40. Jeremy Barfield
|Barfield played through the pain of sore knees. b>|
For the first time since being drafted by the A's in 2008, Barfield got the opportunity to hit in a hitter-friendly league. As expected, Barfield's offensive numbers improved in 2010, but, going into his fourth professional season, he still hasn't realized his full offensive potential.
After two seasons in the pitcher-friendly Northwest and Midwest leagues, Barfield spent his 2010 campaign in the California League, known for its smaller ballparks and warm, light air. Barfield put up some good numbers for High-A Stockton, collecting a career-high 92 RBIs and 17 homeruns in a career-best 135 games. However, some streakiness and perpetually sore knees prevented him from having a truly breakthrough season.
When the A's selected Barfield in the eighth round of the 2008 draft out of a Texas junior college, Oakland envisioned a player with a similar skill-set to his famous father Jesse: a power-hitting corner outfielder with a canon throwing arm. The younger Barfield showed flashes of being that kind of player in 2010. In the field, Barfield made it a regular habit to cut down runners on the base-paths. He recorded a remarkable 24 outfield assists in right-field. However, he also committed 10 errors in right, most of those coming on throws that he would occasionally airmail. Barfield's range was limited in the field for much of the season thanks to his bad knees.
On offense, Barfield was inconsistent. He struggled in April (.244/.367/.341) and in July (.169/.243/.225) and was average in June (.269/.320/.419), but was excellent in May (.295/.349/.455) and outstanding in August and September (.336/.403/.680). A right-handed hitter and a left-handed thrower, Barfield hit left-handed pitching well (.294/.363/.479) while he was average against right-handers (.265/.333/.398). Not surprisingly, he hit much better away from the Ports' Banner Island Ballpark, which is one of the more neutral hitting environments in the California League. Barfield excelled with runners on base and in scoring position, hitting 10 of his homeruns with runners on base and posting an OPS 20 points higher than his OPS with the bases-empty.
Barfield should receive a lot of credit for gutting out an entire season with knee soreness, which he had to address with surgery after the season's end for a second straight year. Playing everyday with pain certainly took a toll on his numbers.
Barfield's swing has a tendency to get long at times, but during the finals weeks of the 2010 campaign, he was in a consistent groove. Defensively, he still has to work on his reads and on occasionally reigning in that plus-throwing arm when the play isn't there. Provided he is moving a little freer after this latest knee surgery, Barfield should be a solid corner outfielder as he gains experience. He has the best throwing arm of any outfielder in the A's system.
At 22-years-old, Barfield is still growing and is at least an inch taller than his listed 6'5'' height. With his build, one would expect him to put up a number of seasons with 20+ homers. Better health and a more consistent swing from game-to-game should allow him to reach that total with Double-A Midland in 2011.
39. Pedro Figueroa
|Tommy John surgery sidelined Figueroa. b>|
The 2009 season was a huge breakthrough campaign for the hard-throwing Figueroa, who finally began to realize his potential with a 3.38 ERA and 145 strike-outs in 152 innings in his first season in a full-year league (he split the year between Low-A Kane County and High-A Stockton). Figueroa was rewarded for that campaign with a spot on the A's 40-man roster, as Oakland was concerned they would lose the lefty in the Rule 5 draft in his second year of Rule 5 eligibility.
The 2010 campaign began on a positive note for Figueroa, who held his own during his time in big league spring training camp. He posted a 3.27 ERA in four April starts for Double-A Midland, striking out 18 and walking eight in 22 innings. However, things started to go downhill for Figueroa in May, as his ERA jumped to 6.00 and he walked 15 while striking out 26 in 33 innings. After posting a 6.61 ERA in three June starts, he was sidelined with a sore left elbow. Eventually the injury was diagnosed as a tear of the UCL and he underwent Tommy John surgery.
When healthy, Figueroa features a fastball that sits comfortably in the 92-94 MPH range and can touch 95, as well as an excellent slider. In 2009, he began to throw his change-up with more confidence, giving him three solid pitches with which to work. Before succumbing to injury, Figueroa was learning how to pitch to more advanced hitters who weren't as apt to swing at pitches out of the strike-zone. He was also working on pitch selection and how to keep hitters off-balance. Both will continue to be works-in-progress when he returns from injury.
Figueroa is a late bloomer. Signed by the A's as an amateur free agent in 2003, Figueroa didn't make his US professional debut until 2006 and didn't land on the A's prospect radar until 2008, when a growth spurt added a few MPHs to his fastball. At 24 years old, Figueroa was already a little old for the Double-A level in 2010. His recovery from Tommy John surgery will likely cost him the entire 2011 season, so he will most likely be 26 by the time he pitches again at the Double-A level. Given those circumstances, it is likely that Figueroa's days as a starter are over. However, there is still real value in having a hard-throwing left-handed reliever with Figueroa's fastball-slider combination. Provided he returns to the mound with his full velocity, Figueroa could move quickly through the A's system as a reliever.
38. Andrew Carignan
|Carignan struggled to regain his release point. b>|
It has been a rough two years for Carignan, who was on the verge of making the major leagues during the spring of 2009 before an elbow ailment sidelined him for virtually the entire 2009 season. He then spent much of 2010 trying to regain the mechanics and release point that had allowed him to be a top relief prospect. The A's are optimistic that, after an uneven 2010 campaign, Carignan has turned a corner and will be back to his dominating self in 2011.
After a distinguished career as a closer for UNC, Carignan was selected in the fifth round of the 2007 draft by the A's and was quickly placed on the fast-track by Oakland. He began his career in Low-A in 2007, made a quick stop in High-A at the start of 2008 and saved 24 games for Double-A Midland in 2008. After pitching well in the Arizona Fall League, Carignan was invited to the A's big league spring training camp before the 2009 season and many expected him to reach the major leagues at some point that season. That never happened, as he was limited to two innings for the entire season thanks to the elbow injury.
In 2010, Carignan began the year in extended spring training, but joined the High-A Stockton Ports in May. He would spend the entire year with the Ports but struggled to recapture the dominance that he demonstrated in his first stint with Stockton, when he allowed only a run in 10 innings and struck-out 17. The strike-outs were still there, as he K'd 44 in 33 innings for Stockton in 2010, but his command was all over the place, as he walked 34.
There were reasons for optimism from Carignan's time with Stockton, however. For one, he was mostly healthy and was throwing in the low- to mid-90s. (Before his elbow injury, Carignan's velocity sat in the mid-90s and occasionally hit 97.) He also was very difficult to hit despite his lack of command, allowing only 28 hits. Carignan continued to do a good job of keeping the ball on the ground, as well. He allowed only two homeruns and induced a career-best 2.12 groundouts for every flyout.
The biggest reason for optimism in regards to Carignan came after the season, however. Despite being a minor league veteran, he was invited to the A's fall Instructional League to continue his work on maintaining a consistent throwing motion and release point. Carignan impressed during the camp and had A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman predicting big things for the 5'11'' right-hander in 2011:
"He really is on target and has begun to find some things out. He is getting healthy and he may be next year's ‘Comeback Player of the Year,'" Lieppman said.
"He's on track and feels good about what he is doing. We know there is stuff there. If he is healthy, his rise should be pretty quick."
37. Anthony Capra
|Capra's command betrayed him for much of the season. b>|
In many ways, Capra's 2010 season could be summed up by his start in the 2010 Texas League Championship Series when he held the star-studded Northwest Arkansas Naturals' line-up hitless on five strike-outs in six innings, but walked six batters and committed a throwing error that led to an unearned run. In his first season at the Double-A level, Capra was, at times, brilliant, but often was undone by inconsistent command.
Since being drafted in the fourth round by the A's in 2008, Capra has had issues with his command. In his pro debut season in 2008, he walked 22 in 49 innings for Low-A Kane County. In 2009, he walked 61 in 152 innings for Kane County and High-A Stockton, but he limited that damage by striking out 170 and allowing batters to hit only .206 against him. The poor command hurt Capra again 2010, however. Despite allowing only 120 hits and striking out 118 in 130.2 innings, Capra had a 4.27 ERA for Double-A Midland thanks to 89 walks.
The jump from A-ball to Double-A is often the most difficult one for a pitcher to make in the minor leagues, as the hitters get more selective and the strike-zones get tighter while the talent gets better across the board. Capra's struggles in 2010 were reflective of this, as he not only missed the strike-zone with more frequency, but he often struggled with pitch selection as he tried to figure out how best to tackle his opposition. A walk would often turn into a big inning. In some ways, Capra's struggles in 2010 were similar to Andrew Bailey's struggles with Midland as a starter in 2008. However, unlike with Bailey, the A's have given Capra more time to see if he can last as a starter before trying him as a reliever.
Capra isn't a big guy, at 6'0'', 200 pounds, but he has shown excellent stamina throughout his professional career. He has a bulldog mentality on the mound and did a good job fighting through outings when his command wasn't there. He also improved his groundball rate and lowered his homerun rate in 2010. However, his walk rate nearly doubled and will need to get back to his 2009 levels if he is to move past Double-A.
Capra's best pitch is a change-up that he can use as an out-pitch in almost any situation. His fastball has more zip than one would expect from his build, sitting at 89-91 and touching 93 on occasion. His fastball command was often what hurt him in 2010, however. He also has a curveball that was inconsistently effective in 2010. His defense is still a work-in-progress.
The 2010 season was a step-backwards for Capra, but he is still an intriguing prospect because of his ability to miss bats. He will be 24 throughout the 2011 season and will almost certainly repeat at Double-A to start the season. In an ideal world, Capra will show the same sort of improvement during his second tour in the Texas League as his former Wichita State teammate Travis Banwart did in 2010. Banwart, who struggled for Midland in 2009, pitched so well for the Rockhounds early in the 2010 season that he was promoted to Triple-A by mid-season and by the end of the year was one of the best starters on the Sacramento River Cats' staff. If Capra struggles early with Midland, however, look for the A's to try him in the bullpen.
36. Omar Duran
Before the 2008 season, the A's front office declared that the team would be enhancing its efforts in the international amateur free agent market, with increased spending on bonuses and scouting. Since that time, the A's have quickly developed into major players for the top international amateur talents. At the start of those renewed efforts, the A's signed a handful of international free agents before the 2008 regular season. Duran was one of those players. While it has taken him a few years to grow as a player, Duran is starting to emerge as one of the A's top prospects from that international signing class.
After a relatively non-descript professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2008, Duran made his US debut in 2009, posting a 5.40 ERA with 21 strike-outs and 11 walks in 15 innings for the AZL A's (he also struck-out 14 and walked three in nine innings with the DSL A's). However, an elbow injury limited Duran to only those 18 innings. Consequently, the A's were cautious with the 20-year-old left-hander in 2010. He spent the entire season with the AZL A's, appearing in 14 games, 12 of them in relief. Most of the relief appearances were of the long relief variety, but he was on a strict pitch count in every outing.
Despite the restrictions, Duran made a positive impression with the AZL A's. In 40.1 innings, he had a 2.01 ERA and allowed only 33 hits. He struck-out 54, while walking 17, his best K:BB ratio of his career by far. Duran also induced two ground-outs for every fly-out and didn't allow a homer (in fact, he has yet to allow a homerun in his professional career). He was named to the AZL post-season All-Star team for his efforts.
Unfortunately, Duran's season ended on somewhat of a down note, as he was sent home early from the A's US Instructional League camp with elbow soreness. The A's are hopeful that an off-season of rehab and rest will allow the Dominican native to be 100 percent by spring training.
Although Duran was used as a reliever in 2010, he should return to the starting rotation once he is fully recovered from his elbow problems. He has a starter's build (6'3'', 210 pounds) and swing-and-miss stuff. His command improved greatly this season, as he demonstrated that he wasn't afraid to challenge hitters. His best pitch is his fastball, which sits in the 90-93 MPH range and can touch 95. The development of his secondary pitches and his ability to stay healthy will determine whether Duran will be a starter or a reliever longterm. He will be 21 for the entire 2011 season and is likely to pitch for short-season Vermont, although he could jump to Low-A Burlington with an outstanding spring training.