November 13, 2013
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
Oakland Athletics Top 10 Prospects
The Top Ten
1. Addison Russell
What Happened in 2013: As a 19-year-old, Russell jumped straight to the High-A level, and more than held his own against older competition, slugging 56 extra-base hits and stealing 21 bags.
Strengths: Legit offensive upside; hands are very good; gets extension and can drive the ball; plus raw power; shows bat speed; feeds on velocity; good baseball instincts; excellent actions in the field; can make the plays; arm is plus.
Weaknesses: Can get too fast on defense; will rush setup/footwork; good instincts but range could be issue in the future; bat can get loose; swing-and-miss; will expand and chase for spin.
Overall Future Potential: 7; all-star player
Realistic Role: 6; first-division player
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; advanced player; ready for Double-A
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A top-10 overall fantasy prospect, Russell has a shot at becoming one of the most sought-after commodities in fantasy baseball: a middle infielder who can contribute in all five categories. Playing in Oakland might put a slight damper on his raw stats, but this is still a player who could hit .280-plus with 20-20 potential. He’s a keeper.
The Year Ahead: Russell is on the fast track to the majors, and with a strong start in Double-A could find himself in Oakland before the end of the season. His overall profile is special, but you can raise some red flags if you use a sharp enough lens; the actions are sweet at short but the range isn’t ideal and he can play a bit hard, and at the plate his swing can be too power driven with early extension on an exaggerated plane. Even if he moves to third down the line, which I don’t think is a given, the bat will not only play but allow him to reach a first-division status. If he sticks at short—which I believe he can—he’s a perennial all-star caliber player. Either way, the future is bright.
Major league ETA: Late 2014
2. Michael Choice
What Happened in 2013: After a fractured hand ended his 2012 campaign, Choice rebounded in 2013, playing a full-season in the PCL, and even getting a nine-game cup of coffee at the major-league level.
Strengths: Big boy raw power; game power could play above plus; has a plan at the plate; shows recognition/reaction skills; will draw some walks; good athlete for his size/body type; average run; short-term option in center field.
Weaknesses: Body can get big; not a long-term [realistic] option in centerfield; arm is fringe at best; swing can get long; will always have miss; hit tool projects to average.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular
Realistic Role: 5; average player
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; fractured hand (2012) on resume; achieved major-league level.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: With the potential for a harmful batting average, Choice is a better option in leagues that use on-base percentage (and even more so in leagues that use OPS). The power is great, but unless he can either hit in the .260 range or steal double-digit bases, there’s a cap to his value. I mean Chris Carter hit 29 bombs in 2013 and wasn’t even a top-50 outfielder.
The Year Ahead: Choice is ready for an extended look at the highest level, but the weaknesses is his game could limit his overall value. At the end of the day, it’s a left-field power-first profile, with a hit tool that might drag the power utility down a grade. He could hit 25 bombs with good on-base skills, which is a quality player even if the average is low and the defensive profile is fringy. The swing-and-miss might be more grotesque at the major-league level, as Choice has been a good mistake hitter in the minors and is less likely to see as many mistakes against upper-level pitching. I think he struggles before eventually settling in as an average player, one that can beat you with power if you enter his comfort zone but not a consistent middle-of-the-order threat.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2013
3. Bobby Wahl
What Happened in 2013: The A’s got a steal when Wahl slipped to the fifth round of the 2013 draft, as the athletic righty has the stuff to not only move fast but the arsenal to have impact potential at the major-league level.
Strengths: Good size/strength combo; pitches with athleticism; good angle on fastball from ¾ slot; routinely works 92-95+; good vertical action; slider shows plus; 82-84 with two-plane break and depth; turns over usable changeup; low-80s with some sink; strong competitive background.
Weaknesses: Command comes and goes; can throw too many strikes; changeup is clear third offering; needs refinement/more consistency; delivery can show some effort; competitiveness and approach can rub some the wrong way.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 2/3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; mature arsenal; ready for accelerated developmental pace.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: This is where paying attention to pro scouting reports can come in very handy during your dynasty league drafts. While everyone else is scrambling for names once the top 20-30 players are off the board, Wahl is a great pick to have in your back pocket. There aren’t more than a handful of pitchers from the 2013 draft with more fantasy upside than him, and he’ll be available late.
The Year Ahead: Wahl was troubled by blisters and inconsistency during the spring, and that coupled with questions about his signability pushed him down the draft. The A’s are going to look very smart for taking advantage of this outcome, as Wahl’s stuff gives him a high ceiling and his polish allows for a high floor. Not that he is without any risk, but with a lively fastball that he can work in the mid-90s and a sharp two-plane slider, he’s going to find his way to the major leagues in some capacity. If the command sharpens up and the changeup can step forward, he has a chance to pitch higher up in a major-league rotation. I expect him to move fast in 2014, possibly reaching Double-A in his first full season.
Major league ETA: Late 2015
4. Daniel Robertson
What Happened in 2013: Robertson made his full-season debut, showing a steady and consistent approach day in and day out in the Midwest League, a tough feat for a 19-year-old at that level.
Strengths: Baseball skills; fundamentally sound player; quick hands at the plate; short, efficient stroke; uses the entire field; works counts; good pitch recognition/reaction skills; can drive the ball into the gaps; makes the plays he’s supposed to make in the field; makeup is lauded.
Weaknesses: Lacks impact tools; more polish than projection; arm isn’t a weapon; range is underwhelming; move off shortstop is likely; power might not play to average.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average player
Realistic Role: Low 5; second-division player
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; shows baseball skills and polish for age/level.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Without much upside to speak of, Robertson is not someone to target highly in fantasy leagues. With him unlikely to stay up the middle, his profile isn’t sexy at a corner. And in an attempt to show off his wheels for future fantasy owners, he went 1-for-8 on the base paths in 2013. Wait, what?
The Year Ahead: Players like Robertson are often undervalued, as the profile isn’t sexy or suggestive and he’s unlikely to find himself on a high prospect tier. But the baseball skills are present, the kind of skills that will propel him up the professional ladder and eventually land him in the major leagues. He can hit the baseball, he can field the baseball, he can throw the baseball, but he’s not a loud player that will change the fortunes of a game or a team. But I bet he develops into a consistent major leaguer, most likely as a second-division third baseman that can hit for average with doubles power while giving you maximum effort on all sides of the ball. Call him a gamer, and whatever adjective fits the profile, but eventually you’ll be calling him a major leaguer.
Major league ETA: 2016
5. Billy McKinney
What Happened in 2013: Selected 24th overall in the 2013 draft, McKinney wasted little time showing off his hyper hit tool, hitting a combined .326 over two short-season stops.
Strengths: Excellent bat-to-ball skills; fluid swing; short to the ball and strong through it; plus bat speed; some pop; could end up solid-average; brings it on the field; good approach.
Weaknesses: Bat-first profile; power future is mixed; several sources see empty batting average type; glove is average at best; arm in fringy; speed is below average; left field profile at best.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: Low 5; second division player
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; short-season resume; hit tool only carrying weapon.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A more interesting fantasy prospect than real-life prospect, McKinney’s value is tied to whether or not he can develop average power. With it, he could be a .300-15-15 guy. Without it, he’s more of a Jon Jay type. Regardless, he gets a tick up in points leagues.
The Year Ahead: McKinney is ready for the full-season challenge, and it wouldn’t shock me to see the bat continue to turn heads. The profile is a problem, so the bat will need to reach (or exceed) the projection to have value at the big-league level. He has a sweet left-handed swing and a feel for hard contact, so he should be able to hit for a high average with some secondary power and on-base skills. He could end up being a liability in the outfield, as the arm isn’t strong and the speed is already below average and likely to trend down as he matures.
Major league ETA: 2017
6. Raul Alcantara
What Happened in 2013: Alcantara really broke out as a prospect, starting back in the Midwest League and pitching his way to High-A, where the 20-year-old looked sharp in 14 California League starts.
Strengths: Prototypical pitcher frame; loose, easy arm; fastball is a plus offering; works low 90s and touches higher; good late finish; creates good angle from higher slot; slider can flash plus; thrown off FB with good velocity and occasional sharp tilt; CH took big step forward in 2013; good deception and fade.
Weaknesses: Improving control but command is still loose; can catch too much of the plate; tendency to work up in the zone; slider can lose bite; flashes but not a consistent knockout pitch yet; regressed a bit in 2013; can over throw the CH; lose movement.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; will pitch as a 21-year-old in ’14; ready for Double-A level; arsenal for respectable major-league floor.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: While there are certainly risks here, Alcantara’s weaknesses align somewhat nicely with his potential future home. As a fly-ball pitcher who may not rack up a ton of strikeouts, the Coliseum would reduce some of the downside in his performance. Think A.J. Griffin type numbers if his secondaries both grade out as average.
The Year Ahead: Alcantara remains under the radar as a national prospect, but a strong showing in Double-A could change all of that. I’m quick to project Dominican arms to the bullpen, usually because of a lack of feel or an unrefined secondary arsenal. But Alcantara looks the part of a starter, and even though the realistic role suggests a late-inning outcome, I wouldn’t discount his chance to stick in a rotation; he has the body to log innings, the arsenal for sequencing multiple times through an order, and the ability to throw strikes. In a perfect world, he’s a quality number three starter, and the floor is quite high give his age, as he looks like a likely major-league arm regardless of the specific role.
Major league ETA: 2015
7. Michael Ynoa
What Happened in 2013: Ynoa logged a career high in innings in 2012, and more than doubled that total in 2013, but the 22-year-old has yet to log more than 100 innings in any season since signing in 2008.
Strengths: Remains a highly projectable, high-ceiling arm; arm strength is there; fastball sits easy plus and can touch higher; when he’s over it, breaking ball has plus snap and bat-missing ability; changeup is more flash and future than present.
Weaknesses: Injury issues have limited developmental progress; makeup concerns; command is below average; loses his delivery; throws rather than pitches; secondary arsenal lacks consistency.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no 2/3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; TJ on resume; injury concerns
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Ynoa is a poster child for why it’s a mistake to reach for J2 signings in dynasty drafts. He still has a potential fantasy future, but it’s both dimmer and more drawn out than originally anticipated. He’s a worthy deep league flier regardless of role, but this is not an impact fantasy arm.
The Year Ahead: Ynoa remains an intriguing yet highly frustrating prospect, the kind that gets put on the 40-man despite a limited professional record yet struggles to put together the type of consistency you want to see in someone with such a roster distinction. The progress has been slow, but if Ynoa can build on 2013, the way he built on 2012, he can climb this list and pitch his way to the majors, mostly on the back of his low-mid-90s fastball and erratic yet promising curveball. You can make a case that outside of Russell, Ynoa still has one of the highest ceilings in the system, but hope can only be sold for so long before the sell-by date makes the product unsafe for consumption. I still don’t know how this ends up.
Major league ETA: Late 2014
8. Chris Bostick
What Happened in 2013: The 20-year-old moved up to the full-season level, and not only held his own, but produced an OPS of .806 while showing a good feel for defense at second.
Strengths: Shows good baseball skills; 5+ hit tool; good feel for contact; can use all fields; drives the ball; good pop for size; good glove; actions are smooth; coordinated in movements; run is 5+; instincts.
Weaknesses: Lacks plus tools; bat could play light for position; power likely to end up below average; arm is strong but not a weapon; will need to hit (or exceed) projections to have impact.
Overall Future Potential: 5; major-league regular
Realistic Role: High 4; utility player
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; shows quality skills for young player; yet to pass Double-A test.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The 14 homers and 25 steals for Bostick in his full-season debut were impressive, but overstate his fantasy usefulness a bit. Fortunately for him, second base is a veritable black hole of fantasy value, so anyone who can even sniff double digits in homers and steals (while putting up a useful average), is worth paying attention to.
The Year Ahead: I might be underselling Bostick a bit, but the profile is tough to get too bullish on. If you really like the swing and think it continues to play, Bostick could be a solid major league player at an up-the-middle position, one he knows how to play. If the bat is a little light, which is a more realistic projection at this stage of his development, Bostick could find a home as a utility player, one with a better right-side profile but enough baseball skills and feel to make it work. He’s a good player. I’m just not sure how good yet. Big test looms when he reaches Double-A and proves the bat can handle advanced pitching.
Major league ETA: 2016
9. Nolan Sanburn
What Happened in 2013: A shoulder injury stalled the start to his season, and the diminutive righty worked out of the bullpen upon his, trying to build up the arm strength that made him a second-round pick in 2012.
Strengths: High-end arm strength; can work the fastball 90-94; has touched the upper 90s before in bursts (when healthy); could offer plus-plus velocity out of the bullpen; can work to both sides of the plate; hard 12-6 curveball; good sightline pitch; flashes plus and will eventually get there; SL could be second plus breaking ball; thrown in the 83-84 range with tilt; effective against right-handers; shows changeup; late-innings mentality.
Weaknesses: Injuries slowed development in rotation; limited height; lacks projection; delivery has effort; fastball can lack plane; struggles to hold his stuff; relief arsenal at present.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; shoulder injury on resume; limited professional record.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Not a high upside play for fantasy, as the odds of him both reaching the majors with success and making his way into a position for saves is a daunting task. He’s likely not a big strikeout reliever without a plus secondary pitch, which limits his value across the board.
The Year Ahead: Staying healthy and on the mound is key, as Sanburn’s setback with the shoulder shifted his already debatable long-term projection towards a relief future. With a stressful delivery and a potential power arsenal, it’s easy to see the short-in-stature Sanburn as a late-innings reliever. But let’s see what happens if he can get back into a rotation, log innings, build up his arsenal, and refine his command. The ceiling is higher if he can start, but the arsenal offers impact potential even if he finds a home in the bullpen.
Major league ETA: 2016
10. Renato Nunez
What Happened in 2013: After a standout season in complex ball, Nunez attempted to take a big step forward in a full-season league, but the reports were very mixed as to whether that step forward was as big as the numbers might suggest.
Strengths: Plus power potential; shows bat speed; good on fastballs; can extend and drive the ball; arm is average but strong enough for throws from third.
Weaknesses: Lots of swing-and-miss in his game; aggressive approach; secondary utility can eat him up; hit tool might limit power potential; footwork at third is rough; below-average range; arm isn’t a weapon; likely a first baseman.
Overall Future Potential: 5; major league regular
Realistic Role: High 4; platoon 1B/below-average major leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; 20 years old in 2014; long developmental road ahead.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A potential 20-plus homer bat from the third base position is tempting from a fantasy perspective, but Nunez is not someone who profiles as much more than waiver wire fodder in shallower leagues. If it goes smoothly, he could have some 2013 Matt Dominguez seasons at the plate, but even that isn’t exciting.
The Year Ahead: It almost seems foolish to knock a 19-year-old who ripped 48 extra-base hits in a full-season league, but we have to look at the realities of the profile and attempt to predict the future. Nunez isn’t a graceful fielder, and the athleticism just isn’t there to foresee big improvements through repetition. He’s likely a first baseman, which puts a lot of pressure on the bat, and the power looks like the only carrying tool in his collection. If he can refine his approach and improve the hit tool enough for the power to play, he’s a valuable player, even if he lacks a first-division label. But if the power doesn’t play to potential, it’s hard to see Nunez bringing much value to the table in the majors.
Major league ETA: 2017
Prospects on the Rise:
2. RHP Dylan Covey: When the discovery of diabetes altered his professional course and pushed him to college instead of signing with the Brewers, many people forgot about the 6’2’’ right-hander. But after finding his footing with his new disease, and returning to form, both physically and emotionally, Covey was selected by the A’s in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. With a heavy low-90s fastball and two secondary offerings that could play to average or better, Covey has a big-league future. It’s not a crazy ceiling, but he’s a good bet to move up prospect lists in 2014.
3. OF B.J. Boyd: Boyd’s body resembles that of Marlon Byrd, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing for a 20-year-old to boast about. But Boyd is an interesting player because—like Byrd—he’s a good athlete despite owning a supersized culo, and his quick little stroke can pop a baseball. The overall profile is probably a bat-first left field type, but don’t sleep on the bat. Boyd can hit a little bit, and I bet a strong full-season debut will push him up prospect lists.
Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2014)
2. RHP Arnold Leon: Although he worked as a starter in 2013, Leon has a chance to contribute to the major-league bullpen in 2014, most likely in middle/long relief. He lacks impact stuff, but can fill up the zone with a low-mid-90s fastball that should play up a bit in bursts.
3. IF/OF Shane Peterson: Like Muncy, Peterson has decent pop and a solid approach, most likely filling a role as a fifth-OF type that can also play some first. He’s not an impact talent, but he can rip a mistake and force a pitcher to work, giving him some value in a very limited role.
Top Ten Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/88 or later)
Oakland sees Brett Anderson, A.J. Griffin, and Ryan Cook all graduate from 25-and-under eligibility this year, but the top 10 remains strong due to developments on the farm and a terrific rookie campaign from Sonny Gray, who steps forward to claim his spot as the org’s top young arm. Entering 2013, Gray polarized evaluators as to whether his future role was that of a shutdown closer or a mid-rotation or front-end arm. By October the former Vandy ace had won over most everyone with his combination plus fastball/plus-plus curveball and clean first 77 major-league innings (including 13 post-season innings – or about 30 percent of the ALDS). He had little difficulty maintaining stuff and production late into starts and late into the season, and should hold down an opening series spot in Oakland’s rotation for the foreseeable future.
Jarrod Parker weathered an up-and-down 2013, turning in gems and clunkers alike from spring to fall, and still looks the part of a future mid-rotation arm. Any hopes of exceeding that projection will be tied to his ability to find some semblance of consistency in his execution—right now he’s more buck shot than 30-aught-six. For the second straight year Dan Straily utilized back-end stuff to generate back-end production at a cost-controlled rate. He should continue to do so in 2014 and beyond.
Derek Norris sputtered through the first half of the season and ultimately found himself in a platoon within a platoon, sharing right-handed duties with in-season acquisition Kurt Suzuki (and Stephen Vogt handling the left-handed side of things). The offensive ceiling remains high for Norris, but he has some work to do to establish himself as a full-time option and would rank lower on this list were there not so many questions surrounding the names behind him.
On the prospect side, Russell projects as an impact player who should be given every opportunity to stick at the six-spot while figuring into the middle of the order. Daniel Robertson figures to slide over to the third base long term, and along with Russell could compose a sturdy and productive left-side. On the grass, Michael Choice is knocking on the door and offers future value in his big raw, but questions remain as to hit tool utility and his ultimate ability to reach his power at the highest level. Conversely, McKinney has yet to make a run at full-season ball and currently profiles as a left fielder with a fantastic bat-to-ball feel but little else in present tools. Bobby Wahl fills Gray’s void as “polarizing power arm” on the farm, with evaluators split on whether he fits best at the back of the pen or in the middle of a rotation. Alcantara carries a little more risk than does Wahl, but likewise could find himself in a rotation or in late-inning work, depending on how the command progresses over the next couple of seasons. —Nick J. Faleris
A Parting Thought: Outside of Russell, the system lacks much high-impact punch, but just because the talent isn’t standing under a spotlight doesn’t mean it can’t emerge into such a role. I won’t be shocked if the system takes a big step forward next season thanks to guys like Wahl, Robertson, and McKinney developing as planned.