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Reds return Rule 5 draft pick Mark Payton to Oakland A’s

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The outfielder is back in the A’s organization

Oakland Athletics v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

In last winter’s Rule 5 draft, the Oakland A’s walked away with a new infielder in Vimael Machin. However, they also lost a prospect, outfielder Mark Payton, to the Reds.

Seven months later, the Reds have returned Payton to Oakland, the A’s announced. He has been added to Oakland’s player pool, which had an open spot, and will report to their alternate training site in San Jose.

The Rule 5 draft brings a special set of guidelines. Teams may select minor leaguers who have been pros for a while but are not already on a 40-man roster, with the catch that they must then carry the player on their own MLB active roster for the entire regular season. If they don’t, then they have to offer the player back to his original club. Evidently the Reds didn’t think Payton was going to make their Opening Day squad, with perhaps as many as a half-dozen names ahead of him on the outfield depth chart.

That’s fine news for the green and gold, who get back an intriguing player. The A’s themselves acquired Payton in the Rule 5 draft the previous year, from the Yankees, but it was a lower phase of the draft that doesn’t bring the MLB requirement so he never appeared in Oakland. He had a breakout campaign in Triple-A, though, posting monster numbers for Las Vegas.

Payton, 2019 AAA: .334/.400/.653, 148 wRC+, 30 HR, 10.1% BB, 17.0% Ks

Of course, that line comes with a couple of major asterisks. The first is that the Pacific Coast League was an outrageous hitting environment last year, and Las Vegas was a particular launching pad, all of which pumped up stats around the circuit. For example, Payton’s previous career-high in homers had been 10, and his 30 last summer nearly matched his five-year career total entering the season. But for what it’s worth, his huge wRC+ suggests he was still great even after accounting for that favorable league context.

The other key fact is that Payton was already 27, which means he was on the older side for the minors. Whereas much of his competition was younger, less advanced prospects, he’s already in what are generally considered a player’s prime years, and has six years of experience in the pros. Did he improve, or was he just a seasoned vet beating up on weaker minor leaguers? This is the potential trap of the Quad-A player, and he’ll have to prove he can translate his success to the majors to avoid that label.

On the bright side, being a 28-year-old who just destroyed Triple-A means that Payton is as MLB-ready as he’s ever going to be. Now that he’s in the A’s player pool, he’s at least eligible to come up to the bigs if a vacancy opens up, though he’d need to be added to the 40-man roster first. The path to the Show is crowded, but it exists.

Oakland’s outfield is deep and there’s already a long line of prospects waiting for their chance behind the MLB stars, including several other lefty hitters like Payton. They’ve got Seth Brown, Dustin Fowler, and switch-hitter Skye Bolt, all of whom are already on the 40-man and have debuted in the majors, with Luis Barrera and Greg Deichmann a notch below in development but hot on their heels.

But for now, Payton is at least back in the picture. That’s a nice bonus for an A’s team that currently leans too heavily to the right-handed side and can use all the lefty depth it can get. Perhaps this time around, he can get a well-deserved opportunity in the majors.

Here’s the A’s updated 60-man player pool, which is now full to capacity. Players with asterisks** are the favorites to make the Opening Day 30-man roster, in my speculative opinion (only 29 marked for now, with A.J. Puk hurt). Players in —italics are not on the 40-man roster; note that a corresponding move will need to be made to activate pitcher Mengden from the injured list.

Oakland A's 60-man pool
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Frankie Montas (R)**
Sean Manaea (L)**
Mike Fiers (R)**
Chris Bassitt (R)**
Jesus Luzardo (L)**
A.J. Puk (L)
—Daniel Mengden (R)**
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
Grant Holmes (R)
Daulton Jefferies (R)
James Kaprielian (R)
—Tyler Baum (R)
—Parker Dunshee (R)
—Brian Howard (R)


Relievers

Liam Hendriks (R)**
Yusmeiro Petit (R)**
Joakim Soria (R)**
Jake Diekman (L)**
T.J. McFarland (L)**
Lou Trivino (R)**
Jordan Weems (R)**
J.B. Wendelken (R)**
Burch Smith (R)
—Lucas Luetge (L)
—Jaime Schultz (R)
—Wandisson Charles (R)
—Miguel Romero (R)
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)**
Austin Allen (L)**
Jonah Heim (S)
—Carlos Perez (R)
—Kyle McCann (L)
—Tyler Soderstrom (L)


Infielders

Matt Olson (L)**
Marcus Semien (R)**
Matt Chapman (R)**
Tony Kemp (L)**
Franklin Barreto (R)**
Vimael Machin (L)**
Sheldon Neuse (R)
—Eric Campbell (R)
—Nate Orf (R)
—Nick Allen (R)
—Logan Davidson (S)
—Robert Puason (S)


Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)**
Mark Canha (R)**
Ramon Laureano (R)**
Stephen Piscotty (R)**
Robbie Grossman (S)**
Chad Pinder (R)**
Seth Brown (L)**
Skye Bolt (S)
Luis Barrera (L)
Dustin Fowler (L)
—Brayan Buelvas (R)
—Greg Deichmann (L)
—Mark Payton (L)
—Buddy Reed (S)