A's prospect breakdown: Franklin Barreto might get his chance in 2019

A's prospect breakdown: Franklin Barreto might get his chance in 2019

It feels like Franklin Barreto has been around forever, but the A's highly-touted infield prospect is still just 22 years old.

A's fans have heard about Barreto's talent and upside since way back in 2014 when he came over from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade. Now it's time to find out if his potential translates into actual production at the Major League level.

A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Barreto was ranked as the top international prospect in 2012 by Baseball America. MLB Pipeline rated him as the A's top prospect from 2015-17, ahead of Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Sean Manaea. But Barreto has been stuck behind Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien on the depth chart the past couple of seasons, spending most of his time at the Triple-A level.

Barreto has shown flashes of his potential in limited big league opportunities, blasting five home runs in 73 at-bats last season while slugging .493. In a two-game span in June, Barreto went 4-for-9 with three homers and nine RBI. On September 30, he launched a 444-foot moonshot to dead center field in Anaheim.

Other times, Barreto has looked a bit lost at the plate. He has struck out 62 times in 144 career at-bats, a staggering 43-percent clip more appropriate for a pitcher. Even in Triple-A last season, he fanned 118 times in 375 at-bats for a still-too-high rate of 31 percent.

Like many young hitters, Barreto must learn to lay off pitches out of the zone. Major League pitchers have tormented him with sliders low and away, especially in two-strike situations. If Barreto can improve his plate discipline, he has the natural ability to become an All-Star.

Barreto may very well get his opportunity next season if Oakland chooses not to re-sign Lowrie. The A's remain high on Barreto and still expect him to take over the everyday second base job in the near future.

Lowrie's recent success has complicated things. The veteran second baseman has put together back-to-back career seasons, notching 23 home runs and 99 RBI in 2018. Lowrie now enters free agency at the age of 34 and figures to attract plenty of interest.

The A's decision on Lowrie could reveal more about their thoughts on Barreto than anything else. If they elect to let Lowrie walk, it will be, in part, because they believe Barreto is ready to play at the Major League level for an entire season.

Barreto has all the tools to become a productive Major League slugger. Despite being undersized at just 5-foot-10, he has tremendous natural power to all fields. If he can learn to lay off pitches out of the strike zone, his average and power numbers will shoot up and he will add an extra layer to an already dangerous A's lineup.

Billy Beane opens up on Marcus Semien-A’s contract, Astros scandal


Billy Beane opens up on Marcus Semien-A’s contract, Astros scandal

It's a busy time for Billy Beane and the A's. 

After being eliminated two consecutive seasons in the AL Wild Card Game, Beane and the A's front office are trying to improve a team that won 97 games last year and bridge the gap between them and the Houston Astros. 

The A's executive vice president of baseball operations spoke with NBC Sports California in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview from the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego on Tuesday, opening up on a range of offseason storylines affecting the green and gold on -- and off -- the field. 

What’s next for Marcus Semien?

On a personal level, it makes all the sense in the world that the A’s want to keep their MVP-caliber shortstop, and that Marcus Semien would want to remain long-term with the MLB franchise right around the corner from where he was born and raised.

If only baseball were that simple.

“I think the first order of a business standpoint is getting through this arbitration season [in 2020],” Beane told NBC Sports California on Tuesday, indicating that a bigger picture agreement is not immediately right around the corner.

“Guys who have years like Marcus usually get significant raises, and that’s the anticipation we’re expecting for him through the arbitration process. Anything beyond that, we’d be better served at discussing after that one year is in place.”

Semien can become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.

Houston’s scandal affecting the A’s

Insiders know MLB’s investigation into the Houston Astros cheating scandal remains active and aggressive. Much as electronically stealing signs would have impacted the playoffs, it also would have greatly affected Oakland, who lost the AL West by six and 10 games, respectively, to the Astros in the last two seasons.

“If true, it certainly would have had a huge impact on us much as anybody,” Beane said.  “It would be extremely disappointing and you’d hope that Major League Baseball would do something to make sure that never happens again.”

Instead of projecting what punishment could rectify the situation, Beane was more introspective about allegations that span back to 2017.

“My first thought, if it did happen, is how good our guys are," Beane said. "When you think of winning 97 games back-to-back years, it’s a compliment to the guys in our room, and how good they are."

A’s biggest targets?

With the exception of roles to be won at second base and a backup catcher, most of the fielding positions seem to be spoken for in Oakland. Add in a historically promising starting rotation on paper, and what exactly are the A’s trying to accomplish before opening day?

“It’s obligatory to say that you’re looking for an extra bullpen arm, and that would probably be the case with us," Beane said.

The story of Oakland’s relief core was Jekyll and Hyde from 2018 to 2019: From one of the most dominant in the majors to last season, where Liam Hendriks unexpectedly became the team's All-Star closer after being designated for assignment in 2018.

“Bullpens, from year to year are probably the most volatile in terms of performance," Beane said. "Last year we struggled with it, and mainly was with the same cast of characters too. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out.”

While some additions are still necessary, Beane did note that the “makings of a good bullpen” are already in place.

[RELATED: A's stars Semien, Hendriks voted to All-MLB Second Team]

Can Khrush bounce back?

The stats were once scary-consistent for Khris Davis, who hit .247 in four straight seasons and eclipsed 40 homers from 2016 through 2018. But in 2019, the designated hitter's averaged dropped 27 points (.220) and he also hit 25 fewer homers (23). All of this in a year where he signed a big contract, and suffered an abnormal injury playing left field.

“Khris took it really personally too,” Beane said. “He’s got a lot of pride, you could tell it was really bothering him, he feels like it's his responsibility to hit 40 homers every year. And he had done that. For him to struggle last year, I think it kind of snowballed on him.”

It was difficult to know entirely whether Davis’ struggles were mostly physical, mental, or a combination of each. But the confidence is that a reset button will only help the slugger in 2020.

“The hope is, with a long offseason he’s able to forget it, and do what he usually does: hit .247 and hit 40 home runs,” Beane said. 

A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks make inaugural All-MLB second team


A's Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks make inaugural All-MLB second team

The A's were well-represented on the inaugural All-MLB Team. 

Shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks made the second team, MLB announced Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. 

Semien and Hendriks broke out in big ways in 2019, earning their spots in the best seasons of their respective careers.

The shortstop played all 162 games, slashing a career-best .285/.369/.522 to go with 33 home runs and 92 RBI. Semien finished third in AL MVP voting behind Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the 2019 MVP. 

[RELATED: Why Melvin, A's aren't worried about competitors' moves]

Hendriks, meanwhile, emerged as a steadying force in the A's bullpen amid Blake Treinen's struggles. The Australian posted a 1.80 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, both of which were career bests. He also recorded 25 saves and made his first career All-Star Game. 

The All-MLB Team was selected by fan voting (50 percent) and a panel of experts (50 percent).