C – John Jones – Sean Murphy is the unquestioned heir apparent to the Athletic’s major league catching job, and he could secure it as soon as (late) 2019. He provides a more than adequate enough bat with solid plate discipline to help support his extraordinary defense. This frees us to make a wild-card choice at catcher, and first-year pro John Jones fit the bill. The A’s selected Jones in the 32nd round in 2018 out of North Greenville University (SC), where in his senior (and only) season with the Crusaders, batted .392 with 14 doubles, 8 home runs, 59 RBI and 49 runs scored. The 5’10”- 190 lb. righty played his freshman year at The State College of Florida, but transferred to Division-1 South Carolina for his sophomore and junior seasons, struggled, then transferred again after seeing only 22 games in his second year with the Gamecocks. When you factor in ageism, Jones was one of the oldest players on the AZL squad, but regardless, he still performed well batting .333 with 6 doubles, 13 runs scored, 14 RBi and an impressive 24 walks to only 11 strikeouts. So, it was no surprise that Jones ranked within the AZL top-5 in on-base percentage (.495). I don’t see Jones as a threat to Murphy, but it’s good to see those under-the-radar guys towing the line. 1B – Alfonso Rivas – How Sean Murphy above will be with the catcher job soon, with 24-year-old Matt Olson, the first base position is his job to lose. Unlike Murphy though, Olson has already registered 232 major league games and he quietly played 162 of them last year blasting 29 home runs and driving in 70. Sure the .247 batting average leaves a bit to be desired, but nonetheless, Olson is there to stay unless someone inside the organization goes above and beyond. The 6’0”- 180 lb. Rivas is a ways away, but is definitely someone worth watching. As a University of Arizona Wildcat, the lefty-swinger won All-PAC 12 his sophomore and junior seasons and posted a career .326/.420/.474/.894 slash line with 15 home runs and 141 RBi before being taken in the 4th round of the 2018 draft. He brought with him a plus hit-tool and above average speed to SS Vermont of the New York-Penn League, where in 61 games the now first baseman led the Lake Monsters in hits (61), walks (36) and posted a near .400 on-base percentage (.397). Matt Eddy over at Baseball America said that Rivas “might have the best hitting approach and prettiest swing in the [Oakland] system.” Could be a real fun prospect to follow in 2019. We suspect that Rivas should/could spend all next season at LoA Beloit. 2B – Nate Mondou – The Oakland A’s are going to give December 2018 trade acquisition Jurickson Profar every single chance to succeed at second base given the route he traveled to get to where he is today. He’ll be 26 for the entire 2019 MLB season; and entering what some say are prime years for a hitter, he had a breakout season with the Rangers last season hitting .254 with 35 doubles, 20 home runs, 77 RBi and 10 stolen bases. (Could be a fantasy draft day steal if he repeats 2018). He’s under team control through the 2020 season, so this gives Oakland some room to cultivate the next guy at the position. The 5’10”- 200 pound Washington native, you could say, is solid but not spectacular. He’s been in the organization since 2016 when the A’s drafted him in the 13th round out of Wake Forest, where he was an All-ACC second baseman his sophomore and junior seasons. Last season, Mondou spent 88 of his 136 games with HiA Stockton, and as you could expect, posted higher than usual numbers as most do when they pass through the California League. The lefty batted .291 with 8 home runs, 61 RBi, 64 runs scored, 20 doubles and 8 stolen bases before receiving a promotion to AA Midland in mid July, which sappped his production to the tune of a .255/.345/.297/.642 slash line with only 7 doubles and 14 RBi in 48 games. Mondou is a career .285 hitter and does a lot of things real good, but not great. Coming out of college, Mondou was tagged with Daniel Murphy comps. I expect Mondou to spend most, if not all of 2019 in Double-A, and let’s hope he continues to draw such praise and starts knocking on the door to the majors at the time Profar’s contract is up in Oakland. 3B – Jordan Diaz – From a UTR standpoint, there’s nothing that satisfies us here more than seeing homegrown talent make it all the way to the majors. Such is the case for the A’s at third base. Matt Chapman logged an MVP-worthy season (finished 7th in voting) and backup Chad Pinder didn’t do too darn shabby as Oakland’s super-utility man last year. This gives the organization, and us, some time to inhale and exhale before anointing the next A’s top third base prospect. You could point to Sheldon Neuse, but 5 home runs, a .263 average and 173 K’s in 135 games with Pacific Coast League Nashville last year, with Chapman and Pinder above him? Not likely Neuse’ future is in Oakland. This opens the door for Oakland to develop Diaz, who signed with the organization in August 2016 and started his pro career the following June in the Dominican Summer League, where he more than held his own batting a solid .255 with 7 doubles, 18 RBi and 2 stolen bases in 42 games as a 16 year old. The 5’10”- 175 lb Colombian served the last eight games of 2017 in the AZL, and found his way back there in 2018. He improved on all fronts, with 11 doubles, his first pro home run, scored 23 runs, drove in 25 and drew 18 walks to 23 strikeouts; and his 62 total bases last year ranked second on the AZL squad behind 22-year-old Nick Ward. I could see Oakland challenging Diaz with a move to Short Season Vermont in 2019. If he doesn’t slow down, and improves even more, Oakland could have a not-so-deep-sleeper prospect on their hands (again). SS – Kevin Merrell – Of all the positions within the A’s system, none are more top heavy than shortstop and outfield. Soon-to-be fifth-year Athletic Marcus Semien has a grip on the major league starting job, Chad Pinder is the super utility backup while Franklin Barreto and 2017 trade deadline acquisition Jorge Mateo (from the Yankees/A’s Sonny Gray deal) are poised to spend 2019 with Triple-A Nashville. Kevin Merrell, Oakland’s 2017 – 1st round pick (33rd overall) out of the University of South Florida, could quickly add to this growing shortstop list. Ranked 16th in Baseball America’s 2018 Prospect Handbook, the Odessa, FL native brought great athleticism, great defense, and speed to spare. In his debut season with SS Vermont, Merrell batted a hot .320 with eight extra-base hits and 10 stolen bases, but missed time due to several nagging injuries. But make no mistake, this guy can fly and has drawn comparisons to New York Yankee veteran Brett Gardner. With the backlog of shortstops, Merrell’s most probable destination is second base. I think that would be ok as long as the organization gets the chance to utilize Merrell’s ability to put the ball in play and speed to get on and around the bases. A definite top-of-the-order threat and potential stolen base champion once he makes it to the majors. LF – Lazaro Armenteros – As I stated above, shortstop and outfield house the biggest position player strength/depth within the A’s organization. The outfield might be considered the strongest had 2018 – 1st round pick, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray not made the decision to play in the NFL. But notwithstanding, the A’s have outfielders aplenty and Armenteros, a UTR OAS from 2017, could very well end up being the most talented of the group. Defecting from Cuba in 2015, he went onto Haiti, eventually settling in the Dominican Republic before signing with Oakland in 2016. The La Habana native went straight to the AZL and after a slow, clunky start, all of his tools began to surface. He finished his debut season with a .282 batting average, 18 doubles, 8 home runs and 22 stolen bases. The A’s shipped him to LoA Beloit last season and it’s as if he never put the bat down posting a slashline of .277/.374/.401/.774 along with 8 home runs (again). His stolen bases took a hit, but overall, this is great growth from a teenager still trying figuring it all out on both sides of the ball. CF – Austin Beck – There really isn’t a thing not to like about Beck, Oakland’s top outfield prospect. As much as we’d like to see an equally young, up-and-coming UTR who matched Beck pound-for-pound this season, it just didn’t happen. The 2017 – 1st rounder out of North Davidson HS (NC) buried every center fielder underneath him and he has the chance to post even better numbers moving forward. Not that he needs more recognition, but with a slow 2017 behind him, a killer sophomore season with LoA Beloit and now poised to play inside the high-octane Cal League in 2019, Beck could position himself as the top hitting prospect in the entire organization. He could reach Double-A Midland which would place him a step closer to becoming a major league regular for years to come. RF – Greg Deichmann – As to the “why” Deichmann was chosen as our UTR OAS right fielder again, the same could pretty much be said about the 6’2”- 190 lb lefty that was said about Beck above. Organizationally, there wasn’t really anyone who came close to what Deichmann did in 2018. You can look at his 71 walks and .216 batting average he compiled over two levels last year and scratch your head, but Deichmann is the prototypical right fielder: huge raw power from the left side and a great arm. He lost two months of action due to a severe wrist injury, but in his short time on the field, he led all A’s regulars HiA-down with a .568 extra-base percentage. So, it gets the blood pumping a little bit to think about what Deichmann could do over a full season. Hopefully we get that chance in 2019. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Brian Howard –(20) / AA Midland
** A 2017 – 8th round pick out of TCU, Howard has already progressed his way to Double-A Midland in only his second year as a pro. In limited action during his 2017 debut with short-season Vermont, the towering 6’9″- 185 lb. righty only allowed one walk in 31.1 innings, with 29 K’s and 1.15 ERA. The 23-year old’s height creates a deceptive havoc on hitters with his four offerings. Oaklandclubhouse.com reported that: Howard has a simple rock-back-and-fire, over-the-top delivery that he is able to repeat. His fastball sits at 87-90, topping out at 91, but the angle at which he releases the ball allows the fastball to get on hitters quickly. Howard has a well-developed four-pitch mix: a four-seam fastball, a cutter that sits 85-87 MPH, a sharp-biting curveball that sits in the 76-79 MPH range, and a developing change-up. Brian Howard was my 2018 “One to Watch” for the Athletics.
2. RHP Wyatt Marks – (16) / HiA Stockton
** Marks not only follows Brian Howard on my list, but could also follow his trajectory to Midland. Last season, across two levels, the 6’3″- 205 pounder was nearly unhittable, posting a 7.6 H/9 rate over 133,2 innings (113 hits) and ranked tops amongst Midland League pitchers with a 17.1% swinging-strike rate. 2018 was the first opportunity for the 13th round pick (2017) to start full-time, making 23 starts in 25 appearances. Marks was a closer during his time at Louisiana-Lafayette.
3. RHP Matt Milburn – (16) / AAA Nashville “Legit UTR”
** Milburn continues to provide excellent command and repeats as a UTR-OAS, earning the “Legit UTR” tag. The 2016 29th pick logged the most innings (152.1) amongst pitchers in the Athletic farm system. He was also tops with a 6.94 K/BB rate by striking out 118 and only walking 17 during that time. Though he saw two successful appearances at Nashville, look for Milburn to start 2019 at Double-A Midland.
4. RHP Mitchell Jordan – (15) / LoA Beloit
** After only 38 rookie league innings and 2 appearances at HiA Stockton in his debut season, this 2016 10th round pick from Stetson University had a rough 2017 with full season Beloit. The 6’2″- 205 lb. right-hander got the chance to repeat in 2018 and really turned it around. He made 25 appearances (19 starts) and posted a 8-5 record with a 2.67 ERA.
5. RHP Xavier Altamirano – (6) / HiA Stockton “Legit UTR”
** Altamirano rounds a five-man staff loaded with righties. This after three lefties appeared on the 2017 roster, including one of the top left-handers in the system in AJ Puk. Altamirano appeared on the radar after a strong 2016 season and was the UTR “One to Watch” on 2017 for Oakland. Used as a swingman in 2018, he followed-up by making the UTR-OAS roster as a relief pitcher, and nearly scored enough to make the starter roster. He made 25 starts in 2018 and posted pedestrian numbers splitting time between LoA Beloit and HiA Stockton. I will continue to promote the 2015- 27th round pick as a sleeper in the system.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers –(Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Sam Sheehan – (13) / HiA Stockton
2. RHP Miguel Romero – (9) / AA Midland
Tie 3. LHP Ty Damron – (8) / HiA Stockton
Tie 3. LHP Will Gilbert – (8) / HiA Stockton