With alternate sites coming to an end, MLB Pipeline is recapping the development highlights for the prospects involved for each organization.
Top position prospect: Luis Barrera, OF (No. 8 on Top 30)
Luis Barrera had three plus tools on display at the A’s alternate site in San Jose, Calif.: Hit, run and field. His contact skills have always been outstanding, though his strikeout rate did jump to 20 percent in an injury-shortened 2019 season. He was back to driving the ball to all fields this summer as he wanted to make an impression after he was limited to only 54 games and never got in a rhythm a year ago.
“He’s been one of the most improved guys in our organization,” A’s farm director Ed Sprague said, adding that Barrera was outstanding on the basepaths and in the outfield in alternate site games. “He’s chomping at the bit to get an opportunity and he performed like that.
“He’s going to have to continue to hone in the zone a little bit more; they expose you up there pretty quickly. But he has really good bat-to-ball skills and he’s going to grow into some power.”
Top pitching prospect: Daulton Jefferies, RHP (No. 7)
The A’s were thrilled to get a couple of pitching prospects back healthy and on the mound, ready to contribute at the big league level. One was Jefferies, the club’s Competitive Balance Round A pick back in 2016, and the other was James Kaprielian. Jefferies gets the nod for having more of a starting-pitcher profile at this stage.
Now 25, Jefferies lost nearly two years because of an elbow injury that resulted in Tommy John surgery. He threw just nine innings combined in 2017 and 2018, but pitched his way to Double-A in 2019 and earned a spot on the 40-man roster. The 79 innings he threw a year ago made up nearly 80 percent of his professional innings entering this season. He added two, in the big leagues, this year and while that didn’t go well, the organization feels he’s finally ready to show why it liked him enough to take him No. 37 overall back in ’16.
“I liked where Jefferies was,” Sprague said. “He had his plus changeup. His velocity spiked a bit. He was 93-94 mph and touched 95-96 and maintained his velocity throughout his 3-4 inning outings. Any time you come off injury and get that velocity back, that’s a good thing.”
Youngest prospect: Robert Puason, SS (No. 2)
The A’s had three 18-year-old prospects at their alternate site: Puason, their key international signing in July 2019, Tyler Soderstrom, their first-round pick in the 2020 Draft, and 2018 international signee Brayan Buelvas. Puason, who has yet to play an official professional game since signing for $5.1 million, is the youngest by a few months, having turned 18 just last month.
From a production standpoint, Puason didn’t necessarily stand out, hitting around .200 or so. That should surprise no one given his level of experience, coupled with the fact that he was facing pitchers who were at or close to big league level. But the ability to see what it was like for players at that level to prepare every day was more useful than any production.
“He handled himself well,” Sprague said. “It was really good for him. It was more valuable than a short season in Arizona or Vermont, just being able to watch the older guys go about their business. It’s tough to get younger payers to understand how important routines are. Being exposed at such a young age to guys who were up and down from the big leagues was important."
2020 Draft picks
First-rounder Tyler Soderstrom (No. 3) was the only member of the most recent class who was at the alternate site. Though just a high schooler, his combination of advanced bat and MLB genes (his father is Steve Soderstrom) made him more than ready for the challenge, at least offensively.
“He got off to a really good start with the bat, then slowed down a little,” Sprague said. “He hit highs, lows and frustrations, experienced that and finished strong. He’s a good hitter, no doubt.”
The left-handed hitter showed just how polished he is at the plate, with an idea of what he wanted to do in his batting practice sessions and an understanding of metrics like launch angle. He has further to go on the defensive end of things, and the fact the A’s didn’t have a ton of catching in San Jose certainly helped the process, as he got a ton of work behind the plate in games, bullpens and side sessions.
“He has a long way to go, but I think he has the skillset to do it,” Sprague said. “His hands and arms are good enough. He just needs reps.”
Shortstop Logan Davidson (No. 6), the team’s first-rounder from 2019, got off to a slow start during his first pro summer, then finished strong and made strides during instructs last fall. He carried that over to this year, showing power to all fields from the left side of the plate with improved strike zone awareness. He also made strides with his defensive play at short.
James Kaprielian (No. 11) joined Jefferies as a talented pitcher who came back from injury to throw really well in San Jose. He also got the chance to pitch in the big leagues, albeit briefly. Kaprielian converted from starter to relief work at the alternative site because of the need in the big leagues and handled the transition well, but it’s unclear what the plan for the right-hander will be moving forward.
Before the shutdown, Miguel Romero (No. 25) was a fastball-slider guy only, a good enough combination that the A’s hoped he might contribute in 2020 in the bullpen. The right-hander used his time away to very good use, showing up with a changeup he taught himself by watching internet videos. He really committed to throwing it and it flashed plus at times.