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Oakland A’s prospect watch: Double-A Midland scores 38 runs in 2 days

The Double-A Midland RockHounds are struggling through a tough 2017. After winning three straight league championships, they sit 47-54 this year as most of their big names have disappointed. They missed out on the first-half division title and stand in last place so far in the second half, so they’re a long shot to make the playoffs at all.

Even a bad team can have a couple of good days, though, especially in the minor leagues where the landscape can change quickly. After getting rained out on Saturday, the RockHounds played a doubleheader Sunday against Corpus Christi and then another game Monday against Frisco. Midland won the three games by a combined score of 38-4. (Breakdown: 12-2, 13-1, 13-1)

What’s more, minor league doubleheader games last only seven innings apiece, and these were all home games that skipped the unnecessary bottom of the final frame. That means the Hounds racked up their 38 runs in just 20 innings of offense. Max Schrock led the way, going 7-for-10 with a HR, a double, and 4 BB.

Here’s a look at some top stories.

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2016 draft class begins to arrive

Three members of the A’s 2016 class have reached Double-A, in their first full pro season just one calendar year after being drafted.

  • LHP A.J. Puk (1st round): The sixth overall pick in the whole draft is making a quick rise up the minors. After striking out more than 14 batters per nine innings in High-A, he’s taking some lumps in Midland so far. But he’s been good more often than he’s been bad for the Hounds (4 good starts, 2 bad), and the most important thing is simply that he’s earned his way to the upper minors this quickly. As usual, his top tasks are sharpening up his control (13.6% BB) and efficiency (18 pitchers per inning), but he’s still striking out more than a batter per frame.
  • C Sean Murphy (3rd round): The catcher’s calling card is his defense and elite arm, which makes it tough to evaluate him using any available statistical data. At the plate he flashed his power in High-A and even hit for a good average; those traits haven’t shown up yet in Double-A, but he’s displaying excellent plate discipline in the early going (10 BB, 14 Ks, in 87 PAs). In the MLB Pipeline midseason update, he cracked the A’s Top 10 prospect list, and he should go up to No. 8 soon when Gossett and Chapman officially graduate.
  • OF Tyler Ramirez (7th round): Is this the class’ mid-round gem? He’s actually gotten better since moving up to Double-A. He’s hit safely in 19-of-22 games for Midland, and he has more than twice as many multi-hit days (7) as 0-fers (3). The dude just does not stop getting on base. Granted, his .455 BABIP will drop, but there’s a lot of room for his 151 wRC+ to come down and still be good. The bottom line is he’s spraying tons of liners to all fields while also maintaining a high walk rate (11.1%). Which outfield position he winds up in will help determine what kind of ceiling the lefty has (starter? 4th OF?), but this is a bat to watch right now.

In this Q&A via Oakland Clubhouse, A’s Assistant GM Billy Owens gives Ramirez a comp of David DeJesus. He also praises Murphy’s “outstanding” defense. Click to read more!

Schrock rolling

Future MVP Max Schrock has figured out Double-A. In 32 games (136 PAs) since returning from injury in mid-June:

Schrock, last 32 gms: .339/.426/.441, 148 wRC+, 1 HR, 12.5% BB, 7.4% Ks

His full-season numbers are good on their own, but this is another level. That’s nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts, which is just not a thing. Like, I’m not sure who to compare that to. Dustin Pedroia I guess, since Joey Votto is a completely different type of player?

With so few strikeouts and so many balls in play, he’s maintained that high average with “only” a .364 BABIP — not an absurd number for his current level, especially with his line-drive, all-fields approach. There’s not a lot of power in that recent split, but he did hit a handful of dingers earlier in the year so at least he’s physically capable of doing so.

Over at FanGraphs, Schrock remains the leader of Carson Cistulli’s Fringe Five Prospects, whose past winners include Jharel Cotton (2015) and Marcus Semien (‘13). He also recently earned himself a spot on the MLB Pipeline Team of the Week, and Billy Owens praises his defense at 2B in the above Q&A link. There is no reason to stop being excited about this guy, and if you haven’t started yet then I encourage you to join the bandwagon.

Rest of the team

Other highlights:

  • RHP James Naile is on rehab in Rookie Ball after missing the last two months with an oblique injury. He’s pitched two games, striking out 11 batters in five innings overall.
  • The rest of the rotation (all RHP) remains inconsistent. Grant Holmes has been solid over his last seven games, but even his 3.14 ERA over that time comes with a shaky 4.61 FIP (partly thanks to a 4-homer outing). Heath Fillmyer has been the same story over his last eight starts (3.63 ERA, 4.90 FIP), as well as Dustin Hurlbutt in his last four outings (1.11 ERA, 4.84 FIP). Casey Meisner has been good only once in five tries so far, and Brett Graves is still on the DL with a leg injury.
  • OF B.J. Boyd is heating up again, with a 134 wRC+ in July thanks to making a ton of contact and adding in just a touch more power. I’m about ready to see him go to Triple-A so we can begin to find out if he’s a viable MLB bench player.
  • On the downside, SS Richie Martin is just doing nothing. In 33 games (129 PAs) since returning from the DL in mid-June, he’s batting .181 with a wRC+ of 35. Cut it back to just July and the numbers are still only .221 and 67, albeit with improved plate discipline. It’s gonna take a whole lot more than that to keep moving up the system, even with a hot glove at SS, but on the bright side the A’s middle infield is packed right now anyway so there’s no specific hurry.

Tuesday’s games

Triple-A Nashville: 5:05 p.m., Jharel Cotton vs. Las Vegas
Double-A Midland: 4:30 p.m., Heath Fillmyer vs. Frisco
High-A Stockton: 7:00 p.m., Angel Duno vs. Visalia
Single-A Beloit: Day off
Low-A Vermont: Won 11-3, Parker Dunshee vs. Tri-City

Cotton is on a rehab start, and hopefully his next outing comes for Oakland.

Link to box scores

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