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Oakland A’s 2021 Community Prospect List #7: James Kaprielian reaches majors after long injury recovery

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The pitcher missed three years but made it back and rose all the way to MLB

MLB: Game Two-Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Our 2021 Community Prospect List adds its seventh member, and already its third with MLB experience in James Kaprielian. Here’s the current list, including their winning margins (the difference between his % of the vote, and the % of the runner-up):

  1. A.J. Puk, LHP (+42%)
  2. Tyler Soderstrom, C (+16%)
  3. Nick Allen, SS (+26%)
  4. Robert Puason, SS (+29%)
  5. Daulton Jefferies, RHP (+42%)
  6. Logan Davidson, SS (+15%)
  7. James Kaprielian, RHP (+32%)

The Oakland A’s have five starters in their rotation now that they brought back free agent Mike Fiers, but it will almost certainly take more than that to get through the 2021 season. Fortunately there are two MLB-ready top prospects waiting in the wings in Jefferies and Kaprielian, both of whom have already debuted in the majors.

As wonderful as it’s been to see Jefferies battle back from Tommy John surgery, it was downright amazing to see Kaprielian toe the rubber in Oakland last summer. He missed three years to injury from 2016-18, and it was fair to wonder if he’d ever make it back after such a long layoff and so many setbacks. But he returned to minor league action in 2019 and looked sharp, and then finally reached the bigs last year and made two appearances.

His results were shaky in his cup of coffee, facing 17 total batters and allowing two homers, but he answered the most pressing question about his recovery — velocity. He cranked his fastball as high as 96.9 mph and averaged 95.1 in his two short stints, which isn’t quite the full ceiling of what he showed pre-surgery but still strong. He’s not suddenly a soft-tossing junk-baller, he’s got some zip.

Now that it appears Kaprielian is fully back in action physically, the question becomes what kind of future role he might settle in to. Will he be a starter, with his wide arsenal? Or will his arm respond better to shorter bullpen stints, where he can limit his innings and play up his velocity? We’ll begin to find out this spring!

The voting process is explained below. Please take a moment to read this before participating:

  • 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 for the next ballot.
  • 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.

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The new nominee is Brayan Buelvas. The teenager has barely played any U.S. pro ball yet, and we didn’t get a chance to see him last summer when the minors got canceled. He doesn’t have a standout tool but is pretty good at almost everything and gets praise for his makeup, and the A’s like him enough that they invited him to alternate site camp last year.

Hitter rates (poor/avg/great):

  • wRC+ (75/100/135)
  • BB% (5.0%/8.5%/12.0%)
  • K% (14%/22%/30%)

Nominees on the current ballot:

Brayan Buelvas, OF

Expected level: Low-A? | Age 19

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (but was at alternate site camp)
2019 stats (AZL): 186 PA, 140 wRC+, 3 HR, 11.8% BB, 24.7% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 40 | Run: 55 | Arm: 50 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

One of the youngest players in the AZL, Buelvas handled being thrown into the fire with the aggressive assignment with aplomb. The A’s think he has the chance to be a plus hitter in time, with an advanced approach especially given his age and a willingness to draw walks. While he’s likely not going to be a big over-the-fence type of hitter, he did show extra-base authority to all fields and a penchant for going the other way. He may settle into being an average runner over time, but he’s aggressive on the basepaths.

Buelvas has seen time in all three outfield spots, something that’s likely to continue, but he’s a true center fielder who should be able to play there long term. As much as his tools excite the A’s, they also love his makeup and his passion for the game. He won an award for being the most valuable player at instructs after the season, leaving the organization very excited to see what he does for an encore in 2020.

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Luis Barrera, OF

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 25

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (but was at alternate site camp)
2019 stats (AA): 240 PAs, 139 wRC+, 4 HR, 5.0% BB, 20.0% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 35 | Run: 70 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

Even when he was trying to play through his injury, Barrera was still doing what he does best: hit. The left-handed hitter is aggressive at the plate and makes a ton of contact with a line-drive, slashing kind of approach. He doesn’t walk a ton, but he also doesn’t strike out much. He’s never going to be a big home run guy, but he has shown the ability to hit the gaps on a regular basis, with his extra-base thump showing up more in Double-A last year. Barrera is a plus runner who can steal a base and is as aggressive on the basepaths as he is at the plate.

Barrera’s passion for the game shows up on defense as well and his shoulder injury wasn’t helped by diving for balls in the outfield. He’s probably best suited for an outfield corner, where his above-average arm plays well, but he’s also shown the ability to play center field if needed and the A’s love how fearless he is. He might break in as a fourth outfielder, but he has the ability to be a big league regular on both sides of the ball if the opportunity arises.

* * *

Greg Deichmann, OF

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 26

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (but was at alternate site camp)
2019 stats (AA): 340 PAs, 90 wRC+, 11 HR, 10.0% BB, 30.3% Ks
2019 stats (AFL): .256/.347/.634, 9 HR, 10.5% BB, 30.5% Ks (in 95 PAs)

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 40 | Power: 55 | Run: 40 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45

Before the injuries hit, Deichmann was a very stiff-bodied hitter, one who would over-rotate and whose shoulder would fly open too often, with his arms and hands not working independently at all. While he was rehabbing, he focused more on flexibility than just hitting the weight room and being more elastic at the plate allowed for more shoulder and hips separation. Staying on pitches more, keeping his shoulder in and being on time cut down on his swing and miss, allowed his walk rate to go up and he started to show the ability to drive balls to left-center field. He learned that as he barrels up the ball more, he didn’t need to chase power; it was going to come naturally with his strength and natural loft.

With a strong arm, Deichmann could fit the power-hitting corner outfielder profile well. Though he has below-average speed, he is a good baserunner who can steal a base. More than anything, though, he needs consistent and healthy reps so he can keep working on getting to his tremendous raw power.

* * *

Sheldon Neuse, IF

Expected level: MLB? | Age 26

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (but was at alternate site camp)
2019 stats (AAA): 560 PAs, 126 wRC+, 27 HR, 10.0% BB, 23.6% Ks
2019 stats (MLB): 61 PAs, 63 wRC+, 0 HR, 6.6% BB, 31.1% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 40 | Arm: 65 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50

Neuse’s future as a big leaguer lies largely in how much he’ll hit. After losing his way in terms of his game plan at the plate in 2018, he regained his footing late that year and then saw his strikeout rate drop considerably in Triple-A last year while his walk rate went back up. That allowed him to hit for average again and tap into his considerable raw power more consistently, though hitting in Las Vegas, and the Pacific Coast League in general, no doubt helped. He’s a below-average runner, but he’s a better athlete than people think when they see him.

That athleticism allows him to be an effective defender at a number of positions. Blocked by Matt Chapman at third, his best position, he showed he could handle second base during his time up with Oakland, can still play an acceptable shortstop in a pinch and even is an adequate left fielder. Neuse could be a big league regular in another organization, but for now looks like a very solid super-utility type whose bat will force its way into the lineup more often than not.

* * *

Grant Holmes, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 25

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (but was at alternate site camp)
2019 stats (AA): 3.31 ERA, 81⅔ ip, 76 Ks, 27 BB, 9 HR, 4.20 FIP
2019 stats (AAA): 1.93 ERA, 4⅔ ip, 5 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 5.08 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 60 | Cutter: 55 | Changeup: 60 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45

For much of his Minor League career, Holmes has been more stuff than production. Much of that had to do with hitters being able to pick the ball up out of his hand too well and he worked on adding more deception in 2019 with some success. He still features a sinking fastball that sits in the low-90s that gets a lot of groundball outs and his curve is still a plus pitch that misses bats. Like most A’s farmhands, he’s developed a cutter, giving him a third at least above-average offering and his changeup has also improved.

Holmes was a more consistent strike-thrower in 2019 and he’ll have to continue to refine his command to remain a starter. He sometimes came out of the bullpen in a tandem system with Midland last year and his stuff was very impressive in shorter outings, something the A’s surely will discuss when talking about how the right-hander can impact the big league staff.

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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!