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Oakland A’s 2019 Community Prospect List #10: Sheldon Neuse is primed for bounce-back season

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After a hot 2017, the 3B fell flat in Triple-A last summer.

Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Our 2019 Community Prospect List rounds out its Top 10 (tentatively) with another position player, meaning a 7-3 split of hitters-to-pitchers. 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%)
  10. Sheldon Neuse, 3B (+12%)

The Oakland A’s Top 10 prospect list is packed with talent and upside, but a lot of the names are coming off lost years in 2018 or otherwise have question marks that overshadow the rest of their stock. That probably sounds like a broken record at this point, as we’ve already talked about injuries for Puk and Kaprlielian, poor performance for Mateo, and all the drama surrounding Murray’s future, not to mention the growing pains of youngsters like Franklin Barreto and Dustin Fowler who only barely graduated last summer. But that’s just the state of the A’s farm right now.

Here’s another one to add to that list. Sheldon Neuse enjoyed a breakout in 2017. After being acquired from Washington that July, he blasted his way through High-A and up to Double-A, and even starred in the Arizona Fall League. However, he was given an aggressive assignment up to Triple-A for 2018, and he fell completely flat there.

His performance was disappointing across the board. His power disappeared, but he retained the concerningly high strikeout rate that he’d managed to work around at the lower levels of the minors. He didn’t even hit a homer until late June. He did improve slightly as the year wore on, but only from horrendous up to pedestrian.

On the bright side, there is tons of context. First off, he essentially skipped Double-A. He played 18 games there at the end of ‘17, plus a handful in the playoffs and some AFL time. Even if we generously add up all of that, it’s still only 50 games total. Prospects might skip a level of A-ball, or they might go from Double-A straight to MLB, but we don’t often see them skip Double-A. It’s said to be the most difficult jump in the minors, and no, Neuse’s few hot weeks there do not mean he’d already mastered it. It was a bold promotion, and I’m not arguing the gamble was or wasn’t worth it, but we absolutely should factor it into our analysis of his poor results.

Furthermore, like Mateo before him on this list, Neuse was competing against the crushing effects of Nashville’s home park. It’s unclear how much that mattered in this case, as Neuse actually hit better at home than on the road (including just one road homer in 69 games), but again it’s at least a factor to consider. For all we know, a player who is pressing at home could take those mental struggles on the road, or any other number of explanations beyond the box score.

And then there’s the rest of Neuse’s skill set, which includes more than just a bat. He’s considered a plus defender at third base and might yet have versatility beyond that, even up the middle perhaps. That means his offense, while his primary strength, doesn’t have to completely carry him.

So Neuse comes off a poor 2018, but with plenty of reason to maintain optimism. He’ll get another crack at Triple-A, in a presumably friendlier home park in Las Vegas, and there’s no rush for now because he’s blocked from 3B in Oakland anyway. His BABIP over the last two years is now .391 over a thousand plate appearances (including .385 last year), and at some point that stops being a fluke and becomes a sign of a good hitting prospect. And while I downplayed his in-season improvement earlier in this writeup, it’s still worth something and Baseball America refers to it as “indicating mental toughness to overcome adversity.”

Here’s one way to look at it. If Neuse had spent the first half in Double-A and then spent the second half putting up his 104 wRC+ and acceptable 24% strikeout rate in Triple-A (which is what he did in real life), wouldn’t we have considered that a positive, productive season? Instead, he just replaced that first half in Double-A with some on-the-job learning in Nashville. Now he’ll get the chance to build on the lessons he learned throughout the summer, all one final jump away from MLB.

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 Skye Bolt. His strong tools finally began to pan out into production last summer. It required an early trip back to High-A to get on track, but then he returned to Double-A and hit well. Between all that, and a solid showing in the AFL, the A’s deemed him worthy of protection from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to their 40-man roster. There’s still a lot to prove, but so far he’s played most of his career in CF and he brings power and speed to that position.

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

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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!