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Oakland A’s 2019 Community Prospect List #20: Wyatt Marks shows strikeout stuff

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The mid-round draft pick established himself as a sleeper to watch.

Photo credit: Justin Nuoffer | Beloit Snappers

Our 2019 Community Prospect List adds another sleeper from the 2017 draft. 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%)
  17. Daulton Jefferies, RHP (+12%)
  18. Tyler Ramirez, OF (+17%)
  19. Nick Allen, SS (+50%)
  20. Wyatt Marks, RHP (+1%)

The top of the Oakland A’s 2017 draft class is off to a slow start in terms of tangible stories to follow. The 1st, 3rd, and 5th-round picks were all high schoolers who are long-term projects, and accordingly haven’t done much of note yet in actual games. The Comp A and 2nd-rounders both missed the majority of last season to injury. The 4th and 6th-rounders both got traded, for players who are already gone from Oakland themselves. That’s not meant to say that the class is a bust in any way, just that it’s requiring some extra patience before the high-profile talent begins translating into actual production for an A’s affiliate.

Fortunately, the middle rounds have stepped in to pick up some slack and give us something to watch. We already talked about 7th-rounder Parker Dunshee and 8th-rounder Brian Howard, who both made this CPL. Now we turn to 13th-rounder Wyatt Marks, another right-handed pitcher.

Although he didn’t rise to the heights of his draft-mates last summer, Marks still enjoyed an excellent 2018 campaign. He began down in Single-A Beloit and posted the highest strikeout rate of any starter in the 16-team Midwest League, with 127 in 106 frames. That performance earned him a ticket to the league’s All-Star Game, and eventually a promotion to High-A Stockton for the final month of the season. He kept on striking out more than a batter per inning in his five starts for the Ports.

Last winter, when MLB Pipeline released their version of the A’s prospect list, it was Marks who made their Top 30 rather than Dunshee or Howard. They liked his two primary offerings (fastball/curve), and envisioned a potential future as a high-leverage reliever. That may still be in the cards for him down the road, especially considering that walks are a red flag bubbling under the surface of his attractive ERA and K numbers, but for now he’s remained a starter in the pros.

Whatever role Marks might end up in, though, getting anything at all out of a 13th-round pick would be a nice bonus. With his early success, and the breakouts of Dunshee and Howard, there is a compelling trio of pitchers to follow while we wait for the top of the 2017 draft class to heat up.

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.

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The new nominee is Gus Varland. He’s like the 2018 draft’s version of Dunshee and Howard, as a college pitcher who put up comical numbers in his pro debut. In fact, in two ways he’s even better than they were — he did half of his damage in full-season Single-A Beloit instead of just short-season Low-A Vermont, and he also has the velocity that Dunshee and Howard lack. Can he rise up the system quickly like they did last summer?

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

Gus Varland, RHP

Expected level: A+ | Age 22

2018, A-: 1.02 ERA, 17⅔ ip, 22 Ks, 4 BB, 0 HR, 1.84 FIP
2018, A: 0.93 ERA, 19⅓ ip, 28 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 2.19 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 45 | Control: 55 | Overall: 40

Varland cranked his fastball up to 95-96 mph at times at Concordia, but largely pitched at 92 mph during his summer debut in the A’s organization. He can fill up the strike zone with his heater and get swings and misses with it. He also misses bats with his slider, while he also was able to use the breaking ball and his changeup to get some ground-ball outs. While he has an up-tempo delivery, he’s always been a strike-thrower and continued that trend in his first taste of pro ball.

He’ll need to find a way to attack left-handed hitters, who hit him a bit better last summer, albeit in a small sample size, and refinement of the changeup could do that. He’s reminded some of Sonny Gray in terms of his aggressive demeanor on the mound and body type (though not in pure stuff), with a realistic ceiling as a back-end starter and a life as a reliever more likely.

* * *

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: Hit: 45 | Power: 40 | Run: 35 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 40

A long-limbed, switch-hitting backstop, Heim stands out more for his work behind the plate than at it. He receives well and has a strong arm that’s allowed him to throw out just over 34 percent of potential basestealers heading into 2019. Heim started to swing the bat with a bit more authority over the past two seasons and hit well in the California League before stumbling post-promotion. He has more of a line drive approach now, but he shows some raw power in batting practice and still has room to add strength. While it’s more leverage than bat speed, you can dream on some future pop.

The A’s would love to see Heim play with a little more urgency. A slow heartbeat for a catcher isn’t a bad thing, but some added energy could help him reach the big leagues as a backup backstop.

* * *

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: 45 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45

Merrell should be able to use his legs to wreak havoc on the basepaths. He’s still learning his left-handed swing and he had a tendency to hook balls on the ground early on. He’s now working on getting some separation so he can impact the ball, and he’s learning to slash the ball to the left side so he can use his legs to help him more. The combination of approach and speed could make him an above-average hitter, albeit one with little power, in time. It’s unclear what Merrell’s long-term defensive home will be. He’s unorthodox defensively at short, with a fringy arm, but he does have impressive range. He impressed in big league camp during 2018 Spring Training, playing on both sides of second base. He also played some outfield in college.

It could be that Merrell ends up fitting a super-utility role at the big league level, with his speed playing at a number of positions, though it’s too early to rule out an every day gig at second base. Most importantly, he needs to make up for lost at-bats in 2019.

* * *

Marcos Brito, 2B

Expected level: A | Age 19

2018, A-: 241 PAs, 89 wRC+, 1 HR, 11.2% BB, 20.7% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 30 | Run: 50 | Arm: 50 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

It hasn’t shown up on the stat line just yet, but Brito has the chance to hit from both sides of the plate, though he’s a touch better swinging the bat left-handed. He’s added some strength as he’s matured and while he’s never going to be a power guy, there should be the ability to impact the ball with some extra-base authority to all fields. Brito initially spent time bouncing between second and third, but it’s looking more and more likely that second base is his long-term defensive home with an arm that’s a little short for the left side of the infield. He could eventually be a plus defender, though right now he mixes in making the spectacular play with losing concentration and making needless errors on routine plays.

Brito will play all of the 2019 season at age 19, so there’s plenty of time for his production to catch up to his potential. If it all clicks, he eventually could be a solid every day second baseman in the big leagues.

* * *

Dairon Blanco, OF

Expected level: AA | Age 26

2018, A+: 346 PAs, 102 wRC+, 1 HR, 22 SB, 7.2% BB, 19.1% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 35 | Run: 80 | Arm: 45 | Field: 55 | Overall: 40

When Blanco made his A’s debut in the California League in 2018, it had been nearly two years since he had played competitively in Cuba. At the outset, it was all about his speed, an 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, and defense. But he quickly shook the rust off and showed more offensive acumen than anticipated. There wasn’t as much swing and miss as some expected to see and he often showed a solid approach at the plate, with some signs of potential extra-base ability. His physicality and speed could add up to an average hitter.

There’s no doubt Blanco’s speed is his calling card. It allows him to be aggressive on the basepaths (22 steals in 82 games in his debut) and really go get the ball in the outfield. After his first season was cut short by a hamate injury, it will be interesting to see how quickly he can climb the ladder.

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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!