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Oakland A’s 2019 Community Prospect List #9: James Kaprielian has endured long road to recovery

He missed the last two seasons to injury. Time to see what he’s got, finally.

It’s been a year and a half and we still don’t have a photo of him pitching in an A’s uniform.
Photo provided by Oakland A’s

Our 2019 Community Prospect List adds another pitcher who missed last season to injury, and he won’t be the final one of those to join the ranks. 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. Kyler Murray, OF (+7%)
  8. Jameson Hannah, OF (+4%)
  9. James Kaprielian, RHP (+13%)

Last winter’s CPL featured 13 pitchers, and six of them ended up missing the season to injury. The thing that makes James Kaprielian different from most of the others, though, is that he also missed 2017, and hasn’t thrown a pitch in a competitive pro game since the 2016 Arizona Fall League.

Like Jorge Mateo before him on this list, Kaprielian was acquired as a high-risk, high-reward gamble in the Sonny Gray trade, but the risk has won out so far. He’d already had his Tommy John surgery months before the 2017 swap, but his recovery has run onto the longer side due to shoulder soreness that set him back last summer. The book is far from closed on him, but his A’s tenure hasn’t gone as anyone would have hoped and his stock is certainly lower than it was when he arrived as a Top 100 national prospect.

On the bright side, shoulder setbacks aren’t unheard of for TJS patients, and having the recovery extend out to 18 months isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker. After all, he was on the mound in last fall’s instructional league and is expected to be ready for the beginning of the season. But still, after such a long layoff and with virtually no pro experience, there is everything to prove.

One of the next steps in that process is showing what kind of stuff he has post-surgery. Will he still maintain the mid/upper-90s velocity that he briefly showcased before his arm exploded, or will it look more like the 90ish he featured when he was drafted? Will he still have the plus control and command that was his hallmark before the velocity spike? There’s just no way to know until he’s in some games.

And that’s what makes this a make-or-break season for Kaprielian, at least in terms of his prospect stock. Getting back on the mound (and staying there) is a bare minimum, because missing a third straight year would surely drop him off every radar. Once he’s there we can talk about what we see, whether that’s still a fireballing ace prospect or just a good role player, but he has to at least pitch.

A few months ago, the A’s added Kaprielian to their 40-man roster. He was eligible for the Rule 5 draft, and it wasn’t worth risking him getting poached by a rebuilding team willing to gamble on his upside. Granted, the move had a lot to do with circumstance, but it’s still an endorsement of his potential that they would burn a roster spot in a contending season just to ensure they finally get a look at him. The A’s still appear to believe in Kaprielian, and so does Athletics Nation, at least for one more year.

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 Jeremy Eierman. Drafted last year as a Comp pick after the 2nd round, the shortstop brings an interesting skill set to the table. He’s at least an adequate defender, highlighted by a great arm, and on offense he offers both power and speed. In his pro debut he led Low-A Vermont in homers, and nearly led the team in steals as well. However, he’ll need to prove he can make enough contact to keep using that power, and that he has the discipline to post an acceptable OBP.

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

Jeremy Eierman, SS

Expected level: High-A | Age 22

2018 stats: 267 PAs, 95 wRC+, 8 HR, 10 SB, 4.9% BB, 26.2% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 55 | Run: 55 | Arm: 65 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50

Eierman’s bat speed and strength create natural power from the right side of the plate, but he sold out for home runs as a junior with negative results. He widened his setup, adopted more of a crouch and was overly aggressive and pull-happy. Though he doesn’t always get out of the box quickly when he takes a big hack, Eierman can show plus speed once he gets going.

Eierman may not have true shortstop quickness, but he has a chance to stay at the position with his good body control, soft hands and cannon arm. He may wind up at third base, where his tools could make him a Gold Glover. His grinder makeup is another asset.

* * *

Parker Dunshee, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2018 stats (A+): 2.70 ERA, 70 ip, 82 Ks, 17 BB, 7 HR, 3.53 FIP
2018 stats (AA): 2.01 ERA, 80⅔ ip, 81 Ks, 14 BB, 5 HR, 2.92 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

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

What Dunshee may lack in stuff he makes up for with pitchability, showing feel for sequencing and commanding for pitches. He works with average velocity, sitting 89-92 mph with a fastball that he throws with late sinking action and commands to both sides of the plate. He changes speeds well, utilizing a slider and a changeup, both average pitches, as well as a curveball that serves as a change-of-pace offering. He repeats his simple delivery with ease and throws all four of his pitches for strikes.

Dunshee gets the most of his average stuff, and while he doesn’t project to miss as many bats at higher levels as he has earlier in his career, he’s adept at generating weak contact and has proven plenty durable. It is a No. 5-starter profile if it all clicks, with the floor of a middle reliever capable of eating innings.

* * *

Sheldon Neuse, 3B

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2018 stats (AAA): 537 PAs, 72 wRC+, 5 HR, 6.0% BB, 32.0% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

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

Neuse’s right-handed swing is short and simple, but he also keeps his barrel in the hitting zone for an extended period of time and drives the ball across the whole field. He has above-average raw power and already knows how to get to it in games, a notion supported by his 16 home runs and 26 doubles across three levels in 2017. Some scouts still question how it will translate at higher levels because his game does have some swing-and-miss tendencies, albeit with sound overall plate discipline.

Neuse is a fringe-average runner who shows good instincts on the bases and in the field. A shortstop in college, Neuse saw time there as well as third base prior to being dealt, but he handled the hot corner exclusively after joining the A’s. He profiles as an average defender there, with soft hands, good range and a plus arm that produced 94 mph off the mound in college. Regardless of his position, Neuse has the hitting ability to profile as a big league regular.

* * *

Grant Holmes, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 23

2018 stats: Only threw six rehab innings due to shoulder injury

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45

The owner of a 93-95 mph fastball that has exceptional, late sinking action, Holmes has generated strong ground-ball rates at each stop in his career. He can miss bats both with that and his breaking ball, a plus pitch that combines curveball depth with slider velocity. His changeup continues to be a work-in-progress, one that he’ll need to thoroughly develop to neutralize left-handed hitters at higher levels. Holmes has kept his walk rate in check over a full season in Double-A, although both his control and command leave much to be desired.

Holmes answered questions about his durability in 2017 en route to logging a career-high 148 1/3 innings, but the right-hander has been dealing with a concerning right shoulder injury that caused him to begin 2018 on the disabled list. There are many evaluators who still worry about his ability to pitch deep into games, and some scouts have already pegged him as a future reliever. The A’s, however, plan to keep Holmes in the rotation for as long as possible, with the hope that he can refine his delivery, develop a more consistent change and improve his command.

* * *

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.

* * *

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!