A’s top prospects crowd healthy minor league pipeline

Between Franklin BarretoMatt Chapman and Chad Pinder, the Oakland Athletics have a bit of a traffic jam on the road from top minor league talent to major league infielder.

Add in that big league starters Ryon Healy, 25, and Marcus Semien, 26, have youth on their own side, and you can understand how it is hard to foresee call-ups of top prospects like Renato Nunez, Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock. At their current positions, at least.

An overflowing stockpile of top-end talent is the envy of any pro sports franchise, but the A’s front office’s hand has been forced — it must either find at-bats at other positions or force players pounding at the big league door to continue to sit on the porch.

A’s manager Bob Melvin said depth can make his job a more difficult one, though his club’s talent pool has stoked his own excitement:

“You have this group (of big leaguers) that we have here, then you have this group of guys behind them that have all won at every level. … All these guys make what this camp have such a good feeling. We really feel like this is a good group, and that this is going to be the year where we’re headed in the right direction.”

Barreto, who is a nearly unanimous top prospect in the Oakland farm system, is naturally a shortstop. That position, though, is currently held down by Semien, who has improved his game while leading the club in games played each of his two seasons with the organization.

Adjustments for the 21-year-old Venezuelan will be minimal, as the second base spot appears to hold his shortest route to the bigs, said Vice President of Basbeall Operations Billy Beane.

According to Baseball America, Barreto features the top bat — for average, that is — among all A’s minor leaguers, with a career .293 average. He has also shown an ability to draw a walk — with a .349 on-base percentage — and hit for power, with 34 life-time homers and a .465 slugging percentage.

But, Beane said, it is Barreto’s tireless work ethic that has left a lasting effect on the coaching staff:

“It’s not just what you see on the field, the staff has raved about his work ethic … to a man, this staff has raved about how hard he’s worked.”

He added:

“Using this year as a gauge, I think we’d all like to see him up here at some point. And that’s our anticipation.”

Barreto has played, and been impressive, at second base during Fall League, but he like Schrock boasts little such experience in minor league play, with the latter having served one game at third base and 12 at shortstop in two seasons.

Schrock, who led the minor leagues in hits (177) in 2016 — batting .331 in doing so — grades out comparably to Barreto, according to Mike Rosenbaum of MLB.com. Having come to the club via a late-August trade that sent Marc Rzepczynski to the Washington Nationals, the 22 year-old has yet to leave a lasting mark directly on the A’s staff, though Melvin is certain he will be knocking on the call-up door at some point in 2017.

Chapman is perhaps the most promising of the A’s up-and-comers, because, as Beane put it, power and defense “play” at the big league level.

Considered the elite defensive third baseman in all of minor league baseball, according to MLB Pipeline, Chapman’s future home is the third base position at the Coliseum — or whatever stadium they soon lay their collective hats — and nowhere else. But, to fill a demand this offseason, the A’s signed veteran free agent Trevor Plouffe on a one-year deal.

Plouffe’s signing means that, barring injury, Chapman will likely spend the majority of the 2017 campaign in the minor leagues.

Beane, who joked that Melvin fought to add Chapman to the Opening Day roster a season ago, said that he does need to improve on his career .243 average:

“The constant with Matt will probably always be his defense; he’s a great defender. … Continuing on with the power and that defense, and hopefully some (improvement) in the contact rate … he’s got a chance to be a really good player — a cornerstone player — for you.”

The former GM did add, however, that Chapman’s low average is likely a product of his being moved quickly through the system — reaching Triple-A in 2016, his third year in the minors, after spending all of 2015 in Single-A. As for power, the 23-year-old Californian has averaged 38.5 home runs per 162 games played in his minor league run thus far — 64 homers in 268 games.

Beane added:

“Like Franklin, the hope is that we see him here at some point this year.”

Munoz, naturally a shortstop, has tried his hand at third base and in the outfield, while Nunez, a third baseman, has taken innings at first and in the outfield. While both of their bats, unlike those of Chapman and Barreto, could benefit from continued seasoning, expect their major league arrivals sooner rather than later.

The most intriguing of the bunch is Pinder, who Melvin said will embark on a journey to becoming a super utility man — much like Adam Rosales, who returned to the Oakland clubhouse this year.

Said Melvin:

“You look at his offensive numbers, and you look at where guys are, and you don’t want to block a bat like that. So, I think that if you’re looking at the next Rosey-type guy in our organization, it could be Pinder. And I know he’s expressed an interest in that.”

Pinder, originally a shortstop, brags a career minor league slash of .280/.331/.450 with 45 homers in 360 games (20 per 162). he has also tallied more than 25 doubles per full season,  including four in a 22-game stint with the big club in 2016.

Pinder’s bat is primed for a crack at major league pitching, and his defensive talents at a position Rosales called the toughest for utility players makes the nine-year vet believe he is more than capable of such a demanding duty. “Rosey” told SFBay that the rookie’s work ethic and strong mental game will do him well:

“I talked to Pinder earlier this Spring Training. He’s asking me a lot about angles — how do you throw at different positions. Like I told him, for me I like to keep the same angle — simplify — and be patient with yourself, especially not playing every day. There’s some times when I have like two weeks off, then I have to come in and face a tough lefty, then I get two more weeks off. You have to be really patient with yourself, and prepare yourself.”

Admitting this type of path will get Pinder to the big leagues quicker, and indeed into the lineup more, Beane said that finding a guy with his unique set of skills is advantageous for the team as well as the player, but he added that the 24 year-old does hold value at his own position:

“Everybody is look for that player who can play a bunch of positions. … But Chad’s value is going to be with his bat in the middle of the diamond somewhere; he’s got some defensive things that he can improve on, but the fact that he’s got power in the middle of the infield, that’s pretty unique.”

In total, the A’s believe they have three infielders who could make the jump from Nashville to Oakland this season, and that’s not considering Matt Olson — first base and outfield. So it is no surprise that both coaching staff and front office are feverish with excitement.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.