Oakland Athletics 2020 Top-25 Prospects
The rich get richer is a saying that has been around for a while. It also applies here to the Oakland Athletics. While Oakland doesn’t have a monstrous payroll, they are coming off back to back 97-win seasons and have their two top pitching prospects ready to step in full time in 2020. Joining them will be their top catching prospect and two of their top infield prospects. While this top-25 Oakland Athletics prospects list only grades as a middle of the road system, there is plenty of firepower at the top and several names ready to contribute for the Athletics and your fantasy teams in 2020.
Overall System Grade: C
Minor League Affiliates
Triple-A: Las Vegas – Pacific Coast League
Double-A: Midland – Texas League
Advanced Single-A: Stockton – California League
Low Single-A: Beloit – Midwest League
Short Single-A: Vermont – New York-Penn League
Rookie: Arizona League (2), Dominican Summer League (1).
All other team top-25 prospect rankings can be found here.
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Top-25 Oakland Athletics Prospects – 2020
1. Jesus Luzardo, LHP
If anyone can stand toe to toe with MacKenzie Gore for the title of best left-handed pitching prospect in the game, it’s Jesus Luzardo. The 22-year-old Peruvian left-hander skyrocketed to the ranks of the elite after landing in Oakland via trade in 2017 and made his Major League debut in 2019, shining out of the pen for the Athletics down the stretch. Included in that was a dominant three-inning outing out of the pen in Oakland’s loss to Tampa Bay in the American League Wild Card game. If anyone didn’t know the name Jesus Luzardo before, they certainly do now.
Now, Luzardo isn’t the biggest guy around at 6’0/210, but his advanced feel for pitching and dynamic arsenal has allowed him to dominate at every level he’s pitched at so far, including the Majors. For the longest time, a plus fastball/changeup combination has been Luzardo’s bread and butter. The fastball sits in the mid-90’s consistently with armside life and can tick up into the upper-90’s in shorter stints as we saw down the stretch. He’ll also turn it over into a two-seamer at 94-95 with solid run and sink.
Jesus Luzardo's s three-pitch strikeout. pic.twitter.com/iK6Q4qkr6F
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) February 22, 2019
As mentioned, Luzardo’s changeup has been right there with his fastball throughout his minor league career. The combination of velocity separation (9-10 mph) and fade/tumble on the pitch make it easily a plus offering that Luzardo can throw for strikes or use as an out pitch. As nice as the changeup is, the development of Luzardo’s slider has firmly cemented him as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. He’s always created sharp break on his slider, thrown in the low 80’s, but the added feel and consistently with it has elevated the offering into borderline plus territory.
With this type of arsenal and above-average to plus command and control, Luzardo has future ace written all over him. And with a 2020 rotation spot appearing likely, he’s also one of the top rookie pitchers to draft for 2020 fantasy leagues. Buy with confidence.
2. Robert Puason, SS
While Jasson Dominguez is considered the no-doubt #1 player from the 2019 international class, there’s a trio of players in the second tier that all made my top-100 overall. One of those three, of course, is Robert Puason, the only one of the top-4 that isn’t an outfielder. He’s also the only one without huge raw power. No, Puason is a big 6’3 shortstop from the Dominican Republic with easy plus speed and above-average defense at shortstop. Even if (when) he adds bulk, I’m not overly worried about Puason having to move off of shortstop.
The A's have reached a signing agreement with Dominican SS Robert Puason, which @BenBadler expects to be in the $5 million range.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) July 2, 2019
As a hitter with above-average power already, some added bulk could turn Puason into a 60-raw, 60-speed type down the road with 25/25 upside. But what will determine just how special of a player he can be is the hit tool. As a switch-hitter, Puason has shown a good feel for hitting from both sides. Quick hands and a direct swing path allow him to generate plus bat speed, but as of now, there’s not a ton of loft. With some added loft, I believe Puason will be able to get up to that 25-homer area I mentioned above. Even before his first professional game, it’s obvious that Puason has the potential to become a special prospect.
3. A.J. Puk, LHP
I can already hear the A.J. Puk supporters out there mumbling at me under their breath. Listen, I’m a Puk guy, but his ranking here at #3 instead of at #2 is due to a few things. First, Robert Puason is a damn good prospect with considerable upside in both real life and fantasy. Puk does as well, but not without his share of risk. The risk is due to Puk’s below-average command and control. Yes, he’s also undergone Tommy John surgery, but that’s not necessarily a longterm concern.
There’s no doubt that Puk has the arsenal to become an impact starting pitcher. With a mid to upper-90’s fastball, nasty wipeout slider, serviceable but seldom used curveball, and an average to above-average changeup, Puk has the upside of a high strikeout #2 starter with massive strikeout potential. However, the command and control issues might force him to the bullpen permanently before too long. In fact, Puk only made four starts in the minors out of 18 total appearances and all 10 of his appearances for Oakland came out of the pen. He should still be given the chance to start for now, but I’d but him staying in the rotation at around 60/40 right now. If Puk does move to the bullpen, his arsenal would make him a late-inning weapon, potentially in a Josh Hader role.
4. Jorge Mateo, 2B/SS
After Puk, there’s a dropoff in this organization. With that being said, there’s still some solid value to be had here with Jorge Mateo, likely starting early in 2020 as he’s on the cusp of contributing in Oakland. And with Jurickson Profar out of town, there’s a chance Mateo wins the second base position out of spring training if he performs well enough. After a down 2018 when he hit .230, Mateo bounced back in 2019 with a .289 average, 62 extra-base hits, 19 home runs, and 24 stolen bases. With his previous career-high in home runs being 12 back in 2017, it’s fair to wonder how much was PCL inflated. Las Vegas has also been one of the best hitters parks in the PCL for years now, certainly more so than Nashville, Mateo’s 2018 PCL home park.
With all that said, I’m taking Mateo’s 2019 numbers with a big ol’ grain of salt. The contact skills he’s shown are not indicative of a .289 average, and his plate discipline is unpleasant at best. Over the last two seasons, Mateo has posted a sub-6% walk rate while striking out nearly five times as much as he walks. Moving to a pitcher’s park in Oak isn’t going to do him any favors in the power department and MLB pitchers will almost surely attack his aggressive approach with pitches out of the zone.
Wrap that all up and I’m not sure Mateo is more than a .250-.260 hitter with 10-12 home runs. The speed is at least double-plus, but at the same time, Mateo hasn’t been the most efficient base stealer around lately, converting on 70% of his attempts over the last two seasons after converting 80.4% below the Triple-A level. There’s value here, but don’t go hog wild.
5. Sean Murphy, C
Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk weren’t the only two Athletics prospects to debut in 2019. After another solid showing in the minors, Murphy got the call to Oakland in early-September (One-game stint in May as well) and cranked four home runs in his 19 games down the stretch. Solid is also a great way to sum up Murphy’s minor league career and him as a prospect in general.
On the defensive side of things, Murphy has gold-glove caliber upside with one of the strongest arms in the game. But offensively, nothing Murphy has done jumps off the page at you and none of his offensive tools project as plus. Now, that’s not to say he doesn’t possess the tools to make an impact in our fantasy world. Murphy has shown average to above-average contact skills and at least above-average raw power. However, his swing doesn’t generate a ton of loft, so as of now, I’m projecting him for 15-20 homers to pair with a .270-.280ish batting average. That, along with his defensive prowess, will keep him mixed league relevant for a while as Oakland’s starting catcher moving forward.
6. Austin Beck, OF
This is a prospect I’ve been backing since the Athletics drafted him 6th overall back in the 2017 draft. Why? Because of the power/speed upside that Austin Beck has displayed since high school. But now we’re about to enter his third full season in the minors and Beck has yet to display either consistently, combining for 12 home runs and 17 steals in his 249 career games. On top of that, Beck has been overly aggressive, causing his strikeout rate to soar up over 30% after cutting way down on his strikeouts from 2017 to 2018.
Still, I always love to bet on plus athletes like this, especially ones with plus raw power and speed. Now entering his third full season, Beck will need to show that he can access that raw power in games naturally without selling out for power. Remaining patient at the plate and waiting for his pitch will go a long way for Mr. Beck doing just that. There’s still considerable upside here if Beck can make consistent contact and cut down on the strikeouts.
7. Logan Davidson, SS
On the surface, one might see a 6’3 switch-hitting shortstop prospect drafted in the 1st round and get excited about the potential. Hold your horses. While I like Davidson as a prospect, the upside here isn’t as high as it is with Robert Puason. While his three seasons at Clemson produced double-digit home runs and steals each season, Davidson struggled mightily during his two seasons in the Cape Cod League, combining to hit just .202 in 75 games. Now, Cape Cod League games aren’t the be all end all, but it’s always encouraging to see a prospect find success there with it being a wooden bat league. Add in his .239 average in the NYPL after the draft and Davidson has yet to hit for a high average in a wooden bat league.
While Davidson’s wooden bat struggles are documented, there are still reasons for excitement here. Mainly, the power/speed upside Davidson showed at Clemson. Although his swing can get a tad long at times due to a prolonged hand load, Davidson’s raw power and natural loft in his swing should allow him to hit for power moving forward, likely in the 20-25 home range. I’m just not sure how much average is going to go along for the ride. From what I’ve seen, the contact skills are average at best, although, Davidson doesn’t strikeout a whole ton and can work a walk when needed. If he can make consistent contact, Davidson has .270/25/15 upside.
Fellow prospect analyst, Ralph Lifshitz of Prospects Live, has seen a ton of Davidson, including his time on the Cape. When I asked Ralph his thoughts on Davidson after his live looks, he offered this:
“There’s certainly some hit tool concerns particularly in his righthanded swing, but the important thing is at three separate extended looks Davidson showed progress. A switch-hitting middle infielder with pop and a leaning toward the strong-side of platoon splits.”
8. Lazaro Armenteros, OF
If you thought Beck was aggressive in 2019, wait until you see Lazaro Armenteros. In 538 plate appearances last season, a whopping 227 of those ended by way of the K. That’s a ridiculous 42.2%. You don’t need me to tell you that’s not going to cut it moving forward. Strikeouts have always been an issue for Armenteros. Sure, not to this extreme, but he’s never posted a strikeout rate lower than 27% in any of his three seasons and that K rate is trending in the wrong direction at an alarming rate. On the bright side, Armenteros has shown he can work the count and draw plenty of walks, as evident by his 13.6% walk rate in 2019 and 11.8% for his career.
If he’s ever able to get the strikeout problem fixed, there’s a nice power/speed blend here that could lead to Laz pushing some 20/25 seasons. Although not the biggest around, Armenteros has displayed plus raw power with exceptional bat speed and began hitting the ball in the air more often in 2019, raising his flyball rate from 26.3% to 38.7%. He’s also an above-average runner with good instincts on the bases. It’s all going to come down to if Armenteros can cut down on the strikeouts and make enough contact to hit for a respectable average. If he can, he’ll certainly climb prospect rankings in 2020.
9. Daulton Jefferies, RHP
While Daulton Jefferies doesn’t quite have the same massive upside as a Luzardo or Puk, his combination of stuff and command/control give him a fairly high floor to work off of moving forward. The 37th overall pick back in 2016, Jefferies has dealt with a couple of big injuries over the last several years, totaling only 20.1 innings heading into 2019. Tommy John surgery was the big one and a shoulder injury cost him time at California as well. So really, the 2019 season was out first real look at Jefferies as a pro, and he sure did impress, finishing with a 3.42 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 1.0 BB/9, and 10.6 K/9 across 79 innings between the California League (A+) and Texas League (AA).
The first number that likely pops out at you above is the walk rate of 1.0. That’s no fluke. Jefferies has always exhibited plus command and control of his arsenal with the ability to locate all of his pitches for strikes and really pound the strike zone. The arsenal consists of a low-90’s fastball with life, a mid-80’s slider that he’ll toy with the velocity and turn into a high-80’s cutter, and a plus changeup with strong fade and tumble to it. With clean mechanics and a smooth and easy delivery, I’m hoping Jefferies can finally put the arm issues behind him and reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation arm.
10. James Kaprielian, RHP
From one injured starter to another. Just like with Jefferies, James Kaprielian had to undergo Tommy John surgery which ended up costing him two full seasons after some setbacks in his rehab. Still, the Athletics thought high enough of Kaprielian to acquire him in the Sonny Gray trade back in 2018. Finally back on the mound in 2019, Kaprielian showed glimpses of why he was a first-round pick back in 2015.
Despite the time missed and the fact that he’ll turn 26 before the 2020 season starts, there’s still some nice upside here with Kaprielian, albeit, with plenty of risk. The arsenal runs four pitches deep with a low to mid-90’s fastball with run and sink, complemented by an above-average changeup and slider, and a serviceable curveball. Kaprielian gets the most out of his arsenal due to his above-average to plus command and control. That, along with clean mechanics and a fluid delivery still has me thinking he can reach his upside of a mid-rotation arm. However, as I said, the risk is just as high, if not higher.
11. Greg Deichmann, OF
Pop quiz time. Which player led the Arizona Fall League in home runs this year? Okay, you can probably guess who due to where I’m asking it, but did you ever think it’d be Greg Deichmann? And not only did he lead the league with nine home runs, but the next highest was a handful of players at four. Here’s one of those nine blasts, an opposite-field shot.
His plus raw power has always been Deichmann’s most notable offensive tool. Unfortunately, the contact skills have been lacking in a big way and Deichmann has ended each of the last two seasons with a strikeout rate north of 30%. His quick left-handed swing is built for power with plenty of natural loft, but Deichmann will need to start making more consistent contact if he ever wants to crack a Major League roster as a starting outfielder. Luckily, his high walk rate has salvaged his OBP to a degree thus far, but the contact skills need to improve.
12. Sheldon Neuse, 3B
Coming into 2019, I’ll admit, I wasn’t overly high on Sheldon Neuse. Sure, he had hit for high averages more often than not, but the power hadn’t come along like I was anticipating. That is, until the PCL added it’s boost, propelling Neuse to 27 home runs before his late-season promotion to Oakland. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The PCL had a fair amount to do with that. Even with his above-average raw power, Neuse doesn’t project as more than a 15-20 homer hitter presently due to the lack of loft in his swing. Neuse only hit the ball in the air 31.8% of the time and has never been higher than 34.5% in his minor league career.
With his contact skills and raw power, .270/15 seems like a fair projection, but we usually expect more power than that from our third basemen. He’s also blocked by Matt Chapman, so it will likely take a trade or positional change for Neuse to receive consistent playing time in the near future.
13. Nick Allen, SS/2B
Although his upside isn’t off the charts, Nick Allen feels like a player that will outperform this ranking. Outside of his well below-average power, Allen’s skill set should allow him to carve out some sort of role in the Major Leagues. He’s a plus defender that can play both middle infield positions and has displayed an average to above-average hit tool and speed throughout his minor league career. The batting average finally caught up to the skills in 2019 with Allen hitting .292 in 72 games with a 15.9% strikeout rate. Granted, the California League has always been considered more of a hitter’s league, but his home park in Stockton has been fairly neutral over the years.
High-energy plus plus defense. Bat has been cool, but defense has been sharp as ever. pic.twitter.com/Ift2Dbx6W8
— emilycwaldon (@EmilyCWaldon) October 19, 2019
Allen’s swing is quick and compact from the left side with plus bat speed and the ability to use the whole field to his advantage. With his linear swing and lackluster raw power, Allen will likely never reach double-digit home runs, but the average should remain solid with 20-25 steals thrown in as well. As long as he can continue to show competence at the plate, Allen’s defense should carry him to the Majors.
14. Luis Barrera, OF
The Athletics signed Luis Barrera back when my daughter was around one month old. She’s now seven and thinks she’s an adult. But that’s another story for another day. The point is, Barrera has been around for a long time in this Oakland system. Overall, his profile isn’t that far off from Nick Allen’s. Barerra plays solid defense in the outfield with plus speed, above-average contact skills, and below-average power. But even with his plus speed on the bases, Barrera needs to improve his efficiency stealing bases as he’s only converting on 68.9% of his attempts in his career. With some improvement there, Barrera could settle in as a low-end regular with .275/5/20 upside.
15. Jordan Diaz, 3B
This is the first prospect on this list since Robert Puason at #2 to be less than 20 years old. A 2016 international signing out of the Dominican Republic, Jordan Diaz has quietly been improving his game in the low minors over the last couple of seasons. You won’t necessarily see that in the stat line above, but Diaz has displayed above-average raw power with at least average contact skills and plus bat speed. Due to his below-average speed, Diaz will really need to hit to become a fantasy asset down the road. After showing some improvements with the bat in the NYPL last season, expect Diaz to get his first crack at full-season Single-A in 2020.
16. Brayan Buelvas, OF
A fairly under the radar international signing in 2018, Brayan Buelvas made his professional debut in 2019, impressing during his 44-game stint in the Arizona Rookie League. In that sting, Buelvas hit .300 with an .899 OPS, 20 extra-base hits, and 12 steals. Although he’s certainly less polished than the names directly in front of him, I’d argue that Buelvas would be closer to the top-10 if I constructed this list solely on the player’s pure upside. Buelvas might never develop more than 8-10 homer pop, but the hit tool and speed are both above average. The Athletics appear to be very high on him, with Ed Sprague Jr, the Athletics farm director saying this about Buelvas:
“He’s kind of a scrappy little player who you can dream on. He could be a future Ramon Laureano-type player.”
I wouldn’t necessarily go that far myself, but there’s definitely some decent upside here with Buelvas.
17. Buddy Reed, OF
Acquired as the PTBNL in the Jurickson Profar trade, Buddy Reed is a player I’ve always wanted to rank higher than I actually do. The speed upside is enormous here with double-plus run times and improving instincts on the bases. However, the rest of Reed’s game has been a bit rough around the edges, mainly his contact skills and swing and miss tendencies. For his career, Reed has hit just .249 with a 27+% strikeout rate in each of the last three seasons.
Buddy Reed of the @Padres was named @MLBazFallLeague Fall Stars Game MVP after delivering this game-tying triple with his team down to its last strike and then scoring the winning run. More: https://t.co/dFcpB7cjha pic.twitter.com/msXIlnxexI
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) November 4, 2018
Although not entirely the reason for his struggles, Reed has some added length in his swing. He’s been able to offset that with quick wrists and plus bat speed, but he would benefit from shortening up his swing and trying to make more consistent contact. I know, easier said than done. If Reed can just hit .260 or so, the speed will play and he has enough power to add 15+ home runs annually as well.
18. Skye Bolt, OF
After a near 20/20 season in 2018, Skye Bolt wasn’t quite able to keep up that pace in 2019, but still managed 11 home runs and seven steals in 89 games. With a name like Skye Bolt, you better have at least above-average speed potential, and Bolt has just that. There’s also above-average raw power here, giving Bolt a 20/20 ceiling. But just how valuable he becomes in the fantasy world will be up to his contact skills, which have been inconsistent so far. If he can make enough contact to hit at least .250, the nice little power/speed mix should allow him to provide some value.
19. Kyle McCann, C/1B
A 4th round pick this past June, Kyle McCann was the successor to Joey Bart at Georgia Tech and could even be considered a poor man’s Bart. McCann’s calling card has always been his plus raw power. That power showed up consistently at Georgia Tech and translated into the minors where McCann hit nine doubles and nine home runs in 218 at-bats after the draft. But outside of that, McCann’s contact skills are below average and he’s had a problem keeping his strikeouts in check. He’s also no lock to remain behind the plate either with a move to 1B/DH possible down the road. As long as he can curb the strikeouts some, there’s .250/20 upside here with McCann.
By the way, does every player with the last name McCann play catcher?
20. Marcus Smith, OF
Taken one round before McCann in the 2019 draft was Marcus Smith, an outfield with an offensive profile that is a polar opposite of McCann’s. While McCann flexes his power at the plate, Smith flexes his speed on the base paths with easy double-plus raw speed. At the plate, Smith is a contact over power type with average to above-average contact skills and a quick left-handed stroke. There’s not a ton of power upside here, with 10 HR likely being his ceiling, but the AVG/SB upside at least makes Smith a prospect to keep an eye on as he develops over the next couple of seasons.
21. Alfonso Rivas, 1B
Alfonso Rivas is included on this list for two reasons: He can hit and get on base at a high clip. Through Rivas’ first 183 games as a professional, he has hit .290 with a .390 OBP and 13.0% walk rate. With a smooth, contact-oriented stroke from the left side, Rivas has shown the ability to hit for a high average while spraying line drives all over the field. But at the moment, his power upside is limited due to below-average raw power and a swing that lacks a ton of loft. With more loft, I could see Rivas settling into the teens for home runs, but not much more than that. His hit tool and approach will likely give him a chance at the Major League level, but his lower power upside doesn’t make him an overly attractive option in the fantasy world.
22. Grant Holmes, RHP
It feels like Grant Holmes has been around forever. Well, he kind of has. Drafted way back in 2014, Holmes came over to Oakland from the Dodgers during the 2016 season and had a breakout of sorts in 2019. In 86.1 innings, Holmes pitched to the tune of a 3.23 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and lowered his walk rate to 2.9, his lowest mark since 2014. But on the other side, his strikeout rate dipped to a career-low 8.4 K/9. But I’ll take that as Homes has steadily been showing improved command and control of his arsenal to the point where it’s not a hindrance. The fact that he was also able to get through a full-season rather unscathed is also promising as Holmes was limited to two starts in 2018 due to a troublesome shoulder.
If Holmes can remain healthy and keep his command in check, there’s back-end starter upside here thanks to two above-average to plus pitches in his fastball and curveball, and a serviceable changeup.
23. Jeremy Eierman, SS/2B
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been high on Jeremy Eierman. He does have some nice tools in his above-average to plus power and above-average speed along with his strong throwing arm. However, well below average contact skills and an atrocious plate approach have hindered how often he can tap into those tools and likely will continue to do so without a major adjustment. If Eierman continues to strike out at an alarming rate and struggle mightily with both pitch recognition and making consistent contact, he’s not going to make it as a starting middle infielder. Plain and simple.
24. Tyler Baum, RHP
The Athletics 2nd round pick in 2019, Baum is the epitome of a #4 starting pitcher. While his arsenal doesn’t feature any plus pitches, his fastball, curveball, and changeup all project as at least Major League average offerings with the fastball and curve projecting to be above-average. Baum has also displayed at least average command and doesn’t walk a ton of batters either. The upside isn’t as high as other arms on this list, but there’s a solid floor to work with.
25. Brian Howard, RHP
While Parker Dunshee would’ve also been fine here, Brian Howard gets the nod to round out this top-25. At 6’9, Howard is a behemoth on the mound, albeit, a skinny behemoth at just 185 pounds. Howard doesn’t have the most dynamic arsenal around, filled with 50 or 55-grade offerings, but his above-average command and control allow him to get the most out of his arsenal. He projects as a back-end starter.
Media Credit: Robert Robinson, Ralph Lifshitz, Emily Waldon, MLB Pipeline, Pitcher List, Baseball America
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