December 13, 2016
Oakland Athletics Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: The Athletics better hope that there is such a thing as a pitching prospect, because their revitalized system is loaded with them.
The Top Ten
The Big Question: Do the Athletics have a star in their system?
Since Oakland’s surprising midseason acquisition spree and subsequent collapse in 2014, the A’s have been in a holding pattern. That winter, Billy Beane determined that his team’s core wasn’t strong enough to gear up for another playoff run, and he dealt Josh Donaldson and Jeff Samardzija to contenders. At a glance, the moves seemed to signal Oakland’s intention to rebuild. Curiously though, the return packages in both trades were headlined by a big leaguer, not a top prospect. Beane explained his strategy when he discussed his decision to move Donaldson, saying “we wouldn’t have done the deal unless it addressed now and the future.”
Now and the future. It’s a clear statement of purpose, but an odd one in today’s game. In an era where most teams clearly define themselves as contenders or rebuilders, Beane chose to straddle the line. The Donaldson and Samardzija trades retrieved Brett Lawrie and Marcus Semien, neither of whom qualified as a rookie, along with a few low-ceiling but big league ready prospects in Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt. These moves kept the Athletics competitive: while Oakland hasn’t contended over the last two years, the A’s never approached 100 losses nor looked like a team tanking for draft picks.
The troubling side effect is that the A’s never received the shot of impact talent their firesale warranted. From Houston to Atlanta to both sides of Chicago, clubs around the league have exchanged their stars and valuable contributors for bright young players while punting big league wins in an effort to collect top draft picks; the A’s, meanwhile, signed Billy Butler and Ryan Madson to solidify their roster.
To be fair: the Donaldson trade did net Franklin Barreto, an enticing prospect who was a bit too young for the national radar back in 2014. And the A’s may have made the unsung trade of last year’s deadline when they turned two months of Rich Hill and Josh Reddick into Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas and Jharel Cotton. Those four, along with last year’s first round pick, A.J. Puk, account for five of Oakland’s top six names on our list.
But to rebuild successfully, especially for a shoestring-payroll team like the Athletics, you have to get stars. By trading Donaldson for quarters on the dollar and fielding a mediocre but not terrible big league team, the A’s have missed a chance to add a Yoan Moncada or Lucas Giolito-type player to their organization while also limiting their bonus pool money in the draft. While Oakland’s farm system is much deeper than it was two years ago, it remains noticeably light on blue chippers. A quick review—skip to the profiles for the nuance—of the top names on the list reveals that most of their top farmhands are high-floor players with limited ceilings.
Holmes has a starter’s build, a strong arm, and a deep repertoire, but his command backtracked last season and he looks like more of a mid-rotation starter than a future ace. Montas throws a million miles per hour but he missed almost all of last season, and some evaluators think his stuff will play better in relief. Cotton has reached the big leagues and he’ll get outs with a devastating changeup, but he too has a mid-rotation ceiling. Matt Chapman is a glove-first third baseman with some pop; a nice player, but he’s Matt Dominguez if the bat falls short. Puk’s raw stuff breaks the mold—the southpaw has the highest ceiling among pitchers on this list—but amidst concerns about his athleticism and stiffness in his delivery, some evaluators have cooled on his long-term outlook.
That leaves Barreto. The jewel of the system, Barreto more than held his own as a 20-year-old in Double-A, hitting .281/.340/.414 last season. He’s very mature physically for his age and the chances that he’s a 60 hit, 50 power player (or a tick better) in the middle of the diamond only increased over the last year. He’s going to be a good player for a very long time.
But is he a star to build a team around? It’s an open question, and both his youth and feel for hitting against tough competition thus far in his career suggest he could play in his share of all-star games down the line. The safer bet though is that he’s more of a first-division regular than a star; nothing to sneeze at, of course, but that projection makes him more like the best version of the good-not-great types loitering throughout Oakland’s system than the next great shortstop in baseball. In short, the A’s are stuck right now. Led by Barreto, the A’s farm system is good enough to help Oakland continue on their current course, but lacks the upside to change the balance of power in the division. That’s a problem for an organization that
In the next year, Oakland may still get its star: the A’s pick sixth in this year’s draft and they can still expect a windfall in return for (a healthy) Sonny Gray. If everything goes well, the A’s may have one of the best systems in baseball this time next year. But if Gray stays, or if the return package is underwhelming, or if they play it safe in the draft, the farm will likely continue to look as it does for the foreseeable future: strong, but unlikely to bear enough fruit to compete with Houston and Texas for divisional supremacy. —Brendan Gawlowski
1. Franklin Barreto, SS
The Good: Barreto could have a six hit tool and four other tools that grade average or better at full maturity. He has a quick bat and a good feel for the barrel; his swing is conducive to hitting the ball hard to all fields and he’s strong enough to project at least average power down the line. An above-average runner, he’s quick enough to be a threat on the bases and has enough lateral range to handle short. Barreto has also worked in at center field and second and should be a defensive asset if he ever has to move off of short.
The Bad: Barreto doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses in his game, though a few minor flaws could put a small dent in his overall projection. He’s not a hacker, but he’s aggressive, and will need to hit for average to post a good OBP. Physically, he’s filling out quickly: he’s not as fast as he was two years ago and more growth could push him to second base. His arm plays at short but isn’t strong for the position.
The Irrelevant: As he’s climbed the minor league ladder, Barreto was the third youngest everyday player in the Northwest League, California League and Texas League.
OFP 60—First division shortstop
The Risks: Barreto’s bat is ahead of his glove and while he’s improved defensively, he’s not a lock to stay at shortstop. Like any player with an average power projection or less, the profile dampens considerably if his hit tool falls short of projections. —Brendan Gawlowski
Major league ETA: Late 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I’ve been encouraging fantasy owners to buy on Barreto for years. I’m a big believer in his bat, and while I understand he’s not a lock at short the reports are slightly more positive than they used to be, and it’s not like his value falls off a cliff if he moves to second. The only distressing aspect of the report above is how quickly Barreto is filling out, portending good but not great stolen base totals. Still, I think Barreto can be something like 2016 Jose Ramirez, hitting for a good average with double-digit homers and 20-plus steals. That’s makes him a very valuable player as long as he comes with MI eligibility.
2. Grant Holmes, RHP
The Good: Holmes’ arsenal is built on a couple solid bedrocks in a fastball that can touch 96 and a plus curveball that he deploys with maturity. His four-seamer generates some run and life, and he’ll attack the hands with it to generate whiffs and weak contact. He can work in two-seam and cutting variants as well. The curve toggles from 79 to 85, with multiple shapes that feature quality depth and bite. He boasts a frame to wear innings on, and he made strides to address consistency issues in his delivery.
The Bad: There’s still a ways to go for Holmes to develop his pitch-to-pitch consistency. He decelerates at the top of his fulcrum, leading to timing issues that can creep up and throw him offline through his drive for stretches. And while his foot strike showed improvement as the season progressed, he’ll still land roughly on his heel too often to negatively impact his command. The changeup will flash average, but it is an inconsistent and firm pitch that lags developmentally.
The Irrelevant: The deal that sent Holmes from the Dodgers to Oakland occurred exactly 3,883 days after the Dodgers shipped Milton Bradley to the A’s back in 2005 for reigning Texas League Player of the Year Andre Ethier.
OFP 60 – No. 3 Starter
The Risks: Holmes spent this past year as one of the youngest pitchers in the California League, and there remains significant development ahead of him. He’s a couple inches shorter than the Platonic Ideal of a right-handed pitching prospect, but otherwise he pretty much checks all the boxes to develop into a relatively high-probability mid-rotation starter. He would merit a high-probability tag, anyway, if he weren’t, you know, a pitcher. —Wilson Karaman
Major league ETA: 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Now might be a good time to buy lowish on Holmes. His numbers from the Cal League don’t look great, but he was young for the level and, well, it’s the Cal League. There’s no fantasy ace upside here, but Holmes looks like a good bet to stay in the rotation. I’d like to see him miss more bats, but it’s easy to envision him as a no. 5/6 fantasy starter in Oakland, posting a 3.50-3.75 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 200 innings. Part of the appeal with Holmes is that he might be able to surpass 200 innings regularly, though, making him a good compiler unless your league has an IP cap.
3. A.J. Puk, LHP
The Good: Puk is a towering lefty with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can touch 98. The pitch has good armside life and Puk can spot it to either side of the plate. It’s a swing-and-miss weapon up in the zone. For a tall, lanky southpaw, he already has a pretty good handle on his mechanics. The slider is a potential plus offering as well. He can get it up into the mid-80s and the pitch is difficult to pick up out of his hand even before it shows you its late, two-plane break.
The Bad: The combination of size and stuff—plus a fair amount of polish—makes Puk a potentially elite pitching prospect. Why isn’t he quite there yet? Well, as good as the stuff is, it doesn’t always show up. He throws strikes, but the command profile still needs refinement. He dealt with a back injury this year that might raise an eyebrow or two among more cautious evaluators until he shows you 120+ innings in a pro season. The change-up is a potential plus pitch as well, but is mostly arm speed and deception at present.
The Irrelevant: Puk started 12 games at first base for the Gators in 2015.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter
The Risks: Puk is a big lefty with a big fastball. That mitigates things like the back issue, the inconsistent-at-times stuff, and the lack of a professional track record. A healthy Puk that better harnesses his stuff with a full pro Spring could move quite quickly, and that OFP may look low in a year’s time. That hasn’t happened yet though, and Puk is—after all—still a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Puk might have a mid-rotation starter tag, but he also comes with considerable strikeout upside if his stuff shows up more often. He’s one of the 10 best fantasy prospects from the last draft thanks in part to his landing spot in Oakland, and as mentioned above there’s a chance he moves quickly. Essentially if you want to get in on a guy before he has the “elite fantasy pitching prospect” tag, Puk’s a good choice. There’s just a chance he never gets there, of course.
4. Frankie Montas, RHP
The Good: We’ve written it before, and we will write it again: There are worse places to start as a pitching prospect than with a triple-digit fastball. Montas has a lightning-fast arm that lights up radar guns, and the delivery isn’t as high effort as you’d expect from a dude regular hitting 100. Montas pairs the blast-furnace heater with a power slider that can get into the 90s. At its best it is a plus pitch with hard, late tilt.
The Bad: Montas only threw 11 innings in-season this year due to a rib injury. The change is a non-factor. Between that and his command issues—the delivery does have some effort—Montas is a reliever all the way. The fastball can flatten out in the triple digits. The slider needs more consistency to be a true major league bat misser.
The Irrelevant: Montas’ first pitch in the majors was a 98 mph fastball. You can’t even suggest he was amped up, since he averaged 97 in his 2015 cup of coffee with the White Sox.
OFP 60—Major league closer
The Risks: Montas has already pitched in the majors and has the two-pitch combo to be immediately successful in 2017 in a late-inning role. Without a bit more command, he may end up a frustrating 8th inning type though. Montas has missed time with the aforementioned rib issue and a knee injury in 2014. No arm issues recently, but he is a pitcher after all.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2015
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Montas might be the best fantasy reliever prospect, but that’s not really a desirable distinction. Montas can rack up the strikeouts, but if he’s not closing he’s not worth your time. There are enough good arms in Oakland’s bullpen ahead of Montas that he’s unlikely to be of much use for us this year, though to be fair we all know how quickly bullpens can change.
5. Matt Chapman, 3B
The Good: Chapman is one of the better third basemen in the minor leagues, with a defensive package highlighted by a canon of an arm that rates at least a 70. His quick feet and strong instincts drive above-average lateral range, and his receiving is true thanks to soft hands and solid body control. His raw power pushes plus-plus, and he has demonstrated the ability to bring it into games against high-minors pitching. He’s a patient hitter who runs deep counts and takes his walks, and his OBP can play above his raw hit tool.
The Bad: The swing generates a ton of extension, but retains a good amount of length even after a launch position overhaul during the 2015 season. Couple the mechanics with his patient approach, and he’s always likely to run high strikeout totals that threaten to devolve into obscenity. There’s also some rigidity in the swing that leaves him frequently underneath pitches, and between the whiffs and weaker fly ball contact the hit tool may have to stretch to a 40. He’s a fringe-average runner with effort in the stride, and his body is not one that will get any faster.
The Irrelevant: Chapman was born in Victorville, CA, where Herman Mankiewicz and John Houseman wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane in 1940. The city also produced a second-rounder in last year’s draft, when the Padres selected prep right-hander Reggie Lawson 71st overall.
OFP 55 – Above-Average Third Baseman
The Risks: The defensive profile and power potential moderates his risk and portends a big league role, though questions about his contact rates and hit tool leave some variability in the range of outcomes. —Wilson Karaman
Major league ETA: 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Chapman is going to have to mash if he’s going to mean anything to fantasy owners, and Oakland is not the easiest place to do so. His ETA, third base eligibility and potential 25-homer power output are marks in his favor, but I’m skeptical the hit tool will play. He’s got enough in his favor that he’s a top-150 dynasty league prospect, but we’re talking about a guy whose ceiling might be 2016 Miguel Sano (.236 average, 25 homers).
6. Jharel Cotton, RHP
The Good: When a fastball that can touch the mid-90s is the second-best option in your repertoire, you’ve got a good place to start. Cotton’s changeup boasts more tumble than your dryer and more fade than your favorite jeans. He sells the change with tremendous arm speed and, combined with the deception in his delivery, catches batters on their front foot often. It’s a potential plus-plus pitch with a bit more consistency. He’s shown the ability to get cut and tail on his fastball at times. His curve has shown significant growth over the last two years and it will show impressive 11-5 shape. He’s shown a cutter at the major-league level, and it’s a useful addition to his arsenal.
The Bad: He can cut and run his fastball, but generally it lacks movement thanks to a relatively high arm slot, causing the pitch to play down a tick from its above-average velo grade. He needs that angle because he’s on the short side for a starting pitcher, and will sometimes end up throwing uphill despite the slot. While there’s been progress, he can lose feel for his curve and it will get loopy on him. When he doesn’t have the third offering, he becomes predictable and homer-prone due to the lack of movement on his fastball.
The Irrelevant: You might think baseball players from the U.S. Virgin Islands are rare (they are), but Cotton wasn’t even the first player from the Islands to make his debut in 2016, having been beaten to the punch by Jabari Blash.
OFP 55—No. 3/4 starter
The Risks: Cotton is major-league ready, so the risk in his role grades in fairly minimal in that aspect. Still, he gave up four homers in five MLB starts, and that highlights the greatest concern with his current profile. If he can’t avoid the long ball as a starter, he could find success out of the pen, with a focus on his two best offerings. Oh and he is a pitcher. —Craig Goldstein
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: You know how I feel about investing in back-end starters, but if you truly feel compelled to do so, at least go for ones who are MLB-ready now. Despite his gaudy strikeout numbers in the minors, Cotton doesn’t profile as a strikeout-per-inning guy in the majors. He’s also homer-prone, as we read above, but playing in Oakland should help to mitigate that. I could see Cotton settling in as a top-125ish fantasy starter, posting an ERA close to 4.00 and 180 strikeouts in 200 innings. He might be worth streaming at home against week lineups, but he shouldn’t serve as a roster mainstay unless you’re in an 18- or 20-team league.
7. Daulton Jefferies, RHP
The Good: Jefferies’s changeup has shown the ability to miss bats. It sits 85-86 with significant arm-side run, and he throws it with confidence in any count. Despite his stature, Jefferies can still run his low-90s fastball up to 95 with a whippy three-quarters arm action. He’s shown the ability to throw strikes consistently, and commands both sides of the plate. He’s an excellent athlete for the mound, and can be expected to field his position well.
The Bad: His longest professional outing was only three innings long. He missed two months of his final collegiate season due to shoulder and calf injuries, and didn’t make his pro debut until two months after the draft. His mid-80s slider is a work in progress, spinning into a frisbee when left elevated. His short, snappy delivery doesn’t appear to be a bastion of health. It’s difficult to imagine someone with his frame, arm action, and injury history developing into a perennial 200-inning pitcher.
The Irrelevant: Jefferies played for Team USA along with fellow 2016 Oakland draft picks A.J. Puk and Logan Shore.
OFP 55—No. 3/4 starter
The Risks: Like many pitchers, it boils down to health for Jefferies (he is a pitcher). He has a quick arm, a plus changeup, and an advanced feel for pitching, but past shoulder injuries and slight frames don’t typically lend themselves to lengthy MLB careers. He profiles more as a backend starter, but he hasn’t shown the durability to create much value from that profile. He lacks the type of stuff that typically plays up out of the bullpen. The odds are seemingly stacked against him, but if his body proves capable of holding up over a full season, he could exceed expectations due to advanced pitchability. —Matt Pullman
Major league ETA: 2019
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: There’s more to like with Jefferies than with some other really young arms, but there are some serious red flags, too. As tempting as a potential no. 3 starter in Oakland may be, Jefferies’ size and injury history place him on the periphery of fantasy relevancy at this point. He’s a potential fast-riser if he puts some of his workload and durability concerns to bed, though. Well, as much as any pitcher can put those concerns to bed.
8. Daniel Gossett, RHP
The Good: Oh, it’s another pitcher. Gossett has a better shot to start than the arms directly above him though. He has smoothed out his delivery some since his college days. His fastball sits 92-94 from a high overhead slot, and he can touch higher. He can elevate it up and out of the zone for strikeouts and generally commands it well. The mid-80s change mimics the fastball well out of the hand. He has decent feel for a low 80s curve.
The Bad: Gossett has a slight build and there is some recoil in the delivery to get the velocity. It’s not enough to damn him to the bullpen, but it can dampen his command profile. That plus the high slot means he can have issues getting the fastball down in the zone, and it’s hittable when he gets it up and not out of the zone. The curve doesn’t project as much more than average due to it’s short 12-6 break. Gossett may lack an out pitch against major league bats.
The Irrelevant: Clemson hasn’t had as many major league stars pass through their program as you might think, but the best pitcher to toe their mound is no slouch. It’s Jimmy Key, who was worth 55.8 WARP over his fifteen-year career.
OFP 50—No.4 starter
The Risks: While I don’t love Gossett’s delivery, he threw 150 effective innings this season across three levels and is now knocking on the door of the majors. It’s not the sexiest arm on this list, but it may have the best balance of proximity to the majors and probability of remaining a starter. But remember, he is a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Gossett is close to the Majors, which is nice, but he lacks the type of upside we’re looking for. I was pretty nice to the first several pitchers on this list so I don’t feel bad about this.
9. Dakota Chalmers, RHP
The Good: Chalmers has some of the best pure arm strength in the system, with outstanding acceleration and easy velocity that will creep as high as 97 and run a little bit. There’s enough projectability in the frame to suggest a plus-plus pitch if he can command it enough at maturity. He shows some feel for spin, highlighted by a downer low-80s curve, and he made some strides this season in refining a changeup that, while it remains quite raw, shows some projection into average range thanks to the high-end arm speed. He’s a smart kid who takes instruction and demonstrates a plan on the bump.
The Bad: The delivery remains very much a work in progress, with balance and pace issues causing poor present repeatability, and violence down the hill that suggests his inconsistency with pitch-to-pitch execution is likely to be a longer-term issue. He can overthink things on the mound sometimes and lose the rhythm and fluidity of his delivery, and he lacks an effective weapon to put away lefties–he walked more of ‘em than he struck out at Low-A this year.
OFP 50 – No. 4 Starter
The Risks: The physicality and stuff both suggest plenty of room for positive growth ahead for Chalmers, and there is clear rotation upside. The lack of a full-season debut on his resume, along with present mechanical inconsistencies and a fringy command profile, make Chalmers a higher-risk prospect who will likely require a longer developmental track.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: A probable reliever who’s several years away from the majors, eh? I’m good.
The Good: While not the first (or second) University of Florida pitcher taken in the draft, Shore was the most successful, serving as the Friday starter and winning the SEC pitcher of the Year award. He can spot his average fastball in all quadrants, helping the pitch play above its velocity. His changeup is a plus offering which features plus sink, and can be thrown to both lefties and righties. His slider showed signs of improvement and could be an average offering.
The Bad: While the slider made improvements, it’s still slurvy and inconsistent, leading to questions about whether it can play as average. Shore lacks projection and what you see is pretty much what you get. He’s more of a pitchability arm rather than a loud stuff arm, which leads to questions about how it will translate as he progresses.
The Irrelevant: Shore was only the second pitcher from Florida to win the SEC pitcher of the Year award, joining Justin Hoyman who won the award in 2004.
50 OFP—No. 4 Starter
The Risks: It may seem like Shore is a relatively safe bet, but there's a chance his combination ofShopitchability and guts doesn’t work out at the upper levels, making him far too hittable. His slider doesn’t allow him to turn over lineups as a starter. Also, he's a pitcher. —Steve Givarz
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Let’s just say that if you need to roster Logan Shore at this point in his career, your dynasty team is probably ...
... washed up. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m trying to delete it.
Others of note:
The guy we’re lower on
Matt Olson, 1B/OF
The once and future A
Renato Nunez, 3B/1B/OF
Because we’re a sucker for a good glove at the six
Richie Martin, SS
Sean Murphy, C
Max Schrock, 2B
Top Ten Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/91 or later)
Age 25 is somewhat of an arbitrary endpoint. Marcus Semien will be 26 on Opening Day, Sonny Gray, 27. Throw those two into the mix and suddenly the A’s look like they are a rebuilding team with a strong core of young talent. That is still true, I suppose, but for a perpetually rebuilding team you still want to see a bit more exciting, young, major-league-ready talent at the top of this list.
Sean Manaea put together a healthy, fullish season. That’s a good sign given his litany of arm woes going back to his college years. He was pretty good too, showing two above-average secondaries in his change and slider to go with a fastball that can touch 96 from the left side. There’s always going to be questions here about his health until he starts rolling off 180-inning campaigns, and the Athletics treated him with kid gloves, especially early in the season. But if the Manaea that showed up in the second half of 2016—when he posted a 2.67 ERA and a 4:1 K:BB ratio—appears in both halves of 2017, the A’s might have their number two starter to slot in behind Sonny Gray.
Ryon Healy didn’t even get a mench on our 2016 Athletics Top Ten. At the time he was a 23-year-old who had a nice season in Double-A, but lacked the power you normally associate with a corner infield bat, let alone one that might have to slide over to first. Well, Healy is on our radar now, after mashing his way to the majors in 2016 and hitting 27 home runs across three levels. It turned out he was passable at the hot corner, and when you hit .300 with pop as well, the bat will play anywhere. Healy might not be a .300 hitter long term, but there’s enough loud contact in the profile that he’ll be an everyday major leaguer long term.
Daniel Mengden made 14 starts for the 2016 A’s, a feat the organization might prefer he not repeat in 2017, although he’s better than the 6.50 ERA he posted. He might be served by a move to the pen where the stuff might play up. Dillon Overton is your standard issue lefty with a fringy fastball and a good change-up. Less standard is the 4.4 HR/9 he gave up last year. As long as you have a political science major in your fantasy league though, he will live on in the team name The Dillon Overton Window. —Jeffrey Paternostro