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A’s Finally Getting The Whole “Let The Kids Play” Thing

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red Sox
“WHACK!!! Or at least, ‘Tpfffff’.”
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

2022 was always going to be a rebuilding year bereft of some of the finer things in life, such as “wins”. But it was a time of rebirth, watching young players develop, “seeing what we’ve got,” separating the wheat from the chaff as it were.

Then the A’s forgot not to play old guys named Stephen, put on the wrong glasses and accidentally mistook Jed Lowrie for a designated hitter, and continued to lose with over the hill bad players instead of losing with the next generation of future winners.

This week Oakland is finally taking the plunge. It started with the DFA and release of Lowrie, has continued by designating Elvis Andrus’ vesting option for assignment, currently features a rotation whose majority (Zach Logue, Adam Oller, JP Sears) came from recent trades, and presumably moves forward with “most every day” playing time for young ‘uns like Jonah Bride and Nick Allen, with plenty of Skye Bolt and Cal Stevenson.

With this in mind, here is the Eyeball Scout’s observations around each of the young pieces who will be “front and center” these last 2 months of the season...

Jonah Bride

Following a jittery start in the field, Bride has settled down to provide perfectly adequte defense at 2B and 3B to where if he can hit his defense should not prevent him from contributing. The question is whether his elite “bat to ball” and “hitting fastballs” skills will translate to the game’s highest level.

Not gonna lie, I’ve been worried about Bride’s bat and what has appeared to be lack of power. It’s great to have an innate gift for producing funky hits but you also have to be able to flat out drive the ball now and again.

In his first 23 games Bride managed exactly one extra base hit, a double, which is how you slug an absurd .225. And the ball didn’t so much “jump off his bat” as it staggered off the bat like a wounded dove. The baseball gods will only allow you so many “ducksnorts” before decrying, “Sorry, you must bat .213.”

Then the A’s announced that Bride “needed to do more damage” and last night he apparently said, “Well ok” and displayed the ability to crush two doubles to LF. If he has that in him, I hold more hope.

Ultimately the hitter Bride most reminds me of in profile and style is David Fletcher, which sounds great to A’s fans who are used to watching Fletcher nickel and dime fugly at bats into a .400+ average at the Coliseum.

I trust that Bride has better “bat to ball” skills than his maiden voyage has produced (and he has only K’d 15.6% of the time as it is). What I’m not sure is whether there is enough thump in his bat to keep defenses honest and to maintain a slugging percentage north of, say, .370. I have actually seen more pop, of the two, in Allen’s bat and that’s a low bar for power and slugging.

As a result, so far the Eyeball Scout sees Bride more as a useful utility player than an every day player — but there might be a place for that should Zack Gelof and Brett Harris succeed to flank Allen on the infield.

Nick Allen

The scouting report on Allen has always been that he brings an elite glove to the table and the question is whether he can hit enough to be an every day starter. Don’t be fooled by a few too many errors early in Allen’s tenure — the pace of the big league game is different from anything you’ve seen at any level in the minors, and the temptation to “try to do too much” causes many a mistake from a rookie in his first go around.

Allen has settled down and learned the pace and now his true ability on defense is beginning to show. He has quick hands that help him turn DPs expertly and handle the trickiest of “in between” hops, he has excellent range and a strong arm to go with instincts that suggest a high baseball IQ.

At the plate Allen has not, to this point, hit enough: .207/.272/.276, 63 wRC+. Like Bride, the low ISO (.069) is a big concern. To the Eyeball Scout, the biggest focus right now for Allen should be an area he can control much better than slugging, and that is better control of the strike zone.

Allen just isn’t the kind of hitter who can afford to go out of the strike zone very often. He needs to channel his inner Tony Kemp, drawing a lot of walks by refusing to expand the zone and fouling off tough strikes instead of waving at chase pitches like they’re going out of style.

In fact Kemp is probably a good comp for Allen’s best outcome as a hitter, and that’s not a bad thing. Consider that not only has Kemp turned in seasons of batting .279/.382/.418 (2021) and .263/.351/.392 (2018 with HOU), but Kemp’s career .241/.329/.361 line, combined with gold glove caliber defense up the middle (and especially at shortstop) gives you a player worthy of an every day gig.

Is Allen capable of developing the plate discipline and pitch recognition that Kemp has made his calling cards? Kemp’s career O-swing rate (swinging at pitches outside the strike zone) is 27.9%, Z-swing rate (swinging at pitches in the strike zone) 66.0%, and overall he swings 44.7% of the time.

Currently Allen’s O-swing rate is 32.4%, Z-swing 70.8%, overall 48.4%. So in order to “be Tony Kemp” Allen needs to chase bad balls about 4% less often, offer at strikes about 4% less often, and just swing less to the tune of 4% less often.

4% is 1 out of every 25. Hey, seems doable, no? Hopefully Allen and Kemp talk hitting often and “L’il Nicky” can tweak his approach to force pitchers to throw him more strikes or earn Allen more walks. Because he isn’t going to challenge Mark McGwire’s rookie HR record (ooh, I should write an article on that...nah, no one will care).

Bottom line: the Eyeball Scout still sees Allen as a future every day SS. It’s just a question of whether he will be more of a Mark Belanger type you need to surround with actual hitters or whether he can become more like Andrelton Simmons and contribute more strongly on both sides of the ball.

Skye Bolt

The A’s are certainly giving Bolt a long look, which makes sense given his lack of option years. And to their credit they didn’t give up on, as most of us wanted to, after 12 games of .152/.176/.242 hitting on the heels of his 5 for 56 failapalooza of 2021.

Bolt hasn’t exactly been good since then but he has looked like an actual big league player, flashing some power from both sides of the plate, patrolling CF with increasing proficiency, and even occasionally hitting an off speed.

There are just too many holes in Bolt’s game (we won’t get into his brain) for me to think he’s worthy of a 40-man spot going forward. Yes he set a low bar with his dreadful 2021 and start to 2022, but like Christian Bethancourt, who had an incredible series in Cleveland and didn’t do a whole lot before or after, Bolt had a big game in Houston on June 15th, going 3 for 4 to get his BA over the Mendoza line...and since then he is all of 10 for 51 (.196) with 4 BBs (a .255 OBP).

He doesn’t hit breaking pitches well and he doesn’t lay off them well either — he seems to mistake his back foot for the strike zone, swinging often to protect it. There is certainly some physical ability there to where you can see why he might have been a 4th round draft pick. But if the A’s want a CF who can’t really hit they have a better bet in Cristian Pache, whose defense is truly elite. Or Cal Stevenson, who seems to do a lot of little things well instead of doing a lot of big things badly.

Good on the A’s for giving Bolt a “long look” — that’s what 2022 should be for. Now it’s time to move on.

Cal Stevenson

Welcome to Small Sample Theater’s nephew, Tiny Sample Theater. Thanks to weekday afternoon games and pinch hitting casualties, I think I’ve now seen 3 plate appearances. But I have to say, putting together what I’ve heard about Stevenson, what I glean from stats, and the little I’ve seen, color me “intrigued”.

Baseball is littered with unlikely stories of dark horses who outran stallions and trash someone refurbished into treasures. A 10th round pick who doesn’t do anything especially flashy or memorable, Stevenson could wind up being the “keeper you keep forgetting is in the mix”.

Among position players, probably the A’s most recent such treasure was Ramon Laureano, who is more physically gifted but who was acquired for a middle relief prospect due to a 40-man roster crunch. Among SPs, try Cole Irvin, he of the 2.92 ERA (9th in the AL) who was acquired from Philadelphia in exchange for cash.

The point being, you don’t have to be part of a big transaction or have an impressive pedigree in order to be “secretly good,” and so far Stevenson is checking a lot of boxes. His CF play looks to be smooth and fundamentally sound, his track record suggests a good eye and strong plate discipline, his at bats with the A’s so far have been strikingly calm, methodical, and competent

Plus, the guy had 1,115 at bats in the minors — not a small sample — and a career .407 OBP. (His career minor league slash line is .292/.407/.418.) He seems like a guy who doesn’t especially get anyone’s attention, but is often standing on 1B or running down a ball in the alley.

What do I see in Stevenson’s future with the A’s? My best guess is that Pache is going to hit LHP well enough to start in the big leagues against them — after all if he hits them even at a league average rate he’s a valuable starter. But I do question whether he will ever hit RHP enough to warrant an every day gig.

Enter Stevenson, the LH complement to Pache. That platoon could conceivably cobble together a pretty elite CFer, combining Stevenson’s on base skills 23 of the time with Pache’s gold glove level defense 13 of the time, with Stevenson still playing very solid CF and Pache holding his own at the plate due to platooning.

“Pache/Stevenson 2023”. I’ll put that bumper sticker on my car. They have my vote!

That’s it for now, with a look at the young pitchers still to come. Debate the Eyeball Scout’s assessments in the comments and see you at 4:10pm as the A’s try to break their latest losing streak.