Greetings from Philadelphia, where I have redeemed my plane tickets from a June, 2020 trip that was supposed to include watching the A’s at the Phillies. Instead, apparently I have come to Philly to watch, on TV, as the A’s try to avoid getting swept at home by the Rangers. Well at least yesterday we didn’t have to worry about a 3-run top of the 9th.
It’s easy to get down on the team’s present when they sit 19-30 and it’s tempting to get down on the team’s future when key pieces like Cristian Pache are batting .163. So as we survive what promises to be one of many nadirs in 2022, let’s try to get some genuine perspective on how the A’s have done with their rebuild trades so far — and what is still to come.
So much of the rebuild’s success or failure will rest on the shoulders of a group of young starting pitchers the A’s targeted. None of these pitchers has thrown a pitch in Oakland so far and one (Gunnar Hoglund) hasn’t even thrown a pitch, period.
This is to say that when you see Zach Logue get knocked around or if you fail to enjoy The Kirby Snead Experience, or if you wonder whether Adam Oller puts the “O” in “Overton,” these are not the centerpieces that will determine the rebuild’s success or failure. They are complementary pieces that can be useful or can be discarded like a 3 of spades.
Here is the group to keep a close eye on: Gunnar Hoglund, who is a 1st round talent still recovering from Tommy John surgery, JT Ginn, a 2nd round pick acquired in the Chris Bassitt deal, Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes, both high upside pitchers in the Matt Olson trade.
It is from this quartet the A’s are hoping to build the rotation for their next contending team and it will be a while before we know who is exciting, who is disappointing, and whose arm falls off before we can find out. The early returns?
While Hoglund will remain a complete unknown until later this summer, and as a result has a later ETA, Ginn, Cusick, and Estes are all pitching in the lower minors and are all faring kind of similarly: Poor raw stats with more promising peripherals.
Ginn (turned 23 last week, AA Midland): 0-2, 6.48 ERA, 16.2 IP, 15 hits, 8 BB, 23 K. Not as dominant as you might hope to see, and the walks are a bit high, but the K’s show he is missing bats. Maybe the most concerning would be that Ginn showed a dazzling 2.70 GO/AO ratio in 2021 and it is ‘only’ 1.45 so far in 2022. But 16.2 IP is a small sample to bother ‘going inside the numbers’ too much, especially at AA so if he’s healthy and striking out nearly 3 batters every 2 IP, he’s still profiling as a solid prospect.
Cusick (22, AA Midland): 1-5, 8.13 ERA, 27.2 IP, 46 hits, 16 BB, 31 K. Of all the prospects, Cusick is struggling the most. Not only is he giving up hits like they are going out of style, he has walked 16 batters to boot. The K rate is his salvation, not elite but good. Perhaps AA is too aggressive a promotion for the 22 year old or maybe he’s just not locating in or out of the strike zone.
Estes (20, A+ Lansing): 0-3, 4.93 ERA, 34 IP, 35 hits, 7 HR, 11 BB, 40 K. What stands out here are the 7 HRs in just 34 IP. The overall stats are reminiscent of a couple other former A’s prospects turned major leaguers: Jesus Luzardo and Frankie Montas. Which goes to show that these stats can be precursors to a lot of different MLB outcomes. I say teach Estes the splitter and not the turkey sub.
Overall, you would ideally prefer your prized trade acquisitions to be better than 1-10 (I mention W-L record because it is extremely informative in minor league stats, third only to “Catcher’s ERA” and “The Will To Win”.) All have struggled in at least some ways, and one has yet to pitch.
So it is hard to declare these selections worthy of Olson and Chapman and Bassitt yet, but there are many twists and turns before any of them throw a big league pitch and their development will go a long way to determining whether or not the A’s “hit” on this rebuild.
Shea Langeliers (24, AAA Las Vegas)
Langeliers is a significant piece in the plan for multiple reasons. Not only is he probably the best hitting prospect of the bunch, his emergence would allow the A’s the luxury of trading Sean Murphy, who has a ton of value on the market, to further supplement the crop of young talent coming up.
On the plus side, Langeliers got off to a torrid start with the bat, seemingly with “nothing left to prove in the minors”. Turns out he still had to prove he could hit outside the launching pad confines of Las Vegas and so far he really hasn’t.
Langeliers 2022: .261/.348/.516, 11 HR in 41 games.
Home: .322/.410./667, 9 HR in 23 games
Away: .186/.269/.329, 2 HR in 18 games
Ruh roh. Is Langeliers a great hitter or do we need to trade him to the Rockies? Hopefully he goes on a road tear soon and allays any fears, but in contrast to some of the pitching prospects above, “going inside the numbers” does not provide more hope.
Erubiel Angeles (20, A+ Lansing)
The trade which mystified the most fans was the Sean Manaea deal, in which the A’s settled for less prospect value than expected. Perhaps it is a function of Manaea being a “solid but not spectacular” SP (although mid-rotation SPs are extremely valuable), or maybe the A’s just really liked Angeles and Adrian Martinez (who wowed in his one start for Oakland and should be back up sooner rather than later).
Angeles has the “hit tool” lacking in so many A’s prospects (you know guys, you’re allowed to draft for this), but it seems that upon donning green and gold you must immediately lose any hit tool you might have had.
Oakland is hoping Angeles does not prove to be another Adrian Cardenas, the prospect acquired from the Phillies with the “could fall out of bad and line a hit” moniker but who must not have fallen out of bed enough because he batted just .183/.269/.283 in his short career.
So far at Lansing, Angeles is hitting a pedestrian .275/.306/.344 but youth is on his side. But at least now if you google “hitting a pedestrian” my name will come up, so that’s cool.
Cristian Pache (23), Kevin Smith (25)
Of course, two of the centerpieces in off-season trades have been with the big league club all season. Both have shown flashes of brilliance, especially on defense, the ball jumps off both bats, and both have struggled mightily to control the strike zone and simply to make enough contact.
Rebuilding is about enduring failure and frustration on the way to greatness, so one has to be a bit sanguine around the struggles we see with Pache and Smith at the plate. And you can only marvel at Pache’s defense, while appreciating that Smith is putting up great metrics at a position (3B) he is learning somewhat on the fly.
That being said, both have improvements they need to make in areas that are generally challenging for players to improve later in the game. I think it’s clear that both are big leaguers and it is also not yet established that either is an every day starter.
The grand conclusion
Prospects often wobble and weave on their way to becoming who they are, and the meh stats amongst the pitchers are not really indictments of their potential to emerge in the next couple seasons. But no one is forcing their way up the ladder or putting any of the TINSTAAPP fears to rest.
On the position player side, once again each shows a flash of why Oakland targeted them in trades of established stars, while each shows cause for concern that they may fall well short of stardom.
I guess the uncertainty is why they call them “prospects” and why you don’t learn too much in 2 months. Perhaps more important is that the A’s still have two chips to play before the start of 2023 and that is the likely trade of Frankie Montas at this year’s deadline and a possible move to deal Murphy in the off-season.
The good news is that Montas and Murphy both possess top value, on par with that of Matt Olson, meaning the A’s could potentially get two more “Olson like hauls” in the coming months. Further good news that replacements might be on hand, with Langeliers knocking on the door and the group of young starting pitchers arriving by 2024 (likely the earliest the A’s can really hope to return to contention unless trades of Montas and Murphy yield big league ready players who happen to thrive immediately).
The bad news is that not one of the key pieces in 4 trades has been a slam dunk based on 2022 performance so far, and in fact most will have to overcome initial struggles as part of their prospect arc.
But the talent is there — now it’s up to the A’s development crew, and the athletes themselves, to turn it into actual gold.
What grade would you give the rebuild trades?
This poll is closed
A - there are never guarantees but the A’s got a ton of talent and the majority will pay off to turn this into more of a "reload".
B - The A’s got enough talent that many will rise to bring the A’s back to contention soon.
C - A couple nice gets and too many busts will force the A’s to continue rebuilding but with a new core to build around.
D - Poor choices of prospects and not demanding enough back make this a "nice try" they will have to keep trying before they compete any time soon.
F - The A’s traded 4 stars for a group of busts who are already showing us who they really are. Epic Fail.