|Original Published Date: January 15, 2019|
It’s hard to get your arms around the Oakland Athletics system. There is a lot of talent including Jesus Luzardo, one of the best pitching prospects in the game as well as Sean Murphy, one of the best catching prospects in the game. But there is also a ton of unknowns; more than any other system in the league.
Does Kyler Murray play football or baseball? Does A.J. Puk, Daulton Jefferies, and James Kaprielian return from TJ Surgery with the same upside? These questions are in addition to the normal prospect questions such as will Lazaro Armenteros hit enough to get to his double-plus power, or will Jameson Hannah have enough power to be more than a fourth outfielder.
If these questions are answered with a resounding yes, then Oakland has one of the best systems in the league. If not, they are likely a bottom five. The answer, of course, is in the middle and why it’s so hard to get your arms around the organization. Another data point is this was the longest write-up that I did. When you have a good handle on a prospect, positive or negative, it’s easy to write and be succinct. When there are a ton of questions, I find myself debating in my write-up of the capsules.
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1. Jesus Luzardo (LHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
Originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Jesus Luzardo has made quick work of the minor leagues when you factor in, he didn’t pitch at all in 2016 and pitched less than 50 innings in 2017. You see, Luzardo had Tommy John Surgery in his senior year of high school but that didn’t scare away the Nationals who had success in buying low in these situations.
The Nationals were clearly correct in their assessment as Luzardo has quickly become one of the best pitching prospects in the game. He has two plus pitches in his fastball that can touch 97 MPH and a double-plus changeup that can get both arm and glove-side batters out. His curveball is still a work-in-progress, but he’s only pitched 152.2 professional innings. Most sources I spoke with believe that the pitch will develop into at least an average offering which when combined with his other two plus pitches gives him a good chance to hit his number two ceiling.
The A’s have been pushing Luzardo hard and he’s responded at each level. That said, there is still work remaining. The control and command can be inconsistent, and his curveball still needs improvement. Therefore, I would like to see him spend at least half the season in Triple-A. Will that happen? Probably not, but don’t be surprised if he’s up-and-down for a couple of years and is quickly labeled a bust. I will not be one of those guys as I love the stuff and delivery and believe in the ceiling.
2. Sean Murphy (C)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 5 Catcher
Quietly, Sean Murphy has become one of the best catching prospects in the game. He’s always been a plus defender, but his hit-tool has developed very nicely and has started to add a little power to his game. He spent most of his time in Double-A where in 68 games he slashed .288/.358/.498 with eight home runs. While most of his power is still in the form of doubles, that should change as he matures and naturally adds loft to his swing.
Given his ability to control the strike zone and his growing power, the ceiling is a Top 5 fantasy catcher. The fact that he’s a plus defender will only enhance his playing time. Once he gets acclimated to the Majors, I think you could see a slash line of .270/.340/.470 with 15 to 20 home runs. That’s an impact player performer at a position where finding a bat that won’t hurt you is a plus.
3. A.J. Puk (LHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
I was not of fan of A.J. Puk when the Athletics drafted him sixth overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. I wasn’t convinced that his control would ever be good enough to play at the highest level. What I didn’t appreciate though was the quality of the arsenal and how it would play in a lefty who is 6-foot-7 coming across his body.
Unfortunately, Puk’s career had to put on hold as he tore his elbow tendon during spring training and missed the entire 2018 season and likely part of the 2019 season. I have put his ETA in the Majors from 2020 to 2021. He could see 2020 if the rehab goes extremely well and his control doesn’t regress. However, 2021 is the more conservative timeframe and therefore the more likely return date.
Ultimately, I see Puk’s upside as a mid-rotation starter who should get better as he gets more comfortable pitching with his size. If he peaked as a number two starter with a strikeout an innings and a low to mid 3.00 ERA, I would not be at all surprised.
4. Kyler Murray (OF)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: Unknown Fantasy Ceiling: If he chooses baseball, he’s a potential everyday OF (Top 45)
I know very little about football much past Tom Brady, Drew Breese, and…uh, who’s the Packers quarterback that is on the State Farm commercials? Well, anyway, I do know that Kyler Murray is a big deal in college football and won the Heisman Trophy this fall. I also know that he’ll likely be drafted in the NFL and will have to decide whether he’s going to play football or baseball?
You see, Murray was also drafted by the Athletics in the first round last June and was paid a $4.6 million dollar signing bonus. It was a risky pick but there are provisions in the contract that Murray must repay most, if not all his bonus if he plays football. Remember, if he signs in the first round in the NFL, even the last pick gets a guaranteed $10 million dollar deal.
I don’t know where he’ll get drafted but he’s a talent in football, but at a listed 5-foot-11, he is not the prototypical size you want to see at quarterback. Would he play at another position? Tim Tebow would not. But at 5-foot-11 and incredibly athletic, he’s the perfect size to be roaming the outfield.
But, is he a ballplayer? Well, in 78 games at Oklahoma, he did hit 10 home runs with 22 stolen bases, but he also struck out 26% of the time. So, the answer is likely his hit-tool is well underdeveloped, but the tools and athleticism are so high that through repetition, he should get better.
Ok, most of you must be asking…so what? What does a Dynasty League owner do? Unfortunately, by most Rookie Drafts this spring, we will not know if Murray will pick baseball or football. Perhaps he will try and be Bo Jackson Version 2.0. Regardless, I can’t draft him until at least after the first 60 players have been selected, assuming your league has 15 owners. By then, you’re starting to draft bets and that is what Murray is. Even if he chooses baseball, the hit tool is going to take time to develop. It always does.
5. Lazaro Armenteros (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
The Athletics spent $3 million dollars to sign Cuban outfielder Lazaro Armenteros in 2016. His carrying tool is double-plus power where he nightly puts on batting power shows. However, the power has yet to translate into in-game power because of his penchant to strikeout in bunches. Last season in Low-A, he struck out 33% of the time in 340 plate appearances and wound up with only eight home runs. A 30% strikeout rate is notable in the lower minors as rarely do players improve their contact rate enough to become quality hitters. The hope is that they will make enough contact to get moving through the system.
Armenteros won’t turn 20 until May, so he is still very young. While the A’s will likely promote him to the California League, he should probably repeat Low-A to work on his hit tool. Plus, he did miss a month with a knee injury, so he played less than a full-season there. He should be owned in all Dynasty League that roster 200 or more minor leaguers with a ceiling of a Top 45 outfielder. However, just know that there is significant downside risk including never making it out of Double-A.
6. Austin Beck (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
Last year we discussed Austin Beck as having crazy raw tools, but a lot of work was needed on his hit-tool. Sure, he hit .296 in 2018, but it came with a .377 BABIP which disguised his 22% strikeout rate and woeful 5.6% walk rate. What was disappointing was the lack of power he showed. In 123 games, he slugged .383 with only two home runs.
So, as we look towards 2019, we are still where we were last year. We like the tools, but he needs to improve his hit-tool, primarily his aggressive approach in order to let his secondary tools (speed and power) play. Fortunately, he only turned 20 in November so there is time for him to improve. Plus, he’s very athletic and that should allow him to make the necessary adjustments.
We still put his ceiling as a Top 45 outfielder, maybe higher but Dynasty League owners must have patience. To that point, we still believe he’s at least three years away from even sniffing the Major Leagues.
7. Jameson Hannah (OF)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Signed in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft, Jameson Hannah had a strong showing in 23 games in the New York Penn League last summer. In 86 at-bats, he hit .279/.347 with six stolen bases and a home run. He did strike out 25% of the time which was unusual given his plus bat-to-ball skills he showed in college.
Hannah’s carrying tool is his double-plus speed which he shows both on the basepaths and in center field. Not only does he have plus speed, but his base stealing success rate in college (93%) as well as in his success in professional ball also suggest he has the necessary skills to be a 40 stolen base threat at the highest level. The problem is his below-average power might point to a fourth outfielder role once he eventually makes it to the big leagues.
With speed at a premium in the fantasy game, Hannah should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues that roster 200 minor leaguers. Assuming he can get on base at a high clip which he was able to do effectively in college, there could be something to excited about that is more than that of a fourth outfielder.
8. James Kaprielian (RHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
James Kaprielian…remember him? Honestly, it’s easy to forget. After being selected in the first round by the Yankees in the 2015 MLB Draft (pick 16), he’s only pitched 29.1 innings in his professional career. Well, he also pitched in the 2016 Fall League, but they don’t officially count in his total. Regardless, in four years, he just hasn’t pitched. It’s all been about health, particularly his elbow and finally in April of 2017, he had Tommy John reconstructive surgery. Unfortunately, he has yet to put up a box score since then.
The good news is he pitched in the Fall Instructional League and I have a first-hand report that he looked good. Secondly, the Athletics put him on their 40-man roster. This was notable as they left off Richie Martin, who was subsequently taken as the first player in the Rule-5 Draft in December.
9. Daulton Jefferies (RHP)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
Signed in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Daulton Jefferies has logged all of 20.1 innings in his professional career. While he has top of the rotation stuff and athleticism to spare, he’s never been able to stay healthy. In 2017, he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery and only pitched in two innings in June before having a setback and missing the rest of the season. From all accounts, his bullpens late in the season looked good and he should be ready to go again by Spring Training.
Jefferies is an interesting case. He’s got premium stuff, is a great athlete with big-time makeup. At 6-feet tall, he isn’t a big kid and obviously, there is a long history of health concerns. Plus, he’s 23 with 20 innings of professional experience. There’s every reason for a Dynasty League owner to move on, but if he’s truly healthy, he could move quickly through the system and therefore he’s a guy you must continue to monitor…and closely.
10. Jeremy Eierman (OF)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF with risk
Jeremy Eierman looked like a first-round pick after hitting 23 home runs, stealing 17 bases in his sophomore year at Missouri State. But after his production regressed in 2018, he slipped to the Athletics in the second round. He’s got plenty of tools with plus raw power and plus speed, there are definite questions about his ability to control the strike zone.
He flashed similar tools in his first exposure to professional ball, slugging eight home runs and stealing 10 bases in 62 games in the New York Penn League. But as in college, he struck out too much and rarely walked. If he can figure out his hit-tool, the tools will play at the highest level with a chance to get full-time at-bats.
11. Skye Bolt (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
I continue to be very intrigued with Syke Bolt. Sure, he turns 25 in the middle of January and is considered an “old” prospect. He also hit 19 home runs, stole 19 bases with a .325 OBP across High and Double-A last season.
He’s got tools and if he can improve his hit-tool, he has impact potential at the highest level. I think he’s a major leaguer but realistically as a fourth outfielder. However, if you’re looking for a player that is high risk but with a high return, Bolt is a guy to consider.
12. Jorge Mateo (SS)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
Signed in 2012 by the Yankees, Jorge Mateo prospect star has fallen. Once considered a top prospect in the game, even ranking as our 31st best prospect in 2016, Mateo has just not been able to hit enough in the upper minors and consequently, his ceiling has dropped considerably.
He still has the blazing speed, stealing 25 bases last year in Triple-A, but his inability to control the strike zone has caught up with him. In 131 games last season, he struck out 27% of the time while walking 5.7% of the time. With 30-grade power, his game is about getting on base and letting his speed be a disrupter. His glove will get him to the big leagues but if he can’t improve his on-base skills, his ceiling is likely a utility player at the highest level. He turns 24 next season, so time is starting to run out on the patience of Dynasty League owners.
13. Parker Dunshee (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
With the A’s ability to recycle presumed over-the-hill pitchers to relevancy, if not dominating pitchers, maybe they don’t need young pitchers in their system. Just convert them all to bats! But in the meantime, they’ve got some very good arms. With no disrespect to Jesus Luzardo, Parker Dunshee had the superior year.
He’s pitched extremely well in Double-A, pitching to a 2.44 ERA while striking out over a batter an inning while walk 1.4 per nine. The problem is his stuff is just average. His fastball sits in the low 90’s with average to slightly above-average secondary pitchers. However, they all play up because of his ability to throw each pitch for strikes.
14. Sheldon Neuse (3B)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire Pickup, maybe a little more
Sheldon Neuse had a nice junior year at the University of Oklahoma in 2016 posting a 1.111 OPS with 11 home runs. The performance earned him a second-round draft pick and a nice signing bonus of $900,000. While he showed promise in 2017 hitting .321/.382 in 117 games across three levels, he showed significant regression last season in Triple-A where he posted a dreadful .661 OPS.
His performance last season has given me pause. He showed significant swing and miss (32% strikeout rate) and no plate discipline (6.0% walk rate) while only hitting five home runs. Yeah, it wasn’t good. Plus, he’s blocked by one of the best young third basemen in the game. But, I’m not yet willing to rule him out just yet. I do like the swing and while last season was ugly, let’s see if he can turn things around in 2019. Ultimately, the upside is likely a utility player but if he can add some loft to the swing and learn to control the strike zone better, there could be a little more.
15. Dairon Blanco (OF)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF with extreme risk
Dairon Blanco was signed by the Athletics in December of 2017 out of Cuba. He’ll be 26 in April with only 82 games of professional experience outside of Cuba. However, he has the one skill that should have every reader of this site interested…80-grade speed. He’s a flat-out burner with a chance to steal bases in bunches. I had a chance to see it myself at the California League All-Star game where he easily stole a base and by the way, was named the MVP with a 4-for-5 performance including a home run.
While I did see him hit a home run, the swing is more geared for contact so unless he adds loft, I don’t see much power in his game. As a hitter, he showed good contact with an idea at the plate. He’s likely a fourth outfielder in the big leagues, although the arm might be a problem. Nevertheless, because of his speed, he’s a guy to watch.