A's powered by new breed of prospects

Olson, Roberston provide big boost to replenished farm system

Matt Olson led the A's system with 37 homers and 97 RBIs in the California League this season. (Stockton Ports)

By Robert Emrich / MiLB.com | October 15, 2014 10:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Today, continuing with the Oakland Athletics, we're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

It says something about an organization when it deals one of baseball's top shortstop prospects and hardly skips a beat.

The July 4 trade of Addison Russell was made possible by the year Daniel Robertston -- the team's top prospect -- was enjoying in the California League.

And success wasn't limited to player development. Three affiliates finished above .500, with two -- Double-A Midland and Class A Advanced Stockton -- reaching the playoffs. Though the Ports were eliminated in the first round of the Cal League playoffs, the RockHounds went on to win the Texas League championship.

Overall, the organization finished with a .499 composite winning percentage, ranking 14th in the Major Leagues.

Athletics Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Seong-min Kim, Arizona League (12 games), Vermont (30 games): The South Korea-born backstop made the jump out of the Arizona League this summer, putting together a .256/.331/.451 slash line between two Minor League stops. He also was solid behind the plate, throwing out 18 of 43 would-be basestealers.

"Basically, he was hurt his first 2 1/2 years and he didn't play much," said A's director of player development Keith Lieppman. "He was going through the culture of a completely different county and different customs. Injuries, along with that process, had him in the background. Now he's all of a sudden come into his own.

"Above-average arm, above-average power. Those are his two skills that profile at the big league level. There's some really good stuff that's been happening. Tool-orientated guy, he's got a chance."

First base -- Matt Olson, Stockton, (138 games): The 20-year-old slugger led the organization with 37 homers and 97 RBIs in his second full season. He raised his batting average 37 points from 2013 while increasing his walk total from 72 to 117 with the Ports. Olson's home run total led all of Class A and ranked third in the Minor Leagues, and he led the Cal League with 111 runs scored.

"He cut down on his strikeouts, walked over 100 times-- he had a fabulous year in every regard," Lieppman said. "I think his selectivity got better, his accuracy with the bat got better and his confidence is off the charts. High-character guy -- a good young player who just started to put things together.

"He's got above-average power, he can go to the pull side, he has opposite-field power. The other good thing about him is that he's an above-average defender. He can play the outfield or first base. He's like [Brandon] Moss is in the big leagues for us."

Second base -- Chad Pinder, Stockton (94 games): After hitting three homers in 42 games for short-season Vermont a year ago, Pinder showed powerful punch with 13 homers and 32 doubles in 94 games in 2014. The latter total was good enough to rank eighth in the Cal League.

"He was a guy that was hurt his whole first year, so we took a chance and jumped him a level," Lieppman said. "It's not an easy one. Having a solid year offensively, he had to play through two or three wrist injuries this year. I'm gonna guess you're gonna see a lot more production out of him next year because, when he's healthy, the ball jumps off his bat. He can play short or second. He was learning a new position in second base this year and it had no affect on his offense."

Third base -- Renato Nunez, Stockton (124 games): Nunez finished second in the system behind Olson with 29 homers, increasing his 2013 total by 10. The 20-year-old was strong both at home and on the road, posting an .861 OPS at Banner Island Ballpark and an .847 OPS away from Stockton. A Futures Game selection, Nunez did most of his damage after the All-Star break, slugging 20 homers in 64 games.

"He still has some swing-and-miss in his game, but he's cut that down enough to where he's able to be more effective with his swing," Lieppman said. "He may have the most raw power of anyone in our system. Learning how to use the whole field and how to put the ball in play is part of the process he's going through. I think he focused on having good at-bats and definitely improved a lot from the year before."

Shortstop -- Daniel Robertson, Stockton (132 games): Robertson boosted his stock in a big way, hitting .310 with 110 runs scored for the Ports. The 20-year-old also established career highs with 15 homers and 72 walks while moving from No. 3 among A's prospects to No. 1. He led the Cal League with 170 hits and 37 doubles while finishing fifth with 258 total bases.

"He was really on the kind of level with Addison the whole time, it was hard to play them both at the same level," said Lieppman, former Minor League manager. "I think he would have jumped just as quickly as Addison; he's right there in the same category. He's very intellectual, he understands the game, he never takes a play or a pitch off. He's one of the most mature 20-year-olds I've ever been around.

"I didn't expect that he'd be able to do what he did offensively. He took the offseason and made a lot of adjustments with his swing. His selectivity and discipline are off the charts. He has a really good eye and he knows how to take tough pitches. He fits our MO on how we play the game in the Oakland organization."

Outfielders

Shane Peterson, Sacramento (137 games): Peterson, who's been with the A's since coming over from St. Louis in the Matt Holliday trade in July 2009, may have had the best year of his career. He batted .308 while racking up a career-high 167 hits, including a Pacific Coast League-leading 40 doubles. He ranked second in the circuit with 101 runs scored and third in the system with 90 RBIs.

"He was outstanding," Lieppman said. "It was a shame that the circumstances didn't let themselves to get him to the big leagues. He's certainly a quality player who we hope will get a chance with us. I know a lot of clubs have a lot of good reports about him. Plays outfield and first base, grinds out at-bats, good team player, and I think he's a good selection for that team."

Boog Powell, Beloit (69 games), Stockton (14 games): Despite missing time after being suspended 50 games for testing positive for an amphetamine, Powell led the organization with a .343 average in 83 games. The Midwest League All-Star MVP moved up to Stockton and compiled .908 OPS before the suspension kicked in.

"What's good about him is that he's an all-around player," Lieppman said. "He can bunt, he can produce, he can steal a base, he can get on base. He's a center fielder and he can throw. He's one of our very interesting players that had an outstanding year at two levels.

"[The Midwest League's] a tough hitter's league -- not many guys can do that. But he plays a small man's game where he moves the ball around the field. And he's not trying to hit home runs, he's trying to fit that leadoff role. That game will play in most any environment. Very proud of his year. He missed some time, but he'll make that up in the [Arizona] Fall League."

Jaycob Brugman, Beloit (70 games), Stockton (50 games): The BYU product came up big in 2014, slugging 21 homers, driving in 72 runs and drawing 51 walks while batting .280. A year after being drafted in the 17th round, Brugman moved through two levels, setting himself up for a step up to Double-A in 2015.

"He's a little like Pinder," Lieppman said. "He only played to about Aug. 20 in Vermont [in 2013]; his wife was having a baby, so he went home. I don't think we expected the 21 homers and the damage that he did. He did it at both levels. Probably one of the most -- not surprising -- but we didn't anticipate he'd put up those kinds of numbers. He did everything at two levels. Those are the good stories you like to see."

Utility player -- Tyler Marincov, Beloit (111 games), Stockton (16 games): Marincov showed an interesting blend of power and speed, going deep 18 times while swiping 18 bases in 127 games. Another college product from the 2013 Draft, he added 34 doubles and 77 RBIs.

"He knows how to pick his spots," Lieppman said. "He's an all-around good player -- small college player. He's starting to open some eyes with what he's been able to do. He's like Brugman, they're very similar players. They have pretty similar ingredients and I anticipate that they're on the fast track right now."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Nate Long, Midland (28 games): The 28-year-old helped pitch the RockHounds to their first championship since 2009, leading the organization and the Texas League with 13 wins. He also ranked fourth in the system with a 3.18 ERA and 126 strikeouts. Long's 1.31 WHIP was his best mark since 2011. It was a long way to come for someone who'd worked predominately out of the bullpen the previous two years.

"Just looking at him, he's been a reliever and, due to some circumstances, he's always been forced into the bullpen," Lieppman said. "This was the first year he was able to start, and he took advantage of it. Double-A is not an easy league -- it's a place where we weed guys out who aren't the hard throwers -- but he figured it out. He really led them to that championship. He got them there -- they counted on winning when he pitched."


More from Lieppman on the All-Stars and the A's promotion strategy »


Left-handed starting pitcher -- Chris Lamb, Beloit (10 games), Stockton (20 games), Sacramento (one game): After opening the season in the bullpen, Lamb moved into the rotation in mid-May and justified the A's faith in his new role. The 24-year-old was 4-5 with a 3.24 ERA in 19 starts for the Ports and shared the organization lead with 134 strikeouts. Lamb compiled a 1.21 WHIP, a particularly impressive number considering where he spent most of his season.

"I think once we got him out of the bullpen, he got some spot starts and we saw his changeup -- it's a very nasty pitch," Lieppman said. "His velocity was starting to peak at 92-94 mph. The potential was there to be a good starter. We're really happy with what he did. He's another guy that made a big, big move in his career."

Relief pitcher -- Austin House, Stockton (46 games), Sacramento (four games): When you look at House's numbers, the first thing that jumps out are the 82 strikeouts over 61 2/3 innings between the California and Pacific Coast leagues. The 23-year-old led the organization with 19 saves and was 3-4 with a 3.06 ERA in 50 appearances.

"He has a changeup that's just off the charts," Lieppman said. "It doesn't matter, left- or right-handers, he's able to use it. It just comes out of an arm slot that you can't read it very well. He can double up with it or go to his fastball. It just makes everything that much quicker. He's able to use his changeup and come back with a 92-94 mph fastball. He throws a heavy sinker and he's going to the Fall League and looks to be one of the up-and-coming guys."

Robert Emrich is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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