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Rule 5 Draft: A’s protect two, an outfielder and pitcher

A couple high-upside players sticking around

AZ Fall League: Mesa Solar Sox at Surprise Saguaros Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the Tuesday deadline to select players to the 40-man roster and protect them from the Rule 5 Draft, the A’s elected to shield a pair of players, corner outfielder Lawrence Butler and left-handed pitcher Hogan Harris.

A 6th-round draft pick out of high school way back in 2018, Butler has climbed all the way up to 15th on Baseball America’s top prospects in the Oakland pipeline. After spending the previous year at Low-A, the 22-year old spent just about all of the 2022 season at High-A, slashing a respectable .270/.357/.468 on the season.

While the Atlanta native has above-average speed, having swiped 11 bags this past year, his main trait is his power, with Baseball America giving him a 70-grade on the 20-80 scale. There are some questions about his bat-to-ball skills and some scouts fear that he might strike out too much to be a regular major-leaguer, but he also draws his fair share of walks to help make up for it.

He mainly manned right field for the Lansing Lugnuts this year, but he also got some work in center, left, and first base, so he’s building up his positional flexibility which can only accelerate his path to Oakland.

The left-handed batter also got in some work in the AFL this offseason, slashing .241/.389/.444 with a pair of home runs, six steals and, perhaps most noteworthy, walking as many times as he struck out with 15 apiece.

With Oakland in rebuilding mode and a few spots open on the 40-man roster, it seems like it was an easy call to protect Butler from being claimed by another team; the A’s need all the young talent they can get right now. He’s likely ticketed to spend the 2023 season in Double-A, a level where lots of prospects either sink or swim. Could he be the next Seth Brown?

Here is a small snippet of his scouting report:

“Butler’s skill set gives him consistent 20-homer, 20-stolen base potential. His plate discipline has dramatically improved over the past year and he can use the whole field as a hitter with monster power to all fields. There is still a bit of swing-and-miss to his game, but the A’s expect him to cut that down over time.”

As for Harris, while the left-hander isn’t on any of the top prospect lists, he nevertheless had somewhat of a breakout season at age-25. After starting 7 games for Lansing with a miniscule 1.38 ERA (over 13 innings), he was promoted to Double-A where he kept it up, tossing a 1.67 ERA over 32.1 innings for the Rockhounds. More impressively, he had a 35.8% K-rate across the two levels.

After that success, the A’s were aggressive with him, possibly too aggressive. He was soon promoted to Triple-A where he finally got touched up in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Over 8 starts for Las Vegas, Harris allowed 20 runs over just 28 innings for the Aviators for an unsightly 6.35 ERA. On the positive side of things, he continued to strike out lots of batters, maintaining a great 12.4 K/per nine innings rate.

A former 3rd-round pick (also in 2018, same as Butler), Harris started 22 of his 23 games last year but might profile better as a bullpen guy due to the lack of innings and recent surgery. The walks were an issue even at the lower levels of the minors, walking over 5 batters per nine, but the strikeouts have always been there.

Harris is also a Tommy John survivor, having missed all of 2021 recovering from the surgery. Add in the missed 2020 season due to COVID and he’d missed the past two seasons before his success in ‘22. That’s never good for a young player’s development.

If he can reign in that wildness even a little bit, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a shot at some point next year for the A’s, when the Oakland bullpen is expected to have multiple openings not only in Spring but likely throughout the 2023 season. With his high strikeout numbers, it isn’t surprising that the front office elected to place him on the 40-man roster to protect him from getting nabbed by another team. Every team is always on the lookout for high-strikeout bullpen arms, especially left-handers. There’s a lot of upside to Harris that the A’s didn’t want to risk losing.

With those two additions, the 40-man roster now sits at 39. Obviously the team doesn’t feel anyone else was worth protecting from their own farm, but with other teams trimming players in anticipation of the Rule 5 Draft on December 7th, perhaps the A’s will scoop someone up to fill out the roster.