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Monday Slightly-Before Midninght Minors Musings: A sliver of hope edition.

As we all continue to endure the train wreck that is the 2008 Oakland Athletics, I thought it would be best to start of this minor league report with some very good news:

- Texas League ERA leader Vince Mazzaro has been promoted to Triple-A Sacramento, where he is expected to get his first start tomorrow against the Memphis Red Birds. Vince put up great numbers in his 137 innings at Midland, compiling a 12-3 record with a 1.90 ERA, a 104-36 K-BB mark, a near 1.5/1 ground-to-air ratio and a .229 opposing average against. Granted, I haven't seen Vince pitch, but I haven't been a huge fan of him in the past. His 6.82 K/9 rate is solid but unspectacular and the old "pitch-to-contact" routine that might work in the Texas League probably won't work nearly as well in Triple-A and maybe won't work at all in the majors. However, at 21 years old, Vince has plenty of time to develop his stuff further, and he seems to already grade high on the "knowing how to pitch" scale. He's not on the level of Cahill/Anderson/Gio, but as a super young righty with good pretty good control, an effective power sinker and a rubber-arm (120+ innings pitched in every minor league season) he's certainly a valuable prospect. Perhaps he can be packaged with another lower-level arm or Buck or something to acquire that left-side of the infield impact bat that the big-league team desperately needs.

Injury News/Notes

- reported over the weekend that 2008 2nd round pick Tyson Ross has begun throwing off a mound while he rehabs from a strained shoulder that has sidelined him since June 28th. Tyson aims on taking the mound for a live Kane County game sometime in the final two weeks of the season.

- Top draft pick Jemile Weeks suffered a hip flexor injury while running out a ground-out in the 1st inning of Kane County's game @ Wrigley Field on July 30th. The injury reportedly "seemed really bad" at the time and Weeks has not played since that time, but Jemile has not been placed on the disabled list as of yet and info about the injury has been tough to come by. If anybody has an update on his condition, please post it below!

- Travis Buck's freak-injury-filled lost season continues as he has now been placed on Sacramento's disabled list with some kind of ear infection. Man, Bad Luck Buck!. At this point, the team should just send him back to the A's minor league complex in his familiar Arizona confines so that he can get his life and limbs back together for next season.

- Stockton outfielder (and Taj personal favorite) Matt Sulentic is likey done for the season after being hit by a pitch that broke some bones in his hand on July 27th. Losing some time this late into the season shouldn't hurt Sulentic's prospect stock too much, as it looked like he had gotten the best out of the California League batting .309/.368/.481 with 9 homers in just under 350 at-bats while playing solid defense and running the bases well. In all likelihood, he'll rehab over the winter and be given the chance to begin next season on-schedule in Midland.

- 2007 2nd Round Draft pick, and potential 5-tool outfielder Grant Desme recently appeared in two AZL Athletics games July 29th and 31st, but hasn't appeared since that time. Last update I got said that Desme was still rehabbing a myriad of injuries that have kept him off the field and at the A's minor league complex for most of the past calendar year. Getting him back on the field for the rest of this season would be a nice boost to the system, but if he can't even hack it for regular games in Rookie League, it's not looking too good...


Affiliate News

Sacramento RiverCats - 65-50, 1st Place, PCL South Division

Who's Hot: LHP Ryan Wing - 2-1, 1.60 ERA, 35 K's in 45 Innings Pitched

The RiverCats have never been in want of effective lefty relievers, but minor league free agent signee Ryan Wing has provided more-than-effective production for the Cats this season. While not striking out a ton of batters per se (7.0 K/9) Ryan's been very tough to hit - only 33 hits allowed in 45 IP while allowing only a .200 batting average against. He's been surprisingly more effective against right-handed batters than lefties and in more opportunities: 1.59 ERA against with 24 K's against righties vs. 1.62 ERA and 11 K's against lefties. Wing was once a top White Sox starting prospect, but injuries derailed his first minor league charge. He's not on the 40-man and Braden, Meyer and Blevins are all ahead of him on the Oakland lefty-relief depth chart, but you never know, he could have an impact if he stays with organization past this season.

Who's Not: INF Cliff Pennington - .270/.402/.360, 10 steals, 2 homers

It's hard to get down on Pennington after our expectations of him have sunk so low and he actually seems to be exceeding them at this point. However, while he's doing the things he's always done well - work more walks than strikeouts and steal the occasional bag - he's still not showing any improvement in the areas that he is sorely lacking - hitting for power or for any sort of consistent average. In his past 10 games he's only batting .206 with only 1 extra-base hit (a double) in 34 at-bats. His .762 OPS is nice, but buoyed up abnormally high by his 45 walks. In over 200 at-bats, you would think that Cliff, with his above-average speed, would have hit at least 10 doubles by this time in the year - and yet he hasn't. Cliff has the tools right now to be a decent utility infielder going forward, but if he EVER learned how to hit again he might turn into something a lot more useful.

Midland Rockhounds - 25-18, 2nd place Texas League South Division

The Rockhounds have been playing great baseball recently, now only 1 game behind Frisco in the South Division. The great news is that many of the organization's top prospects have been fueling that great play and showing us fans what me might be in store for in the coming years in Oakland. There were several good performances this week but none has been as surprising as Javier Herrera's.

Who's Hot: OF Javier Herrera - .281/.352/.397, 3 homers, 4 steals

If Javy is on his way out of the organization, he is surely going down swinging. The former toolsy top-prospect has hit .381 over his past 10 games with 3 doubles, a homer and 3 steals in that time. Six of those 10 games were multi-hit affairs for Javy. He's been DH-ing mostly for the Hounds, so there might still be some concern that he can't hold up physically while in the outfield, but you've gotta be encouraged by his recent play.

Who's Hot (cont.): INF Justin Sellers - .252/.332/.370, 5 homers, 8 steals

Since everyone's been playing well for the Hounds recently, it's probably better that I highlight another hot performance rather than try to pick out a downer candidate. Sellers has always been a defense-first type of player, so it's newsworthy now that he's showing some offensive performance. As of late, Sellers has been batting .344 with 4 triples, a double, a homer, and 8 RBI's. His season stats aren't impressive by any means, but they're trending in the right direction. Sellers has always graded high on makeup and "intangibles" and those who have observed him have noted that he brings a sort of infectious enthusiasm to the ballpark with him everyday. Those types of guys are easy to cheer for, and since Justin's still only 22 and is apparently well-regarded within the organization, it's not out of the question that we'll see him produce at higher levels of the organization in the future.

Stockton Ports - 20-22, 3rd Place Cal League North Division, 4.5 games back

Who's Hot: CF Jermaine Mitchell - .242/.343/.360, 6 homers, 20 steals

After getting called out last week, Mitchell responded by going 14-for-41 (.341) with 2 homers, 3 doubles, a steal and 10 RBIs in his last 10 games. Jermaine's another A's prospect that's having a down year overall, but is trending upward as of late. He's showing glimpses of his 5-tool reputation, especially with the 20 steals and solid center field defense. However, he still needs to put the bat on the ball with a little more authority and a little more often. He's drawn 45 walks so far, so he's doing a nice job recognizing pitches. If he can somehow keep this recent hot streak up and possibly get up to a .750 OPS on the season, then his prospect status should remain about the same as it was beginning the year, despite the several months of struggling.

Who's Not: SS Josh Horton - .285/.361/.335, 1 homerun, 43-72 BB-K mark

When Horton was drafted as a highly-polished shortstop out of the strong collegiate program of North Carolina, it seemed like he might supplant Bobby Crosby someday as Oakland's starting shortstop. However, Horton hasn't really lived up to those lofty expectations. While he still draws plenty of walks and hits for a decent average, he has yet to show much of a power stroke at all, failing to brake the .400 slugging barrier at any of his 3 minor league stops (Vancouver, Kane County and now Stockton) and has tallied just 3 homers in his entire 1.5 year pro career. Even at the hitter's haven that is the California League, Horton has notched just 14 extra-base hits total in almost 400 at-bats this season. What's more, Horton's normally excellent plate discipline has also regressed this season. Normally a sure-bet to walk nearly as often or more than he strikes out, Horton's control of the zone has taken a huge dive and he has struck out almost 30 times more than he has walked. That Horton is not an especially adept defender at short (13 errors committed so far this season) nor a strong baserunner (2 stolen bases/6 caught stealing) only magnifies the need for him to swing a potent bat. After only mustering a .239 average (with 0 extra-base hits) and a 2-11 BB-K mark in his past 10 games, Horton is clearly trending in the wrong direction.

Kane County Cougars - 19-23, 7th Place, Midwest League West Division, 6 games back

The Cougars, while playing sub-.500 baseball, nevertheless have more players playing good baseball at this point that do those that are performing poorly. So I'll just point out a positive here:

Who's Hot: LHP Carlos Hernandez, 2-0, 3.65 ERA, 11 K's, 3 walks in 12 IP

After dominating for Vancouver, little Carlos was called up to Kane County, where he has continued his excellent pitching. According to a year-old profile, the guy doesn't have too many plus offerings, but has a nice, full arsenal of high-80s fastball, slider, curve and changeup that he can all locate and mix well. Seems to be working well for him so far.

Vancouver Canadians

Who's Hot: RHP Shawn Haviland - 1-1, 2.45 ERA, 29-8 K-BB

The Harvard-educated Haviland has been outsmarting Northwest League hitters for the Canadians ever since signing with the organization earlier this year. He's been working as a starter the past few games, but his future may lie as a righty-specialist out of the bullpen: he's got a 1.56 ERA, and a 18-4 K-BB mark against righties on the season.

Who's Hot: OF David Lee Thomas - .300/.403/.400, 9 doubles, 18-22 K-BB ratio

The A's 2008 14th round pick, Thomas has kind of come out of nowhere to post these very good numbers here in Vancouver. The guy can hit and according to the Catawba College website the guy can play solid outfield defense. He's also a switch hitter, although he seems to be a much better right-handed better than left-handed one. I don't know much about this guy and it'll be hard for a relatively no-name 14th rounder to make an impact on the prospect ranks, but his hot-start is definitely worth noting and keeping an eye on.

AZL (Rookie League) Athletics - 3-4, 5th Place, 3 games behind (2nd half of season standings)

**Obligatory Nino Leyja Update***

Leyja: .355/.446/.527, 19-19 K-BB, 10 stolen bases, 13 Xtra base hits

I gotta find out more information about this kid! I am fascinated about his potential (even if he has been committing a lot of errors in the field and has been DH-ing the last few games).

Who's Hot: OFers Rashun Dixon & Tyreace House

These two guys highlighted a 2008 draft class that heavily favored speed and athleticism. Dixon has been showing off some impressive raw power with a .901 OPS and 14 extra-base hits (5 homers) in only 105 at-bats. Early returns suggest it may have been best for the organization and for Dixon himself to forgo his football scholarship to Mississippi State and sign for overslot money to play pro baseball instead.

House signed after Dixon and is still likely finding his groove in pro ball, but he's showing off some nice tools in the early going with a .356 OBP (supported by a 7-7 K-BB mark) and is 10 for 10 in stolen base attempts in only 15 games. Both of these guys look like intriguing prospects going forward.

A's Prospects in the News

1. Baseball America's Hot Sheet, for the first time in several weeks, did not feature any A's prospects on the top of the list. However, in the notes at the bottom of the page, Vince Mazzaro's name is brought up. The BA writers note that opposing managers are impressed by Vince's ability to command his sinking fastball and to pitch to contact.

2. BA writer Nathan Rode gives a little more attention about Stockton Ports Josh Donaldson and Matt Spencer in this week's BA Hot Sheet Chat.  Rode admits that both players have hit very well since coming over in the Harden and Blanton trades, are both legitimate prospects and will be considered for future Hot Sheets if they continue their current levels of production.

3. Kevin Goldstein also gives a shout-out to Josh Donaldson in his Monday Ten Pack. Goldstein notes that while prospect watchers should not altogether dismiss Donaldson's poor performance earlier this season while with Low-A Peoria of the Chicago organization, Josh's recent pounding of the ball at Stockton combined with his strong track record should begin to bring Josh back to being considered one of the top offensive catching prospects in the minors.

4. The USA College National Baseball team finished up their exhibition summer season last weekend with a sterling 24-0 record. 2008 7th round draft pick Brett Hunter pitched for the team and put some impressive numbers. On the campaign Hunter was 2-0, with a 1.47 ERA and 26 strikeouts, 11 walks and 7 hits allowed in 4 games (3 starts) and 18.1 total innings pitched. Hunter has still not yet signed with the A's and has reportedly been holding out for a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $2 million. While that sum would represent a dramatic over-slot commitment to someone of questionable health, Hunter, if fully healthy, would have been a sure-fire late 1st-round/early 2nd round pick this past draft. With the August 15th signing deadline looming, I say again, just sign the guy. It's not like that money is earmarked for the major league team or anything.