From a win-loss perspective, it was a tough season for the Vermont Lake Monsters, who finished with the second-worst record in the New York-Penn League at 28-48. However, several intriguing prospects suited up for the Lake Monsters in 2016 and it wouldn’t be surprising to see several of the players on the regular roster in the big leagues in a few years.
Offense is always hard to come by in the New York-Penn League, but it was a particularly tough year at the plate for the Lake Monsters. The team posted an OPS of 626, fifth-lowest in the 14-team league. Despite featuring the league’s leading homerun hitter (Miguel Mercedes), the Lake Monsters were only sixth in the league in homers. They were in the middle of the pack in walks, as well, but found themselves with the third-highest number of strike-outs. Vermont had the fifth-lowest OBP (.304) and the fifth-lowest slugging percentage (.323). Vermont was 10th in the league in runs scored.
The Lake Monsters’ pitching staff featured several high-profile names, including heralded 19-year-old prospect Dakota Chalmers and 2016 top-5 round picks A.J. Puk and Logan Shore. The staff posted a respectable 3.95 team ERA, but in this pitcher-friendly league that was good for third-highest as a unit. The Lake Monsters were fifth in the league in strike-outs but were fourth in the league in walks allowed. They allowed the fourth-highest number of homeruns and were tied for the fewest number of shutouts.
Only players with at least 75 at-bats were considered for this article
Barrera played in only 41 games for the Lake Monsters before earning a promotion to Low-A Beloit to finish off the year. The 20-year-old native of the Dominican Republic led the Lake Monsters with an 800 OPS. He hit .321/.379/.421 with two homers and 16 walks in 159 official at-bats. Barrera was a high-profile international signing before the 2013 season. He got off to a slow start to his career in 2013 and 2014, but since coming stateside in 2015, he has shown an impressive array of skills on both sides of the ball. He will be a player to monitor going into the 2017 season.
For much of the season, Mondou was among the top-two in the league in hitting. A late slump landed Mondou just below the .300 mark and sixth overall in the league in batting. It was still a strong debut for the A’s 13th-round pick, who hit .298/.375/.364. A scrapper who sprays line-drives all over the field, Mondou also controlled the strike-zone well, walking 24 times in 225 official at-bats and striking out just 37 times. Defensively, Mondou has some work to do at second base, but if he can improve his glove, he should be a prospect who moves quickly through the system.
Mondou’s double-play partner for much of the season was shortstop White, who won the Lake Monsters’ Tom Racine award for top performer. A late-season slump also dropped White’s season-ending statline, but he was a consistently reliable presence in the Lake Monsters’ line-up for most of the season. He finished the year with a .279/.348/.361 line with two homers and 26 walks in 64 games. White struck-out 65 times, a number that will need to be reduced as he moves forward, but he showed some power and the ability to use the whole field effectively. On defense, White flashed a strong arm and smooth actions at short. He could end up being a steal as an 11th-round pick in this year’s draft.
Despite a slump for much of the month of August, Mercedes planted himself firmly into the Lake Monsters’ record books with his power numbers. He became the first A’s prospect to reach double-digits in homeruns while with Vermont and the first Lake Monster to accomplish the feat since 2008. His 12 homeruns tied a franchise record that was set in 1999 and Mercedes was just the fifth player in Vermont history to hit at least 10 homers in a season. Mercedes did more than just homer. He batted a respectable .258 and walked 23 times. Mercedes has work to do on his plate discipline, but he has big-time power. The soon-to-be 22-year-old should get an opportunity in full-season ball next year.
Talented middle infielder Eric Marinez got to spread his wings a bit this season with a full year as a regular for the Lake Monsters. He played in a career-high 60 games and hit a career-best .251. Marinez walked just four times for a .261 OBP, but he showed some life in his bat and some electric skills with the glove. Marinez played shortstop, third base and second base this season. He has been compared to former A’s prospect and eventual AL Rookie of the Year Angel Berrora for his bat speed, arm strength and athleticism. Marinez will need to develop better plate discipline to advance past the lower levels of the minor leagues, but the 21-year-old has a high ceiling if he can tighten up his approach.
It was a tough pro debut season for A’s 2016 fifth-round pick JaVon Shelby, but the former Kentucky star ended the year on a positive note. Shelby hit just .186/.279/.309 in 56 games, but he homered in three straight games on August 30-September 1, leaving a hint of what could come next season. Shelby was one of the top power hitters in the SEC the past two seasons. He has the ability to make an impact with the bat in the pros, but he will need to make more consistent contact. Shelby struck-out 51 times in 56 games. He did walk a solid amount (25), so if he can get the swing-and-miss part of his game under control, he offers an intriguing power-patience combination.
The outfield at-bats were spread out mostly between Tyler Ramirez, Steven Pallares and Luke Persico in 2016. Ramirez was the most productive of the four, posting a .220/.324/.327 line in 48 games. The A’s 2016 7th-round pick had a decent 19:39 BB:K rate in 150 at-bats. His .324 OBP was tied for fourth-best on the team among the regulars. He connected on his first two professional homeruns and was successful in all five of his stolen base attempts. The A’s like Ramirez’s all-around game and he should have a significant role in Low-A Beloit next year.
Persico was the A’s 12th-round pick this season. The UCLA product offers plenty of defensive versatility. He played all three outfield positions, as well as first base and third base for Vermont this season. At the plate, Persico hit .201/.266/.287 with three homers and a 16:40 BB:K in 164 at-bats. He has a lean 6’3’’ frame and could add strength as he develops. Persico was relatively young for his draft class and won’t turn 21 until next month.
Pallares began the year with Low-A Beloit after spending his pro debut season with Vermont last year. He hit only .132 in 36 games for the Snappers and was sent to Vermont to start the short-season. Pallares continued to struggle to hit for average with the Lake Monsters, batting just .190 in 57 games. He posted a .309 OBP, however, thanks to 28 walks. He had a 1:1 BB:K for Vermont and actually walked more than he struck-out with the Snappers. Pallares has speed (he stole 14 bases in 15 chances for Vermont), defensive versatility and an above-average eye at the plate, but he will need to figure out how to hit with more authority to advance further in the system.
Jhonny Rodriguez and James Terrell both saw regular playing time with the Lake Monsters early in the season, but the outfielders were sent back to the Arizona Rookie League in August. Rodriguez got off to a strong start with Vermont, but he hit .175 in July and was sent back to Arizona on August 8. He hit only .230/.257/.341 in 135 at-bats with Vermont, but the 20-year-old has the potential to be a dangerous hitter.
Terrell returned to Arizona on August 6 after hitting .220/.268/.275 in 26 games for the Lake Monsters. The A’s 2015 11th-round pick struck-out 39 times in 26 games and walked just four times. He did connect on his first professional homerun, however. Terrell is one of the fastest players in the A’s system, but he will need to improve his plate discipline to be able to take full advantage of that speed.
The playing time at catcher was spread around amongst a number of different players, but Sean Murphy and Brett Sunde wound-up with the most at-bats of the group. Murphy, the A’s 2016 third-round pick, was hampered by a hamate bone injury that he sustained during his junior year in college. He had surgery to correct the issue during the season, but he struggled with lingering soreness at the end of his college season. Murphy slumped at the plate after getting off to a hot start for the Lake Monsters and didn’t play from July 19 until September 1. He did return for the season’s final weekend and went four-for-12 with a homer and two walks. Murphy is a talented defensive catcher with a plus arm and athleticism. He also has power potential at the plate and, full healthy, should be one of the A’s better position prospects moving forward.
A’s 2015 18th-round pick Sunde got plenty of reps behind the plate for Vermont, as well. In 80 at-bats, Sunde hit .250/.322/.300. That was a significant improvement for Sunde over his pro debut season, when he hit .196 in the AZL. Sunde is an excellent defensive catcher with a strong throwing arm. He threw out 24% of would-be base-stealers in 2016.
Only pitchers who threw at least 15 innings were considered for this article
There were plenty of high-profile names on the Vermont pitching staff this season, but because many of them were in tandem starter roles, it was, for the most part, the lower-profile starters who led the Lake Monsters in innings pitched in 2016.
The exception was 19-year-old Dakota Chalmers, who finished second on the team in innings pitched with 67. One of the A’s top pitching prospects, Chalmers got off to a fast start with the Lake Monsters. He posted ERAs of 3.38 and 3.68 in June and July, respectively, but he struggled in August and September, posting an ERA of 5.97. Chalmers command failed him during the final five weeks of the season, when he walked 21 in 32.2 innings. Before August 1, he walked 16 in 35.1 innings. Chalmers struck-out nearly a batter an inning with Vermont (62 in 67 innings) and he held opposing batters to a .217 average. He has the potential for three major-league average or above-average offerings and won’t turn 20 until next month, so there is still plenty to be excited about with Chalmers.
Right-hander Xavier Altamirano was one of the most effective starters in the New York-Penn League in 2016. The A’s 2015 27th-round pick began the year in the Beloit Snappers’ rotation, but he was sent back to Arizona after struggling in May. He returned to game action with a vengeance, posting a 2.48 ERA in 65.1 innings for Vermont. Altamirano walked just 10 and he struck-out 57. He finished fifth in the league in ERA. Altamirano has excellent command and a starter’s four-pitch mix that includes a curveball, slider and change-up. He turned 22 during the season and should get another crack at full-season ball in 2017.
Right-hander Heath Bowers was the Vermont innings leader for 2016 with 71 innings pitched. The A’s 2015 24th-round pick posted a 4.31 ERA in his second season with Vermont. He had a 44:28 K:BB and allowed just two homeruns. A groundball pitcher, he allowed just two homeruns and posted a 1.63 GO/AO.
Lefty Ivan Andueza racked up 57.2 innings for the Lake Monsters this season in a tandem starter role. The 21-year-old posted a 4.68 ERA and a 43:29 K:BB. He struggled in August but finished the year with a four-inning shutout outing. Interestingly, the southpaw had significantly more success versus right-handed hitters than he did versus lefties this season.
Brendan Butler and Jesus Zambrano also played significant roles in the Vermont rotation this season. Butler started the New York-Penn League season in the Lake Monsters’ rotation and he pitched his way to Low-A Beloit after seven appearances. In 37 innings, he posted a 1.95 ERA with a 32:8 K:BB. Butler continued to pitch well with the Snappers and will look to raise his profile within the organization even higher this fall at the A’s Instructional League, just as he did with a strong Instructs last year.
Zambrano began the year with Beloit, but he struggled through a dead arm period and posted an uncharacteristic 7.04 ERA in 23 innings with the Snappers. After some downtime in extended spring training, Zambrano was eased back into a starter’s role with the Lake Monsters. He started slowly but finished strong and posted a 3.83 ERA in 49.1 innings. Zambrano allowed just four runs over his final five outings (21.2 innings). He should get another opportunity in Low-A next season.
The top half of the A’s 2016 draft class handled the bulk of the rest of the Vermont starts. A.J. Puk, the A’s top pick and sixth overall selection, headlined the group. Puk was kept on a strict pitch- and innings-limit, gradually building up his work load as the season progressed. He made 10 starts and threw 32.2 innings. Puk struck-out 40, walked 12 and held opposing batters to a .185 average. He came as advertised, flashing a mid-90s fastball and sharp breaking ball. He even showed a promising change-up. Puk will continue to work on honing his command and using his change-up more often this fall at Instructs.
A’s third-overall pick Logan Shore signed later than his college teammate Puk. He made seven starts for Vermont, posting a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings. He was very efficient in most of his starts, walking no more than one in six of his seven outings. He struck-out a batter an inning and posted a 3:1 K:BB rate while allowing one homerun. Opposing batters hit just .207 against him. Shore is already extremely polished and could jump to High-A Stockton or even Double-A Midland depending on how he fares at Instructs and during spring training.
Brandon Bailey, the A’s 2016 sixth-round pick, threw the most innings of any member of his A’s draft class this season. He tossed five innings over two outings in Arizona before joining Vermont and throwing another 38 innings. He was excellent in his 10 outings for the Lake Monsters. Only once did he allow more than two runs. He posted a 3.08 ERA and a 42:9 K:BB. His WHIP was 0.92 and his BAA was .193. Bailey isn’t heading to Instructs this fall after his heavy collegiate and pro workload, but he will get plenty of consideration for jumping to full-season ball at the start of next season.
A pair of top-10 round 2016 draft picks were important parts of the Vermont bullpen: Will Gilbert (8th round) and Dalton Sawyer (9th round). Gilbert threw 25.2 innings over 15 outings. The left-hander would occasionally battle bouts of control issues, but he was very difficult for opposing hitters to square-up. Gilbert struck-out 31 and held opposing batters to a .194 average. His 2.81 ERA was the second-lowest amongst the Lake Monsters’ regular relievers.
Sawyer had a similar debut season. He had a 3.38 ERA in 18.2 innings over 14 appearances. Sawyer walked 10, but he struck-out 26 and posted a 2.44 GO/AO. Lefties hit just .190 against the southpaw. He was used sparingly the final two weeks of the season as the A’s kept his innings limited after he threw a career-high 94.2 innings at the University of Minnesota during his collegiate season.
A pair of 2015 Lake Monsters – Tyler Painton and Derek Beasley – also contributed significant innings to the Vermont bullpen this season. Painton threw 32 innings for the Lake Monsters last year and followed that up with 31.2 innings this season. The lefty had an 18:15 K:BB, but he posted a 3.69 ERA. He cut his homers allowed total from three last season to one this year.
Beasley returned to Vermont after posting a 2.93 ERA for the Lake Monsters in 2015. His ERA jumped to 5.96 in 25.2 innings, but he was a victim of BABIP. He struck-out more than a batter an inning (28) and walked only seven. He also had a 1.22 GO/AO. Beasley’s second-to-last outing of the season will be one for him to build off of. He threw 3.2 scoreless innings, striking out seven and allowing just one hit.
Right-hander Yordy Alejo made his debut outside of a "complex" league in 2016 after pitching two seasons in the DSL and one in the AZL. With the Lake Monsters, he threw 19.2 innings over 13 appearances and was very effective. He posted a 2.29 ERA and a 17:9 K:BB. Alejo also saved three games in four chances. He earned a promotion to Low-A Beloit at the end of the year and tossed 4.2 scoreless innings over five outings.
After two seasons in the Arizona Rookie League, right-hander Branden Kelliher made his short-season Vermont debut this year. He made 10 appearances and threw 17 innings with Vermont before being sent back to Arizona in mid-August. Kelliher struggled badly with his command with the Lake Monsters, walking 15 and striking out just three. His ERA (11.65) reflected those struggles.
Lefty Ty Damron was one of the last A’s draft picks to sign this season. He was part of a Texas Tech team that reached the College World Series. The 15th-round pick was a starter for the Red Raiders, and the A’s were careful with his innings in his pro debut. He struck-out nearly a batter an inning (15 in 16 innings). Damron’s ERA was 5.06, but he allowed more than one run only twice in his 10 appearances. Damron will get more time with the A’s coaching staff this fall at Instructs.