Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, James Simmons. These are all names that most ANers are familiar with. Not only are they the organization's top prospects, but they are the guys that were either a) drafted and signed by A's scouts, or b) acquired in a high-profile, recent trade.
Though I should concentrate my efforts on following those guys - since they will be the ones that will more than likely make it to the big club - I thought I'd take a few paragraphs to profile four players currently in the system who were acquired the low-profile way: minor league free agency. Just as a primer, a minor leaguer has the option of filing for free agency after spending 3 years in the organization that originally drafts/signs them and hasn't been added to that organization's 40-man roster AND if they are not selected in either the major league or minor league portions of the annual Rule V draft. So generally speaking, minor leaguers that end up in free agency are usually players that several teams have passed up on for one reason or another and are not usually considered genuine "prospects" with big league futures. Rather, they're usually signed for one year as organizational roster-fillers. All that being said, the goal of any professional baseball team, major or minor, is to win games and some of these minor leaguers, like the 4 below, can help those teams win now.
1. OF Jon Zeringue - AA Midland - .291/.400/.559
Zeringue was a rather big name coming out of high school in 2001 and he was selected by the White Sox in the 3rd round of that year's draft. He opted for college instead, mashed at LSU for three seasons and the move payed off as he was eventually drafted and signed by the D-Backs in the 2nd round of the 2004 draft. He was assigned to Single-A Lancaster where he put up a nice .926 OPS over half of a season. His stock rose considerably in the D-backs organization after that season, but after being moved up to Double-A to start 2005 he lost his swing and took a nosedive, having to repeat at Single-A to start off 2006, then, after a cup of coffee back in Double-A in 2007, he was released by the organization. He signed on with the South Georgia Peanuts of the unaffiliated South Coast League, where he put up a 1.032 OPS in 90 at bats, after which he was promptly signed by the A's and assigned back to the Cal League for Stockton. He homered in his first at-bat with his new organization and hasn't looked back since. He ended his season with the Ports with a .909 OPS with 13 homers. He started this season up in Double-A and finally seems to have raised his play to match the level, as he's already belted 8 homers to go along with a .959 OPS. Zeringue's a corner outfield guy who swings from the right side, so, in such a lefty-heavy organization, he's proven himself to be quite valuable to the mid-level farm teams.
2. INF Jesus Guzman - AA Midland - .358/.410/.563
Another Midlander, Guzman has grabbed Texas League headlines this season as he's put up staggering batting lines for a middle infielder, winning League Player of the Week honors early in the season after getting off to a sizzlingly hot start at the plate. He's cooled off a bit as of late but it still mashing, as evidenced by his .973 OPS, 7 homers and .358 average. Guzman was originally signed a a 16-year old undrafted free agent by the Mariners in 2000. He toiled for seven years in the organization getting as high as Double-A in both 2005 and 2006, but struggled in both those seasons and was released last off-season. He re-worked his swing in Arizona over the off-season and latched on with the A's to start this season, where his hard work in the cage has paid off. Him and Zeringue have supplied much of the offense to keep the Rockhounds well-above .500 for the year, currently sitting at 20-16, and in the hunt for the South Division title. While this might Guzman's 3rd try at Double-A, he's still only 23 years old and there aren't too many middle infield prospects in the entire minor leagues that can hit like he can, so he might have an outside chance of moving up in the organization. For a fun look at Guzman's hot start and how he lived out of the Midland Clubhouse for the first week of the season, check out this article.
3. OF Archie Gilbert - High-A Stockton - .343/..421/..504
Hayward-native Gilbert has been minor league baseball's "Little Engine that Could" over the past few seasons. After breaking numerous school records at Division III Cal State University - East Bay, the diminutive Archie was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Red Sox in 2005. Archie did poorly against his first taste of professional pitching, mustering a meager .553 OPS in the Rookie Leagues back in '05. That lackluster performance got him released from the organization after only 73 at-bats. But Archie came back strong tin 2006, signed on with the White Sox chain and put it all together for the Chisox Rookie League team, garnering team MVP honors after exploding with an .852 OPS. He re-upped with the Sox after the season and last year, after having moved up to Low-A Kannapolis, he continued hitting fairly well going for an .825 OPS with 9 homers and 35 steals. After the season he decided to come home to the East Bay and NoCal by signing on with the A's. So far, the speedy centerfielder has continued to show signs of his all-around game, playing a solid centerfield and occasional corner spot while getting on-base at a high rate and showing surprising power for someone his size (4 homers, .504 slugging). At his best, Archie is the prototypical leadoff hitter, able to control the strike zone with his excellent eye (career 74 to 87 BB-K ratio), hit for a high average (.305 career hitter) and ignite the offense when on-base with excellent baserunning (although he's only 5 for 15 so far this season in stolen base attempts). Being an East Bay native, a product of a D-III program, smallish in stature and yet exciting to watch, Gilbert is an easy guy to root for. Although he's much too old to be considered much of a prospect (turns 25 this year) he's exceeded all expectations so far in his career and has produced every year in the minors and has steadily worked his way up the system, graduating to a higher level every season. The odds are long on him even getting above Double-A, but he's a guy that has always beaten the odds, so don't put it past 'ol Archie to make more of an impact on this organization or another sometime in the near future.
4. LHP Ryan Wing - AAA Sacramento - 14.1 Innings pitched, 1.26 ERA, 1.21 WHiP
Like Zeringue, Wing was a highly sought-after draftee coming out of Riverside Community College in 2001. He signed on with the White Sox in the 2nd round of that year's draft and wound up having a couple of solid years for the Sox A-level teams, going a combined 21-14 with a 3.38 ERA over the 2002 and 2003 seasons. However, he sustained a shoulder injury at the beginning of 2004 and missed most of that season. After rehabbing, he got back to the mound in 2005, but struggled and was subsequently placed on waivers and was claimed by the Rangers. He made 11 starts for the Rangers' High-A team in 2005, struggled mightily (6.93 ERA) and was placed on waivers for the second time that year and was promptly re-claimed by his original organization, Chicago. He put together two solid campaigns in 2006 and 2007 for the Chisox Rookie League team and Double-A Birmingham, and he used that leverage to explore free agency over the winter. He settled on the A's and he has become a useful reliever for the Rivercats so far this season. Wing has spent nearly his entire career as a starter, so he's probably hoping for a chance to crack the Sacto rotation, but he's doing well as a reliever so far and since effective lefty arms are always in demand at every level of professional baseball, it's not out of the question that Wing will get a big league opportunity sometime soon.
Tidbits from the Teams
Sacramento: 22-16, 1st Place PCL South Division
Another minor league free agent signee, Joe Gaetti, son of former-pro player Gary Gaetti, has ignited the Sacramento offense as of late, belting 4 homers and tallying 11 RBI's in the last 9 games since being introduced into the organization. Cargon has been slow to recover from his leg injury, mustertin only 3 homers so far this season with an .818 OPS. Buck continues to struggle with the lumber down on the farm, hitting only .257/.297/.400. He needs to get his act together.
On the pitching front, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Meyer and Lenny DiNardo have all been struggling for the Cats, all with ERA's of 5.00 or above for the season, while Danny Borrell and Kirk Saarloos have turned in nice performances, Kirk especially as he is using good control (19-5 K-BB ratio) and his usual groundballing ways (2 to 1 groundout/flyout rate) to keep his ERA low (3.41) even though he's giving up over a hit an inning and has already given up 5 homers this season.
Midland: 21-16, Tied for 2nd in Texas League South Division, 2.5 games back
The big news for the Hounds this week was the arrival of Aaron Cunningham, the highly touted outfielder who broke his wrist during Spring Training. So far, Cunningham's been just okay, hitting for a .762 OPS with a homer. His 1 to 12 BB-K ratio is god-awful, but I'd expect that to improve over the course of the season as he gets his timing and swing back in form after not having played games for the past month.
James Simmons and Vince Mazzaro continue to lead the Midland staff, starting 13 games between them both with sub-2.5 ERA's so far. Both guys have strong but not exceptional K-rates, but both have been tough to hit and just refuse to allow baserunners (combined 1.09 WHiP between them). 2007 draftee Andrew Carignan, fresh off of his promotion from Stockton, has already notched 3 saves in 7 appearances, on the strength of a 1.35 ERA. He's having some issues with his control (6-5 BB-K ratio, 1.80 WHiP), but if he can cut down the walks then there is a good chance he'll end the season in Sacramento and will be in the big league bullpen for good starting next year. Henry Rodriguez continues to get pounded by Double-A hitters to the tune of a 1-3 record, 7.00 ERA, 2.56 WHiP, and an ugly 22-20 B-KK ratio. Perchance he should be converted to full-time reliever since he's on the 40-man roster now?
Stockton, 25-13, 1st Place California League North Division
The Ports continue to be led offensively by the power bat of 1B Sean Doolittle. The guy has just been CRUSHING the ball. He hit his 10th homer tonight and for the season he's put up a batting line of .353/.423/.676 (1.100 OPS, but who's counting). Even in the hitter-friendly California League and at lefty-friendly Banner Island Ballpark, those numbers are extremely impressive. Catcher Jed Morris, back in the saddle after having fought off leukemia last year, has also been crushing the ball as of late, posting a .995 OPS for the season with 7 homers. He garnered Cal League player of the week honors for the week of May 4th for his hot bat. At age 28 Jed might not be a top prospect, but his recovery from leukemia and his return to the ball field is certainly a great story. Shortstop Josh Horton has also been swinging a hot bat recently as he's batted .441 over the past 10 games with a 9-5 BB-K rate in that span to bring his season averages all the way up to .318/.438/.411. The guy can certainly control the strikezone, but he has yet to hit a homer on the season and only has 9 extra base hits. He's had a nice run, but I'm still skeptical that he'll be a plus bat going forward.
Trevor Cahill continues to just flat-out deal for the Ports. He's currently 5-0 with a miniscule 2.14 ERA, to go along with a 56-10 K-BB ratio, and an unheard-of 0.83 WHiP in 42 innings pitched, all of which lead the team. Trevor's sinker and changeup must be clicking on all cylinders, as he's inducing nearly 3 times as many grounders as flyballs (2.73 to 1) and he's actually been more effective against left-handed hitters than righties (1.74 ERA & .141 average against vs. lefties, 2.53 ERA & .208 average against vs. righties). If he keeps pitching like this all season two things will happen: one, he'll be promoted to Midland and two he'll become the organization's top prospect by year's end.
Brett Anderson hasn't been nearly as good as Cahill, but he's still been pretty darn impressive so far. He's 5-2 with a 3.43 ERA with a 1.09 WHiP and a 39-9 K-BB ratio. Unfortunately, Fautino de los Santos is really struggling for the Ports. On the year, he's 2-2 with a 5.87 ERA. He had a nice start in his first outing of the year (6 IP, 2 runs allowed) but then put in three straight ineffective outings, where he allowed 17 hits and 12 runs in 12 innings total. He's got plenty of time to right the ship and his latest performance was a good way for him to get back on track as he went 5 innings, and only allowed one run while striking out 4 and only walking 1.
Kane County, 23-11, 2nd Place Midwest League Western Division
Corey Brown has cooled off a bit since raking last week, but he's still putting in a nice overall performance. For the year, Corey has put up a .912 OPS with the 2nd most RBI's on the team with 20. He's still striking out a lot with 46 K's, but his overall batting average is at .301, so he's making decent overall contact. If Corey can keep his average above .300 for the rest of the season while taking a few more walks (he only has 16 so far this season) then I'm sure the organization will accept the high K-rate.
The Cougars have been led all season by their stellar pitching, which is highlighted by Craig Italiano and Travis Banwart. Craig sits at 4-0 with a spectacular 1.06 ERA in 34 innings pitched. He's sports an insane 12.70 K/9 ratio, which is just filthy. He is still not pitching deep into games (he has yet to throw more than 5.2 innings in any one outing) but since he lost most of last season to that skull fracture, the organization might just be limiting the wear and tear on his arm and letting him build up arm strength slowly. Travis Banwart, a 2007 draftee out of Wichita State, is just throwing strike after strike after strike. His 2008 numbers look almost identical to his marks from Kane County last season:
2008: 41.2 IP - 2.38 ERA - 41-11 K-BB
2007: 45 IP - 2.60 ERA - 41-10 K-BB
Travis won't ever makes anyone's top prospects list, but if he keeps throwing quality strikes, he has the chance to make it to the big leagues as a swingman, back rotation starter and/or middle reliever.
Doolittle Shows Taj Some Love
I'm go go ahead and take some of the credit for Sean Doolittle's sizzling start, as he highlighted a question I asked him in his latest Player Journal :
When you were drafted, many naysayers predicted that you would never hit for enough power to really fit the profile as a big league first basemen. Well, you've already hit six homers this season and are slugging a monstrous .667! Have you been actively trying to hit for more power to prove those guys wrong, or are you just following your regular approach but getting better power numbers? -- Taj
I alluded to this earlier in this journal entry and I remain somewhat pleasantly surprised by my offensive production this season, especially in the power categories. I believe it is a byproduct of a couple things. Primarily, for the first time in my career I've been able to channel all my energy and all my focus into hitting without having to split practice time with pitching as I did in college. With that in mind I was able to make some changes during Instructional League that I carried with me through the offseason. Secondly, I hit the weight room back at the University of Virginia pretty hard this offseason and I am now the proud new owner of 15 pounds of muscle. With those things in my back pocket I've been able to keep the same approach at the plate and let the numbers take care of themselves.
Starting next week, the Monday Midnight Minors Musings post will actually appear on Sunday night at midnight in order to avoid front page logjams. Since midnight Sunday is actually 12 in the morning on Monday, alliteration rules will still apply to the title of the post.