Oakland has been busy this off-season dealing left-hander Gio Gonzalez and right-handers Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey in separate deals. All three deals brought back significant prospect packages in return, and for all the heat the A’s are taking in various corners of the Internet and mainstream media, they managed to bring back five prospects that fit squarely into their Top 15 and three or four others (Alcantara, Cook, Head, Milone) that fall just outside the rankings. The A’s are clearly re-building and eyeing the future, and in doing so they have managed to piece together one of the top systems in baseball by my early estimation.
1. Michael Choice (OF)
Choice may not be the popular pick as the top guy in this system but I didn’t hesitate in putting him in this spot. He is the epitome of a right fielder with the potential for plus-plus raw power, good defense and a solid-average arm. Though he swings and misses a lot his sound approach at the plate allows him to actualize his power in game situations. He could be a classic cleanup hitter that helps in the field as well.
2. Sonny Gray (RHP)
The scouts I spoke with in the spring were split on Gray’s long term potential as a starter or whether he should be shifted to relief where he could be an elite level closer. He has the power fastball and hammer curveball to succeed in either role. His command has improved since he arrived at college though his inability to consistently repeat his delivery leaves some questioning how much more it can/will improve. If he remains a starter he could be a very good number three with a chance to be a number two with an improved change-up and command.
3. Grant Green (OF)
Green is a pure hitter that is ultra-aggressive at the plate. He swings early in the count frequently and will get himself out chasing pitches he cannot drive. He has the strength and bat speed for average power to all fields. The A’s moved him to the outfield and he took to the position well in 2011, giving him the potential to stay in the middle of the diamond long term. His ceiling lies more as a 5-7 hitter in a good lineup with solid contributions across his stat line.
4. Jarrod Parker (RHP)
Acquired as the big name piece in the Trevor Cahill trade with Arizona, Parker’s arsenal is that of a classic power pitcher. His fastball works in the 94-95 mph range even after Tommy John surgery and he has reached 99 mph in the last six months. He also throws a filthy slider that earns plus grades and a change-up that will flash above-average potential. His curveball is decidedly his fourth best pitch. Though Parker lacks the command to front a big league rotation he could settle in as a very good number three starter with a slim chance for more; not unlike that profile of Sonny Gray above him on this list.
5. Derek Norris (C)
Norris was one of the headline pieces received from Washington in exchange for left-hander Gio Gonzalez. He is an offensive minded catcher with plus raw power to all fields and an outstanding patient approach at the plate. He has plenty of swing and miss in his game and he could stand to be more aggressive early in the count at times, taking advantage of strikes he can drive with his strength. His defense has improved as he has moved up and he now profiles as an average backstop. He could be ready for the big leagues late in the 2012 season and should be a solid-average regular.
6. Brad Peacock (RHP)
Peacock was another of the pieces received in the Gonzalez trade with Washington and he profiles as a number three or four starter that could be a workhorse right-hander. He can pitch in the low-90s with ease and will reach back for 95 mph when he needs it on his four-seamer. His 12-6 curveball is a true out pitch that he will go to regularly. He also throws a change-up that remains an below-average pitch at this time.
7. AJ Cole (RHP)
Cole may have the highest ceiling out of the package received for Gonzalez but he also carries the most risk in the group that includes Norris, Peacock and lefty Tom Milone. Cole added strength in his first full pro season and was sitting in the 94-96 mph range by season’s end. He still struggles to command his power fastball but he is athletic and should improve his command with experience. His curveball shows plus potential and he is starting to add a change-up to round out his pitch mix. Cole has enormous upside in the rotation or as a closer but he is also miles away from realizing that potential.
8. Fautino De Los Santos (RHP)
The trade of Andrew Bailey to Boston opens the door for De Los Santos to take over the closer’s role in the big leagues. Many of the big league jitters should be gone in 2012 after 33.1 innings in Oakland last year. He missed plenty of bats but also walked far too many hitters in his debut; a trend that has been problematic throughout his career. With a plus-plus fastball and plus slider, De Los Santos can close if he throws more strikes, but may ultimately fit better in a setup spot.
9. Chris Carter (1B)
There is no doubting Carter’s raw power. He has 70-grade power from pole to pole and he has showed it off in game situations throughout his minor league career. With that power comes considerable swing and miss and an approach that some scouts believe will not translate to the big leagues. He has some uppercut to his swing and is purely focused on hitting home runs, an approach that will lead to a very low batting average. If he hits he can stick as Oakland’s first baseman of the present and future but he needs to hit a ton.
10. Renato Nunez (3B)
While Nunez didn’t hit quite as well as the A’s expected in his pro debut he still showed the type of offensive potential that earned him a $2.2 million bonus coming out of Venezuela. He has outstanding natural hitting ability with great hands and plus-plus bat speed. He generates easy power in batting practice and most scouts think that should translate to plus in-game power long term. He should stick at third base with solid play there and an above-average arm. Though he remains probably five years from the Major Leagues, Nunez has the raw ceiling of an impact talent.
11. Vicmal De La Cruz (OF)
Arguably a better pure hitter than Nunez, De La Cruz is another promising young Latin talent for the A’s. With a chance to play up the middle as a center fielder with plus speed, De La Cruz could be another impact talent. He squares pitches easily and can show outstanding five o’clock home run power that scouts believe could be plus game power in time. According to the A’s De La Cruz is an extremely aggressive player that is still learning how to harness himself and his abilities in game situations.
12. Collin Cowgill (OF)
Another piece received from the Diamondbacks in the Cahill deal, Cowgill could find a role in Oakland’s outfield as soon as Opening Day. An undersized grinder, Cowgill still has tools that can play at the big league level. He has solid hitting ability with average power potential thanks to plus-plus bat speed. He plays hard in center field with good instincts and a decent arm. He also handles the corners well and should be a very nice fourth outfielder at the Major League level.
13. Stephen Parker (3B)
Parker is a very natural hitter with outstanding hand-eye coordination, good bat control and solid pitch recognition. He generates good bat speed with strong wrists and will drive the ball to all fields. He has a chance to be a doubles machine with average home run power as well. His defense is very much a work in progress and he will need to improve his footwork and throws to stay at the position, something that is a must for his prospect status.
14. Aaron Shipman (OF)
A 2010 third round pick Shipman is a boat load of tools that need to be harnessed. I have spoken to scouts that give him above-average grades for his arm strength, defense and speed and I would not disagree with any of those marks. He is a lean, lithe athlete with tons of projection at the plate. He has a solid swing but he must get more consistent getting the barrel of the bat to the hitting zone. Though he can generate power when he makes contact, Shipman is a very raw hitter that has a long way to go offensively.
15. Seong-Min Kim (C)
The A’s spent heavily to ink this Korean catcher as a teenager last spring, giving him a bonus north of $500,000. Much bigger than many Asian prospects, Kim checks in at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds and is a well-built, muscular athlete. His strength shows with plus power potential while his hitting mechanics and approach need significant refinement. His defense lags behind his offensive potential but he does offer arm strength and solid athleticism that will give him a chance to stay behind the plate. Kim is a pure projection play in this spot but his power at a premium defensive position is extremely enticing.