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A’s prospect watch: Tyler Soderstrom thriving, Lazaro Armenteros promoted

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Checking in on the Low-A Stockton Ports

Syndication: Stockton Record CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The 2021 minor league season has more than a month in the books already, so we’re well past due to check in and see how the Oakland A’s farm system is doing. After all, with no minors at all last summer, this is the first action we’ve seen from the team’s prospects in a long time.

The A’s have four full-season affiliates, and today we begin at the bottom of the ladder with the Low-A Stockton Ports. However, just because they’re the furthest from the majors doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting prospects to follow.

In fact, the very top prospect in Oakland’s system is currently playing down the road in Stockton, 19-year-old Tyler Soderstrom. Last summer’s 1st-round draft pick opened the year with a partial claim to the No. 1 spot on the club’s prospect list (No. 2 on AN’s version), but after an electric debut to his professional career there is no longer any doubt. It’s now a question of how high up the national ranks he can climb this year.

After already opening eyes in the Cactus League this spring, the bat-first catcher wasted no time heating up in his first pro regular season experience. In his first five games he went 7-for-19 with a pair of doubles, four walks, and only five strikeouts. He finally took an 0-fer in his sixth contest, but he’s yet to fall into any kind of extended slump and he’s already notched a half-dozen three-hit outings through 31 games.

  • Soderstrom, A-: .317/.412/.548, 159 wRC+, 5 HR, 11.5% BB, 25.7% Ks

The lefty’s power has emerged in June, with four homers in 44 plate appearances, and on Thursday he had his best day yet. He went 3-for-5 with two dingers and 5 RBI, leading Stockton to a blowout victory over the San Jose Giants. Three games into the series, he’s 8-for-15 with four extra-base hits, and one of the homers went 437 feet with a 102 mph exit velocity per Ports broadcaster Alex Jensen.

And how about that MLB-caliber bat flip??

He entered the year with a ton of promise and has fully delivered so far, leading the Low-A West division in hits and total bases, as a teenager. His early success has him flying up the national radar — he only made one preseason list in January, but he now ranks No. 56 at FanGraphs, and he’s entered the Top 50 at Baseball America.

We can discuss his long-term defensive future later, and whether it’s behind the plate or at a corner position somewhere. But after a couple star graduations last year the A’s farm was short on elite talents, and it appears they’ve found a new one.

Lazarito moves back up

A few years ago, A’s fans hoped Lazaro Armenteros might be that next big Top 100 prospect, but his bat had trouble keeping up in the lower minors and he lost a crucial season of development to the pandemic hiatus. He opened 2021 down in Low-A, a demotion from 2019.

Fortunately, it didn’t even take a month for Lazarito to work his way back up to High-A. He blasted Low-A for 15 games and 70 plate appearances, albeit without fixing the strikeout issues that stand as his primary obstacle, and he was named Player of the Week for his division immediately before his May 31 promotion.

  • Armenteros, A-: .431/.471/.615, 197 wC+, 2 HR, 7.1% BB, 37.1% Ks, 8-for-12 SB

It’s not so much a step forward for Lazarito as much as an un-step-back, but it still counts as progress in the short-term. Now the 22-year-old can resume his mission to make more consistent contact in High-A.

Other CPL hitters

The rest of Stockton’s roster features a few more top prospects to follow, including three other hitters from our Community Prospect List, all of them teenagers like Soderstrom. OF Brayan Buelvas is producing a bit, but SS Robert Puason and OF Junior Perez are struggling at the plate.

  • Buelvas: .216/.348/.419, 115 wRC+, 4 HR, 13.5% BB, 28.1% Ks
  • Perez: .176/.270/.333, 69 wRC+, 3 HR, 10.7% BB, 44.3% Ks, 5 SB
  • Puason: .221/.295/.256, 61 wRC+, 0 HR, 8.3% BB, 45.8% Ks

The performance by Puason is particularly discouraging, on the heels of this pessimistic report from early May after minor league spring training ended (per Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs):

Robert Puason, he of the $5 million bonus in 2019, does not look very good. His defensive performance has been mixed (he made some fantastic plays this spring while also botching some of the routine ones), but where he’s really lagging right now is on offense. He’s been very, very late on fastballs in my looks, even below-average ones in the 90-92 range. This is occurring from both sides of the plate and even when Puason chokes up with two strikes. Puason is still a big-framed switch-hitter who flashes defensive excellence, and I understand why he was sought after on the amateur market, but I don’t think we’re looking at a future star here, at least not one who’s going to come along quickly.

Puason is No. 4 on our Community Prospect List, so between the scouting report and stats this is a disappointing start to his pro career. But he’s also still only age 18, so let’s not jump to any conclusions yet.

Honorable mentions: 1B Lawrence Butler (age 20) leads the team with 5 homers; and OF Kevin Richards (age 21) is making contact and getting on base (.381 OBP, 23.8% Ks).

Pitching sleepers

On the pitching side, there aren’t any CPL names but there are a few sleepers posting great stats.

The top of the heap is lefty David Leal, drafted in the 38th round in 2019. While his ERA and hit/homer rates are nothing special, his ratio of 29 strikeouts to just one walk is incredible. Thanks to some sleuthing by community member Kyle_B, Melissa Lockard of The Athletic refers to Leal as a “big lefty with good command of three pitches. Not overpowering but locates really well.” Lockard adds, “He was a senior sign in 2019 so he doesn’t have a ton of experience even at his age, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the next to move up to [High-A].”

  • Leal, A-: 3.71 ERA, 26⅔ ip, 29 Ks, 1 BB, 4 HR, 25 hits, 4.26 FIP

A few more standouts:

  • Berrios: 3.21 ERA, 28 ip, 26 Ks, 5 BB, 3 HR, 4.11 FIP
  • Cushing: 2.67 ERA, 30⅓ ip, 37 Ks, 9 BB, 5 HR, 4.73 FIP
  • Judkins: 2.79 ERA, 19⅓ ip, 25 Ks, 8 BB, 1 HR, 3.52 FIP
  • Nambiar: 3.00 ERA, 21 ip, 22 Ks, 9 BB, 1 HR, 3.99 FIP

That’s RHP Osvaldo Berrios, a mid-round high school pick from 2017 who is now age 21; RHP Jack Cushing, a 22nd-rounder from 2019, now age 24; RHP Grant Judkins, who went undrafted last summer out of college (scouting report here); and LHP Kumar Nambiar, a 34th-rounder in 2019. Can any of those mid/late-round sleepers continue their strong starts and move up the system this summer? Stay tuned to find out!