As a prospect analyst, I often get questions like "Where does System X rank now that Sudden Development Y has happened?" Those are always nearly impossible to answer, because during the season, the overall rankings of farm systems are extremely fluid--there's the draft to throw things out of whack, players are always improving or stagnating, and the draft and its aftermath adds another wrench in judgment.
There certainly is always a lot going on in minor league baseball. A couple of months ago, a few people (including myself) were talking about how Jeremy Barfield was turning the corner and had a shot at an MLB outfield gig. Now, he's converting to pitcher. A year ago, much of the prospect community (this time, not including myself) was abuzz about Miles Head's absurd Stockton statline; now, he's a total afterthought after parts of two seasons of flailing against upper-minors pitching. At the same time, we saw A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily go from deep sleepers to solid MLB starters in the span of just a few months last year.
So today, I'm going to take a brief look at some of the upward and downward movers in the Oakland system over the last couple of months.
Tanner Peters, RHP, Stockton--Tanner Peters has a 26/0 K/BB in his last two starts. That's 26 K in 13 2/3 innings. Like Straily and Griffin, he's quietly putting together good seasons--he had a dominant turn in Vermont in his pro debut in 2011, put up a nice 3.16 ERA and 66/18 K/BB last year in Low-A, and now has a 144/24 mark in Stockton.
Peters is a finesse guy, working mostly at 88-90 and relying on his curveball and changeup, and he's a flyball pitcher, with just a 37.8% groundball rate. That's led him to allow 21 homers this year in the hitter-friendly California League environments, and that's something that bears watching against upper-level hitters. Peters is going to have to maintain his mastery of the strike zone if he's going to have a big league career, but he's exceeded expectations so far and can't be written off until he slips up. Perhaps he could be an Evan Scribner type of pitcher.
Raul Alcantara, RHP, Stockton--When the Andrew Bailey/Josh Reddick trade first happened, I remember being far more excited about Alcantara than the other acquired prospect, Miles Head. Head's tour de force in Stockton last season, coupled with a humdrum full-season debut from Alcantara (5.08 ERA, just 57 K in 102 2/3 innings) made my initial reactions seem misplaced, but a year later, they look far more prescient, with Head having collapsed in Midland and Alcantara making a lot of strides in his age-20 season.
It was one thing for him to find success when repeating the Midwest League (58/7 K/BB in 77 1/3 IP, 2.44 ERA), but it's quite another for him to jump to the CAL without much of a decline (56/13 K/BB in 66 1/3 IP, 3.55 ERA). The question has always been whether Alcantara can miss enough bats to be interesting, and striking out over 20% in High-A at age 20 is a very positive sign. He has a live arm and has always thrown strikes, so learning how to put hitters away consistently could prime him to be a nice mid-rotation starter.
Ryan Dull, RHP, Midland--Ryan Dull has gone from 32nd-round pick to solid Double-A reliever in 14 months, which is a hell of an ascent, really. Along the way, he has a silly 122/17 K/BB in 87 2/3 innings, including 75/8 this year in 55 2/3 frames. He's absolutely dominated the four lowest stops on the Oakland chain, even the pinball-machine CAL (1.59 ERA, 31/3 K/BB).
There's always some skepticism around late-round guys, but Dull reportedly possesses a worthy fastball/slider combination and has some deception. Certainly, his ability to throw strikes shouldn't be in doubt, so as long as he's getting a modicum of grounders and strikeouts, he'll project to be of some utility in an MLB bullpen. Not bad for the 32nd round.
David Freitas, C, Sacramento--Here's an example of the weirdness of high-offense environments. Freitas hit .214/.285/.362 in the neutral-ish Texas League, was promoted up to the high-offense PCL, and is hitting .303/.391/.447 there even though it's a higher level.
It's 22 games, so it's hard to suddenly be high on Freitas again based on a small sample of at-bats in a high-offense environments, but it's worth noting that there are some positive signs in what looks like an overall dismal season. Freitas is still controlling the zone pretty well (51/30 K/BB, including 12/10 in Sacramento) and hitting for some power (14 doubles and 10 homers; oddly, he had nine homers and six doubles in the neutral environment and eight doubles and one homer in the friendlier one).
Anyone who can catch, has a reasonable plate approach, and can put a charge into the ball has some value. Freitas is just 24 and is showing signs of life. Maybe we shouldn't write him off.
Aaron Shipman, OF, Beloit--Speaking of writing guys off, it wasn't hard to do that about Shipman after last year, where he hit .206/.319/.261 in his full-season debut. When you're a guy who needs to hit for average to have any value and you hit .206, that's a pretty easy way to depart prospect lists.
Repeating Low-A this year, Shipman then went 7-for-50 in April and didn't surface again until after the All-Star Break, at which point he's suddenly hit .309/.413/.360 with an even 30/30 K/BB in 45 games. Obviously, he still has no power whatsoever, but the former third-rounder is finally showing consistent contact and on-base ability. He's just 21 and has time to make a career for himself if this truly represents progress, though his margin for error remains thin unless he starts clearing fences at least occasionally.
Anthony Aliotti, 1B, Sacramento--Not everybody moves from Midland to Sacramento and suddenly starts hitting. Aliotti was killing the ball in Midland (.350/.452/.541), but he's slumped to a .243/.306/.315 line in his first crack at the Triple-A level, seeing his characteristic plate discipline fall apart (33/10 K/BB in 30 games). After ripping 41 extra-base hits in 91 games with the RockHounds, he has a mere quintet of them so far with the River Cats.
Aliotti's 26, so he really can't afford missteps, especially since he's confined to first base (though he is a plus defender there). He does have three multi-hit games in his last five, so maybe things will start to come together, but if you aren't hitting in the PCL as a 26-year-old corner guy, that's never a good sign.
Drew Granier, RHP, Midland--Granier, like Peters, is mostly a finesse guy who relies on a plus curve. Unlike Peters, he's never really had good control, with a career BB/9 of 3.9. Upon reaching Double-A, he's seen his walks creep up to a problematic 12.1%, while his previously-excellent strikeout rate has fallen to 16.4%. This is an indication that a) he isn't able to establish his fastball as well against more advanced hitters, who are more likely to put it in play than just take it for strikes or foul it off, and b) he's not getting as many chases on his curve.
Already 24, Granier is another guy who can't afford to stagnate and still retain prospect status, so his failure to adjust to the upper minors is certainly troubling. Like Aliotti, he's a good example of how performance prospects aren't necessarily safe.
Bruce Maxwell, C, Stockton--Maxwell was drafted as a sort-of-catcher who had plus power, but instead, the A's got a sort-of-catcher with a decent approach and not much pop. His defensive statistics are very problematic--14 passed balls and just a 15% caught-stealing rate in 75 games this year--and it's not like there's ever been much optimism that he'll become more than a Jaso-level defensive catcher. Offensively, the power has just never showed up--a career slugging percentage of .366 and ISO of .091 just doesn't get it done, and Maxwell isn't even doing much in the CAL (.254/.321/.366).
The one thing Maxwell flashed earlier this year in Beloit was an approach (29/24 K/BB), but even that's evaporated in Stockton somewhat (30/14). Without defensive ability or above-average offensive output in any area, it's becoming tough to see the former second-rounder contributing beyond an org-player capacity.
Chad Pinder, 3B/SS, Vermont--The A's third-round pick is hitting just .163/.261/.224 in short-season ball, which is quite alarming for a 21-year-old collegian. Sometimes, statlines like this are just a player being tired after playing amateur ball all spring, but having only two extra-base hits and striking out 31 times in 29 games is sure not a good way to start a career.
Vicmal De La Cruz, OF, AZL--Last year, this vaunted international signee hit .230/.291/.378 in his US debut, which wasn't good, but there were reports of him having vision issues that were subsequently corrected, and it's not hard to forgive an 18-year-old for struggling to hit pitches he can't see. Now, though, he's repeating the level and all that has seemed to change is that he's hitting for even less power, with a .210/.272/.257 line. The tremendous K/BB of his DSL campaign in 2011 has vanished, as he's only mustered 18 walks against 70 Ks in his two stateside seasons. It's tough to get jazzed about a guy who hasn't even escaped the complex leagues and has yet to produce anything.