Tuesday, February 15, 2011

TEAM #15 – Oakland Athletics

While Grant Green still has many questions to answer, the number is far fewer than other top Athletics’ prospects

The Athletics’ Minor League system was a model of consistency in 2010, as only Eric Sogard (up from #21) was in the system last year, but is new to the Top 15 this time around. The other four new entrants to that list (Michael Choice, Yordy Cabrera, Renato Nunez and Aaron Shipman) were either drafted or were international signees in 2010. The result is that the Athletics ranking has not varied much from last year’s #14 finish ( http://baseballnumbers-diamondfutures.blogspot.com/2010/01/team-10-oakland-athletics.html ). I suppose that is what we should expect, given that the A’s top three front office leaders (Billy Beane, Keith Lieppman and Eric Kubota) have all been in their respective positions continuously since 2002—the longest such tenure in the Majors. For the Athletics, though, longevity hasn’t bred complacency, as there have been significant philosophical changes since 2008. Between 2002 and 2008 when ‘Moneyball’ was at its heyday, Oakland signed fifty-nine players that were drafted in the first seven rounds. Only eight (13.6%) came from the prep ranks—with five of those years not having a single prep player. In the two most recent drafts, seven of thirteen signees came from high school. Additionally, prior to 2008, the Athletics were extremely insignificant players in the Latin American market. Then in 2008, came the record signing of Michael Ynoa, and in the two years that have followed, Oakland has been one of the most aggressive organizations in the Latin American market, in all of baseball. While it is still likely another year or two before the impact of this is evident within the system, these are tremendously positive steps.

Also a positive, with players like Grant Green, Chris Carter, Tyson Ross, Jemile Weeks, Michael Taylor, Josh Donaldson, Adrian Cardenas and Eric Sogard, the Athletics have a collection of ready or near ready Major League players as deep as anyone. When you combine this with one of the best young starting rotations in baseball, it is not difficult to imagine a substantial step up this season for the team in Oakland. Looking for negatives? There still aren’t a tremendous amount of high ceiling players in the upper tiers of the system. The same can be said of skill position players, with as many as half of the top twelve prospects eventually having their best position being 2B, 1B or LF. Finally, while the Major League rotation may be young and talented enough to not need an additional infusion in the near future, there is a dearth of quality starting pitching prospects after seeing players like Cahill, Anderson, Gonzalez and Braden graduate to the Big Leagues over the last few seasons. All told, we find the Athletics to be a bit of an underrated system with a solid upward trend direction.

Best Pick from 2010 – We have been believers in Grant Green’s bat since his sophomore year at USC, so much so that we were willing to overlook positional concerns and rate him as the organization’s top prospect in 2009—ahead of the more highly acclaimed Chris Carter. Green met our expectations in 2010, while Carter’s season was a disappointment to all.

Worst Pick from 2010 – The A’s gambled heavily when they signed Michael Ynoa to a record $4.25 million bonus in 2008. We still believed in his upside when we assigned the #4 ranking to him on last year’s list. More elbow problems followed by late summer Tommy John surgery will keep Ynoa off the mound in 2011. He’ll be a 20yo, with a total of 9 professional innings when he returns to the mound in 2012 and the future isn’t looking nearly as bright.

Grade A -

1) Grant Green, SS (2010 Performance Scores – Power 69; Discipline 54; First Base Rate 47; Speed 55)

A disappointing junior season saw Green drop further than he should have prior to the 2009 draft. We felt at time that the Athletics got a steal when Green lasted all of the way until the 13th overall pick, and we have seen little to change our minds. It is not that Green is likely ever to be a superstar. It is that there is little chance that he doesn’t become an above average offensive Major League infielder—regardless of whether he stays at shortstop or moves to second base. A plus contact hitter, Green doesn’t have a hit skill that isn’t at least average. The questions surround his defense, where everything except his baseball IQ rates as ‘fringy’ for the shortstop position. Our perspective is that the defense between shortstop and second base is the difference between all-star and above average Major League regular. That’s a substantially high-floor. Green will open 2011 in AA and we fully expect to see him in Oakland in September.

2) Michael Choice, OF (2010– Power 70; Discipline 20; First Base Rate 33; Speed 65)

Few players from the 2010 draft create a more divided opinion than does Choice, whom we had rated #10 on our draft board. From a performance standpoint, there are few players with more impressive numbers as he gets on base, hits for power (34 home runs in three years at Texas-Arlington) and made enough contact to rate a Top 10 Performance Score among draft eligible college players. Extremely gifted athletically, there is a power/speed combo here that makes scouts drool. But most of Choice’s critics point to his mechanics and fundamentals, claiming they raise serious concerns about his ability to continue to perform as he moves up the ladder. What we see with Choice is a player likely to strike out frequently, take enough walks to make up for his lower than desired average and steal enough bases to disrupt a defense. While he is being groomed as a center fielder, the expectation is that he ends up in left field where his power should still rate average or above. At 21yo, Choice is expected to begin 2011 in the California League (CAL). It would not surprise us to see him put up huge numbers in that circuit and perhaps no player in the system has a higher upside. Watch the strikeout totals as a key to his development.

3) Chris Carter, 1B/LF (2010– Power 79; Discipline 23; First Base Rate 45; Speed 34)

There aren’t many players that experienced a more disappointing 2010 than did Carter who ranked as a top 20 prospect on most lists (#37 here) entering the year, posted the #18 Performance Score in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) and then had a horrendous 70 At Bat Major League debut. The funny thing is that little of what exposed Carter was unexpected, as his prodigious power was offset by his inability to hit a curve and below average speed makes it difficult to see how he defensively ends up anywhere but either first base or DH. Make no mistake Carter’s power is real; but so are the accompanying strikeouts. At 6’5”, 230lbs, Cecil Fielder and Chris Davis top his comp list, and we don’t believe that is without justificaton, as Carter has the upside to put huge power numbers, but may never be able to adjust adequately enough to consistently hit Major League breaking balls; and then even if he finds success his body-type portends an early flameout. Rather than face another season of Kevin Kouzmanoff leading the team with 16 HRs, the Athletics will almost certainly make room for him in the lineup in 2011. We expect Carter to have a run of at least a few solid Major League seasons before the negatives catch up.

Grade B+

4) Ian Krol, LHP (2010 – Dominance 52; Control 62; HRrate 46; Stamina 69)

We expected Krol’s impressive 2010 debut, where he finished with the Midwest League’s (MWL) #7 Performance Score. Pitching for Kane County, two towns over from where he was raised, Krol was the complete package, with advanced pitchability, a 90-MPH fastball, one of the better curves in the system and a potentially plus change. Commanding the three-pitch repertoire well, Krol led the MWL in ERA before earning a late season promotion to the CAL. While, at 6’1”, 180lbs, he has limited projectability and likely doesn’t have a ceiling of more than a #3/#4 starter, he has a tremendously high floor for a 19yo pitcher. Krol will open 2011 in the CAL, where his advanced stuff should play well. Others will downgrade Krol because of his upside, the comps say that he is a better bet than most prep lefties.

5) Yordy Cabrera, SS/3B

Cabrera entered the 2010 high school season as one of the most highly rated prep position players after looking like a man among boys in the previous summer’s showcase events. As the season progressed, two things became clear: 1) Shortstop is unlikely to be his eventual destination and 2) he looked like a man among boys because he virtually was—two years older than much of his competition. The A’s drafted him in the second round and signed him to first round money. Athletically gifted, Cabrera has above average power and a plus arm. With average contact skills and speed, he looks like a natural fit at third base. If he were a tad younger, his profile for a prep position player would rate much higher, but at already 20yo, he will have to move fast. Expect Cabrera to make his debut in the MWL in 2011.

Grade B

6) Tyson Ross, RHP (2010 – Dominance 76; Control 34; HRrate 71; Stamina 60)

2010 was a mixed bag for Ross, who made the Athletics’ roster out of spring training, had a bit of a roller-coaster type debut, was sent back down to AAA mid-season and then had his season end early due to nagging elbow and shoulder injuries. With a slider of the near plus-plus variety and a low- to mid-90s fastball, it is easy to see why the A’s are enamored with him, as his ceiling is that of a potential front of the rotation starter. We are a bit more cautious in our assessment, as we see his deadly fastball/slider combination as a potent back of the bullpen weapon, but we aren’t in love with his command or change-up enough to view him as a legitimate long-term rotation threat. He’ll have a chance to compete with Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy for a rotation spot this spring, but is more likely going to open the year back in the A’s bullpen.

7) Renato Nunez, 3B

Nunez is arguably the highest upside Latin American position player signing of the 2010 summer period. The A’s had been on him since their resurgence in Latin America in 2008 and paid more than $2 million to sign him. Unlike many Latin American players that are signed without the benefit of significant game action, Nunez has played on the Venezuelan Junior Team. His bat is his calling card as he makes solid contact and shows plus raw power. Like many Latin American 16yos, his over-aggressive plate approach leaves him vulnerable to the strikeout, and there are those that believe that his best defensive position will be right field. While the A’s have been relatively cautious with their placement of their Latin American signees, we will get an idea of how strongly the A’s feel about him if they bring him to the U.S. and have him open in the AZL.

8) Max Stassi, C (2010– Power 67; Discipline 24; First Base Rate 41; Speed 37)

Stassi was arguably the best prep catching prospect available in the 2009 draft, where the A’s selected him in the 4th round and signed him to a first round deal. 2010 was a bit of a mixed bag, as Stassi struggled at times, was hampered most of the season by nagging injuries, earned a Top 30 Performance Score in the MWL, and clearly was one of the more impressive talents on the Kane County roster. Staying at catcher is a must for Stassi, as power is his only above average hit skill and his offensive game is unlikely to be strong enough anywhere else on the diamond. That shouldn’t be a problem though as Stassi excels at most every phase of the defensive game. Look for 2011 to fin Stassi in the CAL.

9) Jemile Weeks, 2B (2010– Power 42; Discipline 72; First Base Rate 46; Speed 65)

As the first round pick of the Athletics in the 2008 draft, Weeks represents somewhat of a demarcation point in Oakland’s drafting philosophy. While Weeks has a bit more tools than the typical high-floor, low-ceiling collegiate product that was typical of the ‘Moneyball’ era, and the A’s have still selected college players in the first round of the two drafts since then, the system has progressively introduced more upside since that draft. More quickness than raw speed, more contact than power, Weeks best offensive attribute is his ability to not give away at bats. His profile looks like a prototypical #2 hitter. Defensively, Weeks can only be described as adequate, and that looks like his ceiling, an average everyday Major League second baseman. With less than 700 At Bats in three professional seasons, the 24yo will have to demonstrate that he can remain healthy over a full-season. Weeks will likely begin 2011 in AAA, with a strong likelihood that he finds At Bats in Oakland at some point during 2011.

10) Michael Taylor, OF (2010– Power 37; Discipline 48; First Base Rate 61; Speed 76)

Like Carter, Taylor found 2010 to be an extremely disappointing season, as he began the year on most Top 100 lists, with the expectation that he would see time in the Majors, and ended the year not able to crack the PCL’s Top 50 Performance Score list. Now with the addition of Connor Jackson and David DeJesus since this time last year, the A’s outfield becomes more crowded—further reducing opportunities for Taylor. Taylor has solid contact skills, manages the strike zone well, and possesses average to slightly above speed. In 2010, his swing mechanics seemed out of whack and it resulted in the poorest power output of his career. Prior to 2010, it appeared that Taylor had the potential to become an above average everyday Major League outfielder, if last season wasn’t purely an anomaly, he may be looking at a future as a 4th outfielder type. Taylor will likely return to AAA in 2011, waiting for something to create an opening for him.

11) Adrian Cardenas, 2B (2010– Power 37; Discipline 73; First Base Rate 76; Speed 38)

Although we have never been tremendously high on Cardenas, we did give him a one position nod over Weeks in last year’s guide. In 2010 Cardenas battled nagging injuries for much of the early season and bounced back and forth between the TXL and PCL. It was a tale of two seasons though, as Cardenas posted the #6 Performance Score in his return to the TXL, but managed barley a Top 40 Score in the PCL. Cardenas’ best skill is an excellent approach to strike zone management. He also possesses sound contact skills that limit his ‘floor’. That said, below average power and speed portend a limited ‘ceiling’. Defensively, Cardenas is adequate, but little more. A onetime shortstop, who saw playing time at both second and third base in 2010, Cardenas’ most valuable role could turn out to be as an above average utility infielder. Look for him to begin 2011 back in AAA and he should find some time on the Big League roster at some point during the season.

12) Aaron Shipman, OF

A relatively ‘toolsy’, athletic prospect, we had Shipman pegged as a second round selection prior to the draft. The A’s were able to nab him in round three and appear to have received excellent value for the pick. Plus speed and above average contact skills are Shipman’s greatest attributes. While he could develop average power, the likelihood, as he learns to control the strikezone with a less violent swing, is that his power remains a tick below average. Defensively he covers tremendous ground, and there is now reason to believe that he can’t become a plus center field defender. The profile says top of the order offense igniter, but he will have to become more patient at the plate. Relatively raw, we expect that Shipman will start in extended spring training before joining the Northwest League (NWL) this summer.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects – none

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

1 comment:

  1. You will really like Magnuson.I was pissed when the Jays traded him.