The Oakland A’s missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017 this season and only the fourth time in the last 10 years. Their consistency has come from a continually solid farm system as they don’t spend much money on free agents. However, they haven’t had much success in the postseason, making it to the ALCS just once since 1993. Oakland doesn’t have any Top-40 prospects right now, but many of them are close to the big leagues. Let’s take a look at how the Top 5 shakes out.
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1. Tyler Soderstrom, Catcher/First Base
Soderstrom was the A’s first-round draft pick in 2020 out of High School. He finally got his first taste of professional baseball last year at Low-A Stockton. The left-handed hitter showed up ready to play. He slashed .306/.390/.568 over 57 games and hit 12 home runs with 49 RBIs. The bat has never been in question, the glove has. Soderstrom caught 38 games and looked out of place gunning down just 21 percent of would-be base stealers and allowing 15 passed balls. Oakland believes he can get better behind the plate, and Soderstrom has a strong arm. The other aspects of catching, game management, blocking, etc., are where the California native needs work.
Whether Soderstrom is a long-term catcher in the majors has yet to be seen. Even if he is not, he should be able to play first, third, or a corner outfield spot at an average to an above-average level. It is his bat that will move him up the ranks quickly. He has great pitch recognition and has an advanced approach for a kid his age. If Soderstrom hits well to start the year, don’t be surprised to see him up by the end of the season, especially if the A’s move on from Matt Olson at first base.
2. Zack Gelof, Third Base
Oakland drafted Gelof in the second round last year. He started out the 2021 season in Rookie ball and ended it with Triple-A Las Vegas. Most of his games were with Low-A Stockton, but through all three levels, Gelof slashed .333/.422/.565 with seven homers and 13 steals in just 36 games. He has learned to not sell out for more power as that has led to some swing and miss tendencies. The big third baseman has plenty of natural pop at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds. He also moves well for a player his size, but his defense is a work in progress and there are questions if he can stick at third base.
Gelof is just 22, but he has already reached Triple-A. He still has some more to prove, especially in the field. However, if his bat is there over a larger sample size against upper-level pitching, then Gelof could possibly be up late in 2022.
3. Nick Allen, Shortstop/Second Base
Allen was a third-round pick out of High School in 2017. Defense is his calling card as he has great range, a strong arm, and can make any play on the infield. Offensively, Allen is never going to be a masher, but his bat has come along. the 5-foot-8 shortstop slashed .288/.346/.403 between Double-A and Triple-A last year. While he struggled a bit when he moved up, all six of his homers were in Double-A, Allen was not overmatched and kept his K rate below 20 percent.
The 23-year-old is on the cusp of the majors. Allen offers near-elite defense along with solid speed. As long as his bat is decent enough for the lower third of the order, his glove will keep him in the majors for a long time. Allen could be an Andrelton Simmons type player which Oakland will surely take in a heartbeat.
4. A.J. Puk, Pitcher
Although Puk has 24.2 innings at the major league level, he is still rookie eligible which keeps him on this list for another few months at least. Stuff has never been a question for the 6-foot-7 lefty as his fastball reaches triple digits and his slider is devastating in the low-90s. Puk’s curveball and changeup are adequate and simply offer a different look and speed from his two main offerings. Injuries have plagued the southpaw as he had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and shoulder surgery in 2020.
Although Oakland had visions of an ace when they took Puk with the sixth overall pick in 2016, that may not be what the future holds. The former Gator may be better off coming out of the pen to avoid further injury issues. He will be 27 years old in April and he could be a dominant force in relief for the A’s.
5. Daulton Jefferies, Pitcher
The polar opposite of Puk, Jefferies is a right-hander who has excellent control and sits 91-93 with his fastball. He was selected in the first round of the 2016 draft as well. He suffered through Tommy John surgery in 2017 but made a solid return in 2019. His pinpoint control is obvious with a 93/9 K/BB rate that season between Advanced-A and Double-A. He earned 17 innings in the majors over the last two seasons and has looked decent.
The development of a quality third pitch will be a key to Jefferies’ success. His changeup plays very well off of his fastball, and it has plenty of fade. His curveball however is average at this point and is described as more of a slurve. The right-hander could challenge for a rotation spot this spring but may start the year as a long relief man out of the pen.
What Does the Future Hold?
The A’s have a few other position players to keep an eye out for. Max Muncy was a first-round selection this past year. While none of his tools stand out, he is an all-around good player and does everything at an average to an above-average level. Pedro Pineda was signed out of the Dominican Republic last January. The 18-year-old is a solid athlete and could tap into some power as he fills out his 6-foot-1 frame. Brayan Buelvas was signed as a 16-year-old out of Columbia in 2018. His power-speed combo has shown up this year and is intriguing as long as he can limit the swing and miss in his game.
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