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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Daulton Jefferies makes Double-A debut

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The right-hander is healthy and back on the mound, and already moving up the system.

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Photo provided by Oakland A’s

When Athletics Nation voted on our Community Prospect List last winter, the Top 30 featured five pitchers who missed 2018 due to injury. Now one of them is back on the mound, and the early returns are most encouraging. Daulton Jefferies, whom we ranked as the team’s No. 17 prospect this year, is not only back in action but also punched his ticket to the upper-minors this week.

The right-hander was drafted out of UC Berkeley in 2016, with a supplemental pick just after the 1st round (37th overall). He may have gone even higher than that, but calf and shoulder problems limited his junior season in college and likely dropped him out of the top half of the 1st round. Those injury woes worsened when he reached the pros, as he had Tommy John surgery early in 2017 and then a setback in his recovery last summer, ultimately costing him his first two full seasons.

But now, after a long wait, Jefferies is finally back. He opened the 2019 season with High-A Stockton, throwing three innings per game over five outings. He allowed runs in only two of those games, and the one time he allowed multiple runs they all came on one swing of the bat — a three-run dinger fueled by a single and a walk, after beginning his day by retiring six straight batters in a pair of 1-2-3 frames.

Jefferies, A+: 2.40 ERA, 15 ip, 21 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 10 hits, 1.86 FIP

That dominant performance was enough for the A’s to move the 23-year-old up for a bigger challenge, and on Wednesday he made his Double-A debut for the Midland RockHounds. It wasn’t as sparkling as his work in the lower-minors, of course, but it was a solid enough effort for his first try. Furthermore, he had to face the Tulsa Drillers, who so far have the Texas League’s best offense by nearly a half-run per game and 80 points of OPS.

Jefferies, AA: 3 ip, 2 runs, 1 K, 0 BB, 1 HR, 5 hits, 40 pitches

He kept the majority of his batted balls on the ground, 6-of-11 overall. He did get some help from his defense in the 3rd inning, though — CF Dairon Blanco threw out a runner at third base, and then later catcher Collin Theroux helped eliminate a runner at the plate trying to score on a wild pitch. It was one of a pair of wild pitches uncorked by Jefferies.

But those are all just details. The important news here is twofold. First, Jefferies is healthy and pitching in real games again. Second, he’s pitching well enough to essentially bypass the lower-minors entirely and go straight to a test in Double-A. After all, he’d thrown only 35⅓ innings in his entire pro career before suiting up for Midland.

And what do we have to look forward to now that Jefferies is back in the prospect mix? When he was drafted, he was touted for his excellent command of his low-90s fastball, with a change and slider to supplement it. His undersized stature (6’0, 182) and bulldog demeanor lent him to Sonny Gray comps, though MLB Pipeline chose names like Mike Leake and Jeremy Hellickson in their pre-draft writeup. Of course all of that will now need to be updated after a two-year layoff, but Pipeline mentioned his velo returning to the 90s in February at pre-spring mini-camp.

Some other A’s prospect injury news, courtesy of Athletics Farm (none are yet expected to be serious problems):

  • RHP Grant Holmes out with sore shoulder, after throwing three games for Midland this year
  • C Sean Murphy lands on IL with knee sprain
  • OF Luis Barrera is on the IL with a sore shoulder (listen to latest A’s Farm podcast for more on Barrera, though not regarding the injury)

Holmes was one of the aforementioned five CPL arms who missed 2018, along with A.J. Puk and James Kaprielian (both recovering from Tommy John surgery) and recent draftee Hogan Harris (yet to pitch in the pros), and of course Jefferies. Unfortunately, three more have already joined them on the shelf, as Jesus Luzardo (shoulder) and Gus Varland (knee) are yet to play this year and Wyatt Marks (shoulder) is out after just four games.

Given all those injuries, and the shakiness of the A’s MLB pitching so far, the good news about Jefferies is especially exciting. Congrats and good luck to Jefferies as he finally gets his pro career going!