Name: Justin Higley
Height/Weight: 6’4’’, 205
How Acquired: Drafted in the 13rd round 2013
It may not be overtly obvious to those outside of the organization, but those within the Oakland A’s organization view Justin Higley as a prospect on the cusp of a break-through. The toolsy outfielder experienced some ups and downs in 2014, but he finished on a high note at the A’s fall Instructional League. A lot will be expected of Higley in 2015.
A native of Sacramento, Higley was selected by the A’s out of Sac State in the 2013 draft. One of the youngest college juniors in the draft, Higley didn’t turn 21 until the December after his pro debut season. Despite being a college draft pick, Higley was considered a project prospect when he was selected by the A’s.
“Justin is probably more of an upside college draft [pick],” A’s Director of Amateur Scouting Eric Kubota said shortly after the 2013 draft. “[H]is numbers [at Sac State] haven't really borne out the kind of ability that we think he has. He can really run and he has power potential. We think his best days are ahead of him as he gets more instruction under his belt. We were less concerned about the numbers. Certainly it is something to consider, but we just loved the tool package with him.”
Higley demonstrated some of those tools and some of that rawness during his pro debut. In 42 games with the AZL A’s, Higley hit six homers and had a .490 SLG. He also posted a respectable .363 OBP and a .275 average. However, he struck-out 57 times in just 153 at-bats.
"He came into camp and has really done a nice job. He has hit the ball solid for the whole two weeks. Solid approach." - Oakland A's instructor and scout Rich Sparks
In 2014, Higley spent the first half of the season at the A’s extended spring training camp, working on his approach at the plate and on refining his overall game. He played well during that camp and was sent to short-season Vermont at the start of the New York-Penn League season. It didn’t take long for Higley to prove that he was too good for that level. In 24 games, he hit .281/.337/.562 with five homers, 10 stolen bases and 25 RBI.
At that point, the A’s bumped Higley up a level to Low-A Beloit. Higley struggled in the Midwest League. In 48 games, he struck-out 59 times and posted a .240/.291/.343 line with two homers and six stolen bases. He did hit better in August than he did in July with the Snappers, giving him something to build on going into the A’s fall Instructional League. All told, Higley finished his 2014 campaign with a .254/.307/.417 line with 13 homers, 16 stolen bases (in 17 chances) and a 90:20 K:BB in 72 games.
Once at Instructs, Higley began to find his rhythm. He cut down on his swings-and-misses significantly and demonstrated his big raw power to all fields. Higley was one of the top hitters in the A’s camp this fall, according to longtime A’s scout and instructor Rich Sparks.
"He has really improved," Sparks said. "When I was in Beloit this year, he swung and missed a lot. He came into camp and has really done a nice job. He has hit the ball solid for the whole two weeks. Solid approach. He’s struck out a few times, but he’s really been good. He’s had the best camp as far as swinging the bat, in my opinion."
Physically, Higley has a lot of similarities with former A’s prospect Grant Desme. Like Desme, Higley is long and lean and deceptively strong. Also like Desme, Higley is a power-and-speed prospect who has some swing-and-miss to his game but the potential to be a very exciting player. Higley has played all three outfield positions, although right field may be his ultimate destination. He is a perennial candidate to reach double-digits in homeruns and stolen bases and could legitimately be a middle of the order hitter at the higher levels. Making consistent contact will be the key for him as he moves up the ladder.
Higley will be 22 throughout the 2015 season. He is likely to return to the Low-A Beloit squad at the start of 2015, although he could move up to High-A Stockton if there is an opening and he has a big spring. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him reach High-A at some point in 2015 even if it isn’t the beginning of the year.