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Oakland A’s 2020 Community Prospect List #6: James Kaprielian finally gets healthy

After missing three seasons to injury, the righty pitched for an A’s affiliate last summer.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Our 2020 Community Prospect List adds its sixth member, and its third third pitcher who missed all of 2018 to injury but got back in action in ‘19. 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%)
  6. James Kaprielian (+2%)

This 2020 CPL is already more fun than the 2019 version. Last year, so many of the player profiles seemed to be about how he’d been injured for a while but would hopefully return in the upcoming season. This time around, those same profiles are all about how the player did indeed return to health and played well in his comeback.

Next up is James Kaprielian, who missed three seasons to an especially long Tommy John experience. He’d been hurt for so long that he was already on the shelf when the A’s acquired him from the Yankees in mid-2017. He’d had wonderful stuff before his injury, but no one had any idea how he’d look after such a long layoff, nor even if he’d ever return at all after so many setbacks. He badly needed a healthy season to avoid falling off the prospect radar.

The right-hander finally got back in action in May, and the results were promising. He didn’t quite show the top-of-the-rotation stuff that he’d flashed pre-surgery, but he still had a lot to offer and he used it well. He passed tests in both High-A and Double-A, with strong numbers across the board from strikeouts to walks to hits and homers, and at the end of the year he got a start in Triple-A and tossed four excellent innings in Las Vegas’ bandbox park.

Like Luzardo, Puk, and Jefferies ahead of him on this list, Kaprielian was on a strict innings limit last year, to ease him back up toward a full workload. He was generally limited to just 3-4 innings per game, and threw 68 total frames for the season. Among the many tests for him, in addition to staying healthy and mastering Triple-A competition, will be showing that he can maintain his effectiveness for longer appearances. What will he look like for 5-6 inning starts, and for 100-120+ frames in a season?

Like Jefferies, Kaprielian is already on the 40-man roster, so if all goes well it’s not difficult to imagine him making his MLB debut this summer at age 26.

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 Jorge Mateo. The speedster continues to be one of the most enigmatic prospects in the system, as he’s packed with raw talent but still hasn’t consistently translated it into production. He’s now spent two seasons being below-average in Triple-A, in two different home parks, though he did show improvement last summer. This will be a make-or-break year for him because he’s out of minor league options, so in 2020 he’ll either be in Oakland playing for the big league club or he’ll be in another organization by the end of the spring.

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:

Jorge Mateo, SS

Expected level: MLB? | Age 25

2019 stats (A+): 566 PAs, 96 wRC+, 19 HR, 5.1% BB, 25.6% Ks

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

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 80 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 50

Mateo’s best tool remains his top-of-the-scale speed that has allowed him to wreak havoc on the basepaths. He stole 82 bases back in 2015 and 52 in that resurgent ‘17 season, though he managed to swipe only 25 in his first full season with Oakland. Much of that has to do with his offensive regression which resulted in him not getting on base nearly as frequently. His strikeout rate jumped while his walk rate decreased, showing poor plate discipline and pitch selection. At his best, he has shown surprising pop with the wheels to take extra bases often.

Mateo gets high grades for his defensive work at shortstop, with plus range and a very strong arm, though he still loses focus and can be inconsistent at the premium position. He saw a little time at second base in 2018 and played the outfield with the Yankees, so if the bat doesn’t come back around, he eventually could end up as a speedy utility type.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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 Monday (2/17) to cast your votes.