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Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Oakland Athletics

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So far, we've looked at 12 of the systems in the Majors, and seen some good and some not-so-good. The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:

Houston Astros | Minnesota Twins | Seattle Mariners | Baltimore Orioles

Kansas City Royals | Chicago Cubs | San Diego Padres | Pittsburgh Pirates | Colorado Rockies

Cleveland Indians | Chicago White Sox | Detroit Tigers


The Athletics tend to go in cycles in terms of the quality of their system. Part of this comes from the constant rebuilding/reloading efforts, and part of it seems to come from some poor draft results the past few years. This system would be in a lot worse shape were it not for the trades of Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. Add to it that high profile prospects like Michael Taylor and Chris Carter have stagnated in AAA, and there's a pretty glaring weakness in the A's development process these days.

2011 Graduates

Jemile Weeks, Fautino de los Santos, Tyson Ross

Ready in 2012

Jarrod Parker

2008 19 ARI-min A 12 5 3.44 24 24 117.2 113 56 45 8 33 117 1.241 8.6 0.6 2.5 8.9 3.55 SBN · MIDW
2009 20 ARI-min AA,A+ 5 6 3.14 20 20 97.1 94 37 34 2 38 95 1.356 8.7 0.2 3.5 8.8 2.50 MOB,VIS · SOUL,CALL
2011 22 ARI-min AA 11 8 3.79 26 26 130.2 112 61 55 7 55 112 1.278 7.7 0.5 3.8 7.7 2.04 MOB · SOUL
2011 22 ARI NL 0 0 0.00 1 1 5.2 4 0 0 0 1 1 0.882 6.4 0.0 1.6 1.6 1.00
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2012.

The key player received in exchange for Trevor Cahill, Parker was a 1st round draft pick by the Diamondbacks back in 2007. Parker reached AA as a 20 year old in 2009, but missed all of the 2010 season after having Tommy John surgery. The Diamondbacks sent him back to AA for 2012, and had a solid, albeit a bit underwhelming season there. His strikeout rate dropped slightly from previous career totals, but was still an excellent 7.7 per 9 innings. He even received a callup prior to the end of the season, making 1 start in September and was on the playoff roster for the Diamondbacks. Here's a brief scouting report, from John Sickels back in August:

His key pitch is a hard sinking fastball, working at 92-95 and hitting 96-97 at its best. He's lost no velocity since the surgery, although he's still working on command refinements.

His slider was his out-pitch pre-surgery. Scouting reports indicate that he's not throwing it as much as he used to, but it still rates as a plus pitch. His changeup has improved a great deal, ranking plus at its best, and he'll mix in some curves on occasion, giving him four pitches to work with. He's especially tough on right-handed hitters, holding them to a .209 average with just two homers this year.

With the signing of Bartolo Colon, I think that the A's are more likely to try to keep both Parker and Peacock in AAA for at least some part of the season in order to help with service time concerns. Parker should make a decent amount of starts there, and I think he'll be in Oakland by the All-Star break. Once he's up, I can see him maintaining that type of strikeout rate, which could lead to around 70-80 strikeouts and a handful of wins. Add to that a WHIP around 1.30 and an ERA a bit below 4.00, and he could provide a much needed boost in the second half.

Grant Green

2009 21 CALL A+ 5 2 6 1 0 0 3 1 0 1 5 .316 .350 .368 .718
2010 22 CALL A+ 131 107 174 39 6 20 87 9 5 38 117 .318 .363 .520 .883
2011 23 TL AA 127 76 154 33 1 9 62 6 8 39 119 .291 .343 .408 .750
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2012.

The Athletics' top draft pick in the 2009 draft, Green was drafted out of USC as a shortstop. He posted a very nice offensive line in the California League in 2010, hitting 20 homers with a .318 batting average. The team moved Green to center field halfway through the 2011 season, with the idea that Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington were blocking him at 2B and SS, respectively. However, it was not entirely clear that he would be able to stay at shortstop long-term, and his error totals (37 in 2010, 21 in just 79 games in 2011) definitely don't help his case. Add into that a drop in both his home run total, and his batting average, and his prospect status took a hit in 2011.

He'll start the 2012 season playing CF for the A's AAA affiliate, and I imagine with the glut of outfielders now at the Major League level, he'll spend most of the season there. For fantasy purposes, he looks like he'll provide a solid batting average, but may only be good for 10-12 HR and 5 SB for the first few seasons. His value to fantasy owners was substantially higher if he had been able to stay at SS or even on the infield somewhere, but his fielding and current players have precluded that as a possibility.

Derek Norris

2007 18 GULF Rk 37 16 25 6 2 4 15 2 1 25 38 .203 .344 .382 .726
2008 19 NYPL A- 70 42 63 12 0 10 38 11 9 63 56 .278 .444 .463 .906
2009 20 SALL A 126 78 125 30 0 23 84 6 3 90 116 .286 .413 .513 .926
2010 21 CARL A+ 94 67 70 19 0 12 49 6 3 89 94 .235 .419 .419 .838
2011 22 EL AA 104 75 70 17 1 20 46 13 4 77 117 .210 .367 .446 .813
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2012.

Acquired from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade, Norris was essentially blocked long-term on that team by Wilson Ramos. Norris posted one of the more unusual lines during the 2011 season, hitting 20 home runs with just a .210 batting average. Norris is known for his plate discipline (77 BB/117 K last year), and power potential (54% of his hits last year were for extra bases), and it appears that he is likely to stay at catcher long term. Here's what John Sickels had to say about him as a part of the A's top 20:

Loads of power, walks, and scouting reports on his defense are getting more positive each year. Ranking may seem high for such a low batting average, but I see him as a Mike Napoli (pre-2011)/Mickey Tettleton type who can be productive even with a low average.

Norris seems to me like he can very well be a solid fantasy performer once he gets to the Majors. With Kurt Suzuki entrenched in the Majors, there's not a huge reason right now to push Norris quickly, but he will likely spend the majority of 2012 at AAA. Once he does get to the Majors, I could see him being a 15+ HR bat in Oakland, with a decent batting average and solid production in RBI and runs.

Brad Peacock

2007 19 WSN-min Rk 1 1 3.89 13 39.1 38 23 17 1 15 34 1.347 8.7 0.2 3.4 7.8 2.27 NAT · GULF
2008 20 WSN-min A-,A 4 12 4.97 22 108.2 105 76 60 11 48 77 1.408 8.7 0.9 4.0 6.4 1.60 VMT,HGR · NYPL,SALL
2009 21 WSN-min A,A+ 8 11 4.14 27 147.2 150 75 68 14 42 104 1.300 9.1 0.9 2.6 6.3 2.48 HGR,POT · SALL,CARL
2010 22 WSN-min A+,AA 6 11 4.50 26 142.0 142 80 71 16 47 148 1.331 9.0 1.0 3.0 9.4 3.15 POT,HRB · CARL,EL
2011 23 WSN-min AA,AAA 15 3 2.39 25 146.2 98 43 39 9 47 177 0.989 6.0 0.6 2.9 10.9 3.77 HRB,SYR · EL,IL
2011 23 WSN NL 2 0 0.75 3 12.0 7 1 1 0 6 4 1.083 5.3 0.0 4.5 3.0 0.67
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2012.

Also acquired from the Nationals, Peacock was drafted by the team in the 41st round, and has to be one of the lower picks to make it to the bigs in recent memory. Here's what Al Skorupa of Bullpen Banter had to say about him in a late-season scouting report:

Peacock could start effectively but is probably better suited to relief long term given his mechanics, command & control and repertoire. It is not at all unheard of for pitchers with only two good pitches to last as major league starters, and there have certainly been some without this kind of velocity and MLB out pitch. So I envision a middle of the rotation starter here... at least a pitcher who looks occasionally like a top of the rotation arm with his velocity and stuff but most often gets MOR results. In the bullpen this skill set could make for a lights out relief ace type.

As has been noted, the A's aren't exactly pushing to compete for a division title this year, so leaving him in the AAA rotation seems like the best plan long-term for the pitcher. That said, he doesn't have a whole lot left to show the A's in the minors, and I also think he could be in the Majors by around midseason.Once he's there, he'll benefit from pitching in pitching in Oakland, and I can see him posting solid ratios and a strikeout rate around 6-7 per 9 once he's there.

Should Be Ready by 2014

Sonny Gray

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2011 21 ARIZ Rk 0 1 4.50 1 2.0 4 1 1 0 0 2 2.000 18.0 0.0 0.0 9.0
2011 21 TL AA 1 0 0.45 5 20.0 15 1 1 0 6 18 1.050 6.8 0.0 2.7 8.1 3.00
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2012.

The Athletics' top draft choice in 2011, Gray signed relatively quickly, soon enough to make 6 starts before the end of the AA season. The A's sent Gray to AA after his first start, and posted some excellent numbers in those starts. There seems to be some question on whether or not Gray will be a starting pitcher long-term, although those concerns seem to be more related to his height/build and whether or not his changeup can develop into a usable pitch. Here's what John Sickels had to say about Gray back in August:

On the other hand, he's durable, and it is also tempting to see him in the future starting rotation as a possible Roy Oswalt type. He'll need to refine his changeup for that to happen. There is mixed opinion about the changeup; some observers already rate it as a solid pitch (although he needs to throw it more), but others say it is below average and needs substantial work. Even if the pessimists are correct, he certainly has the aptitude to refine it, given enough time in the minors to work on it. His personality and makeup are considered big positives, which of course would help him in any role.

I think that Gray is likely to start 2012 back in AA, but could quickly be up in AAA if he pitches well again. After that, I could see him getting called up sometime during 2013 depending on the needs of the pitching staff at the Major League level. For fantasy, he seems like a durable pitcher who provides decent ratios, but may not necessarily translate to an elite level pitcher for our purposes.

Michael Choice

2010 20 ARIZ Rk 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 .000 .222 .000 .222
2010 20 NORW A- 27 20 29 10 2 7 26 6 1 15 43 .284 .388 .627 1.016
2011 21 CALL A+ 118 79 133 28 1 30 82 9 5 61 134 .285 .376 .542 .918
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2012.

Drafted 10th overall by the A's back in 2010, Choice quickly showed his power potential by hitting 7 home runs in just 27 games in low-A that year. He was sent to the California League for the 2011 season, and hit .285 with 30 home runs in 118 games. Here's what Jonathan Mayo had to say about Choice when he ranked him #59 overall on his top 100 prospects list:

He could be a better all-around hitter than people expected as he made some very good adjustments at the plate to lead to a big second half in 2011. He played center field a year ago and handled himself fine there, though he may eventually slide over to a corner spot.

I'll be interested to see how Choice performs this year in AA, but I think his power should not suffer with leaving the California League. I am a bit concerned by the fact that his batting average hovered around .250 each month except July (where he posted a .416/.475/.820 line), and I'm thinking he may be more of a batting average risk that he appears right now. Either way, the power should play for fantasy purposes, and I think he could be a 25-30 HR bat despite playing in Oakland.

A.J. Cole

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2010 18 NYPL A- 0 0 0.00 1 1.0 1 0 0 0 1 1 2.000 9.0 0.0 9.0 9.0 1.00
2011 19 SALL A 4 7 4.04 20 89.0 87 47 40 6 24 108 1.247 8.8 0.6 2.4 10.9 4.50
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2012.

Another pitching prospect acquired from the Nationals for Gio Gonzalez, Cole was the Nationals 4th round draft pick in 2010. Cole was viewed as a 1st round talent in the draft, but signability concerns caused him to fall that year. Here's a bit of what John Sickels had to say about Cole after the trade:

Tall and lean at 6-4, 180, Cole has a mid-90s fastball and made progress refining his mechanics and command this year. His curve and change are works in progress, but improving, and he has the upside of a number one or two starter.

Looking into the future on Cole, I like that he's already shown both a solid strikeout rate and a low walk rate in his first full season in the minors. He seems most likely to be in the California League to start the year, and will probably spend most of the season there. With that timeframe in mind, I could see him in Oakland either in late 2014 or early 2015.

Long-Term Prospects (Might Not Be Ready Until After 2015)

Just a few quick notes on a trio of prospects in the low minors for the A's:

Ian Krol (P) - Krol looked like he was on his way to prospect stardom after finishing his first full season in High-A as a 19 year old. However, maturity concerns and injuries have derailed him to this point, and he will look to restablish himself in 2012.

Renato Nunez (3B) - Signed out of Venezuela, Nunez has yet to make his stateside debut. He did manage 5 homers in the Dominican Summer League last year, but he's a long, long way from the bigs right now.

Vicmal de la Cruz (OF) - Signed out of the Dominican Republic, de la Cruz also played in the DSL and posted a 38/28 BB/K rate there. Take it with a block of salt, but it is always nice to see a player draw walks. John Sickels rated him #16 in the system, and gave him a C+ grade.

Michael Ynoa (P) - Ynoa missed all of 2011 after having Tommy John surgery, and it remains to be seen what, if anything, the A's will get out of him. He will be 20 this season, and has yet to pitch above rookie ball. There's still time, but his path is much less clear than it once was.