Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.
First Taste of The Show: Ramon Laureano, OF: The Astros have done an outstanding job developing players in recent years and used their prospect capital to acquire veteran players, parting ways with some solid outfield prospects in recent years such as Teoscar Hernandez and Laureano. The latter prospect looked like an athletic, defence-first center-fielder for the A’s but hit better than expected in his debut. Laureano hits a ton of line drives but also swings and misses a lot. He’s had success with the bat in his pro career with strong averages but they’ve consistently come from high BABIPs. He may be that rare breed that consistently produces higher-than-average BABIPs but even if it plummeted to earth and he hit for a modest average, Laureano offers power, speed and strong on-base rates.
The Draft Pick: Jameson Hannah, OF: The A’s took Kyler Murray with the ninth overall pick but may have seen that pick flushed down the toilet with him now intent on a career in the NFL. That perhaps adds a little pressure for the second round pick, Hannah, to realize his full potential. I’m not a huge fan of Hannah based on what I’ve seen so far. He’s mostly a speed guy with some good gap pop out of his smaller, but explosive, frame. But he has wild swings, struggles with off-speed stuff and looks like he’s trying to hit home runs rather than just put the ball in play and let his speed play. His swing also gets long. On the plus side, he’s athletic and will play a solid center field.
The Riser: Sean Murphy, C: Murphy’s development is likely a welcomed sight in Oakland as the club is set to open 2019 with a modest tandem behind the dish. He has the defensive skills to be an impact player on defence alone and his bat has continued to get better with each pro season. He now has a chance to hit for a respectable average for a catcher and produce better-than-average pop; a lot of his power shows up in games as gap-pop right now but could eventually turn into 15+ homers over a full season. Murphy also controls the strike zone very well and could produce a solid on-base average.
The Fallen: A.J. Puk, LHP: Through no fault of his own, really, Puk took a step back in 2018 when he lost a valuable year of development to Tommy John surgery. He should be back near full strength by the summer but it will be interesting to see how the layoff and rehab affects his command and control. Those are often the last skills to develop for a tall, lanky pitcher but Puk actually showed well in those areas before injury despite standing 6-7. If he is back to his old self, it’s not inconceivable to expect the hard-throwing lefty in The Show before the end of the year.
The 2019 Contributor: Jesus Luzardo, LHP: Luzardo has had a meteoric rise through pro ball, making it look easy at most times. After spending his first pro season in short-season ball (and getting traded from Washington to Oakland) he zoomed up three levels and reached triple-A in his first full season. Pretty impressive stuff for someone who didn’t turn 21 until after the minor league season ended. Why is he so good? Well, he pretty much does everything well. He has above-average control, he shows the ability to command three pitches and he both misses bats and induces a high number of ground-ball outs. Oh and he’s a lefty that can dial his heater up into the upper 90s. The only real concern with Luzardo is his durability; he’s not the biggest pitcher and has already had Tommy John surgery.
The 2019 Sleeper: Lazaro Armenteros, OF: Armenteros offers an exciting and explosive package of tools. He’s extremely strong and athletic, built like a running back, and could impact the game on both the base paths and in the field (although his arm strength is modest). He can also hit the ball a long way when he makes contact. But his ability to make consistent contact remains a big question mark. He utilizes a significant leg kick with his swing and is often off balance — out in front of off-speed stuff and behind on good heat. Armenteros has such strong legs (and upper body, for that matter) that he doesn’t need the leg kick to generate additional pop. If I’m the A’s, I’m eliminating as much of that leg kick as possible.
The 2019 Lottery Ticket: Marcos Brito, 2B: In my research of players, I’ve been putting added emphasis on their maturity and make-up — and I believe most teams also value this often unreported tool. Brito gets high marks in area, which should help him make the most of his skills. He possesses a promising bat but has a small frame and there is room to put on some good weight/muscle. His swing is quick and efficient to the ball and he has a chance to hit for a good average as he continues to improve his pitch recognition. Brito, 18, has a patient approach and should be a big on-base guy as he matures. He’ll likely never hit for power. Defensively, he’s probably a second baseman in the long run – but could develop into a very good defensive player at the keystone.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.