Athletics

MLB execs view A's Sean Murphy, Nick Allen as top defensive prospects

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MLB execs view A's Sean Murphy, Nick Allen as top defensive prospects

In a league where the home run has become the most efficient form of scoring runs, defensive play in baseball has lost some of its luster.

While web gems always make for a nice addition to the summertime highlight reels, elite defensive players continue to be valued lower than those who present a stronger offensive presence.

The A’s, however, feature some of the best defense MLB has to offer. In addition to finishing tied for third as a team in fielding percentage (.987), first baseman Matt Olson and third baseman Matt Chapman won Gold Glove awards, Chapman's second-consecutive time receiving the honor.

Looking to the minor leagues, MLB.com’s Mike Rosenbaum put together a list of the top fielding prospects from each position, primarily based on an executive poll from all 30 MLB teams. Oakland was well-represented, with two of its younger players being named in catcher Sean Murphy and shortstop Nick Allen.

Murphy, the A’s No. 3 prospect (MLB.com), made the list despite playing just 53 games this past season. Rosenbaum noted that Murphy registered two of the hardest-thrown balls on base-stealing attempts, including one at 87.4-mph that would have ranked fourth-best in MLB.

Allen, meanwhile, was noted by Rosenbaum to have been “perhaps the best defensive player in the 2017 Draft.” Allen is listed as Oakland's No. 6 prospect by MLB.com.

“Yeah, I call him the magic man,” Stockton Ports manager Webster Garrison said about Allen (h/t The Athletic). “I mean, it’s fun to watch him play. Good hands, strong arm, lots of range out there and he positions himself.”

[RELATED: A's acquire speedy veteran Kemp in trade with the Cubs]

Not only are the A’s already a great defensive team, but there are more elite gloves coming up through Oakland’s farm system.

The future is looking bright for manager Bob Melvin and Co.

A's Mike Fiers responds to Rob Manfred's vow to protect him this season

A's Mike Fiers responds to Rob Manfred's vow to protect him this season

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to the media Tuesday and addressed some additional questions surrounding the Astros' cheating scandal. One topic in particular touched on the safety of Mike Fiers.

The A's pitcher was at the base of bringing the Astros' sign-stealing to surface by going on the record in a November interview with The Athletic.

After exposing Houston, Fiers received scrutiny, mainly from Astros fans. Manfred, who appeared to be aware of what the pitcher had been enduring, wanted to make sure he was working toward a plan for his safety.

But Fiers isn't sure how they would be able to protect him, he told The Athletic's Alex Coffey on Wednesday.

“I’m not asking for extra security," Fiers said in the interview. "I’m here to play baseball and I can defend myself, if anything. We do have National League games, and I’m going to have to get into the box (to hit) just like everybody else. It’s part of the game. If they decide to throw at me, then they throw at me. There’s nothing much you can do about it.”

The A's will host the Astros during their second series of the season at the Coliseum in Oakland, beginning on March 30.

It'll be tense.

The A's will head to Houston not soon after that at the end of April and then another time in May and in July. All eyes will be on Fiers, whether he's on the bump at Minute Maid Park or not.

He knows the attention will be on him. 

"Listen … everyone’s mad at (the Astros)," he said. "There are teams that are mad. It doesn’t matter what it is, extra protection, I mean, what are you going to do? There’s not much you can do.”

He's doing his best to concentrate on doing his job as a pitcher in a highly-anticipated season for the A's, but it's not that easy. Teammates have shown him what's being said on social media, which surely makes him uncomfortable. Since he addressed the media at the end of January during media day, he stressed the fact he didn't want to distract his teammates.

[RELATED: Fiers feels 'ahead of schedule' despite distractions]

Those teammates, and manager Bob Melvin, stood right by him as more and more information spilled out on the scandal.

He knows there will be repercussions, we all do. But those shouldn't start, or end, with him. 

What makes Matt Chapman is so confident in self, A's for 2020 season

What makes Matt Chapman is so confident in self, A's for 2020 season

OAKLAND -- There was a sense of confidence among A's players and manager Bob Melvin as they trickled into media day.

BoMel said it was the most excited he's been about the team since he's been with the A's, and it's no different for two-time Platinum Glove Award winner Matt Chapman, but he had to embrace the tough ending to 2019, first.

"We were really sad, and then for a while, it was pretty quiet," Chapman told NBC Sports California at the end of January. "But then, we all kind of turned the page a little bit and started appreciating everything accomplished -- and we were getting excited for next year."

Chappy made it clear the one-and-done losses the team faced over the past two seasons were not going to be a trend. There would not be a repeat of that in 2020, where the clubhouse filled up with packing boxes as the opposing team celebrated with champagne-soaked excitement.

"We're going to take it to the next level," he said. 

And it'll begin with the young arms, he went on.

"I think it starts with all of our young pitching that is getting more mature."

Top left-handed pitching prospects A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo will be a part of that possible starting rotation this upcoming season.

Luzardo, although a small sample size, hosted a 1.50 ERA and 0.667 WHIP in six games and 46 batters faced in 2019. Puk, who also made his highly-anticipated MLB debut last season, came out of the bullpen and in 11 1/3 innings boasted a 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts facing 47 batters.

Oakland will also get a full season of Frankie Montas who missed a chunk of time in 2019 after violating MLB's Joint Drug Agreement testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Veteran Mike Fiers and Sean Manaea are set to join the starting squad as well.

"It's like the first time we've had a set rotation, and it's guys we really trust, guys that have been tested," Chapman said. "We've had rotations, but we've always had guys go down, or this or that, it's like -- we have a five-man rotation with [Chris] Bassitt in there as well as a sixth, or a bullpen guy, whatever we need."

"They all have insane stuff," Chapman added. 

Chapman included the defensive and offensive game as two additional things for the team to have confidence in.

"Our pitching is only getting better, and I think our hitters are only going to get more polished, we're just going to be more mature -- we have more experience," he said. "The more at-bats you can give those guys, the better. The bullpen is only going to get better."

[RELATED: Fiers feels 'ahead of schedule,' despite distractions

"I think we're just a really, really good young, well-rounded team."

It was also something new and exciting for Chappy to be able to look around the clubhouse and recognize most of the players this time around, that'll help.

"I just have the confidence in our whole team -- we know what to expect," Chapman said. "Instead of starting from scratch, we can kind of just build on what we have, the momentum."