I’m happy to turn my attention to coming up with the best 2019 A’s prospect list I can. I’ve been preoccupied lately with other troubling questions, such as how the expression “easy as shooting fish in a barrel” came about.
Who thought to themselves, “I wonder how hard that would be?” and went out to get, of all things, a barrel, some fish, and a rifle? I mean if there’s water in the barrel, is your best weapon really a gun over, say, a net? And if there’s no water in the barrel you hardly need a semi-automatic in order to subdue a fish. Just wait a couple minutes while the frying pan heats up and call it dinner.
I much prefer expressions like, “Easy as stealing candy from a baby,” because I can tell you for certain that indeed the level of difficulty is low. Really the hardest part is the rather unpleasant confrontation with their parent but you get used to it.
Anyway, as my “blackened fish” marinates (looks like I’m having a Kit Kat for dessert tonight, stupid kid), here are my best efforts at a prospect list. Do not take it as trying to influence the community list in any way as your bad projections are every bit as valid as my bad projections. It’s all in good fun, a concept that seems lost on murdered tilapia and screaming infants.
1. Jesus Luzardo, LHP
Gee, that was a tough one. Maybe there’s a reason Luzardo has, as of this writing, received 132 of 156 1st place votes from the community. Luzardo is currently listed as the #1 LHP prospect in all of minor league baseball, a tribute to his worthy fastball, a ‘plus-plus’ changeup, and a breaking ball that reportedly caused Mike Trout to stare and mutter something like “Who is that kid?” on his way to the dugout after striking out in a Cactus League game last spring.
Perhaps most importantly, Luzardo is known for having excellent command and and natural feel for pitching, high praise for a pitcher whose last pitch was thrown at age 20 (he turned 21 at the end of September).
It’s just gravy that Luzardo is handsome and that his first name promises an endless barrage of religious jokes bound to amuse many and deeply offend some. Talk about the full package. (Actually I know nothing about his package but am ranking him #1 anyway.)
2. Sean Murphy, C
As much as the #1 spot is a runaway, the #2 spot is very much up for grabs between the talented catcher and the even more physically gifted LHP, A.J. Puk. Though he sputtered big time in Winter Ball, Murphy is coming off of a season in which his hitting (.288/.358/.498 for AA Midland) started to catch up to his elite defense.
Murphy gets the nod here for a number of reasons. One is that his floor is high: Murphy’s defense alone will make him a big leaguer and given the relatively low bar for offense at the position, if he hits at all he’s a solid major league starter. Another is that the catcher is coming off a strong season that suggests he is very close to being ‘big league ready’.
But perhaps the most essential one is that pitchers are already inherently risky and until Puk establishes that he can successfully recover from Tommy John surgery, there is enough doubt to tilt the nod to Murphy.
3. A.J. Puk, LHP
Puk and Kyler Murray are in similar boats. Whether the puzzle is complicated by the risk of not making a full recovery or a risk of choosing a different sport, in evaluating a prospect such as Puk or Murray you have to take whatever you think of the baseball player and assess an additional 10%, or 20%, or whatever percent you think it is, penalty for the chance you never get to observe that talent in action.
That additional risk factor is enough to break a virtual tie, and to me kicks Puk down to #3 in part because of how worthy a prospect Murphy also happens to be. There is a very good chance Puk will fully recover from TJS to throw as hard as he did and with the same control he had, but there is a very non-zero chance that he won’t.
Add in the reality that Puk’s control was not terrific to begin with — he is an exciting prospect but not one without flaws — and the fact he has only been able to log 157.2 professional innings to date (a number that will remain stagnant until mid-season), and Puk lands at #3 waiting to prove, as Luzardo did, that he can put TJS purely in the rear view mirror and pick up where he left off.
4. Lazaro Armenteros, LF
Perhaps it’s a surprising pick to bump “Lazarito” up to #4, but rest assured I am not swept up in the hype. I see signs not only of an über-talented athlete but one who is harnessing his skills. I also recognize that in the A’s current farm system, there is a big drop from “top 3” to “next tier” and we are already discussing prospects whose red flags are visible. So why pick Armenteros as the tallest mid-size midget?
Start off with the reality that everything Lazarito is doing right now he is doing still as a teenager (he turns 20 in late May). And while his 2018 was in some ways a mixed bag — he didn’t slug much and the Ks were high (33.8%) — what stands out to me in his overall slash line of .277/.374/.401 at single-A Beloit is such an elite OBP at such a young age.
As he grows and matures, Lazarito may develop more power/slugging. What he already has is speed and the ability to get on base. You can knock him down a peg if you want for being a left fielder and not a center fielder, but you need left fielders too and a good LFer beats a mediocre CFer in my book.
What I see right now is a top athlete who is already harnessing some key skills and who has plenty of time to develop others. You can chalk up some of his failures to being young for his league, knowing that with 3 more years of seasoning he will still be just 22 knocking on the door to the big leagues.
5. Kyler Murray, OF/QB
Anyone whose comps include Rickey Henderson tends to get my attention. There is a ton of risk associated with a player who has so little baseball experience and so much chance of never playing the sport, but it’s hard to overlook the upside.
If my #6 and #7 picks were coming off better seasons they would knock Murray down like a 300 pound lineman, but even with the “might decide to throw a Stewie-shaped ball instead” penalty I have to put Murray at #5.
6. Austin Beck, CF
With youth (20 all season in 2019) on his side, pedigree (#1 pick), speed and the ability to play a solid CF, there is much to love about Beck. Most of what there isn’t to love is his performance so far in the minors.
Beck is coming off of a disappointing season (.296/.335/.383 at single-A Beloit) in which he neither walked much nor slugged much, and his career .375 slugging so far in pro ball belies his scouting reports out of college.
The hope is that Beck is suffering largely from being young, a condition that has a natural cure (and Father Time’s success rate is unmatched). The worry, of course, is that until we see Beck perform better we don’t know if he can.
If Beck were 23 I’d be very concerned at what he has done so far. If he were 22 I’d be a bit confused. But having completed a campaign in which he was 19 all season, Beck profiles as a player still figuring things out with ample time to do so and become the starting CFer he was drafted to be. Time will tell, something else time is very good at doing.
7. Jorge Mateo, SS
Dropping Mateo to #7 may be as questionable as elevating Lazarito to #4, but the red flags keep piling up on the talented-but-enigmatic shortstop. Without a doubt Mateo is very talented, but he is also 23 and coming off a dismal season at AAA Nashville in which he slashed .230/.280/.353, stole 25 bases but was also caught 10 times, and K’d a career high 27.3% of the time.
We call that someone who is “moving in the wrong direction,” and for whom the term “raw talent” begins to look like 85% raw, 15% talent”. He would not be the first, second, third, or hundredth player to be described as having “million dollar talent, 10 cent head” if his career stagnates and disintegrates.
On the plus side, Mateo does play a key defensive position but unlike Beck he is not reputed to play it especially well. Once again the physical tools are there, and it’s quite possible Mateo will turn a corner to become an excellent shortstop, but he could also easily develop into that player who makes two web gems and then kicks or throws away a routine play.
There is undeniable upside to Mateo, but currently he is a 23 year old who isn’t hitting, walking, slugging, or showing improvements in any aspect of his game. 2019 will be a defining season in Mateo’s career — or lack thereof.
#8: Jameson Hannah, CF
Admittedly, I’m not as familiar with Hannah as I am the others I am referencing in this post, but he was the 50th overall pick in the 2018 draft and the 21 year old’s debut seems to have analysts talking more about his tools than fretting about his weaknesses.
Hannah’s debut for low-A Vermont was fine (.279/.347/.384), but while not spectacular was probably indicative of what his big league line might look like if he makes it: high average, solid OBP, only moderate slugging. He is considered to be a true CFer whose arm is his weakness but whose speed is a compensating strength.
Fun fact: Jameson stole only 28 bases in his collegiate career, but he was also only caught twice (93.3% success rate). If he continues not to be overmatched by minor league pitching, he could fly through the A’s system.
#9: Sheldon Neuse, 3B
Granted I have never been the biggest Neuse believer, but I am not knocking him for happening to play a position the A’s have covered and then some. I am knocking him for his “Miles Head career arc” that includes an other-worldly hitting spree followed by the requisite “thud”.
While Neuse’s defense is arguably solid enough to be average (he damned with faint praise), without question it is his bat that carry him to the big leagues or to the TV set to watch actual big leaguers.
2018 was not kind to Neuse, who sputtered to a woeful start before picking it up enough to finish at an only slightly woeful .263/.304/.357. But even as he started hitting, he didn’t really slug much, finishing with just 5 HRs and slugging all of .418 after the All-Star break.
The essential question, of course, is, “Why?” And the only available answer at the moment is “Heck if I know.” I would sooner have packaged him than I would have packaged Eli White, but it may be that the Texas Rangers felt the same way.
#10: Parker Dunshee and Brian Howard, RHP
Dunshee and Howard have to be ranked together because they are in fact the same person. This two-headed monster can be counted on for two things: to put up nearly identical stats and for those stats to be, at least in the minors, quite delightful.
Now how these two arrive at their identical-and-quite-lovely stats are contrasting. Dunshee uses precision (39 BBs in 191 career IP) while Howard uses the deception given to him by the release point from a 6’9” frame.
Scouts caution that neither has the stuff to become more than a back-end SP in the big leagues. My rebuttal to that would be two-fold, fitting when discussing a two-headed monster. One, good back-end SPs are very valuable and if either or both becomes a solid #4 SP the A’s will not complain. Two, let’s see them fail before offering them too low a ceiling. (Especially Howard, who is probably terrified of low ceilings.)
Here’s a fun fact...can you guess Dunshee’s career ERA in the minors over 2 seasons and 4 levels? The answer is: 1.98. I know, right?
OK, there you have it: Nico’s best shot at a top 10 prospect list for 2019. Now you can tear it apart like a teething dog with a bone that smells like fresh cat...
What is your assessment of this top 10 list?
This poll is closed
It’s right on, one of the best we’ll see
It’s pretty good overall
It’s ok but pretty flawed
It’s ... um ... yeah, no.