|Original Published Date: January 10, 2017|
The Athletics are in a rebuild and are doing a nice job of restocking their farm system. At the top of the list for the second year in a row is shortstop Franklin Barreto. He’s one of the best players in the minor leagues with the tools to be an impact major league performer. He’s already made it to Triple-A so there’s a very good chance he sees the major leagues sometime in 2017. After Barreto the system has a lot of similar bats – guys with big power but poor hit tools. Matt Chapman has the highest upside with Matt Olson and Renato Nunez already spending time in majors.
The top pitching prospect is A.J Puk, a 6-foot-7 right-hander who is currently more of a thrower than a pitcher. But he’s a lefty who can hit the upper nineties and assuming the A’s can help him control his arsenal, he could be a significant contributor in a few years. Closer to the show is Jharel Cotton, who will likely start 2017 in the rotation, Frankie Montas who has a great arm but has had trouble staying healthy and Daniel Gossett, the least known of the three but brings a nice combination of stuff and control.
Overall, the system is very strong with several potential impact bats close to the major leagues. Is it good enough to put them in contention to make the playoffs by 2018? I don’t think so, but they have a chance to be a .500 or better club.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 SS
The Oakland A’s have completed a lot of trades over the past few years, acquiring young talent as well as giving away young talent. One player that has stayed a constant in the organization is Franklin Barreto. He was signed in 2012 to a $1.4 million dollar signing bonus and has been making slow and steady progress through the organization. Sometimes slow and steady has a negative connotation but not with Barreto. In fact, he’s excelled at every level in which he’s played; the A’s have just been conservative with their budding star. In seems to be working as he’s now on the doorstep of the major leagues and looks great.
He played the entire season in Double-A (except for the last four games of the year) and played well, particularly when you consider he was the youngest player in the league. In 119 games, he slashed .281/.340/.413 with 10 home runs to go along with 30 stolen bases. He kept his strikeouts under control (17.7% strikeout rate) while becoming more patient at the plate.
He should begin next season at Triple-A, but unlike the last two seasons, I don’t believe he spends the entire year at that level with a promotion to Oakland in the second half definitely in the cards.
Scouting Report: Barreto has a chance to be an impact middle infielder in the big leagues. He has a great looking swing with a bat that is short to the ball and enough bat speed to project at least average future power. He’s also a plus runner with enough speed to steal 25 to 30 bases annually. He is an aggressive hitter and needs to continue to improve his plate patience. If that happens, as it did last season, he could have some BABIP-induced .300 seasons.
Defensively, Barreto has the athleticism to stay at shortstop. He can play out of control at times, but the arm is accurate and strong. It should be noted that the A’s played him at second base several times throughout last year.
Fantasy Impact: Barreto has never gotten a lot of love in Dynasty League circle, yet he’s a Top 50 prospect; actually closer to 25 than 50. Assuming he stays at short, which I believe he will, the ceiling is a Top 10 fantasy shortstop with 15 home runs, 26 stolen bases and a .290 batting average.
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
A.J. Puk was in the discussion to go 1:1 in the 2016 MLB Draft but eventually fell to the Athletics at number six. He was a three year starter at Florida, including the Friday night starter in his junior year, going 16-9 in his career. The surface stats always looked good. He posted a 3.42 career ERA but in his junior year, was a half run bette. He also struck out 249 batters in his college career that spanned 192 innings.
Without going even into his scouting report, it’s easy to see that Puk has great swing and miss stuff. His problem has always been his control. In those same 192 innings, he also walked 90. He never really improved throughout his college career. In fact his walk rate increased in his draft-year.
In his professional debut, it was more of the same. He struck out over 11 per nine, didn’t give up a home run, but also walked over three per nine. The walk rate was definitely an improvement but before we declare victory, the sample size was also only 32.2 innings.
Scouting Report: Despite his college pedigree, Puk is still more of a thrower than a pitcher. His fastball is a double-plus offering that can hit the upper-90’s, however, his secondary pitches are not in the same class. His control problems are a direct result of his inability to control his long-levers but at 6-foot-7, that’s just to be expected.
While the overall profile is encouraging, Puk needs a lot of repetition in the minors, perhaps three years, before the A’s will consider a promotion to Oakland. While that’s not unusual by any stretch, it will be viewed as a negative for a highly drafted college pitcher. I believe the A’s knew this when they drafted him and will indeed take it slowly.
If it all comes together, he could be a number one. However, since there’s so much work to be done, I have set his official ceiling at a number two.
Fantasy Impact: Puk is an intriguing pitcher. He has size and a great arm, he just needs to learn to pitch. If Dynasty League owners decide to lay down a number one draft pick on him in a rookie draft, they need to be patient as it could take three years for him to reach the majors. Once he’s there, it could take another few years from him to reach his ceiling. In other words…patience!
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
When we wrote about Matt Chapman last year, we said…”the power was candidly a little surprising as his swing is more geared towards doubles. I think once he graduates to Double-A, his home run power will regress to a baseline of 15 to 18.” Well, we missed that one. In fact, I saw Chapman last year and truly did not see a leveraged swing. Clearly that has changed and the result was 29 home runs in Double-A and another seven in 18 games in Triple-A.
While the power clearly went up, so did the strikeouts. In 117 games in Double, he struck out 29% of the time. It didn’t get any better upon his promotion where he struck out 31% of the time. That led to a .237 batting average but 100 points more on his on-base percentage. He doesn’t walk enough to label him a three-true-outcome player but it does given pause as to whether he’ll hit enough at the highest level to get to his power.
Scouting Report: The scouting report has changed. Instead of trying to find the balance between contact and power, he’s decided to become a power hitter. I didn’t get a chance to see him perform last season but reports I have indicate that he’s become a dead pull-hitter who swings very hard. That was not the player I saw in 2015. The swing was already long and that has been exasperated with his new approach. Will it work? It might, but it also puts him on a slippery slope.
Khris Davis has developed into a really good player based on double-plus raw power. However, he’s been able to maintain a 25% strikeout rate and therefore, he’s been able to get to his double-plus power. Chapman could do the same if he can just improve his contact rate slightly.
He should begin the season in Triple-A with a chance to see Oakland in the second half.
Fantasy Impact: Chapman has a chance to be an impact fantasy contributor if he makes enough contact to get to his plus power. His upside is 30 home runs with a .220 to .240 batting average, and a handful of stolen bases particularly early in his career. If it all comes together, he’s a top 15 starting fantasy third baseman on a fantasy team with downside pressure on his batting average.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2015, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP but with health and better control, Top 30
You always worry about guys that get traded a lot in the minor leagues. Frankie Montas is one of those players. He was signed by the Red Sox in 2009, traded to the White Sox and then to the Dodgers before finally be sent to the A’s as part of the Rich Hill and Josh Reddick trade. I can’t explain the movement but I’ve seen him pitch twice and have come away impressed each time.
He has struggled to stay healthy and 2016 was no exception where he only logged 16 innings across Double and Triple-A. The results were good: posting a 2.25 ERA, striking out 22 and walking three. The results were even better in 17 innings in the Arizona Fall League where he posted a 0.53 ERA but only struck out nine while walking eight.
Scouting Report: Two things stand out when you first lay eyes on Frankie Montas. One is that he throws really hard. I had him hitting 99 multiple times in the Arizona Fall League. The second thing you notice is he’s just a big guy. The baseball card use to say 185 pounds, but fortunately it’s now been updated to more reflect his true size – 255.
Besides his 80-grade fastball, Montas throws a plus slider with great lateral movement that is difficult to pick up and consequently, is a true swing and miss pitch. In the Fall League, the pitch just left batters shaking their head; they flat out couldn’t hit it. He also throws a change-up, which is a step-down from his fastball and slider, but is still a quality pitch. The only thing holding back Montas from being a top-of-the-rotation arm is his lack of control. While he shows flashes, it’s not consistent as was evident in the Fall League where he walked nearly as many as he struck out.
It’s all there for Montas and while he might eventually move to the bullpen, I think he solves his control problems and becomes a solid mid-rotation starter, perhaps more.
Fantasy Impact: Prospect fatigue has set-in for Montas. Fantasy owners had their taste way back in 2015 but injuries and the concerns of him being traded multiple times has given pause to owners. I get it, but the arm is special and I was reminded of that again this fall. Don’t give up hope. While I put the ceiling as a top 45 pitcher in fantasy, it could easily be more.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or closer
“Do as I say and not as I do.”
I added Jharel Cotton to all my Dynasty Leagues before the beginning of the 2016 season as I heard so many reports on how good his stuff was and that the “Dodgers” loved this guy. In fact I wrote in March that if you were looking for a deep sleeper for 2016, “Cotton was your guy”.
He pitched well in Triple-A waiting for the call, although his home run rate spiked and brought his ERA along with it. In 97.1 innings at Oklahoma City, he posted a 4.90 ERA but with an impressive 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio including striking out 11 per nine. What did I do? I grew impatient and dropped him in each league looking for the next great prospect and missed out on the call. In my defense, the Dodgers had moved him to the bullpen and I panicked and started looking for alternatives.
Once he was traded in the package for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick, the A’s moved him back to the rotation and quickly promoted him to the big leagues. In five starts for Oakland, he posted a 2.15 ERA striking out 23 and walking four. He did give up four home runs but it didn’t hurt too much as he kept the bases clean which limited his damage.
Scouting Report: The scouting report on Cotton is pretty straight-forward. He has good stuff with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH (averaged 93.17 MPH in his major league time) and good secondary pitches. His best off speed pitch is his change-up that can elicit swings and misses from both right and left handed batters. He also throws a cutter that shows a lot of promise.
While the arsenal is quality it’s made better with his ability to pound the strike zone. He just doesn’t walk anybody and never has. His minor league walk-per-nine stands at an impressive 2.62. The fly-in-the-ointment is his size. At 5-foot-11 he lacks the plane on his pitches and this has made him homer-prone. It really showed in 2016 as he faced more advanced hitters. It’s what ultimately will suppress his ceiling and why he eventually could be moved to the bullpen. To that end, I’ve put his ceiling as a number four starter or a potential closer.
Regardless of his upside, I missed on him in 2016. I should have held on through the home runs and believed my own scouting report. I didn’t and missed his two wins and 23 strikeouts he posted last September. Believe it or not, it would have made a difference.
“Do as I say and not as I do”.
Fantasy Impact: I really like Cotton and think he has a chance to be a number four/five starter on a fantasy team with a fallback position of a bullpen arm. While that’s not an impact performer, in deeper leagues he should be able to help.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Drafted in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Daniel Gossett had an impressive 2016 season earning him the A’s minor league pitcher of the year honors. Pitching across three levels, he posted a 2.69 ERA with a 4.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio including striking out nearly a batter an inning.
He’ll likely begin 2017 back in Triple-A with a good chance to see Oakland by mid-season. While he doesn’t have any plus pitches, the overall package is very nice and gives Gossett a chance to be a number four starter in the big leagues.
Scouting Report: Gossett has a comprehensive arsenal that plays up because he is able to throw strikes. His four seam fastball sits 91 to 93 MPH but is pretty straight. His money pitch is his two-seamer that has tremendous sink as is evident by his ground-out-to-air-out ratio of 2.6-to-1. His best secondary pitch is his change-up that can get both right and left-handed batters out. His slider, really a cutter that he throws 89 to 90 MPH took a major step forward in 2016.
While he doesn’t have any true plus pitch, although his cutter might just turn into that pitch, there’s still a lot to like. He throws strikes, keeps the ball down and locates all of his pitches. Plus, in 153.2 innings, he gave up only eight home runs. One concern is his strikeout rate. It basically took a step forward which shows the improvement in his secondary pitches. However, he likes to pitch to contact and that is what sinker ball pitchers generally do. I worry that his strikeout rate will backup and if it does, his ceiling falls. However, if he continues to strikeout a batter an inning, he has a chance to be a number three starter.
Fantasy Impact: I debated who to put first, Jharel Cotton or Gossett. Cotton is further along and has slightly better stuff, but Gossett keeps the ball in the ballpark. In five years, Gossett could wind up being the better pitcher. He’s definitely a guy I’m going to be drafting in a NFBC draft and hold league as he has the perfect profile for a round 50 selection.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP with risk
Grant Holmes was drafted in the first round (pick #22) by the Dodgers in the 2014 MLB Draft. He made his way to Oakland as part of the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick deal that also netted the A’s Jharel Cotton. While Cotton has already made his major league debut, Holmes was the big catch as the upside remains very high.
He pitched the entire 2016 season at 20-years-old but did not pitch well in the California League. While the Cali League is definitely a hitters-league, Holmes struggled to the tune of a 4.63 ERA and an ugly 1.49 WHIP, where he gave up over a hit an inning. The good news is that he continued to strike out batters at an 8.3 per nine clip.
Scouting Report: Holmes has a big-time fastball that sits 94 to 95 MPH and can touch higher in shorter burst. He complements his fastball with a hard curve that has good depth and shape. The change-up needs work but over time, it profiles to be at least an average pitch. He just needs to learn to throw strikes.
Holmes delivery continues to be a problem. The arm slot doesn’t stay consistent and he just doesn’t finish his pitches off well. However, he’s got enough athleticism that through repetition, I think the control will grade out to at least average.
Fantasy Impact: Holmes doesn’t get a lot of love in Dynasty Leagues as most owners will bristle at his poor stat line. He has great stuff and should be able to strikeout a batter an inning and while his control is currently poor, it will improve. While there is risk, I think he’s a nice buy-low candidate as he’s moving to the upper-minors in 2017 and pitching half his games in Oakland will also help his overall stat line.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
Renato Nunez was signed for an impressive $2.2 million dollar bonus during the 2010 J2 International signing period. He has been making steady progress and realized his dream of playing in the big leagues after the A’s called him up for a cup-of-coffee last September. He only got 15 plate appearances and didn’t do much, but he was able to get his feet wet after a disappointing season in Triple-A.
He spent the entire season playing in the PCL where he hit .228 but did manage to hit 23 home runs. His average was beaten down by a .247 BABIP but he also struck out 21.4% of the time while walking about once a week. While Nunez should expect 20 points more on his batting average as his BABIP normalizes, his poor approach is limiting his ceiling. At this juncture, he’s a second division starter at best but that still might work because he’s playing for a second division team.
Scouting Report: Nunez’s carrying tool is his plus bat speed that he has translated into plus in-game power. What is holding him back is his very poor approach at the plate. He’s an aggressive hitter that chases too many pitches out of the zone. He’s not a hacker but just a guy who struggles to control the strike zone. I think the .228/.278/.412 slash line that he posted in Triple-A could be a reasonable baseline going forward with perhaps another 20 points on his batting average. That puts him on the borderline for being a full-time regular in the big leagues. If he improves his walk rate just slightly, it could make all the difference.
His defense has always been a question mark and he might eventually be moved to first, although the A’s played him in left field at the end of last season. If he moves off third, it’s going to put even more pressure on his bat.
Fantasy Impact: Nunez has 25 plus home run potential but his poor approach will put pressure on his batting average. The upside at this juncture is a Top 20 third baseman or likely a corner infielder in fantasy. He’s a top 200 prospect and given his proximity to the major leagues, should be owned in most Dynasty Leagues.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Platoon first baseman ala Adam Lind
Matt Olson slugged 37 home runs in the California League in 2014 and made our Top 100 list with an asterisk – would he be able to duplicate that production once he wasn’t playing most of his games in extreme hitter’s parks? After two years and over 1,100 plate appearance, I think we have our answer – 2014 was an outlier.
That’s not to mean that Olson doesn’t have value. He does have power, but it’s more average than double-plus. He also is patient at the plate and should post a 320 to 350 on-base percentage at the highest level. He will strikeout a lot as his 24% career strikeout rate demonstrates but the overall package suggest a platoon first baseman with 20 home runs upside.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-5 and a listed 230 pounds, Matt Olson is a big guy with a big swing. His plus power is born out of raw strength and leverage but given his size, he’s going to strikeout a bunch. What he can do is get on base, as he’s very patient at the plate and doesn’t expand the strike zone. Will it be enough to make him a starting first baseman? I don’t think so as last year he hit .167 against left-handed pitchers with only one home run. To me, he looks like a platoon player.
Fantasy Impact: A stat line of 20 home runs, a .240 batting average and .340 on-base percentage is a good baseline to expect from Olson. Is that good enough to roster as a corner infielder? In deep leagues it is. In fact, it sounds a lot like Adam Lind who has been an option for fantasy owners who decide to wait on first and corner infielder in fantasy leagues for many years.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire Pickup with upside
Riche Martin was selected in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of the University of Florida. He played most of the season in the California League where he struggled. He posted a .628 OPS with three home runs, stealing 12 of 19 bases. Despite his offensive struggles, I had a chance to see him over the summer and really liked the swing. He controls the strike zone well and his swing suggest he should make good contact. To-date, he hasn’t but I believe he has the ingredients to be an above average hitter at the highest level.
Scouting Report: While Martin’s ceiling is likely a utility player, I do think he’ll hit and that could give him an opportunity to get full-time at-bats at the highest level. He has good bat speed but hasn’t demonstrated much power to-date. I think there is 10 to 12 future home run power to go along with a .280 batting average. While nothing in his performance would suggest that, I did like his bat that much when I saw him and got concurrence with other scouts at the game I attended last summer.
Fantasy Impact: While I’m betting on the “come” with Martin, I’m not yet bullish enough to suggest he be drafted on a Dynasty League.
2017 Emerging Prospect
The A’s dipped into the Cuban market in 2016 and signed toolsy outfielder Lazaro Armenteros to a $3 million signing bonus. He has yet to post a stat line in the minors but that should change next season as the A’s will likely assign him to the DSL or even the AZL. He has elite bat speed that if he can hit enough should translate into plus in-game power. He’s also a plus runner with a chance to steal a ton of bases. The open question will be whether he can hit enough. If he can, the overall package will be exciting. If not, he’ll likely never make it out of the minors.