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Oakland A’s 2019 Community Prospect List #14: Brian Howard reaches new heights

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The 6’9 pitcher made it to Double-A in his first full season.

Photo credit: Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

Our 2019 Community Prospect List adds another of my favorite sleepers, much higher than he ranked last winter. 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%)
  4. Lazaro Armenteros, OF (+1%)
  5. Austin Beck, OF (+59%)
  6. Jorge Mateo, SS (+6%)
  7. Jameson Hannah, OF (+4%)
  8. James Kaprielian, RHP (+13%)
  9. Sheldon Neuse, 3B (+12%)
  10. Parker Dunshee, RHP (+21%)
  11. Grant Holmes, RHP (+7%)
  12. Jeremy Eierman, SS (+31%)
  13. Luis Barrera, OF (+15%)
  14. Brian Howard, RHP (+1%)

When evaluating pitching prospects, it’s easy to get hung up on velocity. It’s the simplest thing to quantify, and it’s exciting to see big mph readings flash up on the screen. A vicious heater is the pitching equivalent of a slugger mashing a home run. But despite being an important piece of the equation, it’s not the only factor to consider.

If you were to focus too hard on velocity, then you might miss Brian Howard. MLB Pipeline pegs him at around 88-92 on his fastball, and on top of that they don’t rate any of his pitches as above-average. His stuff, on its own, isn’t enough to get worked up about and puts a modest limit on his expected ceiling.

And yet, Howard keeps on getting outs wherever he goes. He was virtually unhittable in his 2017 pro debut in Low-A Vermont, though that could be partially discounted due to being a particularly old, polished college senior out of the draft. Then he breezed through High-A in the first half of 2017, with a low ERA, a strikeout per inning, more than five Ks per walk, and a low hit rate. He got the call to Double-A in mid-June, and while he took a small step back in Midland he still put up solid numbers. He more than held his own in the upper minors, in his first full pro season.

So we’ve got a pitcher without notable stuff, but with a notable early track record on the mound, and it’s no longer just because he was beating up on younger competition. This requires a closer look, and indeed Howard has a few things going for him outside the mediocre velocity readings.

First and foremost is his 6’9 height and long, wiry build. That can help his stuff play up by creating extra downward angle on his pitches and extension on his release, as well as lending deception to his delivery. Pipeline even claims that all this can increase the perceived velocity from the batter’s perspective. He also has plus control and command, which of course helps any kind of arsenal be at its best. Furthermore, many reports make sure to note the rarity of that combination of extreme height and reliable control, and to top it off he’s known as a particularly hard worker and fierce competitor.

Any one of those traits on its own might not be enough to move the needle, but the whole collection sure seems to be helping him so far based on his results. And of course, he’s not alone in this overachieving regard, as fellow starter Parker Dunshee preceded him on this CPL after the two were picked in consecutive 7th/8th rounds of the 2017 draft. Neither brings highly touted stuff, and yet both have followed almost exactly the same rapid ascent up the farm system (though for Dunshee, it’s high spin rate instead of height). Both made the bottom fringes of last year’s CPL, but Dunshee’s superior Double-A performance presumably helps explain their separation on this year’s list.

Howard’s road to the bigs isn’t complete yet, but if all goes reasonably well then the comp that Athletics Nation likes to toss around is Chris Young. That 6’10 righty also had pedestrian stuff but commanded it well enough to put together a solid career for more than a decade, featuring around 13-16 WAR, an All-Star berth, and a ring. That would be a coup for any 8th-round pick, and even a middle/backend starter would be especially useful in Oakland right about now. That upside isn’t as high as some other names in the organization, but he makes up for it by being so close to realizing that Youngian potential and becoming a legitimate MLB contributor.

I uncharacteristically did quite a bit of lobbying last winter just to get Howard on the list at all, because I liked what I saw in 2017 between the stats and intangibles, and now here he is up in the top half the next year after making good in 2018. I’m not going to pat myself on the back too hard until he actually pans out in MLB, but he’s halfway there and that seems worth taking a moment to appreciate. I’m excited to see how high he can reach (that’s a height joke), even if he won’t be throwing particularly hard along the way.

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 (or leaves for the NFL), 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 Tyler Ramirez. The outfielder spent last season in Double-A, continuing to get on base at a high rate and prove that he can sustain a high BABIP. He still strikes out a bit much for a low-power guy, and despite his reported defensive versatility he’s spent most of his time in LF, but he’s been a soundly above-average hitter for two years now and he’s one of the A’s many promising upper-minors outfield prospects.

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

Tyler Ramirez, OF

Expected level: AAA | Age 24

2018, AA: 594 PAs, 121 wRC+, 10 HR, 10.4% BB, 24.9% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 40 | Run: 50 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

Ramirez’s feel to hit and plate discipline have translated well in the professional ranks. He’s adept at driving the ball to all fields from the left side of the plate and shows more power in the gaps than true over-the-fence pop despite totaling 11 homers in his full-season debut. A feel for controlling the strike zone leads to plenty of walks and fuels Ramirez’s strong on-base skills, but he also leaves a lot of outcomes on the table with his penchant for striking out. On the other side of the ball, Ramirez is an average runner but an above-average defender at all three outfield spots -- a distinction that earned him a Minor League Gold Glove Award in 2017.

That Ramirez handles both right- and left-handed pitching gives him a chance to be more than a platoon player or fourth outfielder, and he could enhance his profile even more by adding more power while reducing his strikeouts.

* * *

Daulton Jefferies, RHP

Expected level: ??? | Age 23

2018 stats: Only threw two rehab innings (and nine since 2017) due to Tommy John surgery

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 55 | Overall: 45

When he’s healthy, Jefferies will add and subtract from his heater, sitting comfortably in the low 90s but also reaching back for 95 mph, with feel for locating to both sides of the plate as well as down in the zone. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, a mid-80s offering thrown with fastball-like arm speed and late fading action, and he has the makings of a slider that should be at least Major League-average. A consistent, over-the-top release point allows him to create extension and angle toward the plate, and everything he throws plays up due to his advanced control and command. In general, Jefferies should miss even more bats with improvement to both his changeup and slider.

Jefferies is a good athlete with clean arm action and a repeatable delivery. But as an undersized righty with a checkered medical history, he’ll need to prove he can handle the rigors of a full season on the mound. If he can do so, Jefferies’ stuff, pitchability and deception could make him a No. 4 starter at the highest level. He’s expected to return to game action sometime around the middle of the 2018 season.

* * *

Skye Bolt, OF

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 25

2018, AA (11 gms): 50 PAs, 17 wRC+, 0 HR, 0 SB, 8.0% BB, 34.0% Ks
2018, A+ (46 gms): 209 PAs, 141 wRC+, 9 HR, 9 SB, 14.8% BB, 22.5% Ks
2018, AA (64 gms): 265 PAs, 125 wRC+, 10 HR, 10 SB, 8.7% BB, 22.5% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 40 | Power: 50 | Run: 55 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

A switch-hitter, Bolt is considerably better from the left side of the plate, where he exhibits more impactful swing and hit 17 of his career-high 19 homers in 2018. Some evaluators believe he’d be better off batting solely from that side. He has some raw power from both sides and is a relatively disciplined hitter, but his pitch recognition leaves much to be desired and hinders the quality of his contact.

One of the better college athletes in his Draft class, Bolt has spent the majority of his pro career center field, where he gets excellent jumps and is an overall rangy defender. That ability to play up the middle as well as Bolt’s above-average arm strength give him inherent value as a future fourth outfielder, especially if he can learn to make more contact.

* * *

Greg Deichmann, OF

Expected level: A+/AA? | Age 24

2018, A+ (47 gms): 185 PAs, 77 wRC+, 6 HR, 9.2% BB, 34.1% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 55 | Run: 40 | Arm: 55 | Field: 45 | Overall: 50

Deichmann’s power is his calling card. The big left-handed hitter has impressed scouts with his bat speed and strength dating back to his high school days, and he’s shown that he can get to it consistently in the past year-plus after shortening his swing and adopting a more selective approach. Deichmann’s improved approach also has helped him in using the entire field, though much of his power remains to his pull side. And while strikeouts will always be a part of Deichmann’s game given his power-over-hit profile, he does offset some of those concerns with perennially strong walk rates and on-base skills.

A shortstop in high school, Deichmann saw time at first base at LSU before finding a home in right field, where his above-average arm and power profile are clean fits. He’s a below-average runner but moves well underway, and with improved reads and routes, he could become an average defender.

* * *

Nick Allen

Expected level: A/A+ | Age 20

2018, A: 512 PAs, 73 wRC+, 0 HR, 24 SB, 6.6% BB, 16.6% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 30 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 65 | Overall: 45

There is no doubt among scouts that Allen can stick at shortstop. He’s already a plus defender there as a teenager, with outstanding range that leads to many highlight-reel plays, and plus arm strength that allows him to make throws from all over the diamond. On the other side of the ball, the jury is still out regarding Allen’s upside with the bat. While he shows good feel to hit and bat-to-ball skills, Allen desperately needs to add strength to his undersized frame in order to consistently impact the baseball. He’s a plus runner with outstanding instincts, knows how to play small ball and is aggressive on the basepaths.

Allen endears himself to scouts even more with his outstanding makeup and baseball IQ. His supporters see a Jose Altuve-type profile, albeit one with at least two full grades less power who relies more on his glove than bat to impact games.

* * *

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!