A’s Farm’s 2017 Top 10 Prospects List

Former top prospect Sean Manaea – who will be the next A’s prospect to make it big?

Former top prospect Sean Manaea – who will be the next A’s prospect to make it big?

Now that spring training is officially underway, it’s time to present A’s Farm’s 2017 Top 10 Prospects List.

It’s interesting to note that only four players from last year’s list have made a return to this year’s list, including familiar names like Franklin Barreto, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Chad Pinder. New to this year’s list are five pitchers – A.J. Puk, Jharel Cotton, Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes and Daniel Gossett – along with catcher Bruce Maxwell.

Dropping off last year’s list were pitcher Sean Manaea, who’s successfully joined the ranks of the majors, pitcher Dillon Overton and catcher Jacob Nottingham, both of whom left the organization via trades, and shortstop Richie Martin, infielder Yairo Munoz and third baseman Renato Nunez, who fell off due to some declines in performance last year. Though, having said that, Nunez easily could have found his way on to the bottom part of this year’s list, as could young right-handers Daulton Jefferies, Logan Shore and Dakota Chalmers, all of whom just barely missed out on making this year’s top 10.

Unlike last year, when eight of our top 10 picks were position players, things are evenly divided with five pitchers and five position players this year. And a sign of just how close most of the A’s top prospects really are at this point is the fact that a full seven of this year’s top 10 prospects are expected to start the season at Triple-A Nashville, just one step away from the majors.

Of all the various top 10 lists of A’s prospects that are currently out there, it’s our feeling that Baseball America and John Sickels, as well as the readers of Athletics Nation in their Community Prospect List, have come the closest to getting it right this year. But without any further ado, let’s take a look at A’s Farm’s 2017 Top 10 Prospects List

 

A’S FARM’S 2017 TOP 10 PROSPECTS LIST

#1 – Franklin Barreto (SS)

#2 – Matt Chapman (3B)

#3 – A.J. Puk (LHP)

#4 – Jharel Cotton (RHP)

#5 – Frankie Montas (RHP)

#6 – Grant Holmes (RHP)

#7 – Daniel Gossett (RHP)

#8 – Bruce Maxwell (C)

#9 – Matt Olson (1B-OF)

#10 – Chad Pinder (SS-2B)

Honorable Mention – Renato Nunez, Daulton Jefferies, Logan Shore, Dakota Chalmers

 

fb620439b#1 FRANKLIN BARRETO

Right-Handed-Hitting Shortstop

Age on Opening Day: 21

Signed as International Free Agent

Still just 21, Barreto is the youngest position player on this year’s top 10 list and is already universally recognized as the top prospect in the A’s minor league system. For the second consecutive season, the young Venezuelan got off to a bit of a slow start in the first half but then really caught fire during the second half. He posted a disappointing .236/.296/.350 slash line in the first half for Midland, but then came back to put up an impressive .337/.393/.490 line in the second half for the RockHounds. And while Barreto’s overall power numbers dipped a bit last year, which is not totally unsurprising for someone going from the homer-happy California League to the pitchers’ paradise of the Texas League, his plate discipline, his defense, and even his threat level on the base paths all improved last season. His walk total more than doubled, while his stolen base total went from 8 in 2015 to 30 in 2016 (most among A’s minor leaguers), and his error total dropped from 34 to 19 despite appearing in 244 more innings in the field last year. Barreto still needs to improve his discipline at the plate, and while relatively small at just 5-10, the hope is that he’ll continue to develop enough strength to be able to demonstrate power beyond his size. In the best of all possible worlds, one could envision him as a Venezuelan version of Miguel Tejada – which the A’s would be more than happy with! While Barreto’s played primarily at shortstop throughout his minor league career, he did appear in 33 games at second base last season. And he’ll probably continue to see at least a little more time there this year at Nashville, since most expect that Barreto’s immediate future in Oakland will most likely lie at second base.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

mc656305c#2 MATT CHAPMAN

Right-Handed-Hitting Third Baseman

Age on Opening Day: 23

Drafted 2014 – 1st Round

The A’s top draft pick in 2014 out of Cal State Fullerton, Chapman arrived with a reputation as a rifle-armed third baseman with lots of power potential – and he’s certainly lived up to that advance billing. Most scouts currently consider the 23-year-old to be a top-tier defender at the hot corner with an elite throwing arm. Last season, he slugged 36 home runs, most of them while playing in the power-suppressing environment at Midland, and also added 27 doubles and 5 triples to his extra-base totals. And in 269 games since joining the A’s system, Chapman has clubbed a total of 64 round-trippers – nearly one every four games. There’s no question that when he makes contact, the ball is bound to go a long way – the question is how much contact he will make. In addition to his 36 home runs in 2016, Chapman also struck out 173 times last season while posting a batting average of just .237, though his walk rate did tick up just a bit last year. But the bottom line with Chapman is this – with his natural power and his prowess in the field, he should be able to bring enough to the table to make himself a valuable major league contributor, though his contact rate will determine just how valuable. He made an extremely positive impression on A’s manager Bob Melvin last spring. And along with Barreto, who will also be starting out the season in Nashville, the A’s hope that Chapman will help to form the heart of a talented and exciting young infield for Oakland beginning in 2018.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

ap640462b#3 A.J. PUK

Left-Handed Pitcher

Age on Opening Day: 21

Drafted 2016 – 1st Round

The A’s took Puk with the 6th overall selection in last year’s draft after he’d previously been considered a possible #1 pick. He came to the A’s system as a flame-throwing lefty out of Florida with top-of-the-rotation potential whose fastball had been clocked as high as 99 mph in college. There have been some questions about the 6-7 southpaw’s mechanics and athleticism, as well as whether or not his slider really has the potential to play in a big way at the major league level. But the Iowa native struck out an average of 11 batters per 9 innings while allowing an average of just 6 hits and putting up an ERA of 3.03 during his inaugural season with Vermont in the New York-Penn League. He did turn in just 32 2/3 innings during his pro debut last year though, so our sample size of his work since joining the A’s system has been rather limited. Puk struck out the side in order in his first major league spring training game against Cleveland, but then allowed a home run and a pair of walks in his next appearance before being reassigned to the A’s minor league camp. The question is where the A’s, who’ve been fairly aggressive in the assignment of their high draft picks lately, will choose to have Puk start the 2017 season. It’s anybody’s guess, but the informed speculation thus far has seemed to center on Stockton. His ability to show consistency and maintain his mechanics throughout spring training, and how much work the A’s staff still feels needs to be done in that regard, may have a lot to do with where Puk ultimately winds up to start 2017.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Stockton Ports (A+)

 

jc605194c#4 JHAREL COTTON

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age on Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2012 – 20th Round

Of all the players on our top 10 list this year, Cotton is the only one to have been drafted lower than the 2nd round in the amateur draft; he wasn’t selected until the 20th round by the Dodgers in 2012. The 25-year-old over-achiever is also the most likely member of our top 10 list to open the season on the A’s roster in 2017. Cotton arrived last summer, along with fellow right-handers Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes, from the Dodgers in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill deal. And in just his second start in the A’s system, he came within one out of pitching a perfect game for Nashville. Cotton ended up earning the Pacific Coast League strikeout crown with 155 K’s in 135 2/3 innings of work. And his strong showing at Nashville earned Cotton 5 late-season starts with the A’s, where he impressed by striking out 23 in 29 1/3 innings while posting a stingy 2.15 ERA. Cotton’s currently expected to open the 2017 season as Oakland’s #4 starter. And the A’s hope that the mid-90s fastball and solid changeup that have enabled Cotton to fool hitters at the minor league level will allow him to experience continued success at the major league level as well.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Oakland A’s (MLB)

 

fm593423c#5 FRANKIE MONTAS

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age on Opening Day: 24

Signed as International Free Agent

The only member of the trio of arms the A’s acquired from Dodgers in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill deal last summer to have actual major league experience at the time, Montas made 7 appearances for the White Sox in 2015 before being dealt to the Dodgers prior to the 2016 season. Injuries sidelined Montas for all but 7 games last season, but he appeared plenty healthy just a few months ago when he returned to action in the Arizona Fall League and allowed just 1 earned run over 17 innings of work for the Mesa Solar Sox. The Dominican flame-thrower boasts a 100+ mph fastball and has struck out an average of 9.3 batters per 9 innings over his minor league career, though his command can occasionally be an issue. In the past, he’s appeared as both a starter and a reliever, but the A’s are planning on utilizing Montas in a starting role this season. The thinking is that if he can harness his talent, his stuff could make him an intimidating starter. He’ll get the chance to show what he can do every fifth day at Nashville and, if Montas can just learn to master his potentially overpowering stuff, it might not be long before he gets a long look in Oakland.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

gh656550#6 GRANT HOLMES

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age on Opening Day: 21

Drafted 2014 – 1st Round

The Dodgers 1st-round pick in the 2014 draft, Holmes was the youngest arm the A’s received from the Dodgers last summer in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill deal and, at just a month younger than Barreto, is also the youngest player on our prospect list this year. Holmes was a highly-coveted high school hurler out of South Carolina who reportedly received a $2.5 million signing bonus in 2014. He got off to a good start in the Dodgers system, putting up a 3.32 ERA while striking out 10.4 batters per 9 innings over his first two seasons in the minors. He was a little less impressive while pitching in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League last year, posting a 4.63 ERA while his strikeout rate fell to 8.3 per 9. But it’s important to keep in mind that, at the age of 20, Holmes was one of the youngest hurlers in the Cal League last season. There’s no question that Holmes is a big, strong kid with tremendous upside whom many evaluators consider to be the top pitching prospect in the A’s system behind Puk. And Baseball Prospectus currently considers him the A’s top pitching prospect and second-best overall prospect behind Barreto. Holmes will likely start his age-21 season pitching in Midland, which is a much more friendly environment for pitchers to perform in than the homer-happy California League. And if, while there, he can manage to improve his command and make some progress when it comes to developing his secondary pitches, then it could be a quick ascent up the ladder for the talented young righty.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)

 

dg605254c#7 DANIEL GOSSETT

Right-Handed Pitcher

Age on Opening Day: 24

Drafted 2014 – 2nd Round

The A’s 2nd-round pick out of Clemson in 2014, Gossett made as much progress as any pitcher in the A’s system in 2016. His first full season at Beloit wasn’t particularly impressive, but after putting up a 4.73 ERA for the Snappers back in 2015, Gossett started off 2016 strong at High-A Stockton, then performed even better at Double-A Midland, before finally finishing up the season in impressive fashion at Triple-A Nashville. In 27 starts across three stops, Gossett put up a 2.69 ERA, while his 151 strikeouts led all A’s minor leaguers last season. The South Carolina native had always shown solid command as well as a reluctance to surrender the long ball, but a slight uptick in velocity as well as the addition of a cutter really boosted the young right-hander’s performance to another level in 2016. Last year, Gossett really started showing the A’s what they hoped they had when they made him their second overall pick in 2014, and he should have the chance to keep showing the organization just what he’s got to offer while pitching every fifth day at Nashville this season.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

bm622194b#8 BRUCE MAXWELL

Left-Handed-Hitting Catcher

Age on Opening Day: 26

Drafted 2012 – 2nd Round

While Maxwell has continued to make steady progress behind the plate ever since he was drafted by the A’s, the burly backstop took a massive leap forward at the plate last year. After putting up a meager .243/.321/.308 slash line at Double-A Midland in 2015, Maxwell turned out to be one of Triple-A Nashville’s hottest hitters last year, posting an impressive .321/.393/.539 line before his elevation to Oakland last July. And he managed to hold his own in the big leagues too, putting together a solid .283/.337/.402 line in 92 late-season at-bats with the A’s. Maxwell didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time catching in college, so he had a lot to learn behind the dish and, fortunately, he proved to be a prized pupil and impressed A’s manager, and former catcher, Bob Melvin with his work behind the plate last spring. Now that his bat seems to be coming around as well, the left-handed hitter could prove to be a valuable asset with both his offense and his defense. He’s currently third on the A’s catching depth chart, so if anything should happen with either Stephen Vogt or Josh Phegley at any point, Maxwell would be the first man up to step in. And as we all know, nothing remains the same in Oakland for too long. So whenever the A’s decide that the time has come to make a change in their catching corps, then Maxwell could find himself getting the bulk of the at-bats behind the plate for the green and gold.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

mo621566b#9 MATT OLSON

Left-Handed-Hitting First Baseman/Outfielder

Age on Opening Day: 23

Drafted 2012 – 1st Round

Along with Maxwell, Olson’s been in the A’s organization as long as any player on this year’s list, and he’s made an appearance on our annual top 10 prospects list ever since his first full season in the system. With the trades of Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson, Olson is the lone remaining member of the highly-touted trio of top high school prospects the A’s selected with their first three picks in the 2012 draft. The big, left-handed slugger had a monster year with High-A Stockton in 2014, putting up an impressive .262/.404/.543 slash line, but his numbers have declined in each of the past two seasons and he posted a more pedestrian .235/.335/.422 line at Triple-A Nashville last year, though he did have a very solid .263/.345/.475 line over his last 47 games for the Sounds. Olson’s profile as a hitter has always been the same ever since he joined the system – lots of walks, lots of strikeouts and lots of power. Since slugging 37 home runs at Stockton in 2014 though, his home run numbers have decreased, while his doubles have increased. The Georgia native totaled 17 homers at Midland in 2015 and at Nashville last season, while he put up 37 and 34 doubles, respectively. Olson’s power potential and plate discipline are clearly the qualities that will help grease his path to the big leagues. And while still just 22, he did get a quick look with the A’s during the final month of the season last year, getting into 11 games while seeing time at first base, where he’s a defensive standout, and in right field, where he’s more than capable. And with his increasing platoon splits in recent years, Olson could find himself getting a shot as the left-handed half of either a first base or right field platoon in Oakland sometime in the fairly near future.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

cp640461b#10 CHAD PINDER

Right-Handed-Hitting Shortstop/Second Baseman

Age on Opening Day: 25

Drafted 2013 – 2nd Round

The A’s third overall pick in the 2013 draft, Pinder was named the Texas League MVP after putting up an impressive .317/.361/.486 slash line for Double-A Midland in the pitcher-friendly Texas League in 2015, but slipped a bit to a more ordinary .258/.310/.425 line last year for Triple-A Nashville. Pinder has some pop for a middle infielder, collecting 42 home runs and 87 doubles over his last three minor league seasons, and his potent bat has helped him push his way through the system fairly expeditiously. Pinder could still stand to improve his plate discipline though, as he’s struck out over 100 times in each of his last two campaigns and has yet to total more than 28 walks in any single season. While also playing some second base, Pinder has spent most of his time the past couple seasons at shortstop, but he led all A’s minor leaguers with 29 errors – most of them throwing errors – while serving as Nashville’s starting shortstop last season. He spent the last month and a half of the 2016 season in Oakland, playing primarily at second base, which is probably the most likely spot for him to find major league at-bats. But Pinder’s ability to play shortstop and second base, as well as third base, may make him well-suited to fill a utility role for the A’s, possibly starting in 2018.

Likely To Start 2017 With: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

 

Honorable Mention: Renato Nunez, Daulton Jefferies, Logan Shore, Dakota Chalmers

It would have been easy to swap Renato Nunez with Maxwell, Olson or Pinder in any of the final three spots on this year’s top 10 list. But the main thing that kept Nunez just a notch behind the rest was his lack of a discernible defensive position to call home. Maxwell has continued to show great improvement behind the plate, while Olson is a talented defensive first baseman as well as a capable corner outfielder, and Pinder’s versatility makes it possible for him to appear at shortstop, second base and third base. But while Nunez’s power potential is very real, it’s hard to imagine him getting many major league at-bats from anywhere other than the designated hitter spot at this point. Young right-handers Daulton Jefferies, Logan Shore and Dakota Chalmers, all drafted in the top three rounds within the last two years, also came very close to making our top 10 list this year. All three are clearly talented young hurlers who could rapidly move up the ranks. None has yet to throw 100 innings in the system though, so we’ve still got a lot more to see of them, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see some of their names popping up on next year’s list.

 

Last Year’s Top 10 Prospects List

 

 

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