The minor leagues return today! Opening Day is Tuesday for most levels of the Oakland A’s farm system, marking the first time we’ve seen minors baseball since 2019 after last summer was canceled entirely amid the pandemic.
Over the last few days we’ve gotten projected 2021 rosters from the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators, High-A Lansing Lugnuts, and Low-A Stockton Ports. Now we have a glimpse of what Double-A will bring, as the Midland RockHounds announced their latest roster on Monday.
There are 28 players listed for the Hounds, under the guidance of new manager Bobby Crosby. The former A’s shortstop was slated to be the skipper in High-A last year but never got the chance. His staff includes hitting coach Kevin Kouzmanoff, who was a third baseman for Oakland during his playing career and led the club in homers in 2010.
Rather than try to guess which pitchers will start and relieve, they’re separated into righties and lefties.
Chase Cohen (R)
Bryce Conley (R)
Brady Feigl (R)
Kyle Friedrichs (R)
Brett Graves (R)
Nick Highberger (R)
Zach Jackson (R)
Eric Mariñez (R)
Zac Reininger (R)
Jesús Zambrano (R)
Austin Briggs (L)
Aaron Brown (L)
Ty Damron (L)
Zack Erwin (L)
Jared Koenig (L)
Kyle McCann (L)
JJ Schwarz (R)
Collin Theroux (R)
Nick Allen (R)
Jonah Bride (R)
Logan Davidson (S)
Jeremy Eierman (R)
Marty Bechina (R)
Chase Calabuig (L)
Devin Foyle (S)
Mickey McDonald (S)
Tyler Ramirez (L)
Jhonny Santos (R)
The four players in bold are members of our Community Prospect List Top 30, and Allen (No. 3) and Davidson (No. 6) rank particularly high. There aren’t any CPL names on the pitching side, but that’s due to injury more than anything, as a few potential Double-A arms open on the injured list.
That makes the lineup the highlight as Midland begins its season, especially the infield. We’re basically watching an audition for the future of the A’s shortstop position, as Allen, Davidson, and Eierman are all quality prospects who are expected to be able to handle the spot defensively. In High-A in 2019 we saw Allen and Eierman split SS/2B duties, and we can probably expect the same here with Davidson and 3B added to the mix.
There’s also a notable name behind the plate, where Baseball America calls McCann the best power hitter in the A’s system at any position. The outfield is more of a sleeper group, and Ramirez already got one try up in Triple-A but struggled at the plate there.
On the pitching staff, Cohen was “sitting 96-97 mph with his fastball and touching triple digits” during the spring and will pitch out of the bullpen, reports MLB insider Jonathan Mayo. Zambrano and Erwin are long-time sleepers, and Feigl has cracked some past A’s prospect lists at other mainstream sources though not quite on our CPL. Conley, Jackson, Mariñez, and catcher Theroux were part of the A’s spring mini-camp and appeared in some 2021 Cactus League games.
Mariñez is a converted infielder, and Brown is a converted outfielder who signed over the winter. Among other new additions, Graves and Jackson were selected in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, though Graves was originally an A’s draft pick out of college in 2014 before being Rule 5’d away by the Marlins. Koenig, Reininger, and outfielder Santos are all new enough signings that they haven’t yet played in Oakland’s system.
Splitting them up by draft year or acquisition:
- 2019: Davidson (1st round), McCann (4th), Bechina (32nd)
- 2018: Eierman (2nd), Feigl (5th), Schwarz (8th), Cohen (9th), Foyle (17th), Bride (23rd), Calabuig (27th), Briggs (29th)
- 2017: Allen (3rd), McDonald (18th), Conley (22nd)
- 2016: Ramirez (7th), Damron (15th), Highberger (30th), Theroux (32nd)
- 2015: Friedrichs (7th)
- Free agents (age): Brown (turning 29), Koenig (27), Reininger (28)
- Int’l (age): Mariñez (25), Zambrano (24), Santos (24)
- Rule 5 (minors): Graves (MIA), Jackson (TOR)
- Trades: Erwin (for Lawrie)
From this perspective, Bechina stands out as one of only three members of the 2019 class to fast-track to the upper-minors. Friedrichs joins Seth Brown, plus Mikey White and James Naile in Triple-A, as remaining members of the 2015 class. Jackson played for the Lansing Lugnuts when they were part of the Blue Jays system, and their broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler described the right-hander to me as a “high-ceiling, potential-bust over-the-top fastball/hammer-curve guy.”
If you need somebody to root for, Theroux and McDonald were both born in San Mateo, and a couple winters ago they invited me to visit them there at their offseason training facility and they were very nice to me.
Several prospects will begin the year on the injured list. They include the following pitchers, per Bill Moriarity of Athletics Farm:
- RHP Daulton Jefferies
- RHP Tyler Baum
- RHP Wandisson Charles
- LHP Hogan Harris
- RHP Norge Ruiz
- RHP Trey Supak
- RHP Cristian Alvarado
Jefferies would have been in Triple-A, and so would Charles, reports Melissa Lockard of The Athletic. At least a few of the others would surely have been in Double-A if healthy.
Since the RockHounds put out their roster a few days after the other teams, that gave me time to publish a prediction — based mostly on process of elimination, from the names that weren’t already listed at other levels of the farm.
I listed 30 players, plus a question of whether Lazaro Armenteros might end up in Midland, which he didn’t. Of my 30, five of the pitchers turned out to be hurt (Baum, Harris, Supak, Alvarado, Ruiz). I missed on Friedrichs, Highberger, Briggs, and Bechina, as well as 2020 signings Brown, Koenig, and Santos. But hey, 21 outta 28 ain’t bad!
Opening Day for the Ports is today, Tuesday, May 4, against the Frisco RoughRiders of the Texas Rangers system.