Tag: Oakland A’s

Meet Your 2018 Oakland A’s!

by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor

A's top prospect Franklin Barreto

Top prospect Franklin Barreto

Whatever happens with the A’s before the start of next season, one thing is certain – with many of the team’s current everyday players set to become free agents in the offseason, there’s bound to be plenty of turnover on the 25-man roster.

Center fielder Rajai Davis, first baseman Yonder Alonso, third baseman Trevor Plouffe, current shortstop Adam Rosales, as well as reliever John Axford, are all set to hit the free agent market in the offseason, and second baseman Jed Lowrie has a team option for 2018 and seems unlikely to return. Of course, most of these potential free agents are likely to be traded before the season is through but, one way or another, they’re all likely to be long-gone by the time 2018 rolls around.

The only regular position players in the starting lineup who are currently under team control for 2018 are outfielders Khris Davis and Matt Joyce, catcher Stephen Vogt, first baseman/designated hitter Ryon Healy and shortstop Marcus Semien, who will reclaim his starting shortstop role once he returns from the disabled list. Backup catcher Josh Phegley, utility infielder Chad Pinder and reserve outfielders Mark Canha and Jake Smolinski will also remain under team control for 2018. And the entire pitching staff, with the exception of Axford, will still be under control next year as well.

Of course, no one is ever certain what the A’s will do in the offseason, but it does seem as though the front office has structured this team to be ready for a big youth infusion next season – which could work well with the team’s stated intention of announcing plans for a new stadium before the end of the year.

So, disregarding any potential trades or free agent signings, let’s just assume that the A’s do decide to move forward with a full-on youth movement next season, stocking the roster with as many prospects as possible who are currently in the team’s minor league system. No one is saying that they will, or that they should, but just for the fun of it, let’s take a look at what a young, prospect-laden A’s team could potentially look like in 2018.

As previously mentioned, the pitching staff is already full of fairly young arms under team control, so any big changes would primarily involve position players, which is what we’ll mainly focus on here, though we will briefly touch on 2018’s potential pitching staff as well. It’s worth noting that every single position player proposed below for a potential prospect-laden A’s roster is currently age 29 or under, with Khris Davis the only potential everyday.player currently over the age of 26.

 

CATCHERS

Bruce Maxwell

Bruce Maxwell

The team’s current catching corps is set to be under team control for next year. 32-year-old Stephen Vogt is earning $2.965 million this season and will be eligible for arbitration for the second time in the offseason, while 29-year-old Josh Phegley is earning just $545,000 this year and will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. With Vogt struggling so far this season and set to receive a raise through the arbitration system next year, this looks like an obvious spot to make a move to get younger. 26-year-old catcher Bruce Maxwell seems to have mastered Triple-A at this point, with a career slash line of .318/.386/.527 in the Pacific Coast League. And he’s looked fairly solid both at the plate and behind the plate during his 42 major league games for the A’s last year and this year. If the team does decide to put the left-handed-hitting Maxwell behind the dish next season, then it would make plenty of sense to keep Phegley around as his right-handed-hitting counterpart, and to try to make a deal to trade the popular Vogt either this summer or in the offseason to a club that’s looking for a little veteran catching help.

 

OUTFIELDERS

Jaycob Brugman

Jaycob Brugman

When we look at the A’s outfield picture for 2018, two things seem fairly certain: one Davis will stay and one Davis will go. 29-year-old left fielder Khris Davis, who’s hit 54 home runs since joining the A’s last season, is clearly the best-hitting outfielder on the A’s roster and seems likely to stick around. Davis is under team control for two more seasons, and he could serve as the most veteran presence on a young A’s squad next year while manning left field and holding down the cleanup spot. But 36-year-old center fielder Rajai Davis was always intended to serve as a one-year rental and is expected to depart via free agency in the offseason. One of last year’s other free agent signings, 32-year-old right fielder Matt Joyce, was signed to a two-year deal but has severely under-performed so far for the A’s. With one year left on his contract after this season, the team could try to foist him off on a contending club looking for a veteran left-handed bat, even if it means having to eat part of his deal. If the A’s do decide to go with a youth movement next year, there really won’t be much room on the roster for an under-achieving veteran outfielder with sub-par defensive skills. The A’s could replace Joyce in right field with 23-year-old slugger Matt Olson, who currently has 9 home runs, a .349 on-base percentage and a .508 slugging percentage for the Sounds while also leading the team with 19 walks. Olson has long been looked at as one of the top power-hitting prospects in the system and, though he’s mainly been playing first base for Nashville this season, he primarily played right field last year at Triple-A, has appeared at the position in half of his major league games, and has looked solid as a corner outfielder, where his strong arm can come in handy. Olson would immediately represent a defensive upgrade in the outfield and, potentially, an offensive one as well. When it comes to replacing Rajai in center, finding a successor in the A’s system could be tough since the A’s organization is sorely lacking in true center fielders, but there is one possible replacement who might be worth taking a chance on, and that’s Jaycob Brugman. Many in the A’s front office seem to feel that the 25-year-old is better-suited to serve as a part-time center fielder and really view him as more of a corner outfielder. And while he may not have the quickness and the range that one would ideally like to see in a true center fielder, it’s been a while since the A’s have had the luxury of having a true center fielder, and Brugman has shown a propensity for out-performing expectations at every level. He’s also experienced, having played more games in center field than at any other position in his minor league career. And while appearing in 154 games in center, Brugman has made just 2 errors at the position. Then there’s the fact that, while serving as the Sounds’ primary leadoff hitter, he’s boasting a .377/.441/.472 slash line this season since returning from the disabled list earlier this month. The former 17th-round draft pick has over-achieved at every minor league level, and he could do the same at the major league level as the A’s center fielder in 2018. It’s worth noting that Brugman and Olson are both left-handed hitters, but 28-year-old right-handed-hitting outfielders Mark Canha and Jake Smolinski both remain under team control for another few years and could be available to serve as platoon partners if needed.

 

INFIELDERS

Matt Chapman

Matt Chapman

The A’s could be due for the biggest turnover in the infield next year. 30-year-old first baseman Yonder Alonso, 30-year-old third baseman Trevor Plouffe, and soon-to-be-34-year-old utility infielder Adam Rosales are all expected to depart via free agency after the season, if they’re not dealt before then, while 33-year-old second baseman Jed Lowrie’s contract has a club option for 2018, which essentially puts him in the same boat as the rest. The only starting infielder expected to return is 26-year-old shortstop Marcus Semien, who remains under team control through 2020. Fortunately, the A’s do have some talented young players to put around him in the infield, including top prospects Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto as well as a number of other promising young players. The 24-year-old Chapman has been the A’s top third base prospect since the day the team made him its top draft pick in June of 2014. He hit 23 home runs in just 304 at-bats for Stockton in 2015, mashed 36 between Midland and Nashville last year, and has hit 8 in just 88 at-bats while boasting a .557 slugging percentage so far this season for the Sounds. And to top it off, Chapman is also considered a top defender at the hot corner with an elite throwing arm. Widely considered to be the A’s top hitting prospect, Barreto just turned 21 a few months ago, but he’s already been tearing it up at Triple-A this year, putting up an impressive .320/.369/.510 slash line for the Sounds so far this season. Though Barreto has spent most of his time at the shortstop position, he’s also seen some time at second base, and many in the A’s front office have openly talked about the likelihood of him having to make the move to the other side of the bag, where the A’s are likely to soon have an opening. 25-year-old infielder Ryon Healy debuted with a bang for Oakland last season, posting a .305/.337/.524 slash line for the A’s. He’s been hitting at a more average pace so far this season while primarily serving in the designated hitter role, but Healy still holds plenty of promise. And given the chance to move out of the DH spot and play every day in the field at first base for the A’s in 2018 could be just what he needs to get back on track and really show what he can do. And speaking of designated hitters, 23-year-old slugger Renato Nunez has spent most of his minor league career playing third base, but since Matt Chapman has returned to health at Nashville, Nunez has been spending most of his time alternating between left field and the designated hitter spot for the Sounds. Nunez’s power has always been real, and he currently leads his team in home runs and doubles with 10 of each while sporting a .536 slugging percentage, and he even managed to hit a ball clear out of First Tennessee Park in Thursday night’s game. With his power bat and his defensive deficiencies, Nunez seems perfectly-suited to serve in the designated hitter role. And in a limited sample so far this season, 25-year-old infielder Chad Pinder has looked like one of the A’s best hitters. He’s gotten starts at shortstop, at second base, in the outfield and as the designated hitter so far for the A’s, and he’s also spent time at third base in college and in the minors. Pinder’s versatility could make him well-suited for a super-utility role, spelling Barreto at second, Semien at short and Chapman at third, while also filling in in the outfield and as well as in the designated hitter spot. We all know how much the A’s value versatility, and Pinder’s positional flexibility could make him a valuable piece for a young A’s team in 2018.

 

PITCHERS

Kendall Graveman

Kendall Graveman

As mentioned earlier, the major turnover for the A’s next year is likely to be on the position-player front, and that’s primarily because Oakland’s pitching staff is already full of fairly young arms who will be under team control for years to come. The organization currently has a dozen starting pitchers at the major league or Triple-A level who will all still be in their 20’s next year and will remain under team control for multiple years, with Sonny Gray the first to be eligible for free agency after the 2019 season. These pitchers (with their current ages in parentheses) include: Sonny Gray (27), Kendall Graveman (26), Sean Manaea (25), Andrew Triggs (28), Jesse Hahn (27), Jharel Cotton (25), Chris Bassitt (28), Daniel Mengden (24), Raul Alcantara (24), Daniel Gossett (24), Paul Blackburn (23) and Zach Neal (28). That represents a fair number of fairly decent young arms who still have the potential to get much better and will remain under control for years to come. That’s not even mentioning all the talented young arms the A’s currently have below the Triple-A level, including 24-year-old RHP Corey Walter and 21-year-old RHP Grant Holmes at Midland, and 22-year-old LHP A.J. Puk and 22-year-old RHP Logan Shore at Stockton. That should give the A’s plenty of pitching options to choose from in 2018 and beyond. As for the bullpen, it looks like that’s where most of the veterans may be found for the 2018 A’s. 34-year-old RHP John Axford is the only reliever eligible for free agency in the offseason, which means that most members of the A’s bullpen could be returning, including RHPs Ryan Madson, Santiago Casilla, Liam Hendriks, Ryan Dull and Frankie Montas, along with LHPs Sean Doolittle and Daniel Coulombe, all of whom remain under team control for 2018. Of course, 25-year-old RHP Bobby Wahl and 29-year-old RHP Josh Smith, who are both currently auditioning for the A’s, could also be options, as could 26-year-old RHP Tucker Healy, who’s currently sporting a 1.29 ERA for Nashville.

 

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t necessarily a prescription, but just a look at what could happen if they A’s do decide to move forward with a full-on youth movement next season. Of course, if the team does decide to deal potential free agents like Alonso, Plouffe, Lowrie, Rosales, Rajai Davis and Axford, or possibly even veterans like Vogt and Joyce, before the season’s through, that could net a number of new prospects in return who could potentially fill even more holes on a talented young A’s team next year. But, whatever happens, it’s certain that there will be a lot of new faces on the 2018 A’s, and most likely, many of them will be much younger faces.

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A’s Farm Report for Week of May 8-14: Brugman Returns, Gossett Gets Hot, Blackburn Goes Cold & Stockton Goes on Skid

Outfielder Jaycob Brugman

Outfielder Jaycob Brugman

 

After missing the start of the season with a leg injury, outfield prospect Jaycob Brugman‘s bat in now back in action for Nashville. Pitching prospect Daniel Gossett has been getting hot after a slow start, while his teammate Paul Blackburn has been cooling off after a fast start. And despite a promising pitching staff, the Stockton Ports have been struggling.

You can always stay up to date on the A’s top prospects and all the daily action in the A’s minor league system right here on Athletics Farm. A version of this weekly minor league report originally appeared on Athletics Nation

 

Click here for this week’s updates on Nashville, Midland, Stockton & Beloit…

A’s April Minor League Leaders

Franklin Barreto

Franklin Barreto

With the first month of the minor league season now complete, it’s a good time to take a look at the A’s minor league leaders in a few key hitting and pitching categories. And it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to see the names of top prospects like Franklin Barreto, A.J. Puk and Logan Shore high atop our lists of A’s minor league leaders.

A minimum of 60 at-bats is required for the hitting categories and a minimum of 20 innings is required for the ERA and WHIP categories for pitchers. Players from all four of the A’s full-season affiliates – Nashville, Midland, Stockton and Beloit – are included, and the stats are complete through games of Sunday, April 30. Some of these names you may expect to see atop the lists, while others might come as a bit of a surprise!

You can always stay up to date on the A’s top prospects and all the daily action in the A’s minor league system right here on Athletics Farm. A version of this report originally appeared on Athletics Nation

Click here to see the A’s April Minor League Leaders…

Sonny Gray Back on Track in Impressive Rehab Start for Stockton

by Josh Moore / A’s Farm Stockton Correspondent

Saturday night with Sonny Gray in Stockton. Photo: Meghan Camino (https://meghanlaurelphotography.pixieset.com)

Saturday night with Sonny Gray in Stockton. Photo: Meghan Camino

It should come as no surprise that Sonny Gray’s first official minor league rehab start on Saturday attracted a lot of curious and concerned onlookers in Stockton. Among those in attendance at the nearly sold-out Banner Island Ballpark were A’s pitching coach Curt Young, bullpen coach Scott Emerson and hitting coach Darren Bush.

Five days before Saturday night’s appearance in Stockton, Gray made a decidedly more low-key return to the mound when he threw 3 innings in an extended spring training game in Arizona on Monday, which we detailed here. Prior to that, he’d been sidelined due to a lat strain suffered in a March 7th spring training appearance that saw him surrender 5 hits, 4 walks and 7 earned runs in just 2 innings of work.

On Saturday night in Stockton though, Gray looked incredibly sharp. He was originally scheduled for 4 innings or 65 pitches, whichever came first. Gray was so economical in his pitch count, however, that he was sent back out to complete a 5th inning of work. In all, he tallied 47 pitches – 34 of them strikes – while striking out 6 San Jose batters, walking none and allowing just 1 hit over 5 scoreless innings.

His form was fantastic and Gray looked extremely comfortable on the mound throughout the entire outing. Although Banner Island Ballpark’s speed gun can’t always be counted on, some scouts showed readings of 92-94 mph on his fastball, with it occasionally topping out as high as 95. Gray’s command was even more impressive though, as he found himself behind in counts just three times in the game – once with a 2-1 count and the other two times with 1-0 counts.

After striking out the side in the 2nd inning and tallying 4 strikeouts to San Jose’s first 6 batters, Gray faltered with location a bit in the 3rd frame. A fastball that caught too much of the plate was ripped to left field for a leadoff single by right fielder Christoph Bono. Although the first-base umpire later called Bono safe on a pickoff throw by Gray, his throw to first was on line and it appeared that he had picked off Bono. Later in the inning, another fastball caught too much of the plate and was lined to center field and would have landed for a single if not for an incredible catch by a diving Skye Bolt.

Gray went on to easily retire the side in order in both the 4th and 5th, barely breaking a sweat in either frame, and was eventually credited with the win after Stockton completed the 7-0 victory. A’s manager Bob Melvin announced on Sunday that Gray’s next appearance will be a 75-pitch outing for Nashville on Thursday. Following that, it’s yet to be decided whether he’ll need to make one more rehab start or if he’ll return to the Oakland rotation for his next outing. But if Saturday night’s performance was any indication, Sonny certainly appears confident and ready to go.

(Photo courtesy of Meghan Camino)

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Sonny Gray Returns to the Mound in Arizona

by Joseph Hartsock / A’s Farm Arizona Correspondent

sghi-res-162663960_display_image2Today, I had the opportunity to watch Sonny Gray pitch in an extended spring training game against the Angels at the A’s minor league complex at Fitch Park in Mesa, Arizona. The 27-year-old Gray suffered a lat stain during spring training and, after being shut down, is now making progress in trying to get back to Oakland. Today, Gray was limited to three innings and about 15 pitches per inning, giving the A’s the ability to closely control and monitor his rehab. Gray had a rough first inning but seemed to calm down in the following two innings, and I believe it ended up being a great outing for a rehab start.

In the first inning, Gray was rocked for a home run by the Angels’ leadoff batter. The left-handed hitter seemed to be seeing the ball well out of Gray’s hand and was able to take the count full with a loud foul ball down the right-field line before hitting his solo shot to right-center field. The second batter saw seven pitches in his at-bat, mostly fastballs. This batter was overmatched by Gray and fouled off a few before ultimately striking out. Gray looked a little rough in the first inning. Sonny didn’t locate his fastball well, missing both high and low on some of his pitches. And because the A’s coaching staff was controlling his outing, they called the inning after facing only two batters.

The second inning went much more smoothly for Gray. He placed the ball well and mixed his pitches better, utilizing his fastball, changeup, slider and curve. In the inning, he didn’t allow a baserunner, struck out the first batter on three pitches and had the other two ground out to the infield. Even without a runner on base, Gray pitched from the stretch while facing the final batter of the inning and continued to maintain his smooth inning.

In Sonny’s third and final inning, he showed some of his athleticism when he came off the mound during a close play at first, calming some of my worries about his injury. The first batter Gray faced chopped a ball toward the second baseman. It wasn’t hit very hard and, with the second baseman playing back, Gray had to come off the mound make the play to his left. And with the first baseman rushing in, Gray had to race to first for the out. The next batter pushed a good breaking pitch to shallow right field to get on base. With a speedy runner now on first, Gray attempted to pick off the runner three times and nearly had the runner twice. I believe one was a bad call and the runner should have been called out. Gray walked his final batter of the day, and this was the same leadoff hitter who took him deep to start the game.

After the first inning, Gray looked great, mixing his pitches and over-matching most of the hitters. Besides the leadoff batter in the first inning, there were no solid hits off Gray, and he seemed to be calm and confident on the mound. Although the competition was nothing compared to big league hitters, it was a great step forward in his rehab.

After his outing, I was able to speak to Gray before he returned to the clubhouse. I asked him how he felt, and he said, “I feel great. It’s been eight months since I pitched in a game, so it felt great to be back out there.” He went on to talk about calming down in the second inning and continued to say how great it felt to be pitching in a game, while flashing a big smile on his face. Gray also told me that he would be heading to Stockton to pitch this Saturday and, if all goes well, he could be back with the big-league club in 11 days.

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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.

A’s Minor Leaguers Star in Tabitha Soren’s ‘Fantasy Life’

Tabitha Soren

Tabitha Soren

As soon as the players from the A’s 2002 draft class entered the system to begin their professional baseball careers, former MTV journalist Tabitha Soren began photographing them and documenting their journeys. Of course, this was the draft class that was documented in the well-known tome “Moneyball.”

Many A’s fans will recall that the first two picks from that draft, Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton, made it to the big leagues within the next two years. But it’s those players who never made it to the majors – like Ben Fritz and Steve Stanley – and those who got just the briefest cups of coffee – like Jeremy Brown and Mark Kiger – who form the real backbone of Soren’s new book, “Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream.”

Filled with Soren’s photos of players from the 2002 class both during and after their baseball careers, the book also includes childhood photos as well as compelling essays by the players themselves reflecting on their own diverse journeys. Some of those journeys led to World Series championships and multi-million-dollar contracts, and some of those journeys led to work in the coal mines and homelessness.

What all the players profiled in “Fantasy Life” have in common is the fact that they were all chasing a childhood dream – a few of them caught it, but most of them were forced to have to surrender it. Referring to these ballplayers in a recent book talk, Soren said, “You’re not a child even though you’re playing a child’s game.” And this book makes clear the journey from wide-eyed children to clear-eyed men that each of these dreamers had to make.

Soren has also spent time photographing a much more recent crop of A’s prospects, primarily those playing with the Stockton Ports. Some of those photos, as well as some photos of the players from the 2002 draft class who are featured in the book, are included below. “Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream” will be released by Aperture on April 1 and is available to order online now. All photos below by Tabitha Soren…

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Before & After: Nick Swisher (above) and Mark Kiger (below)

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A’s prospect Matt Olson (above) / Olson with fellow prospect and frequent roommate Chad Pinder (below)

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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.

Exclusive: Down On The Farm with A’s Special Assistant Grady Fuson

gfDSC01787-1[2c]Long-time baseball man Grady Fuson served as the A’s scouting director from 1995 until 2001, when the team drafted such talented players as Eric ChavezTim HudsonMark MulderBarry Zito and Rich Harden.

He left the A’s at the end of 2001 to become the assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers and, after moving on to head up the Padres scouting department, Fuson eventually returned to the A’s a little over seven years ago to serve as a special assistant to the general manager.

Of course, many know Fuson as the scout in the cinematic version of Moneyball who has a dramatic confrontation with Billy Beane and ends up getting fired – though that’s not quite how it happened (which we chronicled here).

During spring training, Fuson can frequently be found at the A’s minor league complex, now located at Fitch Park in Mesa, keeping a close eye on the team’s most prized prospects. And it was there that we took the opportunity to pick the brain of one of baseball’s top talent evaluators to get the inside scoop on some of the A’s top hitting and pitching prospects…

 

AF:  Let’s start out by talking a little bit about last year’s draft. I know you guys may not have even expected to have the chance to get the guy who turned out to be your top draft pick, left-hander A.J. Puk. But now that you’ve got him here in camp and you guys have had a chance to get a good look at him, what are your impressions of him now, and what have you got to work on with him to get him where he needs to be?

ap640462bGF:  Well ever since we signed him, we really haven’t seen any of the command issues that kind of bothered him a little bit in college. So for the most part, once he got signed and got out and got comfortable, he threw pretty good strikes in Vermont, did the same in instructs, and has done the same here. So now that we’re starting to feel comfortable about his location and his execution, [A’s minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson has allowed him to bring back a curveball that apparently Florida had taken from him all those years. And it’s actually showing some signs of life. It’s a different angle than his slider, and it looks like it’s going to be a very good pitch for him. For him, it’s about a big man maintaining some consistency in his delivery so that he’s able to execute at the highest level. He had an unbelievable first major league inning in a spring training game – 97 mph, threw strike after strike, threw the baseball by all of them, it wasn’t even close!

AF:  I guess that opened a lot of people’s eyes.

GF:  Yes.

AF:  Last year, you guys took three pitchers at the top of the draft. After Puk, right-handers Daulton Jefferies and Logan Shore, a couple more experienced college pitchers, were your next two picks. So how are those two guys looking at this point?

GF:  Jefferies, as you know, experienced some shoulder issues last year at Cal and was shut down – probably not shut down long enough. They allowed him to go out and pitch at the end of the year, and he probably wasn’t 100%. So we spent most of the time rehabbing him all last summer. He hit the mound a couple of times late in the summer. He pitched effectively and pitched issue-free. So instead of pushing the envelope, we didn’t even bring him to instructional league really – he was here for a short period of time but did not throw. The rest and the recovery, for the medical guys, was more important. Now he’s showing up 100% healthy. He’s been pounding the strike zone – 93s-94s-95s with a filthy changeup. The breaking ball is the one thing that we still play with a little bit – still trying to play with a grip, play with an angle – so if there’s any pitch in there that needs some attention…but he’s a pretty good strike thrower and he’s got a knack for the bottom of the zone. He’s got a chance to be a special kid.

AF:  And what about Logan Shore?

ls624519GF:  Shore’s been very good. As a sophomore, there were some 93 and 94 mph four-seamers in there, much more than there were his last year in college. He pitched around 90 mph all year. Everything he threw had more of a sink to it. I think there was some question as to how much was left in this guy. I for one was excited to see if we could get that four-seamer back. Now being with him, everything he holds is a four-seamer! But velocity is up. There was one day he touched 95 mph, but he been pitching in the 92s and 93s. He’s got a filthy changeup. He’s another guy who could improve a little bit on the consistency of his breaking ball. He’s similar to Jefferies, maybe not as live and quick of an arm, but they both have plus to double-plus changeups and they’re both strike throwers.

AF:  How much thought have you guys given to maybe keeping all three of these guys together as a group to start the season?

GF:  We’ve had our thoughts. I think they’re all somewhat advanced college pitchers – there’s some polish there. Puk may be the lightest on overall command, but these guys have a chance to move quicker than the rest.

AF:  Is there anyone else from last year’s draft that you’ve been feeling particularly fond of lately?

GF:  Yeah, let me mention Skylar Szynski. He was a high school pick in the 4th-round – powerful kid, good arm, good breaker, makings of a changeup, around the dish. He tired easily after we signed him. He lost half the summer to fatigue. We brought him back for instructional league and didn’t have him do much because of the fatigue factor. But he’s come back to this camp and has looked very good. The ball is jumping out of his hand. He’s got decent moves in his delivery, which creates a lack of concern. There’s power in this kid’s game. It’s just about him getting on the mound now and getting to a level where he can go out and pitch a little bit. I’m unsure how we break here with him but, in my opinion, a very good draft pick.

AF:  So it sounds like it’s up in the air at this point whether he goes to a short-season or a full-season team this year.

GF: Yeah.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk a bit about some of the higher-level prospects now. Your top prospect, infielder Franklin Barreto, looked very good in big league camp this spring and he was recently sent over to the minor league camp. He’s going to start the season at Nashville, and he’s obviously very close at this point. What’s left for him to do to be major-league ready and what’s he got to work at Nashville this year?

fb620439bGF:  Not a whole lot! I mean, he’s really come on as an offensive player. There’s going to be power in his game for a little man. He’s probably got the quickest bat and quickest hands in the system. Nobody can ever have enough experience controlling the strike zone and learning how people pitch you and things like that. He’s played a little bit more aggressively in big league camp, which most young kids do. There were times that we were concerned about his effort. It showed up in the [Arizona] Fall League a little bit as well. Some of that’s fatigue – some of that could be attitude. But this guy has dominated, going down the line, making hard turns, everything in big league camp that would impress a major league coaching staff.

AF:  So should we assume this year at Nashville he’ll be spending time at shortstop and second base, splitting time between the two.

GF: Mm hmm.

AF:  Now what about third baseman Matt Chapman? He managed to keep up his power numbers at Midland which, as you know, no one ever seems to do. So obviously the power is real. He’ll be at Nashville this year. I know the question with him always has to do with how much contact he’s going to make. So what’s he got to work on at Nashville to be ready to take the next step?

GF:  That’s it – hopefully improving his strikeout rate. He looks better. It looks like there’s a little bit more separation to his move, which is going to give him a little bit more time to read and react. But everything else is solid. He’s hitting them just as far today as he did a year ago.

AF:  Well I guess we don’t have to bother worrying about his power and defense anyway.

GF:  Not at all.

AF:  A guy who made a big leap forward last year was catcher Bruce Maxwell. He really seemed to turn a corner with the bat last summer at Nashville. What clicked for him last year, and where do you feel he’s at both at the plate and behind the plate at this stage of the game?

bm622194bGF:  Yeah, it was a little bit of a breakout year for Maxie offensively. It was certainly a collection of the most competitive at-bats I’ve ever seen him have over the course of his career – and it held up in the big leagues. And the more quality at-bats he had there, the more he ended up playing, especially late in the year. The bottom line is we have Stephen Vogt and we have Josh Phegley, and when they’re both healthy, there’s kind of no place to go. So in his case, if he goes back to Nashville, it’s not that he’s being demoted. It’s just that right now he’s still waiting in the wings. I think everybody’s locked into the catch/throw – we’re okay – he’s done a great job with that the last two years. Maybe some blocking – you know, you could pick these guys apart left and right if you want but…he still gets exposed sometimes in blocking situations. But catching and throwing, he’s done a tremendous job.

AF:  At this point for him, it sounds like it’s mainly just a matter of standing in line and waiting his turn.

GF:  Yep.

AF:  Let’s talk about infielder Chad Pinder, who was recently sent back over to the minor league camp. Bob Melvin was just saying the other day that he thought that his bat was ahead of his defense and it may be just a matter of finding the proper home for him in the field. And now they want to try to make him more versatile defensively and have been talking about having him spend some time in the outfield this year at Nashville.

GF:  Well his defense last year threw us all for a loop a little bit, because of how well he played the year before at Midland. So he went through some growing pains, and I think he’s realized some of the things he’s done wrong. I think the big league staff and the front office, some people have gotten a different look at him – maybe he was a little intimidated or nervous, whatever it may be, in the big leagues last year and had a little stiffer look to him. But I think he’s put himself back on the map in this camp. I know the staff has been impressed. He’s done well offensively for the most part. But, you know, he goes back and tries to put another stage to his game, and see if he can improve on that defense. My thing with Chad has always been, he’s just been a guy who’s always had a very low walk rate. So very low walk rates usually equal guys with recognition issues. And with Chad, he’s gotten better in his two-strike situations, but for me personally, I see him get himself in trouble early in the count. He’s offering at pitches early in the count that are going to be low odds to square up. So if he can improve his recognition of what he wants to jump on early, I think that’s going to improve the whole on-base thing a little bit.

cp640461bAF:  And do you anticipate seeing him moving around a bit in the field and getting a little more versatile this year?

GF:  Yeah, without a doubt, which we’re big on in the big leagues. We platoon a ton. So the more versatility, the more options there are. The other thing that’s going to be interesting…he told me that he had his eyes done.

AF:  Lasik?

GF:  Yeah, and in the at-bats that I was seeing over there [in major league camp], he looked a little bit more patient and confident.

AF:  So maybe he literally is seeing pitches better at this point! A guy who’s in a somewhat similar situation as Pinder is first baseman/outfielder Matt Olson, who was also sent back over to the minor league camp recently. Bob Melvin was saying that they’re working on changing his swing a bit. So what’s he got to do this year to get himself to where you can see him being ready for the major leagues?

GF:  He’s got to define where the impact’s going to be. We already know what he can do defensively. He’s well above average at first, and he’s solid in the outfield. I’m sure if you wanted to put him at third, he could play it. He’s just a good defender. So it’s the same story with him going into this year as every year. There’s always been power, there’s always been on-base, but it’s about not having so many empty at-bats. So it doesn’t take a scientist to realize we need the contact rate to go up and the swing-and-miss rate to come down…and try to make him as good as he can be as far as his approach. This is the first year that he’s come back with a change – he’s a little bit more out in front of himself instead of tied up in the air – and it looks like it’s helping him. He’s been much more competitive in his big league at-bats this spring.

AF:  So it sounds like you’re trying to shorten his swing a bit.

GF:  Yeah, we’re trying to shorten it and we’re trying to get him to stay over the baseball a little bit better.

AF:  And you feel like he’s taken to that change fairly well?

GF:  Yeah.

AF:  Okay, let’s talk about Renato Nunez. It’s always sort of the same conversation about him. The power potential’s real, when he hits the ball it goes a long way, but the question has always been where he’s going to end up in the field.

rn600524dGF:  Well he’s got to learn to make himself more versatile. It’s going to be an interesting year for him, because he’s going to have to play some left, he’s going to have to DH, he’s going to have to play some first, and then he’ll get some third base time – but you’ve got Chapman there, and he’s probably going to get the majority of the time there. So it’s time for him to kind of change his game a little bit. He’s kind of an odd one, because he’s so young, and yet he’s like the most unheard of 22-year-old to hit 23 homers in the Pacific Coast League. So you’ve got to appreciate what this guy can do – this guy can change the course of a game with one swing. But he’s never come to big league camp and nailed it, you know, like Chapman did [last spring]. Sometimes those things need to happen to get that extra opportunity.

AF:  Another hitter likely to start the year back at Nashville who I wanted to ask you about is a guy I think you’ve always felt good about, and that’s outfielder Jaycob Brugman. He’s another guy who seemed to take a big step forward last year. He always seems to over achieve and exceed people’s expectations, and he had a really good season last year. So where do you feel he’s at and what’s he got to do at this point?

GF:  He’s close, I think he’s ready. But to open the year, he’s going to go back to Nashville. But there’s not a lot Bruggy needs to overcome to become our fourth, or somebody’s fourth, or fifth outfielder. And in a perfect world, if you’ve got a contending team, I kind of see him that way. He can play all three outfield spots, and he’s going to give you a good quality at-bat whether he’s getting four at-bats a night or two a week – and that’s a vital skill for a part-time player. Now in Bruggy’s case, if he does the things that he’s been doing in the minor leagues, which is a little combo of everything, then he’s going to make himself into an everyday player somewhere, here, somewhere. It was their first look at him in big league camp. They’ve heard most of the minor league coaches describe him. I thought he held his own and did fine and his at-bats were competitive.

AF:  Okay, let’s touch on a few pitchers before we wrap up. A pitcher who made a lot of progress last year was Daniel Gossett. He wasn’t particularly eye-opening at Beloit in 2015, but then he suddenly blows through Stockton, Midland and Nashville last year and looks good at every stop. So what clicked for him?

dg605254cGF:  Last year was his breakout year…he really turned it around. And I think it’s just about starting to execute in the finer spots of the strike zone. He’s always been a strike thrower, but it’s been control over command. But now I think his command is starting to tighten up. And when he wants to go down and away, he’s hitting it, and when he wants to come underneath the hands in, he’s hitting it. Before, a lot of his stuff was kind of center cut, and so there was a lot more contact off him and the strikeouts were down. And last year, that all flipped. And he did a very good job in big league camp. He pitched very well.

AF:  And I guess adding the cutter helped him a bit too.

GF:  Yeah, but he’s got a solid repertoire of pitches, and his fastball velocity’s up. He was 91-95 mph pretty much every outing last year.

AF:  Well that always helps! Another pitcher I wanted to talk to you about is Raul Alcantara, who’s out of options. He’s been pitching in the big league camp all spring and competing for a spot on the major league roster. Where do you feel he’s at and do you see his future more as a starter or a reliever at this point?

GF:  Well Raul’s ability to start, especially at the major league level, is going to be determined by his efficiency and command of a breaking ball. There’s no doubt that he’s got a good arm. He’s got a great changeup. So with Sonny Gray being down, it kind of eases the decision as to what we do. I’m not sure yet, we still have a couple meetings to have about…is he in the mix for the fifth starter role or does he kick it off as the long guy? But I think there’s enough opportunity now for him to possibly stay when we break. So we’ll see how that goes.

AF:  And finally, I wanted to ask you about Frankie Montas, who was one of the guys you got last summer from the Dodgers. He was hurt most of last season, but he pitched for you guys a bit in the Arizona Fall League and now he’s been pitching here in the big league camp this spring. So what’s he look like to you now that you’ve had the chance to get a look at him up close here in camp?

fm593423cGF:  I got to see him a little bit in instructs before we sent him over to the Fall League. I saw him in two outings in the Fall League, and I’ve seen him two or three times here. Easy 100 mph – probably one of the easiest big velo guys you want to see. The breaker comes and goes, but it can be filthy at times. Personally, I would like to see him utilize his changeup more, which I just haven’t seen – I don’t know if I’m running to the bathroom when he throws it! Especially if we’re going to think down the road as a starter, he’s going to need that changeup. But currently, he’s just not really using it that much. I think he went into this big league camp knowing that he was going to be used probably an inning or so at a time, because we’re going to have to watch his pitch counts this year and his innings, so he just attacked them with fastballs and sliders. But he’s done well.

AF:  I know there’s been a lot of talk about whether he’ll be a starter or a reliever, and the fact that he was injured and only threw so many innings last year, so realistically he can only be expected to throw so much this year. So is he going to start out the season as a reliever or is he going to have a chance to start at all?

GF:  He’s got to start out as a reliever at this point because he’s only been a one or two inning guy so far. And plus, we’re going to have to watch the innings. So he can go out and get a good half a year in the bullpen and, if he’s still feeling good and healthy and we’ve still got 50-60 innings to play with, then if we decide to go the starter route, he could attack that later. Or there’s a chance he’s on the club.

AF:  You mean, the major league club, right?

GF:  Yeah…in the bullpen.

AF:  Well that’d certainly be good news for fans who like to see guys who can bring the heat! Thanks as always for the insight.

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Talking with a Trio of Top A’s Prospects: Chapman, Gossett & Maxwell

IMG_3715bLast week at the A’s major league spring training camp in Mesa, we took the opportunity to chat with a trio of top A’s prospects, all of whom made our pre-season Top 10 Prospects List.

We caught up with catcher Bruce Maxwell and third baseman Matt Chapman, both of whom we’d spoken with a number of times before. And we also got the chance to speak with pitching prospect Daniel Gossett for the first time.

Maxwell and Chapman both spent plenty of time in the major league camp last spring, but it was the first time in big league camp for Gossett, who was clearly excited and enthusiastic about the opportunity.

After getting the chance to appear in three spring games, Gossett was reassigned to the A’s minor league camp the day after we spoke, but both Maxwell and Chapman are likely to remain with the major league squad till just prior to opening day.

 

MATT CHAPMAN

mc656305c#2 on our Top 10 Prospects List, third baseman Matt Chapman led all A’s minor leaguers with 36 home runs last season, slugging 29 at Double-A Midland to lead the Texas League and then adding another 7 in just a few weeks with Triple-A Nashville. 2014’s top draft pick for the A’s is also known as a top-tier defender at the hot corner with an elite throwing arm. The 23-year-old will start the year at Nashville, where he’ll try to prove to the A’s that he’s ready for the show sooner rather than later.

AF:  Well, it was a very solid season for you last year. You managed to hit 29 home runs while playing at Midland, which is considered to be a bit of a pitchers’ park. So how did you manage to keep your power numbers up going from Stockton to Midland when so few other guys have been able to do that?

MC:  Just really working with the coaches, swinging at the right pitches, getting good pitches to hit, and just letting your good swing take care of the rest. For me, working hard in the weight room and getting my strength up, and just trying to put good swings on the ball. I’m just going to keep trying to take good swings and letting the results happen.

AF:  You obviously kept your power swing going when you got a late-season promotion to Triple-A Nashville and hit seven more home runs in just a few weeks there. So how did you feel about your experience there?

MC:  It was fun. Every level you go up, there’s different challenges and different adjustments you need to make, so it was fun to kind of get a taste of that. And I’m assuming that’s where I’ll be this season. So it’ll be nice to have a little bit of experience and kind of know what to expect a little more this time around.

AF:  Making the move from High-A to Double-A and Triple-A last year, were there any particular adjustments you had to make against more advanced pitching?

MC:  Definitely, you’re always making adjustments. That’s something in baseball that I don’t think will ever stop. So for me, it might be just making those adjustments a little faster, because the pitchers have a plan of how they want to attack you. So for me, it’s just sticking with that professional approach and being able to not give in to those good pitches those pitchers are making.

AF:  Was having the chance to spend plenty of time in big league camp last year a helpful experience for

you? And did it boost your confidence a bit heading into the season?

MC:  Definitely. Being around these guys and trying to learn as much as I could was definitely a great experience – and also having some success and then being able to have that confidence that you are good enough to play at a higher level.

AF:  So how’s it been being back here in big league camp for your second year? Do you feel a little more comfortable this time around?

MC:  Definitely. It’s always nice to get some of that experience under your belt, so that when you come back again, you know what to expect, you kind of develop more of a routine, you know the guys a little bit better, put some more names to faces, and feel more comfortable just being yourself. It’s been fun.

AF:  Is there anything that the coaching staff has you working on in particular this spring?

MC:  From an offensive standpoint, my rhythm and timing – just really working on dialing in that good rhythm and good timing. And pitch selection – just being disciplined and really committing to getting the pitch that I’m looking for – and kind of just developing that professional hitting approach.

AF:  Now you’re known for your solid defense and your strong arm. So how confident do you feel out there in the field at third base?

MC:  I’m definitely confident. You should always be confident in your abilities, because when you’re confident, you play your best. And at this level, you should always want to play your best. So you should always be confident and believe in yourself. I’m definitely very confident in my ability on defense and err on the side of attacking every baseball.

AF:  So what are you focused on and what’s your mindset heading into this coming season?

MC:  My mindset coming into this season is to take everything that I’ve been working on this season in big league camp, everything that I learned from last season, successes and failures, and hopefully combine all those together and formulate the best version of me that I can be, then take that into the beginning of this season and go out there every day and try to get better and show them I’m ready to make the next step.

 

DANIEL GOSSETT

dg605254c#7 on our Top 10 Prospects List, right-handed starting pitcher Daniel Gossett blew through three levels of the A’s system last season, making as much progress as any pitcher in the organization, and his 151 strikeouts led all A’s minor leaguers last year. Oakland’s 2nd-round draft pick in 2014 (selected by the A’s right after Matt Chapman), the 24-year-old is set to begin the year as a member of the starting rotation at Triple-A Nashville but, depending on how things go, he could end up getting a shot to show what he can do in Oakland before the season’s through.

AF:  You made a big leap forward last season, pitching well at Stockton, Midland and then Nashville. So what accounted for your progress last year, what clicked for you?

DG:  I really focused on just staying with the process, trusting my stuff, and not trying to do too much. And now I get to be around all these guys [in the A’s major league camp], so I get to learn a ton every day. So this is an awesome experience for me. If I can just grab on to everything I learn here and just apply it, it’s going to be the best thing for me.

AF:  I was just about to ask what it’s been like for you to be in big league camp for the first time this spring.

DG:  It’s everything you dream of. This is the dream for everyone. Obviously I haven’t made it to the big leagues yet, but this is obviously a step up in spring training. And I’m honored and excited to be a part of all this and to be around all these guys and to learn as much as I can.

AF:  Has anyone here taken you under their wing a bit or been particularly helpful to you this spring?

DG:  I try and pick as many brains as I can and talk to everyone I can. But Sean Manaea’s been a rock for me, so that helps out a ton. I get to sit by him every day and ask him anything. I feel like he’s a good friend that I can lean on.

AF:  That’s funny because he was the new kid here just last year!

DG:  I guess he understands what I’m going through, so he can kind of look out for me a little bit as well.

AF:  So what was it like when you got out there on the mound in your first spring training game facing big league hitters for the first time?

DG:  Well the first one was actually a start – it was the home opener! It was the first time I’d ever pitched in a big league scenario and I’m starting the game. So there was a little anxiety, but it was awesome. It was great to be on the mound in a big league uniform. It’s still not the real deal, but it’s definitely a cool experience.

AF:  Let’s talk a little bit about your repertoire. What were you throwing last year and what was really working for you?

DG:  I was really able to work off my fastball, which was really good. My fastball control was pretty good. But then I was able to work on my changeup, which has been a staple for me. And then I added a cutter last year, which actually helped out a ton – another option to go to. So adding that pitch really helped out a lot. And [A’s minor league pitching coordinator] Gil Patterson and a guy who was in Stockton with me last year, Brett Graves, helped me out a ton with the cutter. I’ve just got to keep refining and keep working to see if I can make it a little bit better every day.

AF:  Well, in addition to Gil Patterson, you also had three different pitching coaches throughout the system to work with over the course of last season.

DG:  So I had Steve Connelly my first couple years. I had him in Vermont, then I had him in Beloit, then I had him in Stockton. And so that was great to have a building block there, a good firm relationship I could always lean on. Then I go up to Double-A at Midland and then Triple-A with Rick Rodriguez. And just getting different perspectives on pitching is awesome. These guys, that’s their job – they understand, they’ve been there. So I can learn from them and take different aspects from them and put it all together.

AF:  So how were those different parks for you to have to pitch in? Stockton’s known as a hitters’ park, while Midland and Nashville are known a little more as pitchers’ parks.

DG:  Oh yeah, Stockton and the whole Cal League is definitely a hitters’ league. But you’ve just got to trust in the process – just keep pitching and everything else is outside your control, so just control what you can. And I just try to see if I can wheel out the best I’ve got every day.

AF:  As you moved through three different levels last year, were there any significant adjustments that you needed to make moving from one level to another?

DG:  In Triple-A, definitely. You’ve got a bunch of guys up there with a ton of big league time, and they all have great approaches. And you’re not going to get many swings and misses out of the zone – you have to be good in the zone. Coming from Double-A and High-A, and I’m not trying to talk down about anyone, but I was getting more swings and misses out of the zone. Then you go up to Triple-A and you’ve got to be nasty in the zone, and that’s a bit of an adjustment.

AF:  You’ve got to work in the danger zone all the time!

DG:  Yeah, you’re always living right there on the edge, that’s for sure!

AF:  Even though you weren’t there for very long at the end of last year, how did you enjoy your time in Nashville?

DG:  Unbelievable! Everything there is great. Everything gets better the more you move up, that’s just the way it is. But Nashville’s got a brand new stadium, awesome fans, great city – there’s no down side. It’s really close to home for me too, five hours away, which is fantastic, so I got to spend some more time with my family.

AF:  I guess you didn’t miss all those bus rides across Texas when you were down at Midland.

DG:  That’s true. That’s not a bad deal. Going from the Texas League where I’ve got 12-hour bus rides, then [at Nashville] you’re jumping on a plane to head down to Louisiana. That’s fine with me. I’m not going to complain about that, that’s for sure.

AF:  So if you should end up starting the year back at Nashville, I guess that wouldn’t be such a bad thing then.

DG:  Absolutely. If I start the year playing baseball, that’s a good year!

AF:  So what are you focused on here the rest of the spring?

DG:  I just need to work on some consistency stuff. I need to be consistent in the zone. Just trust myself, that’s the biggest thing. Knowing that I’m facing big league hitters, sometimes I feel like I need to do more, but that’s not the case. You’ve got to do what you do and do it the best you can.

 

BRUCE MAXWELL

bm622194b#8 on our Top 10 Prospects List, Maxwell had a breakthrough 2016 season at Nashville and made his major league debut last July with Oakland, where he made a positive impression on manager Bob Melvin and the A’s coaching staff. The 26-year-old backstop is expected to start the season back at Triple-A Nashville, but if another catcher is needed on the major league squad at any point during the season, then Maxwell will likely be the first man to get the call.

AF:  You made a big leap forward offensively at Nashville last season. So what accounted for the improvements that you were able to make at the plate last year?

BM:  I feel like it was just trusting in the process, and learning from the guys who helped me, whether it be my coaches or my teammates, and just trusting in the hitter that I am, and finally getting enough at-bats to really put into play what I do best and stick to that. So once I had the confidence and the repetitions and the trust in the process, I was able to just kind of let my talent take over.

AF:  And what is it that you feel you do best as a hitter and what is the approach that works for you?

BM:  For the most part, I’m a big strong guy and I have power to all fields, keeping in mind that I use the opposite field very well, and to really try to perfect that craft of mine, so I can always rely on that at the end of the day. So being able to stay confident with that and not switch up my game depending on the pitcher or the situation in the game was my biggest thing. Sticking with that on a daily basis has really made me the consistent hitter that I know I can be and I know they know I can be.

AF:  Last spring, you had the chance to spend a lot of time in the big league camp. I’m sure that was a great experience fo you, but how important was it in terms of developing even more confidence in your own abilities and your own game?

BM:  It was huge…last year I got to show them what I’ve been working on and show them that I do belong and how I’ve come a long way catching-wise. So it was good to get that exposure…and put a good run in in spring. And it really helped me going into the season.

AF:  When you left the big league squad last spring, did Bob Melvin or the coaching staff have anything to say to you or any advice they left you with?

BM:  Yeah, they told me to keep doing what I was doing…and they just told me to make sure that I keep progressing behind the dish and the hitting will take care of itself. They just told me to keep with a good routine, keep my head on straight and just keep plugging away.

AF:  Well, we know there’s always work to do on the catching side, and you’ve obviously done a lot of that already. But where do you feel you’re at with your catching game at this point?

BM:  Honestly, I feel like I’m the best I’ve been. I feel comfortable back there…and I know my pitchers feel confident in me, especially a lot of the guys in Triple-A. I’ve got a good rep with a lot of the big league guys as well because I caught a lot of them in camp last year. And so it’s just about staying on top of it every day.

AF:  So are there any particular aspects that you’re really focused on or trying to work on behind the plate at this point?

BM:  Just making sure that I stay mobile, making sure my pitchers have a nice big target, and making sure that I just stay sharp with the little things back there. Me being as big as I am, the little things are what matter the most. So just trying to make sure those are on point every day, and trying to make sure that my pitchers have the best opportunity to throw strikes and have a big target and can be as confident and comfortable as they can be with me.

AF:  Coming out of college, you really hadn’t done a whole lot of catching at that point. And the main focus when you came into the A’s system was really getting you up to speed with your catching. So how does it feel to now be the #3 catcher on the depth chart for the A’s right there near the top of the food chain?

BM:  It feels good. When I started catching, it seemed like a long way off. I feel that I’ve learned and I’ve applied stuff and put it to use every day. And now my confidence is up there, so it feels good.

AF:  Let me get your quick take, as a catcher, on a few of the pitchers who’ve been here in camp with you this spring. I don’t know if you’ve gotten the chance to catch Jharel Cotton much. I know you didn’t get a chance to catch him at Nashville last year because you were already up in the big leagues when he came over.

BM:  Well I’ve played against Cotton for years. So I’ve known Cotton going on four years now. But he’s a competitor. On any given day, he’s going to go out there and give you his best effort. His pitches are very good, especially when he’s dialed in. And it’s fun to play behind him – he’s got a good pace. It’s his job to make hitters struggle, and that’s what he does. He has a good repertoire of pitches, and he’s a bulldog, so he’s going to go after you with everything he’s got and give you the best chance to win.

AF:  And what about that changeup of his?

BM:  It’s great! It’s not great to hit against him, but catching it’s not so bad.

AF:  And what are your impressions of Frankie Montas?

BM:  He’s kind of the same except he throws 100 mph. He’s got a really good breaking ball, and his changeup’s really good, but his fastball’s dominant. He goes out there cool, calm and collected, and he gives it everything he’s got. He attacks you – he forces you to make an adjustment and then, as soon as you make that adjustment, he makes the adjustment. So he’s strong mentally and even stronger physically.

AF:  And have you had the chance to work with Daniel Gossett yet?

BM:  I’ve caught him one time. But from what I know about him and what I’ve seen, he’s an aggressive pitcher. He’s got confidence in all his pitches. He’s just going to go right after you. He works around the corners and he works down in the zone very well.

AF:  So after having had the chance to be here before, do you feel a little more comfortable and a little more confident at this point?

BM:  It feels good. I feel like I have a good relationship with a lot of these guys. A lot of the guys in this room, I’ve played at Triple-A and Double-A with. But Yonder Alonso and Marcus Semien and a lot of guys I’ve developed good relationships with, so it feels like I belong here.

AF:  Last year, you were with the big league club pretty much till the very end, and you’ll probably be with them till the very end again this year. So whatever happens, wherever you end up, what’s your mindset heading into this season?

BM:  To keep aggressive…everybody wants to get better and better every year. So this year, it’s about repeating what I did last year, and just getting a little more refined in certain aspects, and just being the catcher I know I can be and my pitching staff knows I can be, and just winning a championship whether it be at Triple-A or in the big leagues.

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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

 

 

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.

No Stalling for Cody Stull

cs642119

Cody Stull

by Mark Nikolov / @realmccoyminors

(special to A’s Farm)

Left-hander Cody Stull was drafted out of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina in the 29th round by the A’s in 2014.  This past season, he was able to get a taste of three different levels of minor league ball – at High-A Stockton, Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville.  I recently had a chance to speak with Cody and talked to him about his recent success…

MN:  This past season, you moved up three levels in the A’s farm system.  To what do you attribute that achievement?

CS:  I attribute it to hard work.  The A’s have also done a great job surrounding me with some really good pitching coaches.  All of my coaches have helped me improve my performance in Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A.  I’m very grateful to them for that.  Being able to get lefties out is always a good way to move up in the system too.

MN:  Last season, you put up great numbers in the California League – a league that is known for being a hitters’ league – 63 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings with only 11 walks and a 1.46 ERA.  Do you think you can repeat those numbers or put up even better numbers this coming season?

CS:  I think so.  I think that there’s always more opportunities to get better.  Now that I’ve added a curveball into my pitching arsenal, that should only help me get better.

MN:  In an article on 27 Outs Baseball last season, Eddie Pannone mentioned that you have a low 90s fastball and a good changeup.  He also said that you were working on your breaking ball.  Can you tell me about the success you had with that pitch last year?

CS:  Sure, my breaking ball helped me open up the zone a little more.  It eventually turned into a cutter and I’ve had success with that pitch as well.

MN:  I found an article on the Coastal Plain League website from January of 2013 that described you as a fan favorite when you were playing for the Gastonia Grizzlies.  Here is a direct quote from that article: “Cody has tremendous character and is the kind of person that you always want on your club.”  Do you agree with that statement?

CS:  Yeah.  I always want to be known as the guy that people want to be around.  I try to keep a good positive atmosphere when I’m around other teammates.

MN:  I noticed that you and Max Schrock follow each other on Twitter.  What can you tell me about him?

CS:  I got to know him for a short period of time when he was in Midland.  He is a true competitor.  He hits everything when he’s at the plate.  It seems like the guy never gets out.  Having him behind you on defense is great because there’s a good chance he is going to make a play on every ball that comes his way.

MN:  What was it like growing up in Matthews, North Carolina?

CS:  It was nice.  Matthews is a small town surrounded by some other small towns and there’s a lot of baseball in our area.  Richie Shaffer and a few other major league guys are from there.

MN:  Last question, what are your goals for this upcoming season?

CS:  I want to stay on the same path that I’m on right now as far as numbers go.  That should help me advance to the MLB, and hopefully I can make an impact there as well.

*          *          *

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.

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