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Oakland Athletics Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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The key here is roster turnover: 40 percent of Oakland's top prospects including three of the top five played 2014 in other systems.

Matt Olson
Matt Olson
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Athletics Top 20 Prospects for 2015

The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!

THE .pdf VERSION OF THE BOOK SHOULD BE RELEASED NEXT WEEK.

All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.

QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS

Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.

1) Franklin Barreto, SS, Grade B+/Borderline B: Age 19, hit .311/.384/.481 with 29 steals in the Northwest League in Blue Jays system, acquired in Josh Donaldson trade. Fast, athletic, has some pop, strike zone judgment decent for his age, needs polish on defense but has the tools to stick in my view with more experience. Projects as a regular.

2) Matt Olson, 1B, Grade B+/Borderline B:
Turns 21 this month, hit .262/.404/.543 with 37 homers, 117 walks, 137 strikeouts in 512 at-bats in the Cal League. Yes it is the Cal League but there seems little doubt about his power/discipline combination. Don’t expect a batting champ.

3) Renato Nunez, 3B, Grade B/Borderline B+:
Age 20, hit .279/.336/.517 with 29 homers, 34 walks, 113 strikeouts in 509 at-bats in the Cal League. Made good progress on defense, power is real, not nearly as disciplined as Olson.

4) Kendall Graveman, RHP, Grade B-:
Age 24, went 14-6, 1.83 with 115/31 K/BB in 167 innings at four levels and got 4.2 big league innings with the Blue Jays just one year out of college. Low-90s sinker, cutter, slider, change-up, throws strikes, great feel.

5) Sean Nolin, LHP, Grade B-:
Age 25, another part of Donaldson deal, 3.43 ERA with 88/39 K/BB in 97 innings in Jays system mostly in Triple-A. Typical fourth starter profile with average stuff, effective enough when his command is on.

6) Matt Chapman, 3B, Grade B-/Borderline C+:
Age 21, drafted in first round out of Cal State Fullerton, hit just .237/.282/.389 in 190 at-bats in Midwest League, 7/46 BB/K. Looked very advanced in college but MWL observers less sanguine as approach was not as polished as anticipated. Very good glove at third base. Excellent arm.

7) Yairo Munoz, SS, Grade B-/Borderline C+:
Age 19, hit .298/.319/.448 with five homers, 14 steals, seven walks, 42 strikeouts in 252 at-bats in New York-Penn League. NYP liked his pop/speed combination and good chance to stick at shortstop, needs better feel for the strike zone. High ceiling.

8) R.J. Alvarez, RHP, Grade B-/Borderline C+:
Age 23, posted 1.25 ERA with 61/13 K/BB in 43 innings, just 29 hits in Double-A in Angels and Padres systems (he was in Huston Street trade). Now with Athletics after Derek Norris deal. Ranking relief prospects is problematic but he is one of the better ones around, mid-90s, good slider, no question about the stuff. 1.13 ERA in 10 game, eight inning big league debut. I think he can close if command holds.

9) Raul Alcantara RHP, Grade C+:
Age 22, posted 2.29 ERA with 10/5 K/BB in 20 innings in Double-A before going down with Tommy John surgery. 95 MPH heater, good change-up, breaking stuff coming along before he got hurt. Mid-rotation potential if healthy.

10) Daniel Gossett, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 22, posted 2.25 ERA with 25/1 (not a typo) K/BB in 24 innings in NY-P, second round pick out of Clemson. Relieved in pros due to workload but started in college, low-90s fastball with full secondary assortment and good feel for the craft. Durability will determine his role.

ANALYST NOTE: I am firm on the top 10 but below this it gets very murky, slots 11-18 are virtually interchangeable.


11) Dillon Overton, LHP, Grade C+:
Age 23, posted 1.95 ERA with 53/4 K/BB in 37 innings recovering from Tommy John surgery. Velocity was down into the 80s after hitting 95 in college, if the velocity comes back stock will rise accordingly. Even with reduced fastball his feel for pitching is so good he is still an intriguing prospect. Somehow this slot feels too low but the logic is reasonable.

12) Chad Pinder, INF, Grade C+:
Age 22, hit .288/.336/.489 with 13 homers, 12 steals, 22 walks, 99 strikeouts in 403 at-bats in Cal League. Steady glove at shortstop and second base, can play third too, some pop in the bat, strike zone judgment needs work.

13) Max Muncy, 1B-3B, Grade C+:
Age 24, hit .264/.385/.379 with 87 walks, 92 strikeouts in 435 at-bats in Double-A. Impressive strike zone judgment but hasn’t shown much power outside of Cal League, very skilled defender at first base and not terrible at third. He grows on you the more you watch him play.

14) Mark Canha, 1B, Grade C+
: Age 26, older prospect taken in Rule 5 draft from Marlins system, consistent above-average producer at every level including .303/.384/.505 last year in Triple-A, yes it was the PCL but results were in line with his entire career. Should be good solid role bat.

15) Rangel Ravelo, 1B, Grade C+
: Age 22, hit .309/.386/.473 with 11 homers, 37 doubles, 56 walks, 77 strikeouts in 476 at-bats in Double-A in White Sox system, came over to Athletics in Jeff Samardzija trade. Tough profile: he hits for average and makes contact but lacks classic first base home run power and doesn’t run well enough to work at other positions. More slack on the age curve than Muncy and Canha.

16) Chris Bassitt, RHP, Grade C+
: Age 26, posted 1.56 ERA with 36/14 K/BB in 35 innings in DoubleA, 3.94 ERA with 21/13 K/BB in 30 innings in the majors with the White Sox, now here as part of Samardzija trade. Stereotype fourth/fifth starter, low-90s heat, solid change-up, mediocre breaking stuff.

17) Bobby Wahl, RHP, Grade C+
: Age 22, posted 4.89 ERA with 62/25 K/BB in 53 innings in A-ball, fastball/slider type hasn’t lived up to expectations since being a projected first-rounder in 2013. He ended up going in the fifth round after junior year blister trouble. Picks up strikeouts but command needs work and long-term role unclear.

18) Joe Wendle, 2B, Grade C+:
Age 24, hit .253/.311/.411 with eight homers, 26 walks, 56 strikeouts in 336 at-bats in Indians system, came to Oakland for Brandon Moss over the winter. Former small college star at West Chester University has been sleeper prospect as a pro, lacks great tools but has some pop, reliable fielder.

19) Brett Graves, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 22, third round pick from University of Missouri last year, 19/7 K/BB but 24 hits and 6.55 ERA in 22 pro innings so far at lower levels. Hits mid-90s, good slider, change-up needs work, college track record erratic, could be solid starter with more development or slot into bullpen.

20) Dustin Driver, RHP, Grade C:
Age 20, missed 2014 with a back injury but should be healthy for ’15, seventh round pick in 2013 draft hits 94-98 with potential for two strong secondary pitches. Durability, role, command all unclear but one of the better arms in system.

OTHERS: B.J. Boyd, OF; Jaycob Brugman, OF; Billy Burns, OF; Dylan Covey, RHP; Ryan Doolittle, RHP; Ryan Dull, RHP; Heath Fillmyer, RHP; Seth Frankoff, RHP; Ryon Healy, 1B-3B; Chris Kohler, LHP; Tyler Ladendorf, INF-OF; Arnold Leon, RHP; Bruce Maxwell, C; Tanner Peters, RHP; Jake Sanchez, RHP; Aaron Shipman, OF; Chad Smith, RHP; Pat Venditte, L/RHP

There has been a great deal of roster turnover in this system with all the wheeling and dealing. The list reflects that with eight of 20 players, including three of the top five, having spent 2014 with another organization.

The impact talent is on the positional side: Barreto, Nunez, Olson, Chapman, and Munoz all have big league regular potential with Barreto possessing the broadest array of skills and tools. The Grade C guys look like role players and I don’t mean that as an insult: you need role players. There is bunching at the corners with Canha, Muncy, Ravelo, and Ryon Healy all vying for at-bats this year in the high reaches of the system. Outfield is a weak spot which will look better if Cal League thumper Jaycob Brugman can bring his game forward to Double-A, if Aaron Shipman can stay healthy, if B.J. Boyd can put his tools to use, if Billy Burns can show a bit more pop. Lots of ifs.

Pitching features a large group of Grade C+ type prospects, inning-eaters and relief arms. Josh Donaldson trade participants Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin are the most advanced and R.J. Alvarez looks like the best of the relief group to me. Much rides on the full recovery of Raul Alcantara. Even with reduced stuff Dillon Overton is a good pitcher, but if he gets the 95 back he will rise in a hurry. There are a bunch of guys who could slot as bullpen fodder: Doolittle, Dull, Frankoff, Leon, Smith could all see innings and do something good under the right circumstances.

The most interesting of the bullpen-Cs is Pat Venditte, the 29-year-old switch-pitcher signed as a free agent after a long and successful career in the Yankees system. It is easy to dismiss him as a novelty act but that would be a mistake: he has been effective at every level of the minors including Triple-A. There are no flaws in the stats (2.46 career ERA, 431/103 K/BB in 385 innings, 310 hits). His strength (the switch-pitching and deceptive approach) is also his weakness: if he were just a left-handed pitcher he would have received a LOOGY trial by now, and if he were just a right-handed pitcher he would have received at least a cup of coffee given his performance over the years. But since he is weird, I think it has been more difficult for him to get even a brief shot because nobody wants to look dumb if it doesn’t work.

Just forget about the switch-pitching thing if you can and concentrate on the fact that this guy has nothing left to prove in the minors at all. He has successfully met every challenge presented to him. If baseball is truly a meritocracy Venditte deserves at least a brief look, at least to handle some mop-up garbage innings.

Maybe it won’t work. But what if it does?