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A’s prospect watch: Nick Allen named to U.S. Olympic team; Devin Foyle and Double-A breakout hitters; Zach Jackson promoted

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Double-A sleepers are outperforming the top prospects

WBSC Baseball Americas Qualifier - Super Round Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The 2021 minor league season is not two months deep, so we’re long past due for a check-in with the Double-A Midland RockHounds.

The Hounds roster is light on top names from our Community Prospect List Top 30, as most of the advanced talent has already moved up to Triple-A and the next wave hasn’t yet arrived from the lower-minors. The high stock they do have is mostly on the infield, where a few shortstops are sharing the diamond.

Far and away the top prospect in Midland is Nick Allen, who ranked No. 3 on our CPL before the season. He’s the best defensive shortstop in the entire minors, for any team at any level according to MLB Pipeline each of the last two years, but he’s still finishing up developing his bat on his way up to the majors. He hit well in High-A in 2019, but then got hurt midway through that summer and had no 2020 season to play in.

The 22-year-old began the year in Double-A for his first taste of the upper-minors, and the results have been nothing short of a best-case scenario. He’s continued his 2019 breakout without missing a beat, showing all the same sparkplug qualities and with enough power to stay optimistic that he won’t get the bat knocked out of his hands at higher levels.

  • Allen, AA: .321/.378/.470, 129 wRC+, 5 HR, 7.9% BB, 18.9% Ks

He even had a two-homer game!

But watch out because he can beat you in lots of ways. Here’s a quote from RockHounds manager Bobby Crosby, via Melissa Lockard of The Athletic.

“If we need a guy to be moved over or get a sac fly, he finds a way,” Crosby said. “His line drives, that’s where he’s living right now, which is especially great when he comes to (Momentum Bank Park) for him to learn to hit that way because if you hit the ball in the air in Midland, it’s going to be tough for you. He’s learned how to hit line drives and go the other way and turn on it when he needs to. Lay down a bunt. He’s a grinder. He just finds a way to get hits and his approach is really good right now.”

Doesn’t that sound exactly like the hitter the A’s could use more of? Crosby also praises Allen’s instincts and work ethic in that interview with Lockard.

As impressive as Allen’s performance has been with Midland, that’s only part of the story. In late-May he left the club for a couple weeks to play for Team USA in their Olympic Qualifier tournament, which they won to gain entry into the Tokyo Olympics. Allen started all four games and only went 1-for-17 at the plate, but really his line was better than that — he hit a grand slam and an RBI double against Puerto Rico but the game was later called due to rain, so the stats don’t count and the dinger lives on only in our memories (or by watching this video).

Of course he also wowed everybody with his glove.

Highlight reel continues!

One more.

Allen’s journey with Team USA isn’t finished, as he was selected Friday to be part of the Olympic roster. Their first game will be July 30 against Team Israel. The USA roster also includes former A’s pitchers Edwin Jackson and Scott Kazmir.

It’s difficult to be any more excited about Allen right now. His bat is doing everything we hoped for in Double-A, and now he’s gaining some interesting experience in the uniquely global stage of the Olympics, along with the recognition of being chosen for the squad at all. When we’ll see him in Oakland is anybody’s guess, hopefully sooner than later, but he’s still on track to make an impact once he arrives.

Alright, that’s one player! What about the rest of the RockHounds?

Davidson & Eierman

While Allen’s future is obviously at shortstop, Midland has a couple other SS prospects so the whole trio has split time at the position while also staying warm at 2B and/or 3B. Allen has only played SS and 2B.

Also getting reps at shortstop is Logan Davidson, the team’s 1st-round pick in the 2019 draft. He ranked No. 6 on our CPL, and got an aggressive assignment to skip High-A entirely after impressing everybody at the alternate site last summer. However, he’s off to a slow start in Double-A.

  • Davidson, AA: .216/.314/.313, 75 wRC+, 2 HR, 12.1% BB, 27.1% Ks

The switch-hitter improved dramatically from May (.509 OPS) to June (.783), though his strikeouts and walked stayed steady both months. Per Lockard: “Crosby says Davidson was swinging too early in the count at the start of the season, but after meeting with A’s farm director Ed Sprague toward the end of May, he turned things around.”

Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs said the following in mid-June:

“Even though Davidson will hit the occasional oppo tank, his swing only has lift in certain parts of the zone, which upper-level arms should be able to work around. ... His ability to play shortstop gives him significant margin for error on the offensive side but on paper so far in pro ball, Davidson has a walk-reliant profile and has shown no signs of meaningful feel for contact or in-game power.”

Can Davidson’s recent resurgence continue, and put Longenhagen’s report out of date? The good news is nobody doubts his defense nor his ability to stick at SS, though his plus arm has allowed him to get reps at 3B this year in Midland’s time-share arrangement.

Rounding out the infield trio is Jeremy Eierman, drafted just after the 2nd round in 2018, and now No. 25 on our CPL. His game is power and strikeouts, and that’s what he’s done in Midland, ranking Top 10 in the Double-A Central League in both categories.

  • Eierman, AA: .234/.319/.434, 103 wRC+, 10 HR, 7.3% BB, 36.5% Ks, 7-for-9 SB

He still hits the ball hard, he just needs to hit it more often. Per Lockard: “Eierman knows his two-strike approach is something that needs to improve, Crosby says, but he hasn’t yet found the one approach that works for him.”

On defense, he’s seen the most 3B out of the group, thanks in part to an arm that’s rated equal or better to Davidson’s.

Sleeper hitters

The only other CPL member in Midland is catcher Kyle McCann, who placed No. 24 last winter. Unfortunately he has struggled to make enough contact to show off his power, which is rated the best in the A’s farm system by Baseball America.

  • McCann, AA: .182/.324/.276, 73 wRC+, 3 HR, 15.5% BB, 38.2% Ks

But that’s fair enough, considering the 23-year-old skipped High-A like Davidson did, and he’s also busy working on his relatively raw defensive game behind the plate. Longenhagen offered this report in June:

“McCann is a three true outcomes hitting prospect who needs to be able to catch some of the time to have big league utility. He’s catching basically every other day right now and playing first base the rest of the time. His size is an impediment to his lateral mobility as a catcher and the general consensus when McCann was an amateur was that he’d need to move to first base. He’s improved as a receiver but still falls short from an arm strength perspective. It’s not out of the question that McCann will be able to catch a couple times a week but his best position is hitter, and he’s more likely to take a late-game at-bat off a righty or make an occasional DH/1B start.”

This is one case where some extra patience is warranted, between an aggressive assignment and also a lot of different skills for McCann to work on, so let’s have some patience and keep an eye on longer-term progress.

OK, now the fun part. Here are the new breakout sleepers!

  • Bride, 1B: .333/.444/.580, 175 wRC+, 5 HR, 15.2% BB, 23.2% Ks
  • Foyle, OF: .290/.408/.511, 150 wRC+, 6 HR, 14.0% BB, 29.9% Ks
  • Schwarz, C: .274/.375/.435, 122 wRC+, 2 HR, 13.9% BB, 19.4% Ks
  • McDonald, OF: .289/.404/.360, 118 wRC+, 0 HR, 13.1%, 24.8% Ks
  • Suddleson, OF: .229/.308/.443, 101 wRC+, 4 HR, 9.0% BB, 20.5% Ks

First on that list is Jonah Bride (2018, 23rd round), who has been pushed from 3B to 1B for now by the bigger names. He’s been on the deep-deep radar for a while thanks to some promising lower-minors stats, and now he’s brought his strong plate discipline with him to Double-A while adding in some power. However, he’s out right now for a personal issue, and hasn’t played since June 6.

Next up from the 2018 draft is Devin Foyle (17th round), who always walked a lot but has also added power this year. Lockard notes that he dumped switch-hitting and moved to batting lefty pretty much full-time.

One final 2018 classmate is catcher JJ Schwarz (8th round), armed with strong plate discipline.

Joining Foyle in the outfield, and taking priority in center field, is Mickey McDonald (2017, 18th round). McDonald already got a turn in Double-A back in 2019, but this time around he’s getting on base far more thanks to a spike in his walk rate. He doesn’t hit for any power, but he’s stolen seven bases without getting caught. The 26-year-old got a brief call up to Triple-A to help cover for a few games, and in eight plate appearances he doubled, walked, and was hit by a pitch.

Wrapping up the list is Jake Suddleson, who we already talked about last month in the High-A Lansing update. The 2020 undrafted free agent only needed 24 games to move up to Double-A, and he’s immediately holding his own in the upper minors with some power and walks and a modest strikeout rate. The 23-year-old was still in college last year.

Pitchers

The pitching staff doesn’t have any CPL prospects, but there are plenty of sleepers worth keeping an eye on. First up are a couple right-handed starters.

  • Feigl: 4.12 ERA, 54⅔ ip, 57 Ks, 17 BB, 7 HR, 4.28 FIP
  • Cohen: 3.00 ERA, 27 ip, 33 Ks, 14 BB, 1 HR, 3.31 FIP

While Brady Feigl (2018, 5th round) didn’t make our CPL, he did land No. 16 on FanGraphs’ version of the list, with the following report from Longenhagen:

“Feigl is a high-probability 40-man piece with average control of three average pitches — a low-90s sinker, upper-70s curveball, and low-80s changeup. He gets groundballs at a 53% career rate and has a consistent strike-throwing track record dating back to the start of his pro career. He’s almost certain to pitch in the big leagues at some point in 2022.”

As for Chase Cohen (2018, 9th round), he’s pitched as a swingman after reports of increased velocity this spring, going up to four innings in a game. Sprague said the following, per Lockard in mid-June: He’s pitched well. We aren’t seeing the 100, but he’s pitched 93-94 but reaches back for 97-98 when he needs it,” Sprague said. “Good competitor and he’s thrown well.”

However, a couple days after Lockard posted that, Cohen went on the injured list with a strained UCL, still awaiting word on rehab vs. surgery.

In the bullpen, the biggest standout is righty Zach Jackson. Or it was, as he already got the call up to Triple-A after putting up these bonkers numbers.

  • Jackson, AA: 0.55 ERA, 16⅓ ip, 34 Ks, 7 BB, 0 HR, 7 hits, 0.80 FIP

He struck out over half of his 64 batters, with a sub-1.00 FIP. The 26-year-old arrived here over the winter in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, from the Blue Jays system, where Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler described him to me as a “high-ceiling, potential-bust over-the-top fastball/hammer-curve guy.” He has previous Triple-A experience with the Jays, pitching a mediocre full season there in 2019, and so far he’s off to a nice start for Vegas (8 ip, 2 runs, 10 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR).

Crosby offers this endorsement, via Lockard:

“He’s a guy I would never want to face. The way he throws is different. He never really gets extended. He throws from behind his head. ... His stuff drops off a table. His fastball jumps on you. He’s angry when he pitches. He’s kind of everything you want to see out of a reliever.”

A few more bullpen sleepers:

  • Erwin: 3.90 ERA, 32⅓ ip, 31 Ks, 5 BB, 3 HR, 3.43 FIP
  • Mariñez: 3.78 ERA, 16⅔ ip, 17 Ks, 14 BB, 2 HR, 5.53 FIP
  • Reininger: 4.63 ERA, 23⅓ ip, 23 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 2.59 FIP

We’ve followed lefty Zack Erwin for years after his acquisition for Brett Lawrie, and now there’s a new Zachary as righty Zac Reininger was signed back in January 2020. They’re both old for Double-A (27 and 28, respectively), but those K/BB rates will always get my attention. Converted infielder Eric Mariñez is still striking out batters.

While the bullpen’s Zackh Trio has been broken up with Jackson’s move up to Vegas, the Hounds did get two hot names from High-A Lansing, as Jack Weisenburger and Aiden McIntyre have each pitched a few games. Both have been roughed up so far, but they’re still racking up strikeouts at least.

***

Add it all up, and what do we have in Midland? Most important is that Allen is doing great. The other three CPL hitters aren’t quite following suit, but each of them merits extra patience and is worth the wait, especially since two of them never played in High-A. The rest of the lineup is full of fun sleepers, led by an unexpectedly fascinating outfield. And while the pitching staff isn’t bursting with top prospects, there are still some arms worth watching and one of them has already been promoted.

Oh, and there was a fox.

Not a euphemism. An actual fox. Fair enough, we have the Rally Possum at the Coliseum.

The Hounds reeled off a seven-game win streak after that RockFox appeared.

Let’s conclude with a goodbye, to outfielder Tyler Ramirez (2016, 7th round), who announced his retirement after several seasons in the A’s organization. He was a favorite sleeper of mine, a do-it-all lefty with plate discipline and defense, in the Bruggy mold that I have a particular soft spot for.