Next A's contender taking shape at Double-A

May 28th, 2023

OAKLAND -- In the two seasons prior to what became a solid run of playoff contention for the A’s from 2018-21, key contributors from those squads generated a buzz throughout the organization as they made their way through the system.

In 2023, a new batch of young A’s prospects is giving off a similar vibe.

For a glimpse of what the A’s believe is a promising future, a good place to start is Double-A Midland, whose roster boasts one of the most stacked collections of Oakland prospects on one team in quite some time. Among those playing for the RockHounds: outfielder Lawrence Butler (Oakland’s No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline), outfielder Denzel Clarke (No. 9), third baseman Brett Harris (No. 12), infielder Darell Hernaiz (No. 14) and right-handers J.T. Ginn (No. 13), Royber Salinas (No. 16), Ryan Cusick (No. 19) and Joey Estes (No. 20).

Some in the organization compare this Midland group to the assortment of talent on the club’s Triple-A roster in 2017, when Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chad Pinder, Mark Canha, Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino were all knocking on the door of the Major Leagues.

“This group [at Midland] has a chance to make a similar impact to that wave,” said A’s assistant general manager and director of player personnel Billy Owens. “They feed off each other, jell and compete together.”

Clarke is one of Midland’s offensive standouts. Selected in the fourth round of the 2021 MLB Draft, he has quickly developed into one of the organization’s most exciting prospects for his many raw tools. He leads Midland with a .961 OPS in 23 games and has four homers, nine doubles, two triples and 15 RBIs.

“Denzel continues to improve,” Owens said. “Those huge tools are turning into skills. He’s an amazing hard worker. His power potential is dynamic, and his center-field defense is spectacular. It definitely has been fun watching Denzel navigate his enormous potential into true possibility.”

On the pitching side for Midland, Cusick entered Sunday holding a 2.13 ERA in eight starts with 34 strikeouts over 38 innings. The right-hander was acquired from the Braves as part of the Olson deal in 2022.

“He’s more assertive now that he’s in his second year with us,” Owens said. “His heater is displaying more finish, and his secondary stuff has taken a step forward. It’s always tough to change organizations early in your career. Now that he’s fully acclimated, his stuff is gaining more traction every day.”

With the talent developing at Midland -- as well as Tyler Soderstrom and Zack Gelof, Oakland’s No. 1 and No. 3 prospects, knocking on the door of the big leagues at Triple-A Las Vegas -- there is a sense that the next wave of winning A’s baseball is coming soon, and these prospects will be largely responsible for ushering in that era.

“Lawrence Butler called it ‘The New Oakland’ in Spring Training,” Owens said. “Those vibes keep getting reinforced every day throughout the system in 2023.”