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Oakland A’s 2019 Community Prospect List #3: Sean Murphy has star profile

The Catcher of the Near Future has similarities to another A’s star.

Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Our 2019 Community Prospect List has its first position player, in catcher Sean Murphy. Here’s the current list, including their winning margins (the difference between his % of the vote, and the % of the runner-up):

  1. Jesus Luzardo, LHP (+78%)
  2. A.J. Puk, LHP (+7%)
  3. Sean Murphy, C (+80%)

The Oakland A’s have three national Top 100 prospects this year, and naturally that trio now leads our CPL. In a stroke of serendipity, all three appear primed to graduate in 2019, into positions the A’s desperately need help at — though in Murphy’s case, they may have intentionally left the spot open for him this winter.

My favorite nickname for Murphy is that he’s the “Matt Chapman of catchers.” That might be a bit of an exaggeration now that Chapman has fully panned out into an 8-WAR stud MVP candidate, but on its fundamental level it still applies.

Like Chapman, Murphy’s profile begins with elite defense. Not just pretty good, but game-changing. MLB Pipeline calls him the second-best defensive catcher in the entire minors, but among the Top 10 overall catching prospects he’s the best of the bunch on that side of the ball — he’s a 65-grade Fielder according to them, and 60-grade via Baseball America, who says he has “Gold Glove potential.”

Also like Chapman, the driving force behind that defensive greatness is his throwing arm, which is billed as one of the best in the sport. It earns a 70-grade from both Pipeline and BA. It’s not his only strength — Pipeline also praises his blocking, receiving, game-calling, and ability to work with pitchers, and here’s an example of some sharp instincts — but it’s his signature skill. Back in 2017 (via insider Jane Lee), Bob Melvin himself referred to Murphy’s arm as being “like Chapman behind the plate.”

The question, then, is how much Murphy will hit. More than any other position, glove-first catchers can start in the majors just on that strength alone — the league average last year was an 84 wRC+ for backstops. He’ll be a solid player no matter what happens with his bat, because his defense should carry him. But if he also turns out to be a plus at the plate, then he can become a star like Chapman has.

The early returns are promising. He showed well in High-A in his first full season (130 wRC+), and then did the same in Double-A last year (131). Each time he displayed good power (isolated slugging over .200) coupled with low strikeout rates (in the teens), which is a great combo to see — he makes a lot of contact and hits it hard.

Add it all up and you have the same stuff we were saying about Chapman as a prospect — top-notch defense highlighted by a game-changing throwing arm, and power potential at the plate, albeit with a few nagging injuries along the way for both of them. And Chapman had huge strikeout rates throughout the minors, which is a problem Murphy doesn’t have to deal with. Of course now Chapman’s success stands as an absurd best-case scenario, but the underlying profile is the same.

The next stop for Murphy should be Triple-A Las Vegas, but the A’s are clearly anticipating his arrival. Unless they make a last-minute move like they did last March for Jonathan Lucroy, they appear to be entering the season with a platoon of Chris Herrmann and Josh Phegley. While Herrmann might be considered a sleeper in some ways, the fact is that Oakland is paying a total of $2 million for its two catchers, after raving all last summer about the importance of the position’s effect on the pitching staff.

Considering all that, it sure seems likely we’ll see Murphy don the green and gold in 2019. Will he be the next Matt Chapman? I mean, it’s not impossible.

Here is the process:

  • Five candidates will be listed on the ballot. The voting will take place in the comments section. I will start with a comment listing all five players, and then I will respond to that with five new comments in the style of “Vote: Player Name” for each candidate. Please do not reply directly to the official “Vote” comments, so that the ballot can stay together in one group.
  • Choose your ONE favorite by Rec’ing the comment with his name. Please only vote for one. The player who receives the most Rec’s earns the next spot on the CPL, while the remaining four players move on to the next ballot where they are joined by a new nominee.
  • In the comments, below the official voting, the community will nominate players to be put onto the ballot for the next round. Similar to the ballot, I will start with a comment calling for nominations, which can then be made as a response to my comment. The format for your comment should be “Nomination: Player Name”.
  • After the first nomination for a player has been put in, all other votes for that player will come from Rec’ing his comment. The player with the most Rec’s earns the nomination.
  • If a prospect is traded, his name will be crossed out, and all other players will be moved up a space. If a prospect is acquired, a special vote will be put up to determine where that player should rank.

* * *

The new nominee is James Kaprielian. Acquired as one of the high-risk, high-reward pieces in the Sonny Gray trade, the risk has won out so far. Kaprielian had Tommy John surgery in early 2017 while in the Yankees system, and he still hasn’t returned to the mound — that’s two full seasons missed. He’s only thrown 15 professional games in his career including the Arizona Fall League. By placing him on the 40-man roster this winter the A’s showed a lot of confidence in the high ceiling he displayed before his injury, but at this point he needs to start pitching again soon or else that remaining prospect stock will quickly evaporate.

Hitter rates (poor/avg/great): wRC+ (75/100/135), BB% (5.0%/8.5%/12.0%), K% (30%/22%/14%)

James Kaprielian, RHP

Expected level: ??? | Age 25

2018 stats: Missed entire season (and 2017) due to Tommy John surgery

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 55 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 55 | Overall: 50

After working at 88-92 mph in college with a fastball that stood out more for its sink and command than it did for velocity, Kaprielian saw his velocity jump to 93-96 mph while touching 99 upon entering pro ball. He possesses a deep secondary arsenal, including a curveball, slider and changeup that all grade as at least above-average pitches when they’re on. Kaprielian controls and commands his pitches very well, doing a good job of delivering all of them from the same arm slot.

Considered more of a pitchability right-hander with a ceiling of a No. 3 starter when the Yankees drafted him, Kaprielian has shown frontline stuff when healthy. He’s fallen well behind the development curve and will have his workload monitored carefully moving forward, but the overall ingredients are there for Kaprielian to still move quickly once he finally returns to the mound, likely in mid-2018.

* * *

Lazaro Armenteros, OF

Expected level: High-A | Age 20

2018 stats (A): 340 PAs, 126 wRC+, 8 HR, 10.6% BB, 33.8% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 55 | Run: 60 | Arm: 45 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

Armenteros stands out for his hitting ability, raw power, speed and overall athleticism, the combination of which gives him the potential for four average-or-better tools. His bat speed is explosive and fuels his projection as an average hitter with above-average power, though his bat path through the zone, as well as his approach and overall plate discipline, will need to be ironed out.

Armenteros is expected to lose some of his speed and athleticism as he continues to grow into his already physically strong and mature frame. He’s best-suited long term for left field, where his below-average arm strength is a clean fit. That doesn’t leave much room for defensive flexibility, but Armenteros has the offensive upside to easily offset those concerns.

* * *

Austin Beck, OF

Expected level: High-A | Age 20

2018 stats (A): 534 PAs, 103 wRC+, 2 HR, 5.6% BB, 21.9% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 55 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

Beck is loaded with loud, promising tools. He generates well-above-average bat speed from the right side of the plate, albeit with a swing that currently has some holes and overall inconsistencies. That should improve as Beck gains pro experience, however, and it could make him an average hitter in time. Beck’s plus raw power likely will be his calling card and could translate to 25-plus-homer seasons during his prime.

Beyond his offensive tools, Beck also possesses the plus speed and athleticism needed to play center field, where he spent his entire pro debut, though some evaluators peg him as a future right fielder on account of his remaining physical projection and plus arm strength. It may take Beck some time to learn to harness his tools and refine his game, but the final product could be that of a run-producing, everyday outfielder who also adds value with his baserunning and defense.

* * *

Jorge Mateo, SS

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2018 stats (AAA): 510 PAs, 62 wRC+, 3 HR, 25 SB, 5.7% BB, 27.3% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 80 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

Mateo has a nice all-around set of tools, but it’s his elite speed that enables him to truly impact games. He led the Minors with 82 steals in 2015 and tied for third with 52 in ‘17 to push his career total to 234 stolen bases in his first six pro seasons. Mateo’s wheels are equally dynamic out of the box, as he regularly turns in top-of-the-scale run times from home to first. His deceptive strength translates to sneaky raw power and he has an offensive ceiling of a .275 hitter with 15 homers per season, though he’ll need to tighten his plate discipline to become a quality leadoff man.

Mateo has the raw tools to stick at shortstop, most notably outstanding range and plus arm strength, though his consistency and focus in the field still leave something to be desired. Some scouts believe he’ll wind up at second base or in center field, the latter of which he played for the first time in his career in 2017.

* * *

Kyler Murray, OF

Expected level: Low-A? NFC? | Age 21

2018 stats: Hasn’t yet played pro baseball

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 70 | Arm: 40 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

Murray’s gains were obvious during his breakout spring as he made better contact, showed better aptitude for recognizing spin and did a better job of controlling the strike zone. He has the plus-plus speed to create havoc on the bases and the bat speed and strength to produce average power. The son of former Texas A&M quarterback and Brewers farmhand Kevin Murray and the nephew of two-time first-rounder and five-year big leaguer Calvin Murray, Kyler still needs to reduce his strikeouts further and is a work in progress defensively. He’s still learning reads and routes but has the quickness to outrun his mistakes and eventually could become at least a solid center fielder. His arm has regressed on the diamond and currently plays below average.

Oakland’s decision to allow Murray to play football in the fall comes with obvious risk, as any injury suffered on the gridiron likely would further delay the start of Murray’s baseball career. If he can stay healthy, Murray, with his tools and the surprising progress he has made on the diamond, could one day provide the A’s with a huge return on their investment.

* * *

Vote in the comments below for your favorite of the five by Rec’ing his “Vote: (Player Name)” comment, and post your nomination(s) as well!