With six weeks of the minor league season in the books, minor league prospects are starting to position themselves for in-season promotions. While the bulk of the player movement will come after the draft, there are several Oakland A’s prospects who are making a strong case for moving up a level before June.
Below are 10 A’s prospects who are currently playing at the levels at which they finished the 2016 season who look more than ready for a challenge at the next rung of the A’s minor league system. For this piece, we didn’t consider players currently in Triple-A and focused on players who had accumulated a significant number of at-bats or innings pitched at their current level. This means that players competing at a new level off to strong starts weren’t included, i.e., B.J. Boyd. My reasoning here is that many of those players will likely be part of the annual mid-season move, but players with more experience at their current level are likely higher on the promotion priority list at this point in the season.
Corey Walter, RHP, Midland RockHounds: Over the last two seasons, Walter has been comically good for the RockHounds. The sinkerball specialist has thrown 133.1 innings for the RockHounds since the start of the 2016 season and he has a 1.89 ERA. Walter doesn’t strike-out a lot of batters (79 over that span), but he doesn’t walk very many (25), gives up virtually no homeruns (2) and has a 2.85 GO/AO at the Double-A level. Walter did get one spot start with Nashville earlier this season. He was charged with three runs (two earned) on five hits and a walk in 2.2 innings, but he struck-out six.
There is still some debate as to whether Walter will ultimately profile as a starter or a reliever in the big leagues, but with a power sinker that sits in the low-90s, a four-seam that can touch 94, a good change-up and breaking ball, Walter has a profile that is similar to current A’s starter Kendall Graveman. Walter doesn’t have anything left to prove in Double-A and is deserving of an extended opportunity either as a starter or a reliever with Nashville.
Carlos Navas, RHP, Stockton Ports: Navas signed with the A’s as a teenager before the 2010 season, but it took him until the 2015 season to reach a full-season affiliate. A starter until that season, Navas has found significant success over the past two-and-a-half seasons as a reliever. Last season, Navas spent most of the year with High-A Stockton before pitching the final three weeks of the season with Triple-A Nashville. He struck-out 72 in 59.2 innings for the Ports and Sounds and posted a 3.92 ERA. This off-season, Navas pitched in his native Venezuela and put up eye-popping numbers for the Bravos de Margarita. In 27.2 innings, he struck-out 30, walked only eight and posted a 2.27 ERA.
Navas was a minor league free agent this off-season but re-signed with the A’s. Unfortunately for Navas, he got stuck behind a backlog of talented relievers in the A’s system and returned to Stockton, where he has dominated the Cal League since the start of the year. Through Monday, Navas has allowed just one unearned run in 15.1 innings. He has allowed only four hits and four walks (one intentional) and he has struck-out 21. In 77.1 career innings in High-A, Navas has a 3.26 ERA and 97 strike-outs. Cal League hitters have batted just .208 against him. He’s ready for a new challenge in the Texas League.
Jake Sanchez, RHP, Midland RockHounds: Perhaps no one was hurt more by the A’s upper-level relief pitching depth than Sanchez, who was sent back to Double-A Midland for a third straight year despite pitching very effectively as a late-inning reliever for the RockHounds last year and wowing scouts with his dominating performance this winter in Mexico. Sanchez was struck by a line-drive to the head on April 23, but before that scary injury, he had allowed just one run on two hits and two walks in six innings. He had struck-out 11. Sanchez has made a full recovery from the beaning and is expected to return to the RockHounds’ active roster later this week.
Undrafted out of college, Sanchez signed his first professional contract with the Chicago White Sox in 2013. Despite throwing a fastball that sits in the high-90s and can touch 100, Sanchez surprisingly went unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft this off-season. Assuming he returns to the mound throwing the same way he was before his DL stint, Sanchez isn’t likely to go unclaimed next off-season if he isn’t on the A’s 40-man roster. Oakland would benefit from seeing how his stuff lines up against Triple-A hitters.
Tyler Marincov, OF, Midland RockHounds: Marincov was forced to repeat the High-A level at the start of the 2016 season but earned a May call-up to Double-A after posting an 860 OPS in 36 games for the Ports to start the season. In 2017, Marincov is positioning himself for a similar mid-season promotion. The Texas League Player of the Week last week, Marincov is batting .277/.362/.504 in 33 games for the RockHounds. In 134 games at the Double-A level, he has a .270/.345/.428 line. Marincov is a bit of a free swinger, but he has improved his walk percentage each of the past two seasons. Marincov is one of the few power-hitting outfield prospects in the A’s system and is certainly deserving of a look in Triple-A.
Sam Bragg, RHP, Midland RockHounds: After moving up a level a year each of the past three seasons, Bragg was forced to repeat Double-A at the start of this season. Bragg’s overall ERA last season with Midland was 4.29, but that included a disastrous early season stint as a tandem starting pitcher. Once Bragg returned to his traditional relief role, he was outstanding. In 56.2 innings, he had a 2.70 ERA and 60 strike-outs against only 13 walks. Bragg then went on to pitch well in the Arizona Fall League, earning a spot in the Rising Stars game and posting a 1.98 ERA and a 12:1 K:BB in 13.2 innings. So far this season, Bragg has picked up where he left off in Arizona. In 17.1 innings, he has a 1.56 ERA and a 16:3 K:BB. Bragg doesn’t throw as hard as Sanchez (he generally tops out at 94), but he has excellent command and an above-average breaking ball. With more than 80 innings of Double-A ball under his belt, Bragg is ready for the next challenge.
Kyle Finnegan, RHP, Midland RockHounds: The Midland bullpen is embarrassingly good right now and Finnegan has played a large role in the unit’s early season success. The hard-throwing right-hander has five saves in five chances, having taken on the closer role in Sanchez’s absence. In 15 innings, he has allowed just nine hits and has a 1.80 ERA. Finnegan has a fastball that can touch triple digits and works well in the lower-half of the strike-zone. He has a 1.82 GO/AO through Monday. Finnegan’s command can waver at times (he has six walks this season), but his ability to get groundballs and overpower hitters has allowed him to work his way out of trouble. Finnegan doesn’t have quite as much Double-A experience as Bragg or Sanchez, but, with 42 innings with Midland last year and 15 this season, Finnegan is nearing that full-season of Double-A experience territory.
Brandon Mann, LHP, Midland RockHounds: The A’s plucked Mann out of minor league free agency before the 2016 season. A product of the Driveline Baseball program, Mann has re-made himself into a power pitcher after a year in the independent American Association in 2015. The left-hander can touch the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball and he also has an effective two-seam fastball, change-up and slider. Mann missed the first half of last year while serving a suspension for violating MLB’s banned substance policy, but he struck-out 63 in 62.1 innings as a starter for Midland after he returned. He also struck-out 14 in 12.1 innings for the RockHounds during the post-season.
This year, Mann began the season as part of the Midland tandem rotation but he was recently moved into a traditional relief role, as the A’s want to test him in a variety of relief roles. In 29.1 innings this season, Mann has a 3.38 ERA and a 32:12 K:BB. Texas League batters are hitting just .192 against him. Over his last six outings, Mann hasn’t allowed a run in 19 innings. With Ross Detwiler opting out of his contract in Triple-A and Sean Doolittle on the A’s big league DL, Oakland could use more left-handed relief depth in Triple-A and the big leagues.
Mikey White, IF, Stockton Ports: To say that White’s 2016 first half with the Ports was disastrous would be an understatement. The A’s 2015 second-round pick hit .215 with a 574 OPS that included an ugly .292 SLG. While most prospect watchers turned their attention to other players, White quietly put together a solid second half for the Ports. He hit .276/.343/.404 during the last half of 2016 and looked more confident with his timing and rhythm at the plate. It wasn’t surprising to see White return to High-A even with the solid second half, however, as he had moved behind Richie Martin and Max Schrock on the middle infield depth chart. White has responded to his return to the Cal League well. After a slow start, he is batting .250/.348/.500 with five homers and 16 walks in 33 games. He has been particularly good in May, batting .300/.407/.660 with 11 extra-base hits in 50 at-bats. There isn’t an obvious opening in the infield in Midland, but White can play third, second and short, so the A’s may be able to find a way to fit him into the RockHounds’ rotation soon.
Evan Manarino, LHP, Stockton Ports: Lancaster took a beating on Manarino’s ERA this week, as the lefty allowed a career-high eight runs in four innings on Monday. Many a pitcher has seen his ERA tattered with a visit to the Hanger, so there shouldn’t be too much heed paid to that outing. Before Monday, Manarino had a 2.64 ERA for the Ports. Even with Monday’s rough start, Manarino has a stellar 32:3 K:BB in 34.2 innings this season and a 1.28 GO/AO. This comes on the heels of Manarino’s 28.1 inning stint with the Ports last year, when he had a 1.27 ERA and an 18:8 K:BB. Manarino is a text book crafty left-hander who will never wow anyone with his raw stuff. However, he has a career 2.98 ERA in 223.1 minor league innings. He deserves a shot to see how his stuff would hold up against more advanced hitters.
Brendan Butler, RHP, Beloit Snappers: After a non-descript professional debut season in 2015, Butler has shown a lot of promise over the past two seasons. Last year, Butler spent much of the first half in Extended Spring Training, but he made up for lost time by posting a 1.95 ERA in 37 innings with short-season Vermont and a 3.14 ERA in 51.2 innings with Low-A Beloit. Butler has returned to Beloit this season and has been consistently excellent for the Snappers. In 34.2 innings, he has a 1.82 ERA and a 39:6 K:BB. His last outing was his best of the year, as Butler went 6.2 innings and he allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out five. He is averaging nearly a strike-out an inning in 86.1 innings at the Low-A level and seems ready to make the jump to the Cal League.