Top 15 Prospects: Oakland Athletics

Despite all the media attention around its drafting philosophies over the years, the Oakland Athletics organization really doesn’t have a great record with the amateur draft. Yes, the club has nabbed some intriguing players – such as Michael Choice and Grant Green – but the depth is definitely lacking. One current area of strength with the organization is the international scouting staff; the back half of the Top 15 list is littered with high-ceiling athletes.

1. Michael Choice, OF
BORN: Nov. 10, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 1st round (10th overall), U of Texas-Arlington
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd

SCOUTING REPORT: Choices’ No. 1 tool is his power, which could some day rate as a 70 on the scouting scale. His pull-conscious approach and big swing could lead to a lot of strikeouts. He has decent speed, which plays well in the outfield. He’s seen time mostly in center field during his pro career to this point but will likely move to right field where his arm will play well.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Choice, who recently turned 22, enjoyed the offensive environment in the California League and slugged 30 home runs in 467 at-bats. His ISO rate sat at .257 after Choice also flashing above-average power in his small sample size debut in 2010 (.343 ISO). He hit .285 in ’11 but had a healthy BABIP and a 25% strikeout rate in the upper levels of the minors will likely result in lower averages. Even if he doesn’t hit for average Choice has added value because he gets on base a lot (11.3 BB%).

YEAR AHEAD: The slugger will move up to double-A in 2012 and look to trim his strikeout rate while also keeping up the power output. Choice could reach the Majors in the second half of the season – especially after such a strong Arizona Fall League (six homers in 17 games, .318 average).

CAREER OUTLOOK: Choice has the potential to develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter – something the Major League club could really use. He should also have some defensive value.

2. Grant Green, OF/SS
BORN: Sept. 27, 1987
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round (13th overall), USC
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st

SCOUTING REPORT: Drafted in the first round as a shortstop, continued issues with high error totals led the organization to move Green to the outfield for the final 40 games of 2011. He showed enough potential to be considered the club’s center-fielder of the future. Green doesn’t hit for home-run power and doesn’t steal bases so much of his value is tied up in his ability to hit for a high average. He’s done just that so far, but he’s also produced above-average BABIPs.

YEAR IN REVIEW: At the plate, Green’s power output dropped (.203 to .117 ISO) as expected with the move from the potent A-ball league that he played in during the 2010 season. He narrowly missed hitting .300 for the first time in his career. Green could struggle a bit in the Majors if he doesn’t trim his strikeout rate; it’s a little high for someone with limited power.

YEAR AHEAD: Green will move up to triple-A in 2012 and look to polish his defensive abilities in center field. He’s in line to join Choice in the A’s new-look outfield in 2013, if not sooner. It would be nice to see him walk a little more while also trimming the Ks.

CAREER OUTLOOK: The former infielder lost a little value with a move to the outfield but he still has the potential to develop into an above-average regular if he keeps hitting for average and shows consistent gap power.

3. Chris Carter, 1B/DH
BORN: Dec. 18, 1986
EXPERIENCE: 7 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2005 15th round, Las Vegas HS (Chicago AL)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

SCOUTING REPORT: It was a disappointing season for Carter who suffered a badly sprained thumb in April and lost two months due to the injury. He’s a one-trick slugger whose main position is first base, but he’s also seen a little time in left field. Carter is nothing special defensively at any position but he’ll continue to get opportunities at the MLB level because of his raw power.

YEAR IN REVIEW: After slugging an eye-popping 124 home runs between 2007-10, Carter hit just 18 in 2011 – but still managed to post an ISO rate of .257 in 296 at-bats. His strikeout rate continued to be high at 24.7%. In 44 MLB at-bats, though, he struck out at a rate of almost 44% and batted just .136.

YEAR AHEAD: Carter has struggled in two brief MLB trials over the past couple of seasons. The club has Daric Barton and also brought in young slugger Brandon Allen via a trade with Arizona. It will likely come down to Allen or Carter for the club’s everyday designated hitter role. Carter, the younger of the two players, could head back to triple-A.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Carter will probably never cut his strikeout rate a drastic amount and, as a result, he’ll never provide much in the batting average department. He also won’t have much defensive value but he can put a charge in the ball and isn’t afraid to take a walk.

4. Sonny Gray, RHP
BORN: Dec. 7, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (18th overall), Vanderbilt University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

SCOUTING REPORT: Gray is a smallish pitcher with an excellent repertoire that includes a 90-95 mph fastball, a good curveball, and a developing changeup. The 2011 first rounder could be one of the first players to reach the Majors. Gray’s tendency to pitch up in the zone will be less of an issue pitching in Oakland’s spacious park. He also did a nice job – in a small-sample size – of keeping the balls in play on the ground during his pro debut.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Gray received a brief taste of rookie ball before moving up to double-A where he made five starts and performed quite well. In the limited opportunity, he posted a 2.30 FIP and a walk rate of just 2.70 BB/9.

YEAR AHEAD: Gray will likely open the 2012 season back in double-A but he could move quickly – and see the Majors by mid season. He needs to focus on improving the consistency of his delivery, which would in turn improve his command.

CAREER OUTLOOK: As a small right-hander with a big fastball and a solid second pitch it’s easy to see him having a great career in the Majors as a high-leverage reliever. Oakland, though, expects his changeup to develop well enough for him to stick as a No. 2 or 3 starter.

5. Yordy Cabrera, SS
BORN: Sept. 3, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 2nd round, Florida HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 7th

SCOUTING REPORT: Cabrera was a potential first round pick entering the 2010 draft but slide until the second round; it took more than $1 million for the organization to sway him from attending college. The infielder comes from a baseball family so he’s been around the sport a long time. He struggled in his first full season and is still refining his pitch recognition and approach. If everything clicks, he has the potential to develop 60 power. Defensively, he has a 70 arm but his range is modest and could decline further as he ages – forcing him to the hot corner.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Cabrera hit just .231 in 2011 at low-A ball and is currently a mistake hitter that strikes out a lot (27.4%) due to poor pitch recognition. He showed a willingness to take a walk and has raw power. A right-handed hitter, he batted just .156 and struck out a third of the time against southpaws.

YEAR AHEAD: Cabrera may benefit from a brief return engagement to low-A ball but the organization will probably push him to high-A, assuming he has a decent spring. He’s one of the club’s most promising offensive prospects but he’s still very raw.

CAREER OUTLOOK: The infielder has the potential to develop into an above-average regular if he can stick at shortstop but he might be just a decent regular at third base. Time will tell.

6. Aaron Shipman, OF
BORN: Jan. 27, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 3rd round, Georgia HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: Signed away from college for half a million dollars and a third-round selection in the 2010 draft, Shipman made some impressive strides in ’11 and is a breakout candidate for the coming season. He offers above-average defense with good range and a solid arm – and also improved his offensive package. Shipman has above-average speed and also showcased a good eye at the plate in his first full year in pro ball.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Shipman started the year in extended spring training before moving to short-season ball in June. He walked more (17.0 BB%) than he struck out (15.8 K%), which is an exciting trait for speedy player (17 steals) to have. The outfielder hit .254 and didn’t show much power with an ISO rate of just .050 but he has lots of time to learn to drive the ball into the gaps. His numbers would look much better if he had not gotten off to a slow start at the beginning of the season (4-for-34, .118).

YEAR AHEAD: The Georgia native is ready to move into full-season ball in 2012. He needs to learn to pick “his pitch” and be a little more aggressive with balls in the strike zone. The new approach could also help him improve his gap power. He needs to improve against southpaws after hitting just .222 against them and failing to record an extra-base hit.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Shipman has a chance to develop into a multi-tooled center fielder with an average bat, above-average base running abilities and plus defense. With Grant Green ahead of him, he has plenty of time to develop.

7. Michael Taylor, OF
BORN: Dec. 19, 1985
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 5th round, Stanford U (Philadelphia)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 8th

SCOUTING REPORT: Perhaps similar to current Phillie and fellow Stanford alum John Mayberry, Taylor is a late-blooming hitter who has struggled to prove that he’s an everyday player… rather than a solid bench or platoon bat. When he’s on, Taylor hits for average, power and shows good patience at the plate. He provides decent range and an above-average arm in right field.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Although he boasts above-average raw power, Taylor hasn’t shown above-average, in-game pop since 2009. He hit just six home runs in his first (full) go-around in triple-A in 2010 and then added 16 dingers in 2011 (.183 ISO) at the same level. Taylor received just 30 at-bats at the MLB level and posted a .285 wOBA.

YEAR AHEAD: With Grant Green and Michael Choice not far away it would be in Taylor’s best interests to finally realize his potential in 2012 – his opportunities in Oakland have almost run out. There are plenty of opportunities in the A’s outfield for the coming season – depending on how the off-season plays out.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Already 26, Taylor needs to secure a big league role before securing the label of quad-A slugger. Although he hasn’t dominated triple-A, Taylor probably doesn’t need any more seasoning. He’d be better off learning at the MLB level and there are currently openings on the 25-man roster in the outfield.

8. Max Stassi, C
BORN: March 15, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 4th round, California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 5th

SCOUTING REPORT: Hindered by a shoulder injury since his amateur days, Stassi finally gave in and had surgery. It wiped out much of his season but the organization is hoping a healthy shoulder leads to better offensive numbers from the player that was, at one point, a fringe first round draft prospect. He has good power potential but is currently a guess hitter that racks up the Ks. Defensively, he shows good leadership and receiving skills. Looking for his throwing to improve.

YEAR IN REVIEW: When healthy in 2011, he showed a willingness to take a walk (11.5 BB%) and trimmed his strikeout rate by a half over 2010 (15.8 vs 30.3 K%) – albeit in only 121 at-bats. Even so, he’s taken a few steps in the right direction and didn’t embarrass himself in high-A ball.

YEAR AHEAD: Still just 20, Stassi will head back to high-A ball in 2012 and could put up big numbers if the shoulder is sound. He’ll look to keep the strikeouts in check and hopefully push his batting average up to at least .250.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Stassi has the potential to develop into an average defensive catcher and a slightly-above-average hitter if his power shows up and he can keep the strikeouts in check. He’s still two to three years away from the Majors so Kurt Suzuki will have to keep the position warm for a little while longer.

9. Vicmal De La Cruz, OF
BORN: Nov. 20, 1993
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: The young De La Cruz is still quite raw but he has an impressive mix of center field skills (including a strong arm), plus running speed, and above-average bat speed that should eventually lead to 20+ home run power. On the downside, and like a lot of young Latin American hitters, De La Cruz is overly aggressive at the plate – although it didn’t hurt him in 2011.

YEAR IN REVIEW: The prospect just recently turned 18 so the success he had in rookie ball in 2011 was very impressive. He hit .318 and walked more than he struck out (15.7 BB% vs 11.5 K%). De La Cruz stole 10 bases in 15 tries and showed some growing power potential with an ISO rate of .135. A left-handed hitter, he batted .349 against southpaws.

YEAR AHEAD: De La Cruz exceeded expectations in 2011 and has an outside shot of opening the year in low-A ball but, in reality, he’ll probably head to short-season ball in June after extended spring training. He still has work to do on his pitch selection but you cannot argue with his early results. It’s about adding polish and consistency at this point.

CAREER OUTLOOK: The teenager had a great start to his career and he has a huge ceiling. He could develop into a 20-20 hitter with plus defense in center field. Oakland just needs to be patient.

10. Stephen Parker, 3B
BORN: Sept. 3, 1987
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 5th round, Brigham Young University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

SCOUTING REPORT: Third base is a gaping hole in Oakland right now and the organization has a number of potential long-term solutions in the minors. Parker is the most MLB-ready but he doesn’t have the highest ceiling, mainly because he lacks prototypical power. He should hit for a solid average and does a nice job of getting on base. His defense is nothing special and he can play both third and first base.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Parker spent the majority of the 2011 season in double-A and posted solid numbers, although his power output was disappointing (.127 ISO). Even so, he has the ability to hit for average and an impressive on-base percentage (12.0 BB% in ’11).

YEAR AHEAD: The third baseman received a five-game trial in triple-A in 2011 and will return there in 2012. He should be ready for the Majors by mid-season but it remains to be seen if Oakland will have room for him; with that said, Scott Sizemore, Adam Rosales, and Eric Sogard should not be roadblocks for anyone.

CAREER OUTLOOK: Parker would be a Joe Randa type third baseman if he does receive regular playing time. More likely than not, though, he’ll end up as an offensive-minded corner infield utility player and pinch hitter for a National League club.

The Next Five

11. B.A. Vollmuth, 3B: Vollmuth is a streaky hitter that has the potential to put everything together and develop into a quality hitter with 20+ home run power. Defensively, he played mostly shortstop in college before moving to third base in his last season. A lack of range could force him to first base or right field, where his good arm would be of value.

12. Renato Nunez, 3B: Nunez was a big-ticket signee from 2010 that received more than $2 million. He came over to the USA as a 17 year old and performed admirably with a .268 average and .139 ISO rate in 194 at-bats. His walk rate was low, though, at 2.9 BB%. Scouts feel he will eventually hit for both power and average. Defensively, he may not stick at the hot corner, but the club has a lot of depth there right now.

13. Chih Fang Pan, 2B/SS: Pan, a Taiwan native, had a solid season in short-season ball in 2011. He hit .343 with a decent walk rate (7.4 BB%) but he didn’t produce much power (0.49 ISO) and he lost some defensive value by moving from shortstop to second base. The organization has been patient with him – he’s already 21 and has spent the last two seasons in extended spring training. Low-A ball will be a big test for him in 2012.

14. Wilfredo Solano, SS: Solano was a key international signing for the organization in 2009 but he’s developed slowly and spent the past two seasons in rookie ball. He improved in 2011 and raised his average from .179 to .244. He also showed more pop in his bat because he’s learning to drive the ball. Solano still has a long way to go but the 19 year old bears watching.

15. Ian Krol, LHP: It was a bad year for Krol who missed time with an elbow injury and then got suspended by the club for an offensive Tweet. The southpaw was also suspended for his senior year of high school so this could suggest he has some growing up to do. It’s too bad as Krol is one of the organization’s best pitching prospects and has a No. 3 starter’s ceiling.

SLEEPER ALERT: Gregory Paulino, RHP: After beginning the year in the Dominican Summer League in 2011, Paulino was abruptly brought over to North America to make eight appearances (five starts) in rookie ball. He allowed just 23 hits in 28.0 innings and showed a very promising fastball. He also does a nice job of keeping batted balls on the ground.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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