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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Austin Beck, Wyatt Marks named All-Stars in Single-A

They’re joined by Beloit veterans Trace Loehr and Xavier Altamirano.

Austin Beck
Photo credit: Justin Nuoffer | Beloit Snappers

The 2018 MLB draft has come and gone, but there’s also news on the 2017 class. Last year the Oakland A’s held the No. 6 overall pick in the 1st round, and they used it on high school outfielder Austin Beck. He was considered a long-term project, even more so than other high schoolers due to a relative lack of experience, but his raw tools were worth the risk.

Beck’s numbers haven’t jumped off the page so far in his pro career, including a 90 wRC+ this season for the Single-A Beloit Snappers. Still, the 19-year-old CF has shown enough to earn a trip to the Midwest League All-Star Game along with three of his teammates (we’ll discuss the others later in the post).

Beck, 2018: .282/.327/.354, 90 wRC+, 1 HR, 5.7% BB, 22.7% Ks

The All-Star berth is especially nice to see after he was snubbed from every single national Top 100 prospect list last winter. Granted, his pro debut for Low-A Vermont last summer brought disappointing numbers (77 wRC+), but he showed considerable improvement throughout the campaign. And anyway, his slow start was always to be expected given that he was widely known to be a step behind his peers in development. The same national pundits who mostly called him a Top 10 draft pick on tools alone let the unsurprisingly shaky early returns scare them off just a couple months later.

There’s still a lot of work for Beck to do and everything left to prove, but this distinction suggests that he’s at least making strides — even if you can’t fully see it in the numbers.

Lazarito injury

Unfortunate news from last week, regarding outfielder Lazaro Armenteros:

There hasn’t been an update since then, other than Lazarito going on the disabled list. As usual, my advice is for us to not freak out until we have a specific reason to — if it turns out to be a serious injury, then we can have a different discussion.

The 19-year-old is one of the A’s top prospects, about on par with Beck. He didn’t join Beloit until May but has been arguably the team’s best hitter since his arrival (135 wRC+, 4 HR, in 27 games).

Loehr an All-Star

Beck wasn’t the only Snapper to make the All-Star team. He’ll be joined on the position player side by 2B Trace Loehr.

It’s been a long road already for Loehr, who was drafted out of high school in 2014 (6th round, overslot bonus). This is his fourth full pro season and his third in Beloit, and in the first two tours with the Snappers he struggled at the plate — an 87 wRC+ both years, with nothing exciting in his batting line. His best qualities were a modest strikeout rate and decent-to-good defensive metrics.

Now, at age 23, he’s finally putting up some numbers. Most of the improvement is in the BABIP department (.346), so we shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves, but he’s also doubled his walk rate from last year and he’s already set a career-high in stolen bases with an improved success rate. And he’s doing all of this while switching to his third different primary position in as many seasons — in ‘16 he was mostly a SS, and in ‘17 he spent the majority of his time at 3B, but this year he’s played every inning at 2B.

Loehr, 2018: .292/.367/.395, 115 wRC+, 2 HR, 9.7% BB, 15.9% Ks, 14-of-19 SB

Given his age and extensive experience in Single-A, Loehr falls into the category of guys who will need to move up a level or two before they can truly jump onto the prospect radar. But this is the first time he’s put up any kind of performance worth talking about, and it was enough to get him an All-Star nod, so all of that seems like a milestone worth mentioning.

As for the rest of the lineup:

Meggs, OF: .261/.331/.449, 117 wRC+, 4 HR, 9.8% BB, 24.8% Ks
Hargrove, 1B: .294/.338/.406, 106 wRC+, 3 HR, 5.8% BB, 9.7% Ks
McDonald, OF: .278/.363/.339, 101 wRC+, 0 HR, 11.1% BB, 15.9% Ks
Lopez, IF: .243/.298/.399, 92 wRC+, 6 HR, 5.9% BB, 17.6% Ks
Farrar, OF: .221/.279/.421, 90 wRC+, 7 HR, 6.3% BB, 19.2% Ks
Allen, SS: .199/.261/.258, 47 wRC+, 0 HR, 6.9% BB, 22.7% Ks

When I said Lazarito was arguably the Snappers’ best hitter since his arrival, the reason for the hesitation was Jack Meggs. Over his last 28 games since early May, he’s matched Lazarito’s four homers and edged him out in wRC+ at 155. On the other hand Hunter Hargrove has slumped since our last look at him, going 11-for-55 with no extra-base hits and a 15.0% K-rate.

Meanwhile, Mickey McDonald has 11 steals without being caught, and Logan Farrar still leads the team in dingers and holds a seven-game hitting streak. The only positive in Nick Allen’s numbers is that he’s 10-for-13 in steals.

As for Jesus Lopez, he’s in a similar boat as Loehr in terms of finally putting up interesting stats in his third year in Beloit. He’s still below-average overall, but his last 32 games have brought a 121 wRC+ and six homers. Also like Loehr, he’s playing his third primary defensive position in as many seasons — majority SS in ‘16, then 2B in ‘17, and now 3B in ‘18. The big difference is that he’s only 21 years old, which means he has the chance to play his way into prospect status right here in Single-A.

Pitching staff

The other two Beloit All-Stars came from the pitching ranks. Wyatt Marks is the biggest name on the staff, having made the MLB Pipeline list of Top 30 A’s prospects, and he’s backed up that hype with a massive 32.0% strikeout rate. He went through a rough patch in May, but he’s settled down in his last two starts.

Marks, 2018: 4.25 ERA, 53 ip, 73 Ks, 21 BB, 5 HR, 3.36 FIP

Joining Marks will be right-hander Xavier Altamirano, out of the 2015 draft class (27th round). The 23-year-old is in the category with Loehr of players in their third season in Beloit who need to move up to become true prospects, but today we can take a moment to appreciate that his quality numbers will be recognized with an All-Star berth.

Altamirano, 2018: 3.30 ERA, 60 ip, 49 Ks, 12 BB, 5 HR, 3.80 FIP

Elsewhere on the staff, 23-year-old Beloit repeater Mitchell Jordan has an intriguing 1.93 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 42 innings; can he earn his way up to High-A for a real trial? From the 2017 draft, Bryce Conley began to slump in late April but is back on track in his last five games (22 ip, 32 Ks, 10 BB, 2.05 ERA), while Jared Poche’ continues to post consistently decent outings.

Conley: 4.07 ERA, 48⅔ ip, 56 Ks, 19 BB, 4 HR, 4 HR, 3.71 FIP
Poche’: 3.81 ERA, 49⅔ ip, 40 Ks, 20 BB, 5 HR, 4.67 FIP

Congrats to all four of Beloit’s All-Stars!

Friday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: 5:05 p.m., Chris Bassitt vs. Tacoma
Double-A Midland: 5:05 p.m., Norge Ruiz vs. San Antonio
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Zack Erwin vs. Visalia
Single-A Beloit: 5:00 p.m., Wyatt Marks vs. Burlington

Plenty to watch on that slate, even beyond the All-Star Marks. The other three are all on the bubble of relevancy, looking to pitch their way back in.

Link to box scores