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Monday Morning Minors Musings: Scoutin' Stockton Edition

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Last Thursday night I was able to catch the Stockton Ports take on the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes down here in SoCal. Luckily for me, three of the prospects involved in the Blanton and Harden trades were in the lineup and on the field, offering me a nice, long opportunity to scout these newest A's prospects. The game itself was California-League crazy, featuring 4 lead changes, 32 total hits, and a parade of 8 different pitchers over 10 innings in the 10-8 walkoff, Rancho Cucamonga victory.

Taj's Scouting Reports:

RHP Craig Italiano - Craig started the game for the Ports, marking the 4th start in High-A for the former 2005 2nd round-pick and Texas Native who dominated the Midwest League earlier this season. The injury bug has been unkind to Italiano as he'd been limited to less than 80 innings pitched total from 2005-2007 with various injuries. He's been fully healthy this season and he's looking to fulfill his considerable potential.

Pitching Line (game) - 5 IP, 9 hits, 4 K's, 2 BB's, 2 earned runs allowed

Pitching Line (season, High A) - 19.1 IP, 32 hits, 17 K's, 15 BB's, 24 earned runs allowed

Stuff - Italiano's got a real live arm, that much is sure. The ball explodes out of his hand. His strongest offering is a 4-seam fastball that he was slinging between 87-93mph on the stadium gun. The pitch has late-life, and when located well, is very tough to hit. Two of Craig's K's came from the 4-seamer up around the letters as he got the Quake's power hitters to chase it. Craig also flashed a mid-to-high 80's 2-seam fastball that he seemed to only use against left-handed hitters. The pitch starts on the inner half of the plate and darts to the outside of the plate. At this point, it's basically a show-me pitch to keep hitters off balance, although it does have some nice movement. Italiano also features a nice breaking curveball. Against righties, Italiano used the pitch effectively a few times to get hitters off-balance and to hit weak groundballs off the outside part of the plate. Against lefties, Italiano can bury the offering down near the knees and jam the batter (he got another K using this pitch against a lefty batter, who swung right over the top of it). He has trouble locating the breaking pitch, though.

Pitchability - Italiano was at his best when he established control of the strikezone with the 4-seamer down near the knees, got ahead of hitters and either got them to chase his curveball out of the strikezone or swing right-through high fastballs that rose up near the shoulders. He got into the trouble when his 4-seamer caught too much of the middle of the plate and rose above the knees. He didn't help his cause by falling behind hitters due to his inconsistent curveball location and then HAVING to rely too much on fastballs down the middle.

Pitching Motion/Mound Presence - Craig has a starting pitcher's build. He's a solid 6'4, 210 and can generate a lot of force with his strong lower body. He stays focused on the mound and doesn't show much emotion at all. When his defense committed an error behind him (which led to 2 unearned runs in the inning) Craig didn't seem fazed and went right back to the mound and battled out of it. His motion is a little awkward, as he seemed to be working exlusively from the stretch, slowly bringing his hands in at the belt and then suddenly opening up, stepping forward and releasing. Once he locks and loads, he's very quick to the plate. One guy stole off of him and another got caught stealing. I didn't see his pickoff move at all. (excuse my horrible picture taking/editing skills.)

 

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Taj's *Very Unofficial* Assessment - It's a shame that Craig has lost so much development time due to injury in the past few seasons. His stuff is above-average and his mechanics and mound-presence are solid. I was really impressed by his 4-seam fastball, which seemed to be overpowering at times, but considerably less impressed by his other offerings. It was pretty clear to me that he was probably able to just blow the 4-seamer past Midwest League hitters earlier this season, but is having a real tough time in the Cal League finding enough consistency to keep more advanced hitters off-balance. Craig just needs time to mature, and the more innings he pitches, the more I think he'll refine his secondary pitches to compliment his nice fastball. He might eventually turn into a nice two-pitch reliever, but at this point, with his size and ability to pace himself and go multiple innings, he should be allowed to stay a starter. I think he'll be shut down soon since this is by far the most innings he's pitched in one season, but he should be back in Stockton next season and should be able to fair a lot better next season with lessons learned so far in his rough first exposure to High-A baseball.

2B Adrian Cardenas - Hailed as the centerpiece of the Blanton trade, Cardenas has been scouted as a potential "impact" bat that should be MLB-ready by 2010. He had an impact of sorts on this game...

Stats (game) - 2-for-4, 2 singles, 1 run, 2 RBI's, 1 K

Stats (combined Low-A & High-A) - .306/.368/.438, 5 homers, 28 RBIs, 29-47 K-BB

Batting: Cardenas is an aggressive hitter good at making contact. He's got a nice line-drive swing and one thing I noticed is that he is very balanced at the plate with his legs. He generates the torque and force on his swing with his hips and wrists. He can go inside-out and hit line-drives to the opposite field and can also pull the ball when necessary. With runners on 2nd and 1st and 2 strikes on him, Adrian did a nice job of situational hitting by pounding a one-hopper right in the hole between the 1st and 2nd basemen, scoring Archie Gilbert from 2nd.

Defense: Not known for his glove, Adrian looked about average on defense. He made all the routine plays but struggled with a couple sharply hit one and two hoppers in his zone and looked like his range was below-average, struggling to chorale a grounder to his left. His arm wasn't tested much, but like I said, he made all the plays he was supposed to and turned a nice DP once.

Unofficial Assessment: When I think of Adrian, I immediately get glimpses of Todd Walker in his prime (not when he was briefly on the A's last season). Adrian could be a near .300 average hitter with an .800+ OPS for several seasons in the major leagues who will play adequate defense. I think he can stay at 2nd long-term, since his bat will be so plus for the position, however he could probably be a decent third baseman.

C Josh Donaldson - Josh came over in the Harden deal and seemed like a throw-in, considering his atrocious stats in the Midwest League earlier this season. However, he was one of those guys that Beane has been interested in for awhile and so far, he's rewarding Billy's persistence after being assigned to the Ports.

Stats (Combined, Low-A & High-A) - .246/.309/.406, 11 homers, 38 RBIs, 25-54 BB-K

Battlng: Donaldson, like Cardenas, gets into a very balanced stance at the plate. He crouches lower than Adrian and he's a little bigger, so you can see that his stroke and stance are built for power. His swing is a little long, but you can tell that he has very good strikezone discipline and doesn't take a hack at pitches that aren't strikes. Twice he struck out on called 3rd pitches that he did not think were strikes. He also walked once, and although he went hitless in the game, I thought that he had a good plan at the plate and did not get fooled or make bad contact on his balls in play.

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Defense: The Ports' pitchers gave Josh a workout on the evening. In the 4th and 5th innings Italiano lost the feel for his curveball and frequently threw it in the dirt to the left and right equally. Reliever Scott Moore also buried his fair share of balls in the dirt, but Josh blocked each and every one, showing himself to be very agile and active behind the plate. Quakes' speedster Peter Bourjos was able to grab a stolen base on the Italiano/Donaldson battery early on in the game, but the stolen base came on an inside, slow curve into a left-handed batter and was the result of a botch hit and run attempt. Donaldson would go on to nab a baserunner later in the game, showing off a strong arm and a nice, easy catch and throw technique that was very deliberate but not hurried.

Unofficial Assessment: Josh is a really nice all-around catching prospect. To me, he didn't seem at all like the "all-bat, raw defensive" product he was made out to be. He has a nice swing and plate patience, yes, and good power potential, but he showed off some impressive skills behind the plate and even showcased some leadership abilities, constantly communicating with the infielders and talking with his pitchers during crisis times. With Suzuki on the big club, Powell finally getting going in AAA, Donaldson in the mid-levels of the system and Petey Paramore recently drafted, the A's are suddenly fairly deep at the catching position.

OF/1B Matt Spencer - And speaking of "throw-ins"...Spencer was certainly one in the Joe Blanton trade. The lefty Arizona State product wasn't doing much of anything when the A's acquired him, but he's getting a chance with a new organization and doing fairly well...

Stats (combined Cal League & Florida State League): .262/.331/.378, 6 homers, 7 steals, 33-69 BB-K

Batting: Spencer seemed a little disjointed at the plate. Although listed at 6'4 225, he seems kind of gangly with the bat. He seems like he can really open up and put a charge through the ball, but he generally seemed a lot less balanced at the plate than Donaldson or Cardenas. He got a single in the game, but otherwise didn't look particular locked-in or impressive.

Defense: I'll forgive Spencer's mostly unimpressive night with the glove seeing as how he's playing 1st base for the first time in his pro career due to the glut of outfielders on the Stockton roster. But there were two plays in particular that showed that Spencer has a lot of work to do to turn himself into a competent 1st basemen. The first involved a slow roller up the 1st base line that Spencer charged somewhat lazily, and even though he picked up the ball while the batter was still below him on the base line and he had plenty of time to compose himself and simply tag the runner out, Spencer turned his back to the batter and instead hurriedly looked to Italiano who wasn't close to covering the bag. The other play involved a sharp single that whizzed past Spencer into right field; Matt Sulentic collected the ball and fired to home to try to nab a runner hoping to score from second. Josh Horton deftly realized that the throw home was going to be too late and cut off the throw near the grass/dirt partittion between 1st and 2nd. He had the batter caught in-between the two bases and began to run him back to 1st where Spencer should have been waiting for the throw and the tag out...but he wasn't. He was back on the 1st base line in no-man's land. Odd...

Very Unofficial Assessment: Nobody ever indicated that Spencer was a polished product NOR a natural 1st basemen when the A's acquired him. He's a raw talent with intriguing power potential that would probably top out as a 4th/5th outfielder if he reaches his full potential. That's kind of a the definition of a "throw in" if you ask me...

Other Observations of the Ports:

- Chris Carter (pictured below smacking a go-ahead double to dead center) is an impressive physical specimen. He smacked two shots to dead center, one that was caught and this one that was not. His pitch-recognition skills seemed raw, as he was guessing in at least two plate appearances and missing breaking pitches by about a foot, but he didn't miss this one!

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- Matt Sulentic is my new favorite Port. The guy can flat-out hit. He went opposite field, line-drive single to left in first at-bat, line-drive single to right in his second at-bat and 2-run monster shot to right-center in his 4th at-bat. That's twice now that I've seen Sulentic pull a ball into right field for a homer with my own eyes. For a young guy, his ability to use all-fields and drive the ball was very impressive. He strikes me as kind of a left-handed Aaron Cunningham, without the ability to play center: he can do a lot of things well, play pretty good D, hit for high average and power and run the bases decently. He could make an above-average 4th outfielder.

News & Notes From Around the System

- Josh Outman had a 2nd straight poor outing with his new organization, as he gave up 3 runs and 5 hits over only 2 innings last Friday.

- Jared Lansford has been promoted from Stockton to Midland and pitched a scoreless inning of relief in the same Midland game last Friday. With Cahill and Andreson hitting the road to Beijing in a week or so, Lansford should see a bunch of time in either the rotation or in middle relief.

- OFer Aaron Cunningham had an absolutely monster game at the plat last night. He went 4-for-6 with 2 homers, 4 RBIs, a double and a steal. He's now hit 11 homers on the season and sports an overall batting line of .315/.384/.500. If Keith Lippman is to be believed Aaron will make the jump directly to the big leagues from Double-A in September and will likely be up to stay from there on out!

- After a short rehab with the Arizona Rookie League team, 2008 3rd round draft pick Petey Paramore has been assigned to Kane County. So far on the season Petey is showing an impressive batting eye, walking 12 times against 4 strikeouts.

- Speaking of the Cougars, Jemile Weeks has finally started swinging a bat for them, with 17 hits in his last 45 at-bats to go along with an overall 13-12 BB-K mark, a homer and 6 steals in 17 games.

- I feel obligated to mention Rookie League superstar SS Nino Jeyja once again. Who is this guy? He just hits and hits and hits and walks and steals bases and plays on the left side of the infield. What could be better? I'm getting really, really excited to see what he might do as an 18-year old next season for Vancouver or possibly even Kane County.

A's Prospects in the News

1. Brett Anderson is listed #2 on last week's BA Prospect Hotsheet. Besides pointing out that he has become one of the best all-around best pitching prospects in the minors, BA mentions that his fastball and secondary pitches are "frequently plus offerings", that he has "premium command" and that him and Gio form the best 1-2 punch of lefty prospects in the entire minor leagues.

2. The system got three mentions in the BA Hotsheet Chat session. In the first quip, Ben Badler notes that Anderson will probably beat Cahill to the majors because he has slightly better command, however Cahill will be the more valuable pitcher long term, while both guys rank ahead of H-Rod in both Major League ETA and eventual value (maybe because he profiles best as a reliever). In the 2nd quip, Badler comes out and states that Cahill, Gio and Anderson are the best all-around trio of pitching prospects in the game. In the 3rd mention, Badler addresses rumors that the Chisox are offering LHP Aaron Poreda and 3B Josh Fields for the Duke. Badler notes that Poreda profiles as a power reliever, while I question this rumor, since I bet Beane would have already pulled the trigger on that trade if it was ever offered.

There is also a subscriber-only feature about the rebuilt A's farm system on the BA site, however, I am not a subscriber, so I can't report about it's contents. Please let me know if any of you are subscribers and if the article contains anything that we don't already know.

3. Not sure if everyone caught this on the A's official site, but farm director Keith Lieppman answered some MLB.com questions about the A's system during the All Star Break. Everyone should check it out if possible.

4. Minorleaguebaseball.com blogger Kevin Czerwinski has some interesting things to say regarding Chris Carter. He notes that Chris has been getting in a lot of fielding practice and 3rd and might stick there for at least the foreseeable future.