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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Kyler Murray named starting QB at Oklahoma

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Also, more from the 2018 draft class and the lowest reaches of the minors.

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

When the Oakland A’s drafted Kyler Murray with the No. 9 overall pick this summer, they knew he was going to continue to pursue college football this season before switching to baseball next year. That journey got a big update on Wednesday when the Oklahoma Sooners announced Murray as their starting quarterback.

This development was always likely, but now it’s official that Murray has the job. The Sooners have 12 games on their schedule, plus any postseason dates they may earn, and each time he takes the field A’s fans will be holding their breaths that he doesn’t take a big hit or suffer any serious injury. Best of luck to Murray in an endeavor that clearly means a lot to him, but at the same time stay safe!

While Oakland’s top draft pick is yet to take the baseball field, a couple other newcomers are already moving their way up the ladder. Here are some notes on the rest of the 2018 draft class.

High-A Stockton

This isn’t news, but there are two recent draftees at High-A Stockton already:

18th round: SS Cobie Vance
27th round: OF Chase Calabuig

The Ports have seen their roster decimated by promotions and injuries, so my hunch is that the primary reason Vance and Calabuig are up is to fill space rather than because they forced their way up the ladder. That said, though, they each made great first impressions in Rookie Ball before getting called up, so they at least earned the right to be the emergency fill-ins.

As for performance, Calabuig has slowed down from his hot start (81 wRC+) and Vance never really got going at the plate (39 wRC+). Furthermore, Vance is now on the disabled list himself. But the thing that continues to catch my eye about each of them is their low rate of swinging strikes — 7.7% and 8.4%, respectively, two of the lowest on the team for the entire season. That suggests that, even with their aggressive assignments, they aren’t being completely overmatched at this relatively advanced level.

Calabuig is 22, having played his senior season in college, and Vance just turned 21 on Friday. The fact that they’re in High-A already doesn’t automatically make them serious prospects, but it certainly doesn’t hurt as they get a leg up ahead of their first full pro season next year.

Single-A Beloit

There are also two draftees in Beloit already, but this time they’re pitchers.

5th round: RHP Brady Feigl
14th round: RHP Gus Varland

Considering the absurd quantity of injuries the A’s have suffered in their starting pitching ranks, both at the MLB level and throughout the entire minor league system, my hunch is once again that these quick promotions are as much out of necessity as pure merit. But also like with the Stockton hitters, Feigl and Varland were dominating Low-A Vermont so it’s not like they didn’t earn these jumps at all. Their lines from Vermont, pre-promotion:

Feigl, A-: 1.35 ERA, 20 ip, 27 Ks, 7 BB, 0 HR, 6 hits, 1.95 FIP
Varland, A-: 1.03 ERA, 17⅔ ip, 22 Ks, 4 BB, 0 HR, 14 hits, 1.81 FIP

Those numbers are eye-popping. That’s not a typo in Feigl’s line — six hits in 20 innings, for an .091 average against. After seeing Parker Dunshee and Brian Howard make a mockery of the short-season NY-Penn League last summer, it’s nice to see two more mid-round arms burst onto the scene in similar fashion. Even better, these guys get an early opportunity that Dunshee and Howard didn’t get, to experience full-season ball so soon after their draft. They haven’t missed a beat since moving up:

Feigl, A: 3.00 ERA, 6 ip, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 5 hits, 3.81 FIP
Varland, A: 0.79 ERA, 11⅓ ip, 17 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 3 hits, 2.95 FIP

They’re not going deep into games yet, but that’s normal for pitchers right after the draft. When they’re on the mound, though, things seem to go well. This time it’s Varland with the ridiculous .083 average against. The 21-year-old has done his best Dunshee impression, putting together a 26-inning streak without an earned run before allowing a solo homer on Thursday. He had this to say about his stuff, via Bill Seals of Oakland Clubhouse:

“They really liked my spin rate on my fastball and say I have an average-ish slider, so I’ve got to work on that. They see potential in my changeup, so I’m still working on that. They’re also all about the cutter, so I’m excited to work on that.”

As for the 22-year-old Feigl, who is unfortunately on the DL right now, he had this to say to Donald Moore of Oakland Clubhouse a couple weeks ago:

“I want to work on a consistent change up. That’s the biggest thing I wanted to work on because I felt I had a good fastball and slider coming out of college and trying to get a third pitch mix in there.”

Will one of these hurlers be next year’s fast-track success story? Stay tuned to find out!

Low-A Vermont

The bulk of the class is at the two lowest levels. Here’s the full list in Vermont, with notes below on a couple standouts:

2nd round: OF Jameson Hannah (DL)
CBB round: SS Jeremy Eireman
4th round: 1B Alfonso Rivas
7th round: RHP Charlie Cerny
8th round: C JJ Schwarz
9th round: RHP Chase Cohen
10th round: RHP Clark Cota
12th round: OF Noah Vaughan
15th round: RHP Calvin Coker
16th round: RHP Bryce Nightengale
17th round: OF Devin Foyle
20th round: 2B Max Schuemann
23rd round: 3B Jonah Bride
28th round: RHP Reid Birlingmair
33rd round: SS Joseph Pena

On offense, Bride and Rivas lead the way with excellent plate discipline and on-base skills. In particular they’re making contact with everything, with minuscule swinging-strike rates of 4.8% and 6.6%, respectively. Schwarz joined late after the College World Series but is also getting on base at an impressive clip, while Eireman is flashing team-leading power despite struggling to do much else.

Bride: .286/.385/.416, 139 wRC+, 3 HR, 11.5% BB, 16.1% Ks
Rivas: .284/.391/.386, 136 wRC+, 1 HR, 13.6% BB, 16.6% Ks
Schwarz: .261/.404/.326, 129 wRC+, 1 HR, 17.5% BB, 21.1% Ks
Eireman: .231/.284/.382, 96 wRC+, 7 HR, 5.2% BB, 24.7% Ks

(Stats don’t count Sunday. Bride, Rivas, Eireman around 200+ plate appearances, Schwarz at 57.)

There’s not as much to report on the pitching side, as the best performers were the two who already moved up in Feigl and Varland.

Of course, all of these Vermont performances are nothing but brief first impressions. Everything can change next year as they all get tested further against tougher competition. But for now, the good news is that the top hitters are off to nice starts.

Rookie Ball

Finally, the lowest level of them all.

3rd round: LHP Hogan Harris (DL)
6th round: OF Lawrence Butler
11th round: RHP Joe DeMers (DL)
13th round: RHP Dallas Woolfolk
19th round: C Matt Cross
21st round: RHP Daniel Martinez
22nd round: Aiden McIntyre
25th round: OF Alonzo Jones
26th round: RHP Leudeny Pineda
29th round: LHP Austin Briggs
30th round: 1B Gio Dingcong
31st round: RHP Alex Pantuso
32nd round: C John Jones
34th round: 2B Nick Ward

I’m not as interested in the stats at this level, but for what it’s worth there have been a couple standouts. Jones leads the way with a 168 wRC+, an OBP of nearly .500, and more than twice as many walks as strikeouts, all in 98 PAs. Ward is next with a 143 wRC+, and Dingcong (112 wRC+) leads the team with five homers but also has an alarming 32.0% strikeout rate. Butler was the only prominent high schooler in the draft class, and he’s holding his own with a 103 wRC+ thanks mostly to a strong walk rate.

A few pitchers have put up gaudy strikeout rates:

McIntyre: 29⅓ ip, 43 Ks, 13 BB, 35.8% K-rate
Pantuso: 22⅓ ip, 33 Ks, 13 BB, 34.0% K-rate
Birlingmair: 18⅔ ip, 25 Ks, 6 BB, 31.7% K-rate
Martinez: 20⅓ ip, 26 Ks, 11 BB, 31.0% K-rate

We’ll see who can continue missing bats next year against higher competition!

More Beloit

As long as we’re looking at the lower minors, here’s a quick update on the three big names in Beloit.

Armenteros, OF: .281/.384/.404, 130 wRC+, 7 HR, 11.1% BB, 33.4% Ks
Beck, OF: .291/.332/.381, 101 wRC+, 2 HR, 5.8% BB, 22.3% Ks
Allen, SS: .233/.298/.292, 70 wRC+, 0 HR, 7.0% BB, 16.8% Ks

After an extremely slow start to the season, 2017 3rd-rounder Nick Allen has come around in August. Over his last 18 games he’s batting .320 with a 123 wRC+, albeit still with no power or walks. It may just be a hot streak, but at least it’s better than nothing as the 19-year-old defensive whiz looks to make progress at the plate in his first full pro season.

As for the heavier lifters, Lazaro Armenteros is now two months removed from his midseason DL stint (quad), and his strong performance since then is more or less the same as before he hit the shelf. Meanwhile, 2017 1st-rounder Austin Beck has exploded in August, batting .351 with a 151 wRC+ and some extra-base power. There’s a big BABIP involved, but hopefully the whole package means he’s making some good contact this month.

One difference for Beck recently has been an improvement in his approach and pitch selection, as he told Seals:

“Some sliders that started knee-high and broke off the table that weren’t strikes … most of my July was swinging at dumb crap. I went through an off-day and just worked on low pitches and my approach, trying to swing at my pitch and my pitch only. Then when I got to two strikes, I’m battling.”

That’s the kind of adjustment you want to see from a top teenage prospect!

Injury updates

On Friday we looked at a couple top prospects returning from injury, specifically High-A hitters (and high 2017 picks) Greg Deichmann and Kevin Merrell. Not even 24 hours later, another name joined the list of positive news.

There aren’t many games left for Holmes to pitch in, but if he even appears once then that would be a nice conclusion to an otherwise lost season. He missed the entire year to a shoulder injury.

Next up is catcher Sean Murphy. He went down in early July with a broken hamate in his hand, but he’s already back in action on a rehab assignment in Rookie Ball. He wasn’t a sure bet to play again this season, but apparently he made a quick enough recovery to get back on the field.

And finally, fellow catcher Santis Sanchez is also back in action after a broken hamate. The A’s 5th-round pick out of high school in 2017, he missed the entire season but returned to the Rookie Ball lineup in mid-August. The right-handed hitter, who turned 20 on Tuesday, is 1-for-18 so far with 4 BB and 9 Ks.

Sunday’s games

Full slate of action.

Triple-A Nashville: Won 7-3, Bullpen Game vs. Memphis
Double-A Midland: LIVE, Sam Bragg vs. Frisco
High-A Stockton: 6:00 p.m., Kyle Freidrichs vs. Visalia
Single-A Beloit: Lost 10-2, Bryce Conley vs. Peoria
Low-A Vermont: Won 10-9, Jose Mora vs. Brooklyn

In Beloit, Conley entered the game having struck out 20-of-52 batters in three starts since returning from the DL; however, he was mediocre this time out. In Vermont, Bride and Eireman notched multiple hits each.

Link to box scores