It’s a weird winter for the baseball prospect world.
There was no 2020 season in the minor leagues, so there’s no new data to work with other than which top names graduated to the majors off the prospect radar. The draft was limited from 40 rounds to five, so each team got a far smaller influx of new names over the summer. The whole system mostly pressed pause for a year, and now it’s time to start moving again.
Every winter, several major sources release their national Top 100 prospect lists, ranking the best youngsters from throughout the minors. So far four of the lists have been released, from MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Keith Law of The Athletic. We’re still waiting on ESPN and FanGraphs, but this is enough to get started.
Unfortunately, the news is bad for Oakland A’s fans, which seems like the running theme of the last few months. Two of the lists shut out the A’s completely, with nobody cracking the Top 100. The other two lists each ranked just one Oakland player, one at 84th and the other at 92nd.
The bright side is that this drought is explainable, and not quite as bad as it sounds. Last year the A’s had three prominent names in the top halves of these lists, but two of them — Jesús Luzardo and Sean Murphy — graduated to MLB and had nice rookie seasons. Oakland’s best prospects are now in Oakland, helping the big league club in key starting roles. The third name from last winter, A.J. Puk, has seen his stock fall due to injury rather than a souring on his talent.
Meanwhile, the A’s didn’t really add anyone new to the lists, but how would they have done so? There was no minor league season, so none of their promising youngsters could turn in breakout performances and rise up the ranks. They were competing not rebuilding, so they didn’t trade stars for top prospects over the summer. And they had low draft position in 2020 on account of being a perennial postseason contender, so their opportunity there was limited, though 1st-rounder Tyler Soderstrom did make one list.
The only hope would have been if one of their bounce-back Triple-A pitchers had come up and made a flashy debut that was strong enough to open eyes but brief enough to retain prospect eligibility. But that didn’t happen, as Daulton Jefferies and James Kaprielian got knocked around in their cups of coffee and Grant Holmes never got the call. Nick Allen and Robert Puason weren’t going to rise based solely on glowing reports from off-site alternate camp, and the latest international splash, Pedro Pineda, might not even make the Top 10 of the A’s own system.
And so, prepare yourselves for the saddest table I’ve ever made.
|---||Soderstrom (92)||---||Puk (84)|
|nobody||---||(Puk just missed)||---|
That’s it. Puk got a spot on Law’s list, the one Athletics Nation tends to argue with the most. He also got an honorable mention from BP, and was even the main photo of their “just missed” article. Soderstrom was able to crack the BA list, since the A’s gambled hard on upside talent in the draft with a high school hitter who dropped to them due to signability.
Regarding Puk, Law is sticking with him due to bullish reports on his latest shoulder injury rehab, and because he still sees a potential starter ceiling for the lefty with his “premium stuff.” Meanwhile, BP took the opposite approach, dropping Puk until he reproves his health on the field, though with the caveat that his stock could bounce right back up if he does so — especially if he gets back to starting, which they don’t rule out.
As for the 19-year-old Soderstrom, BA praises his bat, with “exit velocities as high as 108 mph and has an exceptionally advanced approach that belies his youth.” They also cite his “baseball rat” work ethic, and a physical frame that is “reminiscent of a college pick, but there’s more physical projection to go.” He has a long road to prove himself defensively as a catcher, but with a 60-grade for both his Hit and Power tools, his bat alone is enough to dream on for now.
Looking deeper into Oakland’s system, BA and BP have also released their organizational Top 10 lists. There aren’t any surprises on BA’s version, which we’ll talk about more when we get into Community Prospect List voting. But BP has their usual sleeper surprise, and this year it’s Colin Peluse at No. 10 — he was the club’s 9th-round draft pick in 2019, and they see a potential fourth starter or setup man. BP also stuck with Austin Beck (6th), they love 2020 draftee Jeff Criswell (5th), and they’re joining the party on Brayan Buelvas (8th).
It’s not a surprise to see the A’s get shunned on this year’s national prospect lists. We already knew the system was light on premium names, because they all graduated already, and the top remaining talent is mostly hindered by injury concerns that they haven’t had the chance to prove are behind them.
It’s also not a big deal. Not every star gets noticed on the way up the ladder — Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Ramon Laureano got little to no love on these lists when in the minors. And we know there is a ton of MLB-readyish help waiting in Triple-A, between Puk, Jefferies, Kaprielian, Holmes, Neuse, Brown, Bolt, Barrera, and so on, with Allen a good bet for 2022. If any of them become 3+ WAR contributors, or if one of the relief prospects becomes the next All-Star closer, then it won’t matter what the lists said about them.