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Oakland Athletics Top 10 Fantasy Prospects

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After a torrid (72-44) start to the 2014 season, the Athletics lost 30 of their final 46 regular-season games, suffered a heartbreaking loss in the AL Wild Card game, then began a mini-rebuild by trading 3B Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays, and the negative momentum continued into 2015, as a depleted and injury-riddled Oakland club fell to 68-84 and last place in the AL West. Do the Athletics have enough impact prospects in their system to help return the team to its winning ways?

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Now that the season is over, it will be time for teams to assess their needs for next season and start planning for 2016. We're at the same point for fantasy owners in dynasty leagues, and we're here to help you with the information you need as you prepare for your minor league drafts.

In previous years, we have done rather intensive top 10 prospect lists, including an organizational rundown, opportunities in the coming season, as well as the top fantasy prospects. However, we have found that a number of these topics are covered as we continue through the offseason, and specifically through profiles done as a part of our preseason redraft rankings. As a result, this year's top 10 lists will be primarily that: a list of the prospects with brief writeups rather than the 4000-8000 word opuses that have occurred in the past. We feel that this year's format will both suit the goal better (of providing fantasy relevant information and rankings) as well as allow us to move through them much more quickly so that they can be completed by the Christmas holiday.

The schedule itself is fairly basic: We cover a division, going in alphabetical order of city/location name. This means the next team after this post will be the Mariners, and finish the division with the Rangers. After that, we start over on the East Coast in the National League and do the same.

Our Basis

With fantasy prospect rankings, the key to knowing the usefulness of a specific player is how large and deep of a league you would need to be in for them to end up as a fantasy starter. We will be ranking 10 prospects in each system, but that doesn't mean that every one of them is useful if you play in a 12-team mixed dynasty league. With that said, we're aiming to provide useful information whether you play in a 10-team mixed, a 15-team AL-only, or a 24-team mixed.

Prospect rankings also come with the same caveat I provide every year. They represent a snapshot of how we view the players at the time of publication. There will inherently be more information published throughout the offseason, and so it is very possible that by the end of the offseason, how we view a player may be very different from where we had them originally.  We're going to get some of these right, we're going to get some of these wrong, and in general my reminder is to find information you trust, and use it to your advantage. If that comes from us, that's great and we're happy you're here. If it doesn't, we'll continue to work and hope that you'll keep checking in to see how we're doing.

The Tiers

Something new I wanted to introduce this year is a tier system to help delineate where prospects are likely to fall on the overall top prospect list. We have not completed our top prospects lists yet, and will not likely do so until we are close to finishing all the prospect rankings. The tiers are here though to provide some clarity when comparing between different teams. It's by no means a perfect system, but the goal is to give you a general idea of which players we think are in a similar range in terms of value and ranking. Since the tiers are also expected to be relatively consistent across teams, there may be tiers which do not have prospects for certain teams.

Tier 1 - The Elite Prospects

These prospects are expected to be in the top 25-50 prospects overall, and have the potential to be among the top options at their position regardless of format or league size.

The Athletics do not have any prospects in this tier.

Tier 2 - The Top 100 Candidates

These prospects are expected to be in the discussion for the top 100 prospects overall, and are expected to be starting options in all formats.

#1 - Franklin Barreto (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 20
ETA: 2017

Oakland would love to have the same problem Houston has: three elite young players such as Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman who are capable of manning two middle-infield positions well into the future.  The key acquisition in the offseason trade that sent 3B Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays, Barreto has offensive abilities that one day might put him on par with the Astros' talented triumvirate.  Yet he remains outside Tier 1 thanks to lingering doubts about his chances to stick at shortstop.  As Billy Beane acknowledged in a recent interview, the A's boast a number of candidates for the role but no clear shortstop-of-the-future.  Barreto, in fact, could move off the infield altogether.  Wherever he lands on defense, he will bring a plus hit-tool, plus speed, and burgeoning power--things fantasy owners love.  One of the top prospects in the Northwest League as an 18-year-old in 2014, Barreto skipped Low-A Beloit altogether and spent the entire 2015 season at High-A Stockton, where he slashed .302/.333/.500 with 22 doubles, 13 homers, and 8 steals.  A wrist injury limited him to 90 games.  Notwithstanding the usual caveat about the Cal League's inflated offensive numbers, this was an impressive full-season debut for a 19-year-old.  If he continues to hit, remains healthy, and improves his overall defense at AA, Barreto will skyrocket up the rankings and emerge as one of the best overall prospects in baseball.

#2 - Sean Manaea (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
ETA: 2016

Acquired from Kansas City in the Ben Zobrist trade, Manaea right away became Oakland's top pitching prospect.  His repertoire features a slider and changeup that grade at least average (Tucker Blair of Baseball Prospectus grades the slider above-average), a plus fastball that borders on double-plus, and improving control.  Several years removed from a labrum injury that dropped him to 34th overall in the 2013 draft, Manaea has regained the dominant form that once made him a candidate to go 1-1.  In 7 starts with AA Midland, he compiled a 1.90 ERA, 15 walks, and 51 strikeouts in 42.2 IP.  More important, he seems comfortable and confident since the July trade to Oakland.  Manaea's injury history and command troubles (career 3.67 BB/9) still cause some concern.  If, however, he stays healthy and maintains his high strikeout totals, Manaea should emerge as an above-average SP for Oakland and for fantasy owners.  If his slider develops into a second plus-offering, he could join Sonny Gray at the top of the A's rotation.

Tier 3 - The Next Group of Starters

These prospects would likely slot into the 100-200 range on an overall ranking list, and would be starters in mid-depth formats like 12 and 14 team leagues.

#3 - Matt Olson (1B/OF)
Age on Opening Day: 22
ETA: 2016

Olson's walk-to-strikeout rate (a palatable 222:276 over the last two seasons) will endear him both to A's GM Billy Beane and to fantasy players in most head-to-head points leagues.  Olson's power tool--he has hit 77 combined home runs between Low-A and AA in the last three seasons--will carry him to the majors.  And with no sluggers of note blocking him in Oakland, Olson has a clear path to the everyday job at first base and a run-producing spot in the middle of the A's order.  Still, Olson falls short of Tier 2 for several reasons.  His career .250 batting average remains an albatross and will scare roto players if it dips much lower.  Furthermore, Olson hit 37 of those 77 home runs while playing for Stockton in 2014, which means that in 947 ABs during two non-Cal-League seasons he has managed a pedestrian 40 combined homers.  Olson still has youth on his side--he will not turn 22 until late March--and he played some outfield at Midland, which could give him another avenue to the majors.  Positional versatility would be a nice bonus for a young prospect whose raw power alone will make him someone to watch in fantasy circles, perhaps as soon as summer 2016.

#4 - Jacob Nottingham (C/1B)
Age on Opening Day: 21
ETA: 2018

A 6th-round pick of the Astros in 2013, Nottingham exploded onto the prospect scene in 2015 by slashing .326/.387/.543 with 10 homers in 59 games for the Low-A Quad Cities River Bandits.  Nottingham's numbers, made more impressive by the fact that he accumulated them during the Midwest League's coldest months, brought him to the attention of Billy Beane, who acquired the 6-3, 230 lb. catcher as part of the trade that sent Scott Kazmir to Houston.  A powerful athlete who credits his two older brothers for his toughness, Nottingham could have played Division I football but instead has become one of the top catching prospects in baseball.  Like the A's, fantasy owners hope Nottingham can stick behind the plate.  Wilson Karaman of Baseball Prospectus believes he will.  We agree and therefore are bullish on Nottingham.  The young catcher still has work to do behind the plate, but if he hones his defensive skills and continues to hit at higher levels, Nottingham will more than justify the buzz he has generated as a fast-rising prospect.

#5 - Richie Martin (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 21
ETA: 2018

Martin somehow seems both the least and most interesting prospect on this list.  In a 2015 draft that produced superstars-in-waiting Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman, Martin, whom the A's selected 20th overall, was "that other SEC shortstop."  He has above-average speed but lacks the sort of impact tools that suggest he could become anything more than contact hitter who makes cameo appearances at the top of a lineup but spends most of his career batting 8th or 9th in the order.  Mediocre numbers (.237/.353/.342) in his short-season debut with the Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York-Penn League did nothing to dispel that impression, and he was passed over for promotion to Low-A Beloit in favor of fellow 2015 draftee Mikey White, another former SEC shortstop.  On the other hand, Martin generates a lot of conversation in part because, of all Oakland's middle-infield prospects, he seems most certain to stick at shortstop, where, if all goes well, he one day could emerge as a useful roto option.  A few seasons of .280-plus batting averages and 15+ steals are not out of the question.  In sum, Martin makes the back end of Tier 3 thanks to expected opportunity and positional scarcity.  He looks like a good baseball player but a fringy overall fantasy prospect.

Tier 4 - Single League and Deep Format Plays

These prospects would likely slot into the 200-300 range on a ranking list, and would have the most value to mixed leagues with 16+ teams and single-league formats with 12+ teams.

#6 - Matt Chapman (3B)
Age on Opening Day: 22
ETA: 2017

Thanks to an injury-riddled season that limited him to 80 games, Chapman remains a difficult prospect to evaluate.  At the moment his chance of developing into a future all-star at third base seems about as strong as his chance of becoming one half of a hot-corner platoon.  There is no debate, at least, over his two most eye-popping, 70-grade tools: a rocket for a throwing arm and prodigious raw power, the latter of which will have fantasy players intrigued.  In-game production has been the main question with Chapman.  Even at Cal-State Fullerton, his teammate J.D. Davis, drafted 50 spots lower by the Astros, outperformed Chapman against Friday starters and tougher competition.  Until Chapman puts together a healthy season with strong power numbers (which, to be fair, might prove difficult at AA Midland), the production question will linger.

#7 - Dakota Chalmers (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 19
ETA: 2019

Projecting nineteen-year-old pitchers with 20.1 innings of professional experience requires, at minimum, tempered exuberance, and yet Chalmers looks like an exciting prospect.  Ranked 34th overall by Baseball America entering the 2015 draft, Chalmers fell to Oakland in the third round (97th overall).  He signed for $1.2 million.  As a rookie in the Arizona League, Chalmers predictably struggled with control (17 BB in 20.1 IP)--his mechanics can be a mess at times--but he also flashed dynamic talent with a four-pitch repertoire.  His plus fastball could become plus-plus as he fills out his 6'3"-175 frame.  He also throws a slider, curveball, and changeup, the first two of which already grade out above-average.  Like teammate and fellow prospect Sean Manaea, Chalmers could become a top-of-the-rotation starter if one of his secondary offerings develops into a second plus pitch.  Unlike Manaea, Chalmers has plenty of projectability remaining.

#8 - Casey Meisner (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 20
ETA: 2018

In 2015, with two organizations and across two levels, Meisner started 25 games, logged a career-high 143.1 innings, and finished with a 2.45 ERA.  Unlike some 20-year-olds in A-ball, Meisner also showed good control (2.51 BB/9).  These are encouraging results from a pitcher whom scouts still label a "project."  Meisner's gangly 6'7"-190 frame offers serious projectability.  The lack of a better-than-average secondary pitch, however, caps his ceiling at mid-rotation starter, and that assumes ideal physical development.  Some might view with alarm Meisner's diminished strikeout ratio (9.67 K/9 in 2014 to 7.10 K/9 in 2015), but this also could be seen as intelligent management of a much-increased workload, much like the Pirates did with Gerrit Cole in 2013.  Meisner should reach AA Midland next summer, and he will not turn 21 until late May, so time is still on his side.

#9 - Chad Pinder (SS)
Age on Opening Day: 24
ETA: 2016

If 15-20 homers and 5-10 steals from your middle infielder sounds acceptable, then Pinder could be your guy.  Pinder provides a classic case of a prospect whose whole exceeds the sum of his parts, for he lacks a single carrying tool yet does many things well.  Defensively, he could play second or third, and it is even possible that he could supplant Marcus Semien at shortstop as early as next summer (though the A's would prefer to see continued development from Semien).  As an offensive player, Pinder's only discernible weakness--a big one in this organization--is his inability to control the strike zone (62:243 BB:K in 253 career games).  Otherwise, fantasy owners certainly would take back-to-back OPS percentages of .825 and .847 from a middle infielder.  Pinder keeps hitting, so chances are good that he'll get to prove himself in Oakland before long.

#10 - Renato Nunez (3B/1B)
Age on Opening Day: 22
ETA: 2016

Nunez gives Oakland another fine prospect who projects as a major-league regular on the infield.  He performed well in 93 games at AA Midland (.278/.332/.480 with 18 HR) and will not turn 22 until April, so there is a lot to like here.  He ranks #10 in this organization only because his power tool, while impressive, is less prodigious than Matt Chapman's, and he lacks both the speed and versatility of Pinder.  Still, even if all of these prospects reach their potential, the A's will have a place for Nunez.  Whether he splits time with Chapman at third, slides over the first while Olson plays a corner OF position, or occupies the DH spot, Nunez should give the A's a productive bat and perhaps even an impact one.