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2021 Oakland Athletics Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update

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The A’s may not have the firepower to keep the Astros from winning the AL West, but Oakland again looks like a viable contender for a wild card spot.

They’ve done so in classic fashion. Beyond relying heavily on the thunderous bat of Matt Olson and unheralded, yet remarkably consistent, performances from Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea, the A’s have received productive years from bargain bin acquisitions such as 2B Jed Lowrie and LHP Cole Irvin.

And despite entering the year with baseball’s No. 29 farm system, they’ve still augmented the big league club with productive play from the likes of RHP James Kaprielian and 1B/OF Seth Brown.

The A’s moved decisively to add to their big league roster at the deadline, dealing a pair of top-20 prospects in OF Greg Deichmann and RHP Daniel Palencia to the Cubs for LHP Andrew Chafin, then offloading their No. 1 prospect in 2020, Jesus Luzardo, to the Marlins for outfielder Starling Marte.

Top 10 Prospects

1. Tyler Soderstrom, C
Age: 19. Team: Low-A Stockton

The steady drumbeat of praise for Soderstrom has, if anything, intensified since Oakland’s 2020 first-rounder excelled at the team’s alternate site a year ago. The 19-year-old has shown advanced feel for hitting and plus power potential, hitting .306/.390/.568 with 12 homers over his first 57 games for Low-A Stockton. The bat remains much farther ahead than the glove, but evaluators were impressed with the growth Soderstrom has shown defensively and most at least haven’t ruled out the chance he sticks behind the plate long-term.

2. Max Muncy, SS
Age: 18. Team: None

NEW One year after going above-slot to poach one of the steals of the 2020 draft in Tyler Soderstrom, the A’s returned to the prep ranks again in 2021, drafting Muncy No. 25 overall out of Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High School. Muncy’s bat is not as advanced as Soderstrom’s at the same juncture, but he’s a well-rounded, twitchy shortstop the A’s think can stick at the position, but also could easily shift to third base if he gets bigger and stronger. Muncy has a chance for above-average tools across the board and draws positive reviews for his mature approach and high-energy style of play.

3. Nick Allen, SS
Age: 22. Team: Double-A Midland

Few have questioned Allen’s defensive wizardry. Many more have concerns about how 5-foot-8 shortstop’s approach and inside-out bat path would fare against upper-level competition and better velocity. So far, he’s handling Double-A pitching admirably. Allen hit .308/.363/.434 through 49 games while also manning shortstop for Team USA on its path to the Tokyo Olympics. Oakland has worried Allen can become too power conscious at times (ironically, his six homers are a career high) but commended him for his improvement in that area. Allen could fashion himself as a glove-first utility type a la Nick Punto, and if the bat keeps improving, there’s a chance for more.

4. Pedro Pineda, OF
Age: 17. Team: DSL A’s

The A’s sent Pineda to the Dominican Summer League in July, and it’s easy to envision the 17-year-old outfielder quickly advancing to the Arizona Complex League, although Baseball America’s Ben Badler explains here why it may be beneficial for Dominican players to remain there for all of 2021. Much of what made Pineda one of the more coveted 2020 international signings remains true: He shows an impressive combination of power and speed, a projectable 6-foot-1 frame and some ability to find the barrel.

5. A.J. Puk, LHP
Age: 26. Team: Triple-A Las Vegas

Puk’s start to the season was beset by injuries yet again, missing nearly a month with a strained left biceps after making one appearance in early April against the Dodgers. Oakland reinstated the lefty in late May and optioned him to Triple-A, where he has pitched primarily out of the bullpen in multi-inning outings. Puk’s velocity has fluctuated and so too have his results -- he allowed two earned runs or more in six consecutive outings in June -- but is trending in a positive direction after lowering his arm slot and returning to 96-97 mph.

6. Daulton Jefferies, RHP
Age: 25. Team: Triple-A Las Vegas

Like Puk, the biggest inhibitor to more development for Jefferies is staying healthy. He missed more than a month with biceps tendinitis but returned in early June and has mostly looked like the back-of-the-rotation starter he has profiled as for some time now. His changeup has remained his best secondary, with hitters swinging and missing roughly 30% of the time against it, and his strong command remains intact, walking just 4.5% of hitters through mid-July.

7. Luis Barrera, OF
Age: 25. Team: Triple-A Las Vegas

Oakland summoned Barrera for his big league debut in late May for a brief four-game cameo after he hit .349 in his first 11 games with Triple-A Las Vegas. Things haven’t gone as smoothly for Barrera since he returned to Triple-A on May 27. At his best, Barrera is a slash-and-burn hitter who can stress defenses with his speed. But his swing lacks much lift and his aggressive approach can sometimes work against him, blunting his overall offensive impact. Barrera still looks the part of a part-time outfielder capable of playing all three positions.

8. Brayan Buelvas, OF
Age: 19. Team: Low-A Stockton

Just 19 years old, Buelvas posted an .860 OPS through his first 30 games at Low-A Stockton before cooling off in July. Buelvas is just 5-foot-11 and isn’t an overly toolsy player, but he finds the barrel thanks to his above-average hitting ability and advanced approach that belies his age. Buelvas’ above-average speed and arm should allow him to stick in center field, and his sneaky power provides an intriguing backdrop for one of Oakland’s top lower-level talents.

9. Logan Davidson, SS
Age: 23. Team: Double-A Midland

The A’s started Davidson in Double-A Midland despite just 238 professional plate appearances, banking on his alternate site experience and first-round pedigree to offset the challenging assignment. Davidson so far has sandwiched two subpar offensive months around a solid May when he hit .288/.370/.413. He has long faced criticism for his inability to access his raw power consistently in games dating back to his time as an amateur in the Cape Cod League, and that theme continued in 2021. The switch-hitter walks plenty, but his longer swing also features lots of swing and miss, and he can be overly passive at times. Defensively, Davidson is a capable defender at shortstop despite his 6-foot-3 frame and frequently shifts over to third base for Midland  without issue for Midland.

10. Jeff Criswell, RHP
Age: 22. Team: Low-A Lansing

Criswell was an arrow-up arm coming out of instructs after showing a promising four-pitch mix highlighted by a mid-90s heater that touched 98 mph and a powerful, potentially plus curveball. The A’s had some concern that Criswell’s effortful delivery would eventually stick him on a reliever track, and he’s thrown just two innings this year because of an arm injury.

Prospects 11-30

11. Robert Puason, SS

12. Zack Gelof, 3B

NEW Gelof, the A’s 2021 second-rounder, ranked No. 79 on BA’s draft board and was a mainstay for a Virginia team that advanced to the College World Series. The 6-foot-3 third baseman is a solid all-around player adept at barreling fastballs in the strike zone. Gelof hit eight homers in 57 games this spring, showing mostly pull power, but has flashed above-average raw power and the A’s think they can help him tap into it much more in pro ball.

13. Jordan Diaz, 3B/1B

14. Denzel Clarke, OF

NEW Clarke is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound toolshed who represented great fourth-round value in the 2021 draft, ranking No. 86 on our draft board. Clarke is a power-speed threat out of Cal State Northridge who was one of college baseball’s big late risers in the draft process thanks to a strong second half. He has a power-over-hit skill set and has  worked diligently to improve his approach, but those gains  will be tested against better competition. Clarke has the plus speed to stick in center field, but a below-average arm might push him to left.

15. Junior Perez, OF

16. Colin Peluse, RHP

17. Kyle McCann, C

18. Michael Guldberg, OF

19. Jorge Juan, RHP

NEW Juan is massive, standing 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, and he unleashes an impressive 94-98 mph fastball with vicious downhill plane. He pairs it with a big-breaking 12-6 curveball and a work-in-progress changeup. The 22-year-old repeats his delivery surprisingly well for a pitcher of his size and relative inexperience, although he sometimes struggles to find his release point with the curveball. He mostly overwhelmed Low-A hitters through his first four starts of the season, posting a 39.2% strikeout rate compared to a 7.8% walk rate. Juan represents one of the higher ceilings of any pitcher in the A’s system, but there’s reliever risk here and plenty of development to go.

20. Tyler Baum, RHP

21. Austin Beck, OF

22. Cody Thomas, OF

23. Jack Weisenburger, RHP

NEW Weisenburger is a fast-rising relief option. He opened the year at High-A Lansing and earned a promotion to Midland after 13 outings. The reliever has dazzled with a wicked fastball-slider combination, striking out 46 batters over his first 29 innings across the two levels. The fastball, which was 90-93 in college, is up to 97 now and he pairs it with a sharp slider that has plenty of horizontal break and generated a 48% whiff rate as of mid July.

24. Brady Feigl, RHP

NEW Feigl is one of the more consistent arms in Oakland’s system, attacking hitters with a five-pitch mix headlined by a sinking fastball that averages 93 mph. He also features two distinct breaking balls, a curve and a slider that he throws roughly the same amount, as well as a cutter and changeup. It’s not an overwhelming arsenal and he doesn’t miss a ton of bats, but at his best Feigl limits hard contact (.727 opponent OPS through his first 13 starts) and has generated groundballs north of 50% of the time in each of his three professional seasons. He projects as a rotation depth for Oakland relatively soon.

25. Lawrence Butler, 1B/LF

NEW The A’s took Butler as a long-term developmental project as a 17-year-old sixth-rounder in 2018, dreaming on his sizable power potential and projectable 6-foot-3 frame. That power has shown up this year in his first foray into full-season ball with Low-A Stockton and caught the attention of rival evaluators. Butler routinely reaches exit velocities of 105+ mph, and his 10 homers through 57 games tied  teammate Tyler Soderstrom for seventh best in Low-A West. The question facing Butler is whether his hit tool will ever allow him to reach his power enough. There is ample swing-and-miss (34% strikeout rate) but Butler is a fairly selective hitter, posting one of the league’s better walk rates. He’s a fringy left fielder right now and is likely destined to a first base profile, putting even more stress on the bat, but the power can’t be ignored.

26. Jeremy Eierman, SS

27. Mason Miller, RHP

NEW Miller ranked No. 236 in the 2021 class after striking out 11.8 batters per nine innings for Gardner-Webb in the Big South Conference. Miller spent four years as a starter for Division III Waynesburg, where he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. The 6-foot-5 righty gradually bulked up to about 200 pounds, adding roughly 10 mph to his fastball in the process. He now touches 99-100 with his four-seamer and pairs it with both a slider and a changeup. Miller turns 23 in August and there are skeptics that his control gains are real, but the A’s view Miller as a starter and he immediately becomes one of the more intriguing arms at their lower levels.

28. Brian Howard, RHP

NEW Some of Howard’s 5.81 ERA through 13 games at Triple-A Las Vegas can be explained away by the harsh environment he pitches in every fifth day. Oakland used Howard as a starter this year but experimented with the 6-foot-9 righty in a multi-inning role out of the bullpen in his last two starts. That’s Howard’s likely  role in the big leagues, where the angle of his low-90s fastball can frustrate hitters and play up in shorter bursts.

29. Wandisson Charles, RHP

Charles showcased arguably the best fastball of any A’s pitching prospect at either the alternate site or instructs in 2020, occasionally touching 100 mph. Oakland added Charles to its 40-man roster and some within the organization thought he’d be a potential bullpen piece by the second half of 2021 if he could clean up his delivery and improve his bottom-of-the-scale control. But Charles suffered a lat injury during an alternate site appearance in late April and hasn’t pitched in a game this year, and it’s unclear when he’ll return.

30. Buddy Reed, OF

Reed continues to confound. The 26-year-old outfielder was one of the best stories at the start of A’s spring training and looked like someone who could help in a bench role at some point in 2021, until a right quad strain in March derailed the rest of his spring. Reed hasn’t carved out regular at-bats for Triple-A Las Vegas this year and is again dealing with injury. When healthy, he still oozes tools, easily projecting as a plus defender in center field with a plus arm, but he has yet to show much feel to hit from either side of the plate to unlock his ample power.

Samurai Japan

Japan Tops USA For Olympic Baseball Gold

It took bringing the Olympics coming to baseball-crazy Japan to get the sport re-entered into the Olympics after a two Olympics-long hiatus. And fittingly, baseball’s return was celebrated by Japan winning its long-desired first baseball gold medal.

RISING

Seth Shuman, RHP Shuman’s ordinary arsenal features a 92 mph fastball with decent spin that he tunnels well with a vertical breaking ball. His pitch mix plays up thanks to advanced control, and High-A Central hitters haven’t had much of an answer for him yet in 2021.

OF Devin Foyle, C JJ Schwarz, IF Jonah Bride, OF Jake Suddleson 

A’s player development routinely seems to find productive college draft picks with specific skills and maximize them. Those paying attention to Double-A Midland are seeing it play out again.

Foyle, a 17th rounder out of Kansas in 2018, ditched switch-hitting to focus on hitting exclusively from the left-hand side. He also added strength, improved his foot speed and worked on shortening his bat path over the layoff. The result? A 141 wRC+ through his first 186 plate appearances.

Schwarz was a productive hitter at Florida before the A’s drafted him in the eighth round in 2018. Injuries and last year’s shutdown limited him to just 263 pro plate appearances prior to this year. But he’s healthier now and producing, reaching base nearly 41% of the time through his first 25 games, showcasing average power and impressing the A’s with an all-fields approach. He is splitting catching and first base duties with Kyle McCann and while not a particularly mobile defender, did post a 27% caught stealing rate.

The ultimate sum of his parts, Bride is a useful utility option capable of playing any infield position and potentially even left field. He was Oakland’s top performer at its fall instructional league and carried that momentum into this season, reaching base at a nearly 44% clip through his first 25 games.

Suddleson was a nondrafted free agent in 2020 out of Harvard and opened the year at High-A Lansing and earned a promotion to Midland after just 24 games, where he earned praise for his strong approach and ability to handle right field defense.

FALLING

Robert Puason, SS — Puason is a challenge for evaluators. On one hand, his immense toolset remains evident, especially in the field, where he can dazzle thanks to his agility and plus throwing arm. But the 18-year-old also frequently looks overmatched at Low-A Stockton and is prone to lapses in concentration. His 46% strikeout rate was second-highest in the Low-A West and his whippy swing from both sides of the plate has yet to impact the ball with much authority. Some of that is due to the challenging nature of his assignment—Puason is the same age as many high schoolers who just got drafted, and he skipped over rookie ball. It’s clear the ingredients that made him one of the most sought-after international free agents in the 2019 are present. But it’s also clear his development arc will be a long, slow burn.

Austin Beck, OF — Injuries and a critical lost year of development time in 2020 have derailed Oakland 2017 first-rounder. He spent time on the IL this year and struck out nearly 40% of the time to start the season while repeating High-A. The A’s sent Beck to Triple-A Las Vegas for two weeks in early July in the hopes of jumpstarting his season, and he returned to Lansing and promptly hit three homers in three games.

Grant Holmes, RHP — The righty sported a 9.16 ERA through 38.1 innings at Triple-A Las Vegas and was moved to the bullpen. While certainly a harsh pitching environment, much of what has dogged Holmes has continued in 2021: His stuff remains potent, but a lack of deception has made him an easy target for upper-level hitting.

GRADUATING

RHP James KaprielianNot only has James Kaprielian returned to a starting role -- certainly no sure bet after years of injuries -- but the 27-year-old has been effective, pitching to a 3.24 ERA through 13 starts while taking a regular turn in Oakland’s rotation of late.

1B/OF Seth Brown Brown has received the most extended opportunity of his career, hitting .199/.277/.435 while playing both corner outfield positions and even a bit of first base. The acquisition of Starling Marte figures to cut into Brown’s share of playing time in the second half, pushing Ramon Laureano into right field more frequently.

HURTING

RHP Jeff Criswell was shut down after just one outing and is currently at Oakland’s Arizona complex rehabbing.

LHP Chase Cohen was trending up before sustaining an elbow injury in mid June that will likely cost him the rest of the season.

RHP Parker Dunshee had Thoracic Outlet surgery in June.

RHP Stevie Emanuels, an intriguing arm at High-A Lansing with impressive spin rates, went on the IL in late June.

RHP Tyler Baum, RHP Wandisson Charles and LHP Hogan Harris have yet to appear in a game as of mid July due to injury.

OF Buddy Reed, who was a spring training standout, hasn’t played since early June and is on Triple-A Las Vegas’ IL.

OF Tyler Ramirez retired in early May.

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