To hear it from MLB, or the even gloomier Keith Law, the A’s fire sale has either elevated the A’s farm system “all the way up” to 25th or left it dead last 30th out of 30.
However, these are mainstream national narratives unable to see enough actual games and players to offer a true expert opinion. Are the A’s prospects not getting enough love or are things as dire as viewed through a click-bait lens?
Sometimes labeled “The Voice of Reason,” and at other times known as “Some dude on the internet,” the Eyeball Scout is here to separate fact from fiction and let you know what really to make of the A’s minor league system.
First off, let me repeat what I have said often in the comments when discussing a minor league system informed greatly by trades of stars Sean Murphy and Matt Olson, and successful veterans Matt Chapman, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, and Sean Manaea.
For those trades to have produced a farm system that anyone could possibly conclude is as low as 25th-30th, is in itself an indictment of David Forst and the crew tasked with making trades. On the heels of all these deals, the A’s should have a system that everyone agrees is at least in the top half of MLB, whether 5th or 14th, and the mere idea that “25th” is up for consideration tells you have badly this rebuild has been botched.
The excuse often given for the A’s ranking low is that they barely graduated two prospects, Tyler Soderstrom and Lawrence Butler who, if they qualified, would rank at the very top of the list and would bolster the A’s rankings substantially.
While this may be true, recently graduating top prospects is hardly unique to Oakland and losing the prospect status of a player (in Butler’s case) drafted over 5 years ago is not a legitimate rebuttal for why your farm doesn’t rank higher.
However, all this this “inconvenient truth” doesn’t mean the A’s have the 25th best farm system in MLB. I am not here today to offer a better number, precisely because I don’t have the knowledge of every farm system to produce a ranked list.
Rather I am here to suggest why the truth is likely somewhere in between where the A’s rightfully should be (at least 14th) and where they are slotted by MLB (25th), i.e., probably somewhere in the low teens which is disappointing and unacceptable, and at the same time not disastrous for the near future.
Which A’s prospects are not getting the love they rightly deserve from pundits who bash Oakland’s farm? Here are the ones I believe should be receiving more credit, who if they were more appreciated would lift the A’s ranking into the teens...
There are some reasonable concerns about Hernaiz even despite mostly seeing success. He has “launch angle” questions that result in too many ground balls, and not everyone is convinced he will stick at SS.
What I would point out is that Hernaiz has put together two excellent seasons in a row bridging AA and AAA, while continuing to suggest he can make it defensively at SS. Hernaiz appeared to simply run out of gas at the end of a long season, but on August 31st he had a slash line of .310/.384/.452.
And this wasn’t just the product of a friendly Las Vegas hitting environment, as he had slashed .338/.393 /486 in Midland prior to his call up. He also hit much better on the road in AAA than in Las Vegas, posting a gaudy .374/.438/.519 line away from home for the 2023 season. He had a miniscule 10.7% K rate at AAA, which is downright impressive.
Hernaiz may or may not settle in at SS long term, but if he has to move to 2B or 3B I still see him as well positioned to become an every day starter in the big leagues. The A’s hope it’s at SS or 3B, where they have immediate need, and not 2B where they are set for a while.
Like most prospects, Hernaiz is not a “sure thing” but he is on the brink of breaking into the big leagues as a solid contributor both at the plate and in the field.
Clarke is hard to predict as he falls into the category of “high ceiling/low floor” given his exceptional tools and how raw he is. However, Clarke has enough going for him that I think he warrants higher marks than he is getting from pundits.
Start with the pedigree of an Olympic family and how late he started playing baseball, and you see someone who was always likely to struggle early in his career but who has a good chance of making leaps and bounds.
Then consider that Clarke is already an accomplished CFer, which lowers the bar for how much he has to hit in order to be a solid big league starter. And then it’s not as if Clarke is putting up Cristian Pache numbers at the plate.
In fact, until an unfortunate injury ended his season early Clarke was killing it at AA: .261/.381/.496, 12 HR in 64 games with 11 SB in 12 tries. A 12.9% BB rate is impressive, and came on the heels of a 12.8% BB rate in A+ ball in 2022.
There are red flags for sure, most notably a 29.7% K rate that often predicts that a prospect will be carved up by better pitching in MLB. It’s also down from 36.2% the season before and just another step of improvement, maybe down to 25%, and you have a very complete and dynamic player.
Clarke comes with risk, but he also offers tremendous upside and he has trended in the right direction just as you would hope and expect from a player as raw and as talented as he is. I have said for a while that the A’s rebuild rests a fair bit on whether they can “get lucky” and hit on both Butler and Clarke as that would go a long way to solidifying the roster going forward.
An outfield of Esteury Ruiz, Denzel Clarke, and Lawrence Butler would be one of the most athletic in MLB. And if Ruiz can ever figure out how to read a ball off the bat, it could be special. While I lean bullish on Butler and a bit bearish on Soderstrom, I have no idea whether Clarke will ultimately boom or bust — but any farm system is lucky to have him and should be bolstered by his presence.
The industry continues to sleep on Muncy in favor of bigger names from better known teams, but just as Clarke is a legitimate CFer Muncy is a legitimate SS and the bat is more than coming around.
Keep in mind that Muncy won’t turn 22 until late August, yet he is already at AA putting up excellent numbers. Midland is no hitter’s paradise, yet upon his promotion to AA Muncy hit .302/.387/.446, and perhaps most importantly he dropped his K rate to 23.2%. He should be getting more attention, and more love, than he is.
Also generally overlooked by the national prognosticators is Susac, possibly because of his puzzling .080 ISO in 2023. Thing is, no one particularly doubts his power and if this is the only element of his game that hasn’t shown up so far there is plenty of reason for optimism.
Susac, at age 22, batted .300/.363/.423 across A+ and AA and kept his K rate — one big concern from college — at 21.5% in A+ (25.0% in 13 AA games). It’s a bit similar to the love Jacob Wilson can’t buy despite doing everything right in his debut (.333/.391/.475 with sterling defense at SS) while falling down the rankings.
Starting Pitching Depth
Thanks to the irresponsible choices of Kyle Muller and AAAA chaff like Zach Logue and Adrian Martinez, Oakland’s series of trades did not bring as much top notch pitching into the A’s system.
That doesn’t mean the system is barren, though, and in fact there is some depth — which is essential with pitching given the high incidence of injury. Royber Salinas offers upside, while Freddy Tarnok is already in the big leagues. Joey Estes has more “#4 SP” stuff but has a chance to stick, while Luis Morales climbs prospect lists (one of the few A’s pitchers getting a little love nationally).
Rebounds from Gunnar Hoglund and/or JT Ginn would go a long way, but even graduating Ken Waldichuk, Joe Boyle, and Luis Medina the A’s have several pitchers who are getting close to the big leagues and have a chance to make an impact.
While I have highlighted some prospects I think should be higher ranked in a system that is being a bit maligned, it’s also true that every system has some good prospects, some interesting prospects, and many talented athletes who will flame out.
That’s why I do not assume all the prospects I discussed above will be successful, and why I do not believe the A’s have a “top half” system — even though the rightfully should, had they not made trades that seemed unwise at the time and look downright foolish today.
But 25th-30th? No. Probably somewhere around 18th-20th is fair, and even if still a bit depressing it reflects that there is some legitimate talent, including at some premium positions (CF, SS, C) coming up that does not even include Soderstrom, Butler, Gelof, Boyle, Waldichuk, Luis Medina, or Mason Miller, all of whom would rank in the A’s top 20 if they still qualified.
So while you add pins to your Forst doll for a system that should be better, you can dream at an “up the middle” nucleus of Susac, Muncy, Gelof, and Clarke, and imagine what might be if just those thrive. The A’s farm, as of 2/11/24, may be a bit gloomy, but it’s not all out doomy.
So says the Eyeball Scout aka Voice of Reason. What do you think?