Michael Choice of the Oakland Athletics warms up during a MLB spring training practice at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on February 16 2011 in Phoenix Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Oakland Athletics Top 20 Prospects for 2012
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine of course. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.
A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Jarrod Parker, RHP, Grade A-: Borderline B+: Acquired in Trevor Cahill trade. I wish his strikeout rate was higher and I think he needs some Triple-A time. I don't think he uses his breaking stuff as much as he did pre-injury, but overall he still looks like a future rotation anchor to me. The risk may be higher than some anticipate, but the ceiling is quite high.
2) Michael Choice, OF, Grade B+: Don't expect great batting averages, but should produce plenty of power and walks. Expect a very productive career as a slugger.
3) A.J. Cole, RHP, Grade B+: Acquired from Nationals in Gio Gonzalez trade. I really believe in his upside. Needs to build stamina and refine his changeup, but if it comes together he could be a Top 20 pitching prospect next year, perhaps more.
4) Brad Peacock, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+. Acquired in Gonzalez trade. Still has some command issues, but his ERAs finally caught up with his components and his overall potential in 2011. Will be ready before Cole but his upside is not quite as high. Future 2/3 starter if all works out.
5) Sonny Gray, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+: 2011 first-round pick, impressive fastball/curveball combination. Assuming proper development of changeup, should be a number 2/3 starter.
6) Derek Norris, C, Grade B: Acquired in Gonzalez trade. 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.
7) Grant Green, OF, Grade B-: Less impressive as an outfield prospect. I think he will be stretched to play center and will need to show more power and/or plate discipline to be a classic corner outfielder. Still has a chance to blossom.
8) Tom Milone, LHP, Grade B-: Acquired in Gonzalez trade. At some point, the radar guns stop mattering. The guy can simply pitch. He has little margin for error, but he will probably have a better career than hundreds of guys who throw 10 MPH harder.
9) Chris Carter, 1B-DH, Grade C+: No, I haven't given up yet. Still has a shot at being a 25-30 homer guy with a good OBP.
10) Collin Cowgill, OF, Grade C+: Acquired in Cahill deal with Arizona. Good balance of skills, should be a fine fourth outfielder.
11) Raul Alcantara, RHP, Grade C+: Acquired in Andrew Bailey deal with Red Sox. Live arm with good results in rookie ball, still refining his secondary pitches. High ceiling.
12) Michael Taylor, OF, Grade C+: Rebounded some, still has good tools, but his window of opportunity will close soon as Choice and Green catch up with him.
13) Josh Donaldson, C, Grade C+: He looks like a solid role player to me, has some pop, improved defense.
14) Aaron Shipman, OF, Grade C+: Draws walks, has blazing speed, no power yet but still young enough to develop it. Transition from New York-Penn League to Midwest League in 2012 will be illuminating.
15) B.A. Vollmuth, 3B, Grade C+: Power hitter out of Southern Mississippi, former shortstop needs to adapt to third base. Will probably strike out a lot but provide plenty of pop.
16) Vicmal De La Cruz, OF, Grade C+: Good tools, performed well in Dominican Summer League, could rank much higher once we see him in North America.
17) Steve Parker, 3B, Grade C+: Power production dropped in Double-A but still controls strike zone well. Nothing special with the glove, but could be useful role player.
18) Daniel Straily, RHP, Grade C+: Strong performance in California League, reports on stuff are promising. Under-the-radar prospect will need to prove that he can duplicate this at higher levels, but a sleeper.
19) A.J. Griffin, RHP, Grade C+: Pitched at four levels last year, showed superior command of average fastball but solid breaking stuff and strong changeup. Sleeper.
20) Miles Head, 1B, Grade C+: Acquired from Red Sox. Ineffective in the New York-Penn League in '10, but something clicked last year, hit for power and average in Low-A. Power carried forward to High-A but he's got contact issues to work out, and right-handed hitting first baseman have an uphill battle. Could rank much higher next year.
21) Ian Krol, LHP, Grade C+: Missed almost entire season with elbow problems and suspension over offensive anti-gay tweet. Looked good in instructional league. When healthy and not acting like a douche, he has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter.
22) Ryan Cook, RHP, Grade C+: Acquired in Cahill deal. Throws hard, would fit nicely as a middle reliever if his command is strong enough. Should contribute in 2012.
OTHERS: Yordy Cabrera, SS; Adrian Cardenas, 2B; Andrew Carignan, RHP; Bobby Crocker, OF; Rashun Dixon, OF; Blake Hassebrock, RHP; Chad Lewis, 3B; Jermaine Mitchell, OF (good tools, great numbers, but old at age 27); Renato Nunez, 3B; Chih Fang Pan, 2B; Gregory Paulino, RHP; Nick Rickles, C; Max Stassi, C; Beau Taylor, C; Blake Treinen, RHP; T.J. Walz, RHP.
This system was looking pretty thin until the flurry of trade activity this off-season. You now have the nucleus of a future starting rotation with Parker, Cole, Peacock, Gray, and possibly Milone, plus some staff-filling arms backing them up.
Hitting-wise even the best prospects (Choice, Norris, Green, Carter) have a concern of some kind, although if things pan out the Athletics will have an impressive group of power hitters who also draw walks. There are several who should be fine role-players. There are some guys with intriguing tools who need to develop some skills but have at least some chance to make an impact, particularly Shipman, Volmuth, and De La Cruz. Investments in raw tools players like Yordy Cabrera, Rashun Dixon, Renato Nunez, and Chad Lewis haven't paid dividends yet but they are all still quite young. Max Stassi still has a chance if his shoulder comes around. A pair of college catchers drafted in 2011, Nick Rickles and Beau Taylor, are promising.
Overall, I think they did a good job restocking their farm system.