MLB 2020 Farm System Overview: Oakland Athletics

While we wait for the 2020 MLB season to get underway, it’s time to take a closer look at players who could one day be on opening day rosters. For the next month or two, we’ll be examining each team’s farm system, which will contain several prospects that will either one day be contributors for them, or could be used to acquire impact major leaguers. 

Since we’ll be going in alphabetical order by city, our 20th farm system overview will be of the Oakland Athletics. We’ll rank their top ten prospects, discuss some of their other notable minor leaguers, and then analyze the overall state of the farm system.

#1: LHP Jesus Luzardo

luzardo
Photo Cred: Athletics Nation

Age: 22

Height: 6’0″ Weight: 209 lbs

Drafted: 3rd Round- WSH 2016

Fastball: 62.5 Breaking Ball: 57.5 Third Pitch: 60 Command: 57.5

Overall Grade: 58.75

The Nationals have generally been an organization that has taken a chance on pitchers with injury concerns, which is why they felt comfortable investing a third-round pick on Jesus Luzardo, whom had Tommy John surgery shortly before the 2016 MLB draft. However, they traded him shortly after to the A’s, along with Blake Treinen, for relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, which is a trade that should pay-off massively for Oakland. The 22-year-old has dealt with shoulder problems in each of the past two seasons, but when healthy, he has absolutely dominated, including a 12 inning stretch in the MLB with a 3.37 xFIP. With a heavy-moving sinking fastball that touches 99 MPH, a strong breaking ball, and a devastating changeup, he has all the tools to be an ace. Plus, as evidenced by his low walk rates in the minors, he commands all three pitches tremendously, so as far as his on-field performance, he’s practically flawless. With his injury history and high-effort delivery, there are legitimate concerns regarding his durability, but I love his makeup, and he’ll likely be the team’s big-league ace from the start. If it weren’t for his injury history, he very well could be the best pitching prospect in the league.

#2: LHP AJ Puk

puk
Photo Cred: The Mercury News

Age: 24

Height: 6’7″ Weight: 238 lbs

Drafted: 6th Overall- 2016

Fastball: 67.5 Breaking Ball: 60 Third Pitch: 57.5 Command: 50

Overall Grade: 56.625

Sticking with the theme of left-handers in the Athletics’ system with severe injury concerns, AJ Puk is different than Luzardo, as he has a much bigger frame,and was drafted with the sixth overall pick in that same 2016 draft. In fact, he progressing through the minors before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018, and instead, made his major debut in Oakland’s bullpen in 2019, similarly to Luzardo. He’s showcased his bat-whiffing ability with a career 12.89 K/9 in his minor-league career, and with an incredible fastball with an elite breaking ball-changeup combination, there isn’t any reason to believe that he won’t continue to post excellent strikeout rates in the MLB. As for his control, it should be at least average, which is fine considering how filthy his pitching arsenal is, but he’s shown in flashes the ability to have a walk rate under 3.50- that’ll be the goal for him. He’s expected to start the year in the Athletics’ rotation, along with Luzardo, and if the two of them can stay healthy, they have the chance to be absolutely dominant. That’s a major if, however, and neither of those two have pitched a lot of over the past two seasons.

#3: C Sean Murphy

seanmurphy
Photo Cred: ABC7 News

Age: 25

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 232 lbs

Drafted: 3rd Round- 2016

Hit: 52.5 Power: 50 Field: 60 Arm: 70 Speed: 30

Overall Grade: 55.9

Speaking of current prospects who will play a big role on the Athletics’ major-league roster, Sean Murphy will be tasked with catching Luzardo and Puk not just for this year, but hopefully, for many years to come. In fact, the two lefties aren’t the only part of that battery with injury issues, as Murphy has missed time over the past two seasons due to hamate bone injury and knee injury, and also had knee surgery this offseason. Still, there isn’t any reason to be overly concerned with the injuries at the moment, as he appears to be fully healthy for this upcoming season, and figures to establish himself as one of the best young catchers in the MLB. Though his framing numbers from his brief 20-game stint in the majors were disappointing, he still is a fantastic defender behind the plate, and if anyone tries to steal a base on him, he’ll deny them with an absolute cannon of an arm. Plus, although he isn’t a terrific offensive producer, he has good contact skills and a pretty sound approach at the plate, with at least average power. Having a catcher that contributes with both his offense and defense is hard to find in the modern MLB. The A’s, however, have that, and in a few years, Murphy projects to be a top-five catcher. In a way, he may be the team’s most irreplaceable prospect.

#4: SS Robert Pauson

pauson
Photo Cred: dplbaseball

Age: 17

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 165 lbs

Signed: July 2, 2019

Hit: 50 Power: 50 Field: 57.5 Arm: 60 Speed: 62.5 

Overall Grade: 54.05

Jasson Dominguez was the obvious headliner of the 2019 international signing period, but he wasn’t the only player to receive a $5 million bonus- the A’s signed shortstop Robert Pauson to a $5.1 million signing bonus out of the Dominican Republic. The 17-year-old needs to fill out his 6’3″ frame in order to tap into his 60-grade raw power, and he has a very smooth swing. Now, his in game abilities are a little more questionable at the moment, which is why I assigned his hit tool and power with average “50” grades, but  luckily for him, his defense is fantastic. He uses his athleticism very well and has gold glove potential on that side of the ball, which gives him a higher floor than most prospects of his age. Now, that alone won’t make him a star, but if he can tap into his raw power, then he’ll have the type of tantalizing power-defense that I personally love; Pauson may be a work in progress offensively, but if he is able to refine his abilities, he could be a consistent 5+ WAR producer. With the top three players set to graduate from their farm system, he’ll be their top prospect up until he makes his major-league debut in 3 or 4 years.

#5: OF Austin Beck

austinbeck
Photo Cred: Athletics Nation

Age: 21

Height: 6’1″ Weight: 200 lbs

Drafted: 6th Overall- 2017

Hit: 42.5 Power: 52.5 Field: 52.5 Arm: 60 Speed: 60

Overall Grade: 51.225

When the A’s selected outfielder Austin Beck with the 6th overall pick, they were hoping they could develop him into a five-tool outfielder. With his athleticism and bat speed, there is plenty of upside still ready to be untapped, but at the moment, I’m not sure it ever will be. Simply put, his lack of plate discipline is very worrisome, and despite a high batting average on balls in play, he still couldn’t even be an average offensive producer- his in-game power has also yet to show. Now 21-years-old, the time is now for Beck to start living up to his potential. It’s not wise to give up on a prospect this quickly, but if he struggles for a third straight season in professional ball, it’ll be hard for him to shed the bust label. Not all boom-or-bust prospects pan out, and for an A’s organization that has constantly taken risks in the draft, this risk hasn’t worked out favorably for them.

#6: SS Logan Davidson

davidson
Photo Cred: Athletics Nation

Age: 22

Height: 6’3″ Weight: 185 lbs

Drafted: 29th Overall- 2019

Hit: 45 Power: 52.5 Field: 52.5 Arm: 55 Speed: 55

Overall Grade: 50.625

Beck is far from the only player the A’s have selected in the draft based on upside- they selected Clemson shortstop Logan Davidson with the 29th overall pick in 2019. The 22-year-old has intriguing left-handed power and solid defense, but for him, his development will come down to the development of hit tool. Right now, it’s marred with swing and miss concerns, and although he’ll compensate for it somewhat with decent on-base skills, he’ll need to also hit for game power- he had just a .332 slugging percentage in 238 plate appearances in Low-A and has consistently struggled when using wooden bats. When it’s all said and done, there is a decent chance Davidson can be starting-caliber shortstop. However, until his tools translate until success with wooden bats, he’s a tricky prospect to get a read on, and thus is another high-risk, high-reward type of player in Oakland’s farm system.

#7: SS/OF Jorge Mateo

jorgemateo
Photo Cred: The Mercury News

Age: 24

Height: 6’0″ Weight: 192 lbs

Signed: Jan 28, 2012- NYY

Hit: 45 Power: 47.5 Field: 52.5 Arm: 57.5 Speed: 80

Overall Grade: 50.625

The Athletics’ philosophy hasn’t just been to draft “boom-or-bust” players, but to target them in trades as well. One example of this is their trade of ace Sonny Gray in 2017, which netted them two injured players in Dustin Fowler and James Kaprielian, but, undoubtedly, the headliner of the trade was Jorge Mateo. At the time, the 24-year-old was considered a consensus top-100 prospect, but he simply hasn’t progressed since being traded. He’s been a below-average hitter in each of the past two seasons in Triple-A, and it’s easy to see why. Currently, he is neither walking or striking out at an optimal rate, and because of that, he won’t be on base enough to utilize his 80-grade speed on the bases. Additionally, although he’s a solid defender at shortstop, it may be better for him to convert to the outfield, where his athleticism should allow him to thrive. All told, he’ll probably be a versatile utility player, and since he’s out of options, Oakland has a tough decision make. He doesn’t appear to be ready for his big-league debut, but do they want to risk losing a future depth piece? There isn’t a clear solution, but they’ll have to come to a conclusion quickly when (and if) Spring Training reopens.

#8: SS Nick Allen

nickallen
Photo Cred: 2080 Baseball

Age: 21

Height: 5’9″ Weight: 166 lbs

Drafted: 3rd Round- 2017

Hit: 50 Power: 32.5 Field: 67.5 Arm: 60 Speed: 55

Overall Grade: 50.375

The A’s are accustomed to elite infield defense with Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, but could their best defender actually be in the minor leagues right now? At the moment, Nick Allen appears to be the best defensive infielder in the entire minor leagues, as he’s practically flawless on that side of the ball, and should consistently rank near the top of the league in every defensive metric. Plus, although he has zero power whatsoever, he does get on-base at a competent level and is coming off of a 122 wrc+ season in High-A, so it’s not as though he’s a one-dimensional player. Comparisons are always interesting, and one that sticks out for Allen is Jose Iglesias. The veteran shortstop has been a very useful player despite being a below-average offensive player, and in my opinion, Allen is better offensively AND defensively. He’s ranked below Davidson and Mateo, but since he has a much higher floor than them, there’s almost a better chance that he ends up being a valuable big-league player than the other two.

#9: 3B Sheldon Neuse

neuse
Photo Cred: NBC Sports

Age: 25

Height: 6’0″ Weight: 218 lbs

Drafted: 2nd Round- 2016

Hit: 42.5 Power: 50 Field: 50 Arm: 60 Speed: 42.5

Overall Grade: 48.9

Luzardo is the reason why the Doolittle/Madson trade has panned out so well for the A’s, but he isn’t the only player drafted in 2016 they received in the trade. In fact, Sheldon Neuse was selected one round before Luzardo, though that had more to do with the latter’s injury concerns than anything else. To his credit, outside of a poor 2018, the 25-year-old Neuse has produced at every level, and has hit for much more power than originally anticipated. Yet, at the same time, strikeout issues have plagued him, and although he’s a decent defender, it’s not a standout skill. Neuse is a very weird prototype, as he doesn’t have enough offensive capabilities to play third base, and honestly, he’ll probably be a utility player. That’s better than nothing, though since he’s 25-years-old, it’s paramount that he is able to stick with the major league team this year.

#10: OF Lazaro Armenteros

armenteros
Photo Cred: Baseball Prospectus

Age: 20

Height: 6’0″ Weight: 182 lbs

Signed: July 2, 2016

Hit: 42.5 Power: 50 Field: 52.5 Arm: 42.5 Speed: 60

Overall Grade: 48.1

When the A’s signed Lazaro Armenteros to a $3 million bonus, many believed they were getting the next Yoenis Cespedes. In hindsight, however, those expectations were rather extreme. Although he has shown the ability to walk at a good rate, it doesn’t matter when you strike out 42.2% of the time and need a .395 batting average on balls in play to hit .222, and that’s exactly what the 20-year-old did at High-A this season. Plus, his raw power hasn’t translated at all, and despite being athletic, he’s likely limited to being a left fielder due to his well below-average arm strength. Simply put, there are just too many flaws in Armenteros’ skillset to believe he’ll be an everyday player. He’s young enough to still turn his professional career around, but he’s running out of time, and definitely is not a budding superstar at the moment. Oakland went over their spending limit to sign him in 2016, per MLB Pipeline, and if they had the choice to, they’d probably choose not to.

Best of the Rest

  • Tyler Baum was drafted in the second round of last year’s draft, and although he doesn’t have a standout skill, should be a decent back-end starter in the future.
  • Jeremy Eierman was considered a first-round caliber prospect by some due to his immense power at the shortstop position, but he fell to the 70th overall pick in the draft, and his strikeout concerns have plagued him so far.

Farm System Overview

Once Luzardo, Puk, and Murphy graduate when the season eventually kicks off, the A’s will actually have one of the worst farm systems in the MLB. Luckily for them, most of their major league roster is compiled of young, cheap players, so the lack of depth won’t plague them now, but once Matt Chapman and Matt Olson get more expensive, they’ll need replacements for them. With that, I wouldn’t be surprised if Oakland’s philosophy changes in upcoming drafts and international signing periods, as they need to be perhaps a little safer when acquiring prospects.

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