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A’s promote Shea Langeliers, release Stephen Piscotty

The A’s announced they selected the contract of top catching prospect Shea Langeliers. The club also recalled David MacKinnon from Triple-A Las Vegas. In corresponding moves, Oakland placed Ramón Laureano on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Aug. 15, with a left oblique strain, and released outfielder Stephen Piscotty.

It’s a notable shakeup for the A’s, which will get their first look at a player they hope to be a key piece of the future. Langeliers was one of four players Oakland received from the Braves in the Matt Olson trade this spring. Arguably the headliner of the deal, the righty-hitting backstop is regarded by most prospect evaluators as a potential above-average regular behind the dish.

The ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft, Langeliers has spent the past three years progressing up the minor league ladder. He got off to a somewhat slow start late in his first pro season — not too surprising for a catcher logging the most action in any year of his career. The following minor league season was wiped out by the pandemic, and Atlanta pushed the Baylor product to Double-A to start 2021. Langeliers spent virtually the entire year there, putting up an impressive .258/.338/.498 line with 22 home runs in 92 games in a pitcher-friendly environment.

That would’ve been quality power production for any player, but it’s particularly impressive for a highly regarded defensive catcher. Langeliers fits that bill. Most evaluators peg him as at least an average receiver, and he draws unanimous praise for his arm strength. Each of FanGraphs, Keith Law of The Athletic, Baseball America and Kiley McDaniel of ESPN placed him among the back half of their top 100 overall prospects heading into the 2022 season, and the A’s acquired him as part of their spring training teardown.

Langeliers has continued to impress in his new organization. He’s spent the year in Triple-A, his first extended stretch there after a brief cameo late last season. Over 402 plate appearances, the 24-year-old has hit 19 homers and posted a solid 10.7% walk percentage against a manageable 21.9% strikeout rate. Las Vegas is one of the more favorable environments in the affiliated ranks for hitters, but Langeliers’ .283/.366/.510 line is a strong showing even in that context. With nearly 200 upper minors games under his belt over the past two seasons, he had little left to prove before earning an MLB look.

The A’s would have had to add Langeliers to the 40-man roster this offseason to prevent him from being selected in the Rule 5 draft. General manager David Forst indicated last week the A’s were hoping to get him a look earlier than that, and he’ll presumably spend the final seven weeks of the season on the active roster. The club has been playing out the string in a brutal season, but Langeliers’ promotion will give the fan base and organization a glimpse at a potential core piece for 2023 and beyond. BA recently named him the game’s No. 81 farmhand, while McDaniel pegs him as the second-best prospect in the organization.

First-year manager Mark Kotsay will be tasked with divvying up playing time between the rookie and incumbent backstop Sean Murphy. Oakland’s primary catcher is arguably the team’s best player. An elite defender with an above-average .244/.323/.422 showing at the dish, Murphy is one of the best catchers in the game. He’ll certainly remain in the lineup on most days, although Langeliers’ promotion could afford Murphy some additional quasi-rest work at first base or as a designated hitter. Langeliers himself figures to see some action at those spots as well.

That’ll at least be the temporary arrangement, but a solid showing from Langeliers during his first look at big league pitching would only ramp up speculation about Murphy’s long-term future. With Murphy controllable through 2025, the A’s certainly don’t have to deal him away next offseason. He’ll only be going through arbitration for the first time in the winter, and next year’s salary (while a notable raise over his pre-arb payouts) won’t be onerous — even for an Oakland club that’s likely to run one of the league’s lowest payrolls. Yet a significant portion of the value of Murphy and Langeliers lies in their defensive acumen behind the plate. That’s nowhere near as valuable at first base or DH, of course, so one could argue for the A’s to deal Murphy over the winter and turn to Langeliers on a regular basis in 2023. Murphy drew interest from teams like the Guardians and Red Sox before this summer’s trade deadline, and the A’s will certainly get plenty of calls about his availability once teams are again allowed to trade MLB players.

Langeliers’ promotion won’t have huge immediate ramifications from a service time perspective. Enough time has passed that he won’t accrue enough action to reach a full year of service or qualify for early arbitration after 2024 as a Super Two player. If he’s on the MLB roster for good, Langeliers would reach arb-eligibility after the 2025 campaign and would first hit free agency over the 2028-29 offseason. Oakland can option him back to the minors over the next few years, and any demotions could impact his service trajectory.

While the Langeliers call-up is the most significant news for the A’s as they look ahead to future seasons, the corresponding transaction subtracts a player who has spent almost five years with the team. The A’s acquired Piscotty, a Bay Area native and Stanford product, from the Cardinals heading into the 2018 season. The righty-hitting outfielder broke into the majors with two excellent seasons to earn a $33.5M contract extension from St. Louis leading into the 2017 campaign. He didn’t perform at the same level his final season in St. Louis, but the A’s took a shot on a bounceback (and brought Piscotty closer to his family as his mother battled ALS) in a trade at the end of that year.

Initially, the change of scenery seemed to work wonders for Piscotty’s career. He popped 27 long balls and put up a .267/.331/.491 line over 151 games during his first season in green and gold. At age 27, Piscotty looked to have rediscovered his early-career form and seemed poised to settle in as a middle-of-the-order bat for years to come. That unfortunately hasn’t played out, as he’s posted below-average numbers in all four years since then.

Going back to the start of 2019, Piscotty owns a .229/.287/.378 line in just shy of 900 plate appearances. He’s hitting .190/.252/.341 with a 34.5% strikeout rate over 42 games this year. He’s gotten just one start over the past eight days, as the club has increasingly turned to Laureano in right field while playing rookie Cal Stevenson in center. With Piscotty earning such sporadic playing time, the A’s have decided to move on entirely.

Piscotty will technically be available to the league’s 29 other teams via release waivers over the next couple days. Any team that claims him would assume the approximate $2M remaining on his $7.25M salary, as well as the $1M buyout on a $15M team option for next season. That makes it a certainty he’ll clear waivers, with the A’s remaining on the hook for the rest of that sum. Piscotty will be a free agent in the next few days, at which point he’ll have the right to explore other opportunities. If he signs elsewhere before Sept. 1 — even on a minor league contract — he’d be eligible for a new team’s postseason roster.

Laureano, meanwhile, will now miss at least the next week and a half. The team hasn’t provided further specifics on his diagnosis, but it’s common for oblique strains to cost players upward of a month of action. Laureano missed the first month of the season as he finished out a PED suspension handed down last summer. He’s returned to play in 84 games, hitting .223/.300/.395 with 12 homers while splitting his time between center and right field.

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