Oakland Athletics: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Oakland Athletics: Scouting Reports




Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2008.

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Oakland Athletics

In 2006, the Athletics again showed they could win with different players and different styles, taking the American League West and advancing to the AL Championship Series. It was their eighth straight winning season and fifth playoff trip during the stretch.

So even after losing Barry Zito, Frank Thomas and Jay Payton as free agents last offseason and getting rid of manager Ken Macha, Oakland was banking on a core of players led by Joe Blanton, Eric Chavez, Dan Haren, Huston Street and Nick Swisher to make yet another playoff push in 2007.

That never happened.

Injuries depleted the club in spring training and never stopped. A's players combined to miss 1,259 games. Losing Street was the most significant blow, crippling a bullpen that converted just 59 percent of save opportunities and tied for the AL lead with blown saves. Oakland went 76-86 and finished in third place, 18 games behind the Angels.

The A's were forced to turn to their farm system to fill holes. Nine rookies made their major league debuts. Most notable among them were first baseman Daric Barton, outfielder Travis Buck and catcher Kurt Suzuki, all of whom have futures as starters for Oakland.

When general manager Billy Beane contemplated the future direction of his team during the offseason, he came to two conclusions. First, Oakland would be better off rebuilding than trying to contend. Second, to rebuild he'd have to sacrifice some of his best players to fortify the farm system.

In December, Beane sent Haren and Connor Robertson to the Diamondbacks for six young players, including four who made this Top 10 Prospects list: outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, lefthander Brett Anderson, outfielder Aaron Cunningham and first baseman Chris Carter.

Haren's name had been prominent in trade rumors throughout the offseason, but Swisher's didn't until he went to the White Sox in January for three more prospects, including two more members of this top 10: lefty Gio Gonzalez and righty Fautino de los Santos. They were not done trading, as they swapped Mark Kotsay to the Braves for 2005 first-round pick Joey Devine in mid-January, and they could deal Blanton and Street for more prospect packages.

Devine and the two Gonzalezes could surface in Oakland this year, but the A's may not make a run at the playoffs before their planned opening of a new ballpark, Cisco Field, for the 2011 season in nearby Fremont. One of the main reasons for the rebuilding project is that the farm system wasn't nearly as deep as it once was, with more complementary players than blue-chip prospects. The A's haven't drafted as well as they did under former scouting director Grady Fuson, who oversaw the club's drafts from 1995-2001 before leaving to become an assistant GM with the Rangers. (He is now a vice president with the Padres.)

After emphasizing high school pitchers in the 2005-06 drafts, the A's went back to their previous focus on college players who have a chance to move quickly. Their first 14 picks were collegians and they didn't sign a single high schooler. Righthanders James Simmons (first round), Sam Demel (third) and Andrew Carignan (fifth) all have a chance to join the big league staff within two years.

1.  Carlos Gonzalez, of   Born: Oct. 17, 1985B-T: L-LHt: 6-1Wt: 180
 Signed: Venezuela, 2002Signed by: Miguel Nava (Diamondbacks)
Carlos GonzalezBackground: Gonzalez burst onto the prospect scene by winning the low Class A Midwest League MVP award in 2005, and he has followed that with two straight appearances in the Futures Game. He also was Baseball America's Winter Player of the Year after the 2006 season, batting .318/.393/.530 with nine home runs in 198 at-bats in his native Venezuela. Now his biggest claim to fame is being the best prospect in the six-player package the Diamondbacks used to pry Dan Haren from Oakland. In 2007, Gonzalez got off to his traditional slow start, batting .210 in April before coming around later in the season, batting .335 with eight of his nine homers in the final two months. Scouts loved working Double-A Mobile games when both Justin Upton and Gonzalez were in the outfield, as the two seemed to play off each other and enjoyed a friendly rivalry at the plate and in the field.

Strengths: Gonzalez lacks nothing in the way of physical tools. He has tremendous bat speed, with a pure easiness to his swing that generates plus raw power to all fields. The strength and leverage in his natural inside-out stroke make the ball jump off his bat. A prototype right fielder, he has an above-average arm and enough speed to play in center field if need be—and in fact he played there quite a bit when Upton was with Mobile. Gonzalez is becoming more comfortable in right field as he gets more time there, learning better routes and whether to uncork a rocket or just hit the cutoff man. In general, his feel for the game has improved.

Weaknesses: Scouts and managers often have been turned off by Gonzalez' approach to the game, accusing him of giving away at-bats or not hustling at times. The Diamondbacks believed it was more an issue of immaturity and lack of focus than a result of makeup. They viewed him as a bright, outgoing person who wants to be a star and say some people have mistaken confidence for arrogance. Interestingly, similar things were said about Upton before his explosive 2007 campaign. However, Gonzalez doesn't have quite the same degree of talent that he can afford to coast. On a more tangible level, he needs to have a plan every time he goes to the plate, so he doesn't expand his strike zone and get himself out. He gets himself in trouble when he tries to pull the ball too much. He's still an erratic defender, leading the high Class A California and Double-A Southern league in outfield miscues the last two years with 12 each time.

The Future: Arizona had no outfield openings with Eric Byrnes, Chris Young and Upton on hand, but Gonzalez will find opportunity easier to come by in Oakland. He's already knocking on the door of the big leagues at age 22, and the only given in the A's outfield is that Travis Buck will be one of the three starters, most likely in left field. Gonzalez would benefit from a half-season at Triple-A Sacramento, but he could win a starting job in center or right field during spring training. Long term, Oakland envisions Gonzalez batting in the middle of its lineup for years to come.
 
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Mobile (AA) .286 .330 .476 458 63 131 33 3 16 75 32 103 9
Tucson (AAA) .310 .396 .500 42 9 13 5 0 1 11 6 6 1
 
2.  Gio Gonzalez, lhp   Born: Sept. 19, 1985. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185.
 Drafted: HS—Miami, 2004 (1st round supplemental).
  • Signed by: Jose Ortega (White Sox).
Gio GonzalezBackground: After leading the minor leagues with 185 strikeouts in 150 innings, Gonzalez was traded for the third time in his short pro career. The White Sox sent him to the Phillies as a key piece in the Jim Thome trade after the 2005 season, then reacquired him 13 months later as part of a deal for Freddy Garcia. Chicago packaged three of its top prospects—Gonzalez, righthander Fautino de los Santos and outfielder Ryan Sweeney—to get Nick Swisher in January.

Strengths: Gonzalez' bread and butter is a sharp-breaking two-plane curveball that he doesn't hesitate to throw in any count. It complements a fastball that generally parks in the low 90s and has some natural sink, allowing him to get his share of groundballs.

Weaknesses: Gonzalez' command is merely average and will be tested as he faces more advanced hitters, though he should be able to throw enough strikes. His changeup isn't at the same level of his other two pitches but improved considerably in 2007, largely because he was more committed to throwing it.

The Future: Though Joe Blanton is the only sure thing in Oakland's injury-riddled rotation, Gonzalez could use some time in Triple-A. He figures to make his major league debut at some point this year and has the ability to develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter.
 
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Birmingham (AA) 9 7 3.18 27 27 0 0 150 116 10 57 185 .216
 
3.  Brett Anderson, lhp   Born: Feb. 1, 1988. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215.
 Drafted: HS—Stillwater, Okla., 2006 (2nd round).
  • Signed by: Joe Robinson (Diamondbacks).
Brett AndersonBackground: Anderson's 2.21 ERA would have led the Midwest League had he stuck around long enough to qualify, but he earned a promotion to high Class A Visalia in June. His season effectively ended at the end of July when he and six teammates were in a car accident that left him with a concussion. He was the top lefty in the Diamondbacks system before his inclusion in the Dan Haren trade.

Strengths: The son of Oklahoma State coach Frank Anderson, a noted mentor of pitchers, Brett has smooth mechanics and always pitches with a plan. He throws two breaking balls for strikes, and both can be plus pitches, as can his changeup. His fastball usually sits at 90 mph, but his command of it is impeccable, and hitters react like it comes in harder.

Weaknesses: Anderson has some athleticism but hasn't maintained his conditioning, so his body has gotten soft and he doesn't move well around the mound. Getting in better shape will help him with the everyday rigors of pro ball, and even could add some velocity to his fastball.

The Future: Anderson has rare command and polish for a pitcher his age, so he could move quickly. He'll get a chance to earn a spot in the Double-A Midland rotation and profiles as a durable No. 3 starter.
 
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
South Bend (Lo A) 8 4 2.21 14 14 0 0 81 76 3 10 85 .248
Visalia (Hi A) 3 3 4.85 9 9 0 0 39 50 6 11 40 .311
 
4.  Fautino de los Santos, rhp   Born: Feb. 15, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006. Signed by: Denny Gonzalez (White Sox).
Fautino de los SantosBackground: De los Santos had an impressive U.S. debut in 2007, flashing a 96-97 mph fastball and a plus slider in the Futures Game and finished the year by pitching well at high Class A Winston-Salem. He and Gio Gonzalez were the top two prospects in the White Sox system until the Swisher trade.

Strengths: De los Santos has developed four pitches at a young age, including a fastball, slider and curveball that all rate among the best in the system, and he'll throw them all whether he's ahead or behind in the count. His fastball can overpower hitters, buzzing into the top of the strike zone in the mid-90s or at the bottom of the zone with sink in the low 90s.

Weaknesses: De los Santos improved his changeup greatly over the course of the season but it remains a pitch in progress. He often throws it in the high 80s, not achieving enough differential from his fastball. More advanced hitters are more likely to lay off his breaking pitches, and he'll have to prove he can throw quality strikes when they do.

The Future: De los Santos' high ceiling as a frontline starter could force him into major league consideration in a hurry, though he'll probably open 2008 in Double-A.
 
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Kannapolis (Lo A) 9 4 2.40 21 15 0 0 98 49 5 36 121 .148
Winston-Salem (Hi A) 1 1 3.65 5 5 0 0 25 20 3 7 32 .220
 
5.  Daric Barton, 1b   Born: Aug. 16, 1985. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 205.
 Drafted: HS—Huntington Beach, Calif., 2003 (1st round).
  • Signed by: Dan Ontiveros (Cardinals).
Daric BartonBackground: Acquired from the Cardinals in the Mark Mulder deal in December 2004, Barton quickly established himself as the organization's top prospect while moving from catcher to first base. But his path was derailed two months into the 2006 season, when he broke his elbow in an infield collision. Healthy again in 2007, he had a streaky year in Triple-A capped by a productive September callup.

Strengths: Barton has a sweet, fluid stroke and has incorporated more loft as he has moved up the ladder, giving him more power. He has outstanding bat control, and his quick hands allow him to punish pitches all over the strike zone.

Weaknesses: Scouts aren't sold on Barton's power, though several point to how similar he is to James Loney, who also didn't show much pop in the minors. Barton is a substandard defender with a tick below-average arm strength and well-below-average speed.

The Future: There's no question about Barton's ability to hit, but he may not have the power to truly profile as a first baseman. Barring a resurgence from Dan Johnson, Barton should be Oakland's first baseman in 2008.
 
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Sacramento (AAA) .293 .389 .438 516 84 151 38 5 9 70 78 69 3
Oakland .347 .429 .639 72 16 25 9 0 4 8 10 11 1
 
6.  Trevor Cahill, rhp   Born: March 1, 1988. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195.
 Drafted: HS—Vista, Calif., 2006 (2nd round).  Signed by: Craig Weissmann.
Trevor CahillBackground: Cahill was somewhat of an unknown commodity early in 2006, but he pitched his way into first-round consideration until he was slowed by a bout with strep throat. Oakland was glad to take him with its top pick (second round) and sign him for $560,000. He opened 2007 in extended spring training and struggled early after reporting to low Class A Kane County, but he was one of the Midwest League's top pitchers in August, going 5-0, 0.74 with 44 strikeouts in 37 innings.

Strengths: Extremely mature for his age, Cahill showed good mound presence and poise as a 19-year-old in the MWL. He has good downward life and natural sink on his 88-92 mph fastball, and his upper-70s curveball rates as his best pitch. Hitters have a tough time picking up the rotation on his curve out of his hand, and he'll use it in any count. He's a good athlete with a simple, compact delivery that he repeats well.

Weaknesses: As good as his curveball is, Cahill is reluctant to throw it in the strike zone. He needs to have more consistent confidence in both his curve and his changeup, which improved in 2007.

The Future: Cahill has the size, strength, makeup and stuff to become a No. 3 starter down the road. Sometimes compared to former A's righthander Mike Moore, he'll move to high Class A Stockton this year.
 
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Kane County (Lo A) 11 4 2.73 20 19 0 0 105 85 3 40 117 .220
 
7.  James Simmons, rhp   Born: Sept. 29, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 220.
 Drafted: UC Riverside, 2007 (1st round).
  • Signed by: Craig Weissmann.
James SimmonsBackground: Simmons emerged as a top prospect when he posted a 1.18 ERA in the Cape Cod League in 2006, then solidified his status by going 11-3, 2.40 at UC Riverside last spring. After drafting him 25th overall and signing him for $1.192 million, the A's sent him to Double-A and used him primarily in relief because he had worked 124 innings in college.

Strengths: Simmons' command is exquisite, grading as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His changeup is his best pitch. While he consistently worked at 93-94 mph in relief in the Arizona Fall League, as a starter he's a strike-thrower who pitches just as effectively from 88-92. His two-seam fastball worked well against lefthanders in his pro debut. He's a good athlete who fields his position well and maintains his velocity into the late innings.

Weaknesses: The major question with Simmons is his lack of a true breaking ball. He gets around on his slider, which reduces its bite and limits his ability to throw it for strikes. His curveball is too soft and loopy at times, and he didn't use it much in the AFL.

The Future: If Simmons can develop a consistent breaking ball, he profiles as a solid No. 3 starter. If not, he'll be a quality bullpen arm. He'll return to Double-A, this time in a starting role.
 
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Midland (AA) 0 0 3.94 13 2 0 0 30 36 2 8 23 .308
 
8.  Henry Rodriguez, rhp   Born: Feb. 25, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175.
 Signed: Venezuela, 2003. Signed by: Julio Franco.
Henry RodriguezBackground: Signed out of Venezuela in 2003, Rodriguez didn't make his pro debut until 2005 because of a nagging groin injury. The injury continued to bother him in his U.S. debut in 2006, the highlight of which was a combined no-hitter with Trevor Cahill in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Rodriguez' confidence soared and he has been much more effective ever since.

Strengths: Rodriguez consistently works at 92-96 mph with his fastball, which has outstanding late life in the zone, riding in on righthanders and down and away from lefties. He has hit 100 mph, though he has bought into the philosophy that command is more important than lighting up radar guns. His changeup shows signs of being a plus pitch. He likes to throw inside and is aggressive on the mound. He's athletic, repeats his delivery and fields his position well.

Weaknesses: Rodriguez has tinkered with both a curveball and slider, but he still lacks a consistent breaking ball. He settled on a slider last year, which fits his repertoire much better, but it's still well-below-average.

The Future: Some scouts target Rodriguez as a power reliever, but if his slider comes around, he has the makings of a middle-of-the-rotation starter. The A's will keep him in the rotation and challenge him to keep the ball down and throw consistent strikes in high Class A this season.
 
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Kane County (Lo A) 6 8 3.07 20 18 1 0 100 75 2 58 106 .214
 
9.  Aaron Cunningham, of   Born: April 24, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 195.
 Drafted: Everett (Wash.) CC, 2005 (6th round). Signed by: Joe Butler/Adam Virchis (White Sox).
Aaron CunninghamBackground: After earning high Class A Carolina League midseason all-star honors, Cunningham went from the White Sox to the Diamondbacks in a June trade for Danny Richar. Six months later, he escaped Arizona's outfield logjam by going to the A's in the Dan Haren deal.

Strengths: Cunningham is a natural hitter who has a knack for getting the fat part of the bat on the ball, and he can drive pitches from gap to gap. He's a throwback player who always gets his uniform dirty and plays an instinctive game. He has an above-average arm and has enough speed to get by in center field and steal an occasional base.

Weaknesses: While Cunningham does everything well, he doesn't do anything exceptionally, leading to questions about whether he'll end up as a tweener. He has a long swing and better pitchers have been able to get inside on him.

The Future: Cunningham is the leading candidate to be Oakland's right fielder of the future, though he still needs to add power to claim that job in the future. He'll start 2008 back in Double-A.
 
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Winston-Salem (Hi A) .294 .376 .476 252 51 74 12 5 8 37 34 39 22
Visalia (Hi A) .358 .386 .553 123 25 44 11 2 3 20 5 23 5
Mobile (AA) .288 .364 .534 118 25 34 8 3 5 20 12 27 1
 
10.  Chris Carter, 1b   Born: Dec. 18, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210.
 Drafted: HS—Las Vegas, 2005 (15th round). Signed by: George Kachigian/Joe Butler (White Sox).
Chris CarterBackground: Carter dropped to the 15th round of the 2005 draft because he was considered a raw project, but he has shown more aptitude more quickly than expected, slugging 51 homers in 273 career games. He was dealt twice in 11 days in December, going from the White Sox to the Diamondbacks for Carlos Quentin and then heading to Oakland as part of the package for Dan Haren.

Strengths: Carter's calling card is the ability to hit the ball a long way, and he's also showing that he can hit for average and not get himself out chasing bad pitches. An opposing manager who saw him in the low Class A South Atlantic League said Carter's approach reminded him of a young Jermaine Dye.

Weaknesses: Carter has nothing going for him except for his bat. Drafted as a third baseman, he has migrated across the infield and will have to work hard to become an adequate defender at first base. He made 11 errors in just 73 games there last season. He doesn't run well, has little agility around the bag and has below-average hands.

The Future: Moving back to the American League benefited Carter, who could wind up at DH. He'll advance to high Class A this year and could put up huge numbers in the hitter-friendly California League.
 
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Kannapolis (Lo A) .291 .383 .522 467 84 136 27 3 25 93 67 112 3

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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Photo Credits:
David Stoner (C. Gonzalez, Cunningham)
Steve Moore (Anderson, G. Gonzalez)
Sports on Film (De los Santos)
Bill Mitchell (Cahill, Simmons)
Roger Wood (Carter)