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Oakland A’s 2020 Community Prospect List #17: Seth Brown makes surprise MLB debut

The slugger blew away Triple-A and held his own in the majors.

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Our 2020 Community Prospect List adds its 17th member, and its fourth 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%)
  17. Seth Brown, OF (+48%)

Nobody saw Seth Brown coming. Entering last season, the highest he’d ever appeared on an A’s prospect list was 41st, on Melissa Lockard’s rankings at Oakland Clubhouse last winter. He was a sleeper at best, pushing the boundaries of being too old for a prospect, and his track record to that point was decent but nothing to get too amped about. He was shaping up as org filler.

Then he broke out in 2019. In his first experience at Triple-A, he blasted 37 homers in just 112 games. Granted, he was in the hitter’s paradise of the Pacific Coast League, which was armed with a new juiced baseball, and he played his home games in Las Vegas, which Baseball America called the third-best hitter’s park in the entire minors. But 37 is a lot of dingers no matter the context, and he finished just one short of the PCL lead.

That performance earned Brown a surprise call-up to the majors at the end of August. The A’s needed an emergency injury replacement in the outfield, and they could have called on 2018 standout Nick Martini, or higher-touted youngsters Skye Bolt or Dustin Fowler, or fellow breakout sleeper Mark Payton, or even gotten creative with an infielder like Franklin Barreto or Jorge Mateo. Instead they chose Brown, and they even DFA’d Martini to make it happen.

It turned out to be a great decision. Brown had an excellent debut stint, posting a 120 wRC+, knocking several clutch hits, and even adding some unexpected defensive highlights. In only 83 plate appearances, he nearly racked up a full WAR on each scale.

So, how much of that first impression was real, and what comes next? Statcast was unimpressed, rating him with a paltry .296 xwOBA that was well below average. His .423 BABIP also suggests there was some favorable small-sample luck involved. His strikeout rate wasn’t quite dealbreaker high at 27.7%, but it was close, and for all his power he didn’t manage any homers. It’s entirely possible that what we saw from him last summer was the best he’ll ever fare in the bigs.

But this is a prospect list, and Brown is a guy who has literally already reached the majors. You don’t have to dream on whether he can develop this or that skill or yadda yadda to get him a ticket to the bigs, because he’s already done it. The only questions are whether he can do enough to stay, and if so then how much he can produce.

There are causes for optimism. The power he showed in Triple-A didn’t come out of nowhere, as he’d also once hit 30 homers for High-A Stockton. Baseball America currently calls him the organization’s best power-hitting prospect. He hit a ton of line drives in the majors, something he’d consistently done the last two years in the upper minors as well, and his average exit velocity in MLB (89 mph) was a tick above league average (88.1 mph).

What’s more, while he’s a slugger, he’s not a slug. His sprint speed rated well above-average, halfway between Ramon Laureano and Matt Chapman. On defense he can handle multiple positions between the corner outfield and first base, and he’s at least decent at them, so he won’t cancel out his offensive contributions with DH-caliber glovework. His bat will have to carry him, but he should at least contribute something to other facets of the game too.

The A’s outfield situation is crowded, so it remains to be seen how Brown will fit into the picture to start the 2020 season. It’s possible (probable?) he could find himself back in Triple-A on Opening Day, but we’ve all seen a glimpse of what he can offer. If he makes his way back to Oakland, it won’t be a surprise this time.

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 Buddy Reed. Oakland acquired the dynamically athletic outfielder this winter in the Jurickson Profar trade. His profile is led by his defense, as Baseball America calls him a Gold Glove-caliber CF, rates him as the organization’s best defensive outfielder and best outfield arm, and suggests his fielding could carry him to the majors on its own. His switch-hitting bat is another story, as he’s struggled to hit in the upper-minors so far, though in the past he’s found success in High-A and the Arizona Fall League. There’s a high floor, but a lot of work to do to find the ceiling.

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:

Buddy Reed, OF

Expected level: Double-A | Age 25

2019 stats (AA): 441 PA, 93 wRC+, 14 HR, 9.5% BB, 28.6% Ks, 23 SB

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

Scouting grades: Hit: 40 | Power: 40 | Run: 70 | Arm: 60 | Field: 65 | Overall: 45

A switch-hitter, Reed has the potential to hit for both average and power, though he’s historically been better form the right side. Before the 2018 season, he made an adjustment, allowing him to be shorter to the ball with more extension after contact. But he’ll need to continue to cut down on the strikeouts. If he can add more contact to his game, he has plus-plus speed — which translates on both sides of the ball.

Reed has a tall, athletic build that gives him the potential to do a lot of things well on the baseball field, but he still has gains to make as a hitter. If he can get back to a more refined approach and better swing mechanics, he has the tools to be an impact player. But questions linger as to whether his game, particularly his hitting, will translate at higher levels.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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!