by Joseph Hartsock / A’s Farm Arizona Correspondent
The great thing about the Arizona League is that it allows us to look at the future, perhaps the distant future, and dream about the possibilities.
The Arizona League A’s have put up a 12-15 record so far this season. But the AZL isn’t as concerned with win-at-all-costs competition as much as it’s focused on developing young prospects and offering an introduction to professional baseball for many players. A number of the players here just left high school a couple of months ago and others just recently left the A’s Dominican facilities and are now being introduced to life in the U.S. for the first time.
I’ve had the chance to catch a few AZL A’s games this season, and there are definitely some intriguing prospects on the squad who make one hopeful for the future. So, let’s take a look at a few of the AZL A’s players who come with some high expectations: Lazaro Armeteros, Austin Beck, Nick Allen and Yerdel Vargas.
Lazaro Armenteros is the A’s $3 million bonus baby out of Cuba. The team signed him in the summer of 2016 as a 17-year-old. The young outfielder has put up a decent slash line of .264/.333/.425 in 23 Arizona League games so far this year. Lazarito has a real presence on the field. He doesn’t look like he just turned 18 two months ago. His physique looks more like that of a 21-year-old, with powerful legs and arms. At the plate, you can more easily see his lack of maturity. The teenage slugger occasionally lunges for balls outside of the zone and can be fooled by breaking balls. But when he does connect, even his outs are loud. It’s hard not to like what you see. And as Armenteros develops, he should still add more muscle and power to what’s already there. Lazarito clearly possesses superstar potential, but only time will tell how his development will play out.
Austin Beck was the A’s 2017 1st-round draft pick (the 6th pick overall) out of North Carolina. The 18-year-old outfielder is a potential five-tool player who’s getting his first look at professional ball after graduating from high school just a couple of months ago. His early experience in the Arizona League has been a little rough, and he’s currently slashing just .145/.203/.203. His bat speed, base speed, arm and defense are all there. He just needs to be able to reach base consistently. His pitch recognition needs to be refined, and his load has extra bat movement, making it difficult to get to the pitch. When Beck does connect, his quick bat speed provides him with a lot of pop, and you can see the reason he was picked early in the first round of the draft. His fielding looks good, and his arm is above average, so I would imagine he’ll stay in center, though he could possibly end up moving to a corner outfield position as he develops.
Nick Allen was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft, but his reported $2 million signing bonus shows that he was regarded as more of a top-tier talent, and other teams must have passed on him due to their inability to sign him. Like Beck, Allen just graduated from high school a couple of months ago and is now getting his first look at professional baseball. The young shortstop has been faring a bit better at the plate in the early going though, with a .258/.292/.339 slash line. Allen is undersized at a listed 5-foot-9 and 155lbs. He has been the smallest player on the field almost every night I’ve seen him, but he’s shown some great skill in the field and good speed on the bases. The 18-year-old has a compact swing that encourages contact, and he has used his speed to help him get on base. Allen has batted leadoff every night I’ve seen him, and with his speed, I could see him sticking there. Of course, he could always end up moving down towards the bottom of the lineup if his bat doesn’t develop as hoped. But with his solid glove, I don’t see him profiling anywhere other than the middle infield.
Yerdel Vargas is another A’s prospect in the AZL who stood out to me. Vargas was a 2016 international free agent out of the Dominican Republic whom the A’s signed for a reported $1.5 million. Vargas is only 17, so if he was a U.S.-born player, he would be busy preparing for his senior year in high school right now. He’s listed as a shortstop, but I’ve only seen him play second base, where his arm may profile a bit better. He looked very natural with great instincts in the field. Vargas’s bat is very quick to the plate. He has a compact swing with a contact approach at the plate, but he’s shown some surprising pop at times. So far this season, he’s put up a .239/.271/.328 slash line. I’ll admit that Vargas wasn’t high on my radar to start with, but seeing his instincts in the field, his speed on the bases and in the field, and his approach at the plate, I’m excited about his future.
The Arizona League is nothing but dreams, full of prospects in their teens, with the big leagues a number of years away for most of the players here. Young players often possess many of the raw tools, which will need to be refined, and we can only imagine the possibilities. But some of the A’s top prospects in the Arizona League definitely represent some intriguing possibilities, and it should be really interesting to watch them develop the rest of this year and beyond.
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