Over the past month or so, Swingin’ A’s has been counting down a list of the top 10 Athletics’ prospects heading into the 2012 season. While the list is technically finished, we’ve decided to review the top 10 prospects grazing on Oakland’s farm one last time. These are the players who should be regarded as potential game-changers for the A’s, a team mired in a playoff drought.
Players like Michael Choice (No.1 on our list) and A.J. Cole (No.4 on our list) are the type of players who could greatly influence the A’s organization. Choice is a perennial powerhouse while Cole possesses No.1 starter stuff. The A’s have a few more impact players who could find their way onto the major league field, but before they do, they’ll need to prove themselves in the minor leagues first.
With that, here’s another look at Swingin’ A’s Top 10 Prospects in 2012:
- OF Michael Choice: Choice, Oakland’s 2010 first-round draft pick, sits atop this list for one reason: his power. He easily outshines the rest of Oakland’s hitting prospects on this list and in the rest of the team’s farm system, for that matter. The A’s former first-rounder boasts great power, as evidenced by his .285/.376/.542, 30 HR, 82 RBI season with the Stockton Ports last year. There are some concerns about Choice’s strikeout percentage (24.7% in ’11), but the A’s are encouraged by the prospect’s ability to get on base (11.3 BB% in ’11). The strikeouts are a problem and he may never hit .300 in his big league career, but the A’s have a true power hitter on their hands with Choice. He should, in theory, have no problem climbing up the minor league latter. A true athlete, Choice also has a strong arm and solid speed. He’s the clear choice for this No.1 spot.
- RHP Jarrod Parker: Parker, who was acquired in the trade that sent Trevor Cahill to Arizona, comes to Oakland as a top pitching prospect. The A’s seemingly have a grip on things when it comes to evaluating pitching, as the Cahill deal scored the team a highly regarded pitcher in Parker. Parker did, however, have Tommy John Surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2010 season. Still, his performance in Double-A last year has put some of those concerns over his health to rest. In 26 starts last year with Arizona’s Double-A affiliate, Parker went 11-8 with a solid 3.79 ERA over 130.2 innings. He posted a 7.7 SO/9 and a 3.8 BB/9 last year with Double-A Mobile, too. Parker haters will likely point to his SO/9 drop off post Tommy John Surgery, but rest assured all you A’s fans, Parker has talent. His fastball comes in at 93-94 MPH and features a nice slider and changeup combo in his attack. He’s got the stuff, but staying healthy will be the most important thing this year for Parker. Should his development continue to go according to plan, he should be regarded as a future No.1 or No.2 starter in the Athletics’ rotation.
- RHP Sonny Gray: Gray, Oakland’s top 2011 draft pick, sits in the No.3 spot on this list for his uncanny comparison to former Athletics hurler Tim Hudson. A lot of people will go on to say Gray will potentially serve as the second-coming of Tim Hudson for the A’s and I definitely see the possibilities. Taken 18th overall in the draft last year, Gray is an aggressive pitcher who features a nice fastball, a developing changeup, and a nice breaking ball that gets hitters to miss. The pitcher is pegged down a notch or two by scouts due to his small frame (5’11”), but don’t let that fool you, A’s fans. Gray definitely has a bright future ahead of him with the Athletics. In 20.0 innings of work last year in Double-A, Gray went 1-0 with a 0.45 ERA while also recording 18 strikeouts and six walks. He’s got a long road ahead of him, but a 2013 debut isn’t entirely out of the question for Gray. His work ethic, great athleticism, and determination could help him get to the bigs a little sooner than expected.
- RHP A.J. Cole: The Gio Gonzalez deal was, in my mind, the biggest trade Billy Beane made this past winter. The A’s scored big in that deal and one of the four prospects received from the Nationals that has me excited is young righty A.J. Cole. The 6’4″ lanky righty has the ideal pitcher’s body and has lots of room for growing. At just 20 years of age, Cole projects to be a front-line starter for the Athletics at some point in the future. The lean and mean pitching machine that is Cole currently features a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, a curveball with great breaking action, and a still-developing changeup. He’ll sweep the curve against both righties and lefties, indicating he’s got strong faith in the pitch. His fastball, though, remains his best pitch. He posted a 10.9 SO/9 rate in 89.0 innings last year and also posted an encouraging 2.53 FIP with Single-A Hagerstown. He also displayed solid control, posting a 2.4 BB/9 rate last year as well. Give him a few more years and he’ll be ready to help dominate opposing offenses in the American League.
- RHP Brad Peacock: The Gonzalez deal, as I said, was huge for Billy Beane and the Athletics. Not only did the green-and-gold score big with Cole, but the team hauled in another potential member for their starting rotation in Brad Peacock. Peacock, 24, is a former 41st round draft pick, but don’t let that fool you. Peacock has the stuff to make it in the big leagues and barring any injuries, Peacock should have the opportunity to pitch in the starting rotation at some point this year. He excelled in Washington’s farm-system and often got better and better as he moved through the minors. His numbers last year were impressive, as he went a combined 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA while putting in time with both Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He posted some big strikeout numbers last year, too. He posted a SO/9 rate of 6.3 in ’09, a 9.4 SO/9 rate in ’10, and a 10.9 SO/9 rate last year. For the A’s, Peacock is yet another pitcher who could, in more ways than none, surprise the baseball world by helping the A’s starting rotation survive post Cahill and Gonzalez.
- LHP Tom Milone: Sitting in the No.6 spot is lefty Tom Milone, who will likely join the A’s this season as the team’s No.3 starter in the rotation. Yet another prospect hauled in during the Gonzalez trade, Milone’s name comes in at No.6 justifiably so. Milone has dominated the minor leagues, or any league he’s participated in, for that matter. The former 10th round pick of the 2008 draft went 12-6 with a 3.22 ERA and a 9.4 SO/9 rate last year in 24 starts with Triple-A Syracuse. What impresses me even more, though, is Milone’s pin-point command. He walked just 16 batters last year in Triple-A while posting an impressive 9.69 SO/BB. Despite his incredible track record in the minor leagues, Milone still has his share of critics who attack his poor fastball velocity. He’s not going to overpower you with his mid-to-high 80s fastball, but like fellow Athletics’ pitcher Dallas Braden, Milone will get the job done. In the end, that’s all that matters.
- OF/1B/DH Chris Carter: Chris Carter is an interesting prospect. He’s been long-considered Oakland’s top hitting prospect, but with the arrival of Michael Choice, Carter’s elusive title seems to be under fire. At 25, this year seems to be Carter’s final shot at showing Oakland’s front office what he can do. The only problem with that, however, is that Carter will likely be showing the A’s top brass more of the same thing: minor league dominance with no carryover success into the majors. The slugger has downright dominated the minor leagues and even posted 124 home runs during the years 2007-2010. In 75 games last year with the River Cats, Carter posted a .274/.366/.530 with 18 HR and 72 RBIs. Still, if he could improve upon his numbers, it would be his strikeout rates. He struck out a whopping 24.7% of the time and did even worse in his big league games (43.5%). He’s got the power that Oakland has been craving for, but the strikeout rates are a bit much, especially for the offensively-challenged A’s. His window of opportunity is closing…
- OF Michael Taylor: Taylor is seemingly in the same boat as Carter. He came to Oakland during the whole Cliff Lee–Roy Halladay deal, but upon his arrival, he’s failed to impress many people in Oakland’s system. He’s got talent, but he hasn’t shown much of it during his tenure in Oakland. He enjoyed some success last year in Triple-A Sacramento, hitting .272/.360/.456 with 16 HR and 64 RBIs. That’s an improvement over the six home runs he hit in 2010, but still a far-cry from the 25-30 home run power he’s been projected to have. The A’s are still holding out hope for both Carter and Taylor, but the two prospects will likely have to post some monster numbers in Triple-A Sacramento this year in order to find their way to Oakland and on Bob Melvin’s lineup card.
- C Derek Norris: Norris, 23, is a leading candidate to replace current catcher Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki’s future in Oakland isn’t in jeopardy or anything, but his name has been mentioned in trade rumors. Norris, who was acquired in the Gonzalez deal, has two things: power and an ability to draw walks. Last year, Norris hit 20 home runs and drew 77 walks over 423 at-bats. For a team that’s hungry for power, Norris fits perfectly. He struck out 27.7% of the time last year, but also walked 18.2% of the time. In addition to those numbers, Norris posted a .251 ISO. He’s a top prospect, no doubt, but he’s still got plenty of room for growing.
- SS Grant Green: Green isn’t the No.1 prospect he once was, or at least, so it seems. The A’s have moved Green from short-stop to the outfield, which seems to indicate the team doesn’t have a clear idea as to where Green fits in. After posting so-so numbers in 2011, Green may need to have himself a stellar 2012 campaign in order to win back some of the lost support from the fans. Green struggled with the strike zone in 2011, posting a 119/39 K/BB ratio. After hitting .318/.363/.520 with 20 HR and 87 RBIs with Stockton in 2010, Green’s numbers dipped to .291/.343/.408, 9 HR and 62 RBIs last year. The 112 point dip in SLG is discouraging, but Green’s continued strike zone problems have people questioning Green’s involvement on this list of top 10 prospects. He’s got talent, but he’ll need to re-establish himself this year as a viable major league starter.