Oakland A’s Crystal Moneyball: Part 1

Sean Murphy, Oakland A's Spring Training 3/11/19. Photo credit Gail Verderico, @1baseballchick on Twitter.

One of the primary considerations for a dynasty GM when rostering prospects is their path to playing time at the big league level. After all, they can’t help your fantasy team if they can’t consistently get on the field in MLB games. The organizational depth and approach to developing talent of the prospect’s parent franchise is probably the most important part of that consideration. The likelihood that the prospect will be traded to playing time somewhere else is the flip side of that coin.

Ever since Billy Beane took charge of the organization, the Oakland Athletics have been an interesting challenge for prospect evaluators and dynasty GMs. This organization has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to trade MLB veterans and the foresight to do so at the most opportune moment for the greatest possible return in prospect talent. Due in no small part to the development and acquisition of top prospect talent, the Oakland A’s are currently built around a core of exciting young players and they’re ready to win now. With so much of the MLB playing time spoken for by top young players for the foreseeable future, the challenge for dynasty GMs is to identify the prospects in the system with the best chance of fighting their way into this group and which players already at the MLB level are most likely to leave via trade or free agency. In the first part of this two part series we’ll take a look at the A’s position players, and predict when or if they will be traded or depart in free agency. We’ll also talk about what current A’s prospects might be next up and what positions Beane and his team may target for farm reinforcements.

Catcher – Sean Murphy
Status: Highly Touted Rookie
Contract: Arbitration Eligible – 2023; Free Agent – 2026
Age: 25

Murphy, ranked #5 on our Athletics Top 50 prospects list and #62 on our Overall Top 199 prospects list, is the plan at catcher for the foreseeable future. With six full seasons of team control remaining it’s far too early to even speculate on a future trade. Murphy profiles as an above average fantasy catcher, though it may take a season or two for him to reach his full offensive potential at the major league level.

Oakland has a couple of interesting catching prospects behind Murphy in the pipeline. Kyle McCann (#24) is a 22-year-old out of Georgia Tech with plus power from the left side of the plate. He was taken in the 4th round of the 2019 draft and saw only 60 games of professional action between the AZL and Low-A Vermont. Given that Murphy is a right handed hitter it’s easy to see a future pairing of Murphy and McCann, especially as Murphy’s salary grows in arbitration and the A’s look to save money at the position. Also of note is Drew Millas (#39) who was taken 3 rounds after McCann and has yet to debut due to injury.

First Base – Matt Olson
Status: Big Bopper
Contract: Arbitration Eligible – 2021 / Free Agent – 2024
Age: 26

Olson has done nothing but produce and improve since debuting in 2017. He was one of the most productive first basemen in baseball in 2019 and is a key part of the A’s young core. Currently, Olson would figure to be one of the most likely of Oakland’s young guns to receive a contract extension but probably not until at least 2022. A lot can happen in a couple of years, but for now Olson looks like the future at first base.

Right now there isn’t a true first baseman in the Oakland system that jumps off the page as a prospect. Given where the team is with Olson, this isn’t a pressing concern but this might be a spot where the team looks to add talent through the draft or in a future trade. If the need for an injury replacement were to arise, my money would be on Sheldon Neuse to get the call up. I wrote about Neuse during Spring Training as he pursued the starting 2nd base job. He’s built more for third base but his power profiles at first base as well.
Others to keep an eye on: Dustin Harris (#29), Lawrence Butler (#36).

Second Base – Franklin Barreto
Status: Competing for the Job
Contract: Arbitration Eligible – 2022 / Free Agent – 2025
Age: 24

Second base is probably the biggest positional question mark for the A’s going into the 2020 season. I looked at the position battle between Barreto, Jorge Mateo and Sheldon Neuse in more depth during the first week of Spring Training. Barreto is the presumed Opening Day second baseman, but with Spring Training cut short and the season delayed, it’s hard to know if that position battle was solved or is still undecided. Barreto is out of minor league options, so if he doesn’t claim the second base role there’s a decent chance he is traded sooner than later.

Jorge Mateo (#4) and Sheldon Neuse (#11) are both ready or close to ready for the big leagues. Mateo is out of options while Neuse has options remaining, so Mateo probably gets the next shot at the keystone if Barreto falters. Mateo is also a prime candidate to be traded in the short term. Looking further down the road there’s no true second base only prospect that stands out, but the system has a number of very young players profiling at shortstop. Any one of those players could end up making the switch depending on team need.

Third Base – Matt Chapman
Status: Legit Slugger and Defensive Super Ninja
Contract: Arbitration Eligible – 2021 / Free Agent – 2024
Age: 26

It’s interesting to note that both of Oakland’s slugging corner infielders are on the same contract timeline. Can the A’s afford to sign both to the full value extensions they will demand? That’s hard to say. If it comes down to one or the other, my money is on Chappy to get the extension. His defense at the hot corner is second to none and the bat leaves little to be desired. Barring an untimely injury, all third base prospects in this system should be evaluated based on their ability to play at first base or a corner outfield position.

Once again, Sheldon Neuse is the most MLB ready name in the system. His power and defense profile well at third base. Neuse isn’t the most highly ranked third baseman on our Top 50 though. That distinction goes to youngster Jordan Diaz (#10 – Top 50), who hails from Colombia and won’t turn 20 until August. His 2019 numbers in Vermont showed real promise. One of the knocks on Diaz is his size relative to the position, but I say he’s an inch taller than Jose Ramirez so until he doesn’t hit he’s worth watching. Whether or not Chapman is allowed to walk in free agency or even ends up traded could depend on how this promising youngster fares over the next couple of seasons.

Shortstop – Marcus Semien
Status: 2019 Breakout Star / Regression Candidate
Contract: Signed thru 2020; Free Agent – 2021

Marcus Semien originally came to Oakland in the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Gabriel Ynoa to the White Sox in 2014. Until last season he was a serviceable MLB shortstop who contributed at or slightly above the league average at the plate. At age 28, Semien came alive offensively in a breakout 2019 campaign. He outhit his best career average by 30 points, outproduced in career best OPS by nearly 160 points and outslugged his best HR total by 6 dingers. We have seen examples of late offensive breakouts with Nelson Cruz being the biggest name that jumps to my mind. That said, it seems likely that Semien’s breakout in a year with big suspicions of juiced baseballs could be followed by some regression. I think this might be the most likely spot where we could see an in-season trade. If things aren’t going as well as the A’s hoped in the standings, look for Beane and his team to make the pending free agent available in the trade market. Both Mateo and Barreto are capable of playing shortstop and if they both warrant playing time, the decision only gets easier. If no trade materializes, Semien could find himself looking for a new home in free agency. Such is the way of things for small market teams.

I really think the most likely outcome for 2021 is either Barreto or Mateo at shortstop, depending on how the second base situation plays out. Looking further down the road, the heir apparent is the A’s premier international signing Robert Puason (#3 – Top 50). Puason has the upside to be a top 5 prospect in MLB and the future face of franchise. But at only 17-years-old he is at least 4 seasons from making his debut in the green and gold. If Puason is available in your league and you can hold a player that long, GRAB HIM. Other notables at the position include: Nick Allen (#13 – Top 50); Logan Davidson (#14 – Top 50); Marcus Brito (#27 – Top 50) and Jhoan Paulino (#30 – Top 50).

Left Field – Mark Canha
Status: Journeyman
Contract: Signed thru 2020; Free Agent – 2021
Age: 31

Center Field – Ramon Laureano
Status: Certified Laser Operator
Contract: Arbitration Eligible – 2022; Free Agent – 2025
Age: 25

Right Field – Stephen Piscotty
Status: Journeyman
Contract: Signed thru 2022; 2023 Team Option; Free Agent – 2024
Age: 29

Laureano joins Chapman and Olson to make up the core of the A’s lineup for the next 4 plus years at least. Between the excellent offensive production, stellar defense and controllable contract status, the centerfield position is on lockdown. The corners are another story altogether. While both Canha and Piscotty are serviceable players, neither is a real game changer. Canha had the better season in 2019, but he’s also in his contract season. Piscotty is signed through 2022 at a relatively inexpensive contract, which could make him an attractive trade chip. If Canha produces at a similar rate to his 2019 season, trading Piscotty to pay for a new contract for Canha could make some sense. Then again, if the right return is available, trading the expiring Canha might be more attractive. If the A’s aren’t going to re-sign him, look for Beane and his team to get something for him at the deadline.

If one of the corner infield spots is open for 2021, who is likely to fill it? Can we get another Sheldon Neuse mention? Yes. Yes we can. Barring some serious regression, Neuse is going to get a shot to make the big league club at some point. If he can get to his power, he could produce enough to justify a corner outfield spot. Greg Deichmann (#12 – Top 50) showed some signs of life in the Arizona Fall League and could be a factor if he can find some consistency. Austin Beck (#7 – Top 50) still has a tantalizing set of raw tools and is coming off of a decent season in 2019. After those three, there are a handful of very young prospects with bright futures, but who are years away from contributing.
Others to keep an eye on: Lazaro Armenteros (#15 – Top 50), Marcus Smith (#17 – Top 50), Skye Bolt (#19 – Top 50), Brayan Buelvas (#22 – Top 50)

Designated Hitter – Khris Davis
Status: Krush or Krushed?
Contract: Signed thru 2020; Free Agent – 2021
Age: 32

2019 was a big disappointment for Khris Davis…he failed to hit exactly .247 for the first time since 2014. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only disappointment as he also hit only 23 home runs after three straight 40+ homer seasons. Davis is set to make nearly $17M in his walk year. Of the pending free agents on this club, maybe no one more than Davis needs a big increase in productivity over 2019 in order to remain with the club.

At this point you should be able to do your own Neuse math. If he doesn’t land at second or in a corner outfield spot, he fits as an everyday DH. If that doesn’t materialize, look for Oakland to re-sign Davis or add from free agency.

1.) Positions likely to have playing time available in the near term:
2B, SS, LF, RF, DH

2.) Players most likely to help your fantasy team in the near term:
Jorge Mateo (#4 – Top 50)
Sheldon Neuse (#11 – Top 50)

3.) Player with the most long term upside:
Robert Puason (#3 – Top 50)

4.) Young players to keep an eye on for the future:
Austin Beck (#7 – Top 50)
Jordan Diaz (#10 – Top 50)
Marcus Smith (#17 – Top 50)
Brayan Buelvas (#22 – Top 50)

In Part 2 of the series we’ll look at the starting rotation and the back end of the bullpen with the same considerations in mind. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. You can also follow me on Twitter at @ChappyisClutch.

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