We're just about at the halfway point of the minor league season and many of the A's affiliates either clinched first-half playoff spots or came within a game or two of clinching. Here's the current situation:
Sacramento River Cats: 41-29, 1st Place PCL South Division
Midland Rockhounds: 33-35, 3rd Place, Texas League South
Stockton Ports: 42-28, 2nd Place for 1st Half Cal League North Division (just missed playoff spot by 1 game)
Kane County Cougars: 39-29, 2nd Overall Midwest League (clinched playoff spot)
The A's have now signed 18 of their 50 total draft picks, including 6 of their top 10 selections. Top pick Jemile Weeks is still competing in the College World Series while 4th rounder Anthony Capra is probably still recovering from his meltdown in the Super Regionals, so they should be signed fairly quickly once the tourney ends or when Miami gets eliminated. The other two top-10 round picks that have yet to sign, RHP Brett Hunter from my alma mater Pepperdine and OFer Tyreace House, might be more difficult to sign. Hunter began this year as a potential 1st rounder but quickly fell down draft boards after sustaining a shoulder injury. If the A's determine that Hunter is close to being 100-percent healthy, he is someone they should offer over-slot money to. He's a little raw as far as collegiate pitchers go, but as far as potential closers go, he's pretty solid: potential to hit 100mph with the fastball in addition to a nice curveball.
As far as the CWS goes, Capra got hammered in the elimination game of the Super Regionals after lasting less than an inning against Florida State back on June 8th, giving up 6 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks and was lifted after only 40 pitches. Hopefully, his professional career will start a lot better than his collegiate career ended. Weeks has been hitting very well for Miami as they march towards a national championship. In NCAA tourney action so far, Weeks is 8-for-27 (.296) with 5 RBIs, 6 walks against only 3 Ks and 1 homer.
AAA: 3B Jeff Baisley (.871 OPS) & OF Danny Putnam (.848 OPS)
Baisley and Putnam have put up eerily similary stat lines so far this season (albeit from opposite sides of the batter's box) to anchor the RiverCat offense. Baisley has a .291/.378/.493 line so far this year with 8 homers and a nice 27/31 BB-K ratio. Putnam has a .271/.354/.494 line with 9 homers. Neither of these guys are top-prospects nor are they on the 40-man roster (translation: they don't have a bright future with the Big Club) however Putnam got his feet wet last season with the big club and didn't completely embarrass himself in his limited time, while Baisley has some pop in his righty bat, which is an attribute sorely missing in the organization. At the very least, both guys are nice to have as AAAA-insurance.
AA: RHP Vincent Mazzaro, 7-3, 2.29 ERA, 86.1 IP, 60K - 24BB
Sometimes minor league performances can be very flukey and vary wildly from year to year and sometimes, oddly, minor leaguers can perform better at higher levels than they do at lower ones for oftentimes inexplicable reasons. Enter Vince Mazzaro. Vince has been the only one of the many high school arms taken in recent drafts who has stayed completely healthy for his entire professional career. He has also, interestingly, shown some of the least amount of promise, until this year. In 2006 & 2007 Vince tossed nearly 275 innings between Kane County and Stockton, where he put up uninspiring ERAs above 5.00 at both spots. Yet, even though he struggled at those lower levels and was only 21 to start this season, the organization decided to move Vince up to Double-A regardless to start this season. The move has paid off. Vince is sporting career lows in ERA, WHiP, HR per 9, and Batting Average Against. His K/9 rate is still not amazing as he's only averaging about 6.28 strikeouts per game, but his walk rate is fairly low at 2.5 per game and he's kept the ball on the ground (56% Groundball rate) and in the park. He's getting better every month that goes by (2.79 ERA in April, 2.17 ERA in May, 1.80 so far in June) and he just chews innings as he's gone at least 6 innings in all but one of his last 10 starts and has pitched at least 7 innings twice.
Despite these encouraging trends and the fact that he's accomplishing them against older competition, it's unlikely that Mazzaro will ever develop into a front or even middle of the rotation starter in the major leagues. His stuff just doesn't overwhelm and his control isn't really all that great. But regardless, Mazzaro has proven that he's a highly durable, improving pitcher that will generally keep the ball in the park and give the team a chance to win. Since he's still relatively young with some projectability left, he's an intriguing pitcher, but one I could see Beane part with if the right deal for a veteran bat came along.
A+: DH/1B/OF Chris Carter .230/.359/.481 (.840 OPS)
While Sean Doolittle and Trevor Cahill have grabbed most of the attention at Stockton this season, Carter has been steadily improving his game and could be in for a big 2nd half to the season. Carter's had an uneven beginning so far and it shows in his overall stat line. The raw power is still in full effect for Chris as he's blasted 15 homers on the season and has a strong Isolated Slugging Percentage of .254. However, he's well on pace to set a new career high in strikeouts as he already has 75 on the season and his batting a full-season career low of .230. Carter's BABIP is partly to blame since it's a relatively low .274, but since his line-drive percentage is at a career low 7%, he's not giving himself a lot of chances to find the holes in the defense. Granted, Carter is a Custian-like all-or-nothing slugger, so you don't expect a lot of contact in his game, however, you'd still like to see an ability to hit for an even modest overall average.
Despite Carter's struggles making contact, he still has several good things going for him. For one, despite being a raw, high school product, Carter actually has drawn a fair amount of walks this season and actually sports a slightly better BB-K ratio than his ultra-polished, slightly-older and college-trained teammate Doolittle (Carter 45-75, Doolittle 39-77). He also finished the first half of the season on a mini roll, going 10-for-36 with a homer, 7 RBIs, 7/6 BB-K ratio and even a stolen base. He's also shown some defensive versatility as he started 6 of the last 10 games in right field after being primarily a 1B/DH for the past few seasons. If Carter can get his average up in the 2nd half of the season, keep slugging the homers and show that he can adequately handle a defensive position or two, he could turn himself into a very promising power prospect that could reach his considerable potential.
Low-A: RHP Charles Kerfoot, 2-0, 2.08 ERA, 21.2 IP, 3 Saves, 20-4 K-BB
With a great starting pitching staff but a typically-Oakland moribund offense, the Kane County Cougars play a lot of low-scoring close games where they call upon their bullpen to hold leads or close out games. In recent days the team has turned to the awesomely-named Kerfoot in those close game situations, and he hasn't disappointed. I don't know much about Kerfoot, but I'm liking what I'm seeing so far. He is a late-bloomer out of the University of Delaware where he played all four years and was a swingman for the team, putting up fairly unimpressive numbers until his senior season where he put up a 3.24 ERA and 1.09 WHiP with a 7+ K/9 rate in 75 innings. He then got drafted and signed in the 30th round by the A's and went to short season Vancouver last season where he put some solid numbers. In 36 innings, Kerfoot had a 3.47 ERA with a 37-8 K-BB ratio and a 9.17 K/9. He has carried that success over to Kane County this year, where his K/9 remains high (8.57), his walk rate remains low (1.71 per 9), while giving up less than a hit an inning, to give him a stellar .97 WHip, second best on a very good pitching team. Chad also seems to be more than just a one-inning reliever as he has gone multiple innings in relief in 7 of the past 10 games he's pitched, although he does have the ability to close out games, as evidenced by his 3 saves in 3 chances.
As a 30th-round draft pick, I don't believe that Kerfoot has "plus stuff" or a lot of upside, and he's definitely a little old for the Midwest League (23), but he gets guys out and he's a late bloomer who seems to have finally harnessed his stuff late in the development curve. He's a flyball-oriented reliever that might have trouble in say, the California League when he gets promoted, but he's worth watching as someone with a chance to make it as a decent middle reliever. There are probably a lot more exciting pitchers to watch in the A's system, but none with such a distinct name. So I'm pulling for him.
International Free Agent Signing Period Rumblings
On July 2nd the International Free Agent signing period begins and contrary to recent years, the A's are being mentioned as one of the primary movers and shakers in the sweepstakes for the top Latin American talent. Leading the INTL draft class is 6'7, 16 year old Dominican pitcher Michel inoa. Beane has reportedly made the trip to the Dominican to see Inoa first hand, and industry sources speculate that the A's are prepared to (gasp) potentially outbid the Yankees, Red Sox and any other rivals for his services. While the other clubs are willing to offer $3 million for Inoa, the A's are reportedly prepared to offer $4 million.
That the A's have allocated more resources to international scouting and signee bonuses was well evident earlier this year, but if these reports are true, it would take the A's commitment to Latin America to a new level. I, personally, would love to see the team make a statement by signing this guy for more than the Yanks and Sox, even though it's very high risk and we would probably not see the kid on a major league mound until the middle of next decade. He's supposed to be the real deal, and if Beane brings him into the fold, along with the rest of the 2008 draft class and the prospects from Haren and Swisher trades, you're talking about a seriously deep farm system that could pay dividends to the major league club for years to come.
Prospects in the News
Those Fightin' Ports- Last weekend, the Ports were involved in a nasty brawl with the Modesto Nuts . Reportedly, the fight began after little Matt Sulentic supposedly retaliated after getting plunked by trying to spike the Modesto 2nd baseman while breaking up a double-play. Benches and bullpens cleared and punches were thrown. Jose Fragoso, a reliever with the Ports, broke some cheek bones in the fight and will miss a majority of this season as a result. The Cal League levied suspensions on Ports players Sulentic, Jermaine Mitchell, Fragoso and Catcher Raul Padron as a result of the incident.
BA's Hot List Mentions Several Prospects- LHP Brett Anderson has popped back up at #6 on Baseball America's Hot List after coming back from injury to dominate Cal League hitters once again. However, Corey Brown and Henry Rodriguez also made the list under the "Not Hot" header.