December 1, 2015
Oakland Athletics Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: One of the redeeming qualities of a terrible season is the opportunity to rebuild a farm system. The A’s had a terrible season, and now they have a surprisingly deep, if flawed, group of position players.
The Top Ten
1. Franklin Barreto, SS
It’s very unlikely Barreto ends up a perennial MVP candidate like the man he was traded for, but he’s going to be a very good player for a very long time. His feel for hitting is outstanding, as he stays through the zone with a quick, loose swing and sprays bullets all over the field. Despite his smallish stature, his wrist strength and natural loft produce solid-average power that has begun showing up in games.(He can also put the ball into the opposite-field gaps.) If there’s an issue here offensively, it’s with the approach, as Barreto will swing at pitches outside the zone and rarely walks—40 percent of his 15 walks came in the month of May alone, and from June 6th to July 7th he walked just once in 92 plate appearances.
Barreto has the athleticism and arm strength you look for in a shortstop, but the fundamentals—or lack thereof—make his long-term position a question mark. He’s made 79 errors over the last three seasons—34 just last year—and, even if errors are an awful guide, my looks have confirmed that he just doesn’t always put forth the necessary effort; I saw instances of him failing to charge the ball and throwing off his back foot, and there was an “ole” moment or two. This is common in young players, but it’s possible a team will feel more comfortable playing him at third or second base, or even move him to the outfield because of these lapses. The offensive skill set will play anywhere, but if Barreto can stay at shortstop, he’s got a chance to be a true impact player.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: The hope for fantasy owners is that Barreto will at least stick somewhere in the middle infield, which is pretty likely during at least the early part of his career. That said, you’d be hard pressed to turn your nose up at a potential .290 hitter capable of reaching 15 homers and steals regardless of what eligibility he has.
Major league ETA: 2017
2. Sean Manaea, LHP
Manaea has had an awful lot of ups and downs when you consider he’s only been a professional for two years. He ended 2015 on an up after joining the Athletics, and he was one of the true standouts in the Arizona Fall League.
Manaea’s four-seam fastball doesn’t always have consistent velocity, but on the best days it will touch 97 mph and sit 92-94 with plane and run. His breaking ball has the velocity of a curve but the break of a slider, without being slurvy; it’s just a slider with good depth and tilt that doesn’t have the radar gun readings we typically see. Elite hitters might be able to pick up on the velocity difference—and his arm will occasionally drop when he throws it—but it’s certainly a fine second offering. The change is another average offering with late fade, and his arm speed adds quality deception. His command comes and goes, yet he does a good job of limiting unforced errors, and on his better days he’s within the margin of error in terms of hitting his targets.
There are two massive question marks going forward with Manaea: Can he stay healthy, and, when he is healthy, can he show his upper-echelon arsenal on a reliable basis? He has thrown just under 200 innings for his career, and has struggled to show the same stuff from start-to-start. If both answers are yes, he’s a potential no. 2, but is otherwise more of a back-end option—maybe even a reliever.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: The skew toward high-impact starters, even with the risk they carry, in dynasty leagues favors Manaea, who has more realistic upside than all but about four or five starters in the minors. The good version of Manaea could be a 200-strikeout SP2, consistently on the cusp of being an SP1—yet even the floor is an inconsistent SP4 who is helped by his home park (or a potentially dominant reliever).
Major league ETA: 2017
3. Jacob Nottingham, C
Nottingham wasn’t a complete unknown entering the season, but to say he raised his stock in 2015 is the understatement of this article. He showed more bat speed, better feel for the barrel, and a swing that spent more time in the zone than the "fringe-average" hit tool described by those familiar with him entering the season. He’s always shown above-average power thanks to his natural strength, and the plane of the swing and solid weight transfer allow him to leave any part of the park. Nottingham will expand the zone, and he’s not the type of player who will put up big on-base percentages based on walks.
Nonetheless, Nottingham has the type of offensive profile that will work at any position, which is good, because there’s a pretty good chance his future isn’t behind the plate. He’s very much a work in progress with his receiving skills. The arm strength is above average, but his lack of natural athleticism leads to subpar pop times. The Athletics should give him every chance to catch, though, and he doesn’t have to be Yadier Molina to justify everyday play.
Is there a chance Nottingham is a one-year wonder? It’s not unheard of to have players make a leap and then regress. Talent doesn’t lie, though, and the talent he showed in 2015 suggests he could be a middle of the lineup down the line for Oakland.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: If you can’t pick up prospects in-season, Nottingham should be a borderline first-rounder in most dynasty drafts this offseason due to his power potential and proximity. Even if he ends up as a .250 hitter, which is a fairly realistic outcome, his power can make him a top-five catcher; for reference, Evan Gattis finished as the second-most valuable backstop in 2015 and he hit .246 with 27 homers.
Major league ETA: 2017
4. Matt Olson, 1B
After destroying the California League, Olson’s numbers in 2015 weren’t nearly as spectacular, though there were certainly good things on display. His massive size and strong lower half make him a power threat, and when you add in his uppercut swing and extension it’s borderline plus-plus. He’s extremely selective at the plate—perhaps to a fault—and while that naturally leads to strikeouts, it also allows him to pile up walks. The 30-year-old version of Adam Dunn comps are easy, because he’s a whole lot like the 30-year-old version of Adam Dunn.
Despite Olson’s well-below-average speed, Oakland decided to give him the chance to play right field down the stretch, and while he certainly has the arm strength for the position (he was clocked in the mid-90s in high school), a lack of speed/athleticism makes his future as an unspectacular, though solid first baseman much more likely. If he could handle a corner outfield spot, you could argue he’s a future first-division player.The most likely scenario is a 25- to 30-homer first baseman with legitimate contact issues who might need to be platooned. It’s a solid ceiling, but one that might seem disappointing after his big 2014.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: The power is going to be the key to Olson’s future fantasy value, along with whether you play in an AVG or OBP league. If he’s a 20-homer guy, he’s usable, but someone you’re likely looking to replace more often than not. If he’s a 30-homer guy, he’s essentially Brandon Moss. If he’s a 30-homer guy and you play with on-base percentage, Olson could be a borderline impact player.
Major league ETA: 2016
5. Richie Martin, SS
Martin’s stock fluctuated all spring—“The only thing consistent about Martin was his inconsistency,” one area scout said—but he survived with his share of supporters. There’s almost no load to his swing, and while that gives him the potential to be a high-contact hitter, it doesn’t allow for much power despite his strong wrists and some hip rotation. He does draw his share of walks, and once he’s on base, his speed makes him a threat to steal.
While Martin doesn’t possess huge offensive upside, he certainly does offer plenty defensively. His natural athleticism and arm strength allow him to turn hits into outs, and his impressive instincts allow him to make the spectacular look routine, both to his left and his right. The only thing that keeps him from earning a plus grade here is that he has a tendency to move too fast, which leads to unforced miscues. This is a player who can be a difference maker with the glove and on the bases; just don’t count on much offensive production.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: If he can fight through his weaknesses to become an everyday player, Martin could steal 25-30 bases, even without getting on base a ton. At best, it looks like an Alcides Escobar type profile from a fantasy standpoint, which isn’t quite the type of upside you’re looking for in a prospect at least two-plus years away.
Major league ETA: 2018
6. Matt Chapman, 3B
The Cal League has a nasty habit of making subpar offensive prospects look like future MVPs, and while Chapman certainly enjoyed the friendliness of his confines, there’s also legitimacy to the glitzy numbers you see. The swing is more geared toward line drives than for homers, yet Chapman squares everything up, and his extension pairs with his bat speed to give him above-average power potential. There’s loads of swing and miss in his game so the hit tool projects to be below average, but he does show patience at the plate and will work counts into his favor.
Even if Chapman doesn’t max out offensively, he has a chance to become a big leaguer because of his defense. His hands are outstanding, his footwork is clinical, and his cannon arm makes for a plus defender at the hot corner. The only thing keeping his defense from plus-plus is his lack of speed, which limits his range.
If the hit tool can get close to average, Chapman can become an All-Star—one scout said his ceiling was Travis Fryman—but, because of the contact issues, it’s just as likely he’s a bench player; granted, one with impressive defensive prowess.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: At this point, Chapman should not be much of a concern for fantasy owners, as his power isn’t impactful enough to overcome his deficiencies across the board offensively.
Major league ETA: 2017
7. Yairo Munoz, SS
The loud tools Munoz showed in short-season Vermont were on display for most of 2015, though there were more than a few bumps in the road in his first full season. The swing has some length, but he gets through the zone quickly with plus bat speed, and his advanced hand-eye coordination helps him recognize pitches and spray line drives with limited swing and miss. There’s some surprising pop here, yet he often gets pull-happy while trying to crush everything out to left field, and the power will play down if he doesn’t become more selective at the plate. He has all the necessary defensive tools to play shortstop, but he’ll have to improve his footwork and hands if he’s going to stay there, as he makes too many simple errors in the field right now.
Munoz’s upside is as high as any hitter in the system outside of Barreto, but unless his approach improves he profiles best as a utility player. If the selectivity does come, he’ll jump up several spots in next year’s list.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: His aggressiveness at the plate will always make Munoz a slightly better investment in standard leagues, rather than on-base leagues. However, given the raw tools and the high likelihood of starting 2016 back in the Cal League, he makes for a great add—both for his upside and his trade potential.
Major league ETA: 2017
8. Casey Meisner, RHP
Anytime you get a legitimate starting pitching prospect for a reliever, you can call it a successful deal. He’s still more projection than finished product, but he already touches the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball, sitting comfortably 90-92 with excellent plane. The same projectability can be applied to his secondary pitches, as he’ll flash a solid-average curveball with depth, and a 50 change (though these pitches are often closer to 40 offerings,with the change dipping down to developmental status on occasion). Still, he throws all three pitches for strikes, and his feel for pitching is better than even his biggest supporters imagined coming out of the 2014 draft. The upside isn’t elite, but he’s got a chance to be a mid-rotation starter, with quality bullpen arm also a possibility if the curveball doesn’t show more reliability on an 80 to 100 pitch basis.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: Even with a potentially strong ballpark at his backing, Meisner isn’t worth much of a fantasy investment due to his lack of upside. This is the type of profile you can generally forget about until they are on the cusp of the majors.
Major league ETA: 2017
9. Chad Pinder, IF
All Pinder has done over the past two years is hit, and all that has come from it is more questions about whether or not he can be an everyday player at the highest level. While not quite a hacker, his tendency to swing at pitches outside the zone limits what would be an above-average hit tool. His swing path and hip rotation give him fringe-average pop, and he’s the type of hitter who can hit 10-15 homers and 30-35 doubles if you can justify playing him every day.
The word “tweener” gets used too often with prospects, but it fits Pinder: He’s not quite good enough athletically to project to stay at shortstop, and while he would be an elite defender at third—thanks to his strong arm and sure hands—the bat doesn’t currently justify playing him every day there. That makes second base an ideal landing spot, but the reigning Texas League MVP profiles best as a player who can help all over the infield; just not one who you want to count on for 130-plus games.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: In deep leagues, Pinder makes for an interesting stash because of both a potential multi-eligibility future and as arbitrage against his profile. We, as a fantasy community, do a good job of overlooking players who just continue to hit during their pro careers without a high-end prospect profile. After all, finding that $10 player to round out a deep mixed roster is important—and Pinder is getting close to the majors.
Major league ETA: 2017
10. Renato Nunez, 3B
Nunez certainly has his share of supporters—one source thought Nunez was the most complete offensive player in the system—and it’s easy to understand why. There’s a great deal of loft in his swing, and with above-average bat speed to go along with his hip rotation, there’s above-average power potential. His hit tool is below average at best, with the main culprit being the length of his swing. As with several names mentioned above, the approach leaves a ton to be desired. He possesses a strong arm and good enough hands to play third, but he’s a 30 runner with subpar instincts, so the more likely everyday landing spot is across the diamond.
Is there a chance Nunez ends up a starting third baseman who can hit .260 with 25-plus homers? Yes. But there’s just as good of a chance he ends up a Quad-A player without the feel for hitting to merit a big-league roster spot. As much as we value upside, the volatility here compared to some of the other bats makes this the more comfortable ranking.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: You can certainly make the argument that Nunez is the third-best fantasy prospect in this system (though I’d slot him fourth, behind Nottingham), and it’s easy to see why. Third base is a weak position in fantasy that will only get weaker with three of the top 11 at the position losing eligibility for 2016. The potential .260, 25-homer future is too strong to ignore.
Major league ETA: 2016
Five Who Are Just Interesting
Mikey White, SS – The Athletics took White 43 picks after Martin in June, but more than one scout I spoke with had the two neck-and-neck, with a few believing White was the superior prospect. He’s an intelligent hitter with a short, line-drive stroke that plays to all fields, and though he doesn’t possess much power, he’s strong enough to put the ball into the gaps. He’s miles away from Martin defensively, as a below-average runner without elite range, but if you’re looking for an offensive-minded shortstop who won’t destroy you with the glove, White is your guy.
Dakota Chalmers, RHP – Chalmers was regarded by most as the best pitching prospect to come out of Georgia this spring, though fits of inconsistent stuff saw him drop from a potential first-round guy to the third round. His four-seam fastball will get up to 96 with some projection left in his frame, but he often has no clue where that pitch will end up. He’ll show an above-average slider and curve along with a fringe-average change (the curve representing a potential out pitch because of its depth). As with the fastball, he doesn’t throw these pitches for strikes. The upside here is no. 2 starter, but until he shows he can repeat his delivery and throw something soft for strikes, it’s tough to see him living up to that hype.
Bobby Wahl, RHP — A potential first-round pick coming into his junior year at Ole Miss in 2013, Wahl’s stock slipped when teams grew concerned he couldn’t start. It turns out those concerns were valid, but the burly right-hander is a very intriguing relief prospect. He’ll touch 97 with a plus-plus four-seam fastball, and he complements that pitch with an above-average slider that features hard, downward tilt. He’ll also throw a change to keep lefties off the fastball/slider combo, but it’s mostly a fringe-average offering. He doesn’t have great control, but when you’re pitching in short spurts, you don’t have to have great control. Wahl should be a contributor to the A’s bullpen at some point in the next two years, and it’s not crazy to think he could pitch in the later innings because of his ability to miss bats.
Skye Bolt, OF – If Bolt could have entered the draft after his freshman year, there’s a good chance he would have been a top-10 pick in 2013. Unfortunately, he could not do that, not a lot went right after that, and most scouts I spoke with have given up on him becoming a starting outfielder. I’m not ready to do so, as there are three 60 tools here: speed, glove and arm. Bolt still shows a solid swing from the left side, with above-average bat speed while staying through the zone. He does not repeat that swing as a righty, and Oakland should seriously consider ending the switch-hitting “experiment.” It’s a long-shot he ends up as an impact player, but there’s been just enough quality to suggest he could reclaim that form.
Joe Wendle, 2B – Wendle is the opposite of Bolt, a prospect who doesn’t possess a single above-average tool but might possess four average ones. He shows a smooth swing from the left side with above-average bat speed, and he seems to square up everything on any part of the plate to any part of the field. Big power isn’t possible with his frame, but he’s strong enough to put the ball into the gaps, and he’s been a doubles machine in his professional career (110 in 398 games). He’s a solid-average runner, and though he doesn’t have elite range, he makes the plays in front of him and won’t cost you games with the glove. It’s not a sexy profile, but we’ve seen players with Wendle’s skill set become starting second basemen (see Panik, Joe). What’s to say he can’t be the next one?
Top Ten Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/90 or later)
Sonny Gray, Brett Lawrie, and Jesse Hahn combined with Barreto to make up the top four of the 2015 list. The graduation of that trio, along with Billy Burns missing the cut by seven months, leaves the majority of this year’s crop of young talent down on the farm.
This leaves Semien, Oakland’s main prize for flipping Jeff Samardzija last offseason, as the brightest 25U player on the big-league roster. The Athletics knew they were asking a lot of Semien when they pegged him their starting shortstop to start the 2015 season. He was viewed as more of a utility infielder and hadn’t been especially slick with the leather at either second base or the hot corner the previous year with the White Sox. There were clear rough patches in the early stages of the defensive experiment but Oakland was encouraged with the strides he made at the position over the course of the season, particularly after Ron Washington was brought into the fray at the end of May as an infield instructor. The advanced defensive metrics agreed that his glovework improved in the second half.
It’s difficult to imagine his defense will ever be an asset at the six-hole, but the Athletics just need him to hold his own at the position given that his bat is above average for the position (eighth-best TAv among qualified shortstops in 2015). Semien doesn’t have as flashy a profile or as high a ceiling as Manaea, but there is serious value to be reaped from a young, controllable, league-average shortstop. I’ll give him the slight edge over the pitching prospect with the checkered injury history who has yet to make his major-league debut.
Graveman’s stock had some serious helium behind it after a 2014 season in which he went from High-A to a cup of coffee with the Blue Jays and then was shipped to Oakland as part of the return for Josh Donaldson. The Athletics were believers in his polish and sinker-cutter combination, which showed flashes of brilliance in 2015 during a six-start stretch before the All-Star Break, in which he tossed at least seven innings and allowed two runs or fewer each time out.
However, the rest of Graveman’s season was filled with shaky outings and his lack of a true out pitch led to the league smacking him around. He finished his rookie campaign with a matching 115 DRA- and 115 cFIP across 21 starts, indicating that he still has some work to do to be more than rotation filler. He’ll be 25 years old on Opening Day and had only made seven starts in the advanced minors before last season, so there’s still time for him to develop into a back-end arm. Anything more is a stretch. —Chris Mosch
You might not be aware of this, but the Oakland Athletics are not one of the wealthiest teams in baseball. Because of this, it puts extra pressure on the team to build from within and make use of the system, rather than free agency, to build a quality team. They’ve done a good job as any team of doing just that, even if they—like every other team—have been guilty of some less-than-spectacular deals (see Russell, Addison).
Everyone knows how good Beane and Forst are, but Kubota doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the best scouting directors in baseball, and he and the A’s scouting department have done a fantastic job of not only identifying talent, but being open-minded with college and prep talent, both in the field and on the mound. There’s still a collegiate position player lean, but their willingness to take guys like Addison Russell and Sonny Gray played huge dividends. You would have a hard time finding a director of player development who is more respected than Keith Lieppman, who is entering his 24th season as the director of player development and 45th season overall with the A’s. It’s one of the older groups, but it’s the ability to adapt that make them one of the best front offices in all of baseball.This is not a deep system, with the talent thinning rather quickly after the A's made a flurry of moves this offseason. However, there are still some useful secondary pieces in the system, and Oakland has proven that value can still be found in those under the radar types.