A's farm still strong in OF despite loss of Murray

March 14th, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- No question, losing Kyler Murray to the NFL was a blow to the Athletics, who spent the No. 9 overall selection in the 2018 Draft and a $4.66 million bonus on him last June. They got most of their money back but lost the pick and an exceptional athlete who drew comparisons to Rickey Henderson and Andrew McCutchen.

But even without Murray, outfield is the strongest position in Oakland's farm system. Three of the first seven prospects on MLB Pipeline's A's Top 30 list are outfielders who likely will play together in high Class A Stockton this year.

Lazaro Armenteros, who signed for $3 million as a Cuban defector in 2016, and Austin Beck, who landed a $5,303,000 bonus as the No. 6 overall choice in 2017, have tantalizing power/speed combinations but still are figuring out strike zone management. Jameson Hannah, a 2018 second-rounder who signed for an over-slot $1.8 million, doesn't have the same kind of raw pop but has more pure hitting ability and polish. He also might be the best center fielder of the trio.

"Hannah is a sweet-swinging lefty with really good feel for hitting, really good plate discipline and really good pitch-recognition skills," Oakland farm director Keith Lieppman said. "Right now, he's a slashing gap-to-gap hitter who will develop some backspin and power. He plays well on the other side of the ball too and runs well.

"He helps us feel better about Kyler being gone because this guy is going to be a good player."

The A's outfield depth extends well beyond the Stockton contingent. A third-round pick in 2017, Greg Deichmann has the power and arm required in right field but had last season ruined by a hamate injury. Oakland added toolsy center fielders Luis Barrera and Skye Bolt to its 40-man roster last November after both had breakout years.

Bolt was one of the biggest success stories in the organization in 2018. A .238/.324/.393 hitter in his first three pro seasons, he batted just .133 in his first two weeks in Double-A and got demoted. He turned things around in high Class A, raked in the final month after returning to Double-A and finished the year at .260/.347/.474 before playing well in the Arizona Fall League.

"He took failure and turned it into absolute success," Lieppman said. "He changed his approach, worked on his mechanics and developed a better sense of what he wanted to do at the plate. All his tools are coming together."

There's more: Tyler Ramirez fits the fourth-outfielder profile with steady tools across the board. Dairon Blanco is the fastest player in the system and possesses top-of-the-scale speed. Lawrence Butler has a huge 6-foot-4 frame and showed intriguing power potential during instructional league.

Though none of these players can match Murray's upside, the A's shouldn't find themselves shorthanded in the outfield for the near future.

Camp standout

Jesus Luzardo is the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball and could wind up being the A's best starting pitcher as a rookie this year. He has been outstanding in his first four Cactus League outings, allowing just one earned run while striking out 15 in 9 2/3 innings.

Oakland isn't taking Luzardo on its season-opening two-game trip to Japan next week because it wants to keep him on his regular throwing schedule, a sign that he could break camp in the big league rotation. He's just 21 and has only worked 16 innings above Double-A, but he's also a southpaw who pounds the strike zone with a mid-90s sinker, an advanced changeup and a solid curveball.

"His feel for pitching at that young age is definitely impressive and he can back it up with the stuff that’s front-of-the-rotation stuff," catcher Nick Hundley told MLB.com's Jane Lee after Luzardo allowed one run and struck out five in four innings against the Giants on Sunday. "And when you back that up with the mindset and the aggressiveness, it’s the total package."

A second-round pick by the Nationals in 2016 despite having Tommy John surgery as a high school senior that spring, Luzardo came to the A's as part of a package for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson in July 2017. Lieppman has been part of the organization since 1971 and says Luzardo is the best prep lefty the system has had during his time there.

"When he first came over in the trade, he was very mature and confident, very unusual to see in a young kid like that," Lieppman said. "He has an innate ability to read situations and go off his instincts. He looks like a seasoned veteran on the mound."