The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, each preseason, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.
Hey, you're good! What's your name again?
Such is life for the Minor League staff in the Oakland A's organization. If you happen to be in Phoenix this spring and see a number of grown men walking around grinning, here's the reason why: The A's system is more loaded than a Porsche.
Thanks to some serious offseason movement that saw Oakland pare down its big-league roster by sending Dan Haren to Arizona, Nick Swisher to Chicago and Mark Kotsay to Atlanta, the A's are swimming in top-notch Minor League talent. Much of the spring may seem like a meet-and-greet, but there's no question Oakland's organization has gone from closer to the bottom among Major League Baseball to near the top.
This may not provide solace for fans of the big-league club -- though some of this infusion of talent will help the A's be more respectable than people think -- but it won't be long before Oakland is ready to hit the top of the AL West once again.
Ten prospects to watch out for in 2008:
Brett Anderson, LHP
The A's haven't seen much of Anderson, but what the've seen so far, they've liked. During an early spring side session, Anderson showed exactly what the scouting reports had indicated he could do.
The southpaw, who came from the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade, has a quick arm and tremendous command. The A's were particularly impressed with his slider early. The son of a big-time college coach, he knows how to pitch and is confident on the mound, throwing his fastball, two breaking pitches and a changeup for strikes. He's likely headed to Stockton in the California League, where he finished the year in the D-Backs system.
Audio: Anderson records career-high eighth K
Trevor Cahill, RHP
The 2006 second-round pick is one of the few guys on this list who was actually drafted and signed by the A's organization. Last year's A's Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Cahill showed up to camp with added weight and strength and has looked great this spring.
|ON THE VERGE
Here are some players on the brink of breaking into the Major Leagues:
• Daric Barton, 1B -- The first-base job is his after hitting .347 in 18 big-league games last year.
• Ryan Sweeney, OF -- Having spent two full seasons in Triple-A with the White Sox, he's very much in Oakland's outfield mix.
In his first full season, the A's had Cahill focus on his fastball command and his changeup. He used his heavy sinking fastball effectively in striking out 117 in 105 1/3 innings. Now the A's are letting him work his knuckle-curve back into the mix, which could make him an even more dangerous pitcher. He'll move up one rung and join Anderson in the Stockton rotation.
Audio: Cahill baffles another batter
Chris Carter, 1B
Another return from the Haren trade, Carter was with the Diamondbacks only briefly, having come from the White Sox in the Carlos Quentin deal. Dizzying enough? So is the first baseman's power. Playing at age 20 last year in the South Atlantic League, Carter hit 25 homers, slugged .522 and drove in 93 runs.
Carter stands out as a man among boys, an impressive physical specimen. While power is his best tool, he does have the skills to hit for average and showed he's not afraid of taking a walk (.383 OBP in 2007). He'll head to a talent-laden Stockton club, and the thought of the numbers he might put up in that hitting-friendly environment brings a smile to many in the organization.
Audio: Carter rolls a rare infield single
Aaron Cunningham, OF
Cunningham's been a well-traveled young man in the past year. He went from the White Sox to the Diamondbacks in June in return for Danny Richar. Arizona sent him to Oakland in the Haren deal and the A's, needless to say, are thrilled to have the athletic, hustling outfielder.
Cunningham, who'll turn 22 in April, was the talk of big-league camp early on. He got to Phoenix early and has shown an off-the-chart work ethic and attitude. He's also shown the ability to hit the ball with authority to the opposite field. He's got some power (16 homers, 31 doubles in 2007), can hit for average (.308 combined) and can run well (28 steals). He stood out defensively as well, showing an above-average arm and an ability to cover a lot of ground in center field. He could be ready for a jump to Triple-A, but with the glut of outfielders the A's now have, he could begin the year with Double-A Midland instead.
Audio: Cunningham lays down a suicide squeeze
Audio: Cunningham homers for Mobile
Fautino De Los Santos, RHP
He may not have been the most well-known name in January's Nick Swisher trade, but it's possible he could be the best when all is said and done. In 2007, De Los Santos made his U.S. debut in the White Sox system and promptly went 10-5 with a 2.65 ERA, 153 strikeouts and a .163 batting average against in 122 1/3 innings. He began the year in the South Atlantic League, made the All-Star team, went to the Futures Game and finished the year up a level at age 21.
While De Los Santos can crank it up into the mid-to-upper 90s at times, he's more than just a hard thrower. He's got an idea of how to pitch that is advanced far beyond his years. He commands the fastball well, both up and down and to both sides of the plate, has an above-average curve and slider and is even improving his changeup. He's got definite front-of-the-rotation potential, and he'll get the challenge of pitching in Stockton to start the year.
Audio: De Los Santos strikes out eight
Sean Doolittle, 1B
Taken by the A's in the supplemental first round of last year's draft, Doolittle was a two-way standout at the University of Virginia. The A's drafted him as a first baseman, and he responded by making it to full-season Kane County during his debut summer.
He was one of the best performers at instructs this past fall and also got the "Grinder Award" for his hustle and work ethic. He's got a smooth swing from the left side, and while he hasn't shown much power yet, the A's think as he gets bigger and stronger there will be more there. He struggled at Kane County originally, but made adjustments and finished well. Defensively, he's a Major League-caliber first baseman already. Doolittle could be a fast-track guy, and he'll get started in his first full season in Stockton, where he'll have to share time at first with Carter.
Audio: Doolittle delivers RBI double
Carlos Gonzalez, OF
The A's got a lot in return for Dan Haren, but no one has more upside than Gonzalez. He played last year at age 21 and spent most of it in Double-A before a late promotion to Triple-A, which he handled very well. A two-time Futures Game participant, Gonzalez can do a lot of things well.
He can hit for average (.286 thus far) and power (.476 slugging), with plenty of more pop to come as he matures. He can run a little, though he probably won't be a major base-stealer down the road. He's got a plus arm in the outfield. He has a good feel for the game to go along with his tremendous tools and he's shown the A's that he's receptive to improving. He simply has the presence of a big leaguer, and that's a good thing because his time may come soon. There's a good chance Gonzalez will start the year in Sacramento, but with the center-field job very much in the air, he could figure into that mix this spring.
Audio: Gonzalez clears the bases
Gio Gonzalez, LHP
Gonzalez has always excited with his pure stuff. In 2007, he started to put the complete picture together. The lefty led all of the Minors with 185 strikeouts, and he held hitters to a .216 average. He's got an above-average fastball, one of the best curves anywhere in baseball and a steadily improving changeup.
Early in camp, the A's have been very impressed with his quick arm and his free and loose delivery. Fastball command has been the one thing in the past that has held him back. He improved that in 2007 and should continue to figure that out as he matures. He'll head to Sacramento at age 22, unless something crazy happens this spring, as a pitcher with big-league stuff who just needs to continue working on becoming a complete pitcher. When that happens, look out.
Audio: Gonzalez fans 12th batter
Henry Rodriguez, RHP
When the A's first got Rodriguez, he was all arm strength and not much else. Sure, he could hit triple digits on the radar gun, but he didn't know where it was going. The pitcher who has made a couple of outings in big-league camp is completely different. Yes, he can still throw hard, but he threw strikes, used all his pitches and even showed an ability to control the running game.
Rodriguez is still a big-stuff guy with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s. He has shown the ability to throw a hard slider and a changeup for strikes as well and has begun to use a split-fingered fastball. There's some debate over whether he's a starter long-term, with some seeing him as a fast-track reliever in the Francisco Rodriguez mold. For now, he'll keep working on all of his pitches as a starter in that loaded Stockton rotation.
Audio: Rodriguez records sixth K with a splitter
James Simmons, RHP
The A's first-round pick last June, Simmons was sent straight to Double-A and handled that challenge well, pitching mostly in relief. He followed that up with a good stint in the Arizona Fall League to cap off a very long season.
One of the most impressive things about his success in the Texas League and in the AFL is that he did it basically with fastball command and a changeup. He's got two- and four-seam fastballs that he can command to both sides of the plate extremely well. He continues to work on a breaking pitch, and how that develops will help determine his future potential. He'll return to Midland to work on that as a starter.
Audio: Simmons retires six in a row
Under the Radar
Jerry Blevins, LHP
Originally a 17th-round draft pick of the Cubs back in 2004, Blevins came to the A's via the Jason Kendall deal last July. He had a 6.13 ERA in 2006, but something clicked last year. He pitched for four different Minor League teams -- Daytona and Tennessee in the Cubs organization, Midland and Sacramento with the A's -- and posted a combined 1.63 ERA. In 77 1/3 innings, the southpaw struck out 102 and walked just 18 while holding hitters to a .200 average.
After a dominant run in the Pacific Coast League playoffs, his improbable season was capped off with a callup to Oakland and a spot on the U.S. National Team. He'll get a shot to make the A's bullpen this spring.
Joey Devine, RHP
It's hard to say a first-rounder who made it to the big leagues the summer he was drafted in 2005 has fallen off the radar, but Devine has. A combination of big-time big-league struggles and injuries have made people forget what the former NC State closer is capable of. The A's haven't and they got him from the Braves in return for Mark Kotsay this past offseason. Back spasms slowed him early in camp, but if he's healthy, he could play an important role in the A's bullpen and quickly make people remember why he was a first-rounder in the first place.
Audio: Devine strikes out the side for the save
Jermaine Mitchell, OF
A fifth-rounder from the 2006 Draft, Mitchell's numbers from his first full season won't jump out at you. He hit .288, had a .803 OPS and stole 24 bases. He's got tools aplenty; it's just a question of him fulfilling that potential. He's got plus speed and the ability to be a legitimate center fielder if things start clicking. The 23-year-old is still a little raw, but he's got as much upside as any hitter in the organization. It could be fun to see what kind of numbers he'll put up in Stockton this year.
Brad Ziegler, RHP
He's 28 and just got sent down from big-league camp, but there's still a lot to like about the right-handed reliever. Originally a starter, Ziegler embraced the idea of becoming a submarining reliever. He took to it well, pitching in Double-A and Triple-A in 2007, winning 12 games in relief and finishing with a combined 2.41 ERA. Opponents hit a combined .227 against him and during his 35 games with Sacramento, he was death to right-handers, who hit .176 against him. He'll begin the year in Sacramento, but it sure would be nice to see him trying to get a key righy out in Oakland.
Audio: Ziegler hurls a perfect seventh
2007 Draft Recap
OF Corey Brown
, a supplemental first-round pick out of Oklahoma State, showed some serious pop with Vancouver last summer, hitting 11 homers and slugging .545 in 59 games. ... The A's are very excited about SS Josh Horton
(second round), who hit a combined .279 with a .419 OBP, all while playing a solid shortstop for Vancouver and Kane County. ... RHP Sam Demel
(third round), a closer at TCU, struggled after a promotion to the California League last summer, but he did have a 0.96 ERA in nine Midwest League outings during his debut. He could move very quickly. ... RHP Andrew Carignan
(fifth round) went from being UNC's closer to relieving in Kane County. He saved four games, struck out 19 (walking 11) in 13 1/3 innings and held hitters to a .136 average in his brief debut. ... 1B Danny Hamblin
(10th round) hit 11 homers and finished second the Nortwest League with 62 RBIs. ... SS Michael Richard
(11th round) hit .289 for Vancouver with a .400 OBP and 25 steals (third in the NWL). ... LHP Aaron Jenkins (22nd round) had a 4.43 ERA for Vancouver, but he also struck out 41 (and walked 20) while holding hitters to a .160 average in 22 1/3 innings.
Audio: Brown belts a grand slam
Audio: Richard's inside-the-park homer
Audio: Hamblin clubs go-ahead homer
Organizational Player of the Year:
All that power, all that hitting potential in the hitter-friendly confines of Stockton's Banner Island Ballpark are too much to pass up. Look for the young first baseman to hit close to .300 with 30-plus homers and over 100 RBIs. He could even make a run for the Minor League home run title.
Organizational Pitcher of the Year: Trevor Cahill
We went with a newcomer for Player of the Year, so why not an A's draftee for pitcher? Cahill had a terrific 2007. Now bigger and stronger, he's adding in a knuckle-curve. Even starting in the California League won't hurt his chances.
Team to watch: Stockton Ports
Make travel plans now to check out this Cal League team because they will be fully loaded, at least to start the season. The only thing that will keep them from winning a first-half title are injuries or really early promotions.
Double champions: Stockton and Midland
After helping Stockton win the first-half title in the California League, much of the talent -- Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Fautino De Los Santos and Sean Doolittle, at the very least -- will move up to Midland and help the RockHounds become second-half champions in the Texas League.
"This is the biggest challenge we're facing in years. We've got 35 new players, trying to put them in new spots. Trying to place them is a challenge. We're really open-minded with what we're seeing.
"To have this many good players arrive on your doorstep overnight was fun. To hear the reports about these guys, to have seen some of them as you travel, it certainly is a thrill to get that many talented players at one time. Considering we had to make a lot of moves into the independent leagues to replace injured guys [in 2007], to replenish the system, the way Billy [Beane] did this, a lot of the Minor League managers were smiling. It's going to be a lot of fun to work with these guys." --A's farm director Keith Lieppman