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Minor League Progress Hard To Gauge

Has Luis Barrera’s time come? Or been put on hold?
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

So we finally have a winner in 2020: turkeys. Turkeys will be rooting hard for an annual pandemic after this week’s Zoomsgivings in which families virtually share Turducken. I wonder if the children will be seated in breakout rooms.

Who has the pandemic been especially bad for, besides everyone? That would be minor leaguers who rely on the MiLB season to hone their skills and show their wares. Now players enter the 2021 season rusty while teams have to decide on what basis to determine each player’s readiness for ‘the next step’.

Specifically, for players who were deemed on track for 2021 are they still on deck? Or is there timeline pushed back a year, just like our lives? Are players once on a 2022 timeline still close enough to be heir apparents, or will they spend 2021 enacting their 2020 level and season?

Some A’s prospects are particularly difficult to assess right now. Not Robert Puason, who is still too young to vote and won’t be ready for several years anyway. The variance in his timeline was always more than a year, so his ETA hasn’t changed: It’s “not now”. And on the other end of the spectrum, Daulton Jefferies and James Kaprielian were and still are on the cusp of breaking the big league roster. They got their feet wet in Oakland in 2020 and have little left to prove in the minor leagues.

On the other hand...

Nick Allen - SS

Allen is an important piece in the A’s future cog, as a defensive whiz at SS whose glove is ready now but whose bat needs to play enough to make him an everyday starter. Allen turned 22 in October and at one time might have challenged to be Marcus Semien’s immediate replacement if Semien indeed departs in free agency.

However, Allen’s 2020 season was supposed to be spent at AA Midland where he would have tried to build on his 2019 success at Stockton. Stockton is known as a hitter-friendly environment, but nonetheless Allen’s .292/.363/.434 batting line at age 20 was highly encouraging.

Thanks to the pandemic, Allen has still never played above single-A and a 2021 debut is out of the question — even taking over at the start of 2022 is in question, depending on how Allen’s bat picks up after a year away from real competition.

This leaves the A’s needing to solve SS definitively for 2021 and casts at least some doubt as to whether a “one year solution” will provide enough of a bridge.

Grant Holmes - SP

The A’s were hoping Holmes would be in lock step with fellow promising SPs Jefferies and Kaprielian. Similar to Franklin Barreto, no matter how many setbacks Holmes had due to injury or erratic pitching, he always had the ace in the hole that he was young.

Well, Holmes is now 24 and having been in professional baseball since 2014 the clock is very much ticking on his options. But thanks to 2020, Holmes enters 2021 having thrown only 4.2 IP at AAA.

He did, however, put up strong numbers at AA in 2019 (6-5, 3.31 ERA, 81.2 IP, 71 hits, 27 BB, 76 K), which is notable because despite Holmes’ excellent arm he had not converted his talent into particularly good results prior to 2019.

One would presume that Holmes will start 2021 at AAA Las Vegas on the short list for an early call up should a need arise. But what do the A’s have in Grant Holmes? Still not really sure.

Luis Barrera - OF

Is Barrera ready to push for an outfield spot on the A’s 2021 roster out of spring training? A year ago the answer would have been absolutely yes. Barrera just turned 25 and brings an excitement blend of skills to the table, including speed, contact skills, and a strong throwing arm.

Barrera’s 2019 season is not to be taken lightly. AA Midland is known to be a difficult place for hitters to thrive, especially suppressing power from LH batters who are spitting into the wind as they launch fly balls.

Undaunted, in 2019 Barrera put up a slash line of .321/.357/.513 at age 23. And that was on the heels of an age 22 season he finished at Midland batting .328/.378/.450 in 36 games. Just a solid AAA season in 2020 would have positioned Barrera to be arguably an odds-on favorite to earn at least a “strong side of the platoon” gig with the A’s next March.

But now? Barrera is still AAA-untested unless the front office wants to lean on what they saw in San Jose’s “It’s a season, really it is, with games sort of but for real kind of!” Have they seen enough to hand Barrera a job out of camp? Or did 2020’s AAA season become 2021’s AAA season, at least at the outset?

These are only some of the dilemmas A’s scouts and front office personnel face — as if scouting and projecting players wasn’t a hard enough inexact science.

Oakland decided to protect Wandisson Charles from the Rule 5 draft this winter, but how close is he to bringing his 100 MPH heat to Oakland? Charles rose from Beloit to Stockton to Midland in 2019, and begins next season 24 years old.

Every year we hear that hard throwing reliever Miguel Romero is knocking on the door — will the A’s finally answer? Romero turns 27 next April and had an uneven 2019 at AAA (81 K in 72.2 IP, but also 11 HR and a 3.96 ERA).

It’s a bevy of questions with a paucity of clear answers. Let’s just hope there’s a 2021 minor league season! While you ponder all this, I’ve put the Turducken in the chat.