The arrival of the offseason means that it's time to rank stuff. Already this winter, we've sized up the 60 best free agents, both on an overall and positional basis. There's no law that prevents us from ranking minor-league players in addition to their big-league counterparts. As such, we're going to spend the winter evaluating every team's farm system.
The lack of a minor-league season makes that more of a challenge this year. It doesn't help that some teams opted against sharing video and data from their alternate-site camps with the rest of the league. As such, we've opted against overthinking this. Our rankings will essentially be the same as they were last winter with a few changes. First, we'll exclude anyone who graduated by exhausting their rookie eligibility; second, we'll replace them with draftees or other worthy prospects; and third, and lastly, we'll present the information in a new format.
In every article in this series, you'll find a team's top five prospects as well as five others we felt like including, either because of their promise or some other reason. For those top five prospects, you'll find a quick summation of their pros (their saving grace, if one will) and their cons (their fault line), as well as beefier report and our attempt to peg their "likeliest outcome."
These rankings were compiled by talking to industry folks -- scouts, analysts, and other evaluators -- and include a touch of our own evaluative biases. Remember, that this is more of an art than a science, and that the write-ups matter more than the rankings themselves.
Now, let's get on to the top five prospects in the Oakland Athletics system.
1. A.J. Puk, LHP
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 25
Height/Weight: 6-foot-7, 248 pounds
Acquired: No. 6 pick in the 2016 draft (University of Florida)
Highest level: MLB
Saving grace: Stuff
Fault line: Durability
Scouting report: Puk's fastball-slider combination and control are good enough to envision him becoming a mid-rotation starter, if not a touch more. His body, though, doesn't want to cooperate. Puk missed all of 2018 and most of the 2019 seasons because of Tommy John surgery. He then required shoulder surgery this year, eliminating any possibility of him establishing a foothold on a big-league job. The A's are likely to give Puk another chance of latching on as a starter, but another injury-ravaged year could push him into the 'pen.
Likeliest outcome: Seemingly a high-leverage reliever
2. Tyler Soderstrom, C/OF
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 19
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 200 pounds
Acquired: No. 26 pick in the 2019 draft (Turlock High School, California)
Highest level: High school
Saving grace: Offensive upside
Fault line: Defensive home
Scouting report: There are some scouts out there who believe Soderstrom has the potential to become a special hitter. Those scouts are among those who want to move him away from catcher, which can hamper his arrival and suppress his offensive upside, and to the corner outfield, where he can focus on mashing. For the time being, it appears the A's intend to keep Soderstrom behind the plate. He has a chance to stick there, given his athleticism and his above-average arm … it just might prevent him from becoming a middle-of-the-order fixture.
Likeliest outcome: A dilemma about positional versus offensive value
3. Sheldon Neuse, 3B/2B
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 26
Height/Weight: 6-foo, 232 pounds
Highest level: MLB
Saving grace: Power
Fault line: Hit tool
Scouting report: Neuse is a big-league-ready power hitter with some positional flexibility on the infield. He's on the wrong team to man either corner-infield position, obviously, and his attempt to become a second baseman evidently left the A's cold as he didn't appear during the 2020 season. The risk with Neuse is that he's too strikeout-prone to be an effective big-league hitter. He punched out in 31 percent of his 61 plate appearances in the Show in 2019, and that rate is in line with what you'd expect based on his minor-league career. Neuse deserves an extended opportunity to prove he can make it work; he just might not get it with the A's.
Likeliest outcome: Streaky second-division starter at an infield position
4. Logan Davidson, SS
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 23
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 185 pounds
Acquired: No. 29 pick in the 2019 draft (Clemson)
Highest level: Low-A
Saving grace: Power, defense
Fault line: Hit tool
Scouting report: Davidson, a switch-hitter, has above-average power potential and the means to pass at the shortstop position. What he might lack is enough of a hit tool for the aforementioned qualities to matter. Davidson struck out in nearly a quarter of his plate appearances in Low-A in 2019, and that came after he fanned in more than 20 percent of his trips to the plate in the previous summer's Cape Cod League and his junior year at Clemson. There's a boom-or-bust dynamic here, in other words, that probably won't be resolved until he's able to reach Double-A.
Likeliest outcome: Second-division shortstop
5. Robert Puason, SS
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 18
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 165 pounds
Acquired: International amateur free-agent signing (Dominican Republic)
Highest level: Complex ball
Saving grace: Immense upside
Fault line: Inexperience
Scouting report: The A's ponied up to snag Puason, handing him a signing bonus worth more than $5 million in July 2019. He's a switch-hitter with the athleticism to remain on the infield and the projection to have an above-average bat. Puason hasn't made his official debut and he won't turn 20 for another two years, so there's no sense pretending anyone has a great feel for his chances of living up to his promise.
Likeliest outcome: Check back in a few years
Five others to know
- Daulton Jefferies, RHP
Jefferies has dealt with one injury after another since being popped with the 37th pick in the 2016 draft. He made his big-league debut in 2020, and if healthy he should make many more big-league appearances before everything is said and done. The problem is it's hard to bank on him remaining hearty and hale long enough to take his rightful spot in a rotation.
- Nick Allen, SS
Allen is a sure-handed defender at shortstop whose bat might play light. Perhaps predictably, given he's listed at 5-foot-8, his game is by and large void of over-the-fence power. Allen has homered four times in his first 994 professional plate appearances. He does have some bat-to-ball skills … just probably not enough to start for long.
- Tyler Baum, RHP
The A's snatched up Baum with their second pick in the 2019 draft. He has the frame and arsenal to start, but his delivery includes a long arm stroke that sees his elbow drift above his shoulder. That could cause him enough command and injury woes to force a move to the 'pen.
- Jeff Criswell, RHP
Meanwhile, the A's picked Criswell with their second pick in the 2020 draft. He too has a starter's frame and repertoire. He battled command issues during his three years at Michigan, and made more appearances out of the bullpen than in the rotation as a result.
- Greg Deichmann, OF
Injuries have prevented Deichmann, Oakland's second-rounder in 2017, from playing in more than 100 games in a season. He did have a nice run in last year's Arizona Fall League, homering nine times in 23 games. There's a good amount of risk here -- he's awfully prone to striking out, in addition to his physical woes -- yet he could be a nifty platoon bat so long as he stays healthy.