by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor
While most baseball fans are focused on the drama of postseason play in the fall, it’s also an important time for some of the minor leagues’ top prospects. And starting on Tuesday, some of the A’s most promising young prospects will begin play in the Arizona Fall League.
2017 marks the 26th season of the Arizona Fall League. Each year, the league schedule runs for about 5-6 weeks from early-October through mid-November. There are 6 teams in the AFL, with each team comprised of prospects from 5 different organizations. A’s prospects will be playing for the Mesa Solar Sox again this year, where they’ll be joined by players from the Astros, Tigers, Cubs and Nationals.
Attendance at AFL games typically hovers in the 200s, with the crowds comprised largely of scouts, agents and various professional baseball personnel. Most organizations use the AFL as an opportunity to get some of their top prospects a little more live game action and hopefully help advance their development.
Some of the A’s top young Double-A hitting prospects will be seeing action in Arizona this year, including catcher Sean Murphy, infielder Sheldon Neuse and outfielder Tyler Ramirez, while the A’s AFL pitching contingent will be comprised of promising right-handers Logan Shore, Miguel Romero, Nolan Blackwood and Sam Bragg. Cuban RHP Norge Ruiz was originally scheduled to participate, but he’s still been bothered by an elbow strain and was replaced on the squad by Bragg.
–A’s Prospects in the AFL in 2017–
Midland RockHounds / Stockton Ports
13 HR / 32 BB / 67 K / .250 AVG / .313 OBP / .410 SLG / .723 OPS
Last year’s 3rd-round draft pick for the A’s has always been valued for his strong throwing arm and his solid work behind the plate, but he also proved he has some pop by hitting 13 home runs this season. The 22-year-old slashed .297/.343/.527 for Stockton in the hitter-friendly California League before earning a promotion to Midland the last week of June. He struggled a bit at Double-A though, putting up a .209/.288/.309 slash line for the RockHounds. His strong defense and power potential make Murphy the A’s top catching prospect, and he’ll have the opportunity to work on developing a little more consistency at the plate during his time in the AFL.
Third Baseman / Shortstop
Hagerstown Suns / Stockton Ports / Midland RockHounds
16 HR / 40 BB / 112 K / .321 AVG / .382 OBP / .502 SLG / .884 OPS
Acquired from the Nationals in the Ryan Madson/Sean Doolittle deal, last year’s 2nd-round draft pick for Washington has done nothing but hit since joining the A’s system. After compiling 19 doubles, 9 home runs and a .469 slugging percentage for the Nationals’ Class-A Hagerstown Suns in the first half, the 22-year-old kicked things up a notch when he joined High-A Stockton, slugging a robust .675 and hitting 7 home runs in just 22 games for the Ports. While his power numbers dropped off after his August promotion to Double-A Midland, Neuse still managed to up put up an impressive .373 batting average to go along with a healthy .427 on-base percentage for the RockHounds. And he should continue to get the chance to see time at both third base and shortstop during his stint in the AFL.
Stockton Ports / Midland RockHounds
11 HR / 73 BB / 133 K / .304 AVG / .398 OBP / .431 SLG / .829 OPS
Ramirez has proven to be a fast mover in the A’s system. After being drafted in the 7th round last year and spending most of last season with short-season Vermont, the left-handed hitter started this year at High-A Stockton and then moved up to Double-A Midland this summer without missing a beat. Improved competition hasn’t seemed to hinder the 22-year-old one bit. He hit better at Stockton than he did for Vermont, and hit even better for Midland than he did at Stockton. Ramirez has been remarkably consistent while hardly ever taking a day off and has a real knack for reaching base. His 73 walks were most among A’s minor leaguers, while his .398 on-base percentage was best among A’s prospects with at least 300 at-bats. He also compiled the second-most hits and tied for the second-most runs in the system this season. While Ramirez can play all three outfield positions, he seems to look most comfortable in left, where he spent the bulk of his time this season.
Stockton Ports / AZL A’s
80 2/3 IP / 83 H / 33 ER / 16 BB / 87 K / 3.68 ERA / 1.23 WHIP
Last year’s 2nd-round draft pick for the A’s got off to a good start for Stockton this season, putting up a 3.12 ERA over his first 9 appearances for the Ports before landing on the disabled list thanks to a lat strain. After being sidelined for a couple of months, Shore returned to the mound in July, but he had to endure a few rough outings for Stockton before finally finding his footing and posting a 3.24 ERA in 6 August starts. Shore has shown himself to be a consistent strike thrower, averaging 9.7 strikeouts per 9 innings this season, and he possesses solid command of his pitches. But he only managed to make it to the mound for 80 2/3 innings in his first full season, so he’ll be looking to make up for lost time in the AFL this year.
Stockton Ports / Beloit Snappers / AZL A’s / DSL A’s
31 1/3 IP / 31 H / 17 ER / 11 BB / 42 K / 4.88 ERA / 1.34 WHIP
One of the A’s recent Cuban imports, Romero is a hard thrower who, in addition to a mid-90s fastball, also features a changeup and a slider. After making brief pit stops in the Dominican and Arizona Leagues, he looked solid in 3 starts for Class-A Beloit this summer, compiling a 2.25 ERA in his brief time with the Snappers. But the 23-year-old struggled after his promotion to Stockton. He notched 25 strikeouts in just 18 1/3 innings, but too many walks and home runs led to a bloated 6.87 ERA in his 8 appearances for the Ports. Romero finished the season on the disabled list for Stockton and logged just 31 1/3 innings in his first season in the U.S., so the A’s will be eager to get a better look at the hurler in the AFL.
57 IP / 42 H / 19 ER / 18 BB / 48 K / 3.00 ERA / 1.05 WHIP
Drafted by the A’s in the 14th round just last year, the sidearmer impressed in his first full season. The 22-year-old turned out to be a very reliable closer for Stockton, successfully converting 19 of 20 save opportunities this season. Blackwood led all A’s minor leaguers in saves while striking out 48 batters in 57 innings and giving up just 2 home runs all year in the homer-happy confines of the California League. The Mississippi native then failed to allow a hit or a run in a pair of relief appearances for Double-A Midland in the Texas League Championship Series, and he’ll get the chance to show what he can do against advanced competition this year in the AFL.
68 1/3 IP / 69 H / 23 ER / 16 BB / 56 K / 3.03 ERA / 1.24 WHIP
With Cuban RHP Norge Ruiz, who had been set to participate in the AFL this year, still sidelined by an elbow strain, Bragg will get the chance to return to the AFL for his second straight season. The 24-year-old also spent his second straight season with Double-A Midland this year, posting a solid 3.03 ERA in 45 relief appearances for the RockHounds. The A’s 18th-round pick in the 2013 draft has always had good control and solid strikeouts numbers, and he’s had equal success against both righties and lefties. Bragg seems to have gotten a bit stuck at the Double-A level though, so he’ll be looking for a strong AFL campaign to help open up some eyes and raise his stock in the organization.
* * *
Be sure to like A’s Farm’s page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthleticsFarm. You can also get our exclusive A’s minor league newsletter e-mailed to you free by signing up here.