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A’s 2021 farm system is ranked low by Baseball America, but that’s OK

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Oakland is 29th in the organizational rankings. Let me explain why this shouldn’t bother you.

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners
Seth Brown isn’t a highly rated prospect, but will that matter if he provides the extra WAR or two the A’s need to contend in 2021?
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Context matters.

Baseball America is a vital resource if you’re interested in following minor league baseball and it’s provided me with a wealth of information about the Oakland A’s prospects, both developed from within and acquired through trade. I am not writing this to bash BA or to argue against their rankings, but rather to explain why having the 29th-ranked farm system isn’t cause for AN to get upset. Baseball America (BA) is correct when it states that the system could use an infusion of talent, but let’s focus on talent already there and how it can help the A’s in 2021.

BA has always made it clear that when they evaluate prospect talent their primary focus is in identifying impact players. They will almost always rate higher the prospect who could develop into a star level talent than one with lesser tools but a likelier chance at making the Show. In simplest terms they prefer Ceiling over Floor when rating prospects. It’s who they are and it’s who they’ve always been and to their credit they have revised their methodology over the years to give more credence to the non-toolshed players who have worked their way up the minors and are poised to contribute on a big league roster.

Because what is, ultimately, the goal of a farm system? It’s to develop talent that can help the parent club win games. Let’s talk about how Oakland’s 29th-ranked farm system is going to help the A’s win ballgames. To set the caveat, all I ask is that those on BA’s list who are currently healthy stay healthy.

We all understand that the immediate difference makers in the A’s system are already in Oakland. Chapman, Olson, Murphy, Laureano, Luzardo form the foundation of what we hope will be a playoff contender in 2021. Bassitt, Manaea, Montas, Canha are a strong supporting cast. Andrus and Fiers plug critical holes. Oakland’s fate rests primarily on these players and if the majority of them fail ... then that “infusion of talent” might be forthcoming through trades. What the 29th-ranked farm system is poised to do is provide depth behind the existing front-line players, depth that will be critical in this the first, full 162-game season following a COVID-shortened 2020.

Daulton Jefferies (3rd on BA’s list), James Kaprielian (10), Jordan Weems (16), and Austin Allen (17) have all had a taste of the Show, and while they have not yet settled into permanent, big league roles the talent is present for them to make positive contributions in 2021 when they get the opportunity. It would surprise none of us if Jefferies or Kap settled into bullpen roles coming out of Spring Training or to see them shuttling between Vegas and Oakland to eat rotation innings. Allen is in the running to be Murphy’s backup at Catcher and he could position himself for additional at-bats as a DH. Weems flashed in a limited bullpen role last year and will have the opportunity to grab a more substantial role this season.

We have cause to expect better than replacement-level performance from all these players based on their talent and state of their development. I’m not predicting any of them to be worth more than 1 WAR in 2021, but the difference between their potential performance and sub-replacement level talent could collectively be worth 6-8 Wins during the upcoming season.

Sheldon Neuse (11) and Seth Brown (30) both got playing time during Oakland’s 2019 playoff run and should get a chance to earn 2021 playing time during Spring Training. Forst has said Neuse is in the mix at 2B, and with Piscotty’s struggles the past two years there’s opportunity in RF and at DH for Brown’s LH power. I don’t have the answers for what will happen at these positions, but that there are internal options able to compete for a role is a boon to any organization.

Luis Barrera (7), Greg Deichmann (9), Grant Holmes (19), Skye Bolt (25), and Miguel Romero (28) offer the next tier of support. These are all players who have reached the upper minors and have had various levels of success (I’m giving Deichmann his 2019 .256/.347/.634 line in the Arizona Fall League). BA’s own scouting reports give everyone (but Bolt) at least one potential Plus tool or pitch that would give them the chance to make some impact in the big leagues if they got the opportunity.

These are the prospects who most missed out on a 2020 minor league season, because they needed the at-bats or the innings pitched to position themselves to get the Call. I wouldn’t predict any of these players to end up as star level performers — or even necessarily to become full time starters — but the potential is there to provide 1-2 Wins of value as platoon players or key members of the bullpen. Those types of contributions are critical for an Oakland team that has the existing star core that it currently does.

Keith Law just released his Organizational Rankings for The Athletic, and he too ranks the A’s at #29. I doubt that FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus will rate Oakland much differently when they post their rankings. I am not here to refute their arguments. I’m here to put their findings in context. It’s OK that the farm doesn’t have much top-rated star power right now, because all the 2021 team needs is some quality role players to fill out the roster cheaply and the system has plenty of that to offer.

I hope the A’s will be able to add high-ceiling talent through the July Draft and the next J2 signing period. I would love it if some of the younger players they already have in the system have breakout seasons in the minors. I expect 4-6 of the prospects listed in Baseball America’s Oakland Top 30 list will make positive contributions with the A’s in 2021. And I’m certain that when we look back come November, Oakland’s farm system will have made more of an impact to their team’s fortunes than many of the higher-rated systems above them.

Thank you for your time.