liked Milburn as a sleeper out of the bottom of the 2016 draft, but he’s been mediocre most of this year. However, he still has the K/BB prowess that I was originally drawn toward (64 Ks, 9 BB), and he also impressed in a couple spot starts for Triple-A Nashville this summer. This was only one game, but you don’t see a lot of full shutouts in the minors so it helps get my attention again.

Next is slugging first baseman Sandber Pimentel. Now 23 years old, he’s been a slow mover up the system and injuries haven’t helped matters; he’s now in his third year in Stockton. He got healthy and returned to the lineup in late May, but struggled out the gate for a few weeks. However, he swatted two homers on Tuesday and then another two on Wednesday, adding nearly 200 points to his OPS in just two days. He’s still far down the prospect list, but at least his power is still there.

Thursday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: 5:05 p.m., Brett Anderson vs. Oklahoma City
Double-A Midland: 5:00 p.m., Kyle Friedrichs vs. Tulsa
High-A Stockton: Lost 6-1, Dustin Hurlbutt vs. San Jose
Single-A Beloit: 5:00 p.m., Mitchell Jordan vs. Peoria
Low-A Vermont: LIVE, Abdiel Mendoza vs. Brooklyn

Anderson takes the mound for his second rehab outing in Nashville.

Link to box scores