clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Oakland A's have their best farm system in years, and it should remind you of 2012

In a lot of ways, the Athletics prospects are set up like the start of the 2012 campaign. Just substitute Sean Manaea for Jarrod Parker and you're on your way.

Sean Manaea pitches in the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game.
Sean Manaea pitches in the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Between dealing Scott Kazmir, Tyler Clippard, and Ben Zobrist at last year's trade deadline for prospects and prior to that obtaining their top prospect, Franklin Barreto, in the Josh Donaldson deal, the Oakland Athletics farm system is easily the best it has been in years. But how strong is it, exactly? Let's turn to John Sickels' recent grades of the Top 20 A's prospects.

The best way to get a sense of what a grade means from Sickels is to get it in his own words:

Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.

Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.

Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.

A simple look at the A's system would be to see how many prospects receive rating "X or above", and to get a sense of scale compare that to how many of rating "X or above" grades Sickels gives out overall. Sickels hasn't finished his 2016 prospect grades, so we'll use his 2015 preseason overall Top 175 prospects as a proxy. For example, the A's have two prospects Sickels grades as "A-" prospects in 2016, and in 2015 he only handed out 27 "A-" or "A" grades.

John Sickels, Top 20 A's pre-season prospect lists
Grade 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2015 overall
A 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 12
A- or above 2 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 27
B+ or above 5 2 1 1 3 0 3 2 4 75
B or above 7 3 2 4 6 3 4 8 6 147
B- or above 10 8 8 9 8 8 11 15 11
C+ or above 20 19 15 12 20 18 20 20 19
A prospect qualifies if their primary grade was at or above the grade here. Sickels will sometimes say a player is an "A- borderline B+" prospect, for example. That counts as an "A- or above".

For scale, "2015 overall" shows how many prospects in MLB received that grade in Sickels' Top 175 overall list for the 2015 preseason. For example, the A's had two of the top 75 prospects in 2015, and the scale is similar for other years. More than 175 players earned a B- grade or better in 2015, but Sickels did not list past 175.

On average, you would expect a farm system to have one "A-" prospect or above, two or three at "B+" or higher, and five at "B" or above. The A's farm exceeds all of those benchmarks in 2016, benchmarks not even met since 2012.

These were the fates of those 2012 prospects rated a B or higher, in order of what level they played in that year:

  • (A-/B+) Jarrod Parker, 23, graduated to MLB and played in their 2012 and 2013 postseason rotations. He's still with the A's hoping to return from Tommy John surgery and a broken elbow;
  • (B) Derek Norris, 23, graduated to MLB, playing in 60 games in 2012. He played in the 2014 All-Star Game and was traded the during the 2014-15 offseason for Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez;
  • (B/B+) Brad Peacock, 24, had an unsuccessful 2012 at Triple-A with a 4.4 BB/9 ratio. He was traded to the Astros as part of the deal to acquire Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez;
  • (B+) Michael Choice, 22, played in Double-A that year. He had a cup-of-coffee call up in 2013 and was traded to the Texas Rangers for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom;
  • (B/B+) Sonny Gray, 22, enjoyed what Sickels called an "erratic" Double-A campaign in the following year's preseason list. A strong 2013 in Triple-A resulted in his call-up to the A's rotation, where he's remained ever since, playing in the 2015 All-Star Game; and
  • (B+) A.J. Cole, 20, split time between Low-A and High-A. He was traded to the Nationals as part of a three-team trade to acquire John Jaso in the 2012-13 offseason.

While Gray and Choice were each A's first round draft picks from the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively, the others arrived in two different trades that formed in the weeks before Sickels generated this list. Cole, Peacock, and Norris all arrived in the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals and Parker arrived in the trade that sent Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow to the Diamondbacks.

The 2016 class is of a somewhat different character in terms of where they were developed. Three were drafted or signed internationally three or more years ago and one was drafted within the last two years. It's just the other two who arrived via trade, with only Sean Manaea expected to start the year in Triple-A or higher:

John Sickels, Annual preseason grades (age for graded year) for 2016 A's prospects rated B or higher
Pos Player 2016 Lvl 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
AA A- (20) B+/B (19) Trade from TOR
AAA A-/B+ (24) Trade from KC
AAA B+ (22) B+/B (21) C+ (20) B-/C+ (19)
Supp. 1st
AAA B+/B (22) B/B+ (21) B- (20) C+ (19) Other (18) Other (17) IFA
AA B+/B (21) Trade from HOU
AAA B (24) C+ (23) Other (22)
Supp. 2nd
AA B (23) B-/C+ (22)
1st round

When I compare 2016 and 2012, I'm struck by just how similar things felt as we approached Opening Day.

In both years the A's have a highly rated pitching prospect many tab to break into the majors this year. In 2015 it is Sean Manaea. In 2012, it was Jarrod Parker.

The A's have some highly rated hitters that could join the team mid-year to replace faltering, injured, or traded major leaguers. In 2015, it's any of Matt Olson, Renato Nunez, or Chad Pinder. In 2012, it was Derek Norris after the A's sent down Josh Donaldson, who was himself the backup catcher for three weeks after the A's sent down Anthony Recker. It was Derek Norris a second time after the A's traded Kurt Suzuki to the Nationals.

And in 2016, the A's are coming off a horrible year, winning just 68 games, though Pythagorean run differential would have them be a 77-win club. Few expect them to make a run for the postseason. In 2012, the A's were coming off a horrible year, winning just 74 games, though Pythagorean run differential would have them be a 77-win club. Few expected them to make a run for the postseason.

In the words of Billy Beane: