Last week, BaseballHQ's Director of Minor League Analysis, Deric McKamey, offered his list of the Oakland A's top-15 prospects going into the 2008 season. McKamey then opened up the floor for questions about his rankings and his thoughts on the A's system. We have those questions and his answers below:
1. Sean Doolittle ahead of Chris Carter?
Doolittle is ranked slightly ahead of Carter and here is my reasoning. Doolittle has a much better approach at the plate, possesses solid bat speed, and is adept at making adjustments. I don’t think he’s going to have the power of a typical American League first baseman, but will hit for a high batting average with 20 home run/40 doubles type of power. I realize he hit just seven home runs at Virginia (a difficult place to hit), but remember that Ryan Zimmerman only hit six in his junior season. While his numbers weren’t eye-popping at Kane County and Vancouver, I feel Doolittle held his own against advanced pitching. Doolittle also gains a steep advantage defensively, as he is already an above average defender at first base.
Carter easily has more power with plus bat speed and natural strength. He will take a walk, but struck-out nearly 25 percent of the time at Kannapolis and had a fairly steep platoon differential (.341 versus .271). I would rate Carter’s bat ahead of Doolittle for both the short and long-term, but the defense is what really tipped the scales for me. Carter doesn’t move well and has stiff hands, which contributed to 11 errors at first base.
2. What is it about Henry Rodriguez that causes you to give him only 10 percent chance of becoming elite and how would you rate his chances of realizing an 8?
Rodriguez turned-in an outstanding season at Kane County (3.07 ERA). I think the ability is there to become an elite pitcher based on his 89-95 MPH fastball, quick arm action, and ability to miss bats (9.6 K/9 and a .214 opponent average). The reason I give him around a 10 percent chance to realize that potential is his lack of a reliable comp and his mediocre command (1.8 K/BB and 5.2 BB/9). He features both a curveball and change-up, but has trouble throwing them for strikes and doesn’t mask them well.
I would predict his chances of being an 8 (solid starting pitcher) between 30-50 percent, but at this stage of his development, and not just him, but with all players, I like to establish what I believe is a reasonable ceiling and make a decision on the probability that he can reach that particular ceiling.
3. Gio Gonzalez and Fautino De Los Santos were ranked next to each other, but you gave them different grades (Gonzalez - 8B, De Los Santos -9C). Explain.
Gonzalez is a small, athletic pitcher who has performed well at every level and led the minors in strikeouts. His curveball is a plus pitch and he has enough velocity (85-92 MPH) to keep hitters honest. He has a high leg kick and hides the ball well, giving him deception. I’m not convinced he can be a workhorse type pitcher that can go 200 innings, despite pitching more than 150 innings the past two seasons. I could see him losing steam over the course of the season, which would affect his ability to strike-out hitters, and that’s why I don’t project him as an elite pitcher.
De los Santos has an incredibly live arm, touching 96 MPH and possessing incredible pitch movement with his whip-like arm action. His slider is an above-average comp, but he has a curveball and change-up that both require work. He tends to leave the ball up, but has been able to get-away with it at the lower level of the minors. With his velocity and arm action, he has the ability to miss bats, even at the upper levels. I ranked De Los Santos lower because he is farther away from the majors, whereas Gonzalez will likely spend time in 2008 in the A's rotation.
4. Where does the A's system rate, now, among the 30 MLB teams?
The Athletics rank in the top 5-7 of all MLB teams with their recent acquisitions, whereas they were in the bottom third prior to the off-season. The Oakland system gets higher marks for their depth as opposed to top-end prospects. Tampa Bay, Boston and Cincinnati have the best systems in my opinion, with Oakland being in the mix with New York (A), Texas, Atlanta, and Los Angeles (N) for the next spots.
5. After his great September, how much of Daric Barton will we see? Obviously spring training will say a lot, but what would you expect, do you think he's ready to start for the Athletics, and why do you feel his ceiling is only as a solid regular?
Barring at catastrophe in spring training or another acquisition, Barton should open the 2008 season alternating between 1B and DH with Dan Johnson. Initially, he will probably sit against LH pitching, but by season’s end, he should amass +450 at-bats. Barton has excellent hand/eye coordination, plate discipline, and a bat that stays in the strike zone a long time. He’ll certainly hit for average and will likely challenge for a batting title by the time his career is over. His power is still developing and I think the uptick in power he showed towards the end of 2007 is a sign of that.
I gave Barton an 8A rating (solid regular), as I don’t feel his power will develop beyond the 15 HR range and his thick lower half will limit his defensive value. He also seems prone to injury which throws some caution to the wind, but make no mistake, Barton is going to be a very solid player for many years.
6. Where would Joey Devine have ranked if he was on the team when you made your list?
I have re-ranked the Athletics list at Baseball HQ (the beauty of the internet) and I slotted Devine at #14 (he was #10 on the Braves’ list). I'm very high on Devine. He has two plus pitches (fastball and slider) and has always been able to miss bats. This season, he improved his command immensely (4.2 K/BB) and looked more confident on the mound. I don't think that type of command ratio will continue, based on his past difficulties to throw strikes, but I do think he's turned a corner and can be a solid setup reliever.
The Braves kind of jerked him around, promoting him and demoting him several times during the season, so he really never had the opportunity to relax and just pitch. I mentioned on a thread at Baseball HQ that if I were another club, I'd be trying to pry Devine away from Atlanta, and Oakland did.
7. How did Travis Buck rank on your list last year?
Buck was my #1 prospect for Oakland and ranked #65 on my top 100, receiving an 8C Potential Rating. I thought Buck would probably come-up in the middle of the season, but he surprised everyone with a solid spring training and earned the starting role in LF. Hitting .288 was a little better than I expected, but his power numbers were in-line with my projections.
8. How would you rank Jermaine Mitchell?
I posted the #16-20 list at Baseball HQ when one of our subscribers wanted to know who got knocked-off the list with all the trades. Mitchell came in at #17, so you can see he was originally in the top-15. Mitchell has the ability to be a future leadoff hitter with his above-average speed and ability to get on-base, but I don’t think his power is going to develop as was projected when he was drafted. His range is excellent in CF, but his arm strength is below average.
9. Which player do you see as better, Ryan Sweeney or Aaron Cunningham? What are their ceilings?
I ranked Sweeney one spot ahead of Cunningham and gave them both an 8C rating, so you can see I think they are very similar in ceiling. I think the trade gives Sweeney a real boost in value, as the White Sox appeared to sour on him. Sweeney is a good physical specimen with athleticism and strength. He hasn’t hit for the power projected of him, but is making slight progress and has proved he can hit for batting average. He has enough range to play CF right now and is a slightly above-average defender, but feel he will lose some range as he matures.
Cunningham is smaller, but more athletic and has performed better statistically. He has excellent secondary skills and is very instinctive which allows his tools play-up. I don’t think he’ll hit for a ton of power, but is capable of 20 homers and will steal the occasional base despite average speed. His range and arm strength are good enough for all three outfield positions. I see Cunningham as more of a fourth outfielder who wouldn’t hurt the team if he had to start for a stretch of time.
I think that if either of these two are any better than your third best starting outfielder, your team isn’t going to score many runs.
10. What would Grant Desme's grade be? Was he downgraded because he didn't get much playing time after the college injury?
I gave Desme an 8D and he is included in the Minor League Baseball Analyst. I didn’t downgrade him because of the injury, but graded him on his skills and brief tenure at Vancouver. Desme has excellent bat speed and will hit for power, but his plate discipline and lengthy swing is going to hinder his ability to hit for average. I like his arm strength in CF, but he is just an average runner (4.3 seconds to first base), and I feel his range will deteriorate and will be pushed to an outfield corner.
11. Who dropped out of your top-15 for the A's before the White Sox and D-Backs trades?
My 16-20 ranked players were Cliff Pennington, Jermaine Mitchell, Sam Demel, Josh Horton, and Mike Madsen.
12. What do you think of Vince Mazzaro?
I think Mazzaro will have a tough climb to get to the majors. He sinks his 88-92 MPH fastball well enough and his knuckle-curve has good break, but doesn’t have a repeatable delivery, which keeps his change-up below average and makes it difficult to command his pitches (4.2 BB/9). His corkscrew delivery has a lot of working parts and tends to throw across his body. Bottom line, he doesn’t miss enough bats to be effective in Class-A, let alone the high minors.
13. Are there any A's prospects who missed the top-15 that you see as being on the verge of breaking out?
I know he pitched well at Kane County (2.03 ERA, 12.8 K/9) after being drafted in the 5th round last season, and I’m a big fan of Andrew Carignan. An aggressive reliever, he has late life to his 88-95 MPH fastball and can cut-it on hitters’ hands at 86-87 MPH. His 3/4 delivery has such deception that the ball appears to come right on top of the hitter. His slider has decent break, but is more prone to get hitters to chase it than to throw it for strikes. He’ll have to improve his command (1.7 BB/K), but I think he could be an effective setup reliever and could rise through the minors quickly.
14. Do you envision James Simmons as a starter or a reliever?
Definitely a starter. He is very polished, showing plus command and the ability to mix his pitches, which allows his stuff to play-up. He gets good movement to his 86-92 MPH two and four-seam fastballs and slider, and is deceptive with his change-up. There is a curveball in his arsenal, but uses it just for show. I don’t see him getting many strikeouts, but keeps hitters off-balance and induces his share of groundballs. His tall, projectable frame can easily add muscle, which should give him plenty of stamina to last as a starter.