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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Dustin Fowler has busted his slump in Triple-A

The outfielder is on fire since returning to the minors.

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

At the beginning of August, rookie outfielder Dustin Fowler was demoted back to Triple-A Nashville. The 23-year-old had reached MLB in early May and held his own for a couple months, but his bat slowed down as July wore on. He began to lose playing time to the unexpected breakout of Nick Martini, and after a 3-for-32 slump he lost his roster spot to fellow rookie Ramon Laureano.

Fortunately, it took Fowler exactly zero time to get back on track in Triple-A. He notched three hits in his first game, then two more, then another two. He’s now played 11 games since returning to Nashville, and 10 of them were multi-hit efforts. Overall he’s 26-for-48, and his numbers are downright comical.

Fowler, AAA last 11 gms: .542/.569/.771, 257 wRC+, 5.9% BB, 11.8% Ks

During this stretch he’s got more extra-base hits (9) than strikeouts (6). Of course, it’s entirely possible that his .619 BABIP isn’t sustainable, but the point isn’t that he’s suddenly a superstar. Rather, he was in a dire slump, and now he’s not. He’s making a bunch of contact (including lots of liners) and turning it into as many hits as you could humanly hope for, all while keeping the strikeouts low and working a walk now and then. He’s even stolen three bases without getting caught.

The A’s have a bit of a logjam in the outfield. Stephen Piscotty is locked into RF, while Mark Canha, Chad Pinder, Martini, and Laureano share the load in left and center, all of which means that there isn’t an immediate path back to the bigs for Fowler. However, the whole group is heavy on right-handed bats, with only Martini swinging from the left side, so at least there’s one thing that sets Fowler apart from most of the pack.

For his part, Martini looked to be cooling off to begin August but is now waking back up. He began the month 0-for-11, though three walks, a HBP, and a sac fly meant he was productive in 5-of-16 plate appearances. In his last two games, though, he’s 5-for-9 out of the leadoff spot. Laureano hasn’t hit much yet but has looked like a defensive stud in CF, while Canha and Piscotty have been as cold in August as they were smoking hot in June and July.

It’s not yet time to make a move, as the most expendable members of the current outfield are also the ones contributing the most lately. But if the time does come to mix it up and make a change, or if the team decides it wants another lefty to balance things out, then it’s nice to know that there’s once again an attractive in-house option — even if he has to wait for a September call-up.

Note: While we’re on the topic of MLB-ready lefty outfielders, Boog Powell has played 12 games for Nashville since being activated from the 60-day DL. In 59 PAs he’s batting .260 with only one extra-base hit, but nine walks have his OBP at .373 and his 11 strikeouts are acceptably low (18.6%). Meanwhile, injured veteran Matt Joyce could start taking batting practice again soon in his recovery from a prolonged back problem, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.

Rest of Triple-A

There are a few more hitters to watch in Nashville. First up is Franklin Barreto, who like Fowler has technically graduated from prospect status but still isn’t quite an established MLB player. Since returning from his last stint in Oakland, he’s played seven games in Triple-A and gone 9-for-21 with three homers and three doubles. His seven strikeouts in 27 PAs are still high (25.9%), but at least it’s a slight improvement. Meanwhile he’s making tons of great contact and finding his way on base more than half the time. Here are his numbers since the beginning of July, encompassing three separate stints (81 PAs):

Barreto, AAA last 19 gms: .290/.432/.694, 182 wRC+, 7 HR, 16.0% BB, 30.9% Ks

Still can’t ignore those Ks, but also can’t ignore the amount of damage the 22-year-old is doing in spite of them. The enormous walk rate is also encouraging for a youngster who’s biggest need is improving his pitch recognition and plate discipline. Broadcaster Jeff Hem has made repeated mention (here and here) of some mechanical changes by Barreto. Have a look for yourself:

Next up is Sheldon Neuse, who is slowly figuring things out. He was awful at the plate for the first couple months of his aggressive assignment to Triple-A, but his last 55 games have gone much better (219 PAs, since June 14):

Neuse, AAA last 55 games: .320/.357/.443, 108 wRC+, 4 HR, 6.0% BB, 28.5% Ks

There are still red flags all over the place. The strikeout rate has improved significantly but is still high, and the lack of walks limits his on-base ability. He’s once again being fueled by BABIP just like last summer, this time at .440 during this hot stretch. But the bottom line is that he’s finally been producing, and he’s even launched a few dingers after a long power drought in the upper minors. The 23-year-old isn’t ready for the Show yet, but he’s no longer looking completely overmatched in Triple-A.

As for Jorge Mateo, he’s also warmed up but not to the same extent as these other guys. In 21 games since late July (80 PAs):

Mateo, AAA last 21 gms: .275/.306/.450, 91 wRC+, 4.7% BB, 24.7% Ks

Of his 22 hits, nine have gone for extra bases including five triples. Even in a horrendous off-year, he still leads the entire Pacific Coast League with 14 three-baggers. He’s also stolen four bases without being caught during this recent stretch. The whole package still doesn’t jump off the page, but it’s a damn sight better than the 54 wRC+ he posted during the first few months (and the low 63% success rate on steals). Perhaps the 23-year-old is beginning to put a few things together?

Pitching staff

Quick updates on the Triple-A rotation, including one uber-prospect and three pieces of MLB depth:

  • Jesus Luzardo finally had a bad day, for only about the third time all season. His second Triple-A start came in the pitcher’s nightmare of Colorado Springs, and he was touched up to the following line: 3⅓ ip, 4 runs, 5 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 6 hits. That came after tossing five scoreless in his Nashville debut, in the ultra-friendly confines of home. His two Triple-A starts have come in perhaps the two most extreme parks in the league, if not the entire sport.
  • Daniel Mengden has made five starts since coming off the DL, and four of them were quality efforts (including one each at Colorado Springs and Las Vegas). Best yet, he’s walked exactly one batter in each outing, with a total 3.6 K/BB ratio and only one homer allowed.
  • Frankie Montas has struggled his last two times out, allowing a total of a dozen runs. In one game at Colorado Springs he walked five batters.
  • Chris Bassitt has made his last five starts in Triple-A, and in four of them he’s gone at least seven innings. His overall line: 2.65 ERA, 34 ip, 29 Ks, 9 BB, 4 HR, 25 hits, 4.57 FIP. On one hand the FIP isn’t inspiring, but on the other hand he did conquer both Colorado Springs and Las Vegas, which is no small task.

And the bullpen:

  • Liam Hendriks has been lights-out in his last 11 games: 13⅓ ip, 0 runs, 23 Ks, 1 BB, 8 hits. He’s faced 48 batters in that span and struck out nearly half of them. More importantly, this time around he’s translating those amazing peripherals into actual run prevention.
  • Carlos Ramirez is showing signs of life in his last seven games: 11 ip, 1 ER, 13 Ks, 3 BB, 7 hits.
  • As for relievers on the 40-man roster, Ryan Dull is still unhittable in Triple-A. Most recently he faced five batters at Colorado Springs and retired four of them, including two strikeouts.

Wednesday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: 5:05 p.m., Chris Bassitt vs. Round Rock
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Brian Howard vs. NW Arkansas
High-A Stockton: 6:35 p.m., Evan Manarino vs. Lancaster
Single-A Beloit: DELAYED, Brady Feigl vs. Clinton
Low-A Vermont: LIVE, Josa Mora vs. Brooklyn

Lots of arms worth watching. Bassitt is keeping himself relevant in the MLB picture, Howard is looking great, and Feigl and Mora are both intriguing low-level guys. Nashville is currently riding a 15-game winning streak.

Link to box scores