As we ring in the new year, 2023 has a low bar to become the best year of the decade so far. After all, 2020-22 brought us a global pandemic, 3 more years of stadium purgatory (which is strangely similar to hell), a 102 loss season, terrible lottery luck, and more questionable trades.
Still, the potential exists for the A’s to be good sooner rather than later even if it now requires a high percentage of prospects — both drafted and dealt for — to succeed. That’s a dangerous hope given the volatility of prospects, but Oakland does have quite a few young players it believes in. Let’s hope they’re right.
An “80th percentile comp” assumes that a prospect doesn’t flame out entirely, doesn’t epically fail to their 20th percentile outcome (but enough about Franklin Barreto), doesn’t go all Josh Donaldson on the world to hit their 99th percentile ceiling, but rather makes a successful journey to reach what is a reasonable hope, if not quite an expectation, of what their skill set and profile might yield.
Because we’re looking at positive outcomes, the associated stats and player comps will appear to be a bit rosy. Obviously not all of these guys are going to reach this standard of progress, but some very well could. So it’s fun to think of who they may mimic if they reach their reasonable potential.
I invite you to weigh in with your suggested comps after reading through my best efforts. Some of them are just really harrrrd so your wisdom is appreciated...Players appear in alphabetical order...
Jordan Diaz - 1B/2B/DH
Many assume Diaz will end up as a DH sooner rather than later, but so far he has played 2B and 1B at the big league level and figures to get more looks at 1B if he shows he can play the position well enough.
Noted for his lack of plate discipline, Diaz is nonetheless an impressive hitter so far given that he still only 22 and batted .326/.366/.515 at AA and AAA this season. And while Diaz may not walk a lot, he also doesn’t strikeout much, with K rates ranging from 11.8% to 15.9% in 6 stops over 5 minor league seasons.
So we’re looking for a RH batter who doesn’t BB much, doesn’t K much, hits the ball with authority, might have 15-20 HR power, and can play both 1B and 2B just not very well.
I have just the guy! He has a career BB rate of 6.2% and a career K rate of 17.7%, has a career batting average of .279 with a career high of 20 HRs, plays those exact two defensive positions and plays them both not especially well. Get ready for it...
Comp: Ty France (career .279/.347/.438)
Zack Gelof - 2B
The writing on the wall suggests that Gelof, who has played quite a bit of 3B in the minors, will settle in as the A’s 2Bman of the future. (He currently has 60 games at 3B, 62 at 2B.)
For a 2B comp we are looking for a player with a solid hit tool that combines decent power with decent speed — your prototypical “20/20 player” — with a solid BB rate that makes him an excellent all around hitter. At 2B you’re looking for solid and athletic defense that plays best at 2B.
For me, Gelof was the easiest prospect to pick an 80th percentile comp out of the air and if he reaches it I think we will all be thrilled. But I’m ok with a somewhat lofty comp because I am a Gelof believer.
Comp: Ian Kinsler (.269/.337/.440 career, 257 HR, 253 SB in 14 seasons)
Brett Harris - 3B
A “solid but not spectacular” type, Harris isn’t the kind of prospect who will move someone off the position, but his emergence as a possible 3Bman of the future could allow Gelof to slot into 2B seamlessly.
Harris has perhaps a bit of the “Mark Ellis” profile only with very good defense rather than Unicorn-elite defense. But similar to the one-horned legend, Harris is the prospect you tend to overlook as he uses fundamentals and smarts to pass more talented prospects.
And it’s not like Harris is a statistical mediocrity: He batted .304/.415/.578 at A+ Lansing in 2022, then .286/.361/.441 at AA Midland. But he is seen as more of a potential “good complementary piece” to the Gelofs and Soderstroms and Ruiz’s the A’s hope will anchor the talent base.
If it weren’t for the handedness I would have the perfect 80th percentile comp, and that’s the recently acquired Jace Peterson. So I’m going with, aptly, maybe the best third baseman you never think about, a guy who didn’t reach the big leagues until he was 26 but had 14 DRS in 2022 and has a career slash line of .264/.331/.419 over 2 seasons.
Comp: Ramon Urias (.264/.331/.419 career, 1.1 and 2.6 WAR seasons so far)
Esteury Ruiz - CF
At least the A’s hope Ruiz can stick in CF. A move to the corner outfield is possible, and Ruiz also has played twice as many games at 2B as he has at any other position.
Ruiz profiles as a legitimate speed burner whose legs, along with his contact skills, should allow him to maintain a decent batting average. On the flip side, there have been concerns voiced around his low exit velocities, which could potentially bring that average down.
Assuming he can hit around .260-.270, Ruiz should have a strong OBP as his BB rates have been good in the minors and have improved from A+ to AA to AAA. As for power and slugging, Ruiz has shown some pop more recently but profiles as having more “doubles power” with maybe double digit HR numbers but nothing to give you Mike Cameron or Chris Young vibes.
I think it’s worth noting that Ruiz’ profile suggests a decent chance he will bust, as he has had just one breakout season and is currently neither an accomplished outfielder nor is he a big power threat.
But in the same breath (albeit a different paragraph), it’s also worth noting that Ruiz’ 80th percentile could be a dynamic player whose speed alone turns him into a good CFer and who can “impact a game” by putting bat on ball and running like there’s no tomorrow.
Certainly Ruiz has a chance to become Rajai Davis, outrunning bad reads and good throws with the same legs. And we can dream about him becoming Starling Marte if his 2022 season was his new normal. But the truth will likely be in between those two.
So while I am settling on arguably too lofty a comp that could be more Ruiz’ 90th percentile outcome, let’s imagine the A’s know what they’re doing in swapping an All-Star catcher for Ruiz and Ruiz alone.
Comp: Lorenzo Cain (.283/.343/.407 career, 87 HR, 190 SB over 10 seasons)
Tyler Soderstrom - C
This was the hardest comp for me, because I just can’t find a player who combines the following:
We’re looking for a catcher who might move off the position to 1B or LF, who hits for power to all fields with a strong hit tool, but doesn’t draw a lot of walks. And he has to bat LH, as opposite hand comps seem lazy and inaccurate.
Two “almost comps,” because they hit LH, have big time power, and moved off of catcher as big leaguers, are Kyle Schwarber and Daniel Vogelbach. Trouble is, both those guys take a lot of walks (Vogelbach’s 15.7% career rate is pretty elite and I’m disappointed the A’s didn’t nab him last off-season when he signed for 2 years and $2.3M). If it weren’t for that I would go with Vogelbach as a decent overall comp even though the body types are not at all similar.
Most of the comps I find amongst catchers with meh BB rates are just poor overall hitters, not guys who hit well but aren’t as patient as you would like. Or they bat RH.
Rich Gedman? That’s going back a ways (Gedman retired in 1992) and Gedman was a solid catcher who was never going to be moved off the position.
Comp: There isn’t one. He’s one of a kind!
OK, your turn. How did I do? Can you do better? (Please!) Oh, and Happy New Year. Hopefully it won’t, for the fourth year in a row, be the Year of the Total Bull.