Top 5 Prospects for 2015: Oakland Athletics

This 30-part series will look at the projected Top 5 freshman contributors for each big league club for the year ahead. The rankings take into consideration a mixture of ceiling, readiness and potential playing time allocation, which is to say some players with lower ceilings may be ranked ahead of others with higher ceilings because they project to have a greater impact in the coming season.

In a Nutshell: Four of the five players listed below joined the Athletics via trades during the recent off-season. There isn’t a superstar-in-the-making among the bunch but the club has impressive, young depth at a variety of positions — both on offence and on the mound.

The Top 5 Freshman for 2015

1. Sean Nolin, LHP: Traded to Oakland in the offseason Josh Donaldson deal, Nolin is a promising southpaw starter with the ceiling of a No. 4 starter. He should benefit from the move to a more spacious park where his fly-ball tendencies will be less detrimental. He’s probably been MLB ready for at least half a season but the upper level depth, as well as an injury, kept Nolin in the minors — except for one late season MLB appearance. With that said, he still has some work to do to reach his full potential, including improved command.

2. R.J. Alvarez, RHP: Acquired from San Diego, Alvarez has a chance to develop into a late-game reliever. A 2012 third round draft pick, the right-hander reached the Majors in just his third pro season. He dominated the minors and struck out 178 batters in 119.1 innings while holding them to a .197 average. The 23-year-old Alvarez has struggled with his health at times and has never pitched more than 48.2 innings in a season. Like Sean Nolin, Alvarez tends to induce a lot of fly balls so the home park should benefit him.

3. Kendall Graveman, RHP: Graven was originally selected in the eighth round of the 2013 draft as a cost-controlled pick (He was a senior at Mississippi State) to save money for more highly regarded players. A ground-ball specialist, he started throwing an improved cutter as a pro and saw his prospect value erupt as he flew through five different levels of ball in 2014 and made five MLB appearances. He doesn’t strike many batters out but he keeps the ball on the ground and doesn’t walk anyone, either. Like fellow trade acquisition Sean Nolin, Graveman has the ceiling of a No. 4 starter.

4. Billy Burns, OF: The Athletics currently feature a veteran-heavy collection of outfielders that should open the year on the 25-man roster but Burns should be in serious consideration for the first promotion in the event of an injury. The fleet-of-foot outfielder would provide an element (speed) to the offence that would otherwise be lacking. Burns, 25, lacks power and strikes out too much at times but he’s more than willing to take a walk and he had a lot of success stealing bases in 2014; he succeeded 54 times in 60 tries in the minors.

5 Rangel Ravelo, 1B: Another recent acquisition, Ravelo isn’t your prototypical first baseman in the sense that he’ll likely top out at 10 home runs a season. However, he’s a career .301 hitter in five pro seasons and has an on-base percentage of more than .380 in each of the past two seasons. He also possesses gap pop and could hit 30-40 doubles per year, while making a lot of contact and putting the ball in play. Ravelo will have to wait for an injury to Billy Butler or Ike Davis to receive a shot but he’s a better long-term option than Rule 5 pick Mark Canha or Nate Freiman.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Forrest Gumption
Forrest Gumption

I still do not know why people aren’t more bullish on Graveman after his introduction of a fairly unhittable cutter. All last season at every level and continuing on this spring so far, he looks sensational. It would not surprise me in the slightest if his ERA was sub-3 this season and he got ROY votes. I see his ceiling as more front line than back line as long as the cutter stays as it is…if not, then yeah he’s fringy, but with it, Mariano would be proud of the movement he’s getting.