I know what many of you are thinking - who the heck is Ryon Healy!? And, truth be told, I simply cannot blame anyone for that. Healy was drafted in the third round (100th overall) by the A’s in 2013, and signed for slot value less than two weeks after the draft. He hit just .230/.255/.402 with 6 HR in 184 PA in his first professional season, split between Rookie Ball and Low-A. He followed that up with a .285/.318/.428 line with 16 HR in 600 PA at High-A in 2014, which was 9% below-average by wRC+ (thanks to hitter-friendly Stockton). And then in 2015, he batted .302/.339/.426 with 10 HR in 543 PA at Double-A - a line that was 13% above-average.
All told, he was a rather uninspiring prospect heading into 2016. He did not crack any top-ten lists for the A’s middling farm system (though he did place 15th on John Sickels’ list), and he was set to start the season back at Double-A. Healy’s tremendous 6’5”, 230 LBS frame portended more power - but it didn’t show-up in game situations (despite playing in hitter-friendly parks) due to a lack of loft in his swing. The fact that he took to third base fairly well helped his stock (he was a first baseman in college), though, and he had enough bat-to-ball skill to merit at least a bit of attention.
So what has he done in 2016, you ask? Not much - just hit .338/.409/.628 with 8 HR in 164 PA at Double-A, earning a promotion to Triple-A, where he batted .318/.362/.505 with 6 HR in 210 PA. All of a sudden, the 24-year-old Healy was hitting, and hitting for power - not to mention walking more than ever - and folk began to take notice. He was the lone representative of the A’s in the Futures Game, where he went 2-for-3 as the U.S. Team’s DH.
What, if anything, changed?
Healy has been markedly more patient this year, setting a career-high in walks already and striking out more often as a result. This increase in selectivity may have helped him wait on his pitch, and pounce when it arrives. Healy also stated that he flattened his swing, which has helped him get more extension and loft. When evaluating a prospect - breakout or otherwise - it is important to avoid scouting the statline. We want to look for something in the player’s process that may be leading to the results. And, in Healy’s case, a new approach and refined swing may do just that.
Healy is capable of playing both 1B and 3B, and the A’s clearly need help at the former (as well as DH). The team’s first basemen are batting a combined .266/.324/.393 (16% below-average as per sOPS+), and its designated hitters are batting a pathetic .211/.258/.347 (44% below-average). While Healy is far from a guarantee to produce, the A’s should not feel beholden to the players that have filled these positions so far - mostly Yonder Alonso and Billy Butler - and they are in a rebuilding phase, after all. At the very least, Healy demolishes LHP, and could be used in a platoon with Alonso while filling in as needed at 3B and DH.
In the overall fantasy picture, however, I suspect that this is a precursor to the A’s dealing Danny Valencia. The 31-year-old has been quite good in his time in Oakland (.296/.356/.511 with 23 HR in 480 PA between 2015 and 2016), and has a great deal of value as someone that can play at all four corners. He has a year of team control remaining for 2017, so he wouldn’t be a rental, either - though, that could mean that the A’s could hold onto him if they don’t receive an offer that they love.
In the short-term, I think that Healy will float between 1B, 3B, and DH, and play at least four times a week. If he hits (which I think he can, though O.co won’t help much), they will find a way to play him every day. And if Valencia is moved, Healy will get a nice, long look at the hot corner.