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Oakland A’s 2020 Community Prospect List #14: Lazaro Armenteros shows signs of both boom and bust

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The outfielder has promising tools but also an outrageous strikeout rate.

Photo provided by Oakland A’s

Our 2020 Community Prospect List adds its 14th member, and only its second outfielder. 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%)
  11. Austin Beck, OF (+9%)
  12. Logan Davidson, SS (+45%)
  13. Grant Holmes, RHP (+28%)
  14. Lazaro Armenteros, OF (+13%)

Before we began voting on our new CPL, I did a review of last year’s list. At the end I separated the prospects into groups based on whether they’d seen their stocks rise or fall, and I included Lazaro Armenteros in the section for Holding Steady. Perhaps I missed the mark on that, as he has now dropped 10 spots from last year’s No. 4 ranking and his stock appears to be decidedly down among the AN community, but here is what I was thinking when I assigned that grade.

There are two main reasons why Lazarito fell so far on this year’s CPL. One is his astronomical 42.2% strikeout rate from last season. The other is that he’s limited defensively to just LF, with no apparent chance of fitting anywhere else. That’s the case against him, and it’s a reasonable one.

My counterpoint is that those two things were always the case against him. They aren’t new developments. Entering 2019 his scouting reports already had him pegged as a future LF — not enough speed potential for CF, and not enough arm for RF. Furthermore, he hadn’t played a single game in CF or RF in 2018, so it’s not like any of this was a secret even in the box scores. If you suddenly downgraded him this winter for defensive limitations, then the problem is just that you weren’t paying attention last winter.

As for the strikeouts, they also aren’t new. Ever since he was an amateur free agent, the primary knock against him was the holes in his swing and approach that could prevent him from utilizing his plus bat speed and mighty power. In 2018 in Single-A Beloit, his 33.8% strikeout rate was third-highest in the entire 16-team Midwest League (min. 300 plate appearances). Granted, last year’s 42% was even worse than that, but did it really tell us anything we didn’t already know? He urgently needed to fix his swing, and he still urgently needs to. I’m not saying it isn’t a problem that affects his stock, I’m saying it’s not a new problem that should change his stock.

To put that 42% rate into perspective, we have to remember that Lazarito was still extremely young for his level. He was the age of a college sophomore, playing in High-A ball. For some context, fellow then-20-year-old Austin Beck, who did not have strikeout problems in Beloit in 2018, suddenly had them against High-A pitching, seeing his own K-rate rise by more than half over what he’d done the previous year — it’s a tough assignment for such a young prospect. It’s scary to see Lazarito’s rate rise over the arbitrary 40% threshold, but it should also have been scary to see it over 30% in Beloit, and the increase can easily be chalked up to the aggressive promotion.

It’s also worth noting that Lazarito takes extremely long at-bats, which can make the strikeout problem appear even worse. His 4.31 pitches per plate appearance was more than anyone on the MLB A’s, and all those deep counts give extra opportunities to find that third strike. Of course, they also give extra chances to find the fourth ball, and his 13.6% walk rate was also one of the highest in the league.

And walks weren’t the only thing he did well in Stockton. Even despite striking out so absurdly often, he still found time to be legitimately productive. His 17 homers led his team, and so did his 22 steals, at a solid success rate. When he made contact his BABIP was high, and his walk rate helped to mostly salvage his OBP despite a disappointing .222 average.

Put it all together and Lazarito sported a 107 wRC+ as a 20-year-old in High-A. Given his age, even being just average would have been impressive, and he was a small tick above that. For context, in all three High-A leagues combined, a total of 100 players posted a wRC+ of 107 or better (min. 300 plate appearances), and only 14 of them were age-20 or younger. And he did it despite completely forfeiting nearly half of his plate appearances. There’s the tantalizing ceiling that goes with his boom-or-bust potential — imagine what he could do if he actually made somewhat consistent contact.

The place where I differ from the AN community at large is that I see no meaningful difference between his 2018 and ‘19 K-rates. The number got higher, but not in a way that changed anything about his profile. Are you trying to think of someone who overcame a 42% rate in High-A? First find me someone who overcame a 33% rate in Single-A. He’s either going to fix the whiffs in his swing or he isn’t, and that adjustment won’t come with a maximum-improvement-number attached to it, like he can only cut down X% of his strikeouts so the resulting rate will still be too high.

In the meantime, nothing about his ceiling has changed. All of the dynamic tools are still there, just waiting to be unlocked. It’s not like a major injury sapped his athleticism, or his power didn’t translate to wood bats, or anything like that. If he improves his weakness, then the massive strengths should still shine through. And he’s even shown that on the field, by being an above-average hitter the last two seasons.

However, there’s one final argument in favor of labeling his stock as “falling”: Another year went by. He’s a year older than he was last winter, and he still hasn’t found his big breakout. That’s a valid point, and it’s fair to be less excited about a 21-year-old lotto ticket than a 20-year-old version. My only counter is that 21 is still extremely young — even if he repeats High-A he’ll still be young for the league, and if he’d gone to college then he wouldn’t even be drafted until this-coming June. There’s plenty of time for him yet.

All of this is just semantics, though. His stock as a prospect matters for this list and for our own fan debates, but not in real life. The bottom line is that Lazarito has a clear task ahead of him, and it’s making more contact at the plate. If he can’t do that then he’ll never make it to the majors, full stop, dealbreaker. If he can, then he’s still got star potential as a slugging LF.

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 Marcus Smith. The outfielder was drafted out of high school by the A’s last summer, in the 3rd round. He stands out for his athleticism, and his excellent speed helps him profile as a future CF. He’s not a slugger, but could find a future as a high-contact hitter. He’s still a teenager, so his development will be a long-term project.

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:

Marcus Smith, OF

Expected level: Low-A? | Age 19

2019 stats (AZL): 119 PA, 156 wRC+, 0 HR, 16.8% BB, 24.4% Ks

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

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 40 | Run: 70 | Arm: 50 | Field: 55 | Overall: 40

Smith isn’t the biggest guy in the world, at 5-foot-11, but there are some tools to like here. His standout one is his speed, and it’s close to top of the scale. That should allow him to be a threat on the basepaths and allow him to stay in center field long-term. At the plate, it’s unclear how much pop he is going to have, but he does make a ton of contact using a handsy, line-drive oriented slashing swing with an excellent feel for the barrel.

One thing Smith will have to prove as he moves on in pro ball is his ability to impact the baseball. He doesn’t have to grow into a ton of home run power, but if he can learn to drive the ball a bit more, he could become a much more dynamic up-the-middle player.

* * *

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.

* * *

Seth Brown, OF/1B

Expected level: Triple-A? MLB? | Age 27

2019 stats (AAA): 500 PA, 126 wRC+, 37 HR, 7.6% BB, 25.4% Ks
2019 stats (MLB): 83 PA, 120 wRC+, 0 HR, 8.4% BB, 27.7% Ks

Baseball America scouting report (post-2019):

After a nondescript 2016 at high Class A Stockton, Brown returned to California League at the age of 24, perhaps at a career crossroads. He responded adding more lift to his swing in 2019, which showed up in a 20-degree launch angle and 30 home runs. That was the start of a three-year run for Brown, which ended in the major leagues during the A’s playoff chase. Brown has gotten better every year by narrowing the zone and maximizing impact in advantage counts. Brown has a classic platoon profile with most of his damage coming against righthanders.

* * *

Brayan Buelvas, OF

Expected level: Arizona Rookie League | Age 18

2019 stats (AZL): 186 PA, 140 wRC+, 3 HR, 11.8% BB, 24.7% Ks

FanGraphs present/future scouting grades:

Hit: 25/55 | GamePower: 25/50 | Run: 55/55 | Arm: 55/60 | Field: 45/55 | Overall: 40

Baseball America scouting report (post-2019):

Though not overly physical, Buelvas carries some deceptively loud tools, including an average exit velocity of 89 mph. He also shows solid bat speed and barrel control, but some evaluators believe the length of swing and overall balance at the plate could be problematic. While Buelvas still has projection remaining, any power uptick could be marginal. Buelvas’ speed is an asset both on the bases and in the field. Scouts are confident Buelvas has the skill set and tools to stay in center field, and A’s personnel have raved about his work ethic, energy and professional approach to the game.

* * *

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!