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Monday Midnight Minors Musings: Inoa & Fremont A's Edition

The Latest on the Newest Oakland Athletic

The national media has certainly made a huge deal out of the Michel/Michael Inoa signing in recent days. Even the non-baseball, traditional, mass-media outlets caught on (as I realized when my girlfriend mentioned to me that she read an article about it on the Yahoo News frontpage!) While the sour-pusses down in Arlington, Texas ponder filing a grievance about the A's violating the amateur signing rules to nab Inoa before the July 2nd negotiation period, the rest of the baseball world is largely lauding the move from the A's perspective and have glowing things to say about the 16-year old Dominican.

Kevin Goldstein at BP wrote a very encouraging piece last Friday titled "Michel Inoa 101" where he got the opinions of numerous scouts regarding Inoa. Some of the highlights:

"He's six-foot-seven and so young, you'd think he'd have a lot of moving parts, but that's just not the case. It sounds weird, but if you can say a kid that big has a compact delivery, I would. He has a medium leg kick and a quick arm. It suddenly comes out of his hand and it's friggin' 94." Another veteran scouting director called Inoa "the model of what you are looking for if you are evaluating young arms. It's a very nice combination of project and ‘now' stuff, which you just don't find down there."

That's fairly glowing, considering that the kid is only 16-years old, can already throw 94mph, has a feel for a curveball and a changeup and even threw a few split-fingered fastballs for one scout. Certainly, the kid's got enough just pure stuff and talent to make his ceiling astronomically high. As Goldstein and others point out later in the article:

A third scout had no real concerns, which is amazing for a 16-year-old, adding, "Look, if he doesn't make it, it's because he got hurt or something else out of Oakland's control—it's certainly not going to be because he sucks."

The article ends with a vague prediction of when Inoa might make it to the bigs, citing, ironically, the case of former Oakland draftee Jeremey Bonderman, who spent one year in the minors and then made his major league debut at age 19. Some scouts in the article suggest that Inoa could make it to the majors as a teenager (2011) since they mention that he could probably get Low-A level hitters out right now, but speculate that he'll probably need to make adjustments in High-A or Double-A and that a 2012/2013 debut is more likely. As for Beane, Baseball America cites the short-term development plan for Inoa:

The A's plan to have Inoa work at Oakland's Dominican complex in La Victoria for the rest of the year, working both on his pitching and learning English*. They will then consider whether to bring him to the U.S. in 2009. Beane and Owens plan to compare the development of other young pitchers and put together a plan for development. Farm director Keith Lieppman and Patters, the organization's pitching coordinator, will visit La Victoria to work with Inoa in the coming weeks.

So Inoa's development path is kind of "wait-and-see" at this time. At 16, with loads of potential and without a major league contract, the A's can afford to take their sweet time developing him. If I were a betting man, I'd guess we'd see him in an Oakland uniform late in 2012 or full time starting in 2013, after a 2009 of a little Instructional League and Rookie League time, a 2010 full season of Low-A pitching and then a 2011 of High-A action and a 2012 of Double-A/Triple-A season. Basically, he should be ready to be an Opening Day starter at Fremont.

*It's been revealed in other sources that in addition to teaching him English, the A's might permanently "Anglicize" his first name to "Michael" (My-kull) as opposed to keeping it ethnic with "Michel" (Mee-Shell). Sure, it makes him seem girlish, and mind you - I'm no political-correcting warrior - but I think keeping his name Michel will have an awesome reverse psychological effect on his opponents...just imagine major league hitters thinking, "This guy named Mee-Shell is going to try to get ME out? Yeah, right!" Bam! 95mph fastball, knee-buckling curveball, tumbling changeup. Strike Three.



Re-Examining the First Fremont Team

Since the minor league system has been totally revamped since the news of the A's reaching a preliminary agreement to build Cisco Field in Fremont, I thought I'd devote some time to giving an updated opinion of what I think the Opening Day roster will look like for when the A's eventually move into their new home (2012/2013). Here is what it would look like based purely on my own current projections:

Starters: Cahill/Inoa/Anderson/Gio/Simmons

Bullpen: Carignan/Demel/Henry Rodriguez

1B - Doolittle

2B - Weeks

SS - ?

3B - ?

LF - Swooney/Buck/Corey Brown

CF - Cunningham

RF - Cargon

C - Suzuki/Powell/Paramore

DH - Chris Carter

As you can see, the pitching staff and the outfield will likely be strong. The right side of the infield will be solid, but the left side of the infield would be anyone's guess. If Chavez ever gets healthy for an extended amount of time, I could see Billy working out a major hometown-discounted deal to keep Eric in Oakland until he retires. However, that won't happen anytime soon. And once Bobby goes in 2009, there will be a major hole at shortstop that almost certainly can't be plugged adequately from anyone currently in the system. If Beane goes in to sell mode in the next few weeks, look for him to nab at least one or two high-upside left-side of the infield players in the prospect packages he entertains.

Standout Performances

Back to the system at hand. Clearly, the most talked-about prospect so far this season in the A's system is Trevor Cahill and he has yet to disappoint, putting together another strong week.

RHP Trevor Cahill - Midland Rockhounds - 3-0, 1.89 ERA, 18-8 K-BB

After being brought down to earth in his second start in Midland, Cahill rebounded with a performance that certainly made the Founding Fathers proud back on the Nation's Birthday. The 20-year old went 8-innings, only allowed 2 hits, did not allow a run and struck-out 10 while issuing just 1 walk. Ridiculous. He now sports a 3.75 groundball-to-flyball ratio in his 19 innings in Midland and a .131 batting-average-against. He's certainly cementing himself as one of the best pitching prospects in the game.

CFer Aaron Cunningham - Midland Rockhounds - .304/.380/.480 - 7 homers, 27 RBIs

Cunningham certainly seems to be recovered from his wrist injuries of earlier this season. In the past 10 games, he's batting .447 with 2 homers, 2 stolen bases and 9 RBIs. His numbers are quite solid right now for a 22-year old in Double-A, and he's showing that "jack of all trades" side of himself with his well-rounded game. If he can keep the batting average up over .300 most of the season, and get the slugging up near .500 while convincing A's brass that he can stay at centerfield long-term, than you're probably looking at the Oakland A's center fielder of the not-so-distant future...especially if he can keep hitting line-drives at a ridiculous 25-percent clip!

SS Jason Christian - Vancouver Canadians - .350/.443/.533 - 2 homers, 9-17 BB-K

I'm making a conscious effort to mention one guy from Vancouver and one guy from the AZL A's this time around since I mentioned that I would last week. Christian, this year's 5th rounder out of U of Michigan, has been THE guy for Vancouver so far. In 18 games, Christian has 21 hits (6 of which have gone for extra bases) and is collecting his fair share of walks. He's been one of the few bright spots for an otherwise dismal Vancouver squad. Unfortunately, Christian has collected 10 errors already in his 18 games, prompting questions about his long-term future at short. The organization will probably keep him at short anyways for awhile to see if he can pick up the D while still swinging the hot stick, since the team isn't exactly bursting with infield talent.

SS Nino Leyja - AZL Athletics - .333 average, 6-7 BB-K ratio, 7 RBIs

I didn't want to list all of Nino's stats here since the season just started for the A's Rookie League team and drawing anything from a sample size of 39 at-bats is probably folly. However, I am very intrigued by this player. Nino, rather Marcelino,  was taken in the 15th round of this year's draft out of Houston Christian High School, where he starred with the bat. He signed quickly with Oakland and was on the AZL A's opening day roster. He's the hottest hitter on the team and he's only 17 and won't turn 18 until after the season is over! A kid that can already hit professional-level pitching at age 17 and has a chance to stay at short long-term is someone for us to keep our eyes on!

Injury News

RHP Tyson Ross - Bad news sports fans. Tyson has been shut-down indefinitely with a Harden-esque "right-shoulder strain". This seems to be the same injury that Tyson missed time with earlier this season with Cal, so I'd look for the A's to let Tyson rehab and then send him to Instructs this winter where the process of re-working his mechanics might be expedited.

OF Chris Denorfia - Denorfia has reportedly successfully rehabbed his balky back and is in Sacramento on his latest rehab stint. I liked Denofia's potential as a cheap 4th/5th outfielder that could play all 3 outfield positions capably, but he's basically missed like 2 entire years of development time with his various maladies and at this point, I don't really see how he would fit in with the big league team. Best of luck to Chris, and I'd love to see him have an impact with the A's at some point, but I see a DFA coming soon...

C Petey Paramore - After curiously being placed on the Vancouver Canadians' 60-day disabled list last week, Paramore has resurfaced on the AZL A's roster and has gotten himself into 3 games so far. Maybe he just wants to spend one last summer in party-town Tempe before starting off his serious career in somewhere cold and somber like Kane County or Vancouver...?

A's Prospects in the News

1. My personal favorite prospect watcher Kevin Goldstein gives Trevor Cahill top-billing in his Monday Ten Pack over at BP. He notes that Trevor's sinking fastball has been clocked as high as 94 as recently as last Friday and that his curveball remains well-above average. As for Gio Gonzalez, he notes the positives: Gio's up to 92-93 consistently with his fastball (touching 95 at times) to go along with his usual deadly curveball. However, his inconsistencies have been maddening to Kevin as well.

2. Interesting answer from Baseball America's Ben Badler in this weeks' Prospect Hot Sheet chat. A user asked if Corey Brown and Sean Doolittle were destined to become MLB stars or just above average or decent regular players due to the fact that they both strike out so much. Badler replied that the strikeouts a much bigger concern with Brown than they are with Doolittle since Sean is in the California League where free-swinging is encouraged and since this is Sean's first season as a bulked-up, permanent position player.