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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Looking back at the 2019 Community Prospect List

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Year in review for the A’s farm system.

Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

The 2019 season is in the rear-view mirror, and there are still a couple weeks to go before spring games begin. We spent all year following the Oakland A’s top prospects, so now it’s time for a progress report on the state of the minor league system. We’ll start with our preseason Community Prospect List Top 30, and then add some new names that emerged over the summer.

The first section of this post will be the big table of stats. We’ve got our Top 30 prospects, plus some new draft picks and trade acquisitions, and then a few more of the best of the rest. After that we’ll take a closer look at the graduates, departures, additions, and new standouts, and consider which of the remaining preseason Top 30 prospects have raised their stock with strong performances and which ones have taken a step back.

At the end of this post, we’ll wrap up by nominating our first 2020 ballot in the comments. Then in the next post we’ll vote on that first ballot and officially begin our 2020 CPL.

2019 Stats

Skip this intro and go straight to the big table if you don’t care about the details of the process.

Each player is listed at the highest level at which he spent what I deemed to be significant time, and his stats only include his performance at that level. The levels refer to the Oakland A’s (MLB), the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators (AAA), the Double-A Midland RockHounds (AA), the High-A Stockton Ports (A+), the Single-A Beloit Snappers (A), the short-season Low-A Vermont Lake Monsters (A-), and the Arizona Rookie League (RK). For offseason acquisitions (Allen, Reed, Machin), I’ve included their stats from their previous organizations.

There wasn’t a lot of room for the stats, so I had to pick and choose which ones to include in order to pack in as much punch as possible. It’s meant to be read like this, from left to right:

  • big-picture, was he above or below average (ERA, wRC+)
  • sample size (IP or PA)
  • underlying peripherals (K, BB, HR rates, FIP; also stolen bases when relevant)

I would have liked to include the slash line for hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG) but it’s just a bit too much for such a small space — and anyway, when it comes to the minors I prefer the league-adjusted numbers because each individual league brings its own unique environment and competition level (even though minor league wRC+ isn’t park-adjusted). In other words, the same raw OPS might mean wildly different things in different leagues — for example, Beck and Mateo are separated by 120 points of OPS but only one point in their wRC+ marks. Finally, I put the pitching stats in green text in an attempt to differentiate them from the hitting stats.

A quick stats glossary

For hitters:

  • A 100 wRC+ is average, and higher is better; a range of 75-140 is poor-to-great.
  • A BB% around 9% is normal in the minors (give or take 0.5%), with a range of about 5-14% being poor-to-great.
  • For K%, average is around 23% throughout the minors (rising from mid-22% toward high-23% as you move down to the lower levels of the minors), with 10-30% constituting great-to-poor. (Note: The High-A Cal League was oddly high last year, at 25.2%.)

For pitchers:

  • FIP reads exactly like an ERA but is based on peripherals (K, BB, HR) instead of actual real-life runs. It’s meant to be predictive, and with prospects in particular we’re more concerned with their potential future performance than their past results.

The players in this table include our preseason Top 30, plus an additional dozen total from each of the following groups: others who stepped up (SU), offseason trade acquisitions (TR), amateur draft picks (DR), and a Rule 5 draft pick (R5). Players in bold got enough MLB time to graduate from prospect status. Players in strikethrough are no longer in the organization.

Oakland A's 2019 Community Prospect List
# Name Pos Age Level 2019 stats
1 Jesus Luzardo LHP 21 MLB 1.50 ERA, 12 ip, 16 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 2.63 FIP
2 A.J. Puk LHP 24 MLB 3.18 ERA, 11⅓ ip, 13 Ks, 5 BB, 1 HR, 3.39 FIP
3 Sean Murphy C 24 MLB 135 wRC+, 60 PA, 4HR, 10.0% BB, 26.7% Ks
4 Lazaro Armenteros OF 20 A+ 107 wRC+, 538 PA, 17 HR, 13.6% BB, 42.2% Ks, 22 SB
5 Austin Beck OF 20 A+ 95 wRC+, 367 PA, 8 HR, 6.5% BB, 34.3% Ks
6 Jorge Mateo SS 24 AAA 96 wRC+, 566 PA, 19 HR, 5.1% BB, 25.6% Ks, 24 SB
7 Jameson Hannah OF 21 A+ 101 wRC+, 404 PA, 2 HR, 7.0% BB, 21.3% Ks
8 James Kaprielian RHP 25 AA 1.63 ERA, 27⅔ ip, 26 Ks, 8 BB, 2 HR, 3.60 FIP
9 Sheldon Neuse 3B 24 AAA 126 wRC+, 560 PAs, 27 HR, 10.0% BB, 23.6% Ks
10 Parker Dunshee RHP 24 AAA 5.38 ERA, 92 ip, 90 Ks, 37 BB, 21 HR, 6.21 FIP
11 Grant Holmes RHP 23 AA 3.31 ERA, 81⅔ ip, 76 Ks, 27 BB, 9 HR, 4.20 FIP
12 Jeremy Eierman SS 22 A+ 71 wRC+, 552 PA, 13 HR, 7.1% BB, 32.1% Ks, 11 SB
13 Luis Barrera OF 23 AA 139 wRC+, 240 PA, 4 HR, 5.0% BB, 20.0% Ks
14 Brian Howard RHP 24 AA 3.25 ERA, 130 ip, 118 Ks, 39 BB, 7 HR, 3.33 FIP
15 Greg Deichmann OF 24 AA 90 wRC+, 340 PA, 11 HR, 10.0% BB, 30.3% Ks
16 Skye Bolt OF 25 AAA 96 wRC+, 347 PA, 11 HR, 10.7% BB, 27.1% Ks
17 Daulton Jefferies RHP 23 AA 3.66 ERA, 64 ip, 72 Ks, 7 BB, 7 HR, 3.19 FIP
18 Tyler Ramirez OF 24 AA 108 wRC+, 336 PA, 5 HR, 14.0% BB, 26.5% Ks
19 Nick Allen SS 20 A+ 122 wRC+, 328 PA, 3 HR, 8.5% BB, 15.9% Ks
20 Wyatt Marks RHP 24 A+ Missed most of season to injury
21 Marcos Brito SS 19 A 54 wRC+, 228 PA, 2 HR, 9.6% BB, 29.4% Ks
22 Gus Varland RHP 22 A+ Missed most of season to injury
23 Kevin Merrell SS 23 AA 75 wRC+, 318 PA, 2 HR, 5.7% BB, 21.1% Ks, 13 SB
24 Tanner Anderson RHP 26 AAA 6.00 ERA, 96 ip, 59 Ks, 41 BB, 21 HR, 6.85 FIP
25 Jonah Heim C 24 AAA 135 wRC+, 119 PA, 4 HR, 9.2% BB, 15.1% Ks
26 Hogan Harris LHP 22 A+ 2.51 ERA, 28⅔ ip, 29 Ks, 10 BB, 2 HR, 3.70 FIP
27 Dairon Blanco OF 26 AA 125 wRC+, 334 PA, 7 HR, 8.7% BB, 28.4% Ks
28 Alfonso Rivas 1B 22 A+ 123 wRC+, 509 PA, 8 HR, 13.0% BB, 22.2% Ks
29 Jordan Diaz 3B 18 A- 118 wRC+, 300 PA, 9 HR, 6.0% BB, 15.3% Ks
30 Miguel Romero RHP 25 AAA 3.96 ERA, 72⅔ ip, 81 Ks, 36 BB, 11 HR, 5.27 FIP
SU Seth Brown OF 26 MLB 120 wRC+, 83 PA, 0 HR, 8.4% BB, 27.7% Ks
SU Zack Erwin LHP 25 AA 3.22 ERA, 58⅔ ip, 68 Ks, 15 BB, 6 HR, 3.28 FIP
SU Wandisson Charles RHP 22 AA 1.88 ERA, 14⅓ ip, 17 Ks, 5 BB, 1 HR, 3.03 FIP
SU Jesus Zambrano RHP 22 AA 1.21 ERA, 44⅔ ip, 32 Ks, 13 BB, 1 HR, 3.18 FIP
TR Austin Allen C 25 MLB 39 wRC+, 71 PA, 0 HR, 8.5% BB, 29.6% Ks
TR Buddy Reed OF 24 AA 93 wRC+, 441 PA, 14 HR, 9.5% BB, 28.6% Ks, 23 SB
DR Logan Davidson SS 21 A- 112 wRC+, 238 PA, 4 HR, 13.0% BB, 23.1% Ks
DR Tyler Baum RHP 21 A- 4.70 ERA, 30⅔ ip, 34 Ks, 7 BB, 4 HR, 3.76 FIP
DR Marcus Smith OF 18 RK 156 wRC+, 119 PA, 0 HR, 16.8% BB, 24.4% Ks
DR Kyle McCann C 21 A- 94 wRC+, 225 PA, 7 HR, 11.1% BB, 36.0% Ks
DR Jalen Greer SS 17 RK 51 wRC+, 146 PA, 0 HR, 14.4% BB, 47.3% Ks
R5 Vimael Machin IF 25 AA 129 wRC+, 498 PA, 6 HR, 12.7% BB, 11.4% Ks

The Graduates

There actually weren’t any this year. We saw several exciting prospects make their MLB debuts, mostly in September, and we even got to see a couple of them play in the Wild Card Game and gain real-life postseason experience. However, none of them played enough in the bigs, nor sat on the bench for enough pre-Sept service time, to technically graduate from prospect status. Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk, Sean Murphy, Sheldon Neuse, Seth Brown, Skye Bolt, and Tanner Anderson will all still be eligible for the 2020 CPL.

The only name listed in bold in the table above is Austin Allen, who was acquired from San Diego in the Jurickson Profar trade (full scouting report here). He made his debut for the Padres last year but only got 71 plate appearances in the majors, which wouldn’t be enough to graduate on its own. However, he did spend 46 days on the 25-man roster before September began, which puts him just barely over that service-time threshold. Therefore, despite being a promising young player for the 2020 squad, he’s irrelevant to the rest of this post and to our CPL consideration, and I’ve only included him here to point out that he’s not eligible anymore.

The Departures

With the A’s enjoying a contending season, a few prospects were used in trades to strengthen the MLB roster, both in July and then again during the offseason.

The biggest move in terms of impact on the system was dealing Jameson Hannah to the Reds for Tanner Roark. Hannah was a Top 10 name in the system — he was far below the tippy-top tier of high-impact names, but he was still one of the more valuable youngsters on the list and was enjoying a decent full-season pro debut.

The other departures came from the bottom-third of the CPL. Kevin Merrell was a high draft pick in 2017 (No. 33 overall) who has busted since then, and Dairon Blanco is intriguing but will already turn 27 next season and hasn’t yet reached Triple-A. They both went to the Royals in separate trades for Homer Bailey and Jake Diekman, as Kansas City can never say no to a speedy athlete. After the season, Alfonso Rivas was shipped to the Cubs for Tony Kemp.

All told, Oakland didn’t lose much from their system. Hannah is good but the A’s are loaded with outfielders in the majors and upper minors, so they dealt some quality from an area of great depth. The same goes for Rivas, who is interesting but plays a position (1B) where the team already has an entrenched cornerstone-type player in Matt Olson plus some other backup options. Merrell and Blanco had nowhere to go here and were barely even prospects anymore anyway (due to poor performance and advanced age, respectively).

Stepping Up

This section is for the sleepers who missed the CPL but then broke out and jumped onto the radar. Usually, I limit this to five players, but this year the pickings were slim so I only ended up choosing four.

The obvious name is Seth Brown, who stepped up so far that he unexpectedly reached the majors. He’d never even remotely been a factor in any CPL voting, but he enjoyed a serious breakout at age-26 in Triple-A, blasting 37 homers — albeit in the launching pad of Las Vegas and among the dinger revolution of the Pacific Coast League. He continued to hit after his promotion to MLB, though more in the mold of line drives and doubles, and also showed some defensive competence at multiple positions. He still might be a long-shot, but he’s now in the immediate roster conversation in a way that he’s never been before, and at the very least he’ll surely crack the CPL this winter.

The other three names are all relievers. More than any other position group, a reliever can have a single-season performance that looks like “stepping up” but actually turns out to be fool’s gold, but there are reasons for picking all three of these guys. Zack Erwin is a lefty who once made the 2016 CPL as a starter, but has now found new life after converting to relief in the upper minors. He racked up strikeouts for the first time in his pro career, and did so while maintaining his strong control and low walk rate, after lowering his arm slot and tinkering with his arsenal.

The other two relievers are more about scouting than stats and track record, but also finally put up some interesting numbers to begin getting excited about. Wandisson Charles brings triple-digit heat and showed signs of learning to harness it, with a handful of impressive outings in Double-A. Jesus Zambrano has been in the system for a long time, but put up shiny sub-2.00 ERAs at both High-A and Double-A last year at the notably young age of 22. More importantly, though, reports indicate that Zambrano ticked his velocity up last summer toward the mid-90s, and he posted career-high strikeout rates in 2018 at Single-A Beloit and 2019 at High-A Stockton.

An argument could be made to include another reliever here, lefty Jhenderson Hurtado. He showed well in Low-A and Single-A and got a surprise ticket to the Arizona Fall League, where he also pitched well. But at age-23 last season, I would have needed to see success at least as high up as Stockton to consider him just yet. He takes Zambrano’s long-time spot of bubbling just below the surface, and he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this year. Heck, despite his snub here, he might still have a shot at making the CPL.

One other youngster worth mentioning is outfielder Brayan Buelvas. The Colombian native was signed in 2018, and last summer he made the jump from the Dominican League to the Arizona Rookie League and hit quite well in the AZL at age-17. I don’t know anything about him, but he got a lot of love in the Baseball America A’s prospect chat last month, so let’s toss his name in the ring.

Acquisitions

Some new names have joined the system, via everything from trades to Rule 5 to international signings.

Leaving aside Austin Allen, the A’s also acquired outfielder Buddy Reed in the Profar trade. Click here for more on Reed, but the short version is that he’s a boom-or-bust type prospect, with big raw talent and athleticism that still need to be translated into consistent on-field success.

Next up is Vimael Machin, picked up in the Rule 5 draft. He’s a versatile infielder with top-notch plate discipline, and you can read more about him here. The 26-year-old is still not a lock to stick in the organization, since he’s subject to Rule 5 rules and would need to stay in the majors all year despite having all of 26 Triple-A games on his career resume, but he’ll be in the running for a roster spot this spring.

Last but certainly not least is shortstop Robert Puason. This is the big ticket, and he’ll surely crack the Top 10 of our new CPL. Oakland used nearly their entire international bonus pool to lock him up for around $5 million, which is nearly twice what they gave Lazaro Armenteros a few years ago. He’s a long-term project, as he’ll play this season at age-17, which means a fast-track would put him in the AZL this season (and a slower track would mean we wait until 2021 to see him stateside). Reports praise his bat and glove, and rave about his speed and arm, giving him a wide array of strong tools to work with and no real weaknesses yet.

The Draft

After three straight years with Top 10 overall draft picks, the 2019 A’s had their worst draft position since 2015. That’s what happens when you win 97 games the previous year, and nobody is complaining about any of this.

For now, let’s focus on the team’s top five picks. Two of them were college bats — shortstop Logan Davidson (1st) hit well in his pro debut for Low-A Vermont, and catcher Kyle McCann (4th) was among the Low-A league leaders in homers. Two more were high school bats, so there’s not yet much to say about outfielder Marcus Smith (3rd) or shortstop Jalen Greer (5th). The lone pitcher was college righty Tyler Baum (2nd).

For more on the draftees, here’s our coverage from June:

These next three sections deal exclusively with the players on our preseason Top 30 list. I’ve separated them equally into three rough categories based on their 2019 performances, but of course any individual observer might disagree with some of the placements.

Stock Rising

1. Jesus Luzardo, LHP
2. A.J. Puk, LHP
3. Sean Murphy, C
8. James Kaprielian, RHP
11. Grant Holmes, RHP
17. Daulton Jefferies, RHP
19. Nick Allen, SS
25. Jonah Heim, C
26. Hogan Harris, LHP
29. Jordan Diaz, 3B

The top of this list is the most important part of this entire exercise. The A’s have three high-impact, Top 50 national prospects, and all three of them had positive (if brief) showings in 2019 that ended in successful MLB debuts. Luzardo missed much of the season to minor injuries, but once he reached Oakland he showed flashes of everything fans were hoping to see from him against MLB competition. The same was true for Murphy, who dealt with an early knee injury but overcame it to reach the bigs and hit well enough there to earn the start in a postseason game.

As for Puk, his story was slightly different, as he entered the year still finishing his long-term recovery from Tommy John surgery. The key for him was that he got back on the mound at all and maintained his pre-surgery stuff, which removed the biggest question mark from his name. Bonus points for also pitching reasonably well in his MLB small sample.

For all three of these guys, the difference between Stock Rising and Holding Steady is that they found initial success in the majors. None of them actually played very much last summer due to their injuries, but they all took steps up in their development and got closer to reaching their futures as potential stars.

The next three are pitchers who were fresh off missing at least one full season, and in some cases multiple seasons. Just by making successful comebacks to the mound, all three of them earned spots on the Rising list, and on top of that they all put up nice numbers. Jefferies in particular pitched phenomenally in Double-A after a two-year TJS recovery, and Kaprielian also impressed while making it to the upper minors after a nearly three-year injury layoff. Holmes lagged behind slightly in FIP, but still pitched fine and got back on track after missing ‘18 to shoulder problems. The whole trio upgraded from talented question marks back to being legit prospects.

Two more mid-level position players jumped up the radar, thanks to developing their bats to go along with their already well-regarded defense. Allen should now compete for the Top 10 of our new CPL, and Heim went from being a deep sleeper to potentially part of Oakland’s 2020 plans, including a spot on the 40-man roster.

Finally, the last two names will stay low on the CPL but at least backed up their inclusions from last winter with their best performances yet. Harris made his pro debut and pitched well in High-A, and Diaz showed a well-above-average bat in Low-A ball at age-18 while playing against college draftees.

Holding Steady

4. Lazaro Armenteros, OF
6. Jorge Mateo, SS
7. Jameson Hannah, OF
9. Sheldon Neuse, IF
13. Luis Barrera, OF
15. Greg Deichmann, OF
16. Skye Bolt, OF
27. Dairon Blanco, OF
28. Alfonso Rivas, 1B
30. Miguel Romero, RHP

First, a disclaimer: This is not a bad list to be on. It means that the player probably had a solid year, or at worst had some ups and downs that cancelled each other out. They didn’t break out, but they also didn’t fall apart. They just plugged right along, somewhere near their median expectations, and that isn’t the worst thing in the world.

First up is Armenteros. On one hand, he’s being held to a higher standard in this exercise because his stock started out so high (4th on the CPL), but on the other hand he was age-20 in High-A, which is young for the league. His 42% strikeout rate ended any chance of him making the Rising list, but along the way he at least hit for power, drew walks, and stole bases, so he wasn’t all swing-and-miss. He’ll need to make some strides this season, but he did enough to buy himself some more leash.

What to make of Mateo? He failed to reach MLB, but at least he rebounded from a disastrous 2018 and put up an average batting line in Triple-A. He still has the exciting tools, but he didn’t take a step forward nor did he completely disappear. He still gets another year toward the top of the radar, but this time it’s seriously make-or-break considering he’s out of minor league options.

You could make a case for Neuse on the Rising list, since he hit his way into a premature promotion to MLB. But he also did the least of all the late-season rookie callups. So far we’ve seen him struggle in the impossible Nashville park, and break out in the paradise of Vegas, so it’s still tough to know exactly what to expect out of him.

The next three on the list are upper-minors outfielders. Barrera lost the majority of the season to injury but hit well when healthy, so we’ll give him a mulligan and try again next year. Bolt rode an early hot streak to an MLB cup of coffee, but didn’t stick in Oakland and finished the year with mediocre numbers in Vegas. Deichmann was bad and injured for the second straight year just like his draft-mate Merrell, but then exploded in the Arizona Fall League to stop himself from falling off the radar. Call it a wash for him, and see what he does in a (hopefully) healthy 2020.

Finally, Romero snagged the last spot on the CPL last winter, and was fine in a full season at Triple-A. He didn’t do enough to force a promotion, but he kept his ERA under 4.00 in a historically ridiculous hitter’s league, so that’s not un-promising. Can he build on it in 2020?

As for Hannah, Blanco, and Rivas, they’re all gone so let’s not waste time analyzing them.

Stock Down

5. Austin Beck, OF
10. Parker Dunshee, RHP
12. Jeremy Eireman, SS
14. Brian Howard, RHP
18. Tyler Ramirez, OF
20. Wyatt Marks, RHP
21. Marcos Brito, SS
22. Gus Varland, RHP
23. Kevin Merrell, SS
24. Tanner Anderson, RHP

The top of this list might be controversial. After all, Beck still shows up 5th on Baseball Prospectus’ Oakland rankings (link) and also on Baseball America’s version (link), while Lazarito is absent completely from both of their Top 10s, so perhaps I should have flipped them.

This comes down to a matter of scouting vs stats. The organization reportedly continues to like Beck’s development, and perhaps they’re right. But for now I only have his numbers to work with, and they’re terrible across the board. He’s not hitting for power or average or drawing walks or doing anything on the basepaths, and his strikeout rate is far too high as well. In no way am I closing the book on him or calling him a bust yet, especially since he was quite young for his league (20 in High-A), but he had a decidedly bad year and I don’t have another way to spin it. In other words I’m scouting the stat line, which is not a good way to analyze prospects, but it’s all I can do from the outside fan perspective. He and Lazarito both struck out a ton, but Laz at least did other stuff well in the meantime.

Me beloved sleeper duo of Dunshee and Howard hit a wall last year. Dunshee got destroyed in Triple-A, while Howard barely made it to that level at all and got annihilated even harder when he did briefly pitch for Vegas. I’m still giving them another year to figure it out, but their chances of panning out have decreased since last winter.

It’s a similar story for Ramirez, another sleeper who made it all the way to Triple-A but struggled once there. He got bounced back down to Double-A quickly, and was only mediocre there. Will he even make the new CPL at all?

From last year’s draft, Eireman didn’t hit at all in his full-season pro debut. He managed double-digits in homers and steals, and the defensive metrics placed him somewhere between awesome and meh, but a .270 OBP and a K-rate north of 30% aren’t gonna cut it. He’ll need to do more to avoid being the next Merrell bust.

Injuries robbed us of two more names here, as Marks and Varland combined for only about 45 innings between them. Varland had TJS and will miss the 2020 season.

That leaves us with two names on opposite ends of the system. Anderson made the CPL as an MLB-ready arm, but got lit up in a handful of starts for Oakland and wasn’t any more effective down in Vegas. Brito was age-19 in full-season Single-A, so it’s mostly unfair to judge his stats at all, but for what it’s worth he didn’t hit a lick. He has plenty of time yet to develop, but he seems like a candidate to fall down a bit on the new CPL. Of course, Merrell is gone now via trade.

Conclusion

It was an odd year on the A’s farm. The biggest story was seeing a bunch of key names return from long-term injuries, which was a huge positive, and on top of that there were the brief MLB debuts from the top three studs on the list. But otherwise there weren’t many serious breakouts nor unexpected busts, nor many notable departures/arrivals. A couple sleepers stepped up, and a few more petered out about when you’d expect them too (i.e. Triple-A), but otherwise the average system stayed around average. In fact, BP calls it “potentially the most average system in baseball.”

Normally I conclude with my own personal take on the updated Top 10, but I just don’t have any idea this year. That’s partly because I’ve disappeared a bit for the last couple months, marking my first extended break in years from obsessing daily about the A’s. I’m simply out of practice and relatively out of touch right now. But also there are nearly infinite orders you could choose for the 4-10 spots on the list, and any version I put out today will just be a random guess that might change drastically tomorrow.

Instead, let’s get on with nominating our first ballot. We need five total names, and the first three (Luzardo, Puk, Murphy) are such locks that there’s no point in including them in this exercise. Instead I will present a list of names for the final two nomination spots, and everyone can vote for two of them to appear on the initial five-player ballot in the next post.