Evaluating the Prospects: Rangers, Rockies, D’Backs, Twins, Astros, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, Rays, Mets, Padres, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles, Yankees, Braves, Athletics, Angels, Dodgers, Blue Jays, Tigers, Cardinals, Brewers, Indians, Mariners, Pirates, Royals & Giants
The A’s made a ton of moves this off-season, turning over their big league roster and moving a lot of prospect pieces around. This is a function of how Billy Beane sees prospects, which are a means to an end of winning at the big league level. Every player is available for the right price and, if you’re known as a guy willing to make trades, teams are more likely to talk to you and let you know when there’s asymmetry in how teams value various players. Since Beane is always trying to win now and thinks the future is overrated, the A’s, in general terms, tend to pounce on 25-26 year old players who aren’t on lists anymore but still have tools, while trading the shiny new object that hasn’t failed yet.
The amateur talent acquisition has been solid, but this system is more a function of what trades presented themselves in the last few years and the strength of the big league team, than a commentary on whether the scouting/player development executives are excelling. Picking low in the draft, not having a ton of extra picks and only spending what they’re given internationally means the A’s aren’t the kind of team that this sort of list-making process is likely to reward, which I’m sure doesn’t trouble them. I have them in a glut of teams around 25th in the org rankings, but I’ll work out the specific slot in a few more weeks when the lists wrap up.
Here’s the primer for the series and a disclaimer about how we don’t really know anything. See the links above for the ongoing series about how I evaluate, including the series on the ever-complicated hit tool.
Most of what you need to know for this list is in the above links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due to injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report. The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (a notch better than the projected tools, or a 75% projection while the projected tools are a 50% projection) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.
Below, I’ve included a quick ranking of the notable MLB players 27 and under that aren’t eligible for the A’s prospect list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite. Next up is the Angels.
27 & Under Big League Assets
1. Sonny Gray, RHP, Age 25, FV: 60
2. Brett Lawrie, 3B, Age 25, FV: 55
3. Jarrod Parker, RHP, Age 26, FV: 55
4. Jesse Hahn, RHP, Age 25, FV: 55
5. Marcus Semien, SS, Age 24, FV: 50 (Video)
6. A.J. Griffin, RHP, Age 27, FV: 50
7. Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Age 26, FV: 50
8. Ryan Cook, RHP, Age 27, FV: 45
9. Josh Phegley, C, Age 26, FV: 45
10. Ike Davis, 1B, Age 27, FV: 45
Organizational Overview by Dave Cameron
After expending significant resources to make a run in 2014, the A’s spent the off-season overhauling their roster, primarily focusing on getting younger. While some of the moves were a bit controversial, the A’s appear to have put a team together that can contend again in 2015 while also improving the future outlook of the club. While they lack star power, no team in baseball is as committed to depth, and the A’s have backup plans for their backup plans, limiting how far they’re likely to fall even while building for the future. They’re not a great team now and might not have the core of a great team in their farm system either, but in a world where baseball rewards serial respectability, the A’s are in a solid position for both the short-term and long-term. Let’s just not talk about the stadium, though.
50+ FV Prospects
1. Franklin Barreto, SS
Current Level/Age: SS/19.0, 5’9/175, R/R
Signed: IFA at age 16 on July 2, 2012 out of Venezuela by TOR for $1.45 million bonus
Hit: 20/55, Raw Power: 45/45, Game Power: 20/45, Run: 65/65, Field: 50/55, Throw: 60/60
Scouting Report: Barreto was known to international scouts for years before he signed for $1.45 million on July 2nd, 2012 from Venezuela. There’s something to be said for smaller kids reaching their potential sooner than the more projectable, higher upside prospects, but don’t mistake Barreto for a low upside prospect just due to his size. He’s a plus runner that very well could end up sticking at shortstop, where he plays now and has made improvements, though most scouts see his actions and size and assume he slides over to second base or out to center field. At the least, he’ll offer the ability to play all three positions in the big leagues if needed.
Barreto is well-built for 5’9/175 and his swing does a good job staying balanced for contact while also transferring his weight and giving him a chance to hit 10-15 homers per year at maturity. That said, the carrying tool here is the bat and more than a few scouts told me they have a 60 on it, even though Barreto is still 18 and hasn’t played in a full-season league yet. He has an innate feel for the bat head, above average bat speed and the speed to play small ball if he chooses and run out ground balls in the infield.
Oakland has an extensive career scouting Barreto as an amateur, going back to his days on the Venezuelan national teams when the A’s were signing fellow countryman Renato Nunez. One A’s exec compared Barreto to Rafael Furcal and doesn’t have reservations about him eventually figuring out how to stick at shortstop.
Summation: Barreto is about as polished as a kid his age can be, with his position the only question, so if Oakland wants to move him quickly. If he responds well to shortstop, that could mean he gets to High-A later in his age-19 season and being a possible call-up to the big leagues late in his age-20 season if everything continues at this rate: think Rougned Odor. More realistically, he’ll spend almost all of 2015 in Low-A and arrive in 2017 or 2018.
Upside: .280/.350/.420, 12-15 homers
FV/Risk: 55, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: Low-A/High-A, 2016: High-A/AA, 2017: AA/AAA, 2018: AAA/MLB
45 FV Prospects
2. Matt Olson, 1B Video: Olson has some pedigree as a former sandwich pick out of an Atlanta-area high school, he had a huge year in the Cal League last year and he has some big tools, headlined by easy plus power from the left side. You may be wondering why he isn’t in the above group with Barreto, which I also was expecting when I started making calls on the A’s. It boils down to concerns about the bat. He walked a ton last year, but Olson has only average bat speed and and the Cal League is super hitter-friendly. Some scouts think Olson cheats a bit and may be a mistake hitter, feasting on bad pitches late in counts, which come less and less often as you go up the chain.
Olson was into the low-90’s on the mound in high school and has a solid average arm, so the A’s tried him in right field a bit last year. Some scouts think the body is soft and don’t think he’a great athlete or defender, while others aren’t concerned and think he’s above average defensively at first base, with the A’s thinking he might even be able to play right field. Double-A will be a huge test to see what he can do with more advanced stuff, as the ongoing question on his bat will come into more focus. One scout called Olson a literal baseball rat, which I have trouble picturing, but you know what he means: the makeup is there if the ability will hold up. Reports I’ve received on Olson have had the widest gap of anyone in the process other than Colin Moran, so that makes it inherently interesting to watch his development in the coming years.
3. Matt Chapman, 3B Video: Chapman was one of my favorite guys for the 2014 draft, a standout hitter and pitcher for Fullerton that didn’t have much 1st round buzz for reasons I didn’t understand. Then, after late buzz of a good pre-draft workout, the A’s popped him Chapman the late first round. Chapman has an 80 arm and has been into the high-90’s on the mound, but is mostly an arm strength guy with a short track record of pitching. He’s a good athlete that’s a 45 runner and projects to be above average defensively at third. Chapman also put on a show in BP for Team USA (in the linked video), flashing 65 raw power that was only second to Kyle Schwarber on the team.
The question on Chapman, like Olson, is how much contact he’ll make. Chapman has above average bat speed, some feel for the strike zone and a line drive game stroke that doesn’t quite tap into all of his raw power. Fullerton emphasized an opposite field/groundball type offensive approach, similar to Stanford but not as subtle, which explains why Chapman never dominated at the plate as an amateur. Oakland execs explain that this is why he dropped, since these tools shouldn’t be around at the 25th pick; Chapman hit balls in his pre-draft workout where only Yoenis Cespedes had hit them before. Oakland sees 55 game power and a 50 bat on the low end, with comparisons like Matt Williams, Travis Fryman and Josh Donaldson for his upside; he’s expected to head to High-A nexty year at age 22.
4. Renato Nunez, 3B Video: Like Olson, Nunez put up big numbers in the Cal League this year and at a young age (20). The Venezuelan has above average raw power and bat speed, so the tools are here to succeed offensively, while the youth doesn’t hurt and the pedigree is solid as well: a $2.2 million bonus on July 2nd, 2010. Some scouts are concerned about the approach being too aggressive and the Cal League being too forgiving, but there’s a expectation that Nunez will hit. The questions are on the defensive profile, as he’s below average defensively, though with an above average arm and Oakland officials say he’s improving. He may play right field, but more likely fits at first base, which would waste his arm and put more pressure on the offense. Like Olson, Nunez’s 2015 in Double-A should tell us if his 2014 was a function of the environment and we’ll get closer to figuring out what position he’ll play.
5. Kendall Graveman, RHP Video: Graveman was acquired in the Josh Donaldson deal and was very low profile out of college, signing for $5,000 in the 8th round in 2013 out of Mississippi State. He was a sinker/slider specialist in college that worked in the high-80’s and touched the low-90’s, but his stuff picked up in 2014. I saw Graveman in 2014 work 88-92 and hit 93 mph, flashing above average to plus run, sink and cut on the pitch, depending on where in the zone that he threw it. He also threw an 84-87 mph cutter that was average but inconsistent and an 81-85 mph changeup that flashed above average, though he didn’t throw it enough and at times he would telegraph the pitch by slowing his arm.
He worked 91-95 mph in the big leagues later in the year over 5 relief outings, so we know there are a couple more ticks of velo with adrenaline in short stints. I saw his cutter on a bad day; the mid-80’s pitch and the cut version of his fastball both were standout pitches in most of his other outings, though he isn’t the type to rack up a lot of strikeouts. On the right day, Graveman is all 50’s and 55’s with lots of grounders and some feel to pitch, so it’s easy to see a nice back-end starter as early as 2015. Oakland was pleased to hear multiple clubs ask about Graveman after the deal, further underlining his industry-wide value as a ready-made rotation type.
6. R.J. Alvarez, RHP Video: Alvarez is reliever all the way, is MLB-ready and sits 93-96, touching 98 mph with an almost all fastball-slider approach. The slider is a 60; it sometimes plays down to 55 when the feel isn’t there but peaks as a 65 for some scouts. This report is short because Alvarez has been this type of pitcher since back in college and now the question marks about risk with potential injuries has dried up. It just comes down to how consistently Alvarez can locate his electric stuff, with him likely settling in the 8th or 9th innings.
7. Dillon Overton, LHP Video: Overton was a potential 1st rounder entering the spring of 2013 at Oklahoma, but his above average stuff regressed with forearm trouble down the stretch, which allowed the A’s to scoop him up in the 2nd round. After the draft, Overton had Tommy John surgery, returning late in 2014, throwing at two short-season levels. At his best, Overton would sit in the low-90’s and hit 95 with a curve and changeup that both flashed plus at times. After returning from surgery, Overton worked at 85-90 and hit 91 mph. The curveball was 50-55 and the changeup was a 55, flashing 60 for some, which the pitchability is still there. Oddly, the feel came back quickly for Overton but the velocity didn’t, when most pitchers coming off TJ it happens the opposite way. If the velo continues to tick up to 88-92 mph, then we’re talking about a solid league average or better starter, but I can’t be more aggressive than this until we see it.
8. Sean Nolin, LHP Video: Nolin was acquired with Barreto and Graveman in the Donaldson deal. Nolin is a sturdy 6’4/230 but doesn’t have the power repertoire you might expect; while his stuff grades out around average, most scouts call it fringy in terms of what’s expected from a starting pitching prospect. Nolin got a cup of coffee in 2013, then a groin injury hindered him this year; he spent most of the year in Triple-A, got another cup of coffee at the end of the season, then headed to the Arizona Fall League to get more innings. Nolin sits 89-91 and will touch as high at 95 mph, particularly to elevate late in the count for strikeouts, with an average curveball that’s more consistent than his slider and an above average changeup to go with advanced feel to pitch.
Nolin gets good plane and deception from his delivery, but his fastball is pretty straight and when his mechanics get out of whack, he can elevate. This has made him more of a fly ball pitcher with less margin for error the higher up the ladder he goes, as he lacks a true out-pitch and that extra tick of velocity is important in the big leagues, which means Nolin can overthrow at times, leaving the ball up. He projects as a back-end starter, as there’s enough stuff and feel to stick in the rotation and he could be a #4 starter if it all goes right and his command plays up, but he’s more likely a #5 starter with some shot to be more of a long reliever if he can’t address these concerns. Nolin should be able to contribute in the big leagues in 2015 to some degree, but he could spend a good bit of time in Triple-A making adjustments.
9. Chad Pinder, SS Video: Pinder played shortstop and third base at Virginia Tech, with most scouts–myself included–projecting him for second base. He’s playing shortstop now, but probably fits more in a utility role as a profile, so the specific best position isn’t quite as important, along the lines of Matt Reynolds of the Mets, who was also a low 45 FV. Pinder still needs to clean up his plate discipline a bit and his average raw power plays down a bit in games, but the hit tool looks like it’s average or so. We’ll know better where this one will land once Pinder puts in a season out of the Cal League.
40 FV Prospects
10. Raul Alcantara, RHP Video: Alcantara was acquired with Reddick in the Andrew Bailey deal from Boston and has been a nice find until Tommy John surgery ended his 2014 season after a few starts. He won’t be back until at least mid-season in 2015, but before he went down, Alcantara was up to 95 mph with an above average changeup, average slider and average command. He was seen as a quick-moving, young-for-his-level, high probability back-end starter and now we’ll have to wait and see if he can regain that form in the second half of 2015 or early 2016.
11. Bobby Wahl, RHP Video: Wahl was a high-profile name entering the 2012 draft season with high 1st round buzz, but blisters and diminished feel led to lesser stuff and command, which caused him to slide to the 5th round, where the A’s signed him for $500,000. Oakland developed him as a starter after signing, hoping to coax out that ability, but decided to move him to relief in the 2nd half of 2014 and he should move quickly to the big leagues in that role. He sits 94-97 mph in short stints with an above average to plus slider along with the average changeup and fringy command from his starting days. He’s a potential late-inning option that the A’s see internally as similar to R.J. Alvarez.
12. Yairo Munoz, SS Video: Munoz was a bit polarizing from the sources I talked to, but they agreed there are everyday shortstop tools present. He’s an above average runner with a plus arm and a chance to stick at the position long-term with the actions you’d expect to see. Munoz hasn’t played full-season ball yet, but performed well in the Northwest League as a 19-year-old last year, with average power potential. The risk is due to the distance to the big leagues and some aggressiveness in his approach that some think will be exposed at higher levels.
13. Bruce Maxwell, C Video: Maxwell was a late pop-up name in the 2012 draft out of Birmingham Southern whom the A’s took in the 2nd round, where multiple interested teams were lined up to take him. Maxwell put up comically good numbers at the D3 school and was seen as an advanced bat/power guy with questionably defensive tools behind the plate. He’s put in a lot of work since then and is now better with the glove than with the bat.
Maxwell has a 55 arm and a quick release, with strides made receiving thanks to better instruction, more reps and a slimmed-down physique. He hit well in the Cal League last year, then fell on his face in Double-A, where he’ll return in 2015. Maxwell has solid average raw power but a line drive game stroke causes that to play down a bit on the stat sheet. He was an all fields hit over power guy in college that is leaning to pull the ball and tap into his power more in games, so 2015 will be telling as to what his real upside is.
14. Joe Wendle, 2B Video: Wendle was acquired this off-season for Brandon Moss; Wendle doesn’t have that kind of upside, but could be a solid contributor, with a non-zero chance to turn into an everyday option if the bat rebounds. He isn’t a big tools guy, as all five are fringy to average; he’s a second base fit that could play third and be a utility guy that doesn’t play shortstop. His raw power is fringy, but his line drive approach means his game power plays down a notch, in the 10-15 homers annually area. His bat is his best tool and it drew 55 grades entering the 2014 season, but he performed below league average as a 24-year-old in his first exposure to Double-A pitching.
15. Rangel Ravelo, 1B Video: Ravelo was acquired in the Samardzija deal during this busy off-season for Oakland with Semien, Bassitt and Phegley. Ravelo has feel to hit, some bat control and advanced plate discipline, but he recently moved across the infield to first base and has only average raw power, so the profile is limited to the wrong side of a first base platoon. Some scouts see more of a 4-A hitter and point to 2014’s career-high 11 homers as proof that he doesn’t have enough loft in his swing for his hitting ability to matter in the big leagues. Ravelo has solid arm strength and hands, so he should be at least average at first base. Stats-focused teams are a little more enthusiastic about Ravelo than others, so there’s clearly some good indicators in his profile for big league success, which Oakland has been able to identify more often than other clubs.
16. Chris Bassitt, RHP Video: Bassitt just missed the list in the White Sox system, but I heard more positive reports from scouts after his trade to Oakland, with the A’s saying he’s a 2015 rotation candidate. He wasn’t quite big league ready for his look last season with Chicago, but he has a good statistical history in the minors. Bassitt has hit 96 mph, but works 90-93 mph, also using an average slider and fringy changeup. His command is still just okay, with some scouts saying his stuff would play up in the pen due and his command would fit better there too. That said, he’s got a chance to be a 5th starter or at least a solid middle reliever next year, so it’s hard to rank him behind A-Ball pitchers with injury/command concerns.
17. Chris Kohler, LHP Video: Kohler was a 3rd rounder out of a SoCal high school in 2013, he pitched briefly after signing, then missed the 2014 season with elbow surgery. His velocity was already back in instructs, running his fastball up to 93 mph and he should be healthy to start the season. There was some buzz on Kohler during last year’s Spring Training before the arm injury shut him down, looking as though he had taken a step forward from a pitchability type to having more power to his game. Kohler has an above average to plus curveball and a changeup that’s at least average along with good feel for pitching, so if everything looks right in 2015, he could shoot up this list as a high-probability 4th starter.
18. Dustin Driver, RHP Video: Driver signed for $500,000 in the 7th round out of a Washington high school in 2013, pitched briefly after signing, then missed the 2014 season with a back issue that didn’t require surgery. He returned in instructs this fall and sat 94-97, hitting 98 mph in relief stints. His curveball and changeup both flash average to slightly above, so he’ll be developed as a starter, but it looks like a reliever given the injury, lack of standout off-speed stuff and the historical issues with command that are still present.
19. Daniel Gossett, RHP Video: Gossett was the A’s 2nd rounder last year and was a power arm for multiple years at Clemson who took a step forward in his draft year. He’s always been a little funky with some effort to his delivery and a slight build, but Gossett throws more strikes than you’d think. Gossett’s stuff picked up last spring to where he was sitting 92-94 and hitting 96 mph often with an above average curveball and solid average changeup. The velocity settled a touch lower than that, but Gossett has more feel to pitch than Graves and Kelliher below, giving him a better chance to stick as a starter.
20. Billy Burns, CF Video: Burns was acquired last year from Washington for LHP Jerry Blevins; Burns one standout tool is his 80 speed and he’s already used it to reach the big leagues. Burns is still new to switch-hitting as he was a righty only in college, and he’s still learning how best to use his speed at the plate. Once he was known as a slap/ground ball hitter, teams would bring in the corners at Double-A and he made adjustments to drive the ball more, like using a heavier bat from the left side. There’s a chance Burns makes the adjustments to become a low-end everyday player, but he’s likely a solid reserve with his value mostly in speed and defense.
21. Brett Graves, RHP Video: Graves was the A’s 3rd rounder last year, a pop-up arm from Missouri that emerged over the summer and ran his fastball up to 96 mph regularly during the spring. He’ll flash an above average curveball and average changeup, but he’s still working on the consistency of both pitches and cleaning up his delivery and command. Graves has a good starter build, a good arm, and 4th starter stuff but is still a bit of a projection case where the raw stuff hasn’t quite manifested itself in the numbers yet.
22. Branden Kelliher, RHP Video: Kelliher is a sub-6’0 prep righty from the 2014 draft that may end up a reliever, so he isn’t exactly a flawless prospect. At his best, Kelliher sits 90-93 with a curveball that flashes 55 and an average to slightly above changeup, so the starter quality stuff is there. He’ll sit 93-96 mph in short stints with a crisper curveball and there’s some effort to his delivery, so relief seems like an option, but Kelliher will continue to develop as a starter to see if he can stick there.
Pat Venditte, SHP
The switch-pitching Venditte is essentially a human case study in the value of platoon advantage and the limits to which it can be taken. Selected by the Yankees in the 20th round of the 2008 draft out of Creighton, Venditte throws only about 85 mph with his right hand and even a bit slower than that with his left. Despite his underwhelming velocity, however, he’s recorded strikeout and walk rates of 27.7% and 6.5%, respectively, over 445.2 minor-league innings — most recently with Triple-A affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Despite New York’s relative enthusiasm to sign Venditte (they also drafted him in the 45th round after his junior year), the club never found a place for him on the major-league roster. Oakland signed him to a minor-league deal in November, and one supposes (or at least hopes) that they did so with with a view towards giving him his major-league debut.
Here’s Venditte striking out Cole Gillespie from the right side during the former’s last appearance of the 2014 season:
Most of the others of note are bats, which I guess makes sense as the bottom of the actual list was mostly projection arms. At the upper levels, there’s six position players to keep an eye on: 1B Mark Canha (Rule 5 pick from Miami is advanced righty bat with fringy power that can platoon at 1B and LF), 1B Max Muncy (Video can contribute at all four corner positions, average raw power, advanced feel for the strike zone and some feel to hit, but nothing overwhelming), SS Tyler Ladendorf (took a step forward in Triple-A last year, has good sense at the plate, can really play shortstop and now looks to have enough bat to be a solid utility infielder), 1B Ryon Healy (plays some third base but fits more at first base, 55 raw power plays down in games, but he has some feel to hit and corner utility upside), CF Aaron Shipman (above average speed, arm and plate discipline with smooth lefty cut, but has injury issues, no game power and can get passive at the plate; has look of OBP-heavy 4th outfield type) and LF Jaycob Brugman (fringy prospect hit and hit for power, so he’ll get a test at Double-A next year).
Four international bats to watch at the lower levels are C Jose Chavez (the numbers aren’t much, but the Mexican backstop played at age 18 in advanced leagues and has projection to his frame along with catch-and-throw skills), 2B Jesus Lopez (Nicaraguan didn’t put up big numbers in the AZL, but it’s telling Oakland had their top 2013 July 2 signing–$950,000 bonus– skip the DSL; needs to mature physically, but advanced feel for the game and making contact), RF Sandber Pimentel (6’3/215 projection athlete will come to America for his age-20 season, is still a bit of a free swinger, but has feel for the strike zone and above average power potential) and C Seong-Min Kim (Korean backstop signed for $510,000 and flashes plus raw power, but still has some work to do cleaning up his hitting and catching mechanics).
Four domestic bats to watch at the lower levels are SS Trace Loehr (Video 2014 overslot prep pick is plus runner has advanced feel to hit and a chance to play shortstop; has started adding more power to his game swing and one A’s official compared him to Cliff Pennington), SS Branden Cogswell (Video 2014 draftee from UVA has feel to hit from the left side and infield skills, but not much power and may fit better at second or third), CF B.J. Boyd (wasn’t great in full-season debut but tools are still there; 4th outfielder profile has above average speed, some pop and is still getting reps given football background) and C Iolana Akau (Hawaiian catcher picked by Oakland means lots of Kurt Suzuki comps for catch-and-throw skills and limited offensive upside).
Three arms to watch at the lower levels are RHP Heath Fillmyer (two-way junior college prospect emerged in 2014 as a pitcher, sitting 91-95 and hitting 96 mph with an above average breaking ball and good athleticism; command/changeup still needs to come along but the elements are here and the arm is fresh), RHP Dylan Covey (former first round opted not to sign out of high school due to late Type 1 diabetes diagnosis; he was up-and-down in college and went in the 4th round, but his four pitches that flash above average are undermined by command/consistency problem, so he likely needs to head to the bullpen) and RHP Tanner Peters (6’0/155 quick-moving college arm from UNLV relies more on deception and command since his four-pitch mix is average; he’ll start 2015 in Double-A and we’ll see if it holds up).
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.