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Oakland A’s 2019 Community Prospect List #23: Kevin Merrell could use a speedy turnaround

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The speedster had a lost season in 2018.

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Photo credit: Meghan Camino | Stockton Ports

Our 2019 Community Prospect List adds its next injury bounce-back case. 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%)

We have now added our seventh member of the Oakland A’s 2017 draft class to this CPL. The thing is, Kevin Merrell was the team’s second-highest pick in that draft, coming No. 33 overall in the Comp A round; he was essentially a late 1st-rounder. That disconnect should give you a clue about how his year went.

Like so many others on this list, Merrell lost most of 2018 to injury. The speedster had looked sharp in his pro debut the previous summer, getting on base and then stealing prolifically once there. However, an elbow injury limited him to just 62 games for High-A Stockton last season (via Melissa Lockard, The Athletic).

Merrell’s poor numbers weren’t just a matter of health, though, as Lockard notes that he “also chased more out of his hitting zone than he should have.” He ended up with a far below-average line (72 wRC+), including a mediocre average despite a high BABIP, a low OBP because he doesn’t draw many walks, and a strikeout rate too high for a hitter with utterly no power. He didn’t even run much, stealing just five bases in nine tries.

The defensive side of the ball is an even bigger question, specifically where he’ll wind up. He’s only ever played shortstop in the pros so far, but the reports aren’t optimistic on his future there and are mixed as to why. Lockard suggests he has a good enough arm for the position; FanGraphs counters that “he doesn’t quite have the hands or actions for the infield” and guesses CF for his future; MLB Pipeline doesn’t like his arm but says he has “impressive range” at SS and wonders about a super-utility role. So, let’s call it TBA.

On the bright side, the speed is still there, and FanGraphs says it’s up to 80-grade now. It takes more than elite wheels to make it in the bigs, as Billy Burns warned us in his time here, but they’re a nice head start to have and can help other skills play up. As long as he can make contact he should be able to get on base a bit, and if his arm is indeed 55-grade like FanGraphs says then it’s easy to see how that could couple with top-notch athleticism to make him a promising defender somewhere. Pipeline also notes he’s “still learning his left-handed swing” and how to tailor it to his running game, which provides extra optimism for untapped upside.

Merrell had a bad season in which he got hurt and didn’t hit, but the 23-year-old has plenty of time to turn it around. It was just one disappointing summer for now, and he’s still got the tools that convinced the A’s to spend a high pick on him. Add him to the farm’s long list of quality bounce-back candidates looking for a breakout in 2019.

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 Tanner Anderson. He’s on the older side for this list and he’s already debuted in the majors, but he’s only thrown a few innings at the highest level so he’s still eligible for prospect status. He’s a groundball specialist whom the A’s are planning to try out as a starter early in the year. He’s essentially MLB-ready, so this is a high-floor, high-proximity pick for a player who could contribute right away and has at least a little bit of upside.

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

Tanner Anderson, RHP

Expected level: AAA | Age 26

2018, AAA: 2.64 ERA, 61⅓ ip, 49 Ks, 15 BB, 2 HR, 3.09 FIP
2018, MLB: 6.35 ERA, 11⅓ ip, 6 Ks, 8 BB, 1 HR, 5.63 FIP

Scouting report from GM David Forst, via Susan Slusser of S.F. Chronicle:

The thing that jumps out at first is his sinker; it’s a weapon on its own. We couldn’t figure out why Pittsburgh took him out of the rotation, though — he has three good pitches and had had good success. They expected he would have a quicker route to the big leagues in relief, and he did, but with the sinker, a slider that works against right-handed hitters and left-handers, and a changeup, we think he could work in a starter role or in long relief. ... And the maturity level is great. He can change arm angles and he looks totally under control.

... and Kyle Glaser of Baseball America:

Anderson sits 93 mph on his sinker in relief, and his mid-80s slider is his swing-and-miss pitch. He has a heavy ground ball tendency, with nearly three groundouts for every flyout in his career.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

Hogan Harris, LHP

Expected level: A/A+ | Age 22

2018 stats: Missed pro season to injury, but did pitch in college season

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 55 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45

Harris created a stir by hitting 98 mph in mid-March after missing a month with an oblique injury, though he usually pitches at 91-94 with some run and angle on his fastball. He has aptitude for spin, throwing a curveball with power and depth and morphing it into a slider at times. He also has an effective changeup to combat right-handers.

While he possesses four pitches, Harris also has a lot of work to do to remain a starter at the next level. He lacks reliable command, and he loses velocity and location on his fastball at times when he falls in love with his breaking pitches. He also has a history of nagging injuries, leading to questions about his durability.

* * *

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.

* * *

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!