Monday, January 25, 2010

TEAM #10 – Oakland Athletics

Expect Green to silence his detractors this season

Starting off the Top 10, at #10, we have the Oakland Athletics. The A’s are led by three solid position prospects that should make significant impacts at the Big League level in the very near future. These three are followed by two high-ceiling youngsters that are quite a ways away. Unfortunately, things thin out rapidly after that, and the A’s weren’t helped any by the recent retirement of Grant Desme. In fact, the loss of Desme will probably drop the A’s out of the Top 10 when the eGuide rankings come out, as he was in the mix at #4, and teams #9 - #14 are bunched rather tightly. While the remainder of the list is extremely deep, and the Athletics’ Latin American effort is one of the more improving in the minors, there aren’t a lot of high upside players on it—seemingly a product of Billy Beane’s college-focused draft strategy. Additionally, with the 2009 graduation of Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro, the pitching ranks have thinned out considerably, with only three of their top twelve prospects being pitchers. While the system remains solid, it is beginning to show signs of returning to its pre-2009 level.

Grade A

1) Grant Green, SS -

Green’s situation is an excellent example of ‘human’ interference in the ranking process. Perceptions and subjective judgment often find their way as an obstacle to objective fact. After a sophomore season where Green posted an 1.080 OPS, he went to the Cape that summer and had a huge summer season that had people making Tulowitzki and Longoria comparisons and sending expectations through the roof. His junior year couldn’t possibly live up to the unrealistic ‘hype’, and he opened the season with hand and ankle injuries—getting off to a horrible start. Despite the fact that he posted a greater than 1.060 OPS from the beginning of Pac-10 conference play forward, his stock went into freefall as the draft approached, and the ‘overrated’ label was attached. We still had him #4 on our board, and believe that the A’s got a bargain when he was there at #13, as college middle infielders with his skill set are rare. The biggest question on Green is whether or not he will stay at shortstop. The A’s are going to give him a shot, and after years of mediocre shortstop play from Bobby Crosby, there is every reason to believe that Green will play the position far higher than that level, as he possesses soft hands and a strong arm. While Green will not hit for tremendous power, or play with tremendous speed, both skills project to be at least average or better for the position. In addition to his high baseball IQ/excellent makeup, his one plus skill looks to be his on-base skills, as he projects to be a solid .285/.365/.435 type. That makes him an above average, everyday, Major League middle infielder, with perhaps some all-star appearances sprinkled in. The most desirable quality is that his floor appears to be extremely high. Look for Green to begin 2010 in the California (CAL) League, where the polished product could move rapidly, making his Major League debut in early 2011.

2) Chris Carter, 1B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 79; First Base Rate 72; Discipline 29; Speed 66)

Carter posted a monster 2009 season in the TXL, finishing the year with the League’s top Performance Score. Possessing a truly potent bat, he belted 28 home runs between two stops. He not only possesses plus-plus power potential, but he adds above average contact skills and even coaxed 85 walks. The downside is that every swing from Carter is hard, and his aggressive approach leads him susceptible to advanced breaking balls and leaves him with a strikeout rate north of 21%. An additional point of concern is that in 120 ABs against better pitching in the PCL and this winter in Mexico, the 23yo’s OPS fell to .787, while he saw his strikeout rate soar to 31%. Defensively, while Carter shows some natural athleticism and a solid arm, he appears to be limited to first base or left field--where he is likely no better than adequate. With an upside of a power hitting Major League corner, who is already close to Major League ready, the value here is considerable. He should begin 2010 in the PCL, where the rate of improvement in his strike zone management skills, and space on the Big League roster will dictate his advancement.

3) Michael Taylor, LF (2009 – Power 75; First Base Rate 62; Discipline 62; Speed 69)

Acquired from the Phillies via the Blue Jays in an even up swap for Brett Wallace, Taylor provides some relief from the building logjam of first base/designated hitter types in the Oakland organization. A behemoth of a left-fielder at 6’6” and 250lbs, Taylor possesses above average power potential, and contact skills, combined with average strike zone management and speed. His 2009 season was likely his most productive as a professional, posting the #5 and #7 Performance Scores in the ESL and INT respectively. With few weaknesses, outside of some additional untapped power potential, he is a high floor player, who should become no less than a Major League average, everyday, left fielder—possibly more. At 24yo, the A’s will give Taylor a chance to compete for a Big League job this spring. Even if he returns to AAA, he should see considerable time in Oakland during the 2010 season.

Grade A-
4) Michael Ynoa, RHP –

Ynoa was the highest profile Latin American pitcher signing, of all-time, when the A’s inked him to a $4.25MM deal in 2008. Unfortunately, a combination of tax planning issues, VISA delays, knee-problems, and a cautious approach to elbow tenderness, has slowed his development at this stage, virtually costing him the entire 2009 season. At only 18yo, this isn’t likely to be a significant long-term setback, but it has to make management a bit queasy about their substantial investment. Before people start jumping off of the Ynoa bandwagon though, let me remind everyone of the extraordinary upside talent here. At 6’7”, 205lbs, there is considerable projection left in Ynoa, who already sports a low-90s fastball, and a four-pitch repertoire that also contains a potentially plus curve. Add to that precocious pitchability, sound mechanics and above average command, and it is no wonder why he was universally pursued as a 16yo. The reports coming out of Oakland are that he was able to get back on the mound this fall, showing the type of stuff that they thought they were getting. The downside is that he has yet to throw a professional pitch, or face professional hitters, so everything in this ranking is based on his potential. This is an 18yo player with the upside of a front of the rotation stud. While it is one of the more problematic rankings, we have tried to compare/place him with the 2009 prep draft class, which would have likely made him a first round talent. Look for him to debut this summer in one of the short-season leagues.

Grade B+

5) Max Stassi, C –

We had Stassi rated as the #2 prep catcher for most of the season, in one of the strongest years for prep catchers in recent memory, until Luke Bailey went down with Tommy John surgery, boosting Stassi to #1. This left him with an end of the first round rating entering draft day. Signability concerns allowed the A’s to tab him in the 4th round, where the signed him to first round money with a record bonus ($1.25MM) for a fourth rounder. While Stassi is potentially a plus defender at backstop, he scores highest with an advanced feel for hitting. His contact skills grade highest, but he has potentially above average power for a catcher and good plate discipline skills. His only below average skill is speed, where he is likely below average—even for a backstop. Stassi’s upside is that of an above average Major League catcher, but as regular readers will surely note, prep catchers don’t exactly have a strong record of historical success. With 50+ ABs in the NWL, and a relatively polished skill set, look for Stassi to open 2010 at Kane County.

Grade B

6) Adrian Cardenas, 2B (2009 – Power 41; First Base Rate 51; Discipline 66; Speed 41)

Admittedly, we have never been as high on Cardenas as some, as we just don’t see a very high ceiling here. That being said, between Weeks and Cardenas—who we have neck-and-neck as prospects, the A’s are likely to get at least one average, everyday, Major League secondbaseman, which is a good position to be in from an organization standpoint. With Cardenas being a few months younger, and playing slightly ahead, he gets the nod over Weeks. Cardenas scores highest on his baseball IQ, always giving one the impression that he is focused on the situation at hand. With good plate discipline skills and a solid knack for putting the ball in play, he has the potential to be an above average offensive middle infielder. Defense is a little more dicey though, as Cardenas lacks the quickness for shortstop and the power to play regularly at 3B, leaving 2B as the default option. This also provides Cardenas will a high-floor, as he looks certain to find himself in the Big Leagues at some point—no worse than a solid utility infielder. Look for Cardenas to begin 2010 in AAA as 22yo, with probability of seeing some time in Oakland at some point during the season.

7) Jemile Weeks, 2B (2009 – Power 51; First Base Rate 54; Discipline 63; Speed 65)

Only a notch below, Weeks possesses more tools than Cardenas, but lacks the overall consistency to his game. His upside is probably slightly higher than Cardenas, but he doesn’t score quite as high on the certainty scale, due to the lack of position flexibility. Possessing at least average skills across the board, Weeks’ biggest negative has been his inability to stay healthy for an entire season. With above average speed, when healthy, good plate discipline and solid contact skills, Weeks profiles as a potential top of the order offensive threat. But he is already 23yo, and he remains at least a full season away from a Big League opportunity. Look for Weeks to open up 2010 back in AA, and his advancement is likely tied to a Cardenas promotion.

8) Henry Rodriguez, RP (2009 – Dominance 80; Stamina 26; HRrate 48; Control 20)

Finally in the bullpen full-time in 2009, Rodriguez got to show off his high-90s fastball more frequently—fanning more than 15 batters per 9IP. Unfortunately, Rodriguez still has too many episodes of not knowing where it will end up, and he gave up free passes at a rate of more than 7 per 9IP. The other downside to Rodriguez is this is a pitcher with virtually no passable secondary offerings, even though he is already regularly facing AAA hitters. In an organization with few high ceiling players, Rodriguez has the potential to be a late-inning hammer. His success will rest with his ability to consistently find the plate. Look for Rodriguez to compete for a spot in the Oakland pen this spring, though he likely returns to AAA for some additional seasoning.

9) Sean Doolittle, RF/1B (2009 – Power 63; First Base Rate 64; Discipline 41; Speed 31)

When the A’s drafted Doolittle in the sandwich round of the 2007 draft, there were some teams who favored him more for his ability on the mound, than with the bat. The fear was that he was a patient hitter with too little power to play first base. So Doolittle has made increasing his power a priority, and looked poised to have a big year in 2009, but knee problems ended his season in May. A move to RF in 2009, was made to speed his opportunities for advancement. It remains to be seen how the knee surgery will ultimately affect his ability to remain there, though as a former hurler, he has a plus arm. He still has a patient approach at the plate, and could develop average power for a RF. Doolittle is another player in the system without a tremendously high ceiling. In right field, he could be an average Major League regular. If, however, he has to move back to first base, he looks a lot more like a platoon type, than an everyday player. Look for him to begin his 2010 season once he proves healthy—likely in AAA. A shot with Oakland at some point during the season seems feasible.

10) Fautino De Los Santos, RHP -

De Los Santos spent the majority of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He did get back on the field for seven brief outings in the AZL before the season was finished and showed that his stuff was coming along. Now, over the last two seasons, he has pitched a total 34 innings. When healthy, De Los Santos features a four pitch repertoire—headed by a mid-90s fastball. His mechanics were questionable prior to the surgery, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes for him to regain his command. There is significantly upside here, but now after missing virtually two seasons, the certainty factor has taken a hit. Providing all systems are a go this spring, look for De Los Santos to open the year in AA.

11) Corey Brown, OF (2009 – Power 74; First Base Rate 28; Discipline 23; Speed 50)

One of the more enigmatic players in the Minors, Brown is capable of handling CF on an everyday basis, but is also capable of plus-plus power skills. The downside is that he is a tremendous ‘hacker’, swinging hard at everything and chasing balls all over the batter’s box. This has led to 45 homeruns and 266 strikeouts over his last 851 ABs. Brown’s raw power provides him with an upside that is higher than many in the organization. However, he is a 24yo, that will be starting 2010 in AAA, with underdeveloped contact skills, and poor strike zone management. Time is running out for Brown to ‘get it’, and 2010 will be a pivotal year.

12) Josh Donaldson, C (2009 – Power 59; First Base Rate 63; Discipline 43; Speed 57)

Donaldson converted to Catcher before his junior season at Auburn, which made him coveted as a offense-first catcher, landing him in the sandwich round with the Cubs in 2007. He debuted by absolutely destroying the NWL after signing. Given a first taste of full season ball in 2008, Donaldson was absolutely abysmal offensively, prompting the Cubs to throw him into the Rich Harden deal. The change of scenery did wonders, as Donaldson feasted on CAL pitching after the deal. 2009 was set up for him to establish himself as the A’s catcher of the future. But his bat slumped once again, as he didn’t even finish with a Top 25 Performance score in the TXL. While Donaldson still has work to do on the defensive side, there is every reason to believe his defense can be average. If he puts it all together, he is a highly athletic backstop, with at least average power, solid contact skills, and average speed. While he shows significant patience at the plate, when he is struggling he has a tendency to chase bad pitches. Like Brown above, Donaldson should begin 2010 at AAA, as a 24yo, in a very critical year.

Grade B-

13) Ian Krol, LHP -

Krol is a pitcher that we saw a number of times his junior year in high school. Unfortunately, an alcohol discipline program at his high school, with very limited tolerance, kept him off the field for his senior season. He was forced to travel around the upper Midwest over the spring/summer to participate in wood bat league games, in an effort to show scouts his wares. In the end, the wrap of being a discipline problem had him slide all the way to the 7th round, where the A’s signed him for sandwich round money. This is a situation that we are more familiar with than many, and we can say with confidence that his offense was not tremendously out of the norm for player his age, and while not a positive, it shouldn’t have any lingering impacts. Which brings us to his pitching. Krol has three potential Major League pitches, of which his 90mph fastball is his weakest. His best pitch is his potentially plus curve, and he also has an above average change. Rather small and slight, there isn’t a lot of projection here, which limits his ceiling to that of likely a #4. We expect that he will start 2010 in extended Spring Training where the effects of his missed season will be evaluated. If he debuts in Kane County, he will be pitching, virtually, in his backyard.

14) Tyson Ross, RHP (2009 – Dominance 49; Stamina 67; HRrate 47; Control 49)

With three above average offerings, including a low- to mid-90s fastball, the big knock on Ross, in our minds, is why isn’t he missing more bats? The 22yo is a big, 6’5”, 215lbs, athletic pitcher, that has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter. But aside from occasional bouts with control, we can’t find any reason that he isn’t fanning more than the 7 batters per 9IP that he has thus far in his career. It is this number that holds down his long-term projections. Look for Ross to open up 2010 with a return trip to AA. He has had some issues staying healthy, and we would not be surprised to eventually find him in a bullpen role.

15) Shane Peterson, OF (2009 – Power 52; First Base Rate 51; Discipline 56; Speed 67)

We have habitually been more fond of Peterson than have the scouts, as he possesses unconventional swing mechanics and a relative dearth of power for a corner outfielder. But Peterson can play all three positions in the outfield, can play first base, and doesn’t have a below average skill—excepting for potentially power. In four stops thus far he has amassed a .367 OBP, and posted a top 15 score in the TXL in 2009. While Peterson doesn’t possess an extraordinary upside, his floor is fairly solid as a Major League reserve—or even a starter for a second division squad. Look for Peterson to open up 2010 in AAA, and have a shot to contribute in Oakland before the season is over.

16) James Simmons, RHP (2009 – Dominance 36; Stamina 68; HRrate 48; Control 47)

Simmons has been moving in reverse since being drafted in the first round in 2007. Another of the low-ceiling college players that permeate the Oakland organization, Simmons relies on a low-90s fastball and a potentially plus change. While his slider has potential, its lack of development is the biggest reason for concern, as without it he is likely bullpen material. While 2009 saw Simmons with uncharacteristic bouts of control issues, he still posted a Top 25 Performance Score in the PCL. Simmons could become a solid back of the rotation pitcher, but in order to accomplish that he will have to miss more bats, and tighten up his secondary stuff. While Simmons will have an opportunity to earn a spot with the Big League club in the spring, the expectation is that there is too much young talent that he is competing with in Oakland and he will likely spend most of 2010 in AAA.

17) Clay Mortensen, RHP (2009 – Dominance 44; Stamina 74; HRrate 48; Control 55)

Like Peterson above, Mortensen is another of those low-ceiling, high-floor college players, and like Peterson, Mortensen was acquired by the A’s from the Cardinals in the deal that sent Matt Holliday to the Redbirds. Mortensen’s bread and butter is his sinker that keeps the ball on the ground. He really doesn’t have more to his offerings other than a hard slider. Without a quality offspeed offering, it is difficult to imagine him having tremendous success above the back end of the rotation. Most likely, he will earn his check pitching out of the bullpen. Mortensen will be given the opportunity to earn a roster spot this Spring, but is most likely headed back to AAA to await his opportunity.

18) Ben Hornbeck, LHP (2009 – Dominance 79; Stamina 61; HRrate 49; Control 51)

Due to the fact that his fastball is only a high-80s offering, Hornbeck will never get much love from the scouting community. Still that didn’t prevent the 22yo, from posting the #4 Performance Score in the CAL. Hornbeck sets up his fastball with a plus change and a solid slider. At a slight 6’5”, 180lbs, there is reason to believe he could still add a tick or so to his fastball, making him a projectable Major League starter. Being left-handed doesn’t hurt either. Look for Hornbeck to open 2010 in AA. He will have to prove himself every step along the way, but his 2009 Performance has earned our attention.

Grade C+ Prospects –

19) Pedro Figueroa, LHP; 20) Arnold Leon, RP; 21) Eric Sogard, 2B; 22) Nino Leyja, 2B; 23) Anthony Capra, LHP; 24) Justin Marks, LHP; 25) Matt Sulentic, OF; 26) Mickey Storey, RP; 27) Wilfredo Solano, 3B; 28) Reynaldo Mateo, C; 29) Cliff Pennington, SS; 30) Sam Demel, RP; 31) Jason Christian, 3B; 32) Connor Crumbliss, 2B; 33) Rasun Dixon, LF.

Grade C Prospects –

Travis Banwart; Jeremy Barfield; Andrew Carignan; Bobby Cassevah; Dusty Coleman; Jose Crisotomo; Omar Duran; Rob Gilliam; Graham Godfrey; Carlos Hernandez; Connor Hoehn; Josh Horton; Brett Hunter; Brad Kilby; Tyler Ladendorf; Jared Lansford; Josh Leyland; Junior Martinez; Jon Meloan; Ryan Ortiz; Steve Parker; Anvioris Ramirez; Julio Ramos; Kenny Smalley; Paul Smyth; Alfredo Sosa; Justin Souza; Mike Spina; Daniel Straily; Corey Wimberly.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions.

Don’t forget to order your copy of the Diamond Futures’ 2010 Prospect eGuide. Over 300 pages delivered directly to your ‘InBox’ on February 8th. Available at the pre-order price of only $6.95.

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