The Sacramento River Cats are on the verge of winning yet another division title and continuing…
Mid-Season Review: A's Prospects 1-10
10. Chris Carter
For most of this season, Carter has quietly been the A's top offensive performer in the minor leagues. With the exception of a horrific May during which he posted a 630 OPS, Carter has posted at least a 914 OPS in every month this season. In June, he had a 1166 OPS and he is OPSing 1323 through the first 12 games of August. Carter has obliterated the Stockton Ports' franchise-record for homeruns in a single season (he has 35 and counting) and could be the Ports' all-time career leader by the end of the season despite having only played one year with the team. The 21-year-old has 98 RBIs and counting and a 961 OPS in 119 games this season.
Carter, who came over from the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade, is arguably the brightest right-handed hitting power prospect the A's have had since a certain red-headed former USC infielder was making his way through the system. Carter doesn't have Mark McGwire's skills with the glove as of yet, and he could stand to cut down on his strike-outs (128 in 119 games) and increase his walks some (65), but Carter is out-performing McGwire at the same age at the same level. In 1985, McGwire hit .274 with 24 homers and 106 RBIs and an 874 OPS in 138 games for the then-Modesto A's. Carter has hit homeruns this season that rival some of the distances that McGwire used to reach back during his Oakland days.
The biggest question for Carter and the A's will be where he will eventually land defensively. He was a third baseman in high school, but he moved to first base when he was in the Chicago White Sox chain. After struggling defensively at first for much of the first half of the season, the A's have moved Carter around the field a bit. During the second half, he has seen significant time at third and in the corner outfield spots, as well as first base. Carter has an above-average throwing arm in terms of arm strength, although he is more accurate with his throws from the outfield than he is at third or first. He can look awkward at times defensively and seems to do better when he is just reacting to a play rather than having to think it through, so third base or the outfield may be the best fit for the 6'4'' slugger. Wherever Carter plays on the field, his most important contribution will continue to come at the plate. Unless the A's move Tom Everidge or Sean Doolittle up to Triple-A before the end of the season, Carter will probably finish the year with the Ports, chasing down even more franchise-records.
Status: Evoking memories of the Bash Brothers
9. Andrew Bailey
After leading all A's minor leaguers with 150 strike-outs in 125 innings last season, there were big expectations for Bailey coming into the 2008 campaign. The A's 2006 sixth round pick began the year in the Double-A Midland Rockhounds' starting rotation, his first year at that level. Although Bailey continued to rack up strike-outs at an impressive pace as a starter for Midland (69 in 71.1 innings), his control was spotty (45 walks and 12 homers) and it caused his ERA to balloon to 6.18. The A's moved Bailey into the bullpen in late June and it appears he has found a home there. In 14 relief appearances, Bailey has allowed only three earned runs in 22.1 innings (1.21 ERA) and he has struck-out 20 against eight walks while holding opposing batters to a .224 average.
Bailey has the stuff to be a late-inning reliever in the big leagues. The right-hander's fastball sits in the mid-90s with rising action. He also has a good curveball and a developing change-up. Bailey's command is his biggest weakness as a pitcher. He was able to work around those walks in the lower levels, but the more advanced hitters have made him pay for falling behind and allowing runners to reach base. As a reliever, he has been able to concentrate on pitching to his strengths more rather than try to throw all of his pitches, something that should help him pitch with better command. The early returns on his efforts in the bullpen have been solid, and he could position himself to compete for a spot in the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats' bullpen next season with a strong finish in August.
Status: Finding a home in the bullpen
8. Aaron Cunningham
Cunningham, another piece of the Haren trade package, got his career with the A's off to a strong start this spring when he impressed the A's major league coaching staff with his aggressive approach at the plate, on the bases and in the field. Unfortunately for Cunningham, his spring ended a few weeks early when he broke his wrist sliding into second base. That injury delayed the start of his season by about five weeks. When he was healthy, Cunningham reported to Midland, where he spent most of the rest of the season. Minus a poor June during which he had a 676 OPS, Cunningham put up outstanding numbers for the Rockhounds. Overall, he hit .317 with 12 homers, 12 stolen bases and an 894 OPS in 87 games. Couple that with the 898 OPS he posted for Double-A Mobile at the end of last season and Cunningham had a full season of Double-A baseball with an 895 OPS before he turned 23. Those numbers finally earned Cunningham a promotion to Triple-A last Friday, and he has gotten off to a fast start with the River Cats, batting .417 with two homers, two stolen bases and seven walks in seven games.
Cunningham, who just turned 22 in late April, is a well-rounded baseball player. He has a career average of better than .300 and his career slugging percentage is almost at .500. He steals his share of bases (14 already this season and 28 last year) and tends to both drive-in and score a lot of runs. Defensively, he is aggressive and has an average throwing arm. Some scouts have questioned whether Cunningham will be more than a fourth outfielder in the big leagues because they don't see him having the range to play an everyday centerfield or the power to be an everyday corner. Cunningham has split his time between center and the corners this season, although the majority of his time has come in the corners lately. His centerfield defense still needs some work. However, he has hit for enough power this season (.526 SLG) that he should be able to stick as a corner outfielder even if his defense in center does not improve. He isn't a pure blazer on the base-paths, but Cunningham has above-average speed and is a smart base-runner. He has improved his stolen base percentage considerably this season. His plate patience could use some work (he had a 92:38 K:BB ratio with Midland), but he has looked more patient during his short time with Sacramento (4:7 K:BB).
With Ryan Sweeney hurting and Travis Buck still recovering from an inner-ear problem, Cunningham could be in-line to see significant time with the A's this September if he has a strong August with the River Cats. He should compete with Buck, Sweeney, Carlos Gonzalez and Jack Cust for playing time in the A's outfield next season.
Status: Vying for a September call-up
7. James Simmons
It has been a tale of two seasons for the A's top pick in 2007. In April, July and August, Simmons has looked like one of the top pitchers in the Texas League. However, he struggled in May and June with what was first thought to be a tired arm and later was discovered to be general fatigue caused by a case of sleep apnea. Simmons had the sleeping problem corrected and has, for the most part, been impressive this season when he has been healthy. Coming out of college, Simmons was known for his superior fastball control, and he has shown that control with the Midland Rockhounds this season. The right-hander has walked only 23 in 111.1 innings while striking out 96. Fourteen of his 23 walks came in 34 innings in May and June. For the rest of the season, he has walked only nine in 77.1 innings. His ERA is a respectable 3.64 in the hitter-friendly Texas League and he has a 3.24 ERA and a 49:9 K:BB ratio in 58.1 innings since the All-Star break.
Since being drafted 26th overall last season, Simmons has pitched exclusively at the Double-A level with Midland. In 141 innings at Double-A, Simmons has a 3.70 ERA and 119 strike-outs against 31 walks. His fastball generally sits only in the 88-92 range although it was clocked as high as 95 in a relief appearance during the Arizona Fall League last October. It is the command of that pitch that makes it a plus offering, as he is able to place it pretty much wherever he wants to. His slider and his change-up have both improved this season. The sleep apnea problem delayed his development some this season, as without the missed time in May and June, Simmons would likely be in Triple-A right now. He may still make his River Cats debut sometime this season, but if not, look for him in Sacramento next year. Simmons, who doesn't turn 22 until late September, has proven pretty much all he needs to prove at Double-A.
Status: Ready for the next step
6. Trevor Cahill
It has been a dream season for Cahill, who was the A's top pick (a second rounder) in 2006. The San Diego area native began the year dominating the California League, then moved onto the Texas League, where he continued to impress. Now he is battling some of the best players in the world for Team USA in the Olympics. Before heading to Beijing, Cahill threw 124.1 innings for Stockton and Midland. The 20-year-old right-hander posted a 2.61 ERA and he struck-out 136 batters while holding opposing hitters to a .179 average. His steady diet of power sinkers and bending curveballs kept hitters swinging feebly or pounding the ball into the ground. He allowed only five homeruns during those 124.1 innings.
Since turning pro in 2006, Cahill has dominated pretty much everywhere he has pitched. He had a 2.73 ERA in 105.1 innings last season and has exceeded that performance this season. Cahill's pitching repertoire is similar to that of Arizona Diamondbacks' right-hander Brandon Webb. He isn't overpowering in terms of radar gun readings, but Cahill gets tremendous movement on his pitches, especially his sinker, and he can touch 94 MPH when he needs to reach back for something extra. Perhaps most impressive about Cahill is his work ethic. Each of the past two years, Cahill has come into spring training having improved on some aspect of his game during the off-season. At 20 years old, Cahill is still growing into his body and could add some MPH to his fastball over time. He also still needs to work on minimizing his pitches so that he can consistently work into the seventh and eight innings of games. Still, he is close to a finished product at a very early age. It isn't clear whether he will pitch again this season either for Midland or in the Arizona Fall League after the Olympics are over. However, he should receive an invite to big league spring training next year and could be in the A's rotation soon after that.
Status: Rising star looking to medal with Team USA
5. Brett Anderson
Anderson and Cahill have followed almost the exact same path this season. The 20-year-olds, who have become fast friends this year, both began the season with Stockton, earned mid-year promotions to Midland, appeared in the MLB All-Star Futures game and are representing the US in the Olympics. Anderson, who was acquired in the Haren deal, has had a season as good or even better than his cohort Cahill. The southpaw has a 3.55 ERA this season, but that ERA is inflated thanks to a three start stretch with Stockton where he pitched with a sprained left thumb. Anderson has otherwise been nearly flawless in 2008. In 99 innings, he has allowed only 86 hits and 26 walks while striking out 109 batters. In 25 innings at Double-A before leaving for the Olympics, Anderson had a 1.80 ERA and 29 strike-outs against only eight walks.
Anderson is the son of a coach and he has always been known for having a high pitching IQ. He mixes his pitches very well and he induces a lot of groundballs when hitters make contact. His fastball is heavy and sits in the low-90s. He also has a plus-curveball that he can throw in any count, a good change-up and a hard slider. Like Cahill, Anderson figures to fill-out some of his 6'4'' frame as he gets older. Also like Cahill, Anderson figures to be on the A's major league invite list for spring training next year and could be in green and gold in 2009.
Status: Rising star looking to medal with Team USA
4. Fautino De Los Santos
De Los Santos was one of three players brought over by Oakland from the Chicago White Sox chain in the Nick Swisher trade. The 22-year-old right-hander came out of nowhere in 2007 to establish himself as a top prospect when he struck-out 153 batters in 122.1 innings for the White Sox's two A-ball affiliates. The Dominican never had a chance to establish himself in 2008, however. He made only five starts with Stockton before injuring his elbow. De Los Santos was shut-down for the season and had Tommy John surgery in May. Before the injury, he had had mixed results with Stockton, striking out 26 in 23 innings, but allowing 29 hits, three homers and a 5.87 ERA.
Tommy John surgery is generally a 12-month recovery, so De Los Santos should be ready to pitch again sometime early next season. When healthy, he has electric stuff with a high-90s fastball and a hard slider that might be his best pitch. He will be 23 at the start of next season and he has never pitched above A-ball, so the A's may decide to move him to the bullpen to speed up his development. If he does move into the bullpen, De Los Santos will join a growing list of hard-throwing A's relief prospects who could help the team build a power bullpen by 2010.
3. Carlos Gonzalez
At the time of the deal, Gonzalez was arguably the most well-known prospect that the A's received for Dan Haren. The toolsy outfielder had been well-known among prospect watchers since 2005 when he won the Midwest League's MVP award. The left-handed hitting Venezuelan had a strong spring with the A's and almost won a spot on the team's Opening Day roster before a late camp hamstring injury slowed him down. He would appear in only 41 games with the Sacramento River Cats before the A's called on him, however. For Sacramento, Gonzalez hit .293 with four homers and a 790 OPS. In 64 games with the A's, he hasn't had quite that level of success, although he has shown flashes of brilliance. Through Thursday, he is batting .270 with four homers, 21 doubles and a 719 OPS. He has played surprisingly well in centerfield, flashing both good range and an above-average throwing arm, despite not having played the position much until late last season.
Gonzalez reminds some pundits of a young Carlos Beltran with his easy swing, gap power and range in centerfield. Gonzalez doesn't have Beltran's speed on the base-paths or his good plate patience, however. The A's still believe that Gonzalez will eventually develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter, but his homer and walk totals will need to increase to make that happen. Still, Gonzalez is only 22 years old (he turns 23 in October), so he has time to polish his game. During his time with the A's, he has shown that he can handle centerfield and he has been excellent against right-handed pitchers, batting .304 with an 822 OPS. As he gets older, he should improve versus southpaws. Barring a trade or injury, Gonzalez should be a starting outfielder for Oakland at the outset of next season.
Status: In the majors to stay
2. Gio Gonzalez
Gonzalez was the top prospect acquired by the A's in the Nick Swisher deal. The left-hander led all minor leaguers in strike-outs in 2007 with 185 in 150 innings for the White Sox Double-A club. The 22-year-old was sent to Triple-A Sacramento at the start of the season and pitched in the River Cats' rotation without missing a turn from April through August 1st. Gonzalez went through some growing pains early in the season, but by July he seemingly had the Pacific Coast League figured out. In six starts in July and August for the River Cats, Gonzalez went 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA. He struck-out 38 and walked 15 in 35.1 innings and he allowed only one homerun. That effort earned Gonzalez a ticket to the big leagues, where he has made two starts. He has pitched pretty well for the A's thus far, although he has struggled at times with his command. After allowing three runs on three hits in his first big league inning, Gonzalez has given up only two runs on six hits in his last 10 innings.
Listed at 5'11'', the diminutive Gonzalez has a similar build and pitching repertoire to former A's starter Ted Lilly. Like Lilly, Gonzalez has good life on his fastball for a lefty and an above-average curveball. Also like Lilly, Gonzalez can find himself being vulnerable to walks and homeruns when his command is off. Gonzalez has all of the tools to be a successful big league pitcher for some time. As he gains experience in the big leagues, he will need to learn to be more economical with his pitches and he will need to continue to improve his change-up, a pitch that has been inconsistent for the Miami-area native all season. Gonzalez will turn 23 next month and should be a part of a youthful A's rotation in 2009.
Status: Breaking into the bigs
1. Daric Barton
After a strong 2007 minor league season and an inspiring September call-up, Barton was expected to challenge for the Rookie of the Year award in the American League this season. Instead, he has struggled with the A's almost from the outset of the season and is turning in one of the most disappointing campaigns of any Oakland A's player. The A's first baseman was handed the starting job out of spring training despite struggling for much of the spring with a sore hand. He got off to a decent start to the season in April, batting .278 and posting a respectable 774 OPS for a 22-year-old in his rookie season. However, it has been downhill for Barton since the start of May. He hasn't hit higher than .269 in any month since April and he hasn't posted an OPS above 694 either. His .209 season average and his .304 SLG are both among the lowest in the American League. He has done a typically good job of drawing walks (46), but he has struck-out at a much higher pace than normal (already 80 on the year).
The one silver lining in Barton's season is that he has played well defensively at first, for the most part. Defense was supposed to be Barton's weakest area going into the season, but he has shown surprising range at first. Another factor working in Barton's favor is that he is still very young (he turns 23 on Saturday) and the A's don't have a first baseman in Triple-A at the moment who is knocking on the door, ready to take Barton's spot. That could change quickly, however, as Sean Doolittle, Chris Carter and Tom Everidge have all had strong offensive seasons while primarily playing first base. In addition, Eric Chavez may be forced to play first base if his surgically repaired shoulder doesn't allow him to make the throws across the diamond from third. In other words, Barton needs a strong final six weeks of the season to give himself the edge to keep his first baseman's job going into next spring training. There is no question that he has the talent to be a excellent big league hitter, but he needs to give the A's something to believe in going into next year.
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