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Oakland A’s 2021 Community Prospect List #11: Jeff Criswell brings high potential from 2nd round of draft

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Last year’s 2nd-round draft pick has a bright future

College World Series - Michigan v Vanderbilt - Game Three Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Our 2021 Community Prospect List adds its next member, and its second straight right-handed pitcher in Jeff Criswell. 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%)
  8. Luis Barrera, OF (+34%)
  9. Greg Deichmann, OF (+24%)
  10. Grant Holmes, RHP (+3%)
  11. Jeff Criswell, RHP (+10%)

The Oakland A’s did well at the top of the 2020 draft. They nabbed the son of a former Bay Area-based pro player, who brought dynamic tools that just need to be refined on the field.

That intro could describe 1st-round pick Tyler Soderstrom, but in this case the subject is 2nd-round pick Jeff Criswell. His father, lefty pitcher Brian Criswell, was an A’s draftee in the 1980s and played five seasons in Oakland’s minor league system.

Jeff, a righty, comes out of college at Michigan and has a similar story to his predecessor on the CPL, Grant Holmes — great stuff but questions about how well he can control it. For Criswell, it’s a mid-90s fastball, plus slider, and plus changeup, which could make him a mid-rotation starter or a powerful late-inning reliever who might reach the upper-90s in shorter stints.

He’ll get his first chance to pitch pro games this summer, and we’ll begin to see what the A’s have in their promising new prospect. Brian made it as high as Double-A, but we’ll have our sights set higher than that for Jeff.

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.

* * *

The new nominee is Ka’ai Tom. He’s a Rule 5 draft pick who will either get his first chance in the majors this year or be returned to his former team, the Indians. He’s got good plate discipline and tapped into some power in 2019, and on defense he can reportedly play all three outfield positions. The ballot is now five outfielders, so, take your pick.

Hitter rates (poor/avg/great):

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

Nominees on the current ballot:

Ka’ai Tom

Expected level: MLB | Age 27

2020 stats (MLB): DID NOT PLAY
2019 stats (AA): 343 PAs, 162 wRC+, 14 HR, 12.5% BB, 21.3% Ks
2019 stats (AAA): 211 PAs, 132 wRC+, 9 HR, 10.0% BB, 25.1% Ks

No current scouting report, so here are some assorted notes from various sources (from my December 2021 post):

“Honestly, Tom should have gotten a chance last year, he did not and I could see him sticking with the A’s easily. He plays all three spots and hits at every stop. He isn’t the best athlete and is way undersized, which has been the knocks but he just kept performing.” ...

“Never in my life have I seen a guy so small hit a ball so hard like him.” ...

“Ka’ai Tom doesn’t necessarily consider himself a power hitter but more of a guy who can spray line drives all over the field. Made an adjustment at the plate with his hands in 2019 that led to a big increase in extra-base hits.” ...

“He’s a fast runner who uses his legs to leg out doubles and triples more than steal bases.” ...

“While he’s experienced at all three outfield spots it is likely that his speed and quickness allow him to play center at the major league level.”

* * *

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.

* * *

Austin Beck, OF

Expected level: High-A? | Age 22

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (but was at fall instructional league)
2019 stats (A+): 367 PAs, 95 wRC+, 8 HR, 6.5% BB, 34.3% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 40 | Power: 50 | Run: 60 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

Overall, Beck hasn’t lived up to the expectations usually put on a top 10 Draft pick. After chasing power too much during his debut, he became a better hitter in his first full season. His swing and miss skyrocketed in 2019, though, with a strikeout rate over 34 percent and he hasn’t been able to get to his considerable raw power consistently at all in games at the pro level. He struggles recognizing breaking stuff and his struggles seemed to get in his head at times. He has premium bat speed and his rotation and acceleration are elite and he worked on calming down in the box during instructs with the confidence that if he can make more contact, the power will naturally come.

Beck runs very well, and while that hasn’t translated to stolen bases, it does help him play a very good center field. He has an above-average arm that would work well in an outfield corner if he slows down enough to necessitate a move. But more than anything, he needs to refine his approach and start turning his tools into production at the plate.

* * *

Pedro Pineda, OF

Expected level: Rookie Ball | Age 17

2020 stats: Signed in January, hasn’t played yet

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (from international draft class capsule):

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 55 | Run: 55 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55

Pineda has broad shoulders, an athletic, projectable body and a collection of some of the best tools in this year’s class.

He’s best described as “explosive” and it’s easy to see why.

Pineda is raw, but has the potential to have plus tools. Specifically, he’s been praised for his hands and excellent bat speed. Like many prospects his age, there is some swing and miss to his game and his overall swing is a work in progress, but that’s not uncommon. For now, there’s some loft to his swing and his mechanics continue to improve. He also consistently hits the ball hard to all fields and can drive the ball out of the ballpark. He has the potential to be a base-stealer and an above average baserunner.

On defense, he has the ability to shine at the corner outfield spots, but is also comfortable in center field. He is learning how to contain his arm strength for improved accuracy and is expected to improve in that area once he signs and receives daily instruction in a team’s academy. Coachable and energetic, Pineda is a student of the game. He is also currently taking English classes.

* * *

Seth Brown, OF

Expected level: MLB? | Age 28

2020 stats (MLB): 0-for-5, 2 Ks
2019 stats (MLB): 83 PA, 120 wRC+, 0 HR, 8.4% BB, 27.7% Ks
2019 stats (AAA): 500 PA, 126 wRC+, 37 HR, 7.6% BB, 25.4% Ks

Baseball America scouting report (from January 2021):

Brown re-tooled his swing in search of more launch angle prior to 2017 and unlocked considerable power. It has yet to translate to the big leagues in a very small sample size — zero homers in 88 at-bats—but his plus raw power is as good as any in the A’s system. He makes solid contact and has a chance to be an average hitter against righthanders as part of a platoon. Brown has worked hard to improve his outfield defense in the hopes of enhancing his versatility and giving him more avenues to playing time. He’s a fine defender at first base.

* * *

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!