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Minor League Notebooks

Oakland Athletics trade for Stephen Piscotty, lose Brett Graves in Rule 5

The Oakland A’s made a trade and lost a prospect on a busy Thursday morning.

Brett Graves / Photo by Chris Lockard
Brett Graves spent 2016 and part of 2017 with Stockton / Photo by Chris Lockard

The Oakland Athletics acquired outfielder Stephen Piscotty for prospects Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock on Thursday. The A’s also lost RHP Brett Graves to the Miami Marlins in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. The A’s selected three players in the minor league portion of the draft.

The trade for Piscotty had been rumored for a few days leading up to the announcement. In Piscotty, Oakland acquires a replacement for Ryon Healy in the line-up and Khris Davis in the corner outfield (Healy was traded to Seattle and Davis will move to DH). A native of Pleasanton and a Stanford alum, Piscotty was a 2012 first-round pick of the Cardinals. In three big league seasons, Piscotty is a career .268/.346/.438 hitter with 38 home runs in 323 games.

Piscotty hit .273/.343/.457 with 22 homers in 153 game for the Cardinals in 2016 and was rated one of the top defensive right-fielders in the National League by UZR rating. He signed a contract extension that offseason through 2022 with a team option for 2023.

The 2017 season was a struggle for Piscotty, who battled patella tendonitis for much of the season. He also learned that his mother was diagnosed with ALS. With the A’s, Piscotty will be closer to home in 2018.

In 107 games in 2017, Piscotty hit .235/.342/.367 and his defensive fell off. However, if he is healthy, there is no reason to believe he can’t get back to being the player he was with the Cardinals in 2016, when he was worth 2.9 WAR.

Adding Piscotty will help the A’s replace Healy’s right-handed bat in the line-up and will give them another young player at the big league level under team control for at least five years. Piscotty’s ability to get on-base should help an A’s offense that had a team .319 OBP last season.

To get Piscotty, the A’s had to pay a steep price, giving up top prospects Munoz and Schrock. Munoz had the best year of his career in 2017, batting .300/.330/.464 for Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville. A natural shortstop, Munoz logged time at short, second, third and all three outfield positions in 2017. He had one of the strongest arms in the A’s system.

Munoz is a free swinger, but he has outstanding bat-to-ball skills. He has only 315 strike-outs in 1,776 career at-bats. If Munoz can improve his plate discipline to avoid swinging and pitcher’s pitches, he could be an everyday major leaguer. If he doesn’t improve his approach, he still has a future as a major league utility player thanks to his defensive versatility, above-average speed and above-average power. Munoz will turn 23 in January.

Schrock, acquired from the Nationals in Aug. 2016, has breezed through two-and-a-half seasons as a pro, batting .324 with a .372 OBP in 281 games. In 2017, he challenged for the Texas League batting title, hitting .321 in his age-22 season for the RockHounds. Schrock, like Munoz, is an outstanding contact hitter. He has only 100 strike-outs in 1,123 career at-bats.

Defensively, Schrock is limited to second base at the moment, although he has improved his play with the glove at second significantly over the past year. He battled leg injuries in 2017, but, if healthy, the Cardinals could try him at third base or in left field, as well as second.

Munoz and Schrock weren’t the only losses in the A’s system on Thursday. RHP Brett Graves went to the Marlins in the second round of the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. Given the Marlins’ recent commitment to rebuild their roster, Graves is a strong bet to stick with Miami all season. The A’s have now lost players in three straight Rule 5 drafts (Colin Walsh in 2015 and Dylan Covey in 2016).

Graves missed half of the 2017 season while battling a lower leg injury described as being similar to shin splints. He returned for the A’s fall Instructional League and was healthy at the close of camp.

The right-hander was the A’s third-round pick in 2014, coming after Matt Chapman and Daniel Gossett in that class. Graves struggled with velocity loss in 2015 with the Beloit Snappers and posted a 5.36 ERA. In 2016, he found that missing zip on his fastball, but it took him half the season before he trusted his fastball. Once he trusted it, Graves blossomed with the Ports, posting a 3.36 ERA the second half of the season.

Thanks to a backlog of starters in the A’s system, Graves was forced to repeat High-A at the start of the 2017 season. He dominated in his four weeks with the Ports, posting a 2.55 ERA with a 29:3 K:BB in 24.2 innings. After earning a promotion to Midland, he began to experience the discomfort in his legs that eventually led to a season-ending DL stint. He threw 31.2 innings with the RockHounds before landing on the DL, posting a 5.97 ERA and a 28:10 K:BB.

Graves’ fastball sits 91-93 and can touch 95. His command has continued to improve each year as a pro and he was considered one of the hardest-working players in the A’s system. Although he has been used as a starter by the A’s thus far, there is some school of thought that Graves might eventually be a back-end reliever in the big leagues.

“Sometimes I see him pitching innings one through seven, and sometimes I see him pitching innings eight and nine. That’s just the way he is,” A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said after Instructs. “It’s almost like maybe you should tell him that he’s the closer, but tell him he’s going to close the first inning, the second inning, the third inning, and so forth. I think Emo [Scott Emerson] used that line on Raul Alcantara. It’s a great line. You tell them: ‘go out and shut them out this inning.’ And you don’t say, ‘I’ll see you in the seventh.’ In theory, it’s make one pitch at a time, but, in this case with Alcantara, it was just ‘go get me a good inning. Get ‘em out.’

“With Graves, everything has gotten better. The breaking ball has gotten better. He has life on the fastball. He added a cutter and he can cut it and he can hit 91-92, and he can make it be a slider at 88. He’s got some weapons.”

Per the rules of the Rule 5 draft, Graves must remain on the Marlins’ 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the A’s.

The A’s picked up three players in the minor league portion of the draft: Brallan PerezCarlos Diaz and Jaimito Lebron. All three players are now part of the A’s system without any roster restrictions.

Perez comes to the A’s from the Orioles’ organization. A 21-year-old native of Colombia, Perez has been a pro since 2013. Originally a member of the Texas Rangers’ organization, Perez was traded to the Orioles in August for international bonus slot money.

In 2017, Perez played mostly at Low-A and High-A, although he got a cup of coffee in Triple-A. Perez hit .289/.358/.352 with a 29:34 BB:K in 88 games. He played mostly second base, but also saw time at short, third and in right field.

Diaz, a left-handed pitcher, comes from the Marlins organization. A 25-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, Diaz threw only 6.1 innings for Marlins’ affiliates in August. He allowed only three hits and three walks while striking out seven.

A member of the Cleveland Indians’ organization in 2012-2013, Diaz spent several seasons in independent ball before signing with the Marlins last season. In 42.1 innings for the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2017, Diaz had a 3.82 ERA with 63 strike-outs and 17 walks.

Lebron is a 21-year-old right-hander from the San Diego Padres’ organization. The native of the Dominican pitched for the AZL Padres 2 squad in 2017 and had a 9.72 ERA and 26 strike-outs in 25 innings. He walked 13. He is a hard-thrower but lacks command at this stage of his career. Lebron signed with the Padres for $410,000 in 2013.

 

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