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The exceedingly polished Anderson has had a head start in his development since childhood. He's the son of Oklahoma State coach Frank Anderson, one of college baseball's top pitching coaches before taking over the Cowboys. Brett's feel for his craft has been evident since his amateur days, as he led Team USA's youth and junior teams to silver medals in consecutive summers. He had the stuff to go in the first round of the 2006 draft, but his $1 million asking price dropped him to the Diamondbacks in the second round. He signed late for $950,000, turning down the chance to pitch for his father. Anderson quickly established himself as a premier pitching prospect in 2007, though he and six teammates were involved in a car accident that July, with Anderson sustaining a concussion that effectively ended his season. He and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez were the headline prospects in a six-player package Arizona sent to the Athletics for Dan Haren in December 2007. In his first season in the A's system, Anderson advanced to Double-A Midland and pitched for the U.S. Olympic team. He defeated Japan in the bronze-medal game, allowing four runs in seven innings. After he returned from Beijing, he joined Triple-A Sacramento for the Pacific Coast League playoffs, earning wins in both his starts (including the championship clincher) as well as a save. Anderson has premium command, averaging 1.9 walks per nine innings in his pro career and frequently locating his fastball on the corners of the plate. He's more proficient working his fastball to his glove side than his arm side. His two-seam fastball sits at 88-92 mph and generates a lot of groundouts. He also can touch 94 mph with his four-seamer. Anderson has above-average secondary pitches across the board, including a mid- to high-70s curveball with two-plane break. His low- to mid-80s slider gives him a second quality breaking ball, and his changeup is often a plus pitch. He used his changeup more frequently once he reached Double-A. Anderson is mechanically solid and repeats his delivery well. He improved his pickoff move after working with fellow lefty Greg Smith, another part of the Haren trade. The biggest knock on Anderson always has been his lack of athleticism. He got into better shape for the 2008 season, but while he fields his position well if grounders are hit in his vicinity, he's not quick to first base when he needs to cover the bag. He doesn't have overpowering velocity, but he has more than enough zip on his fastball considering his command and deep arsenal. Anderson and Trevor Cahill teamed up at high Class A Stockton, Midland and the Olympics in 2008. There's debate among scouts about who's the better prospect, with Anderson getting the edge here because he has superior command and a wider array of plus pitches. Both should begin 2009 in Triple-A, with a chance to reach the big leagues by mid-2009. They're the future anchors of Oakland's rotation.
The A's top pick (second round) in 2006, Cahill teamed with Brett Anderson at two minor league stops and the Olympics, helping Team USA win bronze. Cahill works off an 88-92 mph two-seam fastball with outstanding heavy sink and running life, enabling him to rack up both grounders and swinging strikes. He also can touch 94 mph with his four-seamer. He backs up his fastballs with a nasty 79-81 mph knuckle-curve, a swingand- miss pitch with hard downward movement. He also has another tough breaking ball in a low-80s slider with cutter-like action at times. He's a good athlete with a simple, compact delivery and good balance over the rubber. Cahill's changeup should become an average pitch, but he'll need to throw it more against higher-caliber competition. Though his mechanics are sound, he sometimes cuts his extension a little short out front, placing more strain on his back and shoulder. He strained his ribcage at the Olympics and didn't pitch afterward, though he threw off flat ground in instructional league and will be ready for 2009. With some slight mechanical tweaks and improved command, Cahill could end up as a top-of-the-rotation starter. He should open 2009 in Triple-A and make his big league debut later in the season.
Inoa demolished international amateur bonus records when he signed with the A's on July 2 for $4.25 million. His potential was evident at age 13, when he was already 6-foot- 4 and reaching 83-84 mph with his fastball. Several scouts have called Inoa one of the best 16-year-old pitchers they've ever seen. He already has a lively low-90s fastball that has touched 94 mph, and with his size and mechanics he projects to throw even harder. He has remarkable athleticism and coordination for his size, allowing him to repeat an effortless delivery and have good command. He has the potential for a plus curveball and also throws a changeup that already grades as fringe average. He also has flashed a splitter, though he didn't use it much leading up to his signing. All the glowing scouting reports are nice, but Inoa has yet to be tested by anything close to professional competition. Though his secondary pitches project as possible plus offerings, they have a ways to go. He needs work on the finer points of the game, such as holding runners. Inoa's ceiling is as high as it gets. Oakland hasn't determined his first assignment yet. He'll likely begin 2009 in extended spring training before reporting to the Rookie-level Arizona League or short-season Vancouver in June.
Originally drafted by the White Sox, Cunningham was dealt to Arizona in June 2007 for Danny Richar. He spent just six months with the Diamondbacks before they flipped him to Oakland as part of the package for Dan Haren. Cunningham has hit well everywhere he's been, posting an OPS above .852 at each level of full-season ball. He has a good feel for hitting and a knack for squaring up balls with a balanced swing. His bat stays in the hitting zone a long time, generating solid-average power. A good athlete, he runs well and has a solid arm. Cunningham's swing can get a little bit long, and he struggled when he became more pull-conscious during his callup. He doesn't always take direct routes to fly balls, precluding him from being a good defensive center fielder. While his tools are average or better across the board, he doesn't have an outstanding tool that points to star potential. Oakland's trade for Matt Holliday means Cunningham won't be playing left field for the A's in 2009, but he'll compete for a starting job in right. Additional seasoning in Triple-A wouldn't be bad for him, either.
Baseball America's 2006 High School Player of the Year, Cardenas made steady progress for two years before Philadelphia used him as the key chip in a mid-July deal for Joe Blanton. Cardenas moved from second base to shortstop in 2007, but Oakland moved him back after the trade. Cardenas has a compact, line-drive stroke and hits the ball to all fields. His swing has drawn comparisons to that of Adrian Gonzalez, and he should develop average power. He recognizes and handles offspeed pitches well, and he shows the ability to handle both lefties and righties. He logged each of his at-bats in a notebook all season and studied his observations of the pitchers he faced. He has solid-average speed and good baserunning instincts. He makes the routine plays in the field and has an accurate arm. After the trade, Cardenas developed a tendency to overswing and lengthen his stroke. His first step, lateral movement and footwork probably won't allow him to stay at shortstop and might be problematic at second base. Cardenas eventually could move to third, where his bat and arm would profile well. He'll return to Double-A and is roughly a year away from the majors.
After leading White Sox farmhands with 25 homers in 2007, Carter was traded twice that December. Chicago traded him to the Diamondbacks for Carlos Quentin before Arizona used him as part of the package to acquire Dan Haren. In 2008, he topped the high Class A California League in runs (101), homers (39), RBIs (104) and slugging percentage (.569) and added five longballs in the playoffs as Stockton won the title. Carter's plus-plus raw power ranks among the best in the minors. He hits the ball deep out of the park to all fields with a fluid swing that generates tremendous loft and natural leverage. He shows the patience to draw walks. He has a strong arm. Carter's outstanding power comes with the tradeoff of a high strikeout rate. He has some holes in his swing and is susceptible to breaking balls. He has some athleticism, but his lack of first-step quickness and range are a liability at third base, where he committed 14 errors in 41 games, and his below-average hands are a handicap at first base, where he made 10 errors in another 41 games. He hasn't been much better as a right fielder. Ticketed for Double-A, Carter should be able to hit his way into Oakland's lineup. The A's will continue to try him at different positions, but he may ultimately wind up as a DH.
The White Sox drafted Gonzalez in the sandwich round in 2004, sent him to the Phillies for Jim Thome in 2005 and brought him back as part of a package for Freddy Garcia in 2006. After Gonzalez led the minors with 185 strikeouts in 150 innings in 2007, Chicago sent him, Fautino de los Santos and Ryan Sweeney to the A's for Nick Swisher. Gonzalez's best pitch is a 75-78 mph curveball with sharp break and two-plane depth. He throws the curve often, and it has helped him average 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors. His fastball can touch 93 mph, though it more often sat at 87-91 last season with some run and sink. He has a simple, fluid delivery and throws from a high three-quarters arm slot. Gonzalez has been a prolific strikeout pitcher, but his fastball command is below average and led to an excess of walks in his brief stint with Oakland. He needs to repeat his delivery with more frequency, which in turn will lead to better command. After a long season, he lost velocity early in his big league starts. He'll have to upgrade his 80-84 mph straight changeup to have a legitimate third weapon against major league hitters. Gonzalez should begin 2009 in Oakland's rotation. He could become a frontline starter if he improves his changeup and command.
Though he posted a 5.21 ERA over his first two pro seasons, the A's sent Mazzaro to Double-A last season at age 21. He responded by leading the Texas League in ERA (1.90), earning TL pitcher of the year honors and a promotion to Triple-A. Mazzaro's hard sinker sits in the low 90s and touches 95, generating groundballs. He pitches off his fastball, and he shows the ability to sink, run or cut it. His control got significantly better in 2008, allowing him to keep hitters off balance by mixing locations and changing planes. He showed a greater willingness to challenge hitters than he had in the past. His improved slider has tight break and is an average pitch. Mazzaro still is trying to find a reliable offspeed pitch. He didn't throw his changeup much last season, though it took a step forward and could become an average offering. His curveball is more of a show-me pitch. His mechanics are mostly sound, though he does throw slightly across his body. After getting knocked around in Triple-A at the end of last season, he'll return there in 2009. With Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill nearly ready for the majors, Oakland shouldn't have to rush Mazzaro.
The A's drafted Weeks with the 12th overall pick in June, their highest selection since they took Barry Zito ninth overall in 1999. That made Weeks and his brother Rickie, the No. 2 overall choice in 2003, the eighth pair of siblings to become first-round picks. An All-American at Miami, he signed for $1.91 million but had his pro debut cut shot by a hip flexor injury. Weeks is a quick-twitch athlete with plus speed. A switch-hitter, he has a slashing line-drive stroke, and his strong wrists and plus bat speed help him generate surprising power for a player his size. He has a good feel for the strike zone and profiles as a leadoff man. He has the ability to make spectacular defensive plays at second base. Weeks needs to put in more work to make routine plays at second and to turn the double play. He has battled leg injuries the last two years, with repeated hamstring and groin problems hampering his sophomore season. His hip injury kept him out of instructional league. Weeks' bat is advanced enough for him to make his full-season debut in high Class A. He doesn't have his brother's offensive upside, but he's no lightweight as a hitter and is a better defender.
One of the most advanced pitchers in the 2007 draft, Simmons went straight to Double-A after signing for $1,192,000 as the 25th overall pick. He returned to Midland in 2008 and, after a slow start, he went 7-2, 3.00 over the final two months to finish second in the Texas League in strikeouts (120 in 136 innings) and third in ERA (3.51). Simmons has outstanding command of his 88-92 mph fastball, which peaks at 94. He has a two-seamer with some run and mild sink, and he leans heavily on his fastball the first time through the order. His best secondary weapon is his changeup, which has some run and the potential to become a plus pitch. He has a good delivery that he repeats easily. He does a good job fielding his position. Simmons' slider is still a work in progress, and his slow, loopy curveball is just a show-me pitch. He tends to stay a little too upright at the end of his delivery. He went through a brief dead-arm period in May and battled sleep apnea during the season. Simmons will begin the season in Triple-A Sacramento with a chance to crack the big league rotation later in the year. He projects as a solid starter if he can tighten his slider.
New Jersey's high school player of the year in 2004, Doolittle turned down the Braves as a 39th-rounder to attend Virginia, where he was a two-way star and the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year as a sophomore. He signed with the A's for $742,500 as a supplemental first-round pick in 2007 and took up hitting fulltime. Without having to split his time between pitching and hitting, Doolittle has bulked up, adding strength and power to his game, a striking difference from his days with the Cavaliers, when he was a disciplined hitter with a contact-oriented approach. Though he still showed patience in his first full season, Doolittle swung and missed enough to strike out 153 times. He uses the opposite field well but he chases pitches out of the strike zone at times. While athletic, he's a below-average runner. The A's gave Doolittle some playing time in the outfield last year, but he fits best at first base, where he's a plus defender with smooth actions. He has the arm strength to play right field but still is learning to make the longer throws after converting from the mound. After a lateseason promotion to Double-A, Doolittle should return to Midland to open the 2009 season. Oakland signed his younger brother Ryan, a righthander, as a 26th-round pick out of Cumberland (N.J.) CC in 2008.
Outman signed with the Phillies as a 10th-round pick in 2005 after leading Central Missouri State to a runner-up finish at the Division II College World Series. Outman pitched for Team USA at the 2007 World Cup in Taiwan, tying for the team high with 10 strikeouts in its gold-medal run. Outman was a starter for his first two full seasons in pro ball, but the Phillies moved him to the bullpen in 2008 with the hopes of quickly moving him into that role for the big league club. Instead, Philadelphia ended up trading Outman along with infielder Adrian Cardenas and outfielder Matt Spencer to the Athletics for righthander Joe Blanton. Oakland used Outman as both a starter and a reliever, and he reached the big leagues in September. A good athlete, Outman saw his velocity spike in the bullpen, with his fastball sitting at 93-96 mph and peaking at 97. As a starter, he worked at 90-94 mph. Outman has an 81-85 mph slider with late bite, a solid 79-83 mph changeup and a curveball that he'll mix in on occasion. His arm action can be a little funky and short in the back, but his delivery also has deception and he generally repeats it well. He battles his control at times, but his mechanics are much more orthodox than they were when he was at St. Louis CC-Forest Park. His father Fritz, who wrote a manual on pitching instruction, had Josh extend his arm straight up, bend it down to nearly touch his opposite shoulder and then take a walking step before throwing. Scouts said it was the most unusual delivery they had ever seen and at the time liked him more as an athletic outfielder. Outman could open 2009 with the big league club, either as a starter or reliever.
Donaldson ditched his third baseman's mitt and took up catching as a sophomore at Auburn in 2006, a move that helped propel him up draft boards. The Cubs signed him for $652,500 as the 48th overall pick in 2007, and he began his pro career auspiciously by ranking as the short-season Northwest League's top position prospect. He got off to a horrible start in 2008 in low Class A, though he got his bat going in the hitter-friendly California League following a trade to the A's in which Oakland gave up Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to acquire him along with Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton and Eric Patterson. He has a good feel for hitting and does a fine job of using the whole field, though some scouts question if he'll hit enough to be a big league regular. He's strong and should produce average power. Donaldson's strength and athleticism are apparent behind the plate, where he has a slightly above-average arm and a quick release that helped him throw out 37 percent of basestealers last season. Still relatively new to the position, he's mastering the finer points of catching, such as blocking after committing 18 passed balls in 94 games. He has close to average speed, unusual for a catcher. Donaldson will advance to Double-A in 2009.
Rodriguez began the year in a prospect-laden Stockton rotation but quickly moved up to Double-A after just three starts. He got rocked in Midland, as Texas League hitters took advantage of his inability to throw enough strikes and get ahead in the count. The A's sent him back down to high Class A in June, put him in the bullpen in August and moved him back up to Double-A for five more relief outings. He still fought his control but he was able to overpower hitters more easily in shorter stints. One of the few Latin American prospects in the organization prior to the Michael Inoa signing, Rodriguez is a good athlete with tremendous arm strength, which he showed by touching 100 mph with his fastball at the Futures Game. As a starter, Rodriguez regularly sits in the low- to mid-90s with some running life, but as a reliever his heater regularly clocks in the upper 90s. His arsenal is hard, hard and harder, as he lacks a reliable off-speed pitch. He has added more pronounced break to his spinning slider, though it remains inconsistent. His changeup has occasional split action, but it's definitely his third pitch. Rodriguez's arm action is short in the back and lacks fluidity. He struggles at times to maintain balance in his delivery and often falls off to the first-base side. Despite his struggles in 2008, he could get the opportunity to open 2009 in the Triple-A bullpen. As soon as he throws strikes on a more consistent basis, he'll be ready for Oakland.
After spending the summer of 2007 with Team USA, Ross projected as a possible first-round pick but an inconsistent spring dropped him to the second round last June. The Athletics were thrilled to get him with the 58th overall pick and signed him for $694,000. Ross' fastball sits in the low 90s with hard sink and tops out at 95 mph. His best pitch is his plus slider, which he can throw in the low 80s with two-plane break or add a little velocity and give it shorter, harder break. At times, however, he can rely on his slider too much. A good athlete, Ross throws an average changeup in the low 80s with some tumble, and it could become an aboveaverage offering as well. His unique motion provides deception but also is cause for concern. His arm action is short in the back and he remains upright throughout his delivery. Though he does have good balance, he has an exceptionally short stride to the plate for someone his size, landing on an extremely stiff plant leg and cutting off extension out front, leading to excess stress on his arm and back. He went on the disabled list in July with a strained shoulder, but returned in mid-August to make three more starts for low Class A Kane County. Some scouts think Ross' mechanics eventually will lead him to the bullpen, but Oakland will develop him as a starter. He'll likely start his first full pro season in high Class A. If he stays healthy, he could move quickly through the system, either as a starter or reliever.
Brown earned attention from college football recruiters as a wide receiver coming out of high school, but he instead chose to play baseball at Oklahoma State. He has performed well since signing for $554,500 as a supplemental first-round pick in 2007, mashing 30 homers between two Class A stops in his first full pro season. His best tool is his plus-plus raw power, which he generates to all fields with a quick bat, leverage and natural loft. Holes in his swing and chasing pitches out of the zone caused him to strike out in 168 times in 2008, however, and he may never hit for a high average. He struggled in Hawaii Winter Baseball, showing the same contact problems that hampered him during the regular season. Brown is a good athlete with solid speed and arm strength, though his throws could be more accurate. He's playable in center field for now, but his range might eventually be better suited for an outfield corner. Though he didn't log much playing time in high Class A, Brown could begin 2009 in Double-A.
A first-round pick in 2005, Pennington finally reached the big leagues with a mid-August promotion to Oakland. Nagging hamstring injuries have bothered him in the past, but he put together a healthy season in 2008 after batting a combined .249/.342/.357 in the previous two years. His savvy in all aspects of the game enables him to play above his tools. Pennington always has had a good feel for the strike zone, drawing nearly as many walks as strikeouts throughout his pro career. He worked to maintain a more level swing plane last season, trying to keep the barrel up and online throughout the swing. He still has a tendency to get under the ball too much at times--particularly to the opposite field--rather than driving the ball on a line. His weakest tool is his power, which is well below average, and he has yet to slug better than .368 over a full pro season. Pennington has above-average speed and good baserunning instincts. He excels at taking the extra base and has swiped bags at an 82 percent clip in pro ball. Defensively, he offers plus range, an excellent arm and a quick release at shortstop. Pennington could be a solid big league utility infielder, but additional power could help him earn a starting role.
De los Santos was an unknown before his spectacular U.S. debut in 2007, when he blew away hitters in Class A and lit up radar guns at the Futures Game. After the season, the White Sox packaged him with Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney to acquire Nick Swisher from the A's. De los Santos barely pitched for his new organization, however, making just five starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Prior to his injury, de los Santos showed a lively fastball. He was capable of pitching down in the zone with a low-90s two-seamer or at the letters with a mid-90s four-seamer that peaked at 97. He also demonstrated the ability to spin both a curveball and a slider, with the latter a plus pitch. He also had a changeup but often threw the pitch too hard. De los Santos has a tendency to get out of control with his delivery, causing him to spin off toward first base. He began a throwing program in November but likely won't begin throwing bullpen sessions until spring training. He could return to regular-season action in June.
Hunter was a likely top-10 pick in 2008 before he came down with elbow problems at Pepperdine and saw his peak velocity dip to 92 mph. After watching him with the U.S. college national team during the summer, the A's felt confident enough in his health to sign him for $1.1 million--a record for a seventh-round pick and the equivalent of first-round money. Before he got hurt, Hunter was one of the hardest throwers available in the 2008 draft, having touched 100 mph during fall ball with the Waves. After signing, he spent time focusing on his mechanics and was back up to 94-96 mph in instructional league. Hunter's hard slider can be a knockout pitch when he locates it, though he doesn't do so with enough frequency yet. Scouts' biggest concerns center around his mechanics. His arm action is funky in the back as he drops his arm behind him, making it difficult to repeat his arm slot. He has a head lean in his delivery, a high front leg kick that results in a long stride and doesn't take a direct line to the plate, which leads to below-average command and Hunter getting underneath too many pitches. His stuff, mechanics and medical history profile best in the bullpen, though Oakland may continue developing him as a starter for now.
A 17th-round pick of the Cubs in 2004, Blevins racked up high strikeout rates up through Double-A in the Cubs system before the A's acquired him and Rob Bowen in a midseason 2007 trade for catcher Jason Kendall. Blevins made his big league debut that September, then won a gold medal pitching with Team USA at the World Cup in Taiwan. After three months in Triple-A in 2008, he became a regular in the A's bullpen in July. Blevins' fastball sits at 90-92 mph and tops out at 94. His 72-75 mph curveball at times is a swing-and-miss pitch that gives lefthanders trouble. Hitters have difficulty seeing the ball out of Blevins' hand because his delivery provides some deception and he repeats the same arm slot on his fastball and curveball. He's primarily a two-pitch pitcher, though he'll occasionally mix in an 80-83 mph changeup to keep righthanders off balance. His height creates downward angle to the plate, though he's a flyball pitcher. He should continue in his role as a middle reliever in Oakland in 2009.
One of the best athletes and youngest players in the 2008 draft, Dixon dropped to the 10th round because he had committed to play football at Mississippi State, where his brother Anthony is a star running back. Rashun signed quickly for $600,000, the highest bonus in his round. Oddly enough, Dixon was a catcher in high school, but the A's immediately moved him to center field to make the most of his athleticism and plus-plus speed. With good present strength, Dixon has plus raw power to all fields. Oakland helped Dixon set his feet and see the ball better, and to stay back and better leverage his weight transfer, which should help him more easily tap into his power. He led the Arizona League with 10 triples and ranked third with eight homers. While Dixon's upside is considerable, he's still raw in many phases of the game. He has a long swing and chased too many pitches out of the zone, leading the AZL with 68 strikeouts. He made some excellent catches and showed a strong arm in his pro debut, but he also looked lost at times in the outfield and still needs to improve his routes to the ball. He also must learn how to use his quickness on the bases. Dixon could open 2009 in low Class A, but the A's also could play it safe and assign him to short-season Vancouver.
Coleman had a decorated athletic career as a high schooler in South Dakota. He was an all-state shortstop his junior and senior seasons; an all-state quarterback for two years, leading his high school to back-to-back state championships; and an all-state basketball player and finalist for the state's Mr. Basketball award as a senior. Undrafted out of high school. Coleman headed to Wichita State and became the team's starting shortstop as a freshman. A draft-eligible sophomore in 2008, he slid to the 28th round because of questionable signability. But when Coleman had an all-star summer in the Cape Cod League, batting .330, the A's anted up $675,00 to sign him. His strength, particularly in his hands, lends itself to above-average bat speed and power to the opposite field. He's an aggressive hitter who chases pitches out of the strike zone. His swing gets long and he needs to do a better job recognizing and handling breaking balls. He's a solid-average runner with good instincts on the basepaths. Coleman's athleticism is evident at shortstop, where he has smooth actions, solid range, a quick first step and a strong arm. He was clocked up to 92 mph when he took the mound at times for Wichita State. Coleman and Jason Christian, a 2008 fifth-rounder, both are ready for low Class A, but to get them both playing time at shortstop, Oakland will try to push one of them to high Class A.
The A's considered drafting Bailey in 2005 until he suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. His stuff bounced back the next spring, when Oakland nabbed him in the sixth round. He progressed nicely as a starter until he got to Double-A in 2008, then flourished when he shifted to a relief role in late June. Coming out of the bullpen, he posted a 0.92 ERA (compared to 6.18 in the Midland rotation) and a 41-11 K-BB ratio in 39 innings (compared to a 69-45 K-BB in 71 innings). He carried over his bullpen success to the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 1.29 ERA and a 16-1 K-BB mark in 14 innings. Bailey now is in position to win a role in the A's bullpen in 2009, perhaps even to start the season. His success comes from the outstanding cutting action he gets on his 88-95 mph fastball, which he throws to both sides of the plate. It eats up both lefthanders and righthanders. Bailey scrapped the two-seamer he had been working with as a starter and focused more on his cutting fastball, which he complements with a hard curveball and an occasional changeup. He throws across his body, which puts some excess strain on his arm but also helps create the natural movement on his fastball.
Perhaps Italiano's biggest accomplishment in 2008 was that he managed to stay on the field the entire season, though the A's still limited him to 100 innings as he tired down the stretch. In 2006, he appeared in only four games before going down with shoulder problems and having labrum surgery. The following year, he took a line drive off his head and spent three days in a Chicago hospital with a skull fracture, ending his season after six starts. Italiano dominated the low Class A Midwest League in his third try and earned a promotion to high Class A, where Oakland moved him to the bullpen to limit his workload. Italiano has a lively low-90s fastball that tops out at 96 mph. He backs it up with a hard, tight curveball with 12-to-6 break. His changeup is a decent third pitch but not nearly as effective as his fastball and curve. Italiano's control is below average, which along with his mechanics and medical history might lead him to the bullpen. His arm action is a little short in the back and he doesn't pitch downhill as much as one might expect for a pitcher with his size because he collapses his back leg and gets his front shoulder tilted upward. Because of his limited 2008 workload, the A's again will carefully monitor Italiano's innings in 2009, when he'll likely return to Stockton as a starter.
An all-state baseball and soccer player as a Connecticut high schooler, Carignan was the closer on North Carolina teams that went to back-to-back College World Series finals in 2006 and 2007. His great-grandfather, Augustine "Lefty" Dugas, was a big league outfielder from 1930-34. Carignan is on his way to joining him as a major leaguer, reaching Double-A after just 23 pro innings and posting a 2.01 ERA in his first two years as a pro. His best pitch is a 91-96 mph fastball. He mostly works off his fastball and slider, though he mixed in a curveball last season to give batters another look. His delivery provides some deception, but his fastball doesn't have much movement and at 5-foot-11 he doesn't get much downward plane. He made some progress with his fastball command, but overall he showed below-average control in 2008, walking 6.3 batters per nine innings. Carignan finished the season without allowing a run in 11 of his 12 Arizona Fall League appearances and should begin 2009 in the Triple-A Sacramento bullpen.
A standout pitcher at Spring (Texas) High, Demel set school records with 15 wins and 188 strikeouts (breaking Josh Beckett's mark) as a senior in 2004. He split time between starting and relieving during his first two years at Texas Christian before becoming a full-time closer in 2007 and setting the Horned Frogs' career record for saves (20). In his first full season in pro ball, Demel flourished as a closer in high Class A. His lively 90-93 mph fastball has touched 96 and helped him generate a 2.1-1 groundout-airout ratio last season. His changeup has splitter-like action with downward tumble. His slider at times has good bite but has a tendency to get slurvy. Demel has a max-effort delivery that results in his head coming off line. His herky-jerky motion provides some deception but also impedes his control. He often prefers to throw either his slider or his changeup in three-ball counts because his fastball command is still below average. Demel should open this season closing games in Double-A.
Lansford is the son of Carney Lansford, who spent 15 years in the big leagues and won a World Series with the A's in 1989. The Lansford baseball lineage is distinguished, as Jared's uncles Phil (Indians, 1978) and Joe (Padres, 1979) were both first-round draft picks and his older brother Josh is a third baseman-turned-pitcher in the Cubs system. Jared is the lone member of his family to sign as a pitcher. After making the Midwest League all-star team in 2006, he pitched just four innings the following season after coming down with shoulder tendinitis. Back on the mound in 2008, Lansford moved from starting to relieving and seemed to find his niche. He works off a 91-94 mph sinker and an 82-84 mph slider that shows quick break after some improvement last year. He also has a curveball, but it's a below-average pitch that he doesn't throw much. The same is true of his changeup, which he doesn't need now that he's in the bullpen. He has some effort in his delivery, though it also creates some deception. He'll move up to Double-A in 2009.
Sulentic ranked fourth on this list after 2006, when he won the Dallas-area high school triple crown by batting .654-20-59, went in the third round of the draft and hit .354/.409/.479 against significantly older competition in the Northwest League. But he followed up in 2007 by hitting .175 in low Class A and showing little willingness to make adjustments, earning a demotion back to the NWL. Despite his struggles, the A's still promoted Sulentic to the California League in 2008, hoping that the league's offensive environment and a lower spot in the batting order would improve his confidence and decrease the pressure on him. He put together a solid season before getting hit by a pitch on July 27, breaking his hand and ending his season. Sulentic has strength, bat speed and good opposite-field power, though he still gets pull-oriented at times and struck out 91 times in 95 games last year. His bat will have to carry him because he's already maxed out physically and has fringy speed to go with below-average arm strength. Oakland tried him at second base in instructional league in 2006, but that experiment didn't work. He'll probably be a left fielder, though he played mainly in right last season. The A's were impressed by the defensive strides he made in 2008. He's on track to move up to Double-A this year.
A's roving infield instructor Juan Navarrete lives in Saltillo, Mexico, where he spotted Leon pitching in the Mexican League. After Navarrete touted him, the A's purchased Leon's contract from the Saltillo Sarape Makers in November 2007. They were allowed to keep him until June 15, then had to return him to Saltillo to finish out the season per the terms of the agreement. He'll be back with the A's full-time in 2009. Leon piled up strikeouts in the California and Mexican leagues by working off a sneaky low-90s fastball that has some sink. Leon's best secondary pitch is a big, slow 68-69 mph curveball, and he also has added a cutter to give him a harder offspeed offering. His changeup is below-average. Leon has a drop-and-drive delivery, which at 5-foot-11 causes his pitches to flatten when he leaves them up in the zone, so he needs to create better downward angle to the plate. Though he was a reliever in his U.S. debut and in Mexico, Oakland may use him as a starter next year.
Desme had helium heading into the 2007 draft, but a broken bone in his wrist late in his college season curtailed his momentum. The A's were high enough on him to make him a second-round pick, but injuries thus far have limited him to 49 pro at-bats. His wrist flared up again soon after he made his pro debut, leading to offseason surgery. In minor league camp last spring, he separated his left shoulder trying to make a diving catch and got just three at-bats all year. When healthy, Desme generates plus power with good leverage in his swing and excellent bat speed. Though he's a good athlete, his speed is better suited for an outfield corner. He has the arm strength to play right field. The A's hope he'll be healthy enough to return for the start of the 2009, as they've seen little of what he's capable of as a pro.
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