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Oakland A’s 2020 Community Prospect List #3: Sean Murphy, catcher of the present

Behind the plate in Oakland, the future is now.

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Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our 2020 Community Prospect List adds its third nationally ranked prospect, in catcher Sean Murphy. That means the top three on our new CPL are the same as they were last year, but in the best possible way. 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 (+84%)
  2. A.J. Puk, LHP (+1%)
  3. Sean Murphy (+95%)

The A’s farm system has a distinct top tier, with three Top 50 national prospects who are all MLB-ready. Murphy and Puk essentially tied for the second spot on the list, but either way the margin of Murphy’s third-place victory says it all: 137 out of 142 votes. That’s no disrespect to the rest of the farm, as there are plenty of other good prospects, but it goes to show how next-level this trio is.

Case in point: Murphy ranks No. 33 overall at MLB Pipeline, No. 41 at Baseball America, and No. 44 according to both Baseball Prospectus and John Sickels. And he’s only third on the A’s prospect list. That’s a potentially franchise-changing group of talent.

In the last two years’ CPL posts for Murphy, I referred to his best-case ceiling as being the Matt Chapman of catchers, and I still think that’s a fun pie-in-the-sky comp. Murphy was named to MLB Pipeline’s All-Defense Team this winter as the best-fielding catcher in the minors, and his throwing arm in particular earned a 70-grade from each of Pipeline, BA, and FanGraphs. At the plate he’s good at making contact and he’s got plus raw power. The similarities are obvious.

The difference this year is that we don’t have to rely on our imaginations anymore. Like Luzardo and Puk ahead of him on this CPL, Murphy has already debuted in the majors, giving us a chance to see him in real life. In his first start he homered and caught a shutout, and the next week he showed off his power potential with an absolute moonshot in Houston. The A’s only needed to see 60 plate appearances (with a 135 wRC+) to give him the nod in the starting lineup for the Wild Card Game.

Murphy is already a guaranteed big leaguer, thanks to his defense. Glove-first catchers don’t have to hit at all to at least keep a job on a bench somewhere. But Murphy should be able to hit a little bit too, and maybe a lot bit, so where he falls on the spectrum between backup and Chapman appears to be mostly contingent on how his bat develops. To that end: So far, so good.

The best part of following prospects is seeing how they turn out when they finally reach the majors, and we’ve got three whoppers on our hands here. Luzardo, Puk, and Murphy have all arrived, and (health permitting) we should get to see them all making an impact in green and gold in 2020. The future is now.

Here is the voting 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, 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.

* * *

The new nominee is Sheldon Neuse. The infielder’s bat got back on track last summer in his second attempt at Triple-A, enough so that he got the call to make his MLB debut in August. He didn’t hit much in his brief MLB action, but he did show an ability to shift from his native 3B (which is supremely unavailable in Oakland right now) over to 2B (which is the team’s biggest hole). His remaining minor league options make it highly likely that he’ll open the season back in Las Vegas, with a logjam of more time-sensitive candidates battling out for the 2B job this spring, but he has the makings of a quality player in the immediate future and could arrive this year.

Hitter rates (poor/avg/great):

  • wRC+ (75/100/135)
  • BB% (5.0%/8.5%/12.0%)
  • K% (30%/22%/14%)

Nominees on the current ballot:

Sheldon Neuse, IF

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 25

2019 stats (AAA): 560 PAs, 126 wRC+, 27 HR, 10.0% BB, 23.6% Ks
2019 stats (MLB): 61 PAs, 63 wRC+, 0 HR, 6.6% BB, 31.1% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (mid-2019):

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 40 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50

When at his best, Neuse utilizes a compact and simple right-handed swing while also showing an ability to drive the ball to all fields. He came out of his gameplan in Triple-A at the start of the year, not seeing as many pitches and swinging and missing at an alarming rate. When he got back on track, his strikeout rate plummeted and he drew more walks. The power he showed in 2017 didn’t completely return, but he was driving the ball a bit more.

A below-average runner, Neuse still has plenty of range to play third to go with a plus arm that fires mid-90s fastball from the mound, allowing him to stay at the hot corner long-term. There’s a Matt Chapman-sized roadblock for Neuse in Oakland, so he might need to find work around the field and has seen time at his college position as well as a little time at second base in 2018.

* * *

Daulton Jefferies, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2019 stats (A+): 2.40 ERA, 15 ip, 21 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 2.13 FIP
2019 stats (AA): 3.66 ERA, 64 ip, 72 Ks, 7 BB, 7 HR, 3.19 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (mid-2019):

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

Jefferies did participate in mini camp as the 2019 season approached and the ball was coming out of his hand well. His velocity was up to 90-91 mph in bullpen sessions and he’d shown excellent command of his low-90s fastball in the past. His changeup has the chance to be a plus pitch, thrown with terrific deception, and the bottom falls out of the pitch. His slider looks more like a cutter to some and it has more teeth that way, with the A’s wishing he would have a little more finish on the end of it to turn it into a better-than-average pitch.

Jefferies was always known as a strike-thrower before the injury, and he got back to filling up the zone in 2019. After good post-surgery progress, he’s attacking the organizational ladder in earnest.

* * *

Nick Allen, SS

Expected level: Double-A | Age 21

2019 stats (A+): 328 PAs, 122 wRC+, 3 HR, 8.5% BB, 15.9% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (mid-2019):

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 30 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 65 | Overall: 50

Allen certainly did struggle in the first half of 2018, hitting just .198 with a. .513 OPS in the Midwest League before the All-Star break. Some of that is because of the aforementioned lack of strength, though the A’s think he can add some to help him stay durable, but much of it can be attributed to Allen having to deal with the loss of a family member in early May. In the second half, Allen corrected a little drift in his swing and started impacting the baseball more, posting a .274 average and .679 OPS after the break. His walk rate went up and his strikeout rate dropped as his pitch recognition improved. He also stopped worrying about trying to lift or drive the ball, understanding that consistent contact and on-base skills, combined with his plus speed, are his ticket.

There’s never been any question that Allen’s glove will carry him to the big leagues. His arm is strong and accurate and he can throw from any angle to go along with his plus range and outstanding hands. A greater understanding of who he is offensively could help him become a defensive-oriented regular.

* * *

Robert Puason, SS

Expected level: Rookie League | Age 17

2019 stats: Has not played U.S. pro ball yet

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (mid-2019):

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 65 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

The A’s had just over $5.9 million in their international bonus pool at the start of the 2019-20 signing period. They used nearly all of it, $5.1 million, to sign Puason, the talented shortstop who was ranked No. 2 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 international prospect list.

Puason is lean and wiry, with a projectable and durable frame. A fast-twitch athlete, the switch-hitter can make solid contact from both sides of the plate. He has shown a polished approach with fluid swings and the ability to spray line drives to all fields. He has good barrel control and extension for his age. Like most prospects his age, he continues to work on his hitting mechanics, and it’s the development of the hit tool that could make him an everyday player in the big leagues one day. For now, he uses a semi-open stance and semi-uppercut swing from both sides and projects to have average power. He’s already an above-average runner.

On defense, he shows fluid actions and good footwork. He has an above-average throwing arm now with solid carry and it’s expected to get better as he develops. Add good hands along with great instincts, and it makes for an above-average package that could keep Puason at shortstop for the rest of his career.

* * *

James Kaprielian, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 26

2019 stats (A+): 4.46 ERA, 36⅓ ip, 43 Ks, 8 BB, 6 HR, 4.43 FIP
2019 stats (AA): 1.63 ERA, 27⅔ ip, 26 Ks, 8 BB, 2 HR, 3.60 FIP
2019 stats (AAA): 2.25 ERA, 4 ip, 6 Ks, 0 BB, 0 HR, 0.80 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (mid-2019):

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

While at UCLA, Kaprielian had a fastball that was largely average velocity-wise, but played up because of his command of the pitch. There was excitement when he experienced a jump in his velocity at the outset of his pro career, going from 88-92 to 93-96 mph while touching 99 mph. He was healthy, finally, at instructs last fall, but wasn’t popping the radar gun like that. He does have three secondary offerings that all can be above-average, with a tight slider and a changeup with good fade to it, not to mention a solid curve he mixes in effectively. Kaprielian repeats his delivery well and has always been a strike-thrower.

More than anything, the right-hander needs to turn in a healthy season. The A’s are sure to proceed cautiously with Kaprielian to give him the best chance of fulfilling his potential as a mid-rotation starter.

* * *

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!