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A high-risk, high-reward approach to pro acquisitions could pay off—or fail spectacularly.
The Athletics have amassed an impressive group of up-the-middle talent. Jorge Mateo, Franklin Barreto and Dustin Fowler, all acquired in trades, give Oakland a promising middle-infield combo and center fielder of the future, while Sean Murphy is one of baseball’s top catching prospects. 2017 draftees Austin Beck, Kevin Merrell and Nick Allen and trade acquisition Alexander Campos give the A’s further middle-of-the-diamond depth at the lower levels.
The Athletics’ top tier of pitchers comes with an alarming injury history. Jesus Luzardo, James Kaprielian and Daulton Jefferies all have Tommy John surgery on their ledgers, while Logan Shore missed a big chunk of 2017 with a lat strain. Just two—A.J. Puk and Grant Holmes—of Oakland’s top six pitching prospects have thrown more than 81 innings in a season.
Notable Graduations: 3B Matt Chapman (3), UT Chad Pinder (7), 1B Matt Olson (17) and RHP Paul Blackburn (23).
Track Record: Puk, a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, struck out 251 hitters in 194 innings in his three seasons at Florida. As a junior, opponents batted .191 against him. All that prompted the Athletics to take him with the sixth overall pick in 2016 and sign him for $4.07 million after he had ranked as the No. 1 prospect on the BA500 predraft ranking. Puk blossomed in 2017. In a combined 125 innings at high Class A Stockton and Double-A Midland, he racked up 184 punchouts and led all minor league starters with 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He gave up just three homers in those 125 innings after not allowing any in his pro debut at short-season Vermont in 2016. Over his final seven starts with Midland (including one in the Texas League playoffs), Puk struck out 61 hitters in 39.2 innings with a 2.72 ERA. He improved his control dramatically in pro ball, walking 3.5 per nine in 2017 after walking 4.5 as a Florida junior in 2016. Scouting Report: Puk's raw stuff has never been questioned. His fastball resides comfortably at 93-96 mph and can reach 98. His vicious side-to-side slider grades easily as plus and his changeup has developed into an potentially above-average pitch. Control has long been an issue, but A's minor league pitching instructor Gil Patterson helped Puk streamline his delivery, focusing mainly on his front leg. The altered motion produced a more consistent release point. With his 6-foot-7 height, Puk gets a pronounced downward angle in his delivery, which can make him both effective and intimidating. He gets a high percentage of swings and misses with all of his pitches. His stuff, competitiveness and pitching sense are all assets. So is his receptiveness to coaching. Over the past two years, the A's have arranged to have Randy Johnson and Al Leiter--two elite lefthanders in their day--give Puk advice. The Future: The A's project to have at least two, and perhaps three, rotation spots open in 2018. Puk has a shot at nailing down one of those by the end of the season. He's still just 22 and has fewer than 160 minor league innings under his belt, so a few months at Triple-A Nashville to begin the season is likely. In any event, Puk projects as a front-of-the-rotation starter as long as he keeps his newfound control intact. If he doesn't, he can perhaps serve the club as an elite reliever in the mold of Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman.
Track Record: Acquired from the Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson deal in November 2014, Barreto has steadily climbed the ladder of the Athletics organization. His .290/.339/.456 season at Triple-A Nashville in 2017 closely compares with his .292/.347/.463 career line. Scouting Report: Barreto had two stints in the majors in 2017 and went just 14-for-71 (.197) thanks to a 43 percent strikeout rate. His minor league strikeout rate spiked from 18 percent at Double-A in 2016 to 28 percent at Triple-A in 2017. A natural shortstop, Barreto has spent time at second base in the minors and majors. He has the arm and range to play shortstop in the bigs but is better suited for second because his arm at short can be a little erratic. As a hitter, he uses the whole field and has more power than you'd expect from his stature, though he needs to make more contact. His plus speed makes him a base-stealing threat. The Future: Oakland has several promising middle infielders in the organization, but Barreto remains at the top of the list. If he can become a bit more polished, he can be a first-division regular at second base.
Track Record: One of three highly regarded prospects the Athletics received from the Yankees in the trade deadline deal that sent Sonny Gray to New York, Mateo's game is based on his top-of-the-scale speed. Scouting Report: Mateo's development seemed to stall after he was sent back to high Class A Tampa in 2017. But a promotion to Double-A Trenton seemed to spur him to new heights and he was traded just more than a month later. Though the A's used Mateo exclusively as a shortstop in his stint at Double-A Midland, he played some second base and center field in the Yankees' system. Mateo needs to make more consistent contact to best use his legs and sneaky power. He struck out 25 percent of the time in 2017. Because Mateo hasn't played above Double-A, he figures to begin 2018 at Triple-A Nashville. The Future: Whether Mateo ultimately stays at shortstop or moves to second or the outfield, he has the speed and arm to thrive in any spot. If he cuts his strikeout rate, he can become an above-average major leaguer with the potential to steal 40-plus bases and hit 15 homers per season.
Track Record: Acquired from the Yankees in the 2017 Sonny Gray trade, Fowler suffered an awful injury in his major league debut: He ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee when he crashed into the wall near the right field line in Chicago. He later sued the White Sox for the placement of the unpadded electrical box that he ran into. Scouting Report: Fowler had made strong progress through the Yankees' system, including a Double-A season in 2016 with 30 doubles, 15 triples, 12 homers and 25 stolen bases. Fowler's combination of speed and power gives him a chance to become an impact player. He has played the corner outfield spots but figures to stick in center given his range and solid arm. His plus speed makes him a basestealing threat, but he could improve his success rate. Fowler's recovery went as planned through the fall, and he is expected to be ready for spring training. The Future: Fowler should have every opportunity to become the Athletics' starting center fielder in 2018, but how well he recovers will play a factor. If he is not quite ready, he will begin the season at Triple-A Nashville.
Track Record: Born in Peru and raised in South Florida, Luzardo was viewed by area scouts as a possible first-round pick in 2016 before he had Tommy John surgery that March. The Nationals landed him in the third round. Scouting Report: Luzardo pitched in just three Rookie-level Gulf Coast League games in 2017 before Washington sent him to the Athletics in a deal for relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. Luzardo's abbreviated 2017 season was impressive: a combined 1.66 ERA in 43.1 innings, with 48 strikeouts and five walks. Luzardo can reach 97 mph with his fastball and has solid command of his curveball. He's developing a changeup that is already seen as above-average by some scouts. He has a simple arm stroke and a repeatable delivery. He appears to understand the art of pitching quite well for someone who's a mere 20 years old. The Future: Considering Luzardo hasn't pitched above short-season ball, he remains many years away from the big leagues. But also considering his tools and his refined skills at such a young age, he has the potential to rise to the level of a solid No. 3 starter or better in the not-so-distant future.
Track Record: Beck tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee as a junior in high school but rebounded with a brilliant senior year in which he hit .590 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs in 28 games. The Athletics drafted Beck with the sixth overall pick in 2017 and signed him for $5.3 million to pass up a North Carolina commitment. Scouting Report: Beck didn't enjoy much success in the Rookie-level Arizona League after signing, hitting .211 with a 29 percent strikeout rate. He lacks polish at the plate, but the A's love his combination of bat speed and plus raw power. He has the plus speed to play center field and be a threat on the basepaths. His plus arm rounds out an enticing profile. For all his tools, Beck's stint in the AZL revealed a tendency to chase pitches, and he'll need to improve his plate discipline significantly as he moves through the system. The Future: Beck figures to begin 2018 in either extended spring training or at low Class A Beloit, depending on his camp performance. An explosive, strong athlete, he has the ability become a mainstay in the Oakland outfield, but only if he can lock in his plate discipline to fulfill his power potential.
Track Record: After enduring a painful 2016, Murphy blossomed in 2017. In 2016, a broken hamate bone forced him to miss a considerable portion of his junior season at Wright State, then a staph infection cost him six weeks at short-season Vermont. Murphy also missed time with inflammation in his hand as a result of the scar tissue from his hamate surgery. Scouting Report: Murphy mashed in the high Class A California League in 2017 before his offensive numbers dipped when he reached Double-A Midland, but offense isn't his calling card. His defense is primarily what earned him his promotion and will probably define him as he progresses. Murphy's arm is easily plus-plus. He knows how to call a game and is a plus receiver and blocker. Murphy has a simple swing with not much of a load, but he uses his brute strength to bash the ball up the middle and to his pull side. He doesn't project as much more than a fringe-average hitter, but his power could improve as he incorporate his lower half. The Future: Murphy is set to return to Double-A in 2018, and he'll need to show he can stay healthy for a full season and make the necessary offensive adjustments.
Track Record: The Athletics made sure to acquire Kaprielian from the Yankees in the Sonny Gray deal at the 2017 trade deadline, even knowing Kaprielian's alarming injury history. A strained flexor tendon in his right arm limited his 2016 season to just three starts, and when arm problems arose again in 2017, he had Tommy John surgery in April. Scouting Report: Kaprielian's stats in the minors are impressive: 18 hits allowed in 29.1 innings, with 36 strikeouts and seven walks. Considering he has missed the bulk of the past two seasons and probably won't be ready for the start of 2018, a scouting report on Kaprielian should be taken with several grains of salt. When healthy, he employs a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can reach the high 90s. He complements his heater with a deep arsenal of a curveball, slider and changeup that all flash above-average. He's not afraid to attack the strike zone. The Future: Kaprielian is targeting an early summer return to the mound in 2018 and is in line to begin his Athletics career at Double-A Midland. His fastball, stuff and competitiveness give him a No. 3 starter projection, but staying healthy is the first step he needs to master.
Track Record: The Athletics invested heavily in the international market in 2016 and made Armenteros their marquee signing, getting the Cuban teenager for $3 million. He spent the bulk of his pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2017 after just six games in the Dominican Summer League. Scouting Report: As an 18-year-old in the AZL Armenteros more than held his own, with a .288 average, 17 extra-base hits and 10 stolen bases in 41 games. One member of the organization likened Armenteros' body to that of a young Andre Dawson. He probably will fill out his body in the next couple of years. He shows feel to hit and his above-average power is real and could grow as his body does. Defensively, he already plays an outfield corner, and is limited to left because his well below-average arm strength leaves a lot to be desired. He is still learning some of the cultural nuances of pro ball in the U.S. Armenteros will probably begin 2018 at low Class A Beloit. His idol is former A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The Future: If Armenteros progresses the way Oakland officials believe he can, he could have a big league career worthy of his idol, offensively at least.
Track Record: The Twins drafted Shore out of high school in Minnesota in the 29th round in 2013, but he opted to head to Florida instead. A teammate of fellow Athletics' prospect A.J. Puk's at Florida, Shore--not Puk--was the Gators' Friday starter. As a junior in 2016, he went 12-1, 2.31 and was Oakland's second-round pick, one round after they took Puk. He signed with the A's for $1.5 million. Scouting Report: After a solid showing at short-season Vermont in 2016, Shore advanced to high Class A Stockton in 2017. A lat strain sidelined him for nearly two months. After Shore returned to the Ports, he struggled in his first four appearances before regaining his form for the final four outings. Shore's fastball sits on average in the 92-94 mph range. What separates him is a changeup that flashes plus and excellent control. How well Shore develops his fringy slider might determine how soon he can reach the big leagues, and how effective he'll be once he gets there. He will start 2018 at Double-A Midland. The Future: Shore doesn't have the same upside as system-mates Puk or James Kaprielian, but his polish and intensity give him a chance to be a back-end starter.
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