The 2015 first-round pick is finally hitting in the upper minors.
The Oakland A’s 2015 draft class has been a disappointment so far. A couple of mid-round pitchers are making noise, like 20th-rounder James Naile in Triple-A and 14th-rounder Boomer Biegalski in High-A, but the top picks haven’t followed suit. Other than Naile, the most advanced name from the class is the guy they traded away — 6th-rounder Bubba Derby, gone to Milwaukee in the Khris Davis trade, where he’s pitched his way up to Triple-A.
However, the book isn’t yet closed on this group. The 1st-round pick, shortstop Richie Martin, is finally showing signs of life for the Double-A Midland RockHounds at age 23. His season started late due to a minor spring injury, and he scuffled for his first two weeks in the lineup. However, the next two weeks went much better, with the following numbers over his last 11 games:
Martin, since 5/3: .366/.409/.610, 169 wRC+, 1 HR, 6.8% BB, 11.4% Ks
It’s only 44 plate appearances (15-for-41), but it’s still the best stretch of hitting he’s ever enjoyed in the upper minors. He’s had a couple spurts of hits like this before, but never with this much extra-base power and this few strikeouts — in fact, more extra-base hits (7) than Ks (5). He’s hit safely in 10 of those 11 games, including four straight multi-hit performances over the weekend. Overall, his season batting line is now above-average for his league.
Martin, 2018: .286/.345/.416, 103 wRC+, 1 HR, 7.1% BB, 17.9% Ks
Time will tell if this hot streak will turn into anything more for Martin, but it’s one of the first positive signs he’s shown in nearly two years. Another statistical note, for what it’s worth: When I wrote about Martin one week ago, his groundball rate was an enormous 64.1%, and just six games later it’s down to 60.7%. During this productive stretch he appears to be elevating the ball more, which could help explain why he’s achieving extra bases more often — it’s tough to do much damage with grounders, even with Martin’s plus speed. This is a stat to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.
It’s been a bumpy road for Martin so far in the pros. He first reached Double-A at the end of 2016, where he impressed during a brief five-game stint and then during the playoffs. However, he fell flat in Midland the next season and washed out back down to High-A. He’s also dealt with injuries each year, which has further slowed his development. And despite being billed as a glove-first shortstop, the available defensive metrics have mostly been lackluster as well, though this year they’ve improved to somewhere between neutral and slightly plus.
Is this the beginning of a breakout for Martin, and a chance to salvage the Class of 2015? Or is it just another brief mirage in the unrelenting desert of the minor leagues? Stay tuned to find out!
Rest of lineup
Besides Martin, the lineup is still being driven by the same three names.
Tyler Ramirez, OF: .311/.406/.519, 146 wRC+, 4 HR, 11.3% BB, 27.5% Ks
Sean Murphy, C: .312/.353/.544, 135 wRC+, 4 HR, 3.7% BB, 19.4% Ks
Eli White, IF: .302/.394/.468, 132 wRC+, 4 HR, 12.5% BB, 22.5% Ks
Although Ramirez is the Hounds’ best hitter, he’s gone through a concerning stretch of late. Over his last seven games he’s come to the plate 30 times and struck out in 14 of them (46.7%). Fortunately, he’s managed to remain reasonably productive during that stretch (103 wRC+) because he’s a BABIP god — he’s at an even .400 over his last 731 PAs dating back to the beginning of 2017, so his .427 mark this year isn’t that ridiculous.
Ramirez’s tendency to work long at-bats will probably always result in a few extra strikeouts and he’s shown that he can work around them, but this latest split has taken it a bit far. Hopefully it’s just a minor blip and he gets back to his usual contact rate, because otherwise his season so far has been a best-case scenario as a follow-up to last year’s breakout. At some point soon it’ll be time to start asking when the 23-year-old will get the call up to Triple-A, because he’s running out of things to prove in Midland.
Luzardo finally stumbles
Speaking of best-case scenarios, 20-year-old pitching phenom Jesus Luzardo has enjoyed just that in 2018. It only took him three starts to blow through High-A, and he was good in his first three games in Double-A as well. However, he finally stumbled on Sunday: 4 ip, 4 runs, 1 K, 3 BB, 7 hits. It wasn’t a full-on disaster, but it was a season-high in runs and the first time this year that he failed to average a strikeout per inning. Shake it off and go get ‘em next time! At least we know he’s finally being challenged.
On Monday another prospect had a rough go of it, with Norge Ruiz getting knocked around for the second time in his last three starts: 5 ip, 4 ER, 1 K, 2 BB, 10 hits, 1 HR. For what it’s worth (and it might mean nothing), Ruiz’s last four starts have gone like this: pitched well, then faced the same opponent again and got torched, then pitched well against a new opponent, then faced that same opponent a second time and got torched. In other words, his two bad starts came against lineups that were seeing him for the second time within a week. That’s the nature of the schedule in an eight-team league, but it seems worth noting.
Luzardo: 4.26 ERA, 19 ip, 20 Ks, 6 BB, 1 HR, 3.13 FIP
Ruiz: 4.91, 36⅔ ip, 20 Ks, 11 BB, 5 HR, 5.43 FIP
John Gorman: 3.00 ERA, 18 ip, 12 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 3.50 FIP
Nolan Blackwood: 5.27 ERA, 13⅔ ip, 10 Ks, 7 BB, 1 HR, 4.85 FIP
Sam Bragg: 2.95 ERA, 18⅓ ip, 12 Ks, 6 BB, 2 HR, 5.02 FIP
One final note: 27-year-old Ben Bracewell is pitching well in the rotation, with a 2.41 ERA and 6.4 K/BB ratio. He really should be in Triple-A after spending most of last year there, so we’ll talk about him again if/when he makes that jump back to Nashville, but his performance so far earns him a quick footnote here.
No Nashville tonight.
Double-A Midland: 4:30 p.m., Kyle Friedrichs vs. Frisco
High-A Stockton: 7:10 p.m., Zack Erwin vs. Rancho Cucamonga
Single-A Beloit: 4:35 p.m., Ivan Andueza vs. Wisconsin
Not the most compelling slate, but worth noting that Stockton has best record in the entire eight-team Cal League (24-15).
Link to box scores