Mid-Season Review: A's Prospects 10-1

During the off-season, we named our top-54 prospects in the Oakland A's system. Now that we have passed the midway point of the season, we thought it would be a good time to check the progress of those players. In the last of our series, we take a look at the progress of prospects 10-1 from our off-season list.

Note: this is not a re-ranking of current prospects. A new top-50 prospects list will be released this off-season. Click here for the pre-season Oakland A’s top prospect list.

Note: Stats as of Sunday, July 19

10. Chris Bassitt

Bassitt was one of several players with less than a year of major-league service time acquired by the A’s during the off-season. He entered spring training with a chance at making the A’s Opening Day starting rotation, but he struggled and started the season in Triple-A. Since the games actually began to count, Bassitt has been quite good, however. In 69 innings for Triple-A Nashville, Bassitt has a 3.65 ERA and a 70:19 K:BB. His GO/AO is 1.29 and he has allowed only one homerun. In the big leagues, Bassitt has a 2.93 ERA in 27.2 innings. He has a 17:11 K:BB, but he has walked only two over his last 17 big league innings. Bassitt has done a terrific job keeping the ball on the ground this season and has thrown a lot of strikes. His fastball has ranged from 89-96 and he has done a better job of mixing in his slider, curveball and change-up as the year has gone on.

Although Bassitt is technically currently on the Nashville roster, the plan is to have him re-join the A’s rotation later this week when Jesse Hahn’s spot comes up again. Bassitt should get an extended look with the A’s with Hahn set to be on the DL for a minimum of a month. If he continues to pitch as he has with Nashville and in three starts with the A’s, he should secure a spot in the A’s 2016 rotation.

Status: Getting his big league chance

9. Daniel Gossett

There is no sugarcoating it – it has been a very difficult first full professional season for the A’s 2014 second-round pick. Gossett breezed through his pro debut season last year, posting a 25:1 K:BB in 24.1 innings for short-season Vermont. However, this season has been a challenge for Gossett with Low-A Beloit. His K:BB is 77:40, his ERA is 4.94 and his WHIP is 1.51. The good news is that Gossett has been much more effective of late. He has also posted a 1.36 GO/AO, although he has given up 12 homeruns.

Gossett doesn’t possess the kind of stuff that is going to produce strike-outs at a high rate. His pitch-to-contact style may work better as he advances up the system, but he has been hurt this season by less-than-stellar defense behind him. Gossett also admitted early in the year to overthrowing in an attempt to blow pitches past hitters. That compromised his command and caused is walk totals to skyrocket. He walked 28 over his first 49.1 innings and has walked 12 in 35.1 innings since. Gossett has a 2.95 ERA over his last three starts and a 12:3 K:BB in 18.1 innings. A strong finish would save a frustrating season for Gossett and should put him on a path for High-A in 2016 with a positive frame of mind.

Status: Starting to turn it around

8. Dustin Driver

Starting last fall during Instructs and bleeding over into this year’s minor league spring training, there was no pitcher in the A’s system who received more buzz than Driver. The hard-throwing right-hander missed all of the 2014 season with a back injury, but he was healthy by the fall and wowed coaches with his mid-90s heat, his sharp, late-breaking slider and solid change-up. The A’s kept Driver back at extended spring training to allow the weather to warm in the Midwest before sending him to Beloit. He made four starts with the Snappers, but he struggled in those outings, allowing 11 runs in 11 innings. At the start of short-season, he was re-assigned to Vermont and he currently has a 6.16 ERA in 19 innings with the Lake Monsters.

There is no question that Driver has the tools to make it as a starter in the big leagues, but he has plenty of refinement left in his development. He still has a tendency to over-throw when he is in trouble instead of relying on his plus stuff to get him out of the situation. He won’t turn 21 until October, so Driver has plenty of time to grow and mature. Driver should participate in fall Instructs once again this year and is likely to start next season with Beloit.

Status: Learning with Vermont

7. Dillon Overton

Overton was the A’s second-round pick in 2013, but he didn’t make his professional debut until midway through the 2014 season. Overton had Tommy John surgery shortly after signing with the A’s and it took a year for him to get back on the mound. His 2014 campaign was encouraging statistically. He struck-out 53 and walked four in 37 innings. His secondary pitches were very effective, but his velocity was way down compared to his pre-surgery levels, causing some concern.

Despite the lack of velo, Overton was given a challenge to start his first full professional season – the offense-friendly California League. He spent the first half of the season with the Stockton Ports, working with a five-inning workload limit. In 61.1 innings, Overton posted a 3.82 ERA with a 59:12 K:BB. He was very effective in most of his outings, allowing one run or less in nine of 14. Right after the All-Star break, he was promoted to Midland, where he has a 4.20 ERA and a 9:5 K:BB in 15 innings.

Overton’s velocity has recovered some since the start of the year. He was sitting 84-86 during spring training, but he is now sitting mostly 87-89 and he has even touched 90 on occasion. He still isn’t at his 91-93 MPH range from college, but the increase is encouraging, nonetheless. Overton’s command has been outstanding. Occasionally he catches too much of the strike-zone, and that has resulted in eight homeruns allowed, but for the most part, he has been effective at the edges of the plate. With his current velocity, Overton profiles as a Tommy Milone-like fourth starter in the big leagues. If he can get back to where he was in college, he could be a future number two or three with the A’s given the polish of his secondary stuff and his plus-plus competitive nature. At the very least, that he has been healthy and effective against advanced hitters this season has been encouraging.

Status: Battling in the Texas League

6. Sean Nolin

Of the starting pitchers the A’s acquired this off-season, Nolin was the one most expected to have an immediate impact on the A’s rotation. The left-hander – acquired from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade – pitched during the Arizona Fall League, showing a fastball in the 92-94 MPH range and three solid secondary offerings. Unfortunately, Nolin’s first season in the A’s organization has been dramatically impacted by injuries. He came to spring training still in the recovery phase from off-season sports hernia surgery and missed all of camp, as well as the first month of the regular season. Nolin was a regular member of the Nashville rotation from early May until early July, when he landed on the DL with a left shoulder strain. The timetable for his return isn’t known.

Nolin was effective with Nashville, but his velocity was never where it was in Arizona last fall. He sat mostly 86-88 with his fastball, but he did an excellent job of keeping hitters off-balance and sequencing. The fact that he landed on the DL with a shoulder strain could be an indication that the dip in velocity was due to the injury. Even with that velocity dip, his ERA for Nashville was 2.67 in 33.2 innings. He struck-out 26 and walked 17, however.

At this point, the A’s have to hope that rest is all that Nolin will need for his shoulder to heal and that he will be able to get several more starts in before the end of the year. If healthy, he could pitch in winter ball to make up for some of the lost innings this season.

Status: On the DL

5. Kendall Graveman

A dream March turned quickly into a nightmare April for Graveman, but since the start of May, things have been much more calm for the A’s right-hander. Graveman was acquired with Nolin and two others in the deal that sent Josh Donaldson to Toronto. The right-hander advanced four levels in 2014, starting the year in Low-A and finishing the season in the big leagues. Graveman came into his first A’s camp with a chance to win a starting rotation spot, and he pounced on it. He was easily the best pitcher in A’s camp in Arizona and he secured the fourth spot in the A’s rotation. Things turned sour for Graveman in April, however. In four starts, he posted a WHIP over 2.00 and an ERA of 8.27. He was sent down to Triple-A Nashville at the end of April.

The turn of the calendar was seemingly all Graveman needed to get back on-track. He immediately started pitching better for Nashville and posted a 1.85 ERA in four starts with the Sounds. When a spot in the A’s rotation opened up again in late May, Graveman got the call. He threw six shutout innings in a win against the Rays on the road and hasn’t looked back since. In 10 starts since returning to the A’s rotation, Graveman has a 2.17 ERA and a 44:18 K:BB in 66.1 innings. Despite his horrific April, Graveman’s big league ERA is down to 3.38 for the year. All but two of those 10 starts since returning from the minors have gone at least six innings, and the two that didn’t make it that far were 5.2-inning outings.

Graveman isn’t going to overpower anyone, but his ability to mix his pitches and use his movement has made him very effective since his return to the big leagues. He has all of the makings of a solid mid-rotation starter for years to come.

Status: Establishing himself as a big leaguer

4. Renato Nunez

Nunez’s 2015 season got off to a slow start, as he missed the first month of the year rehabbing a strained calf he sustained during the final two weeks of spring training. Once he was sent out to Double-A Midland, it took Nunez a little while to get his timing back at the plate. Now 65 games into his season with the RockHounds, Nunez is having a solid, though not spectacular, season. His 12 homeruns rank him tied for second in the A’s system. However, he is batting just .254/.311/.436 overall.

The Texas League isn’t easy on power-hitters, so it isn’t a surprise that Nunez’s power totals are down from his 2014 levels in the Cal League, when he had a .517 SLG. His walk rate is up nearly a full percent this season and his K-rate has fallen almost 5%. Nunez’s .254 BA is partly a product of bad luck. His BABIP is just .263 and his line-drive rate is actually up from last year. Nunez, like many power hitters, tends to get a little pull-happy, which makes it easier for teams to defend him with shifts. He is capable of using the whole field, however, and going up the middle more could be the key to him becoming a better hitter for average in the long-run.

Defensively, it’s still a bit of a mystery as to where Nunez will land permanently. For the first time in his career, Nunez has spent a significant amount of time at a position other than third base, appearing in 12 games at first base. He is still a work-in-progress at both corners and his bat will certainly be his calling card. Nunez could ultimately serve a role with the A’s that sees him get some time at both corners and the majority of his playing time at DH, but Oakland will try to get him a more permanent defensive spot before settling for that. Either way, Nunez is one of the top power hitters in the A’s system and a potential impact hitter for Oakland within the next few years. He won’t turn 22 until next April.

Status: Making adjustments at Double-A

3. Matt Chapman

Like Nunez, Chapman spent the first month of the regular season in Arizona, rehabbing a leg injury (in Chapman’s case, a left knee injury). Also like Nunez, Chapman needed a few weeks to get his timing back once he was activated by the A’s. However, since Chapman found his stroke, he has been a menace for opposing California League pitchers. The A’s 2014 top pick has 18 homeruns in 243 at-bats and a .259/.357/.572 line in 64 games for the Stockton Ports. He has improved steadily as the season has gone on. He posted an 836 OPS in May, an 884 OPS in June and he has a 1111 OPS so far for July.

Chapman was more of a line-drive hitter in college, but the A’s have worked with him to look to drive the ball out of the park more since turning pro. That approach has led to lower batting averages as a pro, but it has allowed Chapman to tap into his plus power. Chapman can hit the ball out to any field and his homerun spray chart so far this season is indicative of that ability, as half of his 18 homers have gone out to center or right field.

Defensively, Chapman got off to a slow start with the Ports, but he has lived up to his billing as a plus defender at third over the past two months. He has one of the strongest throwing arms in the A’s system and he has the agility and athleticism to make spectacular plays at the hot corner. The A’s should have no problem plugging Chapman’s glove in at third when he is ready for the big leagues. If the A’s didn’t already have a corner infield jam in Double-A, Chapman could be at that level already. Unless the A’s have some movement with their Double-A roster in the next few weeks, Chapman is likely to finish the year with the Ports. He has a chance to reach 30 homers with Stockton despite the missed time at the start of the year and finish in the top-10 in the Cal League in OPS (he is currently seventh).

Status: Mashing in the Cal League

2. Franklin Barreto

Of the prospects the A’s received this off-season in their various trades, Barreto was far-and-away the most highly regarded of the bunch. The shortstop had an 865 OPS in 73 games for short-season Vancouver in 2014 and he was considered easily one of the top five players in the Northwest League last year. Barreto missed most of spring training dealing with a personal issue in Venezuela, but the A’s still challenged him with an aggressive assignment to High-A Stockton to start the year. His rust from missing most of the spring was evident in April, as Barreto hit just .171/.205/.243. However, since then, he has been arguably most impressive hitter on a talented Stockton club. His current line is .299/.330/.497 with 12 homers in 87 games.

Barreto has been compared physically to Rafael Furcal and there are a lot of similarities in their size and physicality. Barreto packs a lot of power into a small frame. He also has plus speed, although he hasn’t attempted many stolen bases this season. He has been disruptive on the base-paths even when he hasn’t stolen bases, however, taking extra-bases when he has the opportunity. He has 22 doubles and three triples to go along with the 12 homeruns. Barreto has never been an overly patient hitter, and he is walking at roughly half the rate as he did last season. However, he has cut down his strike-outs every season he has been in the pros, including this year. He always seems to have a plan at the plate, which is impressive for a 19-year-old. Barreto handled his early season struggles with a lot of maturity, as well, and he has adjusted to life among players two or three years his senior with relative ease.

Defensively, Barreto has struggled at times at shortstop. He has average arm strength and quick feet, but he is often very mechanical at short in games. He has a tendency to pause and wind-up before his throws during games, something that has cost him outs on several occasions. In infield practice before games, he is much more fluid, so it is possible that he could improve to the point that he is adequate at short as he develops. However, it also wouldn’t be surprising to see Barreto move to second base as he nears the big leagues. Either way, his bat would be a plus asset at any position on the diamond, so a position switch isn’t a huge concern. At the plate, Barreto’s age-19 season is matching up very well to Addison Russell’s age-19 season with the Ports in 2013 (Russell hit .275/.377/.508 in 107 games for the Ports that year).

Status: Tearing up the Cal League

1. Matt Olson

Stop us if you have heard this before: the A’s top prospect gets to the Texas League and struggles to hit for power for the first time in his career. This has been a consistent issue for A’s top prospects, dating back to Sean Doolittle and Josh Donaldson. Michael Choice and Grant Green were other top A’s prospects who found their power numbers dramatically impacted by the Texas League. Olson is the latest to be added to this list, at least so far. After hitting 37 homers in 138 games with Stockton last season, Olson has hit only eight in 89 games thus far for Midland. Six of those eight came in April, when Olson hit .273/.430/.606. He followed that month with two months of OPSs in the 600s, but has rebounded to a 857 OPS thus far in July.

Olson is the most patient hitter in the A’s system and that patience hasn’t waned. His walk-rate is virtually identical to his walk rate from last year, when he led the minor leagues in bases-on-balls. His strike-out rate has risen a bit, but is still within his career norms. Olson’s power numbers could easily be better. He has had several balls caught at the wall. He is also tied for fifth in the league in doubles. However, he has also grounded out to the right side a lot more this season than he did last year, an indication that he isn’t getting the same kind of pitches to hit that he was in the Cal League.

Olson has a very professional approach to his hitting. He is extremely disciplined about swinging at pitches in the strike-zone and letting pitches go that he doesn’t think should be strikes. That worked well for him in April, but since then, Texas League pitchers haven’t given him many quality pitches to swing at in the strike-zone. Texas League pitchers have been more than happy to walk him rather than challenge him in the strike-zone since April. This will be a challenge for Olson throughout his career as he advances and sees pitchers that are better at locating within the strike-zone than lower-level pitchers. Olson will need to find a comfort zone for pitches he can handle that are outside of the strike-zone, but still good pitches to hit. If he can do that, he has a chance to be a special power hitter in the big leagues thanks to his patience. Defensively, Olson is an asset with the glove at first and he has increasingly seen time in the outfield, which will make him a more versatile option as he gets close to the big leagues. Olson isn’t particularly fast, but he has the strong throwing arm of a prototypical right fielder. Olson won’t turn 22 until next March, so he still has plenty of time to continue to refine his approach.

Status: Looking for his power stroke with Midland

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