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February 25, 2009

Future Shock

Athletics Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Michael Ynoa, RHP
2. Trevor Cahill, RHP
3. Brett Anderson, LHP
4. Chris Carter, 1B
Four-Star Prospects
5. Adrian Cardenas, SS
Three-Star Prospects
6. Aaron Cunningham, OF
7. Gio Gonzalez, LHP
8. Vin Mazzaro, RHP
9. Jemile Weeks, 2B
10. Sean Doolittle, 1B
11. Rashun Dixon, CF

Just Missed: Corey Brown, OF; Tyson Ross, RHP; James Simmons, RHP

Ranking Challenges: Ynoa might be a surprise in the top position, but it's hard to accurately convey just how positive scouts are about him. After the top five, it becomes a real challenge due to the system's remarkable depth. If you're looking for some real perspective: after the sixth through eleventh spots, as well as the three who "just missed," there are another four players who one could arguably rank as the second-best prospect in the entire Houston Astros' system.

1. Michael Ynoa, RHP
DOB: 9/24/91
Height/Weight: 6-7/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2008
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The best Latin American prospect in recent memory obliterated all bonus records after signing for $4.25 million last July.
The Good: Scouts can't talk about Ynoa without using terms like "historic" and "unprecedented." He has everything one looks for in a pitching prospect, with one scout adding, "he's the kind of guy where you get excited just watching him play catch." Tall, long, and as projectable as any pitcher in the game, Ynoa already throws in the low 90s, touches 94, and makes it look effortless with a free and easy arm action. Unlike most 17-year-old Dominicans, he has a good breaking ball with tight spin, and he already has good feel for a changeup.
The Bad: Ynoa has almost no experience in competitive baseball, so right now it's all about projection and what people think he can do. He's never been hit hard, he hasn't lost a game, and he hasn't had to make any adjustments in his style.
Fun Fact: He was Michel (pronounced MEE-shell) Inoa when he signed, but he has since added an "a" to his first name and is now going by the more anglicized pronunciation while also correcting the past misspelling of his surname.
Perfect World Projection: The sky is truly the limit here. This is the kind of talent that comes along once in a generation.
Glass Half Empty: There are so many things that could go wrong between now and Ynoa's becoming big-league ready.
Path to the Big Leagues: He hasn't even been in the United States yet.
Timetable: Ynoa will spend the spring in the A's extended program, and team officials have no expectations for him beyond a handful of innings in the complex league.

2. Trevor Cahill, RHP
DOB: 3/1/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2006, Vista HS (CA)
2008 Stats: 2.78 ERA at High-A (87.1-52-31-103), 4.37 DERA; 2.19 ERA at Double-A (37-24-19-33), 4.63 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: The top pitching prospect in the organization did everything in his power to retain that title in 2008 by holding hitters in the California and Texas Leagues to a sub-.200 batting average before moving on to pitch for the US Olympic team.
The Good: Cahill combines above-average stuff with outstanding polish. His power sinker is the best in the system; it sits in the low 90s, gets up to 95 mph, and is a very difficult pitch for batters to get any lift on (if they can make any contact at all). He backs that up with a plus-plus hard curveball that he'll throw at any point in the count, as well as a decent changeup and a slider that he mixes in to keep hitters even more off balance. He's a highly intelligent player with outstanding makeup.
The Bad: Cahill simply needs refinement; he's not overpowering, so he needs to work both sides of the plate with more confidence. His changeup could use some improvement, as he sometimes sells it out by slowing down his arm.
Fun Fact: Cahill faced 42 batters in the second inning at High-A Stockton last year and allowed just one hit.
Perfect World Projection: He's a second starter in a major league rotation.
Glass Half Empty: It's hard to see him not being successful, so barring injury the bottom-end projection is still as a fourth starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: The A's have a full rotation, but it's not especially strong or well-established, so it should have room for a talent like Cahill.
Timetable: Cahill will begin the year at Sacramento in one of the youngest and most talented rotations anywhere in Triple-A. He should make the big leagues at some point during the season, and he'll be a fixture in the rotation by the following year.

3. Brett Anderson, LHP
DOB: 2/1/88
Height/Weight: 6-4/215
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2006, Stillwater HS (OK) (D'backs)
2008 Stats: 4.14 ERA at High-A (74-68-18-80), 5.87 DERA; 2.61 ERA at Double-A (31-27-9-38), 3.81 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Acquired from the Snakes in the Dan Haren deal, this big lefty showed up last spring in the best shape of his life and delivered a breakout season, mirroring Cahill by pitching well at two levels and then starting for the Olympic team.
The Good: The son of a pitching coach, Anderson has pitching skills well beyond his years. He paints the lower half of the strike zone with an 88-91 mph sinker that he can get up to 95 when reaching back for a little extra. His curveball is a plus pitch that he's comfortable either throwing for strikes or burying in the dirt, and he also has an advanced changeup. His delivery is clean, and he's nearly always ahead in the count, which allows him to take even more advantage of his deep arsenal.
The Bad: Anderson is more about command, location, and movement rather than pure stuff. He's hardly a finesse pitcher, but scouts hesitate to grade him as having ace potential. His location and velocity vary at times, and there are days when he just doesn't have it all working and he gets hit hard.
Fun Fact: Anderson is one of three players to be drafted out of Stillwater High in Oklahoma, with the other two being newly acquired outfielder Matt Holliday (Rockies, 1998), and Holliday's brother Josh (Twins, 1995).
Perfect World Projection: He should be good enough to be a second starter in a big-league rotation.
Glass Half Empty: He'll end up in the back end of the rotation.
Path to the Big Leagues: Oakland should have little problem giving him an opportunity if they decide that he's ready for it.
Timetable: Anderson will continue to mirror Cahill's development in 2009, beginning the year in Triple-A and likely reaching the big leagues at some point during the year.

4. Chris Carter, 1B
DOB: 12/18/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 15th round, 2005, Sierra Vista HS (NV) (White Sox)
2008 Stats: .259/.361/.569, .261 EqA at High-A (137 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 4 (White Sox)

Year in Review: Yet another prospect acquired in the Dan Haren deal, this slugging first baseman had one of the most impressive power seasons in 2008, leading the minor leagues in extra-base hits (75) and total bases (288).
The Good: Carter's power is a pure top-of-the-scale 80. He hits home runs to all fields, doesn't need to fully square up a ball to hit it out, and is capable of jaw-dropping shots when he pulls the ball. He works the count well and knows which pitches he can drive.
The Bad: A power-only type of hitter, nearly 60 percent of his hits went for extra bases, but he also struck out once every 3.2 at-bats. He's a very streaky hitter who can carry a team when he's on, but then go a week without any home runs and a boatload of whiffs. While he's been tried at third base and in the outfield, he's not even an average first baseman yet.
Fun Fact: Carter played right field on occasion for Stockton, and while he struggled defensively, he went 19-for-47 (.404) while playing that position, with seven home runs and a .979 slugging percentage.
Perfect World Projection: Jim Thome minus 30-50 walks?
Glass Half Empty: Strikeouts draw the average down to the point where it's a concern, or he could end up as a designated hitter.
Path to the Big Leagues: Daric Barton still holds the job, but it's not the lock that it once was.
Timetable: Carter will begin the season at Double-A Midland, and he could force Oakland to make some difficult decisions by the following year.

5. Adrian Cardenas, SS
DOB: 10/10/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/185
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, Monsignor Edward Pace HS (FL) (Phillies)
2008 Stats: .307/.371/.441, .269 EqA at High-A (68 G, Phillies); .278/.297/.333, .173 EqA at High-A (15 G, A's); .279/.392/.326, .224 EqA at Double-A (26 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3 (Phillies)

Year in Review: The top prospect received from Philadelphia in the Joe Blanton trade had little trouble adjusting to Double-A pitching as a 20-year-old last year.
The Good: Scouts are universal in their praise for Cardenas' bat; he has a simple, fluid, if not downright pretty swing. He hits line drives all over the park and should be able to hit 12-15 home runs annually to go with a .300 batting average once he fills out and begins to drive the ball more. He's a fundamentally sound defender who makes plays on all the balls he gets to, and he's a solid-average runner with outstanding instincts on the basepaths.
The Bad: Following the trade to Oakland, Cardenas played at his original position of shortstop, but he really doesn't have the range to play there at the big-league level. He'll need to move left or right, and while he has the arm for the hot corner, he profiles better offensively as a second baseman. His natural hitting skills can lead to too much aggressiveness at the plate.
Fun Fact: In another high school connection to an existing A's player, Monsignor Pace is also the alma mater of seventh-ranked prospect Gio Gonzalez.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an offense-oriented second baseman.
Glass Half Empty: His value will decline if his glove only really works at third.
Path to the Big Leagues: Mark Ellis is signed through 2010 (with a club option for '11), while third base is always a question mark due to Eric Chavez' health, so there should be some kind of opportunity here.
Timetable: Cardenas will begin 2009 back at Double-A.

6. Aaron Cunningham, OF
DOB: 4/24/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2005, Everett CC (White Sox)
2008 Stats: .317/.386/.507, .268 EqA at Double-A (87 G); .382/.461/.645, .347 EqA at Triple-A (20 G); .250/.310/.400, .327 EqA at MLB (22 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Yet another prospect acquired in the Dan Haren deal, he went on a huge late-season run at Triple-A in '08, finishing the year with a month of big-league at-bats during which he was rarely overmatched.
The Good: Some see Cunningham as the best pure hitter in the system; he has a good approach, excellent bat speed, and gap-plus power that should produce 15-25 home runs annually. He's an average runner with a good arm, and an above-average outfielder in a corner.
The Bad: He doesn't have the pure power profile often associated with a corner outfielder, with one scout calling him, "basically a right-handed Travis Buck." He's dabbled in center field in the minors, but he doesn't have the speed or range needed to play there full-time.
Fun Fact: The 185th overall pick has been a surprisingly productive one for scouts, as Cunningham was one of five players selected in that slot to play in the big leagues last year, including All-Stars J.J. Putz and Tim Hudson.
Perfect World Projection: He'll become a high-average, high-OBP, medium-slugging corner outfielder.
Glass Half Empty: A tweener who ends up as a good fourth outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: The signing of Jason Giambi probably moves Jack Cust into a full-time outfield job, and delays Cunningham for a year.
Timetable: He'll get a long look this spring, but he'll likely begin the year at Triple-A in order to get consistent at-bats.

7. Gio Gonzalez, LHP
DOB: 9/19/85
Height/Weight: 5-11/195
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2004, Monsignor Edward Pace HS (FL) (White Sox)
2008 Stats: 4.24 ERA at Triple-A(123-106-61-128), 5.25 DERA; 7.68 ERA at MLB (34-32-25-34), 10.74 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 2 (White Sox)

Year in Review: Acquired from the Sox in the Nick Swisher trade, this undersized lefty finished fourth in the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts last year, and spent the final month in the big leagues.
The Good: Gonzalez has average-to-plus velocity and can touch 94 mph, but he uses the fastball primarily to set up a plus-plus curveball that's among the best in the system due to its considerable break and a bit of horizontal movement. He has an improving changeup, and he's a battler on the mound.
The Bad: Gonzalez is inconsistent on a level that baffles scouts and team officials; he can look dominant one day and overmatched the next, depending on what kind of command he has in any particular outing. He still needs to make adjustments, since he was used to getting most of his strikeouts outside the zone until more advanced hitters began forcing him to challenge them. His size and below-average changeup have many seeing him as a relief pitcher.
Fun Fact: While Gonzalez' big-league numbers were poor overall, he was moved to the bullpen for the final two weeks of the season, and retired 17 of the 20 batters he faced without giving up a run.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a fourth starter.
Glass Half Empty: A lefty reliever, but one not limited to situational duty.
Path to the Big Leagues: The journey may be over.
Timetable: Gonzalez enters camp as the favorite for the final spot in Oakland's rotation, though the advancement of players like Cahill and Anderson could end up moving him to the bullpen.

8. Vin Mazzaro, RHP
DOB: 9/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2005, Rutherford HS (NJ)
2008 Stats: 1.90 ERA at Double-A (137.1-115-36-104), 3.49 DERA; 6.15 ERA at Triple-A(33.2-49-9-27), 7.52 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: His stats finally caught up to the scouting reports as he won the Texas League ERA title last season.
The Good: Some scouts rank Mazzaro's sinker as a tick above even those of Cahill and Anderson. It's a bowling ball of a pitch that sits at 92-94 mph, with one scout commenting, "I can't help but be reminded of Kevin Brown when he pitches." He has good mechanics and has made great progress in his command and control, while also showing a mature knack for getting hitters out even when he doesn't have his best stuff.
The Bad: Mazzaro lives off of that sinker, because his secondary pitches lag well behind. His slider flashes average at times but can also flatten out, while his changeup could use more separation in velocity from his other pitches.
Fun Fact: One of the most consistent pitchers in the minors, he was not pulled from a single game last year due to ineffectiveness, coming out of his starts solely due to pitch counts.
Perfect World Projection: He's a mid-rotation starter.
Glass Half Empty: He'll work in the back end of the rotation.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, he's far back on the depth chart in a deep organization.
Timetable: Mazzarro will be one of many excellent prospects in the Triple-A Sacramento rotation to begin the year.

9. Jemile Weeks, 2B
DOB: 1/26/87
Height/Weight: 5-10/175
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, University of Miami
2008 Stats: .297/422/.405, .249 EqA at Low-A (19 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: This surprise first-round pick was having an impressive pro debut before being sidelined by a hip injury in 2008.
The Good: While Weeks is constantly compared to his older brother Rickie (Brewers), he's actually a very different player, with a better all-around set of tools. He has an advanced feel for the strike zone, makes good contact, has at least gap power with some projection for more, and plus-plus speed. He has above-average range at second base, and a good throwing arm.
The Bad: Weeks can be a sloppy defender, and while there was some thought given to moving him to the outfield as an amateur, the A's will keep him at second, as he has all of the tools required to stay there. He can become too obsessed with his power, and he'd be better served by not muscling up on pitches and just allowing his bat speed to work for him. He's a bit more raw than your average college player, and needs refinement across the board.
Fun Fact: The Brewers took Weeks in the eighth round of the 2005 draft out of Lake Brantley High in Florida. While older brother Rickie also went there, the school's most famous baseball alum is Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a future on-base machine with 15 home runs and 30 stolen bases per year. His ceiling is considerable.
Glass Half Empty: His power never develops to that level, and he's forced to move to the outfield, which could limit his value.
Path to the Big Leagues: It depends on where he (as well as Adrian Cardenas) ends up defensively.
Timetable: Weeks will stay at second for now and begin the year at High-A Stockton in the California League.

10. Sean Doolittle, 1B
DOB: 9/26/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, University of Virginia
2008 Stats: .305/.385/.560, .269 EqA at High-A (86 G); .254/.311/.388, .210 EqA at Double-A (51 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 11

Year in Review: He exploded in the California League early last year, imploded following a promotion to Double-A, and then rebounded with an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League.
The Good: Doolittle is an advanced hitter who has the aggressively patient approach that the A's try to teach to all their hitters, rarely swinging at bad pitches, but not looking for a walk and taking advantage of pitches to drive. He's an elite-level defender at first base who saves plenty of runs with his glove, and, while it's wasted there, his arm is outstanding.
The Bad: His ultimate power ceiling is the subject of considerable discussion and disagreement, and after hitting 18 home runs in 86 California League games but only four in 51 Texas League contests, the debate sill rages. As a first baseman, he'll need to finish on the more optimistic side of that projection to become an everyday player. His swing can be long and loopy, and it has its holes.
Fun Fact: Doolittle's younger brother Ryan was a 26th-round pick last year by the A's as a right-handed pitcher out of Cumberland University in New Jersey.
Perfect World Projection: He's a big-league first baseman with average offense and plus defense.
Glass Half Empty: He'll settle for being a left-handed bench bat.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's in a weird spot with Daric Barton ahead of him and Chris Carter coming up quickly in his rear-view mirror.
Timetable: With a good spring, Doolittle will begin the year in Triple-A, though he may get another chance to master Double-A pitching first.

11. Rashun Dixon, CF
DOB: 8/27/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 10th round, 2008, Terry HS (MS)
2008 Stats: .263/.328/.525 at Rookie-level (45 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: He's an elite-level athlete who looked to be worth every penny of his over-slot $600,000 bonus during an eye-popping 2008 pro debut.
The Good: Dixon's tools rank with anyone else's in the system. A big, muscular athlete who attracted Division I interest as a running back, he's loaded with raw power and has above-average speed which helped him leg out 10 triples in just 45 games. A converted catcher, he's still learning how to play the outfield, but his speed gives him good range and his arm is another plus tool. Only 17 when drafted, his youth gives him even more upside.
The Bad: He's raw in nearly every aspect of the game. He has a big swing and frequently chases pitches out of the zone, with good breaking balls tying him up in knots. His jumps and routes in the outfield need significant work, and he may lose some speed and be forced into a corner once his body fills out.
Fun Fact: Dixon would have had trouble making this list if his debut had ended early; in his first seven pro games he went 4-for-28 with 17 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: A scary power/speed combination in center field.
Glass Half Empty: Too raw, too much work to do, and he fizzles out at the upper levels.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's only a year older than Michael Ynoa.
Timetable: Dixon will likely be held back in extended spring training to get consistent work, but the hope is that he'll show enough to earn a full-season assignment to Kane County once the weather warms up.

The Sleeper: A 13th-round pick who fell because of an injury history that includes a shoulder surgery and two elbow procedures (including a Tommy John), right-hander Dan Thomas was flashing 98 mph heat in the instructional league to go with a wipeout slider, and he easily projects as a big-league reliever if he can just stay on the mound.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Michael Ynoa, RHP
2. Trevor Cahill, RHP
3. Brett Anderson, LHP
4. Joey Devine, RHP
5. Chris Carter, 1B
6. Sean Gallagher, RHP
7. Kurt Suzuki, C
8. Adrian Cardenas, SS
9. Daric Barton, 1B
10. Aaron Cunningham, OF

The A's have a lot of good young players at the major league level, but it's not the kind of high-ceiling talent that the group in the minors will provide, so guys like Ryan Sweeney and Dana Eveland get left out. Devine is a major find as a closer-worthy reliever who probably just needed a change of scenery from the expectations loaded onto him with the Braves. Gallagher should be a solid rotation workhorse, and maybe a bit more if he can start throwing strikes consistently. While Suzuki's numbers aren't anything to write home about, young durable catchers are worth their weight in gold, and over the next few years he should hit better than he has in the past. Barton creates a huge ranking dilemma: the team's top prospect entering the season, he did precious little when handed the first-base job, and questions about his makeup and effort which were easy to brush aside while he was raking become more glaring now.

Summary: The A's system is loaded with elite pitching, high-ceiling young talent, and tremendous depth. They should easily return to perennial American League West contention by 2010.


Up next: the Seattle Mariners.

---

Do you know Ynoa? You will, as Athletics AGM David Forst talks about his top prospect and the rest of his team's system in this edition of BPR, as we check in again with the Top 11 Prospect lists.


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Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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