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TOP 10 PROSPECTS
|1. Franklin Barreto, ss|
|2. A.J. Puk, lhp|
|3. Matt Chapman, 3b|
|4. Jharel Cotton, rhp|
|5. Frankie Montas, rhp|
|6. Grant Holmes, rhp|
|7. Chad Pinder, ss|
|8. Daniel Gossett, rhp|
|9. Richie Martin, ss|
|10. Bruce Maxwell, c|
The Athletics knew entering 2016 they were likely not going to contend in the tough American League West. However, the A's expected to be competitive—that did not happen. Ace righthander Sonny Gray struggled, with no obvious culprit, and lefthander Rich Hill missed a month because of a blister, short-circuiting the rotation.
A lineup that has lacked power and explosiveness since the trade of Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays never picked up steam and wound up ranking last in the AL in runs scored. (Two years ago, the A's ranked third.) So when a promising 10-7 start turned into a 19-26 record in late May, it was time to start thinking about the future.
Under Billy Beane, the A's are aggressive when it comes to turning the page. They packaged Hill and free agent-to-be outfielder Josh Reddick to the Dodgers for three righthanders in Jharel Cotton, Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas. The A's have high expectations for all three, and Cotton reached the majors after the trade.
There were other promising developments in 2016 for Oakland. Lefthander Sean Manaea, acquired at the trade deadline from Kansas City in 2015 for Ben Zobrist, reached the majors and more than held his own, going 7-9, 3.86 with 124 strikeouts in 144.1 innings. Cotton, Manaea, Gray (unless he's traded) and Kendall Graveman give the rotation a sturdy, young nucleus. While the club has options on the mound, it needs immediate offensive help and got some in the second half from Ryon Healy. While his defense at third base remains a question, Healy made his presence felt after he was recalled from Triple-A Nashville, winning AL rookie of the month for September. He could form an offensive core with shortstop Marcus Semien, who had a breakout season with 27 homers, and left fielder Khris Davis, who became the first Oakland player to hit 40 homers since Jason Giambi in 2000.
And there's more on the way. Top prospect Franklin Barreto might not remain at shortstop, but he'll hit his way to the majors, perhaps as soon as late in 2017. Slugging third baseman Matt Chapman ranked third in the minors in 2016 with 36 homers.
The system added depth with a draft class that focused on college arms, drafting former Gators roommates A.J. Puk and Logan Shore as well as Cal righthander Daulton Jefferies. Puk ranked No. 1 on the BA 500 before sliding to Oakland, while Jefferies and third-round catcher Sean Murphy fell due to spring injuries, so the class could have significant value.
On the international front, the Athletics were uncharacteristically aggressive, signing Cuban Lazaro Armenteros for $3 million, and giving seven-figure deals to shortstops Marcus Brito and Yerdel Vargas.
Who will still be in Oakland when some of those players graduate to the majors depends on which pieces Beane and his front office hold onto going forward.
1. Franklin Barreto, ss
Born: Feb. 27, 1996. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 175. Signed: Venezuela, 2012. Signed by: Ismael Cruz/Luis Marquez (Blue Jays)
|Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.|
Background: The Athletics were long enamored of Barreto. They scouted him at age 14 when he starred for Venezuela in the Pan Am Games. They and other teams regarded him as the top international prospect in 2012, and he signed with the Blue Jays for $1.45 million. When the A's decided to move Josh Donaldson in the winter of 2014, they targeted Barreto as part of the exchange they sought from Toronto. Two years later, the Blue Jays have made consecutive trips to the playoffs with 2015 MVP Donaldson, while Barreto remains the key part of the deal for Oakland. Sean Nolin and Brett Lawrie have moved on, while Kendall Graveman led the big league club in innings and wins in 2016. The second-youngest player in the Texas League on Opening Day, Barreto ranked sixth in the TL in batting (.281) and third and steals (30), then finished the season at Triple-A Nashville, which included an 8-for-19 showing in the Pacific Coast League playoffs.
Scouting Report: Barreto began the season slowly and turned things around in the second half. Scouts said he felt pressure to move quickly and wanted to get off to a good start, so he swung too often at pitches outside the zone. After expanding the strike zone too much in the first half, Barreto did a better job of controlling the zone and turning on pitches he can drive. A line-drive hitter with a low-maintenance swing, he has no problem catching up to high velocity. He has above-average bat speed, but his power projection might be limited because of his up-the-middle approach. His swing seems more geared for doubles and triples, though he can ride the ball out if he catches it right. Just 20, Barreto has already begun to thicken through his trunk and legs, and while he's still a plus runner, he was a burner when he signed. He matured quickly, which accounts for some strength gains, though he retains his quick-twitch ability. At shortstop, Barreto is an average defender. His arm grades as average, with some evaluators expressing concern about the firmness and accuracy of his throws from the left side. At second base, he is an above-average defender, with the shorter throw less of a concern. He also played center field in winter ball in Venezuela in 2015, though he played shortstop and second base in the 2016 Arizona Fall League. His baseball instincts receive high marks.
The Future: The A's have the luxury of a shortstop surplus. Major leaguer Marcus Semien is just 25 but has faced defensive challenges; Chad Pinder is a better defender than Barreto; Yairo Munoz is toolsy and fits at third base; and 2015 first-rounder Richie Martin has the best glove of the bunch. While center field remains an option, second base is Barreto's most likely short-term path to Oakland, with injury-prone incumbent Jed Lowrie entering the final season of his contract in 2017. Wherever Barreto ends up defensively, it's his bat that will do the heavy lifting. He will begin the 2017 season back at Triple-A, but he probably will make his big league debut at some point during the season.