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December 10, 2007

Future Shock

Athletics Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Five-Star Prospects
1. Daric Barton, 1B
Four-Star Prospects
2. Trevor Cahill, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
3. James Simmons, RHP
4. Henry Rodriguez, RHP
5. Andrew Bailey, RHP
6. Corey Brown, OF
7. Jermaine Mitchell, OF
8. Javier Herrera, OF
9. Jerry Blevins, LHP
Two-Star Prospects
10. Josh Horton, SS
11. Sean Doolittle, 1B

Just Missing: Sam Demel, RHP; Grant Desme, OF; Gregorio Petit, SS

1. Daric Barton, 1B
DOB: 8/16/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/225
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2003, Marina HS (CA)--Cardinals
2007 Stats: .293/.389/.438 at Triple-A (136 G); .347/.429/.639 at MLB (18 G)

Year In Review: The top hitter in the system recovered from his injury-hampered 2006 season to come on strong at Triple-A and cement his hold on the first base job with an outstanding pro debut.
The Good: Barton's skills as a hitter are advanced far beyond his years. His plate discipline is flawless, and despite the fact that he works himself into deep counts, his plus bat speed and outstanding hand-eye coordination leads to effortless hard contact, as he consistently walks more than he strikes out. He has gap power now, and some believe that his four home runs in 72 big league at-bats is just the beginning of him transforming his high doubles totals into a higher home run number.
The Bad: Barton's power is still the subject of debate, with scouts projecting anywhere from 15-30 home runs annually out of him. He's an average first baseman at best, and not a very good base runner. His effort and his attitude have come into question, as he almost seemed bored at times in the minors, but one scout compared him to Hanley Ramirez in the sense that once he got to the majors, he finally shined.
Fun Fact: During his insane month of June, in which he hit .454/.500/.657, Barton had twice as many doubles (14) as strikeouts (seven).
Perfect World Projection: A number-three hitter who consistently puts up seasons in the .300/.400/.500 range and above.
Timetable: Barton's big league September ended the revolving door at first base for Oakland, and he'll be the Opening Day starter there and a solid contender for Rookie of the Year honors.

2. Trevor Cahill, RHP
DOB: 3/1/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2006, Vista HS (CA)
2007 Stats: 2.73 ERA at Low-A (105.1-85-40-117)

Year In Review: The club's top pick in 2006 was the Midwest League's best pitcher down the stretch, putting up a 0.74 ERA in his last six starts with more than twice as many strikeouts (44) as hits allowed (20) in 36 2/3 innings.
The Good: Thought to be a bit raw going into the season, Cahill showed a surprising amount of polish to go with an impressive repertoire. His sinking fastball sits in the 88-92 mph range and can touch 94, but his best pitch is a looping curveball with late hard break that gave Midwest League hitters fits. The year-long improvement of his changeup was one of the keys to his late-season surge, as he gained confidence with a new grip. He's a very good athlete with smooth, easily repeatable mechanics.
The Bad: Cahill's control is a bit spotty at times, and he also prefers to use his breaking offering as a chase pitch instead of throwing it for strikes. He's what is sometimes referred to as a "vertical pitcher," meaning he works on just one plane, and he could use something with left-to-right movement, as he's much less effective against lefties.
Fun Fact: Cahill had a 1.49 ERA at home, but a 4.09 mark on the road.
Perfect World Projection: Very young and very good, Cahill has plenty of projection, with most scouts comfortable seeing him as a No. 3 or 4 starter, and some going as high as No. 2.
Timetable: Cahill will turn 20 during spring training, and there is no need to rush him. He'll begin 2008 in the California League.

3. James Simmons, RHP
DOB: 9/26/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, UC Riverside
2007 Stats: 3.94 ERA at Double-A (29.2-36-8-23)

Year In Review: Oakland's top pick in the last summer's draft came off an impressive college career and held his own despite an aggressive debut assignment to Double-A.
The Good: Often miscast as a finesse pitcher, Simmons has much better stuff than that, and combines it with outstanding command. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and he locates it with laser-like precision. His changeup is also a plus pitch with late drop and excellent arm action. He has a good body, clean mechanics, and maintains his stuff deep into games.
The Bad: Scouts don't see a lot of projection in Simmons--he pretty much is what he is, but what he is is pretty good. His slider needs refinement, and can flatten out at times. Like many polished college strike-throwers, he needs to refine his approach and become more comfortable in sacrificing some strikes in order to set up the hitter.
Fun Fact: While he had a 2.89 ERA in the Arizona Fall League, Simmons certainly knew how to get himself in trouble, as leadoff hitters facing him went 5-for-7 with a pair of walks.
Perfect World Projection: A middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Timetable: While his ceiling isn't especially high, Simmons is the kind of prospect who could move quickly through the system. He'll begin 2008 back in Double-A, with the goal of him making a big league impact the following year.

4. Henry Rodriguez, RHP
DOB: 2/25/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2003, Venezuela
2007 Stats: 3.07 ERA at Low-A (99.2-75-58-106)

Year In Review: Owner of the strongest arm in the system, Rodriguez began to harness his command a bit while becoming one of the more intimidating starters in the Midwest League.
The Good: Rodriguez's fastball is the best in the system, sitting in the 92-95 mph range and touching 97. He's hit triple-digits in the past, but has taken well to the theory that the pitch is more effective when he takes a bit off of it and commands it better. He's aggressive and intense on the mound, working quickly and pitching inside. His changeup shows as plus at times, and projects well.
The Bad: Rodriguez is still trying to find a consistent breaking offering, and because of his velocity and demeanor, some project him as a reliever in the end. He lets his emotions get the better of him at times, often reacting to a walk or a poor defensive play behind him by overthrowing and simply getting into more trouble. While his control improved by leaps and bounds from 2006, it's still well below average.
Fun Fact: In 18 second innings of games, Rodriguez allowed just one run while striking out 28.
Perfect World Projection: A power pitcher--whether that's as a starter or reliever is still to be determined.
Timetable: Rodriguez will join Cahill to form a nasty 1-2 punch at High-A Stockton. How he performs there as a starter will be a huge factor in his future role.

5. Andrew Bailey, RHP
DOB: 5/31/84
Height/Weight: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 6th round, 2006, Wagner College
2007 Stats: 3.35 ERA at Low-A (51-42-22-74); 3.82 ERA at High-A (66-56-31-72); 1.13 ERA at Triple-A (8-3-1-4)

Year In Review: The big, physical righty reached Triple-A in his full-season debut, averaging nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings in the process.
The Good: Bailey lives off of his fastball, a 90-93 mph heater than touched 95 at times and features a little bit of cutting action. His power curve gives him a second plus pitch, and he's equally effective in dropping it into the strike zone or burying it as a chase pitch. He has a prototypical power pitcher's build and good stamina.
The Bad: Bailey is dominant against right-handed hitters but lefties give him trouble. He'll need further development of his below-average changeup to address this issue, or it might require a move to the bullpen. His command is average, but when he misses, he tends to miss high. While he's been healthy as a pro, he already has a Tommy John surgery in his past, and his mechanics are not ideal.
Fun Fact: Half of the 14 home runs surrendered by Bailey came off the bat of the hitter leading off the inning.
Perfect World Projection: A 200+ innings eater in a big league rotation.
Timetable: The spring training numbers game will determine whether Bailey begins the year in Double- or Triple-A.

6. Corey Brown, OF
DOB: 11/26/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Oklahoma State
2007 Stats: .268/.379/.545 at Short-season (59 G)

Year In Review: His tantalizing power/speed package lasted a bit longer than expected in the draft, and Brown was one of the top hitters in the Northwest League during his pro debut.
The Good: Brown has plus-plus raw power and is capable of launching moon shots when he turns on a mistake. He has above average speed as well, and is built (and plays) more like a football player. Like most Oakland draftees, he has excellent pitch recognition and a patient approach.
The Bad: Brown's swing has many parts to it, which makes it difficult for him to adjust on the fly and leads to far too many strikeouts--he had 77 in 213 at-bats for Vancouver. It will likely always be an issue, and prevent him from ever hitting for a high average. While he runs well, it takes him some time to accelerate, and that combined with poor outfield instincts has most projecting a future in right field, where his arm plays well, as opposed to center.
Fun Fact: Brown attended Plant High School in Florida--the same school that produced Wade Boggs, as well as 'comedian' Leo Gallagher, who is better known by only his last name and the demonstrated ability to make a living by smashing fruit with a hammer.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday right fielder who makes up for a low batting average with very good walk and home run totals.
Timetable: Brown may develop slowly as the team works to curtail his contact problems. He'll begin the year at one of the team's A-ball squads, most likely Low-A Kane County.

7. Jermaine Mitchell, OF
DOB: 11/2/84
Height/Weight: 6-0/205
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 5th round, 2006, UNC Greensboro
2007 Stats: .288/.390/.413 at Low-A (122 G)

Year In Review: The athletic outfielder fulfilled expectations in his full-season debut, making up for disappointing power numbers with a much more patient approach.
The Good: Mitchell's tools are at least average across the board, and he projects as an outfielder with plus speed and average power. He took very well to the Oakland mantra of plate discipline, drawing 44 walks against 197 at-bats in the season's second half.
The Bad: Mitchell still has some rawness to him, especially on defense, where he needs to improve his reads as well as the accuracy of his throws. He still has a tendency to chase pitches, and strikes out a lot. Scouts who see him in center field down the road think he's a starter, while those who don't think he'll stick in center see him as a bench outfielder.
Fun Fact: Mitchell was a four-sport star at Daingerfield High School in Texas. Beyond baseball, in which he was selected all-state as a pitcher, he was also an All-East Texas selection in football, an all-district honoree in basketball, and also ran track for two years.
Perfect World Projection: A starting center fielder and possibly leadoff hitter.
Timetable: Mitchell moves from the worst offensive league in the minors to one of the best with a 2008 assignment to High-A Stockton. The plan is to have him in Double-A by the end of the season.

8. Javier Herrera, OF
DOB: 4/9/85
Height/Weight: 5-10/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Acquired: NDFA, 2001, Venezuela
2007 Stats: .274/.337/.448 at High-A (62 G); .254/.316/.451 at Double-A (20 G)

Year In Review: The once highly-regarded outfielder stayed mostly healthy in return from Tommy John surgery, reaching Double-A and still showing enough to impress the scouting community.
The Good: Herrera's tools still rank with anyone's in the system when he's 100 percent. He has bat speed, power, speed, good fielding skills, and a strong arm. He's equally effective against both lefties and righties and still shows the occasional ability to take over a game offensively or with his glove.
The Bad: Questions concerning his effort continue to follow Herrera. He did not endear himself to the organization with his slow recovery from the surgery, and he often seems to play the game with his cruise control firmly engaged. Constant hamstring troubles as well as poor conditioning have sapped him of some speed, and he's gone from having plus range in center to merely average range. Unlike most Oakland prospects, Herrera needs considerable work on his plate discipline.
Fun Fact: Herrera's career almost never got this far, as in 2003 he crashed into a wall during an Arizona Summer League game and had to be airlifted from the field, spending nearly a week in intensive care.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday big-league outfielder.
Timetable: At 23, Herrera is no longer a young prospect with plenty of potential, and it's time to start paying dividends. This next year will be crucial in his development and in defining his standing within the organization.

9. Jerry Blevins, LHP
DOB: 9/6/83
Height/Weight: 6-6/180
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 17th round, 2004, University of Dayton--Cubs
2007 Stats: 0.38 ERA at High-A (23.2-13-5-32); 1.53 ERA at Double-A--Cubs (29.1-23-8-37); 3.32 ERA at Double-A--Athletics (21.2-18-5-29); 0.00 ERA at Triple-A (2.2-1-0-4); 9.64 ERA at MLB (4.2-8-2-3)

Year In Review: A previously unknown Cubs lefty entering the year, Blevins got the attention of scouts, came over to Oakland in the Jason Kendall trade, and worked all the way up to the big leagues.
The Good: As a 6'6" lefty with a deceptive delivery and a low- to mid-90s fastball, Blevins can dominate at times, as he struck out 20 over nine shutout innings in the Pacific Coast League playoffs. His arm angle makes him deadly against left-handers, and he has a good enough changeup to keep right-handed hitters on their toes. He has very good command and control.
The Bad: Blevins' curveball is still a below-average pitch that needs refinement. Some wonder about his projection, as he's a reliever who probably falls just short of closer level. Last year was almost a too much/too soon situation for Blevins, and he was clearly overwhelmed during his big league debut.
Fun Fact: Blevins become the first player drafted out of the University of Dayton to pitch in a big league game when he got the call at the end of the season. The only hitter drafted out of the school to play in the big leagues is long-time Dodger backstop Steve Yeager.
Perfect World Projection: While there are some who think he could close in a pinch, his ceiling probably ends at set-up man.
Timetable: Blevins has the opportunity to win a bullpen job out of spring training. Even if he needs to begin the year at Triple-A, a season of stability after playing for six different teams in 2007 could do him some good.

10. Josh Horton, SS
DOB: 2/19/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2007, University of North Carolina
2007 Stats: .268/.426/.390 at Short-season (14 G); .279/.417/.352 at Low-A (38 G)

Year In Review: The sparkplug of a North Carolina squad that reached College World Series finals in two straight years, Horton had no problems transitioning to the pro game, reaching base 88 times in 52 games.
The Good: It's hard not to like Horton, as he's a max-effort player who gets the most from his physical skills. His strongest attribute offensively is his outstanding strike zone control, as evidenced by 36 walks in his first 163 at-bats. One scout based in the Mid-Atlantic region insists that he never saw him swing at a bad pitch. He has a contact-oriented approach from the left side and sprays balls all over the field. Defensively, he's fundamentally sound with soft hands and an accurate arm.
The Bad: Scouts temper their enthusiasm for Horton when talking about his ultimate ceiling. He's not an especially natural hitter and he has little power or projection for any in the future. He doesn't have the first-step quickness or arm strength normally associated with a left-side defender. Some wonder if the walk rate will plummet when pitchers challenge him more at the upper levels.
Fun Fact: When leading off an inning for Low-A Kane County, Horton had a .600 on-base percentage, going 9-for-21 with nine walks.
Perfect World Projection: A second-division starting shortstop, or an outstanding utility player.
Timetable: Horton has the ability to move quickly, and will start the year at High-A.

11. Sean Doolittle, 1B
DOB: 9/26/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, University of Virginia
2007 Stats: .283/.421/.348 at Short-season (13 G); .233/.320/.347 at Low-A (55 G)

Year In Review: The two-way star at Virginia struggled in pro debut.
The Good: Doolittle has one of the prettiest swings around and should hit for a high average, with a patient approach also giving him a good walk total. Team officials insist that his poor showing at Kane County was the result of being tired and have no questions about his future potential. He's an outstanding defensive first baseman with Gold Glove potential.
The Bad: Because he's a first baseman, Doolittle's bat will have to carry him, and his opening salvo as a pro was anything but impressive. Even the most optimistic projection for him ends with only average power, so he'll need to be a consistent .300+ hitter to be above average for the position.
Fun Fact: Doolittle attended Shawnee High School in New Jersey, whose most famous alumni is emaciated actress Calista Flockhart.
Perfect World Projection: Ideally, a Mark Grace or John Olerud type of player.
Timetable: Doolittle was the talk of Oakland's instructional league, and many within the organization are predicting a breakout performance for him in 2008, where he'll begin at High-A Stockton.

The Sleeper: A second-round pick in 2005 who has pitched just 53.2 innings as a pro, mostly because of labrum surgery, the A's are still very optimistic about right-hander Craig Italiano, who was sitting at 94-96 mph during the instructional league while showcasing a considerably cleaner delivery.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)

1. Huston Street, RHP
2. Travis Buck, OF
3. Daric Barton, 1B
4. Kurt Suzuki, C
5. Trevor Cahill, RHP
6. James Simmons, RHP
7. Henry Rodriguez, RHP
8. Andrew Bailey, RHP
9. Corey Brown, OF
10. Jermaine Mitchell, OF

Street is one of the best closers in the game, and while he had some elbow issues in 2007, he was also having his best season ever when healthy. Buck is very similar to Barton, with the difference being that he plays a position other than first base, and that he's proven himself in the big leagues already. Suzuki is a solid sleeper candidate for a breakout in 2008. A .280 batting average with 10-15 home runs and a .360+ on-base percentage is not an unreasonable expectation.

The Athletics system is below average right now, but the 2007 draft class offers plenty of possibilities for improvement, and coming off their worst season in 10 years the A's will have their highest draft pick since 1999, when they selected Barry Zito. So the glass just might be half full.

Next: The Seattle Mariners.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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