It was long, long drought from Eric Chavez to Nick Swisher to 2016, with a sad assortment of position players to point to as “draft and development” successes. Kurt Suzuki has had a nice career and all, but where was the influx of appreciable talent worth getting excited about?
Suddenly, there are signs of life beyond the Cliff Pennington “well he did hang around an awful long time…” threshold of judging talent.
It starts with a first round draft pick (2014), Matt Chapman. Yes, Chapman has had contact issues in the minors that persist into his first 22 big league games, but to my eyes this guy is a star in the making. Somehow he has already managed to rank #3 among 3Bmen in DRS (defensive runs saved) with a +8 ranking and you will be hard pressed to find a pair of eyeballs that does not see a gold glove caliber 3Bman. Offensively, the power is undeniable, as 11 extra base hits in 22 games will affirm, but to me the devil is in the details and it is not in the numbers that you see how good Chapman can — and I think will — be.
Chapman’s instincts are tremendous, from his dash home on a short wild pitch to his sprint from 1B to 3B on a sacrifice bunt. Decisions on defense about when to spin, when to rotate on one knee — Chapman just has a natural feel for the game. Right now he is batting around .200 and he is already good. I feel confident that sooner rather than later he is going to be great.
Then you have a former second round draft pick (2012), Bruce Maxwell. Blessed with a great eye and accompanying patience, Maxwell quietly has produced a career .354 OBP so far in the big leagues. A big, strong guy, Maxwell certainly has the physique to hit for power, although so far he has not slugged a whole lot (.379). If he develops a little power Maxwell has a chance to be very much an above average big league hitter.
As for his catching, Maxwell is fairly new at it, having converted to catching only upon joining the A’s organization. Some of his shortcomings, such as blocking balls in the dirt, may relate to his relative inexperience but even if they remain weaknesses I am impressed with how many strengths he brings to the position. His arm, combining strength and accuracy, is solid, and he is the catcher I have most confidence in to call a good game since Kurt Suzuki. Finally, Maxwell is known as an excellent pitch framer, something the Eyeball Scout has noticed as well.
Maxwell appears set up to be anywhere from a solidly average big league catcher to potentially much more than that if he develops some thump in his bat to go with his eye.
Next you have a third round pick (2013), Ryon Healy, who is flawed to be sure. Healy is not gifted with defensive skills nor does have the gift of patience or discernment at the plate. But the boy can hit — he hits the ball so darn hard that warts and all Healy is a legitimate .800 OPS hitter. To be precise, Healy’s career slash line currently stands at .282/.314/.499 after 165 games, which is roughly one full season, during which time he has now launched 32 HRs.
It remains to be seen whether Healy can muster up enough athleticism to be league average defensively at 1B or whether he can be convinced to let a few more pitches go by and draw some walks. You would be wise to take the “under” on both, but regardless he is already an impact hitter, both literally and figuratively, who may or may not be done improving.
Finally, you have an intriguing “jack of all trades, master of none” sandwich pick (2013), Chad Pinder, whose unexpected power and fluidity in RF give him a chance to carve out a useful role on a competitive team. Pinder’s erratic arm, vulnerability to RHPs, and general hacktastic ways may prevent him from becoming more than a “super utility” player, but as a 2Bman, SS, RFer, and power threat with good speed, Pinder certainly has many strengths to offer a big league team.
4 stars? No. 4 sure fire 10 year big leaguers? No. But when you compare the position players the A’s have brought through these past 10…15…oy, 20 years, all the Danny Putnams (didn’t he choke on a grape?), Jose Herreras (did you know he plays for the York Revolution, having recently been released by the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs?), more recently the Grant Greens, Michael Choices, and Jemile Weeks, it appears Oakland may be bringing up position players who not only will stick, but are capable of contributing to a competitive team.
Not only that, more is on the way. Sean Murphy, a third round pick in 2016, is so strong defensively that he could probably catch right now in the big leagues. His bat, stalling a bit in AA right now, tore through single-A Stockton and his overall stock is high. Who knows if 7th round pick Tyler Ramirez is for real, but given that he is only 22, his .311/.405/.439 line this year in Stockton (A) and Midland (AA) combined has to get your attention. As does the .303/.336/.495 from Yairo Muñoz, also 22 and doing his raking in AAA.
It was a long, long drought, but let’s hope that when it rains it pours.