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Scouting reports: Four new A’s prospects from Matt Olson trade

OF Cristian Pache, C Shea Langeliers, RHP Ryan Cusick, RHP Joey Estes

National League Championship Series Game 1: Los Angeles Dodgers v. Atlanta Braves
Cristian Pache
Photo by Jenn Finch/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Oakland A’s continued their rebuild on Monday, trading All-Star first baseman Matt Olson to the Atlanta Braves. In exchange they got four prospects, which means we’ve got four new players to meet!

Joining the A’s farm system are OF Cristian Pache, C Shea Langeliers, RHP Ryan Cusick, and RHP Joey Estes. The two position players are national Top 100 prospects who have reached at least Triple-A already and could arrive in 2022, while the two pitchers have just begun their pro careers in Low-A ball but bring plenty of promise. Let’s take a closer look!

Cristian Pache

In terms of value the headliner is actually Langeliers, but Pache leads off in this article. He’s still a Top 100 prospect in his own right, and he’s already reached MLB so he’s probably a better bet to crack the Opening Day roster, and that makes it likely that he’ll be the first member of this trade package to actually play for the A’s. MLB Pipeline had him No. 1 in the Braves system and No. 38 nationally, while Baseball America was more modest at No. 3 in Atlanta’s system and No. 84 nationally, but either way he’s a premium talent.

After a quick rise up the minors, Pache debuted in the majors in 2020 at age 21. He only got a few at-bats that year, but in the postseason he was called on for the entire NLCS. He spent most of 2021 in Triple-A, getting his development back on track after the minors were canceled the previous summer, but did make it into 22 games for Atlanta along the way.

  • Pache, 2021 AAA: .265/.330/.414, 100 wRC+, 11 HR, 8.5% BB, 27.5% Ks
  • Pache, 2021 MLB: 7-for-63 (.111), 1 HR, 2 BB, 25 Ks
  • Pache, 2020 NLCS: 4-for-22, HR, double, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 4 Ks

Looking at offensive numbers doesn’t paint the full picture though, because Pache’s calling card is his defense. His scouting report features an 80-grade glove, which is the top of the scale, and his arm and speed are also elite. Pipeline offers these details:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 70 | Arm: 70 | Field: 80 | Overall: 55

There is absolutely no question Pache is ready to patrol center field in the big leagues right now, a Gold Glove caliber defender who has earned a rare 80 fielding grade, good enough to move Ronald Acuña Jr. to a corner in the NLCS. In addition to nearly top of the scale speed, his instincts and reads are impeccable and he complements it with one of the strongest outfield arms in baseball.

Offensively, the right-handed hitter had taken a big step forward approach-wise in 2019 and that continued in 2020 with his work at the Braves’ alternate camp and then in the postseason, when he drew three walks and struck out just four times in 25 plate appearances. He wasn’t able to keep the momentum going in 2021 between Atlanta and Triple-A, but he’s still young enough to right the ship and become a high-level starting center fielder in Oakland.

Baseball America also gives his “unimpeachable” defense an 80-grade, but they worry greatly about his bat. Among the concerns are timing issues, pitch recognition, and an overly pull-heavy approach, while going “back and forth with various handsets the Braves have tried to incorporate to get him in better position to hit, with varying levels of success.” He has solid power if he can ever get to it, but they project him as “no more than a below-average hitter.” Their takeaway:

The Future: Pache’s defense is valuable, but barring a step forward with his approach at the plate, he now seems more like a defensive specialist who hits at the bottom of the lineup rather than the potential All-Star of years past.

But how about that glove? Let’s watch some highlights!

I love that clip because it doesn’t look like much at first, just a fielder casually ranging back for a deep fly. The ball is already halfway down by the time you realize that’s not Pache you’ve been watching, when he streaks in from off-screen to make a leaping grab at the wall. He’d been shaded into right-center and must have run 100 feet to make that catch.

In this next video, he robs Max Muncy of a homer in the 2020 NLCS.

And here’s that throwing arm. The runner isn’t even on-screen yet when the catcher receives the ball.

One final video, a montage of 2021 highlights that includes some fielding and hitting (and bunting!).

Pache’s defense is so good that he won’t even need to be an average hitter to provide multiple WAR, and if he can do anything at the plate at all then he could be a star. Perhaps that best-case is unlikely, but he’s still only 23 and has played just 115 games at Triple-A, so the book doesn’t have to be closed on his development. Athletics Nation has been wildly excited to get defensive ace Nick Allen into the shortstop position regardless of his bat, and Pache’s glove is even more highly rated, in the generational category.

Shea Langeliers

The true headliner of the package, Langeliers is ranked No. 54 nationally by Baseball America and No. 69 by Pipeline, and both sources had him No. 2 in the Braves system. Pipeline now has him above Pache in Oakland’s system. He was Atlanta’s 1st-round pick in the 2019 draft, ninth overall, and after waiting through the canceled 2020 he spent most of 2021 in Double-A hitting well.

  • Langeliers, 2021 AA: .258/.338/.498, 128 wRC+, 22 HR, 9.7% BB, 26.2% Ks
  • Langeliers, 2021 AAA: 2-for-11, 2 doubles, 3 BB, 6 Ks

That line is especially impressive when you consider he’s a glove-first catcher, and his bat is his secondary strength. Pipeline sheds further light:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 40 | Arm: 70 | Field: 65 | Overall: 55

There’s no question that Langeliers’ defense is still his calling card. His athleticism and agility allow him to be a plus blocker and receiver and he perhaps has the best arm of any catcher in the Minor Leagues, one that allowed him to throw out 42 percent of potential basestealers heading into 2022. He is a strong leader who worked very well with more advanced pitchers at the alternate training site and frames pitches extremely well.

While his glove is ahead of his bat, the Braves loved the strides Langeliers made from the right side of the plate. He has a good setup and solid swing mechanics that point to consistent hard contact and plenty of raw power, which he got to fairly consistently in 2021, with excellent velocity on balls in play to the opposite field. He has every chance of being an outstanding starting catcher in the big leagues.

Baseball America has a slightly different read on his skill set, saying that “he still needs to improve his pitch framing and mobility to become a true plus defender,” but they agree about his “plus-plus arm,” makeup, baseball IQ, and staff management. As a hitter he “will have to work to avoid creating holes in his swing — notably with high fastballs and sliders away,” but they like his all-fields approach and “his ability to make adjustments.” Their takeaway:

The Future: Langeliers has a chance to make his big-league debut in 2022. If he reaches his offensive ceiling, he could be an above-average regular.

Here’s a look at him throwing out a basestealer:

And a video of him swatting a dinger:

If you were hoping for six years of a potential impact player, then here he is. Good defensive catchers who can also hit might be the rarest combination in baseball, and that’s the path Langeliers is on right now entering age 24. Better yet, he could arrive sometime in 2022, so we might not even have to wait long to see him in Oakland.

Ryan Cusick

The other half of the trade package is a pair of pitchers, who aren’t Top 100 names but still have a lot of promise. Cusick was the Braves 1st-round draft pick last year, 24th overall, and that stock earned him the No. 6 spot in Atlanta’s system per Pipeline and No. 9 per Baseball America. The 6’6” right-hander has barely played in the pros yet, making six starts last summer after being drafted, but he thoroughly dominated the competition and struck out half the batters he faced.

  • Cusick, 2021 A-: 2.76 ERA, 16⅓ ip, 34 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 1.53 FIP

His fastball has great velocity and spin rate, reaching as high as 102 mph, but he’s still working on his control, command, and promising breaking ball, which is fair enough at age 22 and entering his first full pro season. Pipeline adds the following:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Curveball: 55 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 50

Cusick’s money pitch is his fastball, which can sit at 94-97 mph with high spin rates and riding action deep into games and has been clocked as high as 102. After struggling to come up with a reliable breaking ball, he showed a much-improved 79-82 mph curveball this spring that can be a plus pitch at its best. He also has a sinking changeup that shows flashes of becoming a solid offering when he uses it, as well as a mid-80s slider that gets slurvy.

There isn’t much effort in Cusick’s delivery and his arm works well, but he has yet to provide consistent strikes. As impressive as his arm strength is, he’ll have to be more efficient to succeed as a starter at higher levels. His huge 6-foot-6 frame and high arm slot provide angle and plane on his pitches and add to the difficulty of trying to barrel them.

Baseball America shares the enthusiasm about his fastball, calling it “a dominant, plus-plus pitch that gets swings and misses in the strike zone.” They advise that his control and command need work, but his fastball is “overpowering” anyway and “a simplified approach in pro ball yielded average control in his debut.” They note his top secondary as a potentially above-average slider, and he’s working on an “average curveball” and “firm, below-average changeup” as a third pitch. Their takeaway:

The Future: Cusick is tentatively slated to begin 2022 at High-A Rome. He has mid-rotation potential with the fallback of a hard-throwing reliever.

Here’s some video from his college career:

And a swinging strikeout in his pro debut:

As lower-minors pitching prospects go, this is an exciting one. He’s got an elite pitch, a potential starter’s arsenal, a clean health record, and some early pro success. That’s a pile of tools with a history of putting them to good use, and if all goes well he could climb the ladder quickly. If all doesn’t go well, his heater would still be quite the weapon in late-inning relief.

Joey Estes

We’re into sleeper territory now, but Estes is certainly an intriguing one, ranking No. 14 in the Braves system per both Pipeline and BA. The right-hander was drafted out of high school in 2019 in the 16th round, and reached full-season ball in Low-A last summer, where he posted eye-popping strikeout rates.

  • Estes, 2021 A-: 2.91 ERA, 99 ip, 127 Ks, 29 BB, 7 HR, 3.30 FIP

He throws strikes with low/mid-90s velocity and also has a decent slider, and he’s working on a changeup to go with it, which could help determine whether he sticks as a starter or moves to the bullpen. Pipeline has this to say:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 40 | Control: 50: Overall: 45

Estes has seen his stuff tick up since entering pro ball. He’ll throw his fastball in the 91-96 mph, sitting around 93-94 mph consistently. His main secondary offering is a slider that is a bit of a slurvy breaking ball, but is an average pitch when he stays on top of it. He continues to work on developing his changeup.

The right-hander has shown he’s a very good strike thrower, even with the increase in velocity. While many saw him as a two-pitch guy who might be destined to be a reliever in the future, he’s getting the chance to start and has been running with it.

Baseball America notes that he “works quickly on the mound and comes right at hitters,” despite “unspectacular” stuff. They describe his fastball as having “standout riding life up in the zone and a flat approach angle,” and note that his slider and changeup “made progress this season, but neither flashes more than above-average at times.” They praise his strike-throwing ability, but warn that he’ll need to get better at putting away hitters, and they also mention a possibility of moving to the bullpen. Their takeaway:

The Future: Estes likely could have been promoted to [High-A] in 2021 given his performance. He should begin the 2022 season there, where he’ll continue to be exceptionally young for the level.

Here’s some video of him striking out 14 batters in a game:

More looks at the fastball earning strikeouts:

Here’s the changeup:

He struck out nearly one-third of his batters as a starter at age 19, and he’s the lowest-rated player they got in the deal. He’s not the kind of premium talent that you need to trade Olson to get, but as the fourth piece in the prospect package he’s got plenty to like. If he’d gone to college then he wouldn’t even be drafted until next June, and instead he’s already shredded the first full-season level of the minors.

Verdict

Trading a star like Olson is never easy, and we all wish the A’s could have just kept him instead. But at least they got full value for their biggest chip.

This package checks all the boxes. There are multiple premium Top 100 talents, and multiple strong secondary pieces. The two headliners are pretty much MLB-ready or close to it, and the two pitchers could have the chance to move up quickly, so we won’t need to wait several years to see dividends. There’s impact ceiling, high floor, elite tools, and no injury asterisks to tiptoe around.

It remains to be seen which of these prospects will pan out, but Oakland got the kind of maximum return they needed to demand. Add them to the two pitchers acquired in the Chris Bassitt trade, plus more in the inevitable upcoming swaps for other stars this week, and the A’s are well on the way to restocking their next winning core. The rebuilding process is frustrating and it hurts every time, but it’s consistently yielded postseason clubs for the past two decades, and this is exactly how you do it right.