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Oakland A’s 2020 Community Prospect List #10: Jonah Heim upgrades from sleeper to 40-man roster

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The switch-hitting catcher blasted his way up to Triple-A last summer.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Our 2020 Community Prospect List adds its 10th member, and its second catcher. 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%)
  9. Jorge Mateo, SS (+5%)
  10. Jonah Heim, C (+2%)

Not every top prospect starts his career on the radar, like 1st-round draft picks and big-money international free agents. Jonah Heim was a 4th-rounder out of high school in 2013, signing for under $400K. He toiled in Rookie Ball for a couple years as a teenager, and then in various levels of A-ball for a couple more. Along the way he was traded twice, once from the Orioles to the Rays in 2016 for two months of Steve Pearce, and then again to the A’s after 2017 in a minor deal for seemingly busted prospect Joey Wendle*.

* (Those names sounded less impressive before 2018, when Pearce won a World Series MVP for Boston as a midseason mercenary and Wendle enjoyed a 4-WAR breakout in Tampa.)

When Oakland acquired Heim, he seemed like more of a consolation prize than a serious prospect, a way to avoid losing Wendle for nothing. He was known as a glove-first catcher, which is a nice start to a profile, but there wasn’t anything to set him apart in either his pedigree nor in his pro track record. He didn’t make our CPL that winter and wasn’t particularly close.

Since then, Heim has put himself on the map. In 2018 he batted above-average in High-A for the first time (113 wRC+), and then last summer he hit even better in Double-A (125 wRC+) and then further improved upon a midseason callup to Triple-A (135 wRC+). By the end of last year, he’d shown the A’s enough that they elected to add him to the 40-man roster, as otherwise he would have been eligible for minor league free agency.

In two years, Heim went from a nondescript sleeper being used as minor trade bait, to an MLB 40-man roster. After being absent from the 2018 CPL, he cracked the bottom at No. 25 last winter, and now he’s jumped all the way into the Top 10. That’s a meteoric rise, albeit a relatively quiet one, and also a worthwhile reminder that you can’t always predict which prospects will be the ones who succeed.

And what makes Heim so special? Foremost is his work behind the plate, as a good defensive catcher is one of the tougher (and more valuable) things to find in baseball — hence why there are so many backstops in the majors who can’t hit a lick. Just their glovework is valuable enough on its own.

But Heim is more than that now, as he’s begun to actually hit. His plate discipline and contact ability are particularly impressive — he’s always kept the strikeouts low throughout his career, and he walks enough to give him a strong OBP. Last year in the upper minors, he walked (10.5%) nearly as much as he struck out (13.8%), with both of those rates being far better than average. When he does make contact, which is extremely often, he does plenty with it, carrying a healthy BABIP and enough power to notice. And on top of all that he’s a switch-hitter, adding to his utility with the bat.

Despite spending the better part of a decade in the minors, Heim doesn’t turn 25 until the end of June, so he’s still young enough to be a legit prospect — and potentially to continue improving. He doesn’t seem likely to make the Opening Day roster, with slightly more experienced youngsters ahead of him on the depth chart, but the A’s catching position is in a state of flux right now and the door is open for one or two of their promising Triple-A names to step up. It didn’t seem apparent two years ago, but Heim is now at least part of the team’s plans and has every chance to make an MLB debut sometime in 2020.

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.

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The new nominee is Grant Holmes. After missing 2018 to a shoulder injury, the righty returned to action last summer and got himself back on track. His numbers were good-not-great, but that’ll do for a former top prospect knocking off the rust. He was once a 1st-round draft pick and he made the Top 10 of this CPL each of the last two winters, so the pedigree is there, and now it’s time for him to prove himself on the field in Triple-A.

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:

Grant Holmes, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 24

2019 stats (AA): 3.31 ERA, 81⅔ ip, 76 Ks, 27 BB, 9 HR, 4.20 FIP
2019 stats (AAA): 1.93 ERA, 4⅔ ip, 5 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 5.08 FIP

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

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

The A’s are keeping their collective fingers crossed that he’s put the shoulder ailment behind him and all signs are pointing in the right direction. He’s worked very hard to be ready to go and get his stuff back to where it was. He throws his heavy 93-94 mph fastball with excellent movement, leading to high GO/AO rates every year. He misses bats with his plus breaking ball, a hard power curve with depth, and he can mix in an average changeup. Holmes would sometimes throw a four-seamer with cutting action, so he just went with it and has developed an above-average cutter, that has late cut and comes in hard at 90-91 mph. He’s never been a big command guy and he will have to throw more strikes to stay in a rotation.

More than anything, Holmes needs to show he can answer the bell every fifth day and see how he responds. Then the A’s will really be able to get a read on if he can start long-term or if he’s best suited for relief work.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

Greg Deichmann, OF

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 25

2019 stats (AA): 340 PAs, 90 wRC+, 11 HR, 10.0% BB, 30.3% Ks

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

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 40 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45

Even when Diechmann was on the field in 2018, he wasn’t fully healthy as he tried to play through the issue. Initially misdiagnosed as tendinitis, it turned out to be an injury near his hamate and sapped him of his best tool when he was able to play. The A’s liked what they saw in terms of his power potential in his first summer and at instructs that fall, and they are hoping to have that player back again in 2019. His approach has helped him get to his power consistently and while he will strike out, he’ll also draw walks.

His strong arm and power profile are good fits in right field, his likely long-term home, and he should be an average defender there. The first order of business for the left-handed hitter is to get a full season of reps in 2019.

* * *

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!