Monday Morning Minors Musings: Top-20 Lists Edition

Both grover and Taj will be posting their Top-20 prospect lists later on in this posting, however there are a few news tidbits regarding the A's minor league system that should be addressed first:

- In a move that surprised no one, the A's announced that Trevor Cahill was tabbed organizational Pitcher of the Year and Chris Carter was named organization Player of the Year last week. Not that it was particularly prescient, but that's who we tabbed here on AN last week before the official announcement was made.

- Player of the year Chris Carter, along with Stockton teammates Corey Brown and Sam Demel, have already opened their Winter Ball seasons out in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball league.  The trio is suiting up for the North Shore Honu and all three have kind of struggled to get going early on. Carter is only hitting .182 with extra base hit in his first 7 games, however his OBP is at .357 thanks to 6 walks in 22 at-bats. Brown's done a little more hitting as Carter as he has 2 doubles and 5 hits total in 23 at-bats with 4 walks and 6 strikeouts. Demel has really struggles in his first few games, giving up 6 runs in only 4.2 IP for an ugly 11.57 ERA. He does have 4 K's in those 4 innings though and it's still really early!

- The Arizona Fall League (the biggest prospect showcase of them all) begins tomorrow and several A's top prospects will take the field for the Phoenix Desert Dogs. Right-handed relievers Andrew Bailey, Andrew Carignan, Jared Lansford and Jeff Gray will toe the hill for the Dogs (Josh Outman was originally scheduled to participate in the league, but since he threw so many innings for the big league club late in the season, he was scratched and Gray took his place). Adrian Cardenas and Josh Donaldson (listed as a 1st baseman) will get some infield work on the team while Sean Doolittle will likely get more time in the outfield.

- If you haven't checked it out yet, head over to Baseball America and check out their league-by-league top-20 lists. There are a ton of A's on most of them! I think the Pacific Coast League is profiled today...

Now, without further ado, let's get to our lists:

Taj's Top-20 List (omitting Gio as he spent 8 weeks in the big leagues):

1. RHP Trevor Cahill

2. LHP Brett Anderson

3. RHP Vince Mazzaro

4. OF Aaron Cunningham

5. RHP James Simmons

6. 1B/3B/DH Chris Carter

7. 2B Adrian Cardenas

8. 1B/OF Sean Doolittle

9. C Josh Donaldson

10. CF Corey Brown

11. RHP Craig Italiano

12. RHP Henry Rodriguez

13. OF Matt Sulentic

14. RHP Brett Hunter

15. OF Rashun Dixon

16. RHP Arnold Leon

17. LHP Josh Outman

18. 2B Jemile Weeks

19. RHP Andrew Carignan

20. RHP Sam Demel

 

My top-20 list is pitching heavy, because, lo and behold, that's the part of the system that Beane has most actively bolstered with all of his efforts this past calender year. Cahill and Anderson are obvious 1 and 2's. Cahill's got ace-potential and Anderson's ceiling is just a little lower, although he's more polished. I bumped Mazzaro up to 3 mainly due to his incredible year at Double-A. He pitched better for a longer period of time than fellow Midlander James Simmons and after struggling initially at Triple-A, settled down and threw well in the pressure packed PCL playoffs. He projects as a solid, innings-eating, mid-rotation starter at this point, with a power sinker.  He's ahead of Simmons because he completely dominated the Texas League at the same age and made it to AAA before him (although, all that might have ended up differently if Simmons' sleep apnea was addressed earlier in the season). He's ahead of the top position players because even a #3 or #4 starter in the big leagues that can stay healthy (Mazzaro is a horse) is enormously valuable.

At this point, i still consider Cunningham a prospect, since he got called up just before September call-ups and because I think he may need another month or two in AAA before coming up to Oakland for good. I love his skills and think he has all the makings to be a solid, regular left fielder for many years. Simmons is a solid command-and-control guy that should end up being a very good number 4 starter for the A's as soon as next September.

Carter's potential is through the roof. But my outlook on him is a bit jaded, not because of the strikeouts, but because of his lack of defensive prowess. He's got an amazing power bat, but I hope he figures a way to stay at 3rd for awhile, because then he'd really be something! His prospect value would be severely lessened if he has to be a DH immediately upon making the pros.  Cardenas is an advanced hitter for his age and although he struggled after coming to the A's for Blanton, he still showed enough promise to make it possible that he fulfills his potential as a .300 average, .780+ OPS 2nd baseman with fairly good defense. As an up-the-middle player, that type of production would be very valuable. I loved watching Doolittle in the California League, however he really struggled in Texas League. If he can combine the patience he showed last season with the power he showed this season at the Cal League he'll be a solid big league 1st baseman with Gold Glove defense. However, I'm not sure if he has 30-homer, elite power in him.

Donaldson and Brown really broke out in Stockton this past season. Donaldson is a little better at making contact and plays a more demanding position, even if he doesn't do it all that well yet. If he stays at catcher long term, he'll be a very good prospect. Brown's limitations are well-known: he's basically Jack Cust with a little less propensity to walk but with solid centerfield defense and good speed. His swing might have some major holes in it, but I think he'll make a good, not great, big league outfielder within the next few years.

Italiano is a nice story. Coming back from shoulder surgery and a skull fracture that limited him to less than 20 innings each of the past two seasons, no one knew what to expect from Craig. He responded by dominating the Midwest League and earning a promotion to Stockton, where he struggled with location and probably fatigue. Italiano threw the most innings of his career and his low-mid 90's fastball and power curve make for a good strikeout combination while his changeup is passable enough to enable him to remain a starter for the time being.

If H-Rod showed more ability to remain a starter and control his stuff, he'd be much higher on this list, but his season was disappointing. He was probably rushed to AA, but I'm still seeing him as a guy with constant trouble with command and doesn't have a plus offspeed offering. I love the 100mph heat, but that can only get him so far. I love Matt Sulentic! I think he'll end up being a left-handed version of Aaron Cunningham.

Hunter and Dixon, the two highest profile signees from this season's draft, are very high on potential. Hunter profiles as either a number 2/3 big league starter or late-inning reliever. Dixon is just a 5-tool freak who some have compared to a young Torii Hunter. I guess someone like that has a bit of value... Arnold Leon, one of the first of the new wave of Latin American prospects to sign with the A's, pitched very effectively as a 19-year old for the Stockton Ports this past season and held his own the Mexican League late in the season. He's now 100-percent A's property and with his great control and solid stuff, could easily develop into a nice back-rotation starter.

I enjoyed watching Outman fling 94mph heater inning after inning this September. But I thought that he was very hittable and his off-speed stuff wasn't great. I think he'll settle into a bullpen roll long-term, but he'll be a valuable one with that heater. Weeks is a wildcard at this point. His hip flexor injury seems pretty serious as he has yet to even appear in a single Instructional League game. He's got all the tools to be a very productive spark-plug type leadoff hitter, and if he can even-out his 2nd base defense or transition to center field, he could be a major weapon. But there's a lot of uncertainty there.

I had to throw Carignan and Demel into the list as they both had fantastic seasons, both posting a K/9 over 12.00. That's just insane! Demel is older and in the lower level, but he had better control and a better groundball rate. Carignan needs to work on his control, but is incredibly tough to hit. Both should be late-inning relievers on the big club within two years.

Feel free to criticize/bash/revise/or post your own top-20 lists...that's what comments are for! I'm sure I missed some guys. As for Inoa, I omitted him from the list as he hasn't even played a truly competitive professional game in his career and no one really knows what the A's have in him. Also, I just wanted to show off how deep this system is by semi-purposely omitting both Michel and Gio! To me, it still looks excellent!

Grover's Top-20 List

 

I’ve never been big on making Top 20 lists, finding the right balance between tools, level and production has always been a bit of a chore. I don’t really like chores. Feel free to bask in my genius or question my sanity… I imagine folks will veer from one extreme to the other as they peruse my list.

 

#1 Brett Anderson (2/1/1988) LHSP

 

Anderson sat at 92-93 all year, touching 95 with his fastball. He’s got an above-average change-up, both breaking balls and excellent command as his 2.31 BB/9 will attest. He struck out 118 in 105 IP and posted a 4.37 K/BB rate. He’s not the groundball whore Cahill is but he earned his share with a 1.92 GO/AO. He’s probably nice to puppies and small children. I’m not saying he’s the kind of guy you want your daughter to marry; I’m saying he’s the kind of guy that makes you want to have daughters to begin with. A strong Spring Training (henceforth abbreviated ST) will probably see him start the year in Sacramento, putting him a half-step ahead of Cahill and earning him the #1 spot.

 

#2 Trevor Cahill (3/1/1988) RHSP

 

Cahill sat at 93-94, touching 96 with his fastball. More importantly, his fastball possesses incredible sink to the tune of a 2.43 GO/AO. If you listen to the wind on a quit desert night you can hear the whispers of comparisons to Brandon Webb. What’s being spoken boldly in some scouting circles is a big league floor as a #3 SP. Trust me when I say that makes him pretty freaking special. His command slipped a bit in AA, I think he starts 2009 back in Midland.

 

#3 Chris Carter (12/18/1986) 1B/3B/OF; Bats: R

 

Chris Carter crushes baseballs, hammering 35 doubles, 5 triples and 44 home runs for Stockton during the regular season and through the play-offs. He strikes out a lot but can work a walk. The A’s have dreams of him playing 3B but the consensus is that isn’t happening. He’s also tried 1B and RF… the experiments will continue next year in Midland.

 

#4 Aaron Cunningham (4/24/1986) OF; Bats: R

 

Solid-average tools across the board, does a lot of things well but probably won’t be great in any one area. Not the tools package I’d prefer the #4 ranked prospect but I can’t ignore a 329/400/532 line in the upper minors.

 

#5 Vincent Mazzaro (9/27/1986) RHSP

 

Mazzaro’s sinker sat at 92-93, touching 95. He improved his slider but his sinker and command (1.48 GO/AO; 2.36 BB/9; 2.89 K/BB rate) led him to being named Texas League pitcher of the year. Certainly the most improved prospect in the system, there is some concern about 2008 being a fluke. Then again, the Texas League had four months to figure out the (then) 21 year old pitcher and he dominated to the tune of a 1.90 ERA over 137.1 IP. He needs to keep working on his off-speed stuff but that’s what AAA is for.

 

#6 Rashun Dixon (8/27/1990) OF; Bats: R

 

Yeah, I’m surprised by this ranking too. I dropped him in the slot and no one was able to push him out. An absolute tool shed, the best athlete in all of Mississippi, Dixon showed power and speed in the Arizona Rookie League. The first of the A’s over-slot draftees, Dixon was bought out of a football scholarship to Mississippi State for $600K. He’s got all the power and speed you could want, hitting 3 doubles, 10 triples and 8 home runs while going 5/7 on SB attempts. He also converted from high school catcher to CF and was making all the catches by the end of the year. He also had an 18/68 BB/K rate in 179 at bats so there’s work to be done. But the ceiling is amazing.

 

#7 Adrian Cardenas (10/10/1987) 2B/SS; Bats: L

 

Everyone at Baseball America keeps trying to push this guy to 3B but do the A’s listen? NOOOO! Oakland is trying him at SS which is going to fail. That said, a 294/364/399 line between the FSL, CAL & TL is fairly impressive. His bat ultimately profiles to hit 20 home runs while hitting for average but the power hasn’t shown itself the past two seasons. He’s got a strong arm, reliable hands and slightly above-average speed. He also ran the base paths exceptionally well, stealing 16 bases on 17 attempts.

 

#8 Gio Gonzalez (9/19/1985) LHSP

 

Gonzalez probably won’t qualify as a prospect in next year’s BA Prospect Handbook (too much service time) but he hasn’t thrown more than 50 IP so he gets to be in my top 20 list. Gio is going to keep driving us mad for a while, what with the low-90’s fastball and the big breaking curve and a Zito-like penchant for teasing the strike zone. His 7.56 H/9 in AAA was impressive and the 128 K in 123 IP is a plus, but the 61 walks and the overall butt-kicking he endured in the Show are definite downers.  I like to think it’ll be worth it in the end… or, at least by 2010.

 

#9 Michel Inoa (Uh-oh, can’t find a birth date!) RHSP

 

A 16 year old with enough tools to get the normally tight fisted Billy Beane to kick loose $4.25 million deserves to be in the Top 10 of any A’s prospect list. I won’t place him any higher until we actually start to see some performance data.

 

#10 Josh Outman (9/14/1984) LHSP

 

What can I say; I’ve got a weakness for LHSP who can hit 94 MPH with their fastballs. He’s never going to have better than average command but he’s got the raw stuff to work around that. The Phillies didn’t do his development any favors by trying to convert Outman into a reliever last year. Also, his name is Hell-a cool.

 

#11 Jemile Weeks (1/26/1987) 2B; Bats: S

 

Weeks went straight from the College World Series to starting at 2B for the Kane County Cougars  in the Mid-West League  and didn’t embarrass himself, posting a 297/422/405 line in 74 at bats. An injury ruined his debut but he walked more than he struck out (13/12) and he stole 6 bases in 8 attempts, pretty much what you want a future lead-off hitter to accomplish.

 

#12 Sean Doolittle (9/26/1986) 1B/OF; Bats: L

 

Sean-do-much, especially in High-A Stockton when he made like the Thing with a Clobbering Time line of 305/385/560 in 334 at bats. The A’s didn’t so much promote Doolittle to AA as much as they showed mercy to the rest of the Cal League. AA Midland was a different story (254/311/388) but altogether it was a very successful year. The strike outs, 153 in 535 at bats, are a little excessive and can hopefully be trimmed while not costing any of the new found power. Doolittle showed better control of the strike zone last year and in college so if he can keep from being over-aggressive in his quest to hit the bomb the K’s should go down and the batting average up. He also showed off his athleticism by playing a respectable RF.

 

#13 Corey Brown (11/26/1985) OF; Bats: L

 

Brown swings-and-misses so often that there were wind chill warnings posted in Stockton. Including the playoffs, Brown struck out 191 times in 541 at bats. He also hit 31 home runs despite spending more than half the season playing in the least friendly hitters’ league in pro ball. One of the best athletes in the A’s system, Brown plays a solid-average CF and stole 16 bases in 17 attempts. He’ll either end up a big league starter who profiles similar to Mike Cameron or he’ll crash and burn spectacularly.

 

#14 Josh Donaldson (12/8/1985) C/???; Bats: R

 

Mr. Donaldson, a former 3B converted to catcher, is not listed as a catcher with the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. We’ll find out what the A’s have planned for him when the AFL kicks off. He absolutely crushed the CAL with a 330/391/564 performance that all but demands a higher ranking… unfortunately his MWL line of 217/276/349 says this is where he belongs.

 

#15 James Simmons (9/29/1986) RHSP

 

Simmons went from UC-riverside to AA Midland after getting drafted in the 1st round last year. He’s now thrown 165.2 IP as a pro, all in AA, and has posted an 3.60 ERA, a 2.18 BB/9, 7.79 K/9 and a 3.58 K/BB rate. All of which is certainly nice, none of which makes up for the fact that he lost velocity as his fastball sat at 88-89, down from the 90-92 he threw in college. He’s got an above-average change up but his breaking pitches don’t break enough and he doesn’t keep the ball on the ground, so sayeth his 0.91 GO/AO. Simmons needs to get back the velocity (it’s not uncommon for pitchers to lose some velocity their first full season only to regain it after they get used to pro ball) and sharpen his breaking stuff. He’ll get his chance next year in Sacramento.

 

#16 Jason Christian (6/16/1987) SS; Bats: L

 

Meet the front-runner for the position of A’s SS of the future. Christian hit 294/396/424 in two minor league stops, ending with the Kane County Cougars for the final 6 games of their season. The 73 K’s in 238 at bats and 19 errors in 68 games are an eyesore but he earns praise from scouts on his glove and hit 17 doubles, 1 triple and 4 home runs while walking 39 times and stealing 13 bases in 14 attempts.

 

#17 Henry Rodriguez (2/25/1987) RHRP

 

Rodriguez probably has the best arm of anyone on this list with a fastball that sat at 98-99 and an improving slider. It doesn’t mean a thing until Grasshopper learns to throw strikes outside of A-ball. 51 hits and 44 walks in 41 IP at AA Midland spells F-A-I-L.

 

#18 Nino Leyja (10/2/1990) SS; Bats: R

 

Leyja is another over-slot signee from the 2008 draft, earning a $110K bonus to sign as a 15th round pick. Have I mentioned lately how thrilled I am with the A’s for actually spending money in the draft? No? Well… I’m thrilled. Leyja took the AZL by storm but got nicked up and missed a bit of time near the end of the season. He came back to go 6-18 in his last 5 games, hitting 2 doubles and 2 triples in the process. Scouts like his hands and quickness but aren’t sure if he’ll stick at SS.

 

#19 Matt Sulentic (10/6/1987) OF; Bats L

 

Matt must have humped the mother of all slump busters to go from hitting 175/234/218 in Low-A last year to 309/368/481 at High-A Stockton this year. Scouts even gave his OF defense good reviews. Still, he’s pretty much maxed out physically and the offensive demands of a big league corner OFer are fairly rigorous. He needs to hit more home runs (9) or improve his 30/91 BB/K rate in 343 at bats to earn serious consideration for a starting gig in Oakland.

 

#20 Jeremy Barfield (7/12/1988) OF; Bats: R

 

Hit 271/341/375 for Vancouver after getting drafted from San Jacinto JC. The numbers are nice but certainly do not demand inclusion on this list. Jeremy earns this spot because he stands 6’5, 240 lbs and is the son of former All-Star Jesse Barfield. He also controls the strike zone reasonably well for a big guy, with a 26/42 BB/K numbers in 251 at bats. Let’s see what happens here.

 

 

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