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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Will Toffey back from DL in High-A

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The third baseman is an on-base machine.

Will Toffey
Photo credit: Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

The Oakland A’s 2017 draft class is off to an up-and-down start in its first full pro season. On the bright side, top pick Austin Beck is an All-Star for Single-A Beloit, and pitchers Parker Dunshee (7th round) and Brian Howard (8th) are putting up serious numbers in High-A Stockton’s rotation. However, the top college hitters have not been doing well, between the struggles of Kevin Merrell (1st/Comp round) and early injuries to Greg Deichmann (2nd) and Will Toffey (4th).

Fortunately one of those hitters is ready to flip his part of the script, as Toffey returned from the DL last week for Stockton. The third baseman went out in mid-April with a dislocated shoulder, and he ended up missing nearly six weeks overall. At the time of his injury he’d been off to a strong start in exactly the ways he was supposed to be good, particularly a walk rate so massive that it helped make up for other weaknesses in his line (especially power). He’s been even better since his return to the lineup.

Toffey, pre-injury: 9-for-32, 2 doubles, 11 BB (25%), 9 Ks (21%), 141 wRC+
Toffey, post-injury: 10-for-24, HR, 2 doubles, 6 BB (20%), 5 Ks (17%), 219 wRC+

All told he doesn’t even have 100 plate appearances yet, so it’s too early to draw any serious conclusions about him. But the early returns are precisely what we hoped to see from him, between a mastery of the strike zone, a massive OBP, and enough hits to tie the whole package together. The way he’s playing right now is what a successful Toffey would look like, which makes it easy to be optimistic that he’s not a complete small-sample fluke.

Toffey, 2018 A+: .339/.493/.464, 173 wRC+, 1 HR, 23.0% BB, 18.9% Ks

Entering the season, Toffey ranked No. 25 on our Community Prospect List. He came in with a reputation for outperforming his mediocre raw tools, and so far he’s living up to his hype with some fascinating numbers. Now that he’s back in action, the next step is to prove himself over the course of months instead of weeks.

Rest of lineup

Quick look down the rest of the Ports lineup.

Bolt, OF: .273/.400/.533, 153 wRC+, 8 HR, 16.0% BB, 22.5% Ks
Heim, C: .297/.363/.459, 125 wRC+, 6 HR, 8.9% BB, 16.5% Ks
Mondou, 2B: .281/.344/.420, 108 wRC+, 5 HR, 7.5% BB, 15.0% Ks
Barrera, OF: .259/.329/.378, 94 wRC+, 2 HR, 8.8% BB, 21.2% Ks
Blanco, OF: .270/.332/.374, 93 wRC+, 1 HR, 8.8% BB, 21.1% Ks
Merrell, SS: .257/.297/.310, 65 wRC+, 0 HR, 4.9% BB, 23.6% Ks

At this point I’d be ready to see Skye Bolt move back up to Double-A for another try. He’s re-proven himself in High-A after a season-opening slump in Midland, and it’s time to give him a bigger challenge in the upper minors.

Meanwhile, Jonah Heim cooled off for a while but recently enjoyed another hot streak. He hit safely in nine games straight beginning on May 28, and over his last 10 contests he’s 16-for-39 with three dingers and six doubles (240 wRC+). Also on fire is Nate Mondou, with a 143 wRC+ over his last 28 games (since May 8). In particular, I’m intrigued by Mondou’s power surge, as the normally light hitter has knocked 13 extra-base hits in that span (including 4 HR). All available data also suggests Mondou is a plus defender at the keystone.

In the speed department, Dairon Blanco leads the club with 19 steals (21 tries), and Luis Barrera (9-for-11) is tied for second with Bolt (9-for-12). Elite speedster Kevin Merrell is only 5-of-8, made worse by his difficulty getting on base at all.

One final note: Infielder Edwin Diaz, one of the top sluggers in the lineup, was promoted to Double-A on Thursday.

Pitching staff

The leaders of the rotation are still Dunshee and Howard, who continue to slice through the Cal League like cooked asparagus. Trying to pick between the two is pointless, though, as their numbers are virtually identical.

Dunshee: 2.56 ERA, 63⅓ ip, 73 Ks, 16 BB, 6 HR, 3.48 FIP
Howard: 2.56 ERA, 63⅓ ip, 70 Ks, 13 BB, 8 HR, 3.85 FIP

Both of them keep plugging right along, posting good start after good start. Even when they have an occasional shaky outing, they always come back strong the next time. If you must look for a way to differentiate the pair, then note that Dunshee gets more swinging strikes while Howard is more adept at inducing grounders.

As for the bullpen, here’s an updated look at the top names:

Duno: 1.66 ERA, 38 ip, 45 Ks, 10 BB, 3 HR, 3.15 FIP
Sheehan: 4.44 ERA, 26⅓ ip, 41 Ks, 15 BB, 1 HR, 3.25 FIP
Romero: 1.98 ERA, 27⅓ ip, 30 Ks, 4 BB, 3 HR, 3.48 FIP
Tomasovich: 3.68 ERA, 22 ip, 32 Ks, 17 BB, 0 HR, 3.52 FIP

Converted starter Angel Duno has a streak of 11 straight scoreless innings (and leads the quartet in swinging-strike rate at 16.6%), and lefty Andrew Tomasovich has only allowed runs in one of his last 10 outings. Miguel Romero finally gave up a few walks and has also allowed runs in his last few appearances, but his numbers are still excellent overall. The real story here is Sam Sheehan, who’s stats are finally catching up with his outstanding peripherals. His last nine games: 12⅔ ip, 1 ER, 18 Ks, 5 BB, 6 hits. Overall he’s struck out 35.7% of the batters he’s faced this year. Breakout reliever Boomer Biegalski is still on the DL.

The Ports pen got a new addition on Friday in Peter Bayer. The right-hander was acquired from the Rays for Wilmer Font, so in an indirect sense they got him for lefty reliever Logan Salow (last year’s 6th-round pick, began year in Single-A Beloit, then traded for Font). Click here for more on Bayer.

Saturday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: LIVE, Edwin Jackson vs. Tacoma
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Joel Seddon vs. Frisco
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Dustin Hurlbutt vs. Visalia
Single-A Beloit: LIVE, Xavier Altamirano vs. Burlington

We took a closer look at Hurlbutt a couple weeks ago, but he got knocked around in his last start after that post.

Link to box scores