Scoring reigns supreme in the hitter’s paradise
The minor league season is nearly halfway through, and the 2021 MLB draft begins today, so it’s time for us to check in with the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators.
Vegas is a hitter’s paradise, within a hitter’s league in the Triple-A West, so as expected the story lines all revolve around massive offense — the Aviators are scoring and allowing seven runs per game. That means some position player prospects are looking really good, and all the pitchers are posting ugly numbers, and it can be difficult to hash out which parts are real and which are desert mirages.
On the offensive side, all five outfielders are members of our Community Prospect List — and that’s after Seth Brown and Skye Bolt already got called up to the majors, and Rule 5 pick Ka’ai Tom was traded away. Two remaining prospects in particular are thriving, both of them left-handed hitters:
- Deichmann: .305/.446/.442, 129 wRC+, 3 HR, 20.5% BB, 22.1% Ks
- Thomas: .299/.361/.695, 141 wRC+, 16 HR, 8.9% BB, 34.0% Ks
First up is Greg Deichmann, No. 9 on our CPL, who is having a promising season but in weird ways. His carrying tool is his massive power, which he displayed at the 2019 Arizona Fall League, and the flaw he needed to address was making consistent contact to cut his strikeouts. He’s achieving the latter, getting his Ks down past acceptable to outright good, while also doubling his walk rate to an insane level. But his power has disappeared, despite playing in a park/league that tends to accentuate sluggers.
Given the drastic changes in his stat line, it comes as no surprise that he’s been working on his approach. Director of Player Development Ed Sprague said the following in June, via Melissa Lockard of The Athletic:
“One of the things he learned when he went to the Fall League that year and had a lot of success was that he stayed in the middle of the diamond, his moves were relatively simple, he allowed the ball to travel so he took more borderline pitches, swung at better pitches,” Sprague said. “He’s a strong guy. When he can make more contact on pitches in the heart of the zone instead of the periphery, he’s going to do better.”
More from Special Assistant Grady Fuson, via Bill Moriarity of Athletics Farm:
As far as Greg Deichmann, we did spend some time in spring training trying to outline a little bit better his own strike zone. After a thousand at-bats in the minor leagues, you can get a pretty good idea, in our analytics and all our video that we have, about where he hits the baseball, what pitch, where does he like it, and where is no good for him. And we realized that, a lot of the bad swings and the rollovers and the swing-and-miss and the shanks are coming from balls down and in. And so that’s something that we talked about in spring training – now that you’re in Triple-A, you’ve got to have the ability to start saying no in that part of the strike zone, whether it’s a breaking ball, whether it’s a fastball. So there was a little work involved but, also, he’s been healthy. He had a full year last year with the alt site and instructional league and spring training. So maybe there’s been a big turnaround here and he’s becoming more of a hitter and just not trying to rely on power, being more of a professional hitter and getting on base more and keeping the average up and using the field better.
As noted by Fuson, Deichmann dealt with some injuries in the past, missing time in both of his first two pro seasons but not in ways that are worrisome long-term (like a hamate bone in 2018). We’ve rarely seen a healthy Deichmann in the minors, and never for this long.
This video is from late-2019, but still relevant and interesting.
— MLB’s Arizona Fall League (@MLBazFallLeague) October 19, 2019
Meanwhile, the stat line of Cody Thomas (No. 27 on our CPL) is more what we might have expected from Deichmann. Lots of dingers, and lots of strikeouts. That’s been Thomas’ profile throughout his pro career in the Dodgers’ system, and he’s continued in the launching pad of Vegas. Last week he hit a walk-off blast!
A two-run BOMB in the 9th from Cody Thomas and the Aviators WIN!! pic.twitter.com/qSZy7OEMCF
— Las Vegas Aviators (@AviatorsLV) July 6, 2021
That’s a lot of strikeouts, though. A rate of 34% would be too high in the majors, much less in the minors, and FanGraphs isn’t convinced it will work out for Thomas. They left him off their A’s Top 33 list entirely, placing him in a section called “Won’t Hit, In My Opinion” with the following notes:
“What Thomas has been able to do, transitioning from football to baseball late and nearly reaching the big leagues, is amazing. The type of big league role he could conceivably have is usually played by hitters who don’t wow you as much with epic bombs, but who have better feel for contact, like Seth Brown.”
There doesn’t appear to be any question about Thomas’ power, so it’s a matter of whether he can make enough contact. Here are a couple more highlight videos, all against lefty pitchers:
The former college quarterback has some athleticism to offer on defense as well.
— Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) June 5, 2021
Will either of these Triple-A standouts get a call to the majors this year? The A’s have a long waiting list for outfield playing time right now, but not everybody has capitalized on their MLB at-bats so further shuffling could be possible. Deichmann is already on the 40-man roster, which eases his path to Oakland a bit.
On the downside, two other outfield prospects are not having as much success in Triple-A. Spring training phenom Buddy Reed (No. 20 CPL) has only played 17 games, and not at all since early-June, and Lockard reports he’s been limited by a badly bruised thumb. Luis Barrera (No. 8 CPL) got a cup of coffee in the majors in May but has been in a funk since returning to the minors, batting .180 with a 30 wRC+ in 36 games to bring his season down to .222/.310/.327 (58 wRC+).
But wait, there’s a bonus fifth name! Austin Beck (No. 14 CPL) got a surprise call to Vegas to fill an emergency need, and the change of scenery has been an interesting look for the struggling former No. 6 overall draft pick. He’s struck out a dozen times in 20 plate appearances, but he’s also run into a few and hit three homers.
Homers are cheap in Vegas, but at this point we’ll take any positive sign from Beck. He’s never hit for any power in the lower-minors, and he only had one dinger in 20 games in High-A before his promotion, so why not let him go where he can watch the ball clear the fence a few times? Here’s a close-angle video of Beck’s swing.
There aren’t any other CPL prospects in the Aviators’ lineup, but there’s one more fun sleeper emerging. Infielder Nate Mondou came out of the 2016 draft, and since then he’s quietly and gradually worked his way up the farm system. The lefty second baseman doesn’t hit for power, but makes a lot of contact and draws walks, and he’s taken his skill set to an extreme in Triple-A Vegas after a couple years mired in Double-A mediocrity.
- Mondou: .346/.438/.523, 139 wRC+, 3 HR, 13.3% BB, 10.9% Ks
That low strikeout rate comes with a 4.9% swinging strike rate, which is minuscule. He rarely swings and misses. That’s a trait Oakland can always use more of, so let’s keep an eye on the 26-year-old.
Mondou + Schwindel = a dangerous duo pic.twitter.com/KnsvH7TDGz
— Las Vegas Aviators (@AviatorsLV) June 25, 2021
And finally, here’s one more veteran sleeper. We’ve already seen Frank Schwindel and Jacob Wilson punch their tickets to MLB auditions, so it’s worth a moment to see what other non-roster depth players are putting up big numbers in Vegas. Next on the list could be catcher Carlos Perez, who drew raves during the spring for his work behind the plate and is now producing with the bat.
- Perez: .302/.377/.552, 121 wRC+, 6 HR, 8.5% BB, 13.1% Ks
At 30 years old we’re not talking about a prospect here, and he’s hit like this in Triple-A before and never translated it to the majors when given the chance. But if the A’s suddenly needed an emergency backup for a couple weeks, would anybody be opposed to using a glove-first veteran with that Triple-A batting line? High contact and good power is a nice combo.
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) July 7, 2021
As for the pitchers, let’s keep it brief. Everybody is getting crushed. It’s tough to know who is pitching poorly and who is just pitching in Vegas. Likely some of both, but which is which?
- Jefferies: 5.93 ERA, 41 Ks, 38 BB, 8 HR, 5.54 FIP
- Puk: 7.57 ERA, 27⅓ ip, 33 Ks, 12 BB, 9 HR, 7.27 FIP
- Holmes: 9.08 ERA, 36⅔ ip, 37 Ks, 24 BB, 9 HR, 7.28 FIP
- Dunshee: 6.15 ERA, 26⅓ ip, 26 Ks, 14 BB, 4 HR, 5.68 FIP
- Howard: 5.90 ERA, 50⅓ ip, 39 Ks, 17 BB, 9 HR, 5.94 FIP
- Romero: 8.10 ERA, 26⅔ ip, 24 Ks, 13 BB, 9 HR, 8.25 FIP
So many dingers. Daulton Jefferies lost his strikeouts for a minute but has gotten them back lately, and A.J. Puk has now strung together nine straight innings without an earned run in his last five games. Parker Dunshee is on the injured list along with Wandisson Charles, and Grant Holmes is working shorter relief stints while Miguel Romero is stretching out and making starts. Brian Howard is alternating good starts and disasters.
Quick word on Jefferies, via Lockard:
“Emo (A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson) has him throwing more sliders and the more he’s throwing the better it’s gotten,” Sprague said. “That goes along with his changeup and I think he’s trying to take a couple ticks off his changeup.”
“With his delivery, hitters can see the ball a little bit so we addressed that,” he said. “… It’s not about his stuff. It’s about usage. It’s about location. It’s about deception. Those sort of things. He’s continuing to work on it.”
Perhaps the ace of the staff is right-hander Paul Blackburn, who is still in the organization after being DFA’d and clearing waivers in February.
- Blackburn: 4.55 ERA, 57⅓ ip, 50 Ks, 15 BB, 7 HR, 4.71 FIP
And looking good in the bullpen so far is righty Zach Jackson, who was promoted from Double-A a month ago.
- Jackson: 2.79 ERA, 9⅔ ip, 12 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 4.08 FIP
But you know who has thrown two scoreless innings, and technically leads the team with a 0.00 ERA? Nate Mondou. He’s pitched twice.
Add it all up, and what do the A’s have in Vegas? There are two more hot outfielders to try out if/whenever the team is ready to call them up (Deichmann and Thomas), plus a neat infield sleeper (Mondou) and veteran catching depth (Perez). The pitching staff is hard to gauge, especially the top prospects, but there’s a bullpen sleeper emerging (Jackson). And they’ve still got MLB depth like catcher Austin Allen, infielder Vimael Machin, and relievers Domingo Acevedo and Adam Kolarek.
And of course, we can’t wrap up without some love for Pete Kozma.
A little flash of the leather from KOZMA pic.twitter.com/xUaRw93wmP
— Las Vegas Aviators (@AviatorsLV) June 20, 2021