As we get closer to the Holidays we’ve decide to give all of our Baseball Instinct reader’s an early Christmas present. For weeks, we’ve been running down our own top 10 prospect lists for each team. Along the way we’ve had some great in-house contribution to our project. In addition, we’ve been working with other sites, most of which are team specific. Today’s top 10 list is no different. We’ve joined forces with Athletics Nation. We turned to the creative genius of “AN” (as A’s fans that follow them call it) Tyler Bleszinski to get a real flavor for what those deep in A’s Nation thought of their minor league system. Tyler, as most of you know, is the Founder of SB Nation, one of the most read sports sites on the internet.
Tyler turned to the Athletics Nation’s minor league go-to-guy Shane H. (AKA Zonis to the AN masses) with the task of providing a list that we could merge together with our own list, which would provide our readers a comprehensive Oakland A’s top 10 list. Any time you take a top 10 and compare it with another, what you’ll mostly find is different opinions and ranks. We have this issue internally all the time, but because of this, the final product is usually a superior list. It’s no different this time around either, and as you read it you’ll notice a few ranking variations. However, we wouldn’t post comments we don’t support, and Shane was rock solid on all of his assessments, admittedly persuading us on 1 or 2 players, up and down on our internal list. As Tyler said to me, “I knew Shane would kick ass with this.”
Indeed he did. Now here is Athletics Nation and Baseball Instinct’s Oakland Athletics’ Top 10 prospects list.
1. Michael Choice, OF 11/10/1989 H: 6’0″ W: 215 – (Shane’s take) The A’s top draft in 2010, Choice has blossomed in his stint in pro ball. Choice has shown that his power was real, and has taken a step forward in all aspects of his game. He does have a weakness, however, like most power prospects, and that is strikeouts. If Choice can get his whiff rate under control, he can be a star. If he cannot, then he will fall by the way side.
Our Instinct: We went back and forth on Choice and Parker at #1. While we confess a love for Parker, Shane’s take on Choice is right on the money. He posted a triple slash of .285/.376/.542 with 30 HRs and 9 SB as a 21-year-old with High-A Stockton. While the Cal League is known as a hitter’s league, it’s still an ISoP of .257 and 30 HRs man! The 134/61 K/BB rate is concerning, but the good news is that he had a very good 12/9 K/BB rate in 66 at bats in the Arizona Fall League to go with an eye-popping .349 ISoP and a 1.090 OPS. How he handles off-speed stuff at AA in 2012 will tell us a lot.
2. Jarrod Parker, RHP 11/24/1988 H: 6’1 W: 195 - (Shane’s take) Just acquired by the A’s from Arizona in exchange for Trevor Cahill, Parker is a year removed from Tommy John Surgery, but performed great in 2011 to bring is stock back up. Parker could be a legitimate #1 or #2 starter, but as with any pitching prospect, especially one with an injury history, a lot is up in the air. Parker might take Cahill’s spot in the rotation in 2012, though it remains to be seen if it will be for opening day, or a mid-season call up. Remember that one of the factors for the A’s to deal Cahill was service time, and a lot of that was due to calling Cahill up early, so keeping Parker in the minors a half a year may be the smart thing to do, if the A’s really do have an eye for competing in San Jose come 2015.
Our Instinct: He has a mid 90s fastball and before the surgery his command graded out as above average. Even though his fastball is plus, his slider grades out as even better. His changeup is close to a plus pitch as well. Only his command is holding him back from making the jump to the next level. He’ll be two years removed from TJ in 2012. Expect his arrival in Arizona at the end of 2011 to be permanent situation in Oakland at some point in 2012.
3. Grant Green, OF 9/27/1987 H: 6’3″ W: 180 – (Shane’s take) Green’s move to the outfield has been a success thus far, and the A’s hope he can be their everyday Center fielder of the future. Green reportedly had good range at Shortstop, but was extremely errant in his throwing. Instead of testing Green out at Third, where such a defensive flaw might still persist, the A’s moved Green to the outfield. If Green can have a good year, offensively and defensively, in Sacramento, he could be up mid-season 2012.
Our Instinct: Aaron Bentley wrote an excellent article on Grant Green for us back in September. While Grant shifted to the outfield, he seemed to have left his power at SS. His ISoP dropped from .202 to .117 from 2010 to 2011, which is not what you want to see from an outfielder with minimal speed. The good news is that he seemed to pick back up where he left off in 2010 when he hit the Arizona Fall League, posting a .290/.342/.551 triple slash and a .261 ISoP. As Shane said his next stop is AAA and if can prove himself there, look for him around the All-Star break in 2012.
4. Sonny Gray, RHP 11/7/1989 H: 5’11″ W: 200 - (Shane’s take) The polished, albe short, first round pick by the A’s in 2011, Gray had a brief stint in Double A in 2011, which is likely where he will be again. He performed well, and could be in Oakland as soon as 2013. But, questions about how his body will handle pitching in the majors is a lingering factor. Will he be Tim Hudson part 2, or a middle reliever? Taking polished college pitchers can be a good thing, since they reach the upper levels quickly, but you can also end up with 2004 A’s top pick Jason Windsor.
Our Instinct: Jason Windsor? Talk about your name dropping! While I don’t think Gray’s fate will be that of Windsor, Shane’ is absolutely correct in his assessment that Gray could be headed for the pen. As our Tom Belmont noted at draft time, the A’s over reached a little on Gray when pitchers like Taylor Guerrieri (Rays), Matt Barnes (Red Sox), and Alex Meyer (Nationals) were still available. If Gray can develop his change-up into the quality secondary offering to go along with the upper 90′s fastball, his ceiling is much higher than the previous mentioned trio. However, with his frame his floor is much lower. Still, a quality power arm out of the pen isn’t the end of the world.
5. Vicmal De La Cruz, OF 11/20/1993 H: 6’0″ W: 185 – (Shane’s take) Cruz, one of the A’s big Dominican signings a year ago, has performed very well in Rookie ball, and looks to be the makings of a solid, powerful outfielder. Just 18, he’s young, and might be able to stick in Center Field, but a very high BABIP and an over aggressive tendency at the plate could be his downfall.
Our Instinct: The Dominican De La Cruz and Venezuelan 3B Renato Nunez were both 2010 international signings for the A’s and made their debut in 2011 in the Dominican Summer League in 2011. I can’t wait to see him state side, which should be in 2012 and could be in full season ball right off the bat at age 18. De La Cruz is young and raw and swings at 747′s passing by the stadium. Not uncommon in young Latin players. Despite his 27/37 K/BB in the DSL, expect an increase in k’s while he settles in to play in the states. He projects as a 20/20 type player down the road.
6. Yordy Cabrera, SS 9/3/1990 H: 6’1″ W: 205 – (Shane’s take) Cabrera stayed at Short, which was above the expectations of most analysts when he was drafted in 2010, but he did not put up very great numbers in Single A. But, the potential for Cabrera is there, and if he can regain the bat he showed in Florida, he could become a star shortstop, or at least a solid third baseman.
Our Instinct: This is where the rubber meets the road. Like Shane, our love for Cabrera is based on his skill set, not his stats to date. He has a good glove and a plus arm. It seems likely that a shift to 3B could happen in the future. He’s a terribly raw hitter, but by most accounts is an astute player. He should be able to develop into a player who can hit for average, with above average power. I’m not convinced that the speed on the base paths is going to hold up as he grows up; but it’s a pleasant bonus in the meantime. He’s likely to get another dose of the Midwest League in 2012.
7. Collin Cowgill, OF 5/22/1986 H: 5’9 W: 185 lbs – Part of the Trevor Cahill to Arizona deal, the Kentucky product has been on our radar for years and he’s the type of player that just has never gone away even though his size and skill set never pointed to more than a 4th OF. But he just keeps producing and this 2011 season was his best yet. He upped his walk rate to 11% while keeping his K rate below 20%. His .200 IsoP and .354 AVG were both career highs. Cowgill fell just outside of the Athletics Nation’s top 10 list.
Our Instinct - The average was boosted by a very high .397 BABIP but even at that level I’m now confident that Cowgill will be a .285 hitter with both average power and speed. But he still might slot better as a 4th OF long-term.
8. Michael Taylor, OF 12/19/1985 H: 6’5″ W: 255 – (Shane’s take) When speaking of diminishing stardom, Michael Taylor, the result of a string of infamous trades, has seen his value plummet for a couple of years in a row. Joining the A’s system has not been good for the outfielder, though there is a good chance that he may land the starting outfield job in Oakland in 2012. Taylor’s power slightly recovered, hitting 16 homeruns in AAA Sacramento in 400 at bats, a well sight compared to his 6 home runs in 2010, but still disappointing compared to his numbers in the Phillies system. Taylor’s value will depend a lot on how well he can recover to his Phillies days, and if he can cut his strike out rate about 6% as well.
Our Instinct: He’s certainly not the 5 tool player to this point that all the teams he’s been with thought he would be. Taylor’s time to make a name for himself is upon him. Will he succeed or is he going to become the dubious “4-A” player that no player wants to be? Taylor’s biggest problem is himself. He lets things get into his head and over thinks things to death. He once joked in college that if he was stupid that he would be a millionaire. As Shane said, the time is now for Taylor in Oakland. Here’s hoping that he can make the most of his opportunity.
9. Renato Nunez, 3B 4/4/1994 H: 6’1″ W: 185 - As I mentioned with De La Cruz, Nunez was another of the A’s international signings in 2010. He had a triple slash of .268/.301/.407 with 5 HRs in 194 at bats in the Dominican Summer League in 2011. His 42/6 K/BB rate is ugly as well, but that’s not uncommon for a 17-year-old in the DSL.
Our Instinct: Nunez is another one that I would like to get a closer look at once he hits the states. There’s a good chance that the A’s will have him repeat the DSL as he will be barely 18 when the season starts. If he comes state side to start the 2012 season, it’s likely to be in the Arizona League and if that’s the case we will try our best to get over there and get some video. Nunez is very athletic and there’s a school of thought, our Tom Belmont being one, who thinks he can play catcher. This would greatly boost his value as he does have an excellent bat. Stay tuned on Nunez. Nunez is another that fell just outside of the Athletics Nation’s top 10 list.
10 . Chris Carter, 1B/DH 12/18/1986 H: 6’4″ W: 245 – (Shane’s take) Oh woe is Carter. The big brick-handed slugger seems to have proved himself a future designated hitter, performing below expectations in the outfield and at first base. Carter’s main problem in 2011 was that his greatest strength, his bat, did not materialize well in the first half of the season in AAA, nor in his brief stint in Oakland. There is a good chance that Carter will be the A’s everyday DH, rotating in and out of backup 1B and DH duties, but it will have to be seen if he can conquer his strike out problems in the Majors, or it will be the end of him. If Carter can cut back on his strike outs, he could be Ryan Howard. If not, he could be Dallas McPherson.
Our Instinct: The situation with Carter seems strikingly similar as the one we just talked about with Michael Taylor. Another big guy thats on the edge of putting it together as major league regular, or falling into obscurity as a bench player that had all the potential in the world. At this point I’d be willing to hedge on Dallas McPherson rather than Ryan Howard.
Baseball Instinct’s top 21 “freeview”
As we did in previous article’s we are going to give you a couple of players who will likely appear in our top 21 later this winter. While we haven’t assigned them an actual rank yet, Shane felt they were worthy enough of the Athletics Nation’s top 10, so that’s good enough for us to include them in this freeview.
Max Stassi, C 3/15/1991 H: 5’10″ W: 205 - The ever promising Stassi is starting to lose his luster. For Stassi, 2011 saw shoulder injuries and disappointing offensive results. The hope for A’s fans is that it was a year of learning, that he will improve defensively, and that his offensive output was hindered by his injury. If not, Stassi will fade into oblivion as so many other catching prospects have. Fortunately, Catcher is one position where many players develop slower, and Stassi being as young as he is, has a lot of time to blossom.
Our Instinct: Shane hits on a lot of good points here, especially youth being on his side. What isn’t on his side is the solid year that 24-year-old Ryan Ortiz put up (for a catcher) between High-A Stockton and AA Midland, as well as 2011 14th round pick Nick Rickles performance in his professional debut. Still, Stassi is still loaded with potential and Shane ranked him according to that. He came in #8 for Athletics Nation.
Zhi Fang Pan, SS 11/12/1990 H: 6’1″ W: 170 - Fang Pan, a high contact middle infielder out of Taiwan, drew some eyes in 2011 with a .343 average in Short Season ball, and Pan will likely start 2012 in Low A ball. If all goes well, a mid season promotion to Stockton could propel him up the charts. But, while Pan does not have bad power, he only hit 1 home run in 2011, and none in 2010. Coupled with his very high BABIP (.410 in 2011, .391 in 2010), he could be in for a huge shock if he is unable to prove that to be a sustainable skill.
Our Instinct: This one threw me off a little, but as I said in the opening Shane persuaded me a couple of times with what he had to say. In a fairly weak Oakland system this is an aggressive placement by Shane, but I wouldn’t call it a stretch. I like it. Pan is the 1st ever far east international signing for the A’s. He’s going to get his first dose of full season ball in 2012, likely with the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League. My “instinct” tells me that Pan’s stats get fat off of fastballs. Lets see what his pitch recognition is like against off speed stuff bouncing around in the dirt. He definitely needs to control the plate and draw more walks. Pan came in #10 for Athletics Nation.
We want to thank Shane, Tyler, and the Athletics Nation for their contribution. While the A’s system is somewhat shallow right now, there are several interesting players who could change that in the next few years. Do yourself a favor, A’s fan or not, jump on over the Athletics Nation and check out the ongoing discussions on the A’s potential move to San Jose as well as the reactions to the Trevor Cahill trade. While you’re there, check out the SB Nation; One of the best sports networks out there.
Check back soon as we profile more Top 10 Lists for each MLB team and also get our baseball geek on and take a look at some of the later draft picks from the 2011 draft that we think could be big names on the prospect radars in the near future. While you’re here, take a look at a recent article in this series: Milwaukee Brewers Top 10 List and be a step ahead of the game. Also, check out a friend of ours for all of your fantasy sports needs. Fantasy Rundown is updated religiously and is truly an awesome resource. Thanks for checking Baseball Instinct. We’re working hard to bring you the best of the minor leagues and make the site the best experience it can be. So don’t hesitate to tell us what you would like to read about. Email us now at firstname.lastname@example.org.