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Blogfather Prospect List: Analysis Meets Hunch

Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics
Love the way Gelof turns two.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

You can make a prospect list one of two ways. Either you can make an assessment of where each prospect properly belongs on that list at that time, or you can be a rebel, throw caution to the wind, and just make wild guesses based on your personal intuition.

You can make a prospect list one of two ways. Either you can make an assessment of where each prospect properly belongs on that list at that time, or you can be a rebel, throw caution to the wind, and just make wild guesses based on your personal intuition.

Wait, no, there are actually three ways: you can blend the first two in an osterizer, using common sense and then adjusting according to gut feel. What you wind up with is a list that generally has the right names in, according to most prospect analysis outlets, in the wrong order.

Or maybe it’s the prospect outlets that have players in the wrong order. In offering my list today, the goal is to look back in a few years and go “Well of course that’s the right order,” because that’s how things turned out even if other prospects had every right, at the time, to be ranked differently.

The beauty is you can’t tell me I’m wrong for several years, by which time most likely Vox will have “upgraded” to a new version (meaning the site will be more cumbersome with features you don’t want, accessed only through “6-factor authentification) that has wiped out this article in your search history.

Here goes nothing...

1. Zack Gelof

Is this just a fan overvaluing a hot start, in a tiny sample, to Gelof’s career? I don’t think so. Gelof comes with pedigree (2nd round pick, 60th overall) and hasn’t just debuted with a 142 wRC+ in his first 23 games.

He has also flashed speed and base running acumen with 6 SB in 7 tries, and he has more than passed the “eye test” as a solid 2Bman with soft hands, a good internal clock for knowing when to hurry — without ever rushing — and when to take his time, and he turns the pivot on the DP beautifully, clearing himself and slinging accurate throws to 1B.

The strikeout rate is too high (30.2%) but it’s also Gelof’s first look at every pitcher he sees and he has shown the ability to make adjustments, as well as a willingness to be patient and discerning. Bring that K-rate down to 25% and you have a true impact player whose success is sustainable.

Finally, I lthe way he “stays inside the ball” and unleashes a quick, cobra-like right-center field swing that hits most everything hard and still allows him to hit for power to the pull side.

I see a complete ballplayer with sustainable skills who passes the eye test in every aspect of the game.

2. Lawrence Butler

Readers know I have tabbed Butler to be a ‘future star’ for a while now, and I continue to hold him in exceptionally high regard despite his somewhat tepid AAA hitting stats and an 0 for 4 debut.

Here’s one way you know someone is special. Butler went 0 for 4 with a DP in his first big league game, yet here’s what you find when you go “beyond the box score”. He made a perfect throw that would have nailed a runner going 1B to 3B had the throw not gotten a piece of the runner coming in, he beat out a grounder when it was momentarily booted by the 1Bman, and two of his outs had high exit velocities even if they could not elude gloves.

Like Gelof, Butler combines speed, power, defensive acumen, baseball smarts and general maturity and has generally shown the ability, as a prospect, to make adjustments and grow. These are the ingredients for a successful big leaguer from amongst thousands of talented prospects who underachieve or hit a wall.

3. Tyler Soderstrom

We haven’t forgotten you, Tyler, and you’re still one of the team’s top prospects but if you didn’t question his #1 ranking before, his frightening first cup of coffee has exposed the very problems his critics have been bemoaning since the day he was drafted.

Why is Soderstrom off to a .150/.239/.200 start to his career? I have yet to discern a correlation between a pitch and the decision about whether or not to swing. He will get into a 2-0 hitter’s count and then get himself out on a fastball off the outside corner. He will swing at a series of bad balls one at bat and then watch a first pitch down the middle the next. He sure doesn’t appear to track breaking balls very well so far. His main skill so far has seemed to be getting himself out so the pitcher doesn’t really have to.

Here’s the good news. Soderstrom is but 21 and has ample time to figure things out. (Wait, this sounds like what I said about Franklin Barreto once upon a time.) He has also been a pleasant surprise behind the plate, and there were far more questions around his glove than his bat coming out of the draft.

Specifically, I don’t know who is calling the pitches exactly but if it’s Soderstrom so far his choices seem generally on point. He has been more than fine preventing wild pitches, with strong technique blocking balls in the dirt.

It is generally presumed “Soderstrom will hit” so you would think that if he’s looking like he can stick behind the dish he should rightfully be the A’s #1 prospect. However, I tend to look more closely at “coachability,” and with it the ability to adjust, more strongly than the average pundit and Soderstrom comes with a reputation for pouting after bad at bats and not necessarily embracing the sage advice of his coaches.

Chalk much of that up, if you will, to immaturity that will age itself out and you can see a star at age 24. But to me it knocks him down 2 pegs on my August 2023 list.

4. Mason Miller

Clearly with this guy it’s all about health. Tell me he will be healthy from 2024-2030 and he’s my #1 prospect. But he’s also a guy who logged 14 IP last season and whose big accomplishment this week was that he threw 20 pitches of live BP.

Miller profiles in some ways like Jacob DeGrom (how’s that contract looking so far, Texas?), in others like Rich Harden. You could do a LOT worse than match the careers of either of those two.

But the risk is also there that the “mild UCL sprain” foreshadows, at some point, a less mild one and that suggests Tommy John surgery could be ahead in what starts to become a laundry list of injuries.

Miller is too good to rank below #4 and too risky to rank higher. Fingers crossed.

5. Darell Hernaiz

That Hernaiz is not ranked higher on prospect lists is puzzling and then some. He should be showing up in top 100 lists, not buried at #12 on Oakland’s list like he is on MLB’s latest rankings.

Without a strong arm for a SS, Hernaiz is nonetheless winning scouts over as a SS for his range, good hands, and solid fundamentals and his batting lines read like misprints.

After hitting .305/.376/.456 at A+ in his age 20 season, Hernaiz spent age 21 at AA Midland, known to be a pitching friendly environment, where he batted .338/.393/.486. Promoted to AAA before his 22nd birthday, he is hitting .326/.400/.500 with a 9.5% BB rate and a 10.5% K rate.

I’m not sure what Hernaiz has to do to get more prospect attention, other than perhaps save a drowning baby while turning a 4-6-3 DP on a unicycle. He will almost certainly be the A’s primary shortstop in 2024 and he has a chance to be a key cog in the next competitive team.

6. Denzel Clarke

A strong “boom or bust” candidate — could really go either way — Clarke gives you enough to love that he warrants a high ranking. His CF defense is the real deal, which offers him room for some offensive shortcomings and still a place as an everyday, impact player.

At the plate, throughout the minors Clarke has never walked at lower than a 12.8% rate, which is exceptional across 4 levels. At Stockton his BB rate was 14.5%, which is elite. He also offers that alluring blend of power and speed: in 64 games at Midland this year he is slugging .496 and has 11 SB in 12 tries.

The downside comes in a scary area: Clarke has struggled to bring down his K rates, often a red flag for success at higher levels. In AA this season it is 29.7%, which only looks good in comparison to his 36.2% rate at A+ ball last year. And Clarke is not an especially young prospect at age 23, though it’s worth noting he is relatively new to baseball having grown up more focused on other sports (I hear he is almost impossible to catch stealing 3B when he’s on ice skates).

There is some Mike Cameron in Clarke’s profile and Cameron retired with 50.4 fWAR on his resume. The upside is huge, the risk moderate.

7. Daniel Susac

To be honest, since the draft I have felt Susac was ranked too high but he seems to be quickly allaying my fears that he is no more than “solid and unspectacular”. Certainly Susac’s power/slugging have been unspectacular so far in the minors, but everything else is checking out nicely.

Considered to be a strong catcher who will stay at the position and thrive, all Susac is doing now at Lansing, at age 22, is to bat .300/.360/.423. There were some worries about his strikeouts in college, but his 21.4% K-rate is excellent.

Perhaps most promising is that when you look through his scouting reports, no one really doubts Susac’s power. And if you take what he is proving right now — that he can hit for average, draw walks, make enough contact, play strong defense at a key position — he is looking more and more like a catcher of the future circa 2025.

8. Joey Estes

Don’t sleep on Estes, who may yet help make the Matt Olson trade look better. Estes is already at AAA and is still just 21. Here are his BB rates the past 3 seasons:

2021 (A ATL, age 19): 2.64/9IP
2022 (A+ OAK, age 20): 2.97/9IP
2023 (AA OAK, age 21): 2.67/9IP

That’s consistent and encouraging, and it hasn’t come at the expense of being hittable as this season in AA Estes allowed just 84 hits in 104.1 IP while striking out 100.

Also important is that so far (knock wood) Estes has shown the ability to stay healthy and log innings.

9. Luis Morales

Might the A’s finally have a success from the international pool? The 20 year old Morales comes with electric tools and some questions about his ability to command his pitches, but so far so good.

Through 9 starts, Morales has walked just 9 in 28.1 IP with 38 K. It’s also worth noting that the A’s are having some success these days with helping “toolsy but wild” pitchers find the zone, e.g., Luis Medina, hopefully Ken Waldichuk, and perhaps Joe Boyle.

10. Jacob Wilson

If you like “floor” you love Wilson, whose slick glove alone will probably get him into the big leagues as at least a Nick Allen type. Or should we say as a Jack Wilson type, like father like son?

Wilson’s elite contact rates are also alluring, though his exit velocities make doves and other small birds feel safe crossing the field while he is batting. I don’t know how you rank him #2, as MLB’s “random A’s analysis generator” did but I do think #10 is fair given that he appears to be a big leaguer in the making. How good of one remains to be seen.

Missing from my top 10, then, are my following “best of the rest” (in alphabetical order):

Henry Bolte
Cooper Bowman
Ryan Cusick
Steven Echavarria
JT Ginn
Brett Harris
Gunnar Hoglund
Ryan Lasko
Max Muncy
Myles Naylor
Royber Salinas
Freddy Tarnok (probably my #12)
Colby Thomas (probably my #11)

That’s the list I feel is fair based on our current knowledge, and that we might look back on later to go, “Yep, that was about right.” Your thoughts?