A Texas League MVP, a recent first-round pick and a highly regarded mid-season acquisition are part of a group of talented Oakland A's prospects slated to play in the 2015 Arizona Fall League. Chad Pinder, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Jaycob Brugman, Kris Hall, Aaron Kurcz and Brendan McCurry are the seven A's prospects currently scheduled to play in this year's Arizona Fall League. The AFL is a prospect showcase league that features many of the top up-and-coming talents from around Major League Baseball each fall.
The AFL announced its 2015 rosters on Tuesday. The A's have seven players set to suit up for the Mesa Solar Sox. The A's will join the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays as the teams contributing to the Solar Sox's roster. The Solar Sox will play their home games at Sloan Park, the spring training home of the Cubs. The season will run from mid October until late November.
Pinder heads to Arizona after a breakout 2015 campaign that saw him take home the award for top player in the Texas League. The A's 2013 competitive balance round A pick is batting .318/.363/.487 with a career-high 15 homeruns through Monday. Pinder will have the opportunity to show teams around baseball that his Texas League campaign wasn't a fluke. He is also likely to showcase his defensive versatility. Pinder, who played shortstop and third base in college, spent the 2014 season mostly at second base. He moved to shortstop full-time in 2015 and could see playing time at short, second and third this fall.
Chapman will see plenty of innings at third base this fall. The A's 2014 first-round pick will be looking to make up for games lost to injuries this season. Chapman began the year in extended spring training, rehabbing a knee injury that cost him the first five weeks of the schedule. On August 3, Chapman landed back on the DL with a wrist injury. In between, Chapman had an outstanding season for the High-A Stockton Ports. Chapman hit .259/.353/.587 with 23 homeruns and 56 RBI in 77 games. He also flashed impressive range and a strong arm at third base.
Chapman may return to the Ports for the final few games of the regular season (and a possible post-season run), but he will still be short at least 200 at-bats off the number he would have had in a full season. He will get some of those at-bats back in the AFL and will look to showcase his prodigious power and continue to work on fine-tuning his approach at the plate.
Manaea, acquired in the Ben Zobrist deal this July, also missed a significant amount of time this season with injury and he will be looking to get his innings total up in the AFL in hopes of being able to pitch a full season in 2016. The left-hander missed 11 weeks at the start of the season when he was still with the Kansas City Royals while recovering from a groin injury. He has built his pitch count back up to a normal level and has logged 68.1 innings for A's and Royals' affiliates. Manaea should have one more regular season start and then will have at least one start in the post-season with the Midland RockHounds. Even if Midland reaches the Texas League finals, Manaea will still finish the 2015 season at only around 100 innings, so the additional 20 or so innings he will get in the AFL will go a long way towards building him up for a full workload next year, when he could be ready to make his major-league debut. Manaea has been spectacular since joining the A's organization. In six starts with Midland, the 6'6'' southpaw is 5-0 with a 2.21 ERA and a 38:15 K:BB. For the season, he has a 77:26 K:BB in 68.2 innings pitched.
Brugman, Hall, Kurcz and McCurry don't carry as high of a prospect profile around baseball as Pinder, Chapman and Manaea, but they will get plenty of opportunities to show why the A's think so highly of them.
Brugman is coming off of a solid first season at the Double-A level. Like Pinder, Brugman was a member of the A's 2013 draft class. He has spent the entire year with Midland, logging significant playing time at all three outfield positions. Brugman doesn't have any one standout tool, but he is a well-rounded player who is at least average at every aspect of his game. He can hit for average, work a walk, has some gap power, runs the bases fairly well, covers a lot of ground in the outfield and has a solid throwing arm. Through Monday, Brugman was batting .263/.345/.389 with 40 extra-base hits in 126 games. He has improved his walk rate and his contact rate considerably this season.
Hall, a teammate of Pinder's and Brugman's in Midland all season, is finishing off his best season as a pro. An eighth-round pick of the A's in 2012, Hall has established a career-high in innings pitched (73) in his first season at the Double-A level (he also had one appearance in Triple-A). Texas League batters have hit just .226 against him and he has a 2.92 ERA. Hall has an above-average fastball and breaking ball, but command has been an issue for him at times throughout his career, although he has been much better at throwing strikes the second half of this season than he was the first half. He has walked 56 this season and will be working on improving his command at the AFL.
Kurcz joined the A's in July in a trade with the Atlanta Braves. The right-handed reliever was a 10th-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2010 out of the College of Southern Nevada (Bryce Harper's alma mater). Kurcz split his 2015 season between the Braves' and A's Triple-A affiliates. in 54 innings, he has a 3.67 ERA and 62 strike-outs against 36 walks. Kurcz has done an excellent job of keeping the ball in the park, allowing just three homeruns. He will be pitching for a possible spot on the A's 40-man roster this fall. Kurcz will need to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season by the A's or they will risk exposing him to the Rule 5 draft.
McCurry, a 2014 22nd-round pick, has quietly been one of the most dominating closers in minor league baseball this season. He ranks 10th in all of minor league baseball with 26 saves (which have come in 27 opportunities) and his ERA is a sparkling 1.92 in 61 innings split between High-A and Double-A. In his first full professional season, McCurry has held opposing batters to a .176 average and he has a 78:16 K:BB. He has allowed just four homeruns. McCurry uses two different arm angles to keep hitters off-balance. Organizations that haven't seen him pitch may think he's a gimmick pitcher, but McCurry's fastball can touch 93 and he gets a lot of movement on all of his pitches. The AFL presents McCurry a significant opportunity to show that his stuff can play against the elite hitting prospects in baseball.