It’s no secret the A’s are starved for some hitting to come up to the big leagues and pronto. Many of Oakland’s top hitting prospects are well known and have a legitimate chance to provide some offensive punch...eventually.
Tyler Soderstrom (20, A+ Lansing) is a top prospect whose ETA is probably 2024-25 but who is a top 100 prospect based on his hit tool.
Zack Gelof (22, AA Midland) was on a fast track to the big leagues (.315/.372/.458) until a labrum tear cost him half this season and likely delayed his ETA to 2024. Still, Gelof also appears in top 100 lists and has a chance to be an impact hitter in MLB.
Brett Harris (24, AA Midland) only turned 24 two weeks ago and has followed his strong A-ball showing (.304/415/.578) by not missing a beat in AA (.299/.373/.480 in 33 games). Harris is a bit older and has less pedigree than Soderstrom or Gelof, but has met every challenge and could be a fast riser. Max Schuemann is a year older and was just a 20th round pick, but you can’t ignore a .327/.456/.500 slash line at AA.
Lawrence Butler (21, A+ Lansing) is a toosly athlete who was opening some eyes when an injury likely ended his season this week. But he has high upside and youth on his side, as does teammate Denzel Clarke, and we know Shea Langeliers can rake when it’s hot...
The point being, there are quite a few prospects hitting in the pipeline, at least some of whom should survive the tests of higher levels.
And then there’s Baseball America’s “A’s Minor League Mid-Season Player of the Year,” Jordan Diaz, who is not talked about a whole lot considering how well he is doing. But arguably we should talking more about Diaz, and getting more excited about him.
The reason there isn’t more enthusiasm for Diaz is probably that two qualities lump him in with failed prospects Ryon Healy and Renato Nuñez: his low BB rate and the ominous “no defensive home”. In the cases of Healy and Nuñez, this meant a move from 3B to 1B to DH to obscurity, because they couldn’t field and they were hackers with good results when they made contact, which ultimately yielded good power and low everything else.
Here’s the difference. Diaz is doing what he’s doing as a 21 year old in AA. What’s he’s doing, if you didn’t know, is batting .302/.349/.531, with 13 HR, in 70 games. Yes his BB rate is low (6.0%) but so is his K rate (15.9%).
So what was Healy doing when he was 21? He was in short-season A ball batting .233/.252/.384 with a 2.7% BB rate. At 22, he was in long-season A ball batting .285/.318/.428 with a 4.7% BB rate.
How about Nuñez, arguably a better comp because like Diaz he began his pro career at age 17? At age 21, Nuñez was also at AA, where he batted .278/.332/.480. His BB rate was 6.7%, his K rate 15.9%. All reasonably similar to Diaz at the same age, same level.
So who’s better of the two? At age 20, Nuñez had a solid year in A+-ball (.279/.336/.517) but so did Diaz (.288/.337/.483). Call that a wash. At age 19, Nuñez scuffled a bit more in A-ball (.258/.301/.423 with a 25% K-rate.) Diaz hit .264/.307/.430, but with only a 15.6% K-rate.
Basically you would have to say they are pretty comparable, perhaps with a slight edge to Diaz. But while a hitter’s goal should aim higher than “be just like Nuñez,” it’s also worth noting that there are worse hitters to be. Here are some of Nuñez’ lines as a big league hitter:
Age 24: .258/.322/.419
Age 25: .244/.311/.460
Age 26: .256/.324/.492
The problem as that Nuñez was a true butcher in the field, and so the hope is that Diaz can handle one position competently enough to avoid the dreaded “DH only” label. Most likely that position will be 1B, which I understand anyone can learn to play. Tell ‘em, Wash.
In any event, a 21 year old who is batting .302/.349/.531 at AA is worthy of excitement. His floor may be Renato Nuñez but his ceiling is higher because he is still only 21 with an opportunity to make strides in plate discipline, and on defense, that Nuñez never could make.
Perhaps next season will be “make or break” in some ways for Diaz in his quest to separate himself from the “just another Nuñez” comp. At age 22, Nuñez faltered badly at AAA hitting just .228/.278/.412 (his K-rate was unremarkable at 21.6%). So if Diaz continues to thrive at age 22, if he continues mashing at AAA, there might be real cause for giddiness.
As it is, all the guy has done so far is hit, hit, hit and when the big league team is losing games 2-1 every other day, that should be music to anyone’s ears.
tl;dr version: keep a keen eye on Jordan Diaz.