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January 11, 2011

Future Shock

Oakland Athletics Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Previous Rankings: 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System In 20 Words Or Less: There's a significant drop-off after the top four, but at least the players below the big names have plenty of potential.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Chris Carter, 1B/OF
2. Grant Green, SS
Four-Star Prospects
3. Michael Choice, OF
4. Ian Krol, LHP
Three-Star Prospects
5. Yordy Cabrera, SS
6. Jemile Weeks, 2B
7. Tyson Ross, RHP
8. Renato Nunez, 3B
9. Max Stassi, C

10. Steven Parker, 3B
11. Michael Taylor, OF

Nine More:
12. Fautino De Los Santos, RHP: The former top White Sox prospect returned from Tommy John surgery to whiff 73 in 47 1/3 innings.
13. Aaron Shipman, OF: This third-round pick is a toolsy center fielder with big upside, but he's exceptionally raw.
14. Josh Donaldson, C: Donaldson is a catcher who showed power at Triple-A, but it comes with a low batting average and sub-standard defense.
15. Michael Ynoa, RHP: Don't write him off yet; Tommy John surgery will delay his development, but the first starts of his career had plenty of special moments.
16. Chad Lewis, 3B: A fourth-rounder, Lewis is a big third baseman with a pretty swing, but there are questions about his defense and athleticism.
17. Adrian Cardenas, 2B/3B: Cardenas floundered at Triple-A initially but returned to form. He could have a utility/second-division starter future.
18. Vicmal De La Cruz, OF: Another international signing from the summer, this small but speedy outfielder also has impressive hitting ability.
19. Rashun Dixon, OF: This pure athlete made impressive progress in his full-season debut, but he's had some injury issues and remains raw.
20. Eric Sogard, 2B: An undersized, tools-light second baseman, Sogard is the ultimate grinder with a career .295/.380/.414 line in the minors.

1. Chris Carter, 1B/OF
DOB
: 12/18/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/230
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 15th round, 2005, Sierra Vista HS (NV)
2010 Stats: .258/.365/.529 at Triple-A (125 G); .186/.256/.329 at MLB (24 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/speed

Year in Review: It was the same old story, as Carter got off to a slow start at Triple-A, mashed, and then had an extremely slow start to his big-league debut, followed by more mashing.
The Good: Carter should have no trouble providing the A's with some much-needed power. He's huge, strong, and has the bat speed to launch balls over the fence in all directions. He understands the strike zone well and waits for pitches he can drive, and is willing to take a free pass if one doesn't arrive. He's an adequate first baseman, and the A's still believe he can become an acceptable left fielder.
The Bad: Carter has struck out 711 times in 697 professional games, and it's unlikely that he'll ever be able to provide a high batting average due to a power-focused approach and swing. While he's not a base-clogger, he is slow, and his bat will have to carry him throughout his career.
Ephemera: After beginning his big-league career with a 0-for-33 slump, Carter went 13-for-39 the rest of the way with three home runs and a .590 slugging percentage.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a cleanup hitter with plenty of power and patience.
Fantasy Impact: He'll have plenty of home runs, but he might not help much in the batting average department.
Path to the Big Leagues: The acquisitions of Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui leave Carter blocked for now, but if he can avoid another notoriously slow start, Oakland will find a way to get him big-league at-bats. He'll likely play at both first base and the outfield at Triple-A Sacramento to give the team more options.
ETA: 2011.

2. Grant Green, SS
DOB
: 9/27/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2009, University of Southern California
2010 Stats: .318/.363/.520 at High-A (131 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/defense

Year in Review: The A's 2009 first-round pick had a huge year with the bat in his first full season, but his defense left plenty of question marks.
The Good: Green can flat-out hit. With strong wrists and excellent hand-eye coordination, he generates consistent, hard contact to all fields with at least average power. He's a tall, rangy athlete with a tick above-average speed and enough arm for the left side of the infield.
The Bad: Green committed 37 errors in 114 games in 2010, and had so much trouble with throws that at times it seemed like he had a case of the yips, often rushing plays when unnecessary and rarely setting his feet correctly. He can't afford to regress athletically, or he'll be forced to slide over to second base. His approach at the plate is too aggressive at times.
Ephemera: After hitting two home runs in his first 56 games for Stockton, Green smacked 18 in his last 75.
Perfect World Projection: Even if he's forced to second base, he's a well above-average offensive performer for a middle infielder.
Fantasy Impact: It's considerable for his position, even with a few stolen bases thrown in.
Path to the Big Leagues: After working with instructor Mike Gallego during the offseason, Green will remain at shortstop for now and begin 2011 at Double-A Midland. No matter where he ends up defensively, he should reach the big leagues the following year.
ETA: 2012.

3. Michael Choice, OF
DOB
: 10/10/89
Height/Weight: 6-0/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, University of Texas-Arlington
2010 Stats: .000/.222/.000 at Rookie (3 G); .284/.388/.627 at Short-Season (27 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/bat

Year in Review: The A's hoped the best position player from a four-year school would somehow drop to them with the 10th overall pick, and he did.
The Good: Choice has a classic right-field profile. He's a muscular, athletic player with as much raw power as anyone in the system who puts on a jaw-dropping display in batting practice and has already shown the ability to bring that power into games. He already has a big-league approach, and led Division I baseball in walks during the spring. He's an average runner with a solid arm.
The Bad: There are plenty of questions about just how much Choice will hit. He muscles up his swing at nearly every opportunity and has too much uppercut, which led to 45 strikeouts in his first 109 pro at-bats. He'll likely lose his speed as he matures, and end up firmly in a corner.
Ephemera: Choice played 166 games at UT-Arlington, and hit third while playing center field in the last 153.
Perfect World Projection: He's a classic right fielder with power and a bit of speed.
Fantasy Impact: He'll likely strike out too much for a high batting average, but he could fill it up in all other categories.
Path to the Big Leagues: The A's will use the spring to evaluate Choice's progress with the hope that he's refined his swing enough to be ready for an assignment to High-A Stockton.
ETA: 2013.

4. Ian Krol, LHP
DOB
: 5/9/91
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Seventh round, 2009, Neuqua Valley HS (IL)
2010 Stats: 2.65 ERA (118.2-98-19-91) at Low-A (24 G); 3.66 ERA (19.2-18-9-20) at High-A (4 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Changeup/curve

Year in Review: An over-slot seventh-round pick, Krol was among the Midwest League's top pitchers during his full-season debut.
The Good: Krol was among the most advanced arms at Low-A in 2010, showcasing three average-to-plus offerings with well above-average command and control. His fastball sits average to a tick above at 89-92 mph, but it plays up due to his ability to place it effortlessly within the strike zone. He has a solid-average curve, but his changeup is a true weapon as a plus pitch with depth, fade, and plenty of deception. He's a battler on the mound who pitches fearlessly.
The Bad: On a pure stuff level, many scouts believe Krol has maxed out, as he's not an impressive physical specimen, so he lacks much in the way of projection. There is not a weakness in his arsenal, but the changeup is his only true plus pitch.
Ephemera: Krol walked 11 batters in his first seven outings for Kane County, and then just eight over a span of 86 2/3 innings in his last 17.
Perfect World Projection: He's a solid third starter
Fantasy Impact: He's not going to be a fantasy stud, but the low walk rate will keep the WHIP down.
Path to the Big Leagues: Krol will begin the 2011 season back at High-A Stockton, and while he's young, he could move relatively quickly.
ETA: 2013.

5. Yordy Cabrera, SS
DOB
: 9/3/90
Height/Weight: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2010, Lakeland HS (FL)
2010 Stats: .188/.350/.250 at Rookie (5 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/bat

Year in Review: Among the best high school hitters in the draft, Cabrera signed at the deadline for $1.25 million.
The Good: Cabrera already has two plus-plus tools. He has the best infield arm in the system and tremendous raw power that comes with a combination of bat speed and raw strength. He's an average runner and even faster from first to third due to a long stride. While most projected an immediate move to third base as a pro, he surprised even A's officials with his defense during the Dominican instructional league, and will at least get a shot to stay there.
The Bad: Cabrera has a tendency to drop his front shoulder and add lift to his swing, and that needs to be smoothed out. A Dominican native who moved to the United States as a teen, Cabrera was almost 20 when drafted out of high school, so he's a bit behind on the standard development curve. He loses value if forced to third base, but his tools still profile well there.
Ephemera: Cabrera's father, Basilio, has been a coach and manager in the Tigers chain for over a decade.
Perfect World Projection: If he bucks the odds and sticks at shortstop, he's an even better prospect, but the bat will play at third base.
Fantasy Impact: He'll have lots of home runs, and even a few stolen bases.
Path to the Big Leagues: Cabrera is ticketed to be the everyday shortstop at Oakland's new Low-A affiliate in Burlington.
ETA: 2014.

6. Jemile Weeks, 2B
DOB
: 1/26/87
Height/Weight: 5-9/170
Bats/Throws: B/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2008, University of Miami
2010 Stats: .306/.432/.417 at Rookie (10 G); .267/.335/.403 at Double-A (67 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/defense

Year in Review: It was a familiar story for the 2008 first-round pick; when he was healthy, he played well, but more often than not he was sidelined with one of a variety of injuries.
The Good: Scouts and A's officials remain convinced that Weeks could break out if he could just stay on the field, as his tools remain impressive. His incredible bat speed is reminiscent of older brother Rickie's, which gives him the potential to hit 12-16 home runs annually with enough plate discipline to fit well at the top of the order. He's a 60-65 runner on the scouting scale and has improved his defense considerably since his college days.
The Bad: Weeks has played just 176 games in his career, and never more than 80 in a season, leading some to already throw an injury-prone tag on him. He needs to learn how to use his speed in games more, but a variety of leg problems have limited him in that area. He remains an inconsistent defender who is equally capable of spectacular plays and booting the most routine of ground balls.
Ephemera: Weeks is the only player ever selected with the 12th overall pick in the draft to be announced as a second baseman.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an above-average everyday second baseman.
Fantasy Impact: He'll have on-base ability, double-digit home runs, and 20-plus stolen bases a year.
Path to the Big Leagues: Weeks will begin the year at 2011 in the most important year of his career. If he stays healthy and produces, he'll take over for Mark Ellis the following year.
ETA: 2012.

7. Tyson Ross, RHP
DOB: 4/22/87
Height/Weight: 6-5/215
Bats/Throws: R-R
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2008, University of California
2010 Stats: 3.55 ERA (25.1-22-13-30) at Triple-A (6 G); 5.49 ERA (39.1-39-20-32) at MLB (26 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/command

Year in Review: This power righty earned a big-league bullpen job as one of spring's biggest surprises, and returned to starting at Triple-A before being sidelined with an elbow strain.
The Good: Ross is a long-armed, highly athletic pitcher with big-time stuff, beginning with a 92-94 mph fastball that gets into the mid-90s, and he touched 98 in shorter bullpen stints. His plus-plus slider is the best in the system and a wipeout pitch when he's throwing it for strikes.
The Bad: Ross has a funky, complex delivery with a bit of effort to it, and he's had a variety of mild arm problems throughout his pro career, leaving many to think his future lies solely as a late-inning reliever. His low three-quarters arm slot gives some pause as to his ability to get lefties out, but his splits have yet to show that expected weakness.
Ephemera: With his one big-league win, Ross already ranks ninth among pitchers drafted out of Cal. Andy Messersmith is the all-time leader with 130, but it's a big drop from there as Ryan Drese ranks second with 34.
Perfect World Projection: Ross could be a good major-league starter, or an even better reliever. The former is more valuable because of the innings.
Fantasy Impact: He'll rack up strikeouts in a starting role, but walks might always be a problem.
Path to the Big Leagues: Ross is part of a crowded yet wide-open competition for the final slot in the Oakland rotation, but chances are he'll need to prove he's healthy at Triple-A Sacramento first.
ETA: 2011.

8. Renato Nunez, 3B
DOB
: 4/4/94
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2010, Venezuela
2010 Stats: Did Not Play
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/speed

Year in Review: Oakland continued to be aggressive in the international market, signing the top international hitter available for $2.2 million.
The Good: While he's eons away, Nunez has an elite-level ceiling, with one international talent evaluator calling him the best pure hitter to come out of Venezuela since Jesus Montero. He has an explosive swing with significant core leverage, and projects to hit for both average and power. He also showed impressive defense in the Dominican instructs, with soft hands and a solid arm.
The Bad: Nunez isn't the kind of multi-tooled athlete one would expect based on his bonus, as he'll be no more than an average runner, and his defense projects as average. Because of his age, there is still a Grand Canyon-wide gap between what he is, and what he can be.
Ephemera: Nunez was born one day after the last day Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was seen alive. And you are now officially old.
Perfect World Projection: Nunez's ceiling is through the roof, but he's far too young to guarantee anything.
Fantasy Impact: Let's not get ahead of ourselves, folks.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, the A's don't even plan to bring Nunez to the United States this year; they plan on him staying in the Dominican to play in the summer league.
ETA: 2015.

9. Max Stassi, C
DOB
: 3/15/91
Height/Weight: 5-10/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fourth round, 2009, Yuba City HS (CA)
2010 Stats: .229/.310/.380 at Low-A (110 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Glove/bat

Year in Review: The $1.5 million bonus baby was better than his numbers during his pro debut, but he still showed plenty of holes in his game.
The Good: Any discussion of Stassi begins with his defense, as he's a highly advanced receiver with excellent footwork and blocking skills behind the plate. His arm is above average, and he earns raves about his makeup and baseball instincts. He's a stocky player with a solid approach and surprising power for his size.
The Bad: Stassi hit two home runs during his first week at Kane County, and that might have been the worst thing to happen for his offensive development, as he got heavily pull-conscious and racked up 141 strikeouts in 411 at-bats, leaving him as a solid offensive prospect, but only because of the position he plays. His arm strength is mitigated at times by a long release.
Ephemera: While Stassi hit everywhere from fourth to ninth for the Cougars in 2010, he really struggled in the cleanup spot, batting just .200/.258/.282 in 20 games as Kane County's cleanup hitter.
Perfect World Projection: He's an everyday catcher with solid offense, and even better defense.
Fantasy Impact: He'll have more home runs than your average catcher, but more real-world value.
Path to the Big Leagues: Stassi will move up to High-A Stockton in 2011.
ETA: 2014.

10. Stephen Parker, 3B
DOB
: 9/3/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2009, Brigham Young University
2010 Stats: .296/.392/.508 at High-A (139 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/glove

Year in Review: This third baseman rebounded from a poor full-season debut with a breakout season in the California League.
The Good: Parker is one of the best pure hitters in the system, with one of those downright pretty left-handed swings that is just hard to teach. His approach is big-league ready, as he works the count well and rarely chases. He consistently drives balls into the gap and projects for 30-plus doubles and 15-20 home runs per year.
The Bad: Parker is a below-average defensive player who made 33 errors in 2010, and like Green had particular problems with his throwing. He needs to stay at third base, as while he's a good hitter, the offensive expectations at first would likely be too much for him.
Ephemera: Parker played his prep baseball at American Fork High in Utah, whose sports teams are the Cavemen.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an average to slightly above-average everyday third baseman.
Fantasy Impact: Not huge, but he'll have good numbers in every category except stolen bases.
Path to the Big Leagues: If Parker can prove he's for real at Double-A Midland in 2011, his stock will go up significantly.
ETA: 2012.

11. Michael Taylor, OF
DOB
: 12/19/85
Height/Weight: 6-6/260
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2007, Stanford (Phillies)
2010 Stats: .272/.348/.392 at Triple-A (127 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Depends on the day.

Year in Review: After a pair of monster seasons, Taylor was acquired for Brett Wallace but turned into the system's biggest disappointment.
The Good: Taylor still has the athleticism and tools to impress, with one scout joking, “he's either a huge outfielder or a small defensive end.” He's has plenty of raw power and impressive contact skills for a player his size, and is a solid outfielder with an above-average arm.
The Bad: Taylor simply never got going in 2010, and his struggles led to tinkering with his hitting mechanics, which just led to further troubles. His inconsistency was frustrating to all involved, as he could have an outstanding at-bat, and leave observers waiting two weeks for another.
Ephemera: Taylor went 8-for-17 with two home runs in his first four Arizona Fall League games, and hit .242 without a home run in 91 at-bats thereafter.
Perfect World Projection: He certainly has the tools to be an above-average outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: He could hit for average and power, but it's hardly a sure thing.
Path to the Big Leagues: Taylor will try to turn things around in a second go-around at Triple-A Sacramento.
ETA: 2012.

The Sleeper: Signed out of Taiwan for $150,000, infielder Zhi-Fang Pan impressed with his line-drive bat during a .331/.386/.439 showing in the Arizona Summer League.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/85 or later)
1. Brett Anderson, LHP
2. Gio Gonzalez, LHP
3. Daric Barton, 1B
4. Trevor Cahill, RHP
5. Chris Carter, 1B/OF
6. Grant Green, SS
7. Michael Choice, OF
8. Ian Krol, LHP
9. Yordy Cabrera, SS
10. Jemile Weeks, 2B

Anderson seemed to be on the verge of a breakout season in 2010 before the injury bug hit, he enters 2011 with the same expectations. Gonzalez was arguably the team's best starter last year, and with better command, he has the stuff to be a borderline second starter. While it took a while to get going, Barton now has a lock on the first-base job as an on-base machine who has transformed into a good defender, and he's going to show more average and power in future years. Cahill is good, but nothing about his peripherals or scouting reports match with his sub-3 ERA, so expect a regression.

Summary: While the A's system lacks depth, especially at the upper levels, aggressive work in both the draft and international markets have stocked the system with intriguing young talent. There's a chance that this system looks much better by October.

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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