The 2021 minor league season is more than a month deep already, with four full-season Oakland A’s affiliates playing games. We already made our first check-in at Low-A Stockton, and now we move up one level to the High-A Lansing Lugnuts.
Lansing is short on big-name top prospects, but there are lots of sleepers to follow and some of them are already breaking out. From our preseason Community Prospect List, they opened the year with only four members of our Top 30, and two of them are already hurt — though a new one was promoted up from Low-A, putting their current total at three CPL members.
The Lugnuts also have an amazing social media presence, and due to the sheer quantity of video highlights available I’m splitting this up into two posts. First we’ll look at hitters, and then next time we’ll follow up with the pitchers.
The lineup features 20-year-old Jordan Diaz, a bat-first corner infielder. His scouting report emphasizes his contact skills at the plate, and indeed he’s kept his strikeout rate impressively low, especially considering he’s young for the High-A level and whiffs have continued to rise around the league.
But the most exciting development has been his power, as he slugged five homers in his first 17 games. Four of them came in the same series at Fort Wayne, and you can see all of them below.
At the end of May, Diaz stepped away to compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament for Team Colombia. His club went winless in three games, and he only went 1-for-10 at the plate, but the one hit was a clutch homer to tie the score in the 9th inning.
He’s been back with Lansing for over a week now and hasn’t homered again yet, but he’s still consistently pounding out hits.
Diaz: .262/.293/.495, 107 wRC+, 5 HR, 4.3% BB, 18.1% Ks
It’s far from the best batting line on the Lugnuts roster, but it’s mighty promising for a 20-year-old at High-A. The low walk rate drags down his OBP for now, but a panned-out version of him would presumably hit for a high average to help make up for that, and the combo of power and low strikeouts is extremely encouraging. Entering the season, we voted Diaz at No. 17 on our CPL, and he’s earning that billing so far.
However, there’s still work to do on the defensive side of the ball. Grady Fuson, Special Assistant to the A’s GM, said the following to Bill Moriarity of Athletics Farm:
“Eventually we’re going to have to figure out what to do with Jordan defensively. He’s a little bit like Renato Núñez was where…that’s my comparison to him already. He’s just a little bit slow-footed, and he’s always working on trying to become a more accurate thrower. So much of that is footwork – your throwing accuracy is so governed by how good your feet move. So every once in a while, you’re going to see Jordan probably play a different position as we go forward here in Lansing.”
Diaz spent most of May at 3B, and now has been at 1B in June.
Beck and Lazarito
Also making our preseason CPL was outfielder Austin Beck. His stock has fallen since being the sixth overall pick in the 2017 draft, especially after missing the chance to re-prove himself last summer during the pandemic, but he still made No. 14 on our list.
Unfortunately, there was already one new delay. Beck got 50 plate appearances and batted .170 with a homer and too many strikeouts (38%), then hurt his quad and went on the injured list. He missed two weeks and was activated Wednesday, going 0-for-2 with a strikeout that evening. Fuson says:
“He’s just not as physical as he once was. The skillset’s the same but, when he’s not hurt, he’s been showing signs of improvement and playing better. But he’s another one that you turn around and he’s on the shelf. So we need to get him healthy, we need to get him on the field, we need to get 300-400 at-bats out of him and see where we’re at.”
Still, there are some Beck highlights to enjoy, like this RBI triple.
A few more:
Beck will always be linked with fellow toolsy outfielder Lazaro Armenteros, and now the pair are teammates again. Lazarito opened the year in Low-A but quickly battled his way back up to High-A at the end of May.
The story hasn’t changed, as so far he’s got one walk and 22 strikeouts in 46 plate appearances, but A’s Director of Player Development Ed Sprague offered the following encouragement, via Melissa Lockard of The Athletic:
“A lot of his hits (historically) have come hook on the pull side or flair on the right field side. Just trying to get him to deliver that bat head through the middle of the field consistently I think is going to really help him a lot. Both hits (Tuesday) were up the middle. Anytime you’re using the off field, the middle of the field, typically your strikeouts are going to go down because you’re allowing the ball to travel and you’re getting a little bit longer look at it.”
Fuson also stressed the importance of trajectory, and called Lazarito’s exit velocities “off the charts.” Regarding the decision to start him back at Low-A, Fuson explained:
“He was in Stockton two years ago and struck out 200+ times and we didn’t want that to continue. So moving him back a level let him regroup – and he did. His attitude was better, he didn’t pout, he didn’t mope, he played hard, he swung it, he put the ball in play. He’s so physical and so strong that he just over-matched the baseball at times.”
Here’s what it looks like when it all goes right!
Center field in West Michigan is Death Valley for fly balls... but not for Lazarito! pic.twitter.com/7N0vLVTquL— Lansing Lugnuts (@LansingLugnuts) June 11, 2021
Hopefully these numbers will rise.
- Beck (52 PAs): .163/.212/.347, 49 wRC+, 1 HR, 5.8% BB, 38.5% Ks
- Armenteros (46 PAs): .163/.217/.233, 28 wRC+, 1 HR, 2.2% BB, 47.8% Ks, 3 SB
On the other side of the ball, here’s a nice catch by Lazarito.
A play from yesterday's Lugnuts/Whitecaps game worth rewatching:— Jesse Goldberg-Strassler (@jgoldstrass) June 10, 2021
Spencer Torkelson drilled an 0-2 curve from Charles Hall to right-center. Off the bat, it looked ticketed for the gap, but Lazaro Armenteros ran it down. pic.twitter.com/rBntREwoJR
But what about the rest of the roster? Diaz, Beck, and Armenteros are the three CPL members in Lansing’s position player contingent, but there are many more hitters to watch, including some who could be working their way up to CPL consideration next winter.
Sleepers and newcomers
The 2021 season is extra interesting because of the lost time last summer. The entire 2019 draft class has still barely played in the pros, and nobody in the 2020 class had at all, plus all the other incumbent prospects with injuries or other question marks who needed game action to prove themselves.
What that means is, more than ever, we don’t really know what the A’s have in Lansing, and we can finally begin to find out. A few sleeper hitters have already begun to break out and put themselves on the radar.
One of them is catcher Drew Millas, who was a 7th-round pick in 2019. He didn’t make his pro debut right away due to injury, and ended up waiting until this summer to do so, but in the meantime his promising profile got him mentions on the long prospect lists of FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline.
While Millas’ stock is centered around his strong glove and arm behind the plate, his switch-hitting bat has been just as impressive through his first month of games.
- Millas: .268/.390/.393, 122 wRC+, 2 HR, 16.9% BB, 12.5% Ks
When Jonah Heim was in the A’s system, we liked his combination of plus defense, on-base skill, and low strikeouts. That’s what Millas is showing so far.
And how about that work behind the plate?
- Throwing out a runner at first base
- Throwing out a runner at second base
- Throwing out a runner at third base
Next are a pair of outfielders from last summer’s amateur class. Michael Guldberg was drafted in the 3rd round, and so far he’s fitting the CF prototype exactly as hoped.
- Guldberg: .286/.349/.481, 125 wRC+, 3 HR, 6.6% BB, 19.8% Ks, 6 SB
He’s making contact, collecting enough hits to get on base, slugging a bit, stealing bags at a high success rate, and playing an up-the-middle position in center field. Here he is having a Ramon Laureano Inning:
A couple more videos:
“Guldberg’s got a chance to be an exciting player. He’s not a big physical man, but he’s got a lot of life in his body, a lot of life in his hands, and he’s a plus runner. He did not play a lot of center in college, and we’re playing him a lot more in center here in the pro game because of his skillset. He’s another guy that, since instructional league, every time you start to get excited about this guy, something goes wrong from an injury standpoint as well. So he’s had a couple of quad or hamstring issues since he started playing, and we’ve just got to make sure that he becomes a healthy player as well.”
Nobody selected Jake Suddleson out of Harvard in the 2020 draft, so the A’s signed him as a free agent. He’s a slugger with a history of winning in college, and he got off to such a great start in the pros that he’s already been promoted up to Double-A.
- Suddleson, A+: .284/.346/.526, 132 wRC+, 4 HR, 6.5% BB, 22.4% Ks
Those four dingers came in just 107 plate appearances. This one appeared to leave the entire building, out to the parking lot.
So far in Double-A Midland, he’s 2-for-19 with a homer and four strikeouts. But it’s impressive to see the 23-year-old there already at all, just over a month into his pro career, and ahead of all his fellow 2020 classmates.
Rounding out the primary sleeper list is a 2018 draftee, 20th-rounder Max Schuemann. He got some lower-minors pro experience before the pandemic and showed signs of a pesky speedster, and he’s upped the ante this year in Lansing.
- Schuemann: .256/.395/.424, 131 wRC+, 3 HR, 11.5% BB, 21.0% Ks, 27 SB
Those 27 steals came in 28 attempts, as he’s only been caught once so far. The OBP has seen a spike thanks to an uptick in walks, and he still makes lots of contact and hits it hard enough to show some power, which offers optimism that he can keep drawing free passes since there’s a reason not to throw him strikes. A shortstop who can get reliably on base and steal at an elite rate and quantity is immediately interesting.
Here’s another Schuemann dinger, this one on an 0-2 count to give his team a lead.
That’s already a lot of names, and we haven’t even mentioned everybody with an above-average batting line — there’s still outfielder Shane Selman (2018, 39th round) and versatile defender Elvis Peralta (2019, 26th round). For now we’ll conclude with a defensive highlight from Peralta, and then in the next post we’ll catch up with the Lansing Lugnuts pitching staff.
OK one more highlight, from infielder Cobie Vance (2018, 18th round).
Thanks to Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler for helping me out with photos for this and future Lansing posts!