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Oakland A’s 2019 Community Prospect List #16: Skye Bolt finally breaks out

The 2015 draft pick began to put it all together in 2018.

Photo credit: Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

Our 2019 Community Prospect List adds another outfielder to what has suddenly become an area of depth in the farm system. 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%)
  15. Greg Deichmann, OF (+17%)
  16. Skye Bolt, OF (+11%)

Last winter, Skye Bolt barely cracked the bottom of our CPL, eventually settling at No. 26. The title of his post was “Skye Bolt searches for his breakout,” and in 2018 he found it.

When the A’s drafted Bolt back in 2015, he was always likely to be a long-term project. He carried a ton of raw talent but scuffled in his final two years of college, and Oakland bet on the high risk/reward that they could develop his latent tools. Therefore it wasn’t a surprise to see the switch-hitter get off to a slow start in the pros, nor was it a dealbreaker for his odds of future success. Some minor-but-nagging injuries along the way only provided further excuse for lending him extra patience.

The upside finally began to materialize last summer. Bolt opened in Double-A and initially struggled, earning him a quick demotion back to High-A. However, he responded there with the best performance of his pro career, smashing the Cal League and showing off his power/speed combo while also manning CF. He moved back up to Double-A in June and kept thriving for the rest of the season, and he finished off his year with an impressive performance at the Arizona Fall League.

Making the breakout even better was the path he took to get there. Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle reports that Bolt “showed the A’s something by working hard to get back on track, overhauling his hitting mechanics entirely.” Good results are the final goal, yes, but in the minors the process behind them is often even more important. In this case, the fact that he didn’t succeed immediately meant he had to experience making adjustments to his game, which is something players need to be able to do in order to reach the bigs and stay there. That helps inspire confidence that Bolt isn’t merely coasting on his tools alone, and that if/when he hits another snag down the road he could be able to work past it once again.

The cherry on top of Bolt’s year came in November, when the A’s added him to their 40-man roster. That doesn’t quite mean he’s made it yet, as he hasn’t even played in Triple-A and doesn’t have any realistic chance of making the MLB squad this spring. But it suggests how seriously the club took his 2018 breakout, and that they thought other teams would be interested in stealing him in the Rule 5 draft if he were left available. It also places him on the honest-to-goodness, real-life depth chart.

The journey continues for Bolt in 2019, but now he’s gone from an interesting lotto ticket to an outright prospect. Even if he makes the bigs, it remains to be seen whether he’s limited to a bench role or reaches high enough to be an everyday player, with questions ranging from whether he can repeat his success at the plate to whether he can stick in CF long-term. For the first time, though, he looks to have a strong chance of making it at all someday.

One other note: Bolt is pretty much the last chance for the 2015 draft class. Richie Martin (1st round) is gone to Rule 5 in Baltimore, Mikey White (2nd) isn’t currently on a path to the majors, and Dakota Chalmers (3rd) was traded and has still barely played in the pros. Only a dozen or so other mid/late-rounders are still in the organization, with James Naile (20th) and Boomer Biegalski (14th) among the best remaining names. Bubba Derby (6th) at least has a chance to pan out in another system, after leaving in the Khris Davis trade.

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 Kevin Merrell. Like his fellow top-of-the-2017-draft-mate Deichmann, the No. 33 overall pick missed the majority of 2018 to injury and now must rebuild his prospect stock. Unlike Deichmann, Merrell’s game is based around speed rather than power — the worst part of Merrell’s weak stat line was that he only attempted nine steals in 62 games with his 70-grade wheels, and on top of that was only successful in five of those tries. He’ll look to bounce back this summer.

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

Kevin Merrell, SS

Expected level: A+ | Age 23

2018, A+: 290 PAs, 72 wRC+, 0 HR, 5 SB, 5.2% BB, 22.8% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 30 | Run: 70 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45

The only player in USF history to lead the club in hitting in three consecutive seasons, Merrell, a left-handed hitter, raked at a career-best .384 clip as a junior to finish his college career with a .353 average in 153 games. Perhaps more significant was the power uptick that produced seven homers and led scouts to believe he might be more than someone who hits for a high but empty average. Merrell’s near top-of-the-scale speed -- he ran a 10.6-second 100-yard dash as a prep -- makes him a basestealing threat, one who knows his job is to get on base and wreak havoc.

Merrell manned second base before making a full-time move to shortstop in 2017. His speed translates to above-average range at the position, though his other tools, such as his average arm strength, are merely modest fits. The A’s will continue to deploy him there, but most scouts see a move in his future to either second base or center field, where his speed would truly be an asset. At the least, Merrell’s speed, bat and versatility could make him a valuable bench piece.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

Jonah Heim, C

Expected level: AA | Age 24

2018, A+: 348 PAs, 113 wRC+, 7 HR, 8.3% BB, 17.2% Ks
2018, AA: 154 PAs, 29 wRC+, 1 HR, 6.5% BB, 14.3% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Coming soon!

Scouting report coming on Friday, when MLB Pipeline releases their updated A’s Top 30 list. In the meantime, here is a collection of reports from pre-2018 that rave about every aspect of his defense as well as his makeup. Other facts of note: He’s tall for a catcher (6’4), and he’s a switch-hitter.

* * *

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!