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Oakland A’s 2021 Community Prospect List #3: Nick Allen is the shortstop of the near future

Will he arrive in 2021, or wait until 2022?

Oakland Athletics Team Workout
Pictured: Turning a quadruple play, probably
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

Our 2021 Community Prospect List adds its third member, and one who could be helping in Oakland sooner than later in shortstop Nick Allen. 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%)

There are only two questions remaining when it comes to Nick Allen. Will he hit enough to be a star, or turn out as “only” a valuable glove-first everyday player? And will he be in the Oakland A’s lineup by the end of 2021, or will we have to wait until 2022 to see him debut?

The defensive side of the ball is settled. MLB Pipeline ranked him as the best defensive shortstop in the minors each of the last two years, and the scouting marks he gets for his fielding (up to 70-grade) are reminiscent of Matt Chapman as a prospect, with an arm not far behind (60-grade) and plenty of speed. All reports indicate there are Gold Gloves in his future, at one of the most valuable positions on the diamond.

With the shortstop spot still completely unsettled for 2021, and spring training less than two weeks away, you will even hear arguments that he is the best bet right now and should jump straight to the majors, since at least his glove is ready to go. That might be pushing it, since he has never played a game above High-A and could surely benefit from more hitting experience against higher-level minor league pitching, but it also might not be an untrue analysis.

For some perspective, here are a few extreme real-world examples. In each of 2018 and ‘19, Nick Ahmed produced 4 bWAR (albeit only 2 fWAR) based purely on SS defense, with a combined 88 wRC+ at the plate. In 2019, Paul DeJong put up 5 bWAR and 4 fWAR, with a league-average batting line. And of course, further in the past, Brendan Ryan once posted 3.4 bWAR (or 1.4 fWAR) with a 61 wRC+ because of his incredible work in the field. If Allen is as amazing as advertised, he could help the 2021 A’s even if he doesn’t hit a lick, since right now they’re not even a lock to be replacement-level at his position.

Probably more likely is that he opens the year in the minors to finish developing his bat, at least until/unless we hear reports that he’s realistically in the running to break camp with the club. Still, you’d have to think that if he starts hitting right away wherever he’s assigned, it wouldn’t take much to force his way up to Oakland by the end of this summer. Or, if the team’s plan is to give him a full year in the minors no matter what, then surely we could hope to pencil him in for 2022.

At last sight, Allen was hitting well in High-A, and in exactly the ways the A’s need right now — making lots of contact, getting on base, and utilizing his wheels once there. If he can carry those skills up the ladder all the way to the majors, then he can make a serious impact. If he can only hit like Brendan Ryan, then the good news is he can also field at Ryan’s level of value, and that combo led to a pretty solid career.

Extra note: I never posted a personal Top 10 list of my own this year, but Allen might be No. 1 for me. I think grover made the case well in the comments of the last couple CPL posts. I love elite defensive prospects, like Murphy before him, and Chapman and Olson before that. Allen is a step behind that trio with the bat, but I’m betting he hits enough to be one of the next star members of this team’s core, and in this winter’s thin system I’m taking his proximity and higher certainty over Puk’s risk and Soderstrom’s higher but more distant ceiling and complete lack of pro experience.

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 Luis Barrera. He’s already on the 40-man roster, but missed his chance for Triple-A action when last summer got canceled. Still, he might not be far from MLB-ready, and the only question at this point is whether he ends up as a speed-and-defense fourth outfielder on the bench, or an everyday player who also consistently slashes line drives all over the park.

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:

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.

* * *

Robert Puason, SS

Expected level: Rookie League | Age 18

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (but was at A’s alternate site camp)

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting Grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 65 | Arm: 60 | Field: 60 | Overall: 50

Puason is lean and wiry, with a frame that should add strength, and a body type that reminds some of former All-Star shortstop Tony Fernandez. He has a smooth stroke from both sides of the plate with the ability to barrel up the baseball consistently and spray line drives to all fields. As he matures and grows into his 6-foot-3 frame, there’s sure to be power to come. How much remains to be seen, but a floor of 15 homers annually seems more than reasonable given his long levers and some leverage to his swing.

A plus runner, there’s no question about Puason’s ability to play shortstop. He can really pick it and throw it, with fluid actions, good footwork and plus range to go along with a very strong arm. He’s already displaying solid instincts as well and will get to show off his tools in earnest this summer.

* * *

Daulton Jefferies, RHP

Expected level: MLB | Age 25

2020 stats (MLB): 1 start, 2 ip, 5 runs, 1 K, 2 BB, 2 HR
2019 stats (A+): 2.40 ERA, 15 ip, 21 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 2.13 FIP
2019 stats (AA): 3.66 ERA, 64 ip, 72 Ks, 7 BB, 7 HR, 3.19 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Slider: 45 | Changeup: 60 | Control: 60 | Overall: 50

Not only did Jefferies stay healthy in 2019 as the A’s closely monitored his workload, his stuff and command came back, allowing him to post a ridiculous 93/9 K/BB ratio over 79 innings of work. He’s likely going to work with a low-90s fastball, around 91-93 mph, though he can reach back for a 94 now and again and it plays up because of his ability to command it so well. He complements it with a plus changeup that he sells really well with his arm action and good tunneling with excellent fade that drops off the table right at the end.

He’s never had a great breaking ball and he’s experimented with different pitches and grips. He didn’t throw it a lot in 2019 and it was inconsistent, looking like a slider-cutter hybrid more often than not. If he can commit to a breaking ball to give him a third average offering, he has the chance to be a No. 4 type starter in short order, a kind of Kyle Hendricks type with a bit more velocity.

* * *

James Kaprielian, RHP

Expected level: MLB | Age 27

2020 stats: 2 games, 3⅔ ip, 3 runs, 4 Ks, 2 BB, 2 HR
2019 stats (A+): 4.46 ERA, 36⅓ ip, 43 Ks, 8 BB, 6 HR, 4.43 FIP
2019 stats (AA): 1.63 ERA, 27⅔ ip, 26 Ks, 8 BB, 2 HR, 3.60 FIP
2019 stats (AAA): 2.25 ERA, 4 ip, 6 Ks, 0 BB, 0 HR, 0.80 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report (note that the info about his velocity is out of date, and he topped out at 97 mph in the majors in 2020):

Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 55 | Overall: 45

No one has worked harder than Kaprielian to get back on the mound and start moving towards the big leagues. If his 2019 is any indication, he’s not going to be the guy who was pumping mid-90s heat with potentially plus secondary stuff back in college. Instead, he’s learning to pitch at 91-93 mph while occasionally touching 95, commanding the pitch very well. Because of his injury history, Kaprielian was a little tentative in throwing his secondary stuff. He still throws a curve and a slider, with the latter being a bit better, but they do blend into each other at times and neither were better than average last year. He does show a solid changeup with fade at times.

While Kaprielian is a physical pitcher, kind of in the mold of a Kevin Brown type, he’s going to have to be more of a finesse and command type and he did fill up the strike zone consistently in 2019. There’s a chance his stuff snaps back a bit the further removed from injury he gets, but he looks more like a back-end starter than the potential frontline one he projected to be coming out of college.

* * *

Logan Davison, SS

Expected level: High-A | Age 23

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (but was at alternate site camp)
2019 stats (A-): 238 PAs, 112 wRC+, 4 HR, 13.0% BB, 23.1% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

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

A switch-hitting infielder, Davidson has wiry strength and a lot of raw power, with more in-game pop to come as he fills out that 6-foot-3 frame. With some length to his arms, there’s swing and miss and he does have trouble being on time at the plate. If he’s going to get to average game power, there are going to be strikeouts as well, though he does offset that with an ability to work counts and draw walks. An above-average runner who does produce plus run times occasionally, Davidson is a good baserunner able to steal a base now and again.

Though he’s a bit tall for shortstop, that speed, his overall athleticism and his strong arm should be enough to let him stay at the premium position long term. The A’s do like to move infielders around, and he could see time on both sides of second base, and even some action at the hot corner, as he begins his climb up the A’s ladder.

* * *

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!

Programming Note: Each CPL vote will run for around 24 hours, so don’t delay making your selections! Next ballot goes up at noon Thursday.