A Look In The Cupboard: The Athletics Minor League System


It has been the calling card of the A’s since the beginning of the Moneyball era that the team has been able to draft strong, build from within, and always have a strong minor league foundation.  In recent years though that minor league system had become somewhat barren, some swings and misses on draft picks, some ill advised trades, and overall misfortune had turned what was one of the best systems in all of baseball into one of the weakest.  With the rather modest means GM Billy Beane has to work with, a strong foundation is essential for any chance at success, so Billy saw fit to focus on restocking the system through the draft and through a number of major trades.  I wanted to take a look and see how some of the more notable prospects are faring thus far in 2012, is their stock rising or falling, and when can we can expect to see them in Oakland.

Michael Choice, OF

(Current Team: AA Midland Rockhounds, Drafted by Athletics in 2010 1st Round)

Michael burst onto the scene in 2011 with a monster season at High A Stockton, he hit .285/.376/.542 with 30 home runs and 82 RBI in 118 games with the Ports.  He began the 2012 campaign with Double A Midland and has struggled a bit so far this year.  His power production has fallen off the table which has to be disconcerting for the organization as that was the most attractive aspect of his game.  Thus far through 66 games in the normally hitter friendly Texas League, Choice is batting .262/.338/.365 with just 5 home runs and 38 RBI.  I thought before the season that there was an outside shot Choice would dominate at Double A, find himself in Sacramento by this point in the season, and have an outside shot at a September call up to get his feet wet in Oakland.  That is pretty much impossible at this point, so perhaps a September call-up in 2013 is the best case scenario for Choice’s arrival in Oakland if he can get things turned around.

A.J. Cole, SP

(Current Team: Low A Burlington Bees, Acquired from Washington Nationals in trade for Gio Gonzalez)

Once the A’s fans began to calm down after the big trade that sent the very popular Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals, many began to get excited about the haul that Gio netted.  One of the biggest prizes, and perhaps the most intriguing of them all was the lanky right hander A.J. Cole.  Cole started the season in High A Stockton and struggled mightily though to the tune of an ERA of 7.82 in 38 innings, but a BABIP of .405 indicates a little bit of hard luck and perhaps poor defense hurt him in Stockton, he was demoted to Burlington to rebuild his confidence and has performed well there.  Look for him to work his way back to Stockton this year, but he won’t be seen in Oakland most likely till at least late 2014 or 2015.

Brad Peacock, SP

(Current Team: AAA Sacramento Rivercats, Acquired from Washington Nationals in trade for Gio Gonzalez)

Peacock was the marquis name brought in from the Gio Gonzalez trade, he had already made his MLB debut and was a highly regarded prospect.  He was in competition for a spot in the A’s rotation during Spring Training, but demonstrated he wasn’t quite ready for the bigs to start the season.  So the A’s sent him to Sacramento, and he’s had some problems there, but the numbers show it isn’t really his fault.  At this point Peacock is 6-3 with a 5.09 ERA but his .356 BABIP and his 3.36 FIP indicates he’s just not getting support from his defense and is pitching much better than his numbers show.  I still expect to see Peacock in Oakland this season despite what on the surface looks like a poor season in Sacramento, and the way A’s starters like to get hurt it might be much sooner rather than later.

Sonny Gray, SP

(Current Team: AA Midland Rockhounds, Drafted by Athletics in 2011 1st Round)

Sonny Gray dazzled the A’s in his small sample of Double A competition in 2011, posting a 0.45 ERA in 20 innings of work.  2012 has been a much different story though for the small right hander.  In 61.1 innings he has a 4.84 ERA with a .284 BABIP that indicates his performance is about in line with his ERA.  The discouraging numbers are his strikeout and walk rates,  just striking out 5.72/9 innings, and walking 4.40/9 innings.  These numbers need to see major improvement for Gray’s trajectory as a middle to top of the rotation starter to remain.  Gray was another prospect I thought might be on the fast track to Oakland, perhaps as soon as late this season, right now I would put him on track for a late 2013 arrival or sometime in 2014.

Derek Norris, C

(Current Team: AAA Sacramento RivercatsAcquired from Washington Nationals in trade for Gio Gonzalez)

Also acquired in the armored truckload of prospects in the Gio deal was slugging catcher Derek Norris.  At this point it’s safe to say he’ll be the heir apparent to Kurt Suzuki behind the plate in Oakland.  Norris got his first taste of AAA competition to begin the 2012 season and has had success so far.  In 54 games he’s hitting .273/.332/.478 with 8 home runs and 36 RBI.  I’m sure the A’s would like to see that OBP approach the .350 mark, and his prior seasons indicate he has the ability to get on base at a much higher rate than he is in Sacramento.  There’s a distinct possibility we can see Norris in Oakland this season, but in order to do that Kurt Suzuki will probably have to be traded because Norris needs to be playing regularly.  If Norris continues to perform in Sacramento this year, I would bet he’ll be counted on as the starting catcher in Oakland by the beginning of the 2013 season at the latest earliest.

Grant Green, IF/OF

(Current Team: AAA Sacramento Rivercats, Drafted by Athletics in 2009 1st Round)

Grant Green has had the most interesting path through the minors of anyone on this list.  He was drafted as a SS out of college, was converted to an OF, and now appears to be moving back to the infield as the A’s seem to have themselves set up in the outfield.  So far in Sacramento, in 60 games he is hitting .298/.341/.468 with 8 home runs and 38 RBI.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him in Oakland in September when rosters expand, an earlier arrival would probably only come with an injury to Brandon Inge or Cliff Pennington.  With his recent starts at 3B though, I would imagine he’ll be in the mix for regular playing time in Oakland at the hot corner come 2013 along with the returning Scott Sizemore.

Those are just some of the most notable prospects in the A’s system, but there are a few under the radar prospects who are beginning to make an impact.  The most eye popping of those would have to be 1B Miles Head.  Head was acquired along with Josh Reddick and pitcher Raul Alcantara in the deal that sent CL Andrew Bailey and OF Ryan Sweeney to the Boston Red Sox.  So far in High A Stockton, Head has embarrassed California League competition with a .382/.433/.715 line and 18 home runs along with 56 RBI in 67 games.  This power display has got to have the A’s brass giggling to themselves about that trade, it remains to be seen if it can be sustained.  A promotion to Double A Midland will be in his near future.  A.J. Griffin has excelled at 2 levels of the minor leagues so far this year, in Double A and Triple A he has posted an ERA comfortably under 3, with solid K/9 rates, and very low BB/9 rates.  A promotion to Oakland is an outside possibility in 2012, but more than likely we’ll see Griffin in white spikes in 2013 some time.

The A’s farm system is on the rebound for sure, and with another draft in the books and the signing of SS Addison Russel the future looks even brighter.  The A’s have the pieces in place to build a strong nucleus for success, it is now up to the organization as a whole to nurture these players to reach their potential.

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