Oakland made a surprising push to the playoffs last year at the big league level, riding a core built around Kris Davis and young players like Matt Chapman, Stephen Piscotty, and Matt Olson to the Wild Card Game. Down on the farm, this is one of baseball’s top-heaviest systems: three top 125 prospects lead the way, backed by two toolsy outfielders still too far away to be in that range ((#4) Austin Beck and (#5) Lazaro Armenteros). There’s a steep drop off past that point, however, but the good news is that the next wave of A’s top prospects shouldn’t be blocked on their way to the top. (#1) Jesus Luzardo, (#2) A.J. Puk, and (#3) Sean Murphy all look ready to contribute in Oakland soon.
–NEAR-READY IMPACT TALENT
This system is carried by a handful of blue-chip prospects at the top. Oakland probably grades out as a bottom-third system right now without (#1) Jesus Luzardo, (#2) A.J. Puk, and (#3) Sean Murphy, but that trio—all locks for the Top 125—have significant upside and are close to big league ready.
Six of the A’s 15 ranked prospects are outfielders, and that total doesn’t include Kyler Murray or Greg Deichmann (Pure Projection), a high-round pick from 2017. (#4) Austin Beck, (#5) Lazaro Armenteros, and (#10) Jameson Hannah are higher-ceiling prospects still a few years off. Upper-minors outfielders like (#11) Luis Barrera, (#14) Tyler Ramirez, and (#15) Skye Bolt don’t have the same upside as those three, but should all reach the big leagues sooner. Oakland has young players plugged in their outfield mix at the Major League level right now, so some of these prospects could wind up as interesting trade chips.
–DEPTH PAST THE TOP
The top four prospects on this list could be impactful enough that depth doesn’t wind up a factor. Even so, the amount of high-ceiling prospects drops off fairly quickly past the top. Oakland has some interesting players in the FV 50 tier, though most of them are farther away and come with some level of risk. Injuries to major pitching prospects, missing out on Kyler Murray, and a quiet pro debut from Jeremy Eierman (On the Horizon) didn’t do this system any favors.
Getting (#8) James Kaprielian, (#12) Grant Holmes, and Daulton Jefferies (Pure Projection) back to full health would be a huge boost for this system, but durability has been a serious question mark with all three. We’re bullish on the long-term upside of (#2) A.J. Puk, but it’s worth noting that he, too, is a high-ceiling pitching prospect on this list that comes with injury questions.
TOP 15 PREF LIST
CREAM OF THE CROP
(#1) Jesus Luzardo, LHP
Ceiling: 60 Risk: High ETA: 2019 Role Description: Frontline Starter (#2/#3 SP)
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 205 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 21y, 6m
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Luzardo was one of the prospects Oakland returned in a trade with Washington that sent away bullpen anchors Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. That deal has worked out well for both sides, as the relievers have played key roles for Washington and Luzardo has blossomed into one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. At only 20-years-old, the lefty charged through three levels of the minors and was pitching in Triple-A by season’s end. His mix of stuff, control, and mound presence is unique for a pitcher of this age. Luzardo’s fastball touches 97-to-98 mph with plus life and advanced command. Both a hard slurve and changeup get swings, grading as 60 offerings and giving him numerous miss-bat weapons. His talent could demand a call-up in 2019, though it’s safest to assume Luzardo won’t crack the big league rotation until 2020. We see him as an impact starter with #2/#3 upside.
(#2) A.J. Puk, LHP
Puk would have graded from prospect eligibility had he not blown out his elbow last spring, missing all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s expected to be back next season and could still be an impactful piece of the A’s future rotation. The towering lefty has numerous miss-bat weapons, starting with a power fastball that touched the high-90 before surgery. Puk is a potential rotation headliner, and given the recovery rate from Tommy John these days, we’re taking a glass-half-full stance on his injury history.
(#3) Sean Murphy, C
Ceiling: 55 Risk: High ETA: 2019 Role Description: Above-Average Player
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 215 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 5m
A third-rounder in 2016 on the strength of his defense, Murphy’s rapidly-improving on-base skills and barrel-feel now place him among the game’s better catching prospects entering 2019. He’s a big-bodied backstop that will add bulk as he continues to mature, displaying surprising athleticism and mobility for his size. Murphy will likely start next season at Triple-A, but if he has success at the plate, it could be a short stay. His swing has some length and can get beaten up in the zone by velocity, though Murphy has a good eye and shows the raw power to drive it out to any part of the park. His burgeoning offensive ability on top of already-strong glovework at a premium position could make him an above-average contributor in peak seasons.
ON THE HORIZON
(#6) Jorge Mateo, SS
Ceiling: 50 Risk: High ETA: 2019 Role Description: Everyday Player
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 190 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 9m
The high-energy Mateo has never been short on tools, with 80-grade wheels and a 70-grade throwing arm leading the profile. He struggled in his first taste of Triple-A last season and still plays with his hair on fire at times, though Mateo’s quick-twitch athleticism makes him an explosive player still capable of impacting the game in many ways. He isn’t lacking for batspeed, but an over-aggressive approach and a penchant to expand the zone limited his in-game contact in 2018. Mateo’s speed translates to excellent defensive range, and though he still makes some unforced errors, the ingredients are here to be an impactful center-diamond defender. Presuming he can make some adjustments at the plate, the ceiling is an everyday regular at a valuable position.
(#8) James Kaprielian, RHP
Kaprielian is the biggest wildcard in Oakland’s system. He has shown frontline starter stuff when healthy, but those times have been few and far between. The Yankees’ first-rounder in 2015, Kaprielian dazzled in Arizona Fall League action in 2016 but hasn’t pitched in an official game since. He was one of the prospects Oakland returned for Sonny Gray, getting his first mound action in the A’s organization this fall during instructs. At his best, Kaprielian shows high-90s velocity with a deep arsenal of secondary pitches capable of missing bats. He could easily move into the FV 55 tier by this time next season if he can stay healthy in 2019 and show the stuff is close to where it was before surgery. Oakland added Kaprielian to the 40-Man Roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
(#9) Sheldon Neuse, 3B
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2019 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 195 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AAA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 3m
Along with (#1) Jesus Luzardo, Neuse was the other prospect in the deal that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson in 2017. Neuse had been enjoying a strong season in the South Atlantic League at the time of the trade, moved more quickly upon switching to the A’s system and finishing 2017 in Double-A. That set up Neuse to start 2018 in Triple-A, and judging by his .263/.304/.357 line in the PCL (with a strikeout rate north of 30-percent), it appears he may have been rushed there. The lack of power was concerning, though it’s worth noting that he adjusted to the level by slashing .321/.356/.418 after the all-star break. Neuse is a stocky corner infielder with raw power in the bat and a plus throwing arm (he touched the mid-90s out of the ‘pen in college). He’s more athletic than he looks and should be able to play 3B early in his big league career. He has mashed lefties throughout his career, giving hope Neuse can finish a low-end regular or solid part-time power bat.
(#11) Luis Barrera, OF
A little-known prospect entering last season, Barrera broke out in 2018 and was added to Oakland’s 40-Man Roster in November. He reached Double-A by season’s end, heading to Fall League after the year and holding his own there. Barrera checks the boxes of a solid fourth outfielder, able to play all three outfield spots competently with a contact-focused offensive profile. He has the speed to steal bases, profiling as a spot-starting role player who hits in the lower-third of a lineup. More attractive for his floor than ceiling, Barrera could surface in Oakland within the next two years.
(#12) Grant Holmes, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Setup Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 215 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 0m
The 22nd overall pick from a South Carolina high school in 2014, Holmes was originally a Dodgers prospect. The A’s acquired him at the 2016 deadline, one of the players returned for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick. He only made two appearances last season dealing with injuries, shut down again in October after experiencing renewed soreness in his throwing shoulder. Holmes’ stocky frame, power two-pitch mix, and injury history all hint towards a future move to the ‘pen. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and could touch higher airing it out in relief, where a hard curveball projects to play as an out pitch. The A’s protected Holmes from the Rule 5 Draft this November, and now that he’s on the 40-Man Roster, there’s a pathway to crack the big league club in the next two years.
(#13) Parker Dunshee, RHP
(#14) Tyler Ramirez, OF
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 5’9” / 185 lbs. B/T: L/L Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 24y, 1m
Ramirez is the type of prospect that doesn’t wow you with any one part of his game but contributes with a well-rounded set of skills. He has been a consistent performer in this system since being drafted by the A’s from the University of North Carolina in 2016. Ramirez put up a strong .287/.370/.430 line last year in the Texas League, showing his usual ability to control the strike zone with an impressive 11-percent walk rate. Able to move between all three outfield spots, he checks the boxes of a potential future fourth outfielder.
(#15) Skye Bolt, OF
Bolt had a strong 2018 campaign and finished the season in Fall League with Mesa. He’s physical and athletic with an interesting mix of power, speed, and center-diamond defensive ability. The switch-hitter shows juice from both sides of the plate, displaying a sense of the zone and working patiently into deep counts. That approach draws both walks and strikeouts, and whatever power potential Bolt brings will likely be accompanied by some whiffs. He’s an above-average runner who projects to stay in CF and can contribute on the bases. We see him as a high-floor fourth outfielder, one that’s closing in on cracking the big league roster in the next two seasons.
Brian Howard, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’9” / 185 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: AA Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 11m
The A’s have already gotten great value from Howard, a 40K senior sign from Texas Christian University in 2017. He has been an excellent performer early in his career, flying to Double-A by the end of his first full pro season. None of Howard’s pitches are plus, but the unique angle created by his 6-foot-9 frame is tough on hitters. He also has excellent control for someone this height, with moving parts in the delivery that add deception. The fastball works at 88-to-92 mph, backed by a high-80s cutter that grades as his most effective pitch. Howard rounds out his arsenal with a usable curveball and developing changeup. His best-case ceiling is a low-end #5 starter, but more realistically he’s a swingman or long relief type.
Wyatt Marks, RHP
Ceiling: 40 Risk: High ETA: 2020 Role Description: Middle Relief
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 205 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 9m
Marks pitched from the ‘pen at Louisiana-Lafayette during his draft year, going to Oakland in the 13th round. The A’s have stretched him back out to work as a starter to date, and while he has had success missing bats in that role against l0w-minors competition, Marks’ control numbers and peripherals make us think he’ll wind up back in relief. The fastball touches 94 mph and sits in the low-90s, perhaps able to take a slight jump airing it out in short stints. His best off-speed is a low-80s slider, backed up by a changeup that has its moments but generally lacks consistency. Marks is the type of pitching prospect that could contribute quickly in a middle relief role if Oakland wants to fast-track him.
Miguel Romero, RHP
The Cuban righty signed with the A’s before the 2017 season, so he only just reached Double-A last year despite already being 24-years-old. He was dominant across 22 outings in the Cal League in 2018, converting 13 of 14 saves and pitching to a 1.84 ERA. Romero was less successful after a promotion to the Texas League, though his 33 strikeouts in 30 Double-A innings hint at his raw stuff. The fastball touches 96 mph and sits in the mid-90s, backed up by a sharp slider that’s at least an average offering. There isn’t a ton of ceiling, but Romero could move quickly given his age and advanced two-pitch mix. He’ll be in Major League camp as a non-roster invitee this spring.
Jonah Heim, C
A fourth-round pick by the Orioles from a Northeast high school in 2013, Heim has bounced around a few organizations. Baltimore traded him to the Rays, and he wound up in Oakland’s system as part of another deal. Heim’s frame and switch-hitting raw power intrigue, especially considering he’s an adequate defensive catcher that projects to play the position in the big leagues. He reached Double-A for the first time last year as a 23-year-old and struggled offensively. Heim won’t hit enough to be a regular, but his mix of skills could wind up a serviceable backup at peak.
(#4) Austin Beck, OF
Ceiling: 55 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2020 Role Description: Above-Average Player
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 200 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: A Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 4m
After a 2017 pro debut in the AZL that was rocky at times, Beck held his own across a full season with Class A Beloit. He was able to shorten his swing and cut down on his strikeout rate considerably, but hit for less power than expected in doing so. The end result was a .296/.335/.383 line, whiffing in 22-percent of plate appearances while walking in just six-percent. Beck is a plus athlete with a high-upside mix of strength, speed, and power. He shows enough raw in BP that we aren’t concerned about the future home run outputs so long as his bat-to-ball ability is improving. Defensively, Beck is currently a CF and has some chance to remain at the position. If his muscular 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame outgrows a center-diamond profile, his plus arm profiles well in RF. Given his age (20-years-old for all of next season) and raw tools, we’re taking the high view on some of Beck’s struggles at the plate to date. His body and tools are similar to Clint Frazier, coming with the ceiling of an above-average player if he’s able to stay in CF.
(#5) Lazaro Armenteros, OF
The Cuban outfielder signed with much fanfare, agreeing to a $3 million amateur bonus with the Athletics in 2016. After staying back in Extended Spring Training the first month of 2018, the 19-year-old was assigned to the Midwest League and spent the remainder of last season with Class A Beloit. A chiseled physical specimen, Armenteros is wound tight with muscle and whistles a quick bat through the zone. It’s an aggressive swing that could produce both average and power if he’s able to tone down his aggression. Though he posted an above-average walk rate, Armenteros also struck out at a 34-percent clip n A-Ball last year. He’ll turn just 20-years-old in May, giving time to learn the strike zone and get more reps against pro-level off-speed stuff. Though he runs well, Armenteros likely winds up a LF in the long-term because of a limited throwing arm.
(#7) Nick Allen, SS
Allen landed a well over-slot deal in 2017’s third round, signing a $2 million amateur bonus from a Southern California high school. Known for his speed, plus instincts, and excellent defensive ability at SS, Allen’s bat has yet to catch up to his other tools as a pro. He put up a .239/.301/.302 line over a full season in the Midwest League, going 24-for-31 on stolen base attempts. He didn’t strike out much, which gives hope there’s more ability to hit for average as he adds strength and gets more reps. His plus defense at a premium position could be enough to carry the profile if Allen can do anything at the plate. Even if he doesn’t hit enough to play every day, the speed and defense give the floor of a useful bench piece.
(#10) Jameson Hannah, OF
The Dallas Baptist product utilizes a compact stroke from the left side paired with good feel for the strike zone and an advanced approach, making him a solid potential fit in the one or two spot of the line-up, capable of churning out solid contact rates and on-base production. Hannah’s ability to barrel-up the ball and drive the gaps bodes well for his impact ability, as well, and should force upper-level arms to stay away from the meat of the plate and work to the margins. Defensively, Hannah covers plenty of ground to handle center field as well as an ability to close and finish on plays. While his arm strength is below average, he gets rid of the ball fairly quickly and delivers with solid accuracy.
Jeremy Eierman, SS
An early candidate for 2018 first round consideration after strong showings as an underclassman, Eierman underperformed with the USA Collegiate National Team the summer before his draft-eligible year, causing evaluators to question his effectiveness with wood. A sub-par spring later, from a production standpoint, and the Missouri State infielder fell into the laps of the Oakland Athletics with the 70th overall pick. In his brief pro debut, Eireman continued to show plus raw power, but his ability to get to it in game action was limited by his contact rates and inability to lift the ball with regularity. Though he played exclusively up the middle for Short-season Vermont, the glove likely fits best at the hot corner long term, putting additional pressure on the bat developing.
Daulton Jefferies, RHP
Ceiling: 45 Risk: High ETA: 2021 Role Description: Swingman
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 180 lbs. B/T: L/R Highest Level: A+ Age (as of April 1, 2019): 23y, 8m
Jefferies has the stuff to start, beginning with a quality low-90s fastball that can reach 94/95 mph with could precision to the quadrants and a diving low-to-mid-80s change piece with good deception out of the hand. He’ll also mix in an average or better cutter/short slider that plays well off of his one-two punch and a slow curve that he can drop in the zone to steal strikes. Unfortunately, a litany of injuries ranging from back to shoulder to elbow have stalled out his development, as the talented righty has only logged 20.1 innings in his first three professional seasons. A healthy Jefferies projects as a nice back-end arm — if a starter’s workload proves to much to handle then he could also be an intriguing candidate as a late-inning arm with multi-inning flexibility.
Marcos Brito, 2B/SS
Brito signed for $1.1 million as an amateur, and Oakland has been fairly aggressive with his stateside assignments in 2017 and 2018. He started in Extended Spring Training before heading to the New York-Penn League once short-season ball started, struggling there as an 18-year-old but showing intriguing tools. A plus athlete and runner, Brito shows good defensive actions in the middle infield with the speed to steal bases. His arm might push him to 2B long-term, but there’s some chance he grows into enough throwing ability to remain on the left side of the infield. At the plate, the switch-hitter shows a very quick bat with good feel for the barrel. Brito’s undersized frame doesn’t hit for much present power and likely never will, but there’s room to grow into some gap sting as he gets stronger.
Alfonso Rivas, 1B/OF
Rivas showed advanced feel to hit and a polished approach at the University of Arizona, going to the A’s in the fourth round of last year’s draft. That carried over to his pro debut, as Rivas slashed .285/.397/.383 in the New York-Penn League, walking nearly as much as he struck out. There’s limited present game power, though Rivas could add more by changing his swing for more lift. Defensively, he’s an above-average 1B with good footwork and a strong arm, mobile enough to get some reps in the outfield as well. Avoiding a 1B-only label would help his offensive profile considerably, as Rivas will always be a hit-over-power type, even if he does start tapping into more juice.
Yerdel Vargas, SS/3B
Ceiling: 45 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2023 Role Description: Role Player
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 170 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 19y, 1m
Vargas signed with Oakland for a $1.5 million amateur bonus. He’s an athletic infielder with a projectable frame, yet to see much success at the plate to date as a professional. He struggled badly in the AZL last summer, though that isn’t unheard of for a prospect this age. Vargas has smooth defensive actions and a strong arm but needs to clean up his footwork and throwing accuracy to stay at shortstop long-term. Offensively, he takes a loose cut with the ability to project on the power given long, loose levers and natural leverage in his swing.
Ismael Aquino, RHP
Aquino was 19-years-old last summer in the AZL, working mostly out of the rotation but showing a power arsenal and limited control that could lead to a move to the ‘pen. His fastball touches 97 mph and sits in the mid-90s with hard running life. He sells his changeup with excellent armspeed, making the pitch look like a fastball before it fades down and away at 85-to-87 mph. His mid-80s slider flashes like an average pitch at times but gets inconsistent. Aquino is a lottery ticket, but the raw stuff makes him worth a mention on this list.
Greg Deichmann, OF
Deichmann’s carrying tool is his impact raw power, which grades out as double-plus, though his swing plane is skewed excessively to loft, limiting his in-game contact window some. Fortunately, he does bring a solid approach and some patience to the plate, giving him a chance to mature into a playable power/on-base profile even with expectedly high strikeout numbers and a well below-average hit tool. A hand injury sapped his power during his pro debut and limiting his effectiveness with High A Stockton last summer. He’ll likely make another run at the league to start 2019 with a chance for a quick promotion once he proves back to full strength and capable.
Kevin Merrell, SS
Merrell is a top tier runner with a fringy defensive profile and limited impact with the stick, though his ability to break off sub-4.0 times to first give him a chance to snag some extra infield hits over the course of a season. His glove works and his arm strength is adequate for shortstop, though it plays much better with his feet under him than it does on the run or at the fringes of his defensive range, and its likely his best fit will ultimately be as a utility option capable of manning short, second and center field.
Cobie Vance, 3B/2B
Vance was under-matched against AZL competition as a college player from the SEC, drafted by Oakland in the 18th round last year from the University of Alabama. He slashed .304/.361/.474 on the backfields before getting a late-season bump to High-A Stockton. A high-energy infielder, Vance’s best tool is his feel to hit. He has a knack for finding the barrel and making contact. He rarely strikes out but trades that bat-to-ball skill for power, something that produced a grounder-heavy contact profile in his pro debut. Vance is an above-average defender at both 2B and 3B, finishing plays with authority and able to move interchangeably between the positions.
Alexander Campos, SS
Ceiling: 40 Risk: Extreme ETA: 2023 Role Description: Bench Player
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 178 lbs. B/T: R/R Highest Level: R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 19y, 1m
Campos signed with the Mariners for $575K on 2016, coming to the A’s in a trade for Ryon Healy after a strong pro debut in the Dominican Summer League. Campos struggled badly in his first taste of stateside ball in the AZL, but he’s young enough to look past the stat line. He’s a glove-first infielder with some feel for the barrel, likely to wind up at 2B defensively.
Wandisson Charles, RHP
Charles is a power arm in the lower parts of the system. He has spent most of his time in short-season ball, making 11 appearances with Class A Beloit last year. Charles whiffed 19 hitters in those 11 innings but also walked 18, underlining both his excellent stuff and similarly poor present control. The fastball touches 99 mph and sits in the high-90s, backed up by a hard breaking ball with swing/miss action. He’s more lottery ticket than prospect at this point, but Charles’ 6-foot-6 frame and plus two-pitch mix deserve a mention on this list.
Eric Marinez, RHP
Marinez was a light-hitting infielder the first six years of his pro career, moving to the mound this fall during Instructional League. His fastball touches 98 mph and sits easily in the mid-90s, backed up by a sharp 79-to-81 mph curveball with impressive action for someone new to pitching. Marinez’ high-80s changeup is understandably crude, as are his mechanics and general feel for pitching. These experiments don’t work with great frequency, but the arm-strength makes Marinez’ transition to being a pitcher an interesting one to follow.