Baseball, that cruel mistress, has a way of dashing dreams just as they are reaching a crescendo. No sooner is Lawrence Butler taking the desert by storm with an electric 6 for 8 start featuring speed and power, Saturday he bats twice and strikes out twice, a reminder that contact issues still stand in the way of a big league ticket.
Prospects fail a lot and tools don’t always equate to performance. Nonetheless, it’s not only uplifting to hear the A’s talented prospects name themselves “The New Oakland” but it’s also exciting to see the upside some of these guys clearly possess.
You don’t need stars at every position to win, and that’s good because it’s challenging enough to get a handful of stars to align in any contention window. But the A’s have, coming up, at least the potential and upside of stars at several positions, and much of that talent has been on display since the Cactus League began.
A future outfield of Esteury Ruiz, Denzel Clarke, and Lawrence Butler has the floor of “2 busts and a 5th outfielder,” but the ceiling is sky high. Maybe they won’t quite remind A’s fans of the Henderson-Murphy-Armas trio, but the athleticism and the combination of speed, power, and defense has the upside of being one of MLB’s very best.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the A’s — the team doomed to terrible lottery luck and worse ownership — hit the jackpot with its selections of Butler and Clarke in the draft and Ruiz as a centerpiece in a widely panned trade?
Then you go behind the dish for Shea Langeliers, who has 1st round pedigree and the raves of even the grumpiest of A’s scouting and development personnel. Sean Murphy was emerging as a star catcher and Langeliers profiles as a lot like Murphy with his power bat and cannon arm, only he is unproven.
And then you have Oakland’s top prospect, Tyler Soderstrom, who may have to move off of catcher if the A’s want him to blossom concurrently with Langeliers. But whether his future lies as a backstop, 1Bman, or anywhere else, the bat plays and Soderstrom brings big time hitting potential as a “middle of the order” force.
If things go well, that is. 5 potential stars who could, as we know, yield a grand total of 0. But “The New Oakland” is about confidence and swagger, and this group appears to have it. Perhaps creating your own nickname is the first step to stardom.
So why are A’s fans so grumpy, when for all we know more than half the diamond will be star studded by around 2024? Maybe it’s that 3 of these 5 are homegrown, meaning all the trades of established players has yielded precious little upside. Or perhaps it’s because the trades focused so heavily on pitching but yielded few prospects who have both upside and health on their resume.
Nonetheless, Ken Waldichuk and Kyle Muller have stayed healthy and could pitch their way towards the front of a rotation. And Mason Miller’s potential looks to be highest of all if he can keep his arm attached to his body.
But while the front office’s focus the past two off-seasons has been heavily on pitching, where you see glimmers of “The New Oakland” on the horizon is on the diamond pure athleticism (Clarke), 5-tool skills sets (Butler), game-changing speed (Ruiz), pure hitting (Soderstrom), and 1st round overall game (Langeliers) offer the hope of filling more than half the lineup with “impact players”.
Then you have the complementary pieces who are not today’s focus, but who are worth following as well: Zack Gelof, Jordan Diaz, Brett Harris, and the well known Nick Allen. Maybe some classic A’s “dumpster gems” who have 5-6 years of contract control: Ryan Noda, Conner Capel, and Brent Rooker are vying to prove their mettle in this familiar category.
But right now, it all comes back to a couple 1st round catchers and a trio of potentially electric outfielders. Hit the jackpot with those 5 and suddenly the rebuild is looking strong. The odds of all 5 becoming stars may be worse than getting “bar bar bar” on a Las Vegas slot machine, but it’s at least fascinating to watch and follow as these guys show what they have, offer a glimpse of how good they could be, and then even give us the nickname to remember them by until they resurface in Oakland.
The New Oakland.