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Oakland A’s 2020 Community Prospect List #8: Sheldon Neuse on cusp of MLB after brief debut

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The infielder hit his way into an MLB debut in 2019, and should be in the mix for more in 2020.

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Our 2020 Community Prospect List adds its eighth member, and its fourth prospect that made his MLB debut last summer. 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, RHP (+2%)
  7. Robert Puason, SS (+32%)
  8. Sheldon Neuse, IF (+26%)

The question with Sheldon Neuse is less about whether he’ll make the majors, which he already did for a few games at the end of last season, and more about how he fits into the A’s current organization and roster.

There’s plenty to like about him on both sides of the game. He crushed the ball throughout 2017, from Single-A up through High-A and Double-A. In 2018 he got an aggressive assignment up to Triple-A and scuffled to start the year, but from June 1 onward (nearly two-thirds of the season) he batted .303 with a league-average line despite playing in an extremely tough Nashville home park. Then in 2019, in a much friendlier Las Vegas stadium and with a livelier juiced ball to knock around, he put up monster numbers that included 27 homers, a high batting average and walk rate, and a 126 wRC+ mark.

On defense, Neuse is also considered a positive presence. His arm is a plus and generally receives 60-grades; scouting reports are average or better about his fielding as a whole; and he’s put up positive marks overall in his career in the minors, especially last season. He’s also shown some multi-position versatility. In addition, he’s always noted for being more mobile and athletic than his stocky physique would suggest.

Now for the problem. His primary position, the one he fared so well at in 2019, is third base, which is completely locked up in Oakland by superstar Matt Chapman. Last year he began converting to second base and showed promise there, but the A’s will enter the spring with an enormous 2B positional battle that features the likes of Tony Kemp, Franklin Barreto, Jorge Mateo, and Vimael Machin, none of whom can be sent down to the minors for various reasons. On top of all that, he’s a right-handed batter, while the righty-heavy A’s are desperate for some lefties to balance out their lineup. Where does Neuse fit?

It could yet work out. The pile of time-sensitive 2B candidates could all flop by May or June, opening a path for Neuse to ride in and seize the position — he has options remaining, so he can wait in Vegas for now until that time comes. And the righty/lefty issue could be addressed elsewhere on the diamond, especially as injuries inevitably take their toll and cause plans to shift. These aren’t permanent dealbreakers, just current obstacles.

But one way or other, Neuse is looking close to MLB-ready. Maybe he’ll max out as a utilityman, or maybe he’ll make it as an everyday player, but he’s earned his chance. It almost certainly won’t come on Opening Day, but he’s gotten one taste of the majors already and should soon be back for another try.

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 Jonah Heim. The A’s acquired him as a minor sleeper at the end of 2017, and over the ensuing two seasons they’ve watched his bat break out from High-A all the way up through Triple-A. He was originally a glove-first catching prospect, so if the switch-hitter is also going to produce on the offensive side then that raises the bar on what he could become in the future. For their part, the A’s doubled down on finding out by adding him to the 40-man roster over the winter instead of letting him test minor league free agency.

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:

Jonah Heim, C

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 25

2019 stats (AA): 208 PAs, 125 wRC+, 5 HR, 11.5% BB, 13.0% Ks
2019 stats (AAA): 119 PAs, 135 wRC+, 4 HR, 9.2% BB, 15.1% Ks

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

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 40 | Run: 35 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

A long-limbed, switch-hitting backstop, Heim stands out more for his work behind the plate than at it. He receives well and has a strong arm that’s allowed him to throw out just over 34 percent of potential basestealers heading into 2019. Heim started to swing the bat with a bit more authority over the past two seasons and hit well in the California League before stumbling post-promotion. He has more of a line drive approach now, but he shows some raw power in batting practice and still has room to add strength. While it’s more leverage than bat speed, you can dream on some future pop.

The A’s would love to see Heim play with a little more urgency. A slow heartbeat for a catcher isn’t a bad thing, but some added energy could help him reach the big leagues as a backup backstop.

* * *

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.

* * *

Jorge Mateo, SS

Expected level: MLB? | Age 25

2019 stats (AAA): 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.

* * *

Luis Barrera, OF

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2019 stats (AA): 240 PAs, 139 wRC+, 4 HR, 5.0% BB, 20.0% Ks

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

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 35 | Run: 65 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

Perhaps the most improved player in the organization, Barrera came into his own in 2018 in terms of his approach and consistency in his at-bats. With a line-drive, slashing style, Barrera is showing he has the ability to hit for average with excellent bat control, a decrease in his strikeout rate and an increased willingness to draw walks. He won’t be a home run hitter because of his flat bat path, but there could be a bit more pop to unlock at some point. Aggressive with good instincts, Barrera uses his speed well to steal bases. He also uses it to play all three outfield positions and his defensive play has improved nearly as much as his bat has.

Barrera does have the tools to play center field regularly. If his step forward offensively is for real, he could shed the fourth outfielder profile and become a regular in the big leagues.

* * *

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!