It's that time of the year. The minor league season has officially concluded and the major league roster has mushroomed-out to include the best that Sacramento has to offer. Before really bearing down and naming my minor league depth chart and top 20 prospects list (that's for next week), I'd thought I'd take this week to hand out a few of my personal awards for the A's minor league season:
First off, no surprise here:
Pitcher of the Year - Trevor Cahill: High-A Stockton, Double-A Midland & Team USA
Combined Stats - 11-5, 2.61 ERA, 136-50 K-BB, 124.1 Innings Pitched
Trevor had a nice season last year for Kane County, but it certainly didn't preclude that within just one season he would transform from being a nice "project" pitcher into one of the top pitching prospects in the entire minor leagues. The 20-year old righty started off the season as the number 4 starter on an uber-talented Stockton starting staff. Yet, after 14 starts of utter dominance (103 K's in only 87 IP and a meager .174 batting average against) Trevor became the unquestioned ace of the staff and was moved up to Double-A Midland. While Trevor's K-rate went down and his walk rate and BAA went up, he still managed to lower his ERA and win more games in far fewer starts at the Double-A level. He did this by trusting his stuff and his defense more, as he used his power-sinker to induce more than 3 times as many ground outs as fly outs while with Midland. Clearly, this man who turned down the Ivy League scholarship to play for the A's is a pitcher of intelligence! Although he pitched with a slight rib-cage injury while with Team USA in Beijing, he still managed to fire 8 innings of 2-run ball with 5 strikeouts to help America earn the Bronze Medal.
Recent observations note that Trevor's pitching arsenal reminds some of former Oakland ace Tim Hudson. While Trevor is a much bigger-bodied guy than Hudson and has cleaner mechanics, the comparisons seem apt enough. Both pitchers work off of above-average sinking fastballs and have above-average breaking and off-speed stuff to compliment it. Cahill, like Hudson early in his pro career, has walked just a few too many batters, but has also been just as unhittable and difficult to homer off-of. Hudson would later refine his control at the expense of his gaudy K-rate, but would also garner Cy Young attention in the process. Cahill could very easily follow a similar career path as Huddy.
I anticipate Trevor repeating Double-A early on next season, but getting bumped up quickly if his control improves a bit. He should be just about major league ready by this time next year.
Hitter of the Year - INF Chris Carter, High-A Stockton Ports
.259/.361/.569, 39 homers, 104 RBIs, 77-156 BB-K
Coming in second in the entire minor leagues in homeruns qualifies as a solid season, in my book. Jesus man, Carter had a monster year. Coming into the organization as kind of a wild card in the Dan Haren trade, the 21-year old Carter was seen as a defensively limited, unrefined hitter with loads of raw power. The season started out slow for Chris as he struggled to find his way with his new organization, but as the summer heat took over the thermometer, Carter's bat began to take over the Stockton offense. Carter would get on Custian-like streaks where he would belt like 4 or 5 homers over the course of a week, then would cool off and strike out in bunches. Even so, Carter's batting average got as high as .270 on several occasions during the year and never dropped to Hannahanian or Bartonian levels. He made strides to make himself more of a complete hitter during this season and even while he struck out in an alarming 31% of his at-bats, he also walked 77 times and HIT 39 HOMERS and 32 DOUBLES to off-set the lack of contact. He even stole 4 bases without being caught and homered an additional 5 times during the Cal League playoffs to carry the Ports to the League title.
Carter got fielding auditions at 1st base, 3rd base, left field, right field and DH. He likely doesn't have the dexterity to be a full-time infielder, but he's got good arm strength and might find a home in a corner outfield spot, at least for the short term. He'll probably DH for the long-term.
Some observers think that Carter is Jermaine Dye incarnate. The size and swing comparisons are apt, however Carter seems to be a more advanced hitter at his age than Dye was. In fact, Melissa Lockhard over at Scout.com did a comparison of Mark McGwire's age-21 season to Carter's age-21 season and concluded that Carter actually had the better year! Not to say that Carter is a sure bet to duplicate McGwire's career by any means, but it's a good reminder of the type of talent that Carter possesses. Even with his high strikeout totals and lack of defensive prowess, Carter remains one of the best pure power hitting prospects in the entire minor leagues. I expect him to spend nearly all of next season at Midland, with a late-season promotion to Sacramento if he nears his 2008 marks. He has a very outshot shot to be a September callup next season, but I'd bet that we'd more likely see him in Oakland in early summer 2010.
Pitching Disappointement of the Year - Fautino de los Santos, High-A Stockton
2-2, 5.87 ERA, 26-11 K-BB, 23 Innings Pitched
Remember this guy? Yeah, he was the third piece to the Nick Swisher trade. He lasted all of 5 ineffective starts for the Ports before blowing out his elbow and being shut down for the year. He's had Tommy John surgery and is scheduled to make it back to the field sometime next season. Santos will be 23 next season, so he's no spring chicken, and he kind of came out nowhere last season to turn some heads, so he doesn't have a particularly sterling track record to bank on. Yeah, at this point, I would say his future lies as a good setup man, at best, and only if his velocity fully returns to him. He should begin next season, whenever he's healthy, back at Stockton and with some luck could get to Midland by the end of the season.
Hitting Disappointment of the Year - OFer Richie Robnett
.240/.330/.351, 4 homers, 27 RBIs, 39-86 BB-K
After slugging 18 homers to go along with a solid .465 slugging percentage for Midland in 2007, Robnett was added to the A's 40-man roster over last winter. Unfortunately for Richie, his spot on the 40-man is now in serious jeopardy after a thoroughly disappointing 2008 campaign.
Always seen as a great natural athlete with very raw bat skills, but good power, Robnett regressed in virtually every aspect of his offensive game. He started the season in Sacramento and got over 200 at-bats but eventually fell back down to Midland after failing to get in a groove with the Rivercats, only batting .236 with a .658 OPS at the time of his demotion. Robnett did deal with a few medical issues early on in the season that probably contributed to his very slow start at the plate, however, for a 24 year old college-bred hitter to drop from 18 homers to 4 and from a .465 slugging percentage to a .351 percentage in the course of one season is very concerning. Richie can still play good outfield defense at the corners and a passable centerfield, but with about 8 other outfielders ahead of him on the depth chart on the 40-man roster, it's hard to imagine that he'll keep his spot on that list once the Rule V draft comes along.
Breakout Pitcher of the Year - Vincent Mazzaro, Midland & Sacramento
15-6, 2.74 ERA, 131-45 K-BB, 171.0 Innings Pitched
After two very unimpressive campaigns at Kane County (2006) and Stockton (2007) I was surprised to see Mazzaro promoted to Midland to begin 2008. But whatever the A's were thinking with Vince, it was spot on. Vince eventually earned Texas League Pitcher of the Year honors after dominating the circuit most of the season, going 12-3 with a 1.90 ERA. Vince didn't strike out a ton of batters over the course of the season, but scouts observed that over the winter he added a few ticks to his sinking fastball, improved his off-speed stuff and trusted his defense all season. The combination worked wonders for the kid, at least in Midland. He ran into some trouble (and bad BABIP luck) at Sacramento late in the season, but also pitched well into the PCL playoffs for the league champion RiverCats to make up for it.
Efficiency is Mazzaro's game. By routinely pounding the lower-part of the strike-zone and pitching-to-contact, Vince limited his pitch counts and routinely lasted into the 7th and 8th innings of games. He ended the regular season with a whopping innings pitched total of 182.0 (counting the PCL playoffs), which is about the amount that average major league starters accumulate over a longer regular big league season.
What's most remarkable about Vince's breakout season is that he pitched all season as a 21-year old and will be 22 all next season. He's come out of nowhere to really turn some heads, but is probably not even fully developed physically right now. He already projects as an efficient mid-back rotation innings eater at the major league level, but if he adds even more velocity to his sinker or improves his 2nd and 3rd pitches, he could turn out even better than that. At the very least, with all of the A's current pitching depth, Mazzaro has turned into one of the organization's top trading chips as Billy Beane looks to make a trade for a slugger this off-season.
Breakout Hitter of the Year - Cliff Pennington, Midland, Sacramento & Oakland
Cumulative stats (minors) - .280/.404/.352, 2 homers, 34 RBIs, 31 stolen bases/6 caught stealing, 93-70 BB-K
I use the terms "breakout" and "hitter" loosely when describing Pennington. He didn't set the world on fire or anything this past season, but he did prove that he can do a few things well and be an asset to any team if he does those things consistently. Cliff, a former 1st round pick, sustained leg injuries after the 2005 season that apparently really hampered his ability to play 100%. He therefore languished in the lower-levels of the organization and put up pretty horrible numbers along the way. He finally started to get healthy at the tail end of last season and began this year fully recovered at Midland.
At Midland he showed off his ability to control the strike-zone (39-36 BB-K), get on-base (.379) and wreak havoc on the basepaths (20 steals, 1 caught stealing). He played solid defense at both short and second and was promoted to Sacramento after about 200 at-bats. Cliff put it all together at Sacramento, even showing glimpses of power, as he continued to rack up the walks (54 BB's to only 34 K's!), hit a couple of homers, doubles and triples, got on-base (ridiculous .426 OBP) and steal bases - 11 of them in 65 games.
Now, I'm not gonna lie to you. The lack of power in Cliff's game is truly concerning. He needs to be able to sustain at least doubles-power in the majors to be a truly valuable player. However, I've always believed all-along that Cliff's skill set could be an asset to the major league bench. Defensively, I think that Cliff is an adequate defender at both short and second, and has shown that he can man 3rd in a pinch. He's got tremendous arm strength and just needs to get better at positioning himself, especially at short, but I think fundamentally, he's solid. In his brief time in the majors he's shown that his ability to draw walks hasn't eluded him at the highest level and he's been able to slap and bloop a few hits in there now and then. His "first to home" speed actually gave the A's a run yesterday that they wouldn't have had with, say, Jack Hannahan out there.
Cliff is never going to be a star nor is he the long-term answer at short. What he is, and likely always has been, is a nice little player that is a tough out, can play multiple up-the-middle positions fairly well and can run well. To me, that's going to make Cliff a fairly valuable bench guy for the next couple of years. He probably won't ever be as dramatic a contributor as Scutaro in his bench role (who can be, really?) but I think that he'll end up doing enough of the little things over the next few seasons that he'll win over some fans in the process.
"Steady as She Goes" Award - LHP Brad Kilby, Sacramento RiverCats
7-2, 3.47 ERA, 66-26 K-BB, 70.0 Innings Pitched
I know I keep harping on this guy and this is a very obscure award, but I think that Brad's consistent performance deserves some recognition. The San Jose State alum and NorCal native has done nothing but chew major innings in bullpens up and down the Oakland organization since getting drafted way back in the 29th round of the 2005 draft. He's got a funky lefty deliver that's kind of sidearmish/three quarters with lots of herky-jerkiness. It apparently throws off both lefties and righties as Brad ahs always been just about as good against righties as lefties throughout his pro career.
Brad's never been injured in his pro career and has never had a bad season. His full minor league stats are as follows: 17-6, 2.64 ERA, 262-88 K-BB, 232.1 IP, 1.15 WHiP. Any rubber-armed lefty bullpen arm that can hit 90mph on the gun (Brad can, at times), post a near 3-1 K-BB rate for his career, is tough to hit and can battle both righties and lefties has a chance at a pro career. I think that Brad has that chance.
About a month back I compared Kilby to Ron Flores. Both lefties seem to be the "underdog" types who make the most out of their relatively limited natural abilities. Flores was able to help the A's in a number of seasons as a 40-man roster player that was shuttled between Sacramento and Oakland and filled in admirably when called on to chew some big league innnings. I think Kilby will have that type of effect on the big league team. I expect him to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season and then have a chance to break camp with the big league team if Embree isn't retained and/or Braden or Outman end up in the starting rotation full-time next season. Even if he begins next season back at AAA, chances are, we'll see Kilby in an Oakland uniform at some point within a year.