How good can the Oakland Athletics prospect be?
From the Minor League Ball mailbag:
“The A’s have a prospect named Sheldon Neuse who looks great in spring training. Do you think his glove is good enough for third base or will he wind up in the outfield, and how much power can he show?”———Ken B., Goodyear, Arizona
Well, Ken, indeed, Neuse looked great in spring training, hitting .310/.375/.621 with team-best totals of five homers and 15 RBI. This follows a 2017 season when he hit .321/.382/.504 between Low-A, High-A, and Double-A, having come over to Oakland from the Washington Nationals in the Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madson trade.
Neuse was drafted by the Nationals in the second round in 2015 from the University of Oklahoma. He was a successful hitter in college too and has consistently drawn praise for his swing mechanics and bat speed. He should hit for average at every level and his strike zone judgment is generally sharp, though he hasn’t been a huge walk machine to this point.
The two issues you mention are power and defense.
I don’t think the power is going to be a problem. While he’s not likely to be a 30+homer hitter (although who knows these days), he’s naturally strong and has shown he can hit for distance to all fields. He’s certainly capable of hitting 15-20 homers per season consistently, mid-20s at his peak if the ball isn’t juiced too much. Add that to his batting average and OBP and you have a valuable bat.
Neuse has played both shortstop and third base as a pro. Consensus is that his body type and range fit better at third base. He has a strong, accurate throwing arm and his error rates have been solid so far. His hands are quick (which shows up in his hitting too) and I think he can be an above-average defender at third.
Of course, the Athletics already have Matt Chapman at third base. Neuse has limited experience at second base and first base and I imagine he will see more innings at those positions to enhance his versatility (and trade value).
I haven’t heard anything about shifting Neuse to the outfield. Theoretically, it might work. His arm is probably good enough for right field. He’s a 45 runner and I doubt that plays in center. He could plausibly handle an outfield corner, though he’d need time to hone his instincts and reactions.
Overall, I like Neuse’s bat quite a bit and he should be a solid defender at third, though whether he ends up at the hot corner in Oakland depends on what happens with the players around him.