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Oakland A’s 2019 Community Prospect List #28: Alfonso Rivas brings an unusual skill set

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Last summer’s 4th-round draft pick is a first baseman without big power.

Photo provided by Vermont Lake Monsters

Our 2019 Community Prospect List adds its fifth member of last summer’s draft class. 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%)
  21. Marcos Brito, 2B (+4%)
  22. Gus Varland, RHP (+7%)
  23. Kevin Merrell, SS (+18%)
  24. Tanner Anderson, RHP (+7%)
  25. Jonah Heim, C (+29%)
  26. Hogan Harris, LHP (+8%)
  27. Dairon Blanco, OF (+6%)
  28. Alfonso Rivas, 1B (+5%)

Sometimes a player comes along whose skill set doesn’t match the traditional requirements of the position he plays, and Alfonso Rivas is one of those guys. Drafted last summer in the 4th round, the 22-year-old is a first baseman with great plate discipline and contact skills but not a lot of power. For A’s fans, the first name that jumps to mind is probably Dar— actually, never mind, let’s not go there.

While Rivas’ profile is unusual for a position typically associated with sluggers, it’s not a dealbreaker on its own. Mark Grace and Keith Hernandez are classic examples of first basemen who never hit 20 homers but enjoyed Hall Of Very Good careers in which they batted around .300 and won multiple Gold Gloves. In terms of current players, we only have to look across the Bay to find Brandon Belt, who has found success despite never hitting 20 dingers, boasting a career average of just .265, and never winning a defensive award. Meanwhile, before riding the launch-angle revolution to an All-Star berth with Oakland, Yonder Alonso had carved out a decent career as a 1B who never even hit 10 homers. It can be done.

For his part, Rivas got off to a great start in the pros last summer after the draft. Playing for Low-A Vermont, the lefty kept low rates of strikeouts and swinging strikes, while walking a ton and also hitting his way on base frequently thanks to an abundance of line drives. Even with a tiny .098 isolated slugging, he still produced enough to rack up a 137 wRC+ that led all his fellow draftmates in Vermont and ranked second overall on the team.

Earlier this week, Athletics Farm shared their interview with A’s special assistant Grady Fuson, who had this to say about Rivas:

[He’s] a very good-looking hitter. He’s put on 10 pounds. Down the road, what level of prospect he becomes is all going to depend on how many balls he gets out of the ballpark. There’s no doubt that this guy’s got a chance to be a plus hitter, but how much damage is he going be able to create? Like I’ve always said, power is the last thing to come. And so, we’ll just wait and see on that. But very polished, knows the strike zone, swings at strikes, takes balls, good defender. He’s a good-looking player.

Having said all this about first basemen, there is at least the possibility that Rivas could wind up in the outfield — after all, MLB Pipeline suggests as much and gives his arm a 55-grade. However, without discounting the idea completely, Fuson mentioned in the above interview that he’ll stay primarily at 1B for now.

We’ll see what happens this summer in Rivas’ first full year in the minors, against legit pro pitching in full-season ball. One way or other, though, if he can keep hitting consistently then it won’t matter whether it’s going over the wall for homers or off of it for doubles.

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 Alexander. The lefty was signed this past winter as a minor league free agent, and you can click here for the full, wild story. The short version is that he hasn’t pitched in the minors since 2014 due to multiple marijuana suspensions, but he’s been active in Indy ball the whole time and last year he set a strikeout record there. He’s old for a prospect due to his extenuating circumstances, but he’s got the talent to earn another look in affiliated ball.

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

Tyler Alexander, LHP

Expected level: ?? | Age 27

2018 stats: Spent 2015-18 in independent leagues

Scouting report via Susan Slusser of S.F. Chronicle:

(A’s Asst GM Dan) Feinstein described Alexander as having a crossfire, deceptive delivery and a fastball that registers in the low 90s that he can cut and sink, plus a slider and a changeup. “Everything is down,” Feinstein said. “Everything is around the zone.”

... and our own coverage:

[In] 2017 Alexander set the all-time single season record for most strikeouts in any independent league. He fanned 167 batters in 148 innings that year, after coming one strikeout away from setting the record the previous season. I have no way to judge the competition he faced, but “the most ever in this league or any league like it” is a language I can begin to understand. The strikeout record had previously been held by Brandon Mann, who was also later signed by the A’s out of Indy ball and eventually made his MLB debut last summer for the Rangers.

* * *

Jordan Diaz, 3B

Expected level: A- | Age 18

2018, RK: 186 PAs, 121 wRC+, 1 HR, 10.2% BB, 11.8% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

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

The key to Diaz’s progress offensively was an increased understanding of his approach, and the right-handed hitter stayed with it all summer. He had some good exit velocity numbers with a line-drive approach and showed much better discipline, with a solid walk rate to show for it. Diaz didn’t try to lift the ball too much, but with a strong, stocky build, there is some power to grow into. He also improved defensively at third, working hard at it and putting aside some lazy tendencies he displayed in his first summer, and he looked like one of the better defenders at the hot corner in the AZL.

The A’s are excited to see how Diaz’s newfound maturity in terms of his approach, work ethic and consistency will allow him to progress moving forward. It’s too early to tell exactly what he’s going to be, but watching how he builds off of his encouraging 2019 should be interesting.

* * *

Dalton Sawyer, LHP

Expected level: A+ | Age 25

2018 stats: Missed entire season due to Tommy John surgery

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (from mid-2018):

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

After working out of the bullpen exclusively during his pro debut, Sawyer made the transition to starting in 2017 and passed all tests. A 6-foot-5 southpaw whose delivery is loaded with deception, Sawyer pitches with fringe-average velocity, usually sitting around 90 mph. A changeup and a curveball comprise his secondary arsenal, with the former grading as an above-average pitch and the latter needing further refinement. He throws a lot of strikes but needs to improve his command, especially when it comes to his fastball.

Sawyer’s effectiveness against same-sided hitters is his greatest strength, and he held them to a paltry .100/.202/.127 slash line in 125 plate appearances in his first full season. That said, he’ll need to figure out a way to retire right-handed hitters to remain a starter after they slugged .446 with 17 home runs against him. Sawyer’s future might not be as a starter, but there’s enough there for him to carve out a bullpen role at the highest level.

* * *

Lawrence Butler, OF

Expected level: RK/A- | Age 18

2018, A-: 124 PAs, 98 wRC+, 1 HR, 14.5% BB, 34.7% Ks

Athletics Farm scouting report:

The only high school player taken by the A’s in the first ten rounds of this year’s draft, Butler is still just 17. He’s clearly talented but also very raw. Butler boasts a big, athletic build and possesses an explosive swing with clear power potential. He also has above-average speed. The talented teen will need to develop a more defined approach at the plate, but he has the potential to blossom into a well-rounded impact player. Butler has spent time both at first base and in the outfield, and he could represent a legitimate option at both spots.

* * *

Brady Feigl, RHP

Expected level: A+ | Age 23

2018, A-: 1.35 ERA, 20 ip, 27 Ks, 7 BB, 0 HR, 1.98 FIP
2018, A: 3.00 ERA, 6 ip, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 3.82 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

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

Feigl had Tommy John surgery as a freshman at Mississippi. ... Big and strong, Feigl has an interesting three-pitch mix to work with, starting with a fastball that touched the mid-90s in his final college season, but sat more at 91-92 over the summer. It has a high spin rate and he can miss bats with it, though he also can keep it down in the zone with sink to elicit ground-ball outs. Both his slider and his changeup flash above-average at times, with his slider the more consistent of the two secondary offerings.

Feigl has always been a strike-thrower, but didn’t always command the ball well within the zone, leading to a higher hit rate in college than you’d expect given his stuff. That wasn’t the case in his small sample size in pro ball, so the A’s are intrigued to find out if he can continue that trend over 140-150 innings in a rotation.

* * *

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!