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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Parker Dunshee makes Triple-A debut

Plus, a look through the Las Vegas lineup.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have dipped into their starting pitching depth already this season, bringing up Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden and trading away Edwin Jackson. That has left their rotation depth a bit thin for the moment, at least until some of the injured arms return, with Paul Blackburn remaining as the top healthy starter in Triple-A and the only one with any significant MLB experience.

However, a crucial new name has risen from Double-A to join Blackburn, as Parker Dunshee was called up to Las Vegas and made his Triple-A debut on Monday. With several of the team’s best pitching prospects on the shelf with injuries, Dunshee is the the top healthy arm on our preseason Community Prospect List, having ranked 10th there. His Vegas debut went extremely well.

Dunshee, AAA debut: 6 ip, 2 runs, 9 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 6 hits

It wasn’t perfect, with a homer mixed in, but remember that Triple-A is no longer a pitcher-friendly environment for Oakland prospects. They’ve moved from Nashville to the dry air and elevation of the desert, and on top of that Triple-A has begun using MLB-style balls that carry farther and might be leading to the league’s notable increase in dingers. That context makes Dunshee’s performance look even more impressive, between limiting the runs but also continuing to pile up the strikeouts against tougher competition.

It didn’t take long for Dunshee to get the call to Vegas. He opened 2019 with a conservative assignment to repeat Double-A, after making only a dozen starts there last year, and he didn’t miss a beat in his second tour of Midland. It took him only six starts to punch his ticket up the ladder.

Dunshee, 2019 AA: 1.89 ERA, 38 ip, 34 Ks, 11 BB, 1 HR, 26 hits, 3.37 FIP

It’s no secret that Dunshee is my favorite sleeper in the system, if he even still qualifies for that label. Since reaching the pros in 2017 he’s done nothing but get outs for two years, uninterrupted, at every level at which he’s been tested. His raw stuff and velocity suggest his ceiling should be low, and it’s certainly possible to succeed up through Triple-A and then hit a wall in the majors against the very best hitters, but he’s also got all the traits of an overachiever and at some point you can’t ignore the numbers he’s posted.

It’s only one Triple-A start so far, so Dunshee has a ways to go to prove that he’s for real at his new level. But over the winter I predicted that either he and/or Brian Howard would be making starts in Oakland sometime this summer, which was why I scoffed at any trade proposal that included them, and now Dunshee is one step closer to making that a reality. (By the way, Howard has a 2.06 ERA and 3.63 FIP in eight starts this year in Double-A.)

Other SP depth

As long as we’re talking starters, here are the next names on the list.

Blackburn: 4.37 ERA, 35 ip, 25 Ks, 12 BB, 8 HR, 6.26 FIP
Alexander: 6.61 ERA, 31⅓ ip, 26 Ks, 15 BB, 10 HR, 7.62 FIP
Anderson: 6.11 ERA, 35⅓ ip, 17 Ks, 15 BB, 10 HR, 7.85 FIP
Buchanan: 6.37 ERA, 41 ip, 28 Ks, 19 BB, 10 HR, 7.01 FIP

Ouch. Blackburn is at least getting grounders as usual (51.9%), but he’s also giving up dingers and his overall line is mediocre at best. The lotto tickets, from former Indy League star Tyler Alexander to sleeper trade acquisition Tanner Anderson to minor league free agent Jake Buchanan, have been utterly pounded, with the walks flowing and the dingers flying. Amazingly, their FIPs are actually worse than their 6+ ERA marks.

As for the bullpen, there are a couple bright spots worth monitoring. Wei-Chung Wang has a 3.86 ERA through 21 innings, with a couple homers too many but otherwise nice peripherals (18 Ks, 6 BB, 4 HR). With Jerry Blevins traded, Dean Kiekhefer on the IL, and Alexander getting torched, Wang appears to be the top lefty on the depth chart below Ryan Buchter.

Meanwhile, righty prospect Miguel Romero, who made the bottom of our CPL last winter, has way too many walks and homers but at least is striking out 31% of his batters (18⅓ ip, 28 Ks, 15 BB, 5 HR). Righty former starter Norge Ruiz was also called up from Double-A, but has been knocked around so far in five games — a strikeout per inning and three per walk, but also two hits per inning and a 7.45 ERA.

Hot (and cold) hitters

While the pitching has mostly struggled in the new hitting environment, the lineup has thrived. Leading the way are a couple of top prospects doing everything to force their way to Oakland.

Bolt, OF: .313/.393/.616, 143 wRC+, 6 HR, 9.8% BB, 27.7% Ks
Mateo, SS: .325/.363/.574, 125 wRC+, 5 HR, 5.0% BB, 20.7% Ks

We already saw Skye Bolt debut in the majors, where he missed his first career homer by inches and settled for a double. On top of the stats above, Jorge Mateo is 11-for-14 in steals, and Bolt is 4-for-5, while both play up-the-middle positions.

As exciting as Bolt’s breakout is, Mateo’s might be even more so. He has some of the best raw tools in the game, but the knock has always been that they don’t translate enough into real game production. If this early hot start is him putting it all together, then look out because the A’s might finally have the star on their hands that they were hoping for when they gambled on him in the Sonny Gray trade.

In particular, I’m encouraged by Mateo’s strikeout rate. Last year, when he struggled in Triple-A Nashville, it sat at 27.3%, and he’s shaved a quarter off of it so far this season. More contact means more chances to show off his elite speed, not to mention his solid power. You can see the power here with a dinger, the contact here with a clutch single for the first walk-off in Las Vegas Ballpark history, and the speed below with a stand-up triple.

Unfortunately, a few other prospects/youngsters aren’t hitting as well as that pair.

Neuse, 3B: .272/.346/.441, 94 wRC+, 5 HR, 9.8% BB, 26.1% Ks
Fowler, OF: .268/.339/.427, 87 wRC+, 4 HR, 7.5% BB, 22.4% Ks
Ramirez, OF: .216/.350/.361, 83 wRC+, 3 HR, 16.2% BB, 27.4% Ks
Barreto, 2B: .209/.355/.339, 81 wRC+, 2 HR, 14.8% BB, 29.6% Ks

Sheldon Neuse has improved over last year, but he’s still below-average. It would be nice to see him either cut the strikeouts or increase the power — both would be great, but I have a hard time seeing him make it without doing at least one. If you’re gonna be a moderate-power 3B then you need to hit for a higher average, which will require putting more balls in play.

Tyler Ramirez is doing a lot of what he always has, between walking a ton, striking out a bit too much, and showing modest power. The big difference is that his BABIP magic has disappeared for now, and a guy who sat at nearly .400 for basically three straight seasons now finds himself in a more normal .290 range. Perhaps he can get back to previous heights as he adjusts to his new league, but it would be even better if he could just cut the Ks instead and put out more BIPs as another way to increase that BA. On the bright side, he still has a solid OBP despite all this because he walks so darn much.

As for Franklin Barreto and Dustin Fowler, they’ve graduated from prospect status but are still searching for their breakouts. Barreto is still whiffing a ton, now in his third try at Triple-A, while Fowler has at least shown the encouraging sign of upping his walk rate as a secondary way of getting on base.

Finally, there are a few filler guys who look like they want to be more than that.

Joseph, UT: .387/.427/.642, 160 wRC+, 4 HR, 6.0% BB, 13.7% Ks
Payton, OF: .308/.377/.635, 136 wRC+, 9 HR, 11.4% BB, 16.3% Ks
Campbell, UT: .267/.405/.489, 125 wRC+, 5 HR, 17.0% BB, 17.0% Ks
Brown, 1B: .293/.333/.624, 120 wRC+, 10 HR, 5.6% BB, 20.8% Ks

The one to watch here is probably Mark Payton. At age 27 he’s still young enough to be a late-bloomer, like Nick Martini last year, and his numbers don’t carry any serious red flags. The lefty has the great combo of high power with low strikeouts, backed up by a low 8.3% swing-and-miss rate. Because of the lack of Ks, his average has remained high without needing BABIP help, as his .291 mark is completely sustainable. He’s even tossed in a few steals without getting caught.

This isn’t to say he’s definitely for real, but dang, if he keeps this up and the A’s find themselves in a pinch then I wouldn’t mind giving him a look at some point. Not bad for a minor league Rule 5 pick.

Also of note is Seth Brown. He probably doesn’t belong in this “filler” section quite yet, but he’s something of a fringe prospect for now so this is close enough. He’s put on a power display so far while keeping the whiffs relatively low, though at age 26 he’s not particularly young anymore. He hit 30 homers in High-A two years ago, and 38 doubles in Double-A last year, so he has a history of thump and it will be interesting to see how he builds on his hot start this summer.

Finally, Corban Joseph and Eric Campbell are both 30+ years old. Like Payton, Joseph was a minor league Rule 5 pick, but his batting line is largely fueled by a .420 BABIP. He’s also the best on the team at avoiding whiffs and strikeouts, and he’s shown a bit of pop too, so there’s more than just luck here, but we’ll learn a lot more about him as the sample size increases. Meanwhile, Campbell is doing exactly what he’s done for years now in Triple-A, with great plate discipline and a high OBP. Unfortunately, he’s never been able to actually hit enough to make the jump to MLB (80 wRC+ in career 505 PAs, with low average and no power).

Stay tuned to see how everyone does as the season progresses! Blackburn takes on the Salt Lake Bees (Angels) tonight at 5:35 p.m., after being rained out yesterday.