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Monday's Memorial Day Minor League Update


Tonight’s update is going to spotlight 4 players, one from each of the A’s full season minor league teams. I used a process of selection slightly more ordered than merely throwing darts at a wall covered in prospects names… yes I chose to not piss off my wife by putting holes in the wall, my couch is very comfy but I’d rather sleep in my bed. Basically, these 4 struck my fancy in some way or another, either by performance or by seeing their name pop up in discussions on AN.


Today’s test subjects are Sacramento River Cat (AAA) Vin Mazzaro, Midland Rockhound (AA) Josh Donaldson, Stockton Port (High-A) Ben Hornbeck and Kane County Cougar (Low-A) Petey Paramore. All stats are as of 5/24/09… ‘cause that’s when I started researching/writing this and I don’t feel like re-doing the math to account for today’s performances.



Vin Mazzaro


I decided to write about Mazzaro because he’s currently sporting a K/9 rate almost identical to what he had in Midland last year, 6.84 vs. 6.83. That coincidence (or is it?) set my inner stat-geek all a-twitter. Doing a little more research, I saw that he had allowed fewer hits per 9 but his BB/9 was up .5. So basically Mazzaro’s striking out the same number of guys in AAA as he did in AA last year while allowing pretty much the same number of base runners per 9 IP. I’m particularly impressed by his last 5 appearances.


In Mazzaro’s first 4 starts he allowed 13 hits and 11 walks while striking out 15 in 20 IP. Hits allowed can be fluky for a pitcher but the number of guys he walks is almost all on him. In Mazzaro’s next 5 appearances (4 GS, 1 relief appearance when a re-habbing Santiago Casilla pitched the 1st inning) saw him give up 25 hits and 5 walks while striking out 23 in 30.2 IP. Like I said, hits allowed can be a bit flukish and in 1 GS from the 2nd batch he gave up 12 hits in 4 IP. 9 of those hits were on the ground and 3 never left the infield, so there’s some reason to chalk it up as having some bad luck that day.


What does this mean in the near future?


The recent 5 games sample is too small to offer any definitive conclusions as to if Mazzaro is ready for the Show, but it makes a compelling argument that he’s finally made the necessary adjustments to be successful at AAA. I’d like to see another 5-7 starts that feature an extremely low walk total before believing he’s ready for the next challenge.


Josh Donaldson


Donaldson has fully recovered from an abysmal April, hitting 333/442/528 with 4 doubles and a homerun in his last 10 games. He’s been a workhorse for the Rockhounds, catching 31 of 43 games and also making 3 starts at 3B. (And no, Donaldson does not appear to be in consideration for a full time gig at 3B!) He’s been particularly effective against the running game, gunning down 18 of 33 attempts (55%) and adding an extra 4 pickoffs.


There is a downside to his aggressiveness with the arm. He’s made 5 throwing errors; at least 2 appear to have been pickoff attempts. The big question with Donaldson’s defense is his mobility behind the plate, as last year he allowed 18 Passed Balls in 94 games catching. This year he’s done a little better, but 4 PB in 31 games is still too many. This is something he needs to continue to improve on or it could cause him to be moved out from behind the plate.


As for the long term, Donaldson seems to be creating an interesting dilemma for the A’s. If he can clean up his footwork behind the plate, Donaldson has the bat and arm to profile as a big league starting Catcher, possibly as early as Opening Day 2010. Kurt Suzuki has established himself in Oakland as a young and talented backstop and it would be a waste of Donaldson’s potential value to make him the back-up. Either Donaldson or Suzuki could become an extremely valuable trade chip in the next 6-8 months.


Ben Hornbeck


Hornbeck’s Stockton debut deserves another mention: 6 IP, 1 hit, 1 walk, 12 strike outs, 5 ground outs. A dominant performance, pure and simple.


Does this mean the A’s have another potential pitching stud on their hands?


Not at all.


Hornbeck posted strong numbers in Kane County before earning his promotion but he doesn’t have overwhelming stuff. What he has is an upper-80’s fastball and the ability to spot his pitch to both sides of the plate. He’s got a good change-up and is developing a cutter and a curveball. Essentially, he’s a smart lefty who can change speeds well and he was facing a team that had absolutely no idea who it was facing. It’s going to be another couple starts before the Cal League develops a book on Hornbeck, and when they do it will be up to Ben to make the necessary adjustments to have continued success in Stockton.


Do I think he can do that? Absolutely, I just wanted to talk about him now in order to stave off unfounded hype from the Oakland faithful


Petey Paramore


Apparently Petey is his legal name. Yech.


Anyways, Paramore had a rough and virtually non-existent April for Kane County as he wasn’t fully healthy to start the year. And if you thought Donaldson was hot for the Rockhounds, check out Paramore’s 419/526/452 line over his past 10 games. His overall line sits at 284/407.358 but he’s only had 67 at bats and 14 starts behind the plate. Defensively, he’s only allowed 1 PB and has thrown out 10 of 24 base stealers (42%).


The problem with Paramore is that while he controls the strike zone well (15/12 BB/K) he has shown virtually no power, with 2 doubles and a HR to his power resume thus far. Scouts think his bat is slow and so far his pro numbers suggest another Cliff Pennington… a good back-up with switch hitting ability but probably not starting material. At this point it’s hard to project Paramore as anyone’s starting big league Catcher.


That’s it.


Go home already!