During the days leading up to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, there was a lot of talk about whether the Oakland A’s had enough young talent to make a second big move after they traded Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily earlier in July. As it turned out, the A’s didn’t dip into their “young” talent to make a second move, instead dealing from their 40-man roster to acquire Jon Lester, Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes.
Although the A’s were still able to make moves, the questions remain as to what the future of the organization will be given the current level of talent within the A’s farm system. But is the system as bereft of talent as many made it out to be leading up to the deadline day?
There is no question that the A’s farm system has taken a significant hit in terms of its overall depth of top-level talent since the start of the 2012 season. Going into the 2012 campaign, the A’s had one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, thanks in large part to the trades of Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey and Trevor Cahill. That system grew even deeper with a 2012 draft class that looks to be the most talented class the A’s have selected since 2004.
The attrition within the A’s farm system started almost immediately after Opening Day in 2012. Tommy Milone, Ryan Cook and Yoenis Cespedes made the major-league roster, and Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin soon followed. Over the course of the next year-and-a-half, the A’s either promoted or traded the following well-regarded minor league players (in no particular order): Sonny Gray, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Max Stassi, Chris Carter, Blake Treinen, Sean Doolittle, Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt, Dan Straily, Tyson Ross, Ronald Herrera, Jesse Chavez, Michael Choice, Chris Bostick, Nate Freiman, Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, Jemile Weeks, Grant Green, Ian Krol, Dakota Bacus, Jake Goebbert and Michael Taylor.
In addition to the players lost to promotion or trade mentioned above, the A’s have had injuries impact their minor league depth. Top prospects Miles Head, Raul Alcantara, Seth Streich, Chris Koehler, Dustin Driver, Tanner Peters, Dillon Overton, Michael Soto and Aaron Shipman have all lost significant development time due to injuries the past two seasons.
There is no system in baseball that would survive that level of attrition without a significant impact on the overall strength of the system. Without question, the A’s system has fallen in overall depth from one of the top in baseball to one of the bottom. However, that doesn’t mean the organization is devoid of young talent, in both the major leagues and minor leagues. Below we take a look at how the A’s shape up in future years at each position.
Note: this isn’t meant to be a ranking, but, instead, a general look at how the A’s future stands at various positions.
The Future: Matt Olson: ETA 2016
The A’s have a number of present and future options at first base. This season, the A’s have used a combination of Brandon Moss, Stephen Vogt, Nate Freiman, Kyle Blanks, Daric Barton and Alberto Callaspo to cover the position. Although Moss and Vogt, in particular, have had good seasons overall, the A’s have actually not received very good production from players while they have been at first base this season. The overall OPS is 681 with 13 homers in 465 at-bats. Still, that is likely somewhat of an aberration, given that Moss and Vogt have been so productive while playing other positions and Blanks showed promise before he was injured, as well. Barton and Callaspo are not likely to see much time at first for the A’s moving forward this season or in future years,
Moss is arbitration-eligible in 2015 and 2016 and is eligible for free agency in 2017. Blanks is arbitration-eligible in 2015 and eligible for free agency in 2016. Freiman won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2016 and Vogt won’t be eligible until 2017, with their first free agency years coming in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
What that means is that the A’s have a few years before they absolutely HAVE to make a change at first base. The group above gives the A’s a lot of flexibility, as all but Freiman play other positions in addition to first.
Of course, if the A’s had an option at first base who could fill that traditional role of everyday middle-of-the-order hitter, they may prefer that to the platoon situation they have utilized thus far this year. That option could be coming in the form of Matt Olson, who is currently tied for fourth in all of minor league baseball in homeruns with 33.
Olson, the A’s third overall pick in 2012, is just 20 years old and he is still far from a finished product, but he could be the A’s first long-term answer at first base since Jason Giambi left the organization after the 2001 season. Olson has power to all fields and, like Giambi, knows the strike-zone well. He currently leads all A’s minor leaguers with 96 walks. The 6’5’’ Olson can be vulnerable to having his arms tied up by inside pitches, and he can get pull-happy at times, but he has improved his plate coverage this season and his ability to work the count goes a long way towards off-setting his weaknesses in terms of batting average.
Defensively, Olson is a smooth receiver at first with a solid arm and good instincts. He has played a little bit of corner outfield this season and will likely continue to receive looks in the outfield as he rises in the system to give him positional flexibility.
Max Muncy and Anthony Aliotti are first-basemen in the Daric Barton-mold, i.e., good defensive players with excellent eyes at the plate and below-average power for their positions. Both could be big-league ready as soon as next season, if a need arises. Shane Peterson is also big-league ready when the A’s need him, although his best positions defensively are in the outfield. Ryon Healy and Renato Nunez are currently mostly third basemen who may shift over to first eventually. For now, the A’s will continue to give both players the majority of their reps at third. Both are classic right-handed run-producers, and Nunez has the chance to be a special hitter (more on both later). Michael Soto lost much of this season to a broken hand, but the 22-year-old right-hander has power and an excellent eye at the plate.
The Future: Chad Pinder, ETA 2016
Second base has been the A’s biggest hole all season, at least offensively. Eric Sogard and Nick Punto have defended well but haven’t hit much, while Alberto Callaspo has struggled defensively and offensively. Andy Parrino hasn’t been given many opportunities in the big leagues, although he has hit and defended up-the-middle well in Triple-A this year.
Punto signed a free agent deal that included a team option for 2015 worth $2.75 million. If the A’s don’t make any significant changes to their middle infield depth this off-season, they are likely to bring back Punto as the back-up second baseman and shortstop at that price. He isn’t an everyday answer at second for the A’s at this stage of his career, however. Punto is currently on the DL with a hamstring strain, although he should return before the end of the season. Callaspo is a free agent after this season. He has had his moments of excellence at the plate for the A’s, but given his defensive limitations and his overall struggles with the bat this year, he isn’t likely to be brought back in 2015.
Sogard is arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2015. He has been abysmal at the plate this season (-0.1 oWAR), but he has continued to play an above-average second base with the glove. In a stacked line-up, the A’s could probably afford to carry an all-glove, no-hit regular, but the A’s will likely need more offensive production from second base, especially with the loss of Yoenis Cespedes to off-set. The A’s don’t need to move Sogard, but they may look to upgrade at second in lieu of handing him the starting job next spring. Parrino is not yet arbitration-eligible, but he is out of minor league options starting next season.
In terms of immediate replacements at second base, the A’s don’t have many options in their system currently. Tyler Ladendorf was having an excellent year for Sacramento, but he was suspended earlier this season for violating the substance abuse policy and he will be a minor league free agent at the end of the year. The A’s best prospect at second is currently at the High-A level, but he is at least two years away from being major-league ready, more than likely.
That prospect is Chad Pinder, who was the A’s third-overall pick in 2013. He had a disappointing pro debut last year, but Pinder responded to an aggressive assignment this season with an outstanding campaign for High-A Stockton. Pinder is a natural shortstop who also has experience at third. He is learning second base on the fly this season, but he has the athleticism and hands to handle the position.
Pinder is far from a finished product. He has work to do to improve his plate discipline and his durability has been an issue during his time as a pro. However, he has a chance to be an above-average offensive player at a position where finding good hitters can be difficult. Pinder may also present as an option at short or third for the A’s, should their needs shift in those directions.
Beyond Pinder, the A’s are thin at second base in terms of premium prospects. There are shortstops who could move to second if needed (more on them later), but the trade of Chris Bostick this off-season took away the A’s only other true full-season second base prospect. Look for the A’s to invest in the second base position one way or another over the next year or two.
The Present: Jed Lowrie, Nick Punto, Eric Sogard, Andy Parrino
The Future: Daniel Robertson, ETA late 2015
Going into this season, the future at shortstop in Oakland seemed clear. Addison Russell was the best prospect the A’s had had in the system arguably since the days of Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada. At the start of spring training, there were thoughts that Russell would have a shot at joining the A’s in September and could slide into the starting role for the team in 2015.
Then Russell tore his hamstring on the second day of the regular season and that outlook changed. With little shot of reaching the big leagues in 2014, Russell became less of a sure thing to take over the A’s starting shortstop role as a 21-year-old in 2015. The A’s completely ended that debate in July when they traded Russell to the Chicago Cubs in a blockbuster deal.
What the A’s do about their shortstop situation for next season remains a big question. The A’s starter for the past two seasons – Jed Lowrie – is a free agent at the end of the year and it isn’t clear whether the A’s will be able to bring him back. Lowrie has had an up-and-down tenure with the A’s. At times, he has been one of the better offensive shortstops in the American League. At other times, he has looked lost at the plate. He is limited defensively and has a long injury history, although he has been relatively healthy while with the A’s. Lowrie will be entering free agency for the first time and will likely be looking for at least three years on his next contract.
The A’s don’t currently have an in-house replacement for Lowrie for Opening Day 2015 at shortstop. However, they could have a long-term replacement as soon as 2016, which begs the question as to whether the A’s should sign a veteran like Lowrie for multiple years. Given Lowrie’s ability to play second base, as well as short, the A’s would have some flexibility to bring up a young shortstop in 2016 and still have a spot for Lowrie.
That possible 2016 replacement is Daniel Robertson, who was selected with the A’s second pick behind Addison Russell in 2012. While Robertson didn’t have the prospect profile that Russell did going into this season, he is still an elite shortstop prospect whose timeline is very similar to Russell’s.
Robertson is a top-of-the-order hitter who has an excellent sense of the strike-zone, above-average bat control and developing gap power to all fields. He doesn’t run well, but Robertson has a strong arm, soft hands and good range at short, so he should have no problem staying at the position moving forward.
Like at second base, the A’s are thin beyond Robertson at shortstop at the higher levels. The rest of their shortstop talent is young and new to the organization, having arrived either in the 2014 draft or through the international market. How those players develop remains to be seen.
The Present: Josh Donaldson
The Future: Renato Nunez, ETA 2016 / Matt Chapman, ETA mid-2016
The A’s best all-around player is their current third baseman, so their present is in good hands. Donaldson will be entering his first year of arbitration-eligibility in 2015 and he isn’t eligible for free agency until 2019. Donaldson will be expensive in the intervening years, however, so how the A’s choose to handle his contract situation remains to be seen. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the A’s sign Donaldson to a long-term deal this off-season that takes him through his arbitration years and perhaps into his first year or two of free agency.
Donaldson brings value to both sides of the ball. He was an 8 WAR player last year and he already is a 5.2 WAR player in 2014. Donaldson is 28, but he should be three or four more prime seasons. He could be the anchor for the A’s offensively and defensively for those years.
Of course, the A’s don’t have a great history of holding on to players of Donaldson’s caliber. By trading Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland did open more future payroll for Donaldson, but they could choose to do with Donaldson what they have done so frequently before – trade a young player before he gets expensive for a package of younger, less expensive players.
If the A’s do go that route, they won’t be in a great position to replace Donaldson at the start of next year. Third base is a relatively deep position for the A’s in the minor leagues, but none of those players are within a year of being ready for the big leagues.
Renato Nunez is the A’s most promising third base prospect and arguably the system’s top offensive prospect. Whether he can stay at third base defensively long-term remains to be seen. Nunez has made significant strides with his consistency at third this season, but he still has a ways to go to be a major-league caliber defensive third baseman.
Offensively, Nunez is starting to tap into the potential that made him so sought-after as an amateur free agent. Nunez has cut down on his strike-outs this season while increasing his walks slightly. His power numbers have jumped through the roof. Some of that is due to playing in the California League, but a lot of that is due to improved pitch recognition and a better understanding of how he wants to approach each at-bat. Nunez has light-tower power to all fields and could be a fixture in the middle of the A’s line-up in future years, regardless of where he plays in the field.
The A’s first pick in this year’s draft is by far their most promising defensive third baseman. Matt Chapman has the strongest infield throwing arm of any player in the A’s system and he moves well for a man of his size. He should develop into an above-average defensive third baseman at the major-league level and is the best bet amongst this group to stay at the position long-term. As a hitter, Chapman has plenty of growing to do. He is just learning to tap into his natural power, but he has a solid approach at the plate and could develop into a middle-of-the-order threat in a year or two. He is probably at least two full seasons away from the big leagues.
Ryon Healy was the A’s third-round pick last season out of Oregon. Like Pinder, Healy struggled in his pro debut season and, also like Pinder, has responded well to an aggressive assignment to High-A this season. Healy has split his time defensively between third and first. He may be a first baseman only down-the-road, but the A’s like his athleticism and his arm strength, so he’ll continue to get looks at third for the time being. He is a classic run-producer with good power and the ability to barrel the baseball. Healy needs to improve his plate discipline to succeed in the upper levels, however.
Of the group listed above, Jefry Marte is the further along in his development, having completed nearly three seasons at the Double-A level. Injuries have hampered him throughout his career, but he has shown flashes of being able to hit for average and power and he has improved his approach at the plate this season. Jose Brizuela and Max Kuhn are two third basemen selected in this year’s draft that will be worth keeping an eye on. Kuhn may also see time at second base.
The Present: John Jaso, Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt
The Future: Bruce Maxwell, ETA late 2015
There isn’t any organization that can match the A’s depth at catcher in the big leagues right now. A’s catchers have combined for an 845 OPS (while playing catcher) this season. Derek Norris began the season as a platoon player, but he has gradually received more and more playing time versus right-handed pitchers. He looks every bit the part of an everyday star behind the plate and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2016 and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2019.
Stephen Vogt hasn’t been able to play as much behind the plate lately because of a foot injury, but he has proven that he can handle the outfield and first base when he isn’t catching, and he is a solid receiver when healthy. Like Norris, Vogt is under team control for several more years (arbitration-eligible in 2017; free agent eligible in 2020).
John Jaso, the elder statesman of the group, is the least talented defensively, but he isn’t a huge liability behind the plate. At the plate, Jaso has been well above-average for a backstop. He is in his final year of arbitration eligibility in 2015 and will be a free agent in 2016. This off-season, the A’s will have to decide whether to hang on to Jaso for his final year of arbitration or trade him to fill other needs and go with Norris and Vogt as the primary catchers moving forward.
If the A’s do trade Jaso, they will have Ryan Ortiz waiting at Triple-A and Bruce Maxwell continuing his development in Double-A. Ortiz doesn’t project as a major-league regular necessarily, but, now a few years removed from right shoulder surgery, he has improved into a solid defensive backstop. As a hitter, he has a good eye at the plate, although his power has been mostly non-existent since the surgery. The A’s are also generally good at finding solid Triple-A catchers on the minor league free agent market and could go that route to fortify their depth behind a Norris/Vogt platoon next year.
Maxwell is the potential future starter and he is starting to come into his own both behind the plate and as a hitter. A second-round pick in (you guessed it) 2012, Maxwell came into pro ball as a relatively new catcher, having been primarily a first baseman in high school and his first few years of college. Maxwell has improved leaps and bounds defensively the past two seasons and has one of the strongest throwing arms in the A’s system amongst their catchers.
At the plate, Maxwell has always had a good eye and the ability to make consistent contact. He was a prodigious power hitter in college, although that hasn’t yet shown up in the pros on a regular basis during games. He has shown that power in batting practice, however, and that should come into games now that he doesn’t have to expend as much energy learning the art of catching.
The A’s paid above-slot to sign Iolana Akau out of a Hawaii high school last year. He still has lots of work to do on his bat, but Akau has the potential to be a very special defensive player. He won’t turn 19 until the last day of August, so Akau has a lot of time left to develop as an all-around player.
Seong-min Kim was the A’s first international amateur signing out of Korea. It took him several years to get regular playing time, but Kim is finally out there on an everyday basis and is flashing potential as a power hitter and showing some intriguing skills behind the plate. He just turned 21 in May and is getting his feet wet in short-season ball right now. Nick Rickles was arguably the A’s best defensive catcher at a full-season level last season, but he has missed the entire year with a shoulder injury that required surgery. It remains to be seen what the impact of that surgery will have on his throwing ability next year.
The Future: Billy Burns, ETA 2014/ Shane Peterson, ETA 2014
The present look of the A’s outfield received a significant facelift last week, as Oakland traded All-Star left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and brought back platoon left fielder Jonny Gomes. The emergence of Stephen Vogt allowed the A’s to make that deal, as they were able to use Brandon Moss more in left field with Vogt at first base versus right-handed pitchers. Gomes will give the A’s a solid option in left against left-handed pitchers, although it remains to be seen whether Oakland will be able to truly replace Cespedes’ production the rest of this season.
The A’s also brought back outfielder Sam Fuld last week in a trade with Minnesota. Fuld’s re-acquisition was spurred by injuries to Craig Gentry and Coco Crisp that left Oakland needing to recall rookie outfielder Billy Burns from Double-A to cover centerfield. With Fuld back in the fold (sorry), the A’s now have three speedy centerfielders with above-average range in the outfield on their roster. Health will play into how much Crisp, Fuld and Gentry play over the final seven weeks of the season.
Moving forward, everyone in “the present” group listed above is under the A’s team control next season, with the exception of Gomes. Crisp is signed through 2016 with a vesting option for 2017. He will need his playing time monitored because of a variety of injuries, but he is arguably the A’s most important offensive player because of the way he sets the table. With Fuld and Gentry both under A’s control next season, Oakland may opt to DH Crisp on a regular basis next season, leaving centerfield to Fuld and Gentry most days. That could keep the wear-and-tear off Crisp during the remainder of his contract.
Gentry is arbitration-eligible next season, but the A’s are likely to retain him after they spent two top prospects to acquire him. Gentry has no power to speak of (.299 SLG thus far), but he is a plus defender at all three outfield positions and a plus base-runner, making him a valuable part-time player. A line-up with Gentry and Fuld platooning in center and Crisp DHing next season would give the A’s a lot of options with their line-up.
Fuld, like Gentry, doesn’t have much power, but he can work the count well and he is a valuable defensive player. He is out of options, but Fuld has two years of arbitration-eligibility left and isn’t a free agent until 2017.
Josh Reddick was somewhat of a forgotten man for big parts of this season, as he struggled early in the year and spent two separate stints on the disabled list with a knee injury. Since returning from his second DL stint, however, Reddick has looked a lot more like the hitter that he was in 2012, when he bashed 32 homeruns. Defensively, Reddick is one of the best right-fielders in the game, and his work with the glove alone makes him a valuable member of the roster. Reddick has two years remaining of arbitration-eligibility before reaching his free agency year in 2017. Depending on how he finishes this season, he could be a candidate for a contract extension during the off-season.
Moss and Vogt have been covered in the other sections, but both should play a factor in the A’s outfield rotation for the rest of this season and possibly next year. Moss has played mostly left field since the Cespedes trade and the corner outfield is his natural home with the glove. For whatever reason, Moss has been a significantly better hitter while playing in the outfield than playing first base. The A’s may find that is the best home for him moving forward. Moss is likely always going to be a streaky hitter, but over the past two-and-a-half years, arguably no one on the A’s has been more productive. He has two more years of arbitration-eligibility before being eligible for free agency in 2017. Moss seems like another candidate for a contract extension, as the A’s probably don’t want to risk arbitration hearings with so many players all at once.
Vogt played more outfield than he played catcher in the Tampa organization, and he has been surprisingly proficient in the corner spots, although catcher is still his best position. As was mentioned earlier, Vogt is under team control until 2020 and should continue to be a very valuable jack-of-all-trades for Oakland in future years.
The A ‘s minor league outfield depth has thinned over the past year with the departures of Michael Choice, Michael Taylor and Billy McKinney. Oakland has two major-league ready prospects at Triple-A – Shane Peterson and Billy Burns – but the rest of the A’s outfield prospect talent is mostly in the lower levels.
Peterson is in the middle of arguably the best season of his career. Playing all three outfield positions for Sacramento, Peterson has a .316/.386/.464 slashline with 32 doubles, nine homers and 11 stolen bases (13 chances). Peterson isn’t flashy but he’s exactly the kind of player the A’s have brought in with success from other organizations lately – a productive, but underappreciated minor league player with defensive versatility and the ability to work his way on-base. Ironically, he may need to find his way to the big leagues with another organization despite fitting the model of a “typical” A’s player (he even has a beard!).
Burns, in some ways, is a clone of both Fuld and Gentry. He is faster than both, but lacks their experience at the major-league level. Burns made his big league debut earlier this year and will have all of his options remaining, so he will likely serve as Triple-A depth in centerfield for the A’s next season unless they move one of their three current big league centerfielders.
The other players to follow are all in A-ball or lower. Javcob Brugman began the year in Low-A but earned a promotion to High-A Stockton around the All-Star break. The 2013 draft pick has a solid hit tool, as well as some developing power and a strong throwing arm. He has improved his plate discipline and will continue to need to develop in that area. Aaron Shipman is currently on the disabled list (a reoccurring theme for him during his pro career), but he was putting together the best season of his career before he got hurt. Shipman is a classic leadoff hitter in the Fuld/Gentry/Burns mold – a terrific eye with above-average contact skills, blazing speed and a good glove.
Josh Whitaker has had some rough luck with injuries this season, but when he has been healthy, he has hit for power and average. He is currently on the DL with Sacramento. Tyler Marincov has been the Low-A Beloit Snappers’ best power hitter for much of the season. He is a power-and-speed prospect who was a two-sport star in high school and is starting to come into his own as a baseball player.
Boog Powell was having a monster season before a suspension for testing positive for amphetamines shut him down for 50 games. The suspension hurts his prospect status some, but assuming he can pick up where he left off, he will be a player to watch. Powell gets on-base better than any A’s prospect at the lower levels and he has an innate ability to put the bat on the ball. He doesn’t try to do too much, but he was starting to show some more pop with the bat at the time of his suspension. He has excellent speed, although Powell is still learning to use it on the base-paths. Defensively, he plays a solid centerfield.
B.J. Boyd has had a disappointing season for Low-A Beloit, but the 21-year-old still has a lot of promise as a top-of-the-order force. He has plus speed, some pop in his bat and a good feel for the strike-zone. He is still learning to translate his tools to the field, however. Justin Higley, recently promoted from short-season to Low-A, is one of the fastest players in the A’s system and he has hit some of the longest homeruns in the organization this season. He is still struggling with pitch recognition and patience, however, but his tools are very intriguing.
2014 pick J.P. Sportman is off to a fast start in short-season ball this season and Robert Martinez, a 2012 draft pick out of Puerto Rico, is having a monster year with the AZL A’s. He is showing impressive power and the ability to work a walk. The 20-year-old could see some time in Vermont by season’s end.
Tomorrow: part two of this look at the A’s present and future delves into the starting rotation and the bullpen.