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Oakland A’s 2020 Community Prospect List #16: Luis Barrera keeps hitting in upper minors

The outfielder missed half of 2019 to injury, but when healthy he kept on hitting.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Our 2020 Community Prospect List adds its 16th member, and its third straight 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%)
  15. Greg Deichmann, OF (+36%)
  16. Luis Barrera, OF (+14%)

Last winter was the CPL debut for Luis Barrera, who jumped up to 13th on the list after a 2018 breakout that saw him climb up to Double-A. Last summer was a bit of a mixed bag as he tried to build on that breakout, but there was more good than bad, allowing him to hold mostly steady in our rankings.

First, the good: Barrera kept hitting in Double-A. After posting a 128 wRC+ in his first 36-game trial there during his breakout season, he followed up by raising that number to 139 last year in his second attempt at the level. His strikeout rate crept up a bit, but he also added more extra-base power, and he kept on hitting for a high average and getting on base. And he did all that while playing primarily CF. Statistically it was a good performance.

Unfortunately, it was also a short performance. Barrera hurt his shoulder, initially costing him a couple weeks in April but then ultimately forcing him to shut down at the end of June. He missed the final two months of the season, after playing only 54 games.

Fast forward to the present, and Barrera is healthy and back in action at the Cactus League. Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle reports the following: “Luis Barrera looks locked in this spring; great to see him back healthy after shoulder injury last year.” Baseball America does suggest that “his arm strength was sapped somewhat by his shoulder issues,” so that’s a development to monitor, but at least he’s on the field playing games again. Last winter, before the injury, that arm had been rated as high as a 70-grade by FanGraphs.

It remains to be seen what kind of future Barrera’s tools can give him. A lack of power could limit his ceiling, but he seems to do just about everything else well. That could add up to a useful fourth outfielder, or, if he sticks in CF and keeps hitting for high averages, maybe he could be even more than that. Hopefully he’ll finally get his first chance in Triple-A this summer.

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 Tyler Baum. The right-hander was Oakland’s 2nd-round pick in the draft last summer, 66th overall, out of college at UNC. He brings a four-pitch arsenal, led by a curve and a low/mid-90s heater. He had a fine debut in Low-A after the draft, with 10 K/9 and nearly five Ks per walk. However, his scouting reports indicate at least a chance that he could eventually end up in the bullpen, where his velocity could play up even higher.

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:

Tyler Baum, RHP

Expected level: High-A | Age 22

2019 stats (A-): 4.70 ERA, 30⅔ ip, 34 Ks, 7 BB, 4 HR, 3.76 FIP

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

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

Baum can display four pitches that earn solid or better grades at their best. As a starter, he works at 90-92 mph and reaches 94 with his fastball, creating some armside run with some crossfire in his delivery. He uses his high-three-quarters arm slot to stay on top of an upper-70s curveball that is often his best pitch, and he also can manipulate it into a harder, more lateral-breaking slider in the low 80s.

Baum also has at least an average changeup with some fade and did a much better job of throwing strikes in 2019, enhancing his chances of remaining a starter in pro ball. He has a high floor as a potential No. 4 starter with a fallback of becoming at least a seventh-inning reliever. He has reached 97 mph with his fastball coming out of the bullpen and could have a more consistent plus curveball in shorter stints.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

Jordan Diaz, 3B

Expected level: Single-A | Age 19

2019 stats (A-): 300 PA, 118 wRC+, 9 HR, 6.0% BB, 15.3% Ks

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

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

The key to Diaz’s progress offensively was an increased understanding of his approach, and the right-handed hitter stayed with it all summer. He had some good exit velocity numbers with a line-drive approach and showed much better discipline, with a solid walk rate to show for it. Diaz didn’t try to lift the ball too much, but with a strong, stocky build, there is some power to grow into. He also improved defensively at third, working hard at it and putting aside some lazy tendencies he displayed in his first summer, and he looked like one of the better defenders at the hot corner in the AZL.

The A’s are excited to see how Diaz’s newfound maturity in terms of his approach, work ethic and consistency will allow him to progress moving forward. It’s too early to tell exactly what he’s going to be, but watching how he builds off of his encouraging 2019 should be interesting.

* * *

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!