|Original Published Date: January 9, 2015|
The Athletics decided to push all their chips in on starting pitching to set themselves up for a deep run in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as their bats went quiet, while the Los Angeles Angels got red hot and blew past them in the standings. They did get their shot, but ultimately lost in the play-in game to the red hot Kansas City Royals. The cost of the failed strategy was significant. They gave up one of the best prospects in the game in Addison Russell, a potential solid regular major leaguer in Billy McKinney and oh yeah…their clean-up hitter.
In a decision that Dr. Jekyll would have been proud, the A’s did a seemingly about-face in their all-in strategy and traded their best player in Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie and three prospects. While the decision left many scratching their heads, the trade did add depth back into the organization, including shortstop Franklin Barreto and right-handed pitcher, Kendall Graveman, both making our top 10 list.
Besides Barreto and Graveman, the system contains Matt Olson and Renato Nunez; two potential impact power bats that are starting to come into his own in a big way. Olson in particular had an impressive season as he slugged .543 while hitting 37 home runs. After Olson and Nunez, the talent drops off. While many are high on shortstop Daniel Robertson, I’m just not there. I see a solid-regular contributor in the big leagues but not an impact player.
On the pitching side, the most intriguing talent is Dillon Overton. He stuff and advanced pitchability profiles as a top-of-the-rotation arm, however, he’s 37 innings post Tommy John Surgery and the risk profile is still very high. I also like right-handed pitcher Sam Streich. While he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, he can really pitch with plus control.
Billy Bean will likely cringe many times over the next 15 years when Addison Russell name is announced as the starting shortstop for the National League all-star team. But, hey…life is full of risks and this one didn’t work out. Hopefully the next one will work as history is likely not going to be kind to the moves Bean and Company made in 2014.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: First Div.
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 235||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Matt Olson, the A’s 2012 supplemental first round pick, took a huge step forward in 2014 as he posted one of the more impressive stat lines in the entire minor leagues. In 138 games in 2014, he posted an .404 on-base percentage while slugging .543 and hitting 37 home runs.
I had a chance to see Olson both in the California and the Arizona Fall League in 2014. I was left with two very strong impressions. The first is that Olson is a big man – he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, but looks bigger; and second, he can really hit and hit with significant power.
His approach is outstanding with plus plate coverage and plate discipline. There is definitely length in his swing which will lead to strikeouts, however, with a 75% contact rate and plus power, you have to look past the strikeouts.
Besides the impressive raw power, Olson’s ability to draw a walk is as equally impressive. His 18.5% walk rate was the highest in the California League. While his batting average will likely settle in at a .240-.260, his on-base percentage could push the upper .300’s. His 30-grade foot speed will not help his BABIP, but the total hit-tool is very intriguing.
Defensively, Olson has the ceiling of a plus defender. He has soft hands and enough athleticism to save runs from infielder’s errant throws.
While I ranked Olson eighth in the system last year, I did comment. “…has plus-plus raw power and if he can improve his contact, the A’s might actual have something.” Yes, that’s a feeble attempt to tell you I didn’t miss on Olson. However, things change and players get better. Olson is now a legitimate power hitting prospect with the ceiling of a first division starter.
Fantasy Impact: Olson has the ceiling of a Top 10 fantasy first baseman but more if you are in an OBP league. The power floor is 25 home runs annually with a ceiling of 30 to 35. While Oakland suppresses power, Olson has enough raw to hit the ball out of any ballpark. Discount him slightly for where he plays, but not too much.
|2015 Age: 19||Ceiling: First Div.
|Ht: 5-9 Weight: 175||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017-18|
In doing the top 100 list, I always like to put a few surprises in the mix. Candidly after 60 or 70 players, the difference in talent of the player listed at 73 is not much different than the player listed at number 123. Enter Franklin Barreto, ranked number 100 on our 2013 Top 100 list.
I really liked the raw tools of Barreto and those tools started to translate as a teenager playing in the college laden Northwest League. In 72 games, he posted an OPS of .856 with five home runs and 29 stolen bases.
His highest graded skill is his plus speed and the 29 stolen bases proved the point. While he was on pace for 50 plus stolen bases, I think 30 to 40 stolen bases is a better ceiling for him long term. The thing I saw in the Fall Instructional League that impressed me the most was his plate coverage and bat speed. That also played quite well in the Northwest League as he posted a 78% contact rate and a 7.9% walk rate while hitting five home runs. Long-term, I think Baretto can develop average power with the ability to hit 10 to 12 home runs.
Barreto’s bat is clearly ahead of his glove as he made 26 errors in 72 games at shortstop. The Blue Jays like his athleticism and believe he will improve but if doesn’t work there, a move to center field could make a ton of sense.
Dynasty League: Barreto should fall between 80 and 120 on our Top 100 prospect list. That implies that he could get moved aside for the next young hot-shot prospect? Perhaps, but Barreto has the ceiling of a significant fantasy contributor with 40 stolen bases, 10 to 12 home runs hitting at the top of a lineup. That said, he’s still at least three years away as he just turns 19 during spring training. He’ll likely start the 2015 season in the Midwest League.
|2015 Age: 19||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-1 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Renato Nunez clearly had fun in the California League. In 124 games, he slugged .517 while hitting 29 home runs, which was fourth most in the league.
California League aside, Renato Nunez has started to translate his plus raw power into usable in-game power. The power is generated from both plus bat speed and surprising raw strength that he generates from his 6-foot-1, 185 pound frame; although, he looks heavier than his listed weight.
Where Nunez struggles and what is keeping him from being talked about in prospects circles is his extremely aggressive approach at the plate. In XX plate appearances, Nunez walked only 34 times. While that represented a walk rate of 6%, as he moves to Double-A in 2015, I would expect that walk rate to regress as pitchers with better control will play to his aggressiveness.
Defensively, Nunez made major strides at third base where he cut his errors down from 39 in 2013 to only 15 in 2014. The arm strength has always been there but his footwork is now allowing him to get to grounders much more effectively and be better balanced on his throws.
Fantasy Impact: While Nunez is an aggressive hitter, the power will play with a chance to hit 20 to 25 home runs at the highest level. He makes enough contact that he should be able to post a .250 to .260 batting average but it could come with a sub .300 on-base percentage. Nunez has below average speed and therefore stolen bases will not be part of his profile.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 170||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2016-17|
Prior to the 2013 season, the big man on campus at Oklahoma State University was Dillon Overton. Then two things happened. First, Overton hurt his elbow and eventually had Tommy John Reconstructive Surgery and some guy named Jonathan Gray started hitting the upper nineties with a nasty slider. Despite the injury, the A’s liked what they saw in Overton and drafted him in the second round in the 2013 first year player draft to a team friendly $400,000 signing bonus.
When healthy, Overton has a strong three pitch arsenal that plays up given his deceptive crossfire delivery. His fastball sits in the low 90’s with a lot of arm side run and control. His out pitch is a nasty 82-84 MPH two plane slider that is very difficult on lefties given his deceptive delivery. Finally, he shows a very good feel for his changeup and that could also develop into a plus pitch.
Overton did return to the mound during 2014 and while he only pitch in 12 games in rookie ball, the results were quite impressive. In 37 innings, he struck out 53 with only four walks. When I saw him, he was still building arm strength and his fastball sat 89-91 MPH but he did touch 92 three times in his 50 pitches. He only threw a handful of sliders but the pitch definitely flashed.
While Overton has a crossfire delivery, his pitching mechanics are quite good. He pitches from a slightly lower than three-quarters delivery and slings the ball to the plate. With a height of 6-foot-2 (looks true), he’ll likely be more of a fly ball pitcher and that was born out in his early professional career. He is also able to repeat his delivery very well, which was made even more impressive after his long layoff.
Fantasy Impact: The injury risk profile with Overton is high given his modest innings totals since his Tommy John Surgery. Plus, the Athletics will likely limit his innings to 100 during 2015. Assuming he recovers, the ceiling is a high strikeout, low walk pitcher that will benefit from pitching in Oakland.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: Solid-Reg
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
The Athletics drafted Daniel Robertson in the supplemental first round of the 2012 first year player draft with a belief that he would develop quickly given his excellent hand-eye coordination and plus make-up. After two full seasons, the A’s are looking pretty smart as Robertson has posted an .807 OPS in 288 professional games and an impressive 219K/139BB strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Robertson really thrived in the California League where he batted .310, slugged .471 while hitting 15 home runs. Despite the burst in power, the swing is more conducive to contact and I don’t believe the power will sustain as he moves up the chain.
I had a chance to see Robertson plays three times in the Arizona Fall League and the advanced scouting report held true. He has an advanced approach with very good plate coverage, makes excellent contact and is a tough out. While the raw power is currently below average, he has good bat speed but unless he changes his swing path, I see a ceiling of 10 to 12 home runs. He’s also a below average runner and therefore, stolen bases will not be part of his game.
I only got a chance to see Roberston play one game at shortstop and he looked ok. I worry about his foot speed, particularly as he fills out and an eventual move to third or a corner outfield might be in the cards down the road.
Fantasy Impact: While Robertson has name recognition and a first round pedigree, he’s likely to be a better baseball player than a fantasy baseball player. The upside is Matt Carpenter – where the value comes from at-bats and scored runs but with limited stolen bases and home runs. That could be a useful fantasy player but is one that will have fluctuating yearly values depending on his position in the lineup and others driving him home.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 210||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
Whenever any pitcher tames the California League, you have to take note. 6-foot-3 right-hander Seth Streich did that and more as he posted a 3.16 ERA with an impressive 9.16 strikeout per nine rate while walking only 22 in 114 innings. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury caused him the last month of the season, but assuming he comes back healthy, Streich could be the number one pitching prospect in the system.
Streich doesn’t have over powering stuff as his fastball sits 90-93 MPH but he does have the ability to touch higher when he needs something extra. His best secondary pitch is his changeup that improved significantly from 2013. It has excellent deception and movement and as he continues to develop a feel for the pitch, it could easily become a plus offering. He also throws an 83-84 MPH slider that doesn’t have great bite but has enough break to miss bats. Everything plays up though because Streich pounds the strike zone. His 1.74 walk-per-nine rate was fifth best in the league for starting pitches.
Streich also has plenty of athleticism and that really shows up in his pitching mechanics. First, he uses his frame well and because he can control his arsenal, pounds the lower half of the zone. He has excellent momentum to the plate with plus balance. It’s no wonder that he has 70 grade control. The one negative is that his delivery is so clean, he doesn’t have a ton of deception and that could lead to batters getting good looks and possibly teeing off.
Assuming his shoulder problems are behind him, Streich should start 2015 in Double-A with an outside chance to see Oakland in the second half. Candidly, there’s not much left for him to work on in the minor leagues.
Fantasy Impact: I can be a sucker for pitchers like Streich. He has a similar profile of Erik Johnson and Dan Straily and both of those pitchers have had spotty big league success at best. However, I’ll still be rostering Streich in league that have 200 minor league players. Pitching half his games in Oakland will only help.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: 2nd-Div.
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 205||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
Matt Chapman was a two-way player in high school, not only showing a promising hit tool with excellent bat speed but also reportedly hitting the upper nineties on the bump. Once he signed at Cal State Fullerton in 2012, Chapman focused exclusively on being a positional player and it clearly worked as the Athletics made him their 2014 first round pick, signing him to a $1.75 million dollar bonus.
In his three year college career, Chapman showed an ability to make solid contact with a mature approach. The swing can get long though, particularly when he tries to muscle up for power. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Chapman has the size and bat speed to hit for power. However, his swing plane lacks leverage and therefore his power is likely to be more doubles oriented.
Defensively, Chapman could profile as a Mike Moustakas level third baseman – an adequate glove but a plus-plus arm that will help to make up for his lack of range.
In keeping with their currently trend, the A’s should start Chapman in the California League to begin the 2015 season. As with Max Muncy, Chapman’s power could play up with 20 plus home runs not out of the question. He’s a below average runner, so don’t expect much speed on the base paths.
Fantasy Impact: I think the upside of Chapman is a solid-average big leaguer and a possible second division fantasy player. He does have the added advantage of being a third baseman and one that will likely stay there long-term. The upside is 15 to 20 home runs with a .260 batting average and a .340 on-base percentage.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
I’m not even sure I can explain what Kendall Graveman did in 2014. He started the year in Lansing of the Midwest League and ended up pitching out of the bullpen in Toronto in September. The most interesting aspect of his process is that he didn’t skip a level; he literally spent time in each and every level of the minor league system.
While Graveman doesn’t have a plus arsenal, he does have plus control and therefore, doesn’t walk anybody. His 1.91 walk-per-nine rate is indeed impressive. He can run his fastball up to 93 MPH in short burst but usually sits 89 to 92 MPH. His out pitch is becoming his cutter which has nasty boring action. With all of his pitches, he is able to get a ton of movement while keeping the ball down in the zone. In fact, in 207 minor league innings, he’s posted nearly a 3.00 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio. He’s also only given up five home runs, three of those were last year.
While Graveman doesn’t have the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher or even a mid-rotation starter, he can really pitch. Sometimes we forget about that but clearly the Athletics have not and could give Graveman a chance to challenge for a spot in the rotation next spring.
Fantasy Impact: If I’m in a draft-and-hold league, I’m taking a flyer on Graveman late in my draft. I doubt the strikeouts will amount to more than six per nine, but he could post slightly better than league average ratios and pitching in the Oakland will now only help.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: 2nd-Div.
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 205||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
When I saw Max Muncy last year, I was impressed with his plate discipline and excellent contactability. However, the swing lacked leverage and I was concerned whether the 21 home runs he belted in the California League (25 overall) would sustain as he moved to a more neutral league. Well, that question was answered when Muncy slugged .379 with seven home runs in 122 games in Double-A.
While the power is still a question, the hit tool is not. He has a short compact swing and is able to barrel the ball with a level swing. He has a mature approach at the plate where he walked nearly as many times as he struck out – 92K/87 BB. That skill set should project him to be a .275 plus hitter, although his BABIP will never get a boost from his legs as he is a below average runner.
The problem is he’s a first base only prospect with 40 grade power. That is not going to play in the major leagues. In fact, the skill set reminds me of another light hitting former A’s player – Daric Barton. That said, Muncy is strong with bat speed and I’m not ready to rule out him developing double-digit home run power. Is it likely? Probably not, but the dream is still there; you can’t say that about Barton.
Fantasy Impact: It looks like Muncy’s breakout 2013 season in the California League could be his outlier. I do believe he has the strength and bat speed to hit more home runs, but he’ll have to change his swing path in order to reach that ceiling. Muncy is only ownable in leagues that roster 350 minor league players.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #4 starter or Reliever|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
The A’s went with another college pitcher with their second pick in the 2014 first year player draft in right-hander Daniel Gossett. He had an impressive college career at Clemson that ended with him as the Friday starter in his junior year. He struck out a batter an inning while limiting opposing hitters to a .202 batting-average-against.
In his first exposure to professional ball, the Athletics had him pitching in relief where he performed well. With an average arsenal and a smallish frame, Gossett might ultimately be best suited for a role in the bullpen. However, I would expect the A’s to give him a chance to start and given his feel for pitching, he could easily start the year in the California League.
Gossett has a solid three pitch arsenal. His fastball sits 90-92 MPH with some late life and a changeup and slider that will flash plus. He throws strikes but it doesn’t come easy. His mechanics have a great deal of funk and effort that helps his stuff to play up. However, it also makes it hard for him to repeat his delivery. In college he got away with it, I’m not so confident that it will happen as he hits the upper minor leagues.
Fantasy Impact: Gossett has a solid arsenal who can throw strikes. However, the effort in his delivery combined with his less than ideal size points to a role in the bullpen. Fantasy owners should probably stand on the slide lines for now and monitor Gossett as he begins his professional career.
2015 Emerging Prospect:
The Athletics love to draft middle infielder that profile as above-average hitters. Trace Loehr, the A’s sixth round draft pick in 2014 provides another example of that type of player. He has a short compact swing with excellent contactability but questionable future power as his swing is more contact-oriented. The A’s have a history of moving players like Loehr quickly though their system and I expect that to occur here. While he profiles as a utility player, at some point, one of these middle infielders should eventually become a top five prospect in the game. Oh, wait a minute…