Sunday, May 22, 2011

East Bay Envy: Six Interesting Oakland A's Prospects

I always enjoy the Bay Bridge Series. Not because I consider them hated rivals like some Giants fans (in actuality, I really like the Oakland A's and don't buy into the whole "it's Black and Orange vs. Green and Yellow" hoopla) or like interleague play in general (other than a couple of matchups, they do spend way too many games on Interleague play during the year and matchups like Rockies-Orioles are a bit of a yawn). But it's nice to see the Bay Area neighbor in action and in a forum where you can watch both teams at once. I went to an A's-Giants game a couple of years ago at the Coliseum and I admit, the environment was pretty rabid as it was half-Giants fans and half-A's fans. You really don't get that kind of environment for a ballgame outside of the visiting big bandwagon teams (e.g. Yankees and Red Sox).

Anyways, in honor of the Giants-A's series which just ended, I'm going to take a look at six prospects in the A's system whom I find most interesting. The A's system isn't as deep as in years past due to graduations (Tyson Ross for example), trades, and some weird happenings (like Grant Desme, the AFL MVP in 2009 quitting baseball to join the priesthood...I can kind of relate on some issues, but novitiate/seminary life isn't all it's cracked up to be), it took a bit of a hit this year. (Baseball America ranked the A's 28th in their Talent Rankings and the Minor League Baseball Analyst in their 2011 annual ranked them 25th.)

Still, they have some interesting talent in their organization. Here are six guys you should most be aware of in the A's organization.

1. Grant Green, SS. (1st Round Draft Pick in 2009)

Green was the consensus top player in the A's system, ranking as the No. 1 A's prospect in BA and MLBA. The shortstop out of USC is coming off a fabulous year in the California League, as he hit .318 with 20 home runs, 87 RBI and an .883 OPS in 2010 with the Stockton Ports.

Green's hitting has been considered his strongest attribute according to scouts. Baseball America graded his batting a 60 and his power a 55, good grades considering his position (middle infield). Rob Gordon of the MLBA was also high on him as a hitter, grading as a 8B prospect and saying this about him in his writeup:

"Lean and athletic infielder who has very pure hitting instincts and abilities. Makes consistent, hard contact and will hit for BA with at least average pop, but can also shorten stroke in certain situations. Chases breaking balls early in count and batting eye needs work."

Gordon is onto something in terms of describing his plate approach. In his first full year of professional ball in 2010, Green drew only 38 walks and struck out 117 times, good for a BB/K ratio of 0.32. He still makes contact at a decent rate (0.79), but he is going to have to cut down on the strikeouts or draw more walks if he wants to have more value as a hitter as he moves up in the organization. Unfortunately for Green, even in college he didn't walk much (he had a walk rate of seven percent and nine percent his last two years at USC), so his plate approach is always going to be an issue for him unless he can cut down the K's.

Green's defense may be the weakest aspect of his game overall. Baseball America rated him a 45 in their scouting grade, and his arm also earned a 45 as well. There is heavy speculation that Green probably would make a transition to second base in the future, simply because his arm and defense may not be strong enough to play shortstop or third base. Statistically speaking, his numbers in Stockton weren't very spectacular, as he posted a fielding percentage of .920 and a RF/G of 3.75.

This year in the Texas League, there has been some improvement defensively (.952 fielding percentage; 4.16 RF/G), but as expected with the promotion, there has been a bit of regression offensively. He is currently hitting .282 with a .736 OPS and has two home runs and 24 RBI. The most glaring difference from a year ago is the lack of power (.107 ISO), but then again, he really didn't flash his big-fly potential until the second half last year, so he may just be a slow starter. He is walking a little bit more (his BB percentage is 8.0), but he is also striking out just as much as last year (24.4 percent), and thus, his BB/K ratio still looks pretty pedestrian (0.37). Nonetheless, despite this offensive regression from a year ago, Green is still a top prospect in the A's system and could be the heir-apparent at second base in a year or two in Oakland.

2. Michael Choice, OF. (1st Round Draft Pick in 2010)

Choice is the third-best prospect in the A's system according to Baseball America and the second-best A's prospect according to Rob Gordon of the MLBA. The rankings are well-deserved, as Choice is an athletic outfielder who is coming off a very impressive campaign in his first year of professional ball.

In 27 games, Choice tore up the Northwest League as he hit .284 with seven home runs and 26 RBI. Power was the strongest attribute of Choice's 2011 campaign, as he posted an OPS of 1.004, an ISO of .343, and an extra base hit percentage of 66 percent. While these numbers were posted over a short sample size (only 121 plate appearances), it still displayed the significant power upside Choice presents as a professional.

There were some concerns of course with Choice's tools. His contact rate was pretty subpar a year ago (58 percent) and it was a major concern his last year at Texas-Arlington (71 percent). Also, he struck out in bunches a year ago, as he had a strikeout percentage of 42.2 percent (yep, you read that right) and a BB/K ratio of 0.35. However, Choice has always been a patient hitter, as he posted a 0.60, 0.97, 1.41 in his three years at Texas-Arlington. Much like Chuckie Jones of the Giants, once Choice faces more professional pitching, it is likely that the strikeout rate will go down and the contact rate will go up.

He is off to a good year with the Stockton Ports of the California League, once again displaying the power he showcased in the Northwest League a year ago. His OPS is .841 and he has seven home and 28 RBI in 187 plate appearances. He is still striking out a lot (57 times, a 33 percent rate), but his batting eye has improved from a year ago (0.48 BB/K ratio).

Defensively, Gordon notes that despite Choice's athleticism, he projects more as a corner outfielder than centerfielder (his current position). He doesn't make many errors (.968 fielding percentage this year and last year), but he could be better at making plays (2.24 RF/G average the past two years). Without elite speed, and considering the dimensions of the Coliseum, it would probably be predictable that Choice will make the transition to the corners in the next couple of years.

3. Jemile Weeks, 2B (1st Round Draft Pick in 2008)

The younger brother of Major Leaguer Rickie Weeks, Weeks is an athletic infielder who has extremely enticing offensive upside for a second baseman. In his first year out of the University of Miami, Weeks tore up the California League in 232 plate appearances with the Ports. He hit .299 with an OPS of .847 and hit seven home runs, 31 RBI and stole five bases on six attempts. Weeks however struggled through injuries in 2010, as leg and hip injuries only limited him to 77 games in the Arizona League and Texas League. In his injury-plagued campaign a year ago, he still manage to hit .267 with a .752 OPS in 356 plate appearances.

This year, Weeks earned a promotion to Triple-A and has been an offensive catalyst for the Rivercats. He is hitting .309 with a .833 OPS and has two home runs, 16 RBI and seven stolen bases on 10 attempts. This year, Baseball America Ranked him as the fifth-best prospect in the A's system, and Gordon ranked him as the sixth-best A's prospect. Here is what Baseball America had to say about Weeks in their prospect handbook:

"When healthy, Weeks shows promising tools. He has a quick, explosive swing and can do damage from both sides of the plate. His strength and outstanding bat speed give him the capability to hit for more power than his body would suggest...He's not the smoothest second baseman, but he has worked hard to improve his throwing and double-play pivot. Weeks draws some Ray Durham comparisons and has the potential to be a top-of-the-order catalyst."

Considering the A's current offensive woes and Weeks' hot start in Sacramento, it wouldn't be surprising to see the athletic second baseman get a shot in the bigs at some point this year. He has the tools and ability to have a career in the Majors much like his older brother, Rickie.

4. Max Stassi, C (4th Round Draft Pick in 2009)

A fourth round pick in the 2009 draft, Stassi gained a lot of national attention when the A's signed the catcher out of Yuba City to a $1.5 million signing bonus (the highest for a fourth round pick at the time). Stassi presented a lot of interesting tools for a catcher, and he had youth on his side as he was coming out of high school.

In his first full year last year in Kane County in the Midwest League, Stassi struggled as a 19 year old at the plate, as he hit only .229 with a 684 OPS in 465 plate appearances. While he displayed good power for his position (13 home runs, 151 ISO) and drew walks (9.7 percent walk rate), he struggled in terms of making contact, as he struck out 34 percent of the time and sported a contact rate of only 66 percent and a BB/K ratio of 0.32.

Still, the power numbers were enticing for his age, and he earned a promotion to Stockton this year. Offensively, he hasn't fared much better against the better pitching, as he is hitting .231 with a .662 OPS. Stassi is suffering from a bit of bad luck (as his BABIP is .268) and his plate approach has improved a bit (0.72), as he has cut down the K's (18 percent strikeout rate) from a year ago. However, his power has declined dramatically (.099 ISO), and he has hidden behind the designated hitter role a majority of the year. Stassi isn't a terrible defensive catcher as Gordon noted that Stassi "owns quick hands and is a good receiver behind the dish." Thus, it is kind of concerning why Stassi hasn't played much time behind the dish this season in the California League.

Stassi is still an interesting prospect because of his position and youth. Baseball America ranked him as the A's sixth-best prospect and Gordon ranked him 10th in the A's organization. That being said, his offense needs some work and one has to wonder if the power he showed last year will re-manifest itself this year at some point this season. If it does, then Stassi could really rise as a prospect because his approach is much better at the plate from a year ago.

5. Fautino De Los Santos, RHP (Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005 by the Chicago White Sox)

De Los Santos is a live-armed right handed pitcher who burst on the scene in 2007 at the Futures Game when he was hitting 97 MPH on the gun. However, that was just the tip of the iceberg, as de Los Santos put together an impressive campaign in 2007 in Winston Salem of the Chicago White Sox. He struck out 32 hitters in 23 innings pitched and posted an ERA of 3.72, a WHIP of 1.10 and an xERA of 3.17. His advanced numbers were the most impressive, as he posted a 11.9 K/9 and a K/BB ratio of 4.6. De Los Santos was a pitcher who could make batters miss and miss in bunches. The A's ended up trading for him after his 2007 campaign, as de Los Santos was involved in a deal (along with outfielder Ryan Sweeney) that sent fan favorite Nick Swisher to Chicago.

Baseball America was so high on him that they ranked him the 60th best prospect in baseball going into 2008. However, de Los Santos wasn't able to parlay his impressive 2008 campaign in the Carolina League to the California League. His BB/9 rate increased to 4.3 and though he still had a good a K/9 (10.3) and K/BB ratio (2.36), his other numbers weren't very impressive (5.87 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 5.96 xERA). What was even more concerning was the injury problems, as he made only five appearances in 2008 with the Ports and only seven starts in a Rookie League rehab stint in the Arizona Rookie League.

Finally healthy, de Los Santos had a solid year in 2010 in a split campaign in the California League and Texas League, making the transition from starter to reliever. With Stockton, he struck out 22 batters in 15 innings pitched, and sported an ERA of 2.37, a WHIP of 1.05, a xERA of 2.02, and an unbelievable K/BB ratio of 7.3 (compounded by a 13 K/9). Of course, it was his third year in High-A ball, but he remained solid in Midland, as he struck out 55 in 31 innings pitched and posted a K/BB ratio of 3.2. His ERA wasn't impressive at 6.63 and his WHIP was 1.51, but he suffered from a high BABIP (.350) and his xERA was more tolerable at 3.79.

The A's added him to the 40-man roster this year, and he has been good this year in Double-A and a recent promotion to Sacramento. He has pitched 15.1 IP, and he has struck out 21 batters while posting an ERA of 1.76 and a WHIP of 1.24. His walk rate is still a little high (4.7 BB/9 combined), but he has never had a K/9 rate lower than 10 in his minor league career. At the very least, de Los Santos has the upside of a strikeout specialist out of the bullpen.

Gordon had this to say about de Los Santos in his writeup:

"Never posted a K rate below 10 and keeps ball on ground when contact is made. Hard, sinking fastball thrown from whip-like arm action and has knockout slider."

De Los Santos may be a pitcher in the Santiago Casilla mold, whom the A's also developed in their system. While he may or may not make the jump to the Majors this year, he is one of the few interesting arms in the A's system (which is very weak, as the MLBA graded their pitching talent a D) and he would added much needed bullpen depth to a team that is heavily reliant on their pitching for overall success.

6. Yordy Cabrera, SS (Drafted in the Second Round of the 2010 Draft)

Cabrera is a prospect I had a lot of interest in when he was eligible for the draft last year. On my old blog Remember '51, I had hopes that the Giants would draft him in the first round. However, he slid to the second round, and the A's snatched him up and awarded him with a $1.25 million signing bonus.

Cabrera is a toolsy infielder out of Lakeland, Florida who showed a lot of promise in various showcases a year ago. He has good size and a sweet swing, though many people think he may be too big and not athletic enough to play shortstop full time at the Major League level. Jonathan Mayo of had this to say in his scouting report about Cabrera leading up to draft day.

"Cabrera certainly looks the part of a ballplayer in terms of his build and how he carries himself on the baseball field. He's got the raw tools as well -- it's just a question of whether he'll learn to use them consistently. He's got plenty of power, but there is some concern about his ability to recognize pitches well enough to tap into that power. His days as a shortstop are likely numbered, with a move to third or an outfield corner in his future. His athleticism and upside will have many teams interested, and the team who believes it can tap into that will be the one to take him."

Cabrera made the move up to A-ball this year and he has been decent at the plate, as he is hitting .252 with a .737 OPS and has three home runs and 16 RBI in 113 plate appearances. He could still make better contact at the plate (70 percent contact rate this year) and he could cut the strikeouts down a little bit (31 in 103 AB) and flash a better eye at the plate (his BB/K ratio is 0.26). However, those things are to be expected for a kid just out high school.

His defense hasn't been that stellar at shortstop as expected (.908 fielding percentage, 4.19 RF/G), but he has shown some ability on the basepaths as he has nine stolen bases on 12 attempts. Overall, his year so far in the Midwest League has been a solid showing for his first full year in professional ball, though age isn't that big of a factor in his favor, as he was an older kid playing high school ball (he was 19 when he was drafted).

I like Cabrera and the tools he brings as a prospect. While Gordon didn't think too highly of him (he didn't rank him on the Top-15 prospect list for the A's), Baseball America did rank him as the 8th best prospect in the A's system. He is raw, but Cabrera does flash Hanley Ramirez potential with his hitting, power and ability on the basepaths (though defensively he may not be as good as Ramirez). If the A's remain patient with him, he could develop into the kind of prospect that will be on everyone's radar in a year or two. His upside is that promising.


  1. For contrast with the Giants, I thought I would note the prospect the Giants drafted when the A's selected the above prospects:

    Green: Zack Wheeler (7 picks ahead)
    Choice: Gary Brown (14 picks later)
    Weeks: Buster Posey (7 picks ahead)
    Stassi: Jason Stoffel (6 picks ahead)
    Cabrera: Jarrett Parker (14 picks later)

  2. Thanks OGC! I definitely think that puts the prospect comparison in perspective.

    Out of all the player comparisons, the only one I could disagree with is picking Stoffel over Stassi. That being said, considering the Giants already had Buster Posey and drafted Tommy Joseph in the second round, Stassi wouldn't have made much sense. I like Stassi's upside a lot more than Stoffel, but he simply wouldn't have fit in the Giants organization with Posey, Joseph and Hector Sanchez already embedded in the system.