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State of the Farm: an Oakland Athletics special

In which we discuss the future thorns in the Mariners’ side

John Deere Reports Lower Quarterly Profits Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

State of the Farm is back, only this time we’ll be taking a field trip down to Oakland, where we’ll be gazing over the Athletics’ farm system. Honestly, I hear they have actual high-end pitching crops out there, which is something I am totally unfamiliar with, so pardon me if I freak out a little.

Go grab your backpack, pick a starter Pokemon (Squirtle is the only acceptable option), grab a light snack, and I’ll start up the station wagon. We have a road trip to go on.


Pitchers

The Athletics’ system lacked significant upside on the mound at the beginning of 2016, but upgrades via trades and the draft have their future looking bright at the position. Highlights in the system include:

  • Grant Holmes, RHP – Holmes is a hard-throwing righty with a nifty curveball who came over in the Rich Hill trade. He struggled in his brief stint in the organization in 2016, posting a 5.01 FIP in 28 innings in High-A ball. He’s yet to truly dominate a level during his career, but he’s still just 20-years-old with a lot of tools to build on. Baseball America ranked him as the 60th-best prospect in baseball in their Midseason Top-100 list.
  • A.J. Puk, LHP – The Athletics used the sixth-overall pick in the 2016 draft to take Puk out of Florida. Puk has tremendous raw stuff, throwing a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a slider that will occasionally touch 90. He was considered by some to be the best prospect available in the 2016 MLB Draft, but command issues plagued his college career; Puk never posted a <4.0 BB/9 during his three years with the Gators. In his first year of pro ball, he managed a 1.93 FIP over 32.2 innings with the Vermont Lake Monsters.
  • Daulton Jefferies, RHP – Jefferies was one of my favorite prospects in the 2016 MLB Draft, but injury issues during his junior year at Cal caused him to slip. The Athletics picked him up with the 37th overall pick and convinced him to make the short transition from Berkeley to Oakland with a $1.6 million signing bonus. What Jefferies lacks in size, he makes up for with command and an impressive fastball that he’ll run up to the mid-90s at times. For comparison’s sake, Jefferies is the A’s version of Andrew Moore, only with a little more life on his fastball and a little less-polished secondary stuff.
  • Dakota Chalmers, RHP – A young fireballer with immense potential, Chalmers has experienced a variety of growing pains since being selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 2015 draft. Chalmers has a big frame and three pitches that flash big league quality, but he’s yet to put anything of significance together. In 67 innings in Low-A ball this past season, Chalmers posted a 4.90 FIP and 4.97 BB/9.
  • Frankie Montas, RHP – Like Holmes, Montas came over in the Rich Hill trade. He spent a large portion of 2016 on the disabled list due to a rib injury, but was able to make his debut in an Oakland uniform in the Arizona Fall League. Montas managed a 0.53 ERA in 17 innings with the Mesa Solar Sox, but his perpipherals were fairly unimpressive (4.13 FIP, 4.76 K/9, 4.24 BB/9). Whether the hard-throwing righty’s future lies in the rotation or the ‘pen is very much a question the A’s will hope he can answer fairly soon. His fastball-slider combo could be deadly in a late-inning role, but they’ll always prefer he remain in the rotation, if possible.
  • Logan Shore, RHP - Shore was the second starting pitcher the A’s took out of Florida in the 2016 draft, after the previously-mentioned Puk. A lack of an explosive fastball and devastating secondary offerings made him take a bit of a back seat to Puk from a national perspective, but Shore was very good for a very long time for the Gators, posting a 2.42 ERA, 7.13 K/9, and 1.81 BB/9 over 313 innings for his career. Shore has a fairly polished arsenal, with a good fastball and a better changeup, and should move through the A’s system fairly quickly. The ceiling isn’t very high, but he’s as good of a bet as any of the pitching prospects to not only make a MLB rotation, but stick in it.
  • Jharel Cotton, RHP - Cotton, the last of the three pieces acquired in the Rich Hill trade, had an impressive debut season in Oakland, putting up a 0.7 fWAR and 3.76 FIP in 29.1 innings with the Athletics. He relies heavily on a fastball-changeup combination on the mound and does it successfully, frequently keeping hitters off balance. His high-effort, over-the-top delivery is a bit funky and could lead to command issues, but for now it’s working for him.

For those keeping track at home, all but one of the pitchers listed above weren’t Oakland Athletics heading into June 2016. Talk about a quick reload. They also very recently signed top international prospect Norge Ruiz out of Cuba.


Position Players

There’s not a lot of star potential in this group, but the A’s system is full of guys who have the potential to be everyday contributors for a big league club in the near and distant future. Here’s a few of the guys with higher ceilings:

  • Franklin Barreto, SS – Depending on how you feel about A.J. Puk, Barreto is either the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the A’s system. He has quick hands and generates a surprising amount of power for his size (5’10, 190 lbs). Aggressive nature at the plate and plus-contact skills keep both his walk and strikeout numbers fairly low. Barreto has hit well at every level and figures to make it to Oakland at some point in 2017. He cleaned up his issues with errors at shortstop significantly in 2016, but he is and always will be a bat-first prospect. With Marcus Semien present, he may move over to second base.
  • Matt Chapman, 3B – I never get to talk about former Cal State Fullerton (tusks up!) players here so excuse me if I ramble on a bit about Chapman. He was a monster for the Titans for three seasons before the A’s picked him up with the 25th overall pick in the 2014 draft. Since then, Chapman has lit it up, posting a 139 wRC+ in High-A in 2015 and a 141 wRC+ in Double-A this past season. He has a big strikeout issue, but he boasts impressive power to all fields using a smooth, level swing. On defense, he possesses a slick glove and a big arm and won’t only stick at the position, but shine at it moving forward. As of now, he’s a plus-power hitter with poor contact skills and stellar defense. I’m sure that rings a bell for Mariners fans.
  • Renato Nunez, 3B – Nunez’s subpar 2016 has diminished his star a bit, but he’s still just 22-years-old and possesses a thunderous bat. Nunez slashed .228/.278/.412 with 23 home runs in 128 games for the A’s Triple-A club in 2016, but reports from his time in winter leagues this offseason have been positive and there’s a chance he’s in Oakland at some point next year.
  • Richie Martin, SS – Martin is very much a glove-first shortstop. He struggled at the plate in 2016, slashing .230/.322/.312 in Double-A, but continued to flash an advanced feel for his position. If he can stabilize some at the plate he has a future as an everyday shortstop, but the bat is still pretty far away.
  • Matt Olson, 1B/OF – I’ll toss in Olson since we’ll probably see him some in Oakland this year. Olson has been in the A’s system for what feels like forever, but he’s still just 22-years-old and possesses that raw power that had him looking so promising as recently as 2015. He struggled a bit this past season, posting a 102 wRC+ in Triple-A Nashville before a subpar, 11-game stint with Oakland. Olson is a very patient hitter at the plate who piles up the walks and strikeouts as a result of frequently operating in deep counts. He’ll have some value if he manages to translate his power to the big leagues, but he’s slipped in that department significantly over the last two seasons. Defensively, he is fine at first base and a work in progress in the outfield.

Final Words

Oakland’s system won’t make any top-ten lists this year, but it’s much stronger than it was a year ago. The sudden influx of pitching, along with the development of Matt Chapman and Franklin Barreto, give them a lot of nice pieces to build around in the coming years. If Sean Manaea and Sonny Gray are able to hold down the front end, they could have a fairly lethal rotation within the next two years.

And yes, their system is much better than the Mariners’ system.