Managing a farm system is anything but easy. Figuring out where to place upwards of 100 players while balancing the needs of the big league team and the development paths for several “top” prospects is a daunting task. Every year, there are players who are worthy of promotions to higher levels forced to repeat at levels they played at the year before for the good of the organization. In-season promotions are always tricky because they often require movement at the highest levels to open spots at the lower ones, so those players can remain at lower levels for far longer than their development would suggest they need to be there.
Below I take a look at eight Oakland A’s prospects who saw time at their current level the year before that I believe are ready for a jump to the next level. This piece isn’t intended to be a criticism of where players are currently slotted within the A’s system. It is, instead, intended to highlight eight prospects who aren’t necessarily household names but are worthy of a look at a higher level. Note: this list actually had nine names originally, but Zach Neal was promoted to Triple-A this morning, taking him off of this list.
Chad Oberacker, OF, Midland
After struggling for the last two seasons in the Texas League, Oberacker is putting together a fine season for the RockHounds. The Tennessee Tech alum currently has a .316/.383/.519 line through 34 games. Oberacker is in the middle of a mini-rut that has him 0-for-10 in his last three games, but he has been solid at the top of the order the entire season for Midland. Should the A’s need to dip further into their outfield ranks with Triple-A Nashville, Oberacker should be on a short list to move up to Triple-A. He can play all three outfield positions, has a good eye at the plate and the speed to swipe a few bases.
Josh Whitaker, OF, Midland
Whitaker has done nothing but produce when on the field during his professional career. Unfortunately for the Georgia native, staying healthy has been an issue. Whitaker finally reached Triple-A midway through last season, but a shoulder injury knocked him out for the season just a few weeks into his Triple-A stint. His rehab from off-season surgery kept him in extended spring training for the first few weeks of the season, but Whitaker returned to Midland in late April and has 16 games under his belt. After a bit of a slow start, he has a .302/.357/.476 line in those 16 games and is batting .333 over his last 10. Whitaker has done pretty much all he can do at the Double-A level. It would be great to see him get an extended look in Triple-A this season.
Tyler Marincov, OF, Stockton
If Oberacker or Whitaker get the call to Nashville, Marincov is the top candidate to move up from Stockton to replace him. Marincov hit a rough patch of his season recently, but this week he has posted back-to-back games in which he has reached base four times (on Tuesday, he walked three times and had a hit and on Wednesday, he went 4-for-4 with a homer and three runs scored). Marincov played 16 games at the High-A level last year and currently has 39 games under his belt in the Cal League this season. All told, he has a .293/.361/.462 line in 208 career Cal League at-bats. Marincov has an intriguing mix of tools, including a strong arm in right and some power potential. He is still refining his approach at the plate but he has positioned himself well for a mid-season promotion to Double-A with his start this season.
Brendan McCurry, RP, Stockton
In his first five outings this season, McCurry allowed six runs in 7.1 innings. Since that time, he has allowed one run in 14 innings. In the process, he has lowered his ERA to 2.95. McCurry has 29 strike-outs and five walks in 21.1 innings for the Ports this season and one of those walks was intentional. McCurry burst onto the prospect scene last year in his pro debut when he allowed just one run in 28.1 innings over three levels. McCurry doesn’t throw hard, but he utilizes two arm slots to create significant deception and he is a groundball machine. It remains to be seen how his stuff will play at the upper levels, but at some point, the A’s will give him that opportunity to see how he will fare. He is relatively new to pitching but has a good grasp on his mechanics and his arsenal and he is already 23. McCurry is likely to spend a significant amount of time in the upper levels this season.
Ryan Dull, RP, Midland
With the struggles the A’s have had in their bullpen in Oakland, it is a bit surprising that there hasn’t been room for Dull in Nashville yet. That could change soon, especially if the A’s designate any of their current 40-man roster relievers for assignment. After a solid 2014 season with Midland, Dull is off to a nearly perfect start for the RockHounds in 2015. He has yet to allow a run in 19.1 innings spread over 12 appearances. He has 23 strike-outs and just four walks (one of which was intentional). Like McCurry, Dull isn’t a hard thrower and he relies on some deception to get outs. But he has performed at every level and he deserves a look at Triple-A in the near-term.
Carson Blair, C, Midland
Blair was signed by the A’s as a minor league free agent during the off-season. A 2008 pick out of high school by the Boston Red Sox, Blair developed slowly in the Boston chain, reaching Double-A for the first time last season – his seventh in professional baseball. Blair made the most of his time in Double-A last year, posting a 920 OPS in 17 games. He has continued that level of offensive production with Midland this season. Blair currently has a .286/.423/.481 line in 27 games for the RockHounds. He strikes out a lot, but he also draws a lot of walks and has shown some power. Blair is still developing defensively, but if he can show improvement behind the plate, he should be in a good position to reach Triple-A this season.
Nate Long, SP, Midland
Long was arguably the MVP of the Midland pitching staff last season. At the very least, he was the heart-and-soul of that staff. A reliever on Opening Day, Long moved to the rotation and gave Midland 150 regular season innings of 3.18 ERA pitching and then threw well in the post-season. Long did get a cameo in Triple-A earlier this year, making one start, but he deserves a longer look. The Texas League isn’t providing much of a challenge for Long so far this year. His command has been a bit shaky at times, but he still has a 2.31 ERA and a .210 BAA in 39 innings. He has struck-out 33 and walked 16. Over his last five starts, Long has gone at least six innings and he had one eight-inning outing.
Colin Walsh, UT, Midland
Walsh was signed by the A’s last season as a fill-in for Addison Russell in Midland when Russell went down with a hamstring injury. Thanks to other injuries and roster movement, Walsh wound up spending most of last season in Triple-A and he did a good job at that level. He has returned to Double-A this season and has been a consistent performer at the plate for Midland. In 37 games, he is batting .279/.400/.429 with 12 doubles and 27 walks. Walsh is versatile defensively and can play third, second, short and the outfield, although he has been exclusively at second base this season. If the A’s bring up Andy Parrino, Walsh would be a strong candidate to take Parrino’s spot in Nashville.