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Oakland A’s 2020 Community Prospect List #26: Rounding out the Top 30

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Actually, it’s a Top 31 this year.

Skye Bolt is excited to make the list again.
Photo by Stephen Hopson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our 2020 Community Prospect List adds several new members, rounding out the Top 30 — or, as it turned out, the Top 31. Here’s the full 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%)
  18. Brayan Buelvas, OF (+17%)
  19. Tyler Baum, RHP (+9%)
  20. Jordan Diaz, 3B (+5%)
  21. Marcus Smith, OF (+26%)
  22. Hogan Harris, LHP (+4%)
  23. Vimael Machin, IF (+4%)
  24. Buddy Reed, OF (+19%)
  25. Jeremy Eierman, SS (+4%)
  26. Skye Bolt, OF (+10%)
  27. Wandisson Charles, RHP (+8%)
  28. Richard Guasch, RHP (+4%)
  29. Parker Dunshee, RHP (+3%)
  30. Brian Howard, RHP (+0%)
  31. Dustin Harris, 1B (+0%)

Our final blowout vote ended up being slightly more complicated than expected. Skye Bolt led the way to earn spot No. 26, and Wandisson Charles was decisively next for spot No. 27. Richard Guasch was closer to the rest of the pack but still clearly No. 28. Then things got interesting.

With two spots left, three players tied, each with 32 votes: pitchers Parker Dunshee and Brian Howard, and new draftee hitter Dustin Harris. That left it up to me to cast a tiebreaking vote, and if you’ve followed our prospect series even a tiny bit over the last couple years then you already know how this is going to end. Dunshee and Howard are two of my favorite sleepers in recent memory, so of course they’re getting the nods.

Here’s how it plays out: Just like everyone else, I get four votes to cast on the eight-man ballot. Bolt and Charles get two of them. Dunshee and Howard get the others. That lifts them up to 33 apiece, passing Harris. Dunshee and Howard are still technically tied for the 29th spot, but I’m listing Dunshee first. Pick your reason: He spent last year one level higher than Howard (and Howard’s Triple-A stint was even worse than Dunshee’s time there). Or, Dunshee is above Howard on almost every other source’s list. Or, Dunshee got the nomination from AN before Howard did. Or, call it alphabetical. I actually tend to prefer Howard overall, but I’m chickening out here and defaulting to the guy who has made it further up the ladder in the same amount of time.

But wait! There’s still room for Harris. It’s still overwhelmingly possible, even likely, that Rule 5 draft pick Vimael Machin will be returned to the Cubs by the end of the spring. That means our CPL could lose a member before the season even begins, at which point we may as well remove him from the list and bump everyone else up a spot. So, Harris will either rise to fill the vacancy, or he’ll hang out as the bonus member of a Top 31 list. Either way, he’s in. (Apologies to catcher Kyle McCann and pitcher Brady Feigl, who just missed the cut in our final vote.)

Here are a few words about our new CPL members.

26. Skye Bolt, OF

He made his MLB debut last year, which is an accomplishment on its own. He didn’t get to stay long, netting only 11 plate appearances, and at least one other outfielder appeared to pass him on the depth chart later in the summer (Seth Brown). But the team showed us that Bolt is at least on the radar, with his combo of power, speed, and defense at all three OF positions, and there’s no question he belongs somewhere on this CPL — he finished as high as No. 13 at MLB Pipeline.

The A’s outfield is crowded again this year, so Bolt will have to force his way back in if he wants to be part of the picture. To that end, though, he’s made at least one major adjustment, via Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle:

Bolt said he worked this spring on RH swing after an offseason “overhaul” on that side. “I really fundamentally broke down and tried to reestablish a strong position in order to hit the baseball as dangerously as I do from the left side.”

The righty side of his switch-hitting approach has received criticism dating back to his draft year, so improving that would solve an issue that has long plagued his prospect profile.

27. Wandisson Charles, RHP

The power reliever finally made our CPL after years of tantalizing us with his raw velocity. He also made Melissa Lockard’s list at The Athletic, clocking in at No. 20. Here’s part of her writeup (lightly edited for brevity):

When the term “power pitcher” was coined, it was with arms like Charles’ in mind. Everything about Charles is powerful, from his triple-digit fastball to his wipeout low-90s slider to his 6-6, 230-pound frame. ... He made some improvements with his command in 2018 and took a big step forward in 2019. Although he can still be wild at times (43 walks in 63 1/3 innings in 2019), he is around or in the strike zone frequently enough now to be effective. When hitters swing, they can’t hit him.

He briefly reached Double-A last year, so hopefully we’ll see him take on a larger sample size in the upper minors this summer.

28. Richard Guasch, RHP

One of the new sleepers on the CPL, the righty will pitch this year at age 22 and is expected to open in High-A. The top reason he’s on this list is because Baseball America rated his slider as the best in the A’s organization, even above the highly touted offering of A.J. Puk. Here’s more on the slider, from Lockard:

Patterson says Guasch’s slider is an above-average major-league offering right now and his curveball isn’t that far behind the slider in terms of effectiveness. Guasch got nearly a 50 percent swing-and-miss rate with the slider in 2019, but he threw the pitch only 23 percent of the time. Patterson says that usage rate will increase in 2020.

She also mentions there’s work to do on his command, and on the changeup that he’ll need to remain a starter. But the tools are already interesting, he’s already begun building a promising track record in real games, and he’ll get a serious test this year in Stockton.

29. Parker Dunshee, RHP

The first of two polished, mid-round 2017 draft picks (along with Howard) who dominated the lower minors and continued pitching quite well in Double-A. Dunshee finished 10th on last year’s CPL, and Howard 14th. So what happened?

Dunshee ran into the buzzsaw of the Pacific Coast League. It’s always been a hitter’s league, but it reached comical levels last year with the introduction of a new juiced ball. On top of that, the A’s affiliate moved to Las Vegas, whose new stadium rated as a better hitter’s park than all but three full-season, non-PCL venues in the entire minors (and fifth-best in the PCL), via Baseball America. Dunshee is billed as a smoke-and-mirrors kind of pitcher, relying more on tricks and deception than powerful velocity or great raw stuff, and it just didn’t seem to work in this absurd new hitting environment.

That said, I’m dubious of those shaky results. We know the PCL was a joke last year, and we take the hitters’ great stats with a grain of salt, so we should apply the same principle to Dunshee’s struggles. As Keith Law said in his list at The Athletic, where he ranked Dunshee 17th in the system: “I’d still like to see what he can do in a neutral environment with a more typical baseball, though.” Personally, I’m hanging on with Dunshee for another year, especially considering this split:

Dunshee AAA, first 9 gms: 6.25 ERA, 44⅔ ip, 42 Ks, 22 BB, 11 HR, 6.80 FIP
Dunshee AAA, next 10 gms: 3.57 ERA, 45⅓ ip, 44 Ks, 14 BB, 7 HR, 4.99 FIP

That looks to me like a guy who needed to adjust to an extremely different environment, and figured things out by the end of the year. He still struck out a batter per inning, for what that’s worth, and the good/later split included visits to three of the four worst parks in the PCL (and neither of the two easiest parks in the league). Let’s see what he can do in a second try at Triple-A.

30. Brian Howard, RHP

While Dunshee’s problem was getting lit up in Triple-A, Howard’s was that he didn’t progress at all, spending nearly the entire season in Double-A. What’s worse, when he did get a brief look with Vegas, he got annihilated — four starts, three of them disasters, with a total of 22 runs in 14⅓ innings. He continued to post strong numbers in Double-A, but he’d already done that in 2018, so it felt like treading water for a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect who you’d hope to see on more of a fast-track.

But I can’t shake my prospect crush. Part of it is his extreme height, which intrigues me, as noted by Lockard on her list (where she placed Howard 23rd):

At 6-9, Howard is the most unique pitcher in the A’s system. He doesn’t overpower hitters but his extension down the mound allows his fastball to get on batters quicker than the velocity would indicate. He changes speeds effectively and has excellent command for a pitcher his size. He’s also been durable, having thrown 139 1/3 innings in 2018 and 144 1/3 innings this season.

Being unique doesn’t guarantee success, but it does get my attention here. It’s something to set Howard apart, and it offers a tangible reason why he could potentially continue to play above what his raw tools might suggest. And a nickname like Big Game Howie doesn’t hurt either.

31. Dustin Harris, 1B

Finally, we have the bonus spot. Last year’s 11th-round draft pick has attracted quite a following at Athletics Nation, and we’re not alone — he also finished 19th on Law’s list, and 24th on Lockard’s list.

(Note: That’s below Dunshee on both lists, and below Howard on Lockard’s version. Harris is lower on our CPL because we went with guys like Buelvas, Diaz, Guasch, Brown, Machin, and Reed, though Machin and Reed hadn’t arrived in the org yet when Lockard published hers. Harris didn’t even make the Top 30 at MLB Pipeline.)

Harris is an interesting mix of scouting and early track record. He hit well in his pro debut, both at Rookie Ball and short-season Low-A. But part of the reason he’s on the CPL is his power potential, which he didn’t show at all last year, partly due to a heavy groundball rate (over 50%). So, he started out his pro career as a good hitter, but with the hope that he’ll mature into a different kind of good hitter.

Unlike the mid-round sleeper pitchers above him in Dunshee and Howard, who were drafted as college seniors and began their pro careers on the older side, this mid-round sleeper hitter is on the younger side. He was drafted out of a junior college after just one season there, making him more like a high school pick than a college guy — for example, he’s only one year older than 3rd-rounder Marcus Smith, who came out of high school in the same draft. That makes his early call to Low-A even more notable, since that’s unusual for high school picks.

There’s a lot of projection in this pick, but Harris has earned the nod so far and he should be interesting to follow in the box scores this year.

Thanks to everyone at AN for participating in the Community Prospect List! This is such a fun series every year, and it’s the whole community together that makes it possible. Stay tuned for one more wrapup post this week, with a bunch of fancy tables and charts and analysis.