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Oakland A’s 2020 Community Prospect List #5: Nick Allen breaks out at the plate

The glove-first shortstop began to show off a bat last summer.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Our 2020 Community Prospect List adds its fifth member, and its third 3rd-round draft pick, which is a meaningless but fun coincidence. 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, C (+95%)
  4. Daulton Jefferies, RHP (+10%)
  5. Nick Allen, SS (+1%)

In 2017, the A’s owned the sixth overall pick in the draft, and they used it on high school outfielder Austin Beck. However, it’s a different 2017 high school draft pick who makes the Top 5 of our new CPL, as 3rd-rounder Nick Allen has officially passed Beck on the list.

The scouting report on Allen has always centered on his glove. He’s an elite defensive shortstop, with no question about whether he’ll stick at the position. Baseball America gives his fielding a 70-grade (Sean Murphy only got a 60), and MLB Pipeline gave him a 65-grade last year (same as what they gave Murphy this winter), with both sources adding 60-grades for his arm and speed. He’s top-notch on that side of the ball.

That defense could be enough to carry him to MLB on its own, regardless of what he does at the plate. But the reason he jumped up to No. 5 on this list, after ranking No. 19 last winter, is because he also broke out with the bat in 2019.

Playing in High-A Stockton at age-20 (which is young for the league), Allen showed the high-contact skills that he’d always displayed, and also improved in every other area. He got more of his batted balls to land for hits, raising his average without an unsustainable BABIP; he upped his walk rate by a couple percentage points, up to around average, giving him a fairly strong OBP and a natural home in the leadoff spot of the order; and he muscled up for some extra-base power. He still didn’t hit dingers, and maybe he never will given his relatively small 5’9, 160ish-pound frame, but he did everything else you could hope for at the plate.

Unfortunately, Allen’s season was cut short by an ankle injury, incurred while sliding in a game. That cost us a chance to see if he could maintain his breakout for the final couple hundred plate appearances of the year, in addition to the general bummer of the player getting hurt. But it doesn’t take away what he accomplished, nor does his tepid .452 OPS from the more advanced Arizona Fall League. No matter how you slice it, 2019 was a productive year in which Allen took a big step forward.

The next test comes in 2020. Can he build on his breakout, or will the league adjust back and keep him in check? How will he respond to tougher competition in the upper minors, as he makes the most difficult jump in the farm from High-A to Double-A? Stay tuned to find out, with the peace of mind that even if his bat flops then he’s still probably good enough to be a major league bench player.

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 Austin Beck. The former premium draft pick has not shown much in the pros yet, but he’s still got plenty of time to put it all together. If he’d gone to college then this would have been his junior year and he wouldn’t even have been drafted until this-coming June, so it’s crucial to remember patience with teenage draftees. The tools are still there, the same ones that earned him such high stock in the first place, so maybe age-21 is the year he finally learns to use them.

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:

Austin Beck, OF

Expected level: High-A? Double-A? | Age 21

2019 stats (A+): 367 PAs, 95 wRC+, 8 HR, 6.5% BB, 34.3% Ks

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

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

Beck’s tools are undeniable, though he is still learning to use them consistently on the field. While he hit close to .300 in 2018 and led his league in hits, he still needs to refine his overall approach to see more pitches and work counts more effectively. He does have the bat speed that should allow him to continue to hit for average, while that improved approach should allow him to tap into his very good raw power more than he’s been able to so far in his brief pro career.

With excellent speed and athleticism, Beck has the skills to play center field, the only spot he’s manned so far as a pro, while he has the arm strength to profile in right field should he slow down as he matures. His power will have to show up for him to profile well there, but there’s plenty of time for that, and all facets of his game, to develop.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

Logan Davidson, SS

Expected level: High-A | Age 22

2019 stats (A-): 238 PAs, 112 wRC+, 4 HR, 13.0% BB, 23.1% Ks

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

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 55 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

A switch-hitter, Davidson has had some timing issues at times at the plate and a swing that can get long, leading to strikeouts. His strength and leverage do generate plus raw power and there should be more in-game pop as he fills out his lanky 6-foot-3 frame. He runs well, producing plus run times occasionally, and can use his speed to steal bases and cover ground at shortstop. While he’s a little tall for the position, his athleticism and strong arm should allow him to stay there long-term, and that’s where he played exclusively during his pro debut in the short-season New York-Penn League.

If scouts had been convinced that Davidson was going to hit with wood, he probably would have been the first college shortstop taken in June’s first round. His athleticism and offensive potential still made him the fifth one taken and if he can figure things out with his swing, he could be a dynamic up-the-middle player.

* * *

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!

Programming note: Going to stay on this new 11:00 a.m. schedule for now, so you have until a little before 11 on Sunday (2/16) to cast your votes.