Every winter, Athletics Nation votes on a Community Prospect List, in which we rank the Top 30 prospects in the organization. This year the farm feels like it’s on the weaker side, which is exactly what you would expect from a contending team. That’s especially true when the club is contending precisely because they just graduated a bunch of young talent to the majors — many of the names that made Oakland’s system so great the last couple winters are now part of a winning MLB squad, which of course is the ultimate goal of all this in the first place.
However, the farm may yet be in better shape than it looks. It all just depends on the cutoff you choose for what constitutes a “prospect.” We use MLB’s official definition, which says a prospect exceeds rookie status after reaching career totals 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the bigs. There is also a service time cutoff of 45 days on the active 25-man roster (basically from Opening Day through the end of August, so September doesn’t count with its expanded teams), which is why reliever J.B. Wendelken has technically graduated despite throwing only 29 innings so far.
As it happens, there are three young hitters on the A’s who have just barely topped those rookie totals, but still haven’t fully proven themselves at the highest level. They are:
- OF Dustin Fowler: 192 at-bats
- OF Ramon Laureano: 156 at-bats
- UT Franklin Barreto: 144 at-bats (spread over two seasons)
Fowler got a couple months of run last summer but wasn’t quite ready and went back down for more seasoning. Barreto has never gotten a serious extended opportunity, but he’s had enough cups of coffee over the last two years to juuust exceed the at-bat threshold. Laureano burst onto the scene for the final two months last year, and I think we all agree he’s probably for real, but we don’t know exactly what kind of level he’ll settle into long-term.
All three of these players have unquestionably graduated from prospect status, statistically speaking. However, they are all still somewhat unknown commodities, for better or worse, and two of them will probably even open the season in Triple-A looking to force their way back up. Their future fortunes are still, in a word, prospective. Will Barreto learn to make enough contact, and also what position will he play? Will Fowler get on base enough without walking, and will he learn to handle CF? Will Laureano win just one future MVP award, or all of them?
With all this in mind, we ran a few extra votes this winter to see where these almost-prospects would have ranked on the CPL had they been eligible. Here is what the Top 10 list would look like if we added them back in:
- Jesus Luzardo, LHP
- Ramon Laureano, OF
- A.J. Puk, LHP
- Sean Murphy, C
- Franklin Barreto, UT
- Lazaro Armenteros, OF
- Austin Beck, OF
- Dustin Fowler, OF
- Jorge Mateo, SS
- Jameson Hannah, OF
Well now that changes the look of the farm entirely. Gone from the Top 10 are James Kaprielian, Sheldon Neuse, and Parker Dunshee, all of whom are wonderful prospects but carry major red flags (long-term injury, poor 2018, and low ceiling, respectively) and look a whole lot better in the Next 10 tier of the list. Looking at it this way, the Top 100-level talent goes more like halfway down this section of the list, pushing a bounce-back question mark like Mateo down toward the bottom. There’s barely even room for the ‘18 draft class, as even if Kyler Murray had stuck around he would only have knocked 2nd-rounder Hannah out of the Top 10.
The effects can be seen all the way down the list. Tyler Ramirez, Nick Allen, and Wyatt Marks would be bumped out of the Top 20, which would now end with higher-profile names like Skye Bolt and Daulton Jefferies. We haven’t yet done a special placement vote for Wendelken, who is in a similar almost-prospect boat as the three hitters in question, but presumably he would have made the list by now too — that means super-sleeper Gus Varland, who recently earned the No. 22 spot, would probably be No. 26. The likes of Kevin Merrell and Jonah Heim would be scrapping for the final spots, instead of the early-20s while we try to brainstorm fringe names to round out the Top 30.
The A’s have the first pieces of a great core already in place, including homegrown stars like Chapman and Olson who have already begun to establish themselves in the bigs. We spend a lot of time talking about the next wave of youth that should imminently join that core, led by Luzardo and Murphy. But it’s easy to forget about, or at least underestimate, the group that lies in limbo between those two endpoints, even if you see one of them as merely a trade chip. If you want a truly realistic view of what the A’s near-future looks like, that Alternate Top 10 above will tell you more than our CPL will this year.