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A.J. Puk makes FanGraphs Top 100 prospect list for 2021

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And 4 other A’s prospects get honorable mentions

Oakland Athletics Summer Workouts Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s didn’t fare well on the annual national Top 100 prospect lists this winter. They only charted one player at each of Baseball America and Keith Law, with nobody higher than No. 84, and they were shut out entirely by MLB Pipeline and Baseball Prospectus.

Last week FanGraphs released their version of the list, and the story remains the same for Oakland. Only one A’s player made the cut, and just barely, with pitcher A.J. Puk ranking No. 99 overall.

This is the second list for Puk this year, after he was also 84th according to Law at The Athletic. The big lefty used to be a consensus Top 50 name, and last winter he rose as high as No. 17 at Baseball Prospectus and No. 21 at Baseball America. But another season lost to injury increased his risk profile and dropped his stock, despite no decrease in talent or ceiling.

Here’s what FanGraphs has to say about Puk:

Grades: Fastball 65/65 | Slider 60/60 | Curve 50/55 | Changeup 55/60 | Command 45/50

Future Value: 50

Velocity: Sits 94-97 mph / Tops 99 mph

Long a softer-bodied guy, Puk spent the offseason training at Cressey Sports Performance in Florida and now looks lean and cut. A return to form would mean Puk is sitting 94-97 (harder out of the bullpen, if that’s how he’s used) with a plus slider, above-average changeup, and a curveball that was re-introduced to his repertoire in pro ball after it had been shelved in college. He still hasn’t been able to work deep enough in games for his repertoire depth to matter, and the long layoff may cause Oakland to ease him back into an innings load by way of a limited role in 2021. This is the first time Puk has appeared on a FanGraphs list and not been a 55 FV prospect.

Despite his questionable health, Puk’s upside still earned him the support of Athletics Nation this winter. He nabbed the top spot on our Community Prospect List, albeit amid a farm system that’s universally ranked toward the bottom of the sport. It’s the second time he’s been No. 1 on our CPL, after doing so in 2018.

Picks to Click

In addition to their Top 100 (which they extended to a Top 133), FanGraphs also offered another 47 names to follow as “picks to click.” These are players they think have the chance to break out and jump up to the Top 100 next year in 2022.

Two A’s prospects show up in this group, both teenagers who are yet to play in U.S. pro ball. One is catcher Tyler Soderstrom, drafted out of high school in the 1st round last summer. The other is shortstop Robert Puason, a high-profile international signing from the 2019 class.

Prospect analysts Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein offer these comments, starting with Soderstrom:

Eric: I don’t think Tyler Soderstrom can catch but he can really hit. Bat-first catchers with glove question marks often get moved so they can climb the system faster (Bryce Harper is the most obvious example of this) and that’s what I think will occur with Soderstrom.

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Kevin: I agree with Eric’s concerns on Soderstrom’s defense, but at the same time, an electronic strike zone (it’s coming, it’s just a matter of when) could make bat-first everyday catchers a more common occurrence.

And Puason:

Kevin: The first time I saw [Bayron] Lora was at a workout where Robert Puason actually stole the show. He’s a big dude with big tools and will need to make up for lost time due to the pandemic.

Soderstrom did already make one Top 100 list this winter, ranking No. 92 at Baseball America. But a big performance in his pro debut could push him much higher on the national radar.

ZiPS

FanGraphs also offers an alternate version of the prospect list, one based on ZiPS by Dan Szymborski. Rather than scouting reports and tool grades, this set of rankings is based on performance data, though that means it leaves out some of the younger high school draft picks and international signings who haven’t yet played in U.S. pro ball or at least college.

Puk still makes the list, this time a few spots higher at No. 94. But he’s joined, and even surpassed, by another A’s pitcher in Daulton Jefferies at No. 72.

This isn’t a surprise, as Jefferies was 79th on last year’s version of the ZiPS list. That’s because of the ridiculous numbers he posted in his return from injury in 2019, including a monstrous K/BB rate. With no 2020 minor league season for anyone to generate a new set of stats, the old ones still stand, and Jefferies’ rocky two-inning MLB debut didn’t take anything away from them.

Mid-tier hitters

FanGraphs brought up one final list of names, with a set of honorable mentions by Ben Clemens. These are hitters who don’t have flashy ceilings, but whose profiles suggest they could at least make MLB as contributors. After all, the first step to being the next unexpected breakout star in the majors is reaching the majors.

There are seven names on this list, and one of them is A’s shortstop prospect Nick Allen, with the following writeup:

I know, I know, another slight middle infielder who makes a lot of contact but doesn’t hit for power. This is the last one, I promise! Allen is the best defender of the bunch, by potentially a lot. Allen has such good bat control that I really want to buy into an offensive transformation that could make him a 15-homer type, and it’s certainly a good sign that his 2019 ISO was higher than his ’17 and ’18 ISO’s combined. Even if he can’t take that step, though, he has a rare combination of defense and contact. This is, after all, a list of players I think are likely to have a meaningful major league career, and Allen does so many things well that I can live with a few holes in his game.

Each player’s optimistic profile also comes with a warning sign. Clemens is willing to live with Allen’s lack of power, he does note that the 22-year-old will need to keep making lots of contact at the plate because adding a rise in strikeouts to the equation could be a problem.

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The A’s only had one player make the actual Top 100 list on FanGraphs, but everyone in our Community Prospect List top five got some kind of attention. Puk is still a Top 100 prospect, Jefferies is too if you base it solely on their real pro track record so far, Soderstrom and Puason are prime candidates to join the list next winter, and Allen might just be good regardless of whether the pundits notice him on the way up to his starting shortstop job in the majors.