With only 10 days remaining before the July 31st trade deadline, the Oakland A’s appear to be open for business as a seller. The A’s have several veteran trade chips they can dangle to teams (for more on who they might deal, click here). What might the A’s look for in return? I take a look at the A’s system’s strengths and weakness.
Currently, the Oakland A’s have plenty of minor league depth in the areas of corner infield, middle infield and relief pitching. Ironically, those areas have been weaknesses – to some extent – for the A’s this season at the big league level, but they do have several promising players coming up the pipeline at those spots.
The A’s have plenty of depth at third and first base, starting in their upper-levels and moving all the way down to A-ball. Both of the A’s starting corner infielders – Brett Lawrie and Ike Davis – are under team control for the next few years, which gives the A’s some time to develop their minor league talent at those positions. In addition, rookie Mark Canha has shown he can handle first base, as has catcher Stephen Vogt.
In Triple-A, the A’s have Max Muncy, who has already played some third and first base for Oakland this season. In Double-A, the A’s have several top corner infield prospects. Two of the A’s top four minor league prospects are middle infielders currently on the Midland RockHounds’ roster – 1B Matt Olson and 3B Renato Nunez. In addition, top-20 prospects Ryon Healy and Rangel Ravelo are both in Midland and can play both corner infield positions.
The A’s top pick in the 2014 draft, Matt Chapman, is having a strong first full season as the Stockton Ports’ third baseman. In Low-A, 1B Sandber Pimentel is having an up-and-down year for Beloit, but he has shown promise as a power hitter with plenty of patience and a decent glove. The A’s 2015 second-round pick Mikey White is a natural shortstop, but he has been playing a lot of third base so far for short-season Vermont, as has 2014 draft pick Trace Loehr.
The A’s don’t have quite as much upper-level depth in the middle infield, but they do have plenty of depth at second base and shortstop from Double-A on down. In the big leagues, current A’s shortstop Marcus Semien is having a famously difficult year with the glove. He may need to move off of the position, but even if he does move to second base, his bat should keep him in the A’s line-up as a middle infielder for the next few years. Utilityman Tyler Ladendorf has missed most of the year with an ankle injury, but he flashed some intriguing skills this spring and early April. He is an above-average defender at shortstop and can play second and third base, as well.
The A’s have minor league veterans at shortstop in Triple-A, but the A’s hold Nashville 2B Joey Wendle in high esteem. Wendle currently has a 702 OPS in his first season at the Triple-A level, but the A’s see more offensive potential from the former Indians’ prospect and defensively Wendle has handled second base well for the Sounds this year.
The A’s Double-A double-play combination could help Oakland in the near future. Both SS Chad Pinder and 2B Colin Walsh are having breakout seasons for Midland. Pinder has moved all over the infield during his career and could fill any number of roles for the A’s in the near future. Walsh is similarly versatile, although he can’t play shortstop. However, the Stanford alum can handle second base, as well as third base and the outfield in a pinch. Both have been among the Texas League’s leading hitters this season.
In High-A, the A’s second-ranked prospect, Franklin Barreto, is off to a strong start to his Oakland A’s career. The former Toronto Blue Jays’ prospect has 12 homeruns and a .298 average in 88 games. He may not remain a shortstop as he nears the big leagues, but Barreto shouldn’t have a problem shifting to second base and he will be a potential plus offensive threat at that position.
Beloit shortstop Yairo Munoz has had an up-and-down season thus far, but he still holds a lot of promise. Munoz hit .274 for the first two months of the season before a disastrous July dropped his average into the .220s. He has been hot of late (.343 over his last 10 games). Munoz has the ability to hit for average and power and to be a solid defensive shortstop, although there is plenty of development that needs to be happen for that to occur.
The A’s 2015 draft class provided plenty of middle infield depth. The A’s top two picks were shortstops: Richie Martin and White. Both are off to fast starts with the Lake Monsters and, as polished collegiate players, could start next season in High-A. Loehr is also a natural shortstop who has experience at second base, as well, and the potential to be an above-average offensive player for the middle infield. Vermont infielder Jesus Lopez is another promising second base prospect. In Rookie ball, 18-year-old SS Carlos Hiciano is getting his feet wet and SS Edwin Diaz is working to get his bat to match his defensive potential.
The A’s are deep in minor league relief talent up-and-down the system. Their big league bullpen has been a disappointment all season, but if closer Sean Doolittle can return healthy next season, that group should be much improved. Drew Pomeranz looks like a good fit as a power lefty in the bullpen and Fernando Rodriguez has pitched well after a slow start this season. Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte only made a few appearances before landing on the DL, but he will be worth a longer look once he is healthy again, as will hard-throwing right-hander Taylor Thompson.
In Triple-A, the A’s have RHPs R.J. Alvarez, Arnold Leon, Angel Castro and Aaron Kurcz all capable of hitting the mid-90s with their fastballs. Alvarez had a forearm strain in June, but is back on the mound and pitching well. Former A’s All-Star closer Ryan Cook is also in Nashville, although he has had an up-and-down year.
The A’s have a backlog of talented relievers stuck in Double-A, including Texas League ERA leader Ryan Dull and RHPs Seth Frankoff, Bobby Wahl, Tucker Healy and Ryan Doolittle. RHP Kris Hall has had an inconsistent year with his command, but he flashes one of the best fastball-slider combinations in the A’s system when he is on with his command. In High-A, RHP Brendan McCurry, Corey Walter and Ben Bracewell have all had promising first full professional seasons, while Jose Torres and Carlos Navas have made a strong impression with Low-A Beloit.
There are areas of the A’s system that could use more depth. At the big-league level, the A’s have suffered from a lack of production from their left fielders all season. Projected Opening Day left fielder Coco Crisp has been hurt most of the season and fill-ins Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry have struggled. Crisp appears to be on the downside of his career, although his contract will likely keep him on the A’s roster for at least another year. Fuld and Gentry are best suited as fourth outfielders on a contending team.
RF Josh Reddick is enjoying his best season as a major leaguer, but he could get too expensive for the A’s to keep in the next year or two. Rookie Billy Burns has emerged this year as a surprise long-term answer for the A’s in centerfield, and fellow rookie corner outfielders Mark Canha and Jake Smolinski should get some time to prove their worth during the final few months of the season. However, the A’s are still missing that middle-of-the-order, impact right-handed power hitter in the outfield that they had in Yoenis Cespedes from 2012 through last year’s trade deadline.
The A’s don’t have much immediate outfield help in the minor leagues. Their Triple-A roster has only two natural outfielders and both are over 30 years old (Gentry and Jason Pridie). In Double-A, Josh Whitaker has shown promise as a potential power bat, but injuries have slowed his progression to the big leagues. Jaycob Brugman is another potential big league outfielder, but he is more of a line-drive hitter than a clean-up hitter. The A’s have tried Matt Olson in right field this season, and he could potentially be that middle-of-the-order outfielder, although he still likely projects as a first baseman. In A-ball, the A’s outfield prospects are mostly centerfield-types such as Brett Vertigan, B.J. Boyd and J.P. Sportman, although Tyler Marincov has some power potential. The A’s didn’t draft any outfielders this season until the 11th round (high school pick James Terrell).
The A’s could also use some starting pitching depth, even though that was the focus of their off-season trading spree. Leading into the 2015 season, the A’s acquired starters Kendall Graveman, Chris Bassitt, Jesse Hahn and Sean Nolin. Graveman, Bassitt and Hahn have all contributed at the big league level this season, but Nolin has been limited by injuries. Oakland had hoped to get A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker back from Tommy John surgery rehabs this year, but both have been felled by new injuries in their attempts to get back to the big leagues.
Going into next season, the A’s rotation could be a bit unsettled. Sonny Gray will be at the top of the rotation and Graveman’s spot looks to be secure at the moment, but Scott Kazmir will be gone and Jesse Chavez could be traded, as well, especially since he is likely to get much more expensive next season. Drew Pomeranz appears to have transitioned to a relief role. Hahn, Griffin, Parker and Nolin will all enter the year as injury question-marks. Bassitt will audition for a rotation spot the rest of this season.
In the minor leagues, the A’s don’t have a lot of high-ceiling starting pitching talent. Top starting pitching prospects Raul Alcantara and Dillon Overton are still working their way back to their pre-Tommy John surgery form. Other top starting pitching prospects Dylan Covey, Daniel Gossett, Brett Graves, Heath Fillmyer, Dustin Driver and Chris Kohler all have major-league potential, but all are still several years away from being big-league ready. The A’s drafted several polished college pitchers and one high ceiling high school arm this year (Dakota Chalmers), but it is too early to tell where they will all fit in the A’s overall starting pitching depth chart since most are being limited to a few innings at a time this season.
At the big league level, the A’s are set for the next few years at catcher with Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley. In fact, both catchers have been so productive this year that the A’s have had more production from the catcher position than have the San Francisco Giants (who have a guy named Buster Posey). Vogt and Phegley will be under the A’s team control for several more years.
Beyond Vogt and Phegley, however, the A’s could use some additional depth at catcher in the minor leagues. In Triple-A, the A’s began the year with two minor league veterans (Luke Carlin and Bryan Anderson). Carlin was released to make room for Carson Blair, an off-season minor league free agent signing who had a breakthrough first-half with Double-A Midland. Unless the A’s add Blair and/or Anderson to their 40-man roster before the end of the year, both are likely to be in other organizations next season.
At Double-A, top A’s catching prospect Bruce Maxwell has hit for a much better average and gotten on-base at a much higher clip this year than he did in Double-A last year. However, Maxwell has only homered once this season and his SLG is under .300. Fellow Double-A catcher Nick Rickles is in his first season back after major shoulder surgery. He has played well defensively but has a 657 OPS at the plate.
In High-A, the A’s have veteran Beau Taylor and raw 19-year-old Jose Chavez. The A’s highest ceiling catching talent in Low-A Beloit’s Lana Akau. Akau has the potential to be a special defensive catcher and his bat is coming around this season after not producing much his first two professional seasons. The 19-year-old has an 898 OPS in 74 at-bats for short-season Vermont and Beloit this season. He is still several years away from being on the big league radar, however.
The A’s selected two catchers among their first 20 picks this season (8th-round pick Nick Collins and 18th-round pick Brett Sunde), but both are just getting their feet wet professionally.
So what does this mean?
There are two schools of thought when acquiring minor league prospects for big league talent. One school says that a team goes for the best available players in terms of raw talent, regardless of position or current level of development. That isn’t a path the A’s front office has traditionally taken. Instead, they have tended to follow the other school of thought, which is that you target the players that best compliment the talent in your organization currently and have the biggest chance to help your big league team in the near term.
The A’s approach to trades hasn’t always been popular because their returns have often been lower-ceiling/higher-floor players who don’t rank that high on national prospects lists. However, it is an approach that generally has worked for the A’s over the past 10 years, and Oakland isn’t likely to instructive to note where the A’s strengths and weaknesses lie when trying to assess where the A’s might look for talent on the July trade market.