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Oakland A’s 2021 Community Prospect List #28: Brian Howard adds the velocity he’d been missing

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The 6’9 pitcher showed mid-90s mph last fall

Milwaukee Brewers v Oakland Athletics
Just this half of his body is nearly four feet tall
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

Our 2021 Community Prospect List adds its next member, and its tallest in pitcher Brian Howard. 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%)
  12. Brayan Buelvas, OF (+19%)
  13. Pedro Pineda, OF (+23%)
  14. Austin Beck, OF (+13%)
  15. Ka’ai Tom, OF (+3%)
  16. Tyler Baum, RHP (+1%)
  17. Jordan Diaz, 3B (+21%)
  18. Seth Brown, OF (+11%)
  19. Junior Perez, OF (+21%)
  20. Buddy Reed, OF (+11%)
  21. Wandisson Charles, RHP (+25%)
  22. Colin Peluse, RHP (+23%)
  23. Lazaro Armenteros, OF (+10%)
  24. Kyle McCann, C (+18%)
  25. Jeremy Eierman, SS (+2%)
  26. Miguel Romero, RHP (+19%)
  27. Cody Thomas, OF (+6%)
  28. Brian Howard, RHP (+4%)

At any given time, I tend to have a couple of irrational prospect crushes in the Oakland A’s farm system. Everyone has a favorite sleeper or two whom they believe in more than everybody else does, and I’m no exception.

One of mine is Howard. He wasn’t a high draft pick and he didn’t bring remarkable stuff out of college, but he immediately dominated every level of the minors up through Double-A. His pro career numbers are sparkling in just about every way.

Of course, history is littered with pitchers who were able to breeze past lower competition but ran into a wall against more advanced hitters. Would Howard’s smoke and mirrors and command of his wide arsenal keep working against the best of the best, or would he be exposed without enough of a true out pitch?

Two factors offer him an extra dose of optimism. One is his extreme height, standing 6’9. In general, any trait that unusual amid a low-ceiling profile always gets my attention, because you never know what little quirk could help an otherwise average talent play up. More specifically, extra height in a pitcher can affect things like release point and plane and perceived velocity, and can potentially help add deception to a delivery.

The other factor is more recent, as Howard reportedly added velocity to what had once been a relatively soft-tossing arsenal. Instead of low-90s, he was hitting 95-96 mph last fall in the instructional league, albeit in shorter stints. Still, given that his lack of velo was always the primary knock against him, adding any amount of zip to his fastball should be the best thing he could do to increase his stock and future outlook.

The next test for Big Game Howie will be Triple-A, where he was lit up in a brief trial in 2019. Now he can look forward to a fresh try at the highest level of the minors, and this time he can bring along some extra mph.

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 Michael Guldberg. (It was a tie with RHP Richard Guasch, so I let Baseball America cast the tiebreaker and they only ranked Guldberg.) The outfielder was drafted in the 3rd round last summer, and has a lot to prove after a college career that was interrupted by injuries and then the pandemic. He’s a speed, defense, and contact kind of CF prospect.

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:

Michael Guldberg, OF

Expected level: High-A? | Age 22

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (drafted last summer)

Scouting report from Baseball America:

The A’s believe Guldberg can stick in center field despite playing mostly left field in college. He’s a quick-twitch, wiry athlete who pairs quality defensive instincts with his plus running ability. He has experience playing second base and the A’s may eventually get him occasional reps there, too. Guldberg takes a contact-oriented approach to the plate from the right side and has impressive bat speed. He lacks physicality but the A’s say he showed sneaky raw power in batting practice.

* * *

Parker Dunshee, RHP

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 26

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (but was at alternate site camp)
2019 stats (AA): 1.89 ERA, 38 ip, 34 Ks, 11 BB, 1 HR, 3.19 FIP
2019 stats (AAA): 5.38 ERA, 92 ip, 90 Ks, 37 BB, 21 HR, 6.21 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 50 | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 45 | Cutter: 45 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50 | Overall: 40

Dunshee gained some velocity in 2020 after working on his arm strength and body conditioning. His fastball now sits 93-95, but he’s still not going to overpower guys. Dunshee needs to be fine with his pitches — which include an average changeup and get-me-over curveball.

Pitch sequencing is key for Dunshee. It’s what he will need to improve in order to graduate past the Triple-A level. If he can work on changing hitters’ eye levels more and perhaps develop a true out pitch, he could grow into a durable swingman at the Major League level.

* * *

Aramis Garcia, C

Expected level: MLB | Age 26

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY
2019 stats (AA): 532 PA, 108 wRC+, 23 HR, 8.6% BB, 27.1% Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report ***FROM 2019***:

Scouting grades: Hit: 40 | Power: 50 | Run: 30 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 40

Garcia has settled on a pull-heavy approach designed to get the most of out of his solid raw power, the product of his strength and the loft in his right-handed swing. He might hit 15-20 homers per year with regular playing time in the Majors, but his pop comes at a cost. He rolls over more soft grounders to the left side of the infield than he should and his aggressiveness means that he rarely walks.

Somewhat rough behind the plate when he entered pro ball, Garcia has worked hard to improve defensively. He has turned himself into an average receiver while also getting quicker and more accurate with his throws. The Giants have Buster Posey in the big leagues and drafted Joey Bart No. 2 overall last June, so they’ve tried to add to Garcia’s versatility by having him play first base.

* * *

Hogan Harris, LHP

Expected level: High-A | Age 24

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY
2019 stats (A-): 3.12 ERA, 26 ip, 36 Ks, 9 BB, 2 HR, 3.02 FIP
2019 stats (A+): 2.51 ERA, 28⅔ ip, 29 Ks, 10 BB, 2 HR, 3.70 FIP

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 55 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 40

Harris has shown he can really fill up the zone with a three-pitch mix. His fastball sits in the low 90s with some run to it. He also brings a slurvy breaking ball that looks more like a curveball. His changeup gives him another solid pitch to work with.

The injuries continue to pile up for Harris, as he entered 2021 once again having to deal with an elbow injury. When he’s on the field, he can be a very good left-hander. The problem is keeping him healthy for a full season. If Harris can work out the health issues, his repertoire projects him to be a starter in the long term.

* * *

Skye Bolt, OF

Expected level: Triple-A | Age 27

2020 stats: DID NOT PLAY (but was at alternate site camp)
2019 stats (AAA): 347 PA, 96 wRC+, 11 HR, 10.7% BB, 27.1% Ks
2019 stats (MLB): 11 PA, 1-for-10, double, 1 BB, 3 Ks

MLB Pipeline grades and scouting report:

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

The switch-hitting Bolt’s raw power has always shown better from the left side. With solid plate discipline that leads to a good number of walks, he’s able to mask his strikeout rates and hit for a decent average. Above-average speed helps Bolt, both on the basepaths and on defense. He has struggled to put together a full season in the Minors, perhaps due to a lean frame.

Bolt will have to show what he can do at the Major League level in order to stick. His solid defense and ability to play all three outfield spots should provide a future as a fourth outfielder.

* * *

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!