The Oakland A’s called up catcher prospect Sean Murphy on Sunday, the team announced. To make room on the 40-man roster for Murphy and the return of pitcher Sean Manaea from the injured list, pitcher Tanner Anderson and infielder Corban Joseph were designated for assignment. The 25-man roster is no longer a consideration because Sunday is Sept. 1, so active rosters have expanded for the rest of the season.
Entering the year, Murphy was considered one of the A’s three blue-chip prospects. He was ranked in the team’s top three by every relevant source, including our own Community Prospect List, and he was on every major Top 100 national list, often in the Top 50. There’s lots of talent in Oakland’s farm system, but Murphy is one of three players expected to make a serious impact, along with pitchers Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk.
The catcher made a quick rise up the minors since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2016. He reached Double-A in his first full season in ‘17, then earned his way to Triple-A by the end of ‘18. Unfortunately, he missed most of this summer to injury — a torn meniscus in his knee cost him May, June, and most of July, and then a flareup in the knee soon after his return put him out for most of August. But in the 31 games he managed to play for Triple-A Las Vegas, he blasted the ball (in 140 plate appearances):
Murphy, AAA: .308/.386/.625, 136 wRC+, 10 HR, 10.7% BB, 22.1% Ks
While those numbers include a boost from the Pacific Coast League and the Las Vegas Ballpark, they’re still mostly indicative of what Murphy has done throughout the minors. The right-hander has generally shown strong plate discipline, with the ability to keep the strikeouts in check and draw his share of walks (career rates of 17% and 9%, respectively). In addition to making lots of contact, he’s also displayed decent-to-plus power most of the time, though he receives just average scouting grades in that department.
The hitting isn’t even half the story, though, as Murphy’s calling card is his defense behind the plate. His fielding earns an enormous 65-grade from MLB Pipeline, while his throwing arm gets an elite 70-grade from both Pipeline and FanGraphs (on the 20-to-80 scale). His defense is considered good enough on its own to make him a starter in the majors, and if his bat pans out too then he could be a star.
The pie-in-the-sky upper-ceiling comp is that Murphy feels like the Matt Chapman of catchers. His defensive grades are just a small notch below what Chapman’s were as a prospect, with an emphasis on a cannon arm for both players. And at the plate Murphy has the kind of discipline we see from Chapman today, while also posting an isolated slugging mark over .200 at each level of the minors. In reality it’s never likely that any prospect will reach the heights that Chapman has achieved in the majors, but the point is Murphy has a similarly impactful profile on both sides of the ball.
Despite his bright future, though, the 24-year-old will operate in a backup capacity in this first callup to the bigs. The A’s already have Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann as their primary catchers, and Murphy represents the third man who usually gets called up for extra depth when rosters expand in September. But at the very least we’ll see his MLB debut this month, and Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle reports the following: “Bob Melvin said Sean Murphy will get a few starts at catcher here and there, especially with some LH starters coming up (so Weds or Thurs against the Angels looks likely).”
This is the fourth prospect the A’s have brought up recently, as the next wave of their youth movement begins to arrive for their initial looks in the majors. Lefty pitcher A.J. Puk came up a couple weeks ago, OF/1B slugger Seth Brown got the call last week, and infielder Sheldon Neuse joined them on Thursday. Puk, Murphy, and Neuse were all in the Top 10 of our preseason CPL.
More importantly, in Puk and Murphy, Oakland has now brought up two of its three aforementioned blue-chip prospects. The best of the bunch, Luzardo, could join them soon too, as the top lefty is beginning to dominate in Triple-A. He missed most of the season to multiple injuries, but in his last three games for Las Vegas he’s got more strikeouts than baserunners, earning Ks against one-third of the batters he faced (19-of-57).
The September stretch run is here, and the A’s enter the month in essentially a three-way tie for the two Wild Card spots. Now the farm has produced some quality reinforcements, just in time for them to help out in that playoff pursuit. Whatever happens this summer, though, the likes of Murphy, Puk, and the rest will hopefully go on to form part of the club’s increasingly dynamic long-term core, elevating it from the fringes of the postseason picture up to serious championship contention.
Welcome to the Show, Sean!