Well, it's the All Star break and I figured it would be a good time to check in on the progress of many of our prized minor league prospects since that's the direction our beloved green and gold are going.
Jonathan Mayo covers the minor leagues and the draft for MLB.com. I thought I would interview him regarding our A's prospects since that's his regular beat. I happened to send this interview to him before the Harden deal so I didn't get a chance to ask him about the prospects the A's got back from the Cubs. Maybe he'll stop by and offer his take.
Blez: First of all, have you seen Michel Inoa? What do you think of the A's going out and beating everyone out for this guy?
Jonathan Mayo: I have not seen him. The A’s going out and getting him has to be one of the bigger surprises in recent memory, doesn’t it? I mean, the A’s just don’t do things like this. The whole process has been fascinating and it looks like Beane’s personal touch paid off. I know there are people out there who feel something odd occurred in the negotiating process, not necessarily with Oakland, mind you, but with what happened with other teams involved. Unfortunately, the whole international signing process is so difficult to monitor, there’s a lot that goes on unseen and a lot of rumors that end up being generated as a result.
Blez:How do you think he projects out? I know that's tough for a 16-year-old, but I'm wondering what you think of his upside.
Mayo: That’s the thing that’s so scary about Inoa. He’s so big already and the fact he could add an inch or two is frightening. He’ll also fill out some and how he handles that growth will determine just how good he’ll be. I think he’s got as much upside as any pitcher to enter the pro game we’ve seen in years.
Blez:How would you rank the A's top 5 pitching prospects and can you give me a short blurb about each of them?
Mayo: Trevor Cahill -- He's gone from a decent prospect to an outstanding one with his 2008 season so far. Pitching in Double-A and a recent trip to the Futures Game are some nice feathers in his cap.
Brett Anderson -- Coming out of high school, he wasn't your typical prep pitcher. Because of his father, a long-time college coach, he really knew how to pitch and looked more like a pitchability college lefty type. Showed a nifty pickoff move in the Futures Game, that's for sure. In Double-A, he's already way ahead of the curve.
Henry Rodriguez -- Created as much buzz as anyone at the Futures Game by hitting triple-digits and sitting in the upper-90s on the radar gun. He might be a short reliever when all is said and done, but I'd like to see the A's exhaust the possibilities/opportunities for him as a starter before making that move.
Gio Gonzalez -- What can I say? I still love the guy. Stuff-wise, still among the best LHP in the Minors. Still very young. It's going to click at some point -- maybe it's starting right now -- and when it does the A's will have an outstanding southpaw starter on their hands.
Michel Inoa -- I know others might rank him more highly right away based on upside/ceiling, but color me skeptical. I like to see a guy pitch in affiliated baseball at least for a little before going too nuts over him.
Honorable mention: James Simmons, Craig Italiano
Blez: There seems to be a lot of debate about Trevor Cahill and whether he's a top-line starter in the making given his incredible stats this year. Where do you fall on that and have you seen him pitch live?
Mayo: I saw him pitch live in the Futures Game and, obviously, that's just one inning of work so you can't really extrapolate too much over that. Like I mentioned above, he's made a big step forward with his 2008 season and I think opinions are changing about what his ceiling might be. That will continue to evolve if his second half continues the way his first half went. I think he probably is a No. 2 or probably more likely a No. 3 and that's nothing to sneeze at. But just what he's done this year shows how difficult -- and risky -- it can be to try and project pitching prospects, especially those who are that young.
Blez:How would you rank the A's top 5 hitting prospects and can you give me a short blurb about them?
Mayo: I'd start with Carlos Gonzalez if this were the beginning of the year, but since he's in the bigs, I won't count him...
Sean Doolittle -- Those U.Va. guys... you think they don't have power and then they turn pro. A .560 SLG isn't too shabby and he's a guy who'll hit .300 every year. Nice to see him get promoted to Double-A... and start out so well.
Chris Carter -- Yes, he swings and misses quite a bit, but he's got the most power in the system, leading the organization with 25 homers at age 21 in High-A ball. Looks like he's made some adjustments and has his average up over .260 now.
Aaron Cunningham -- Certainly doesn't seem to be fazed by switching organizations. Can hit for power, average and can run. And he'll run through a wall for you.
Matt Sulentic -- He's still only 20 and he seems to have a pretty good handle on how to swing the bat in the California League. Not sure how much power he'll develop, but there's more there, but he's going to be a guy who hits for average and gets on base.
Jesus Guzman -- I know he's "older" at age 24 and he hasn't done much in Triple-A thus far, but he is leading the organization in average and RBIs. He plays all over the infield and even has seen time in the outfield in the past, so maybe he's a super-sub with pop.
Blez: How good does the Dan Haren deal look to you since you're a guy that focuses so much on prospects?
Mayo: It was hard not to love the deal immediately and the performances of those players certainly makes it look even better. C-Gon's already producing in the big leagues, Greg Smith and Dana Eveland are contributing big-time as well, Anderson has moved up a level, Cunningham's hitting well in Double-A at a young age and Carter, as mentioned above, leads the organization in homers. Not too shabby.
Blez: Are you surprised to see Greg Smith and Dana Eveland have this much success, this soon?
Mayo: No on Smith, a little on Eveland. After seeing Smith pitch in the Arizona Fall League, I really thought he'd be a real good big-league pitcher, and soon. He kind of is what he is, you know? A lefty who commands and mixes speeds well. But he's so smart on the mound and goes right after hitters and even if he doesn't have a huge ceiling, he's plenty good right now. As for Eveland, I guess I thought it might take him a little time to settle in. He kind of had been shuttled back and forth between starting and the pen
Blez:What do you think of the A's draft this year?
Mayo: I always have a hard time evaluating a draft class this soon after the draft, especially since the signing deadline isn't for another month. They were kind of conservative up top, though Ross has the potential to provide a big arm if he's healthy and Weeks is a nice player. They did take some chances later on with some guys who slipped because of signability concerns (strong college commitments). If they actually get some of those in the system, then I'd grade it as a good draft, up from just OK.
Blez:There was much angst on AN about the Weeks selection where he went. Was it too high? What kind of player does he project to?
Mayo:I think it was a little too high, but I also know that if they were looking for a leadoff, speedy type, there weren't many other options. And Weeks would not have been there had they waited for the second round. The other college bats available were of the power, 1B/maybe corner OF variety and if the A's scouts weren't thrilled with them, then taking Weeks there might have made more sense. I think they would've taken Aaron Hicks had they been able to convince him to give pitching a try. I think Weeks can be a good leadoff hitter, maybe a No. 2 guy. He showed some surprising pop this past season, but I don't know if that'll translate to wood and the pro game. He definitely doesn't have the power his brother has, but he can run and make contact and should be a pretty good offensive-minded 2B or could possibly make a move to CF.
Blez: Javier Herrera has seemingly been in the A's system since I think he was born. He's always been regarded as a raw talent. Do you think we'll ever see him blossom?
Mayo: For as long as he's been in the system, he's still only 23. If he could stay healthy for more than 10 minutes, maybe things would start coming together. But he's never even had a 400-AB season. It's kind of hard to turn that kind of potential into performance if you can't get on the field. I think he's got the chance to still blossom if he can play consistently and the A's don't give up on him. He's still on the 40-man roster, but he's also only got another year before he could be a six-year free agent. The clock is ticking, but I think he still has a future.
Blez: How quickly do you think the A's rotation will turn over from what it is now to something more like Anderson, Cahill, Gonzalez, Rodriguez and Inoa? Are we looking at when the team moves into the new ballpark in 2012 or sooner?
Mayo: I think the first three will be in the rotation by then, barring injuries. Rodriguez still could end up a reliever, so we'll have to wait and see on that one. Inoa? Who knows -- he maybe one of the largest wild cards the game has ever seen. The good news is the A's have so many other good young arms they can afford to let him develop at the rate he needs to. No rush jobs will be needed there.
Blez: Thank you very much for your time. AN appreciates it.
Mayo covers the Minor Leagues and the draft for MLB.com. He's got two blogs there, one on the Minors (minors.mlblogs.com) and one on the draft (draft.mlblogs.com). He's also the author of the book Facing Clemens, a pre-Mitchell Report look at the right-hander through the eyes of hitters who have faced him. More information on that can be found at www.jonathanmayo.net.