Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 35-31

It's that time of the year when we take stock of the Oakland A's organization and analyze the top prospects. For the next few weeks, we will profile our top-50 prospect list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with a review of prospects 35-31.

35. Zhi Fang Pan

The A's international scouting efforts broke new ground in 2010 with the signing of Pan, the team's first amateur free agent signing from Taiwan. The middle infielder made a strong impression by putting together an outstanding season with the A's Rookie League team as a 19-year-old.

In 43 games with the AZL A's, Pan hit .331 with an 825 OPS. He finished sixth in the Arizona League in batting average, 10th in OBP and ninth in OPS. Pan also played well defensively, splitting his time between second base and shortstop.

Pan is a switch-hitter with a wiry frame. He swung the bat well from both sides of the plate. As a right-handed hitter he hit .387 BA with a .424 OBP. He has an uppercut from the left-side and he hit for more power (.444 SLG) as a left-handed hitter. Pan was only three-for-seven in stolen base attempts, but he has good speed, as evidenced by his four triples. Defensively, he showed sure hands and the quickness to play both short and second base. He was shut down during the A's Instructional League with elbow soreness, which, if it lingers, would pose a concern for his continued ability to stick at shortstop, however.

Pan demonstrated remarkable maturity in adjusting to life in the US as a 19-year-old while being the only Taiwanese player on the AZL A's roster. He profiles as a classic middle infielder, a slash hitter with the ability to get on-base and run when he gets there.

Pan still has a lot of development left to do and not being able to participate in the A's fall Instructional League has set him back some. It is likely that he will play for short-season Vermont in 2011 so that he can spend the first half of the year at the A's minor league complex improving his game. He will be 20-years-old throughout the 2011 season.

34. A.J. Kirby-Jones

Kirby-Jones hit 40 homers between college and the pros in 2010.

In some ways, Kirby-Jones is the poster-child for the A's 2010 draft class.

"[W}e made a conscious effort to add power into the system and Kirby-Jones is a perfect example of that," A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota told OaklandClubhouse shortly after the draft.

"The guy probably out-performed anyone at the college level for the past few years. We have scouts who went in and said that the power was real. It wasn't due to college baseball and it wasn't due to aluminum bats or anything. They strongly felt that the power was real and that it would translate to our game."

Thus far, Kirby-Jones is backing up the scouts' assessments. The first-baseman set a Tennessee Tech single-season record with 26 homeruns in only 206 at-bats in 2010. He finished his career with the Golden Eagles as the team's all-time leader in homeruns, total bases, runs, hits, doubles and RBIs.

Once turning pro, the A's ninth-round pick added 14 more homeruns to his 2010 total, this time in 247 at-bats. He finished tied for second in the Northwest League in homeruns despite the fact that he played his home games in Vancouver's Nat Bailey Stadium, which is an expansive ballpark not normally conducive to the longball.

Kirby-Jones wasn't just a power hitter, however. He also led the Northwest League in walks with 61 and carried the Vancouver offense for much of the season until A's top pick Michael Choice joined the team for the final month of the year. Kirby-Jones' .417 OBP was the second highest in the league and his 887 OPS was the league's fourth-best total. He was named to the Northwest League's Post-Season All-Star team.

Based on his .259/.417/.470 slash line and his 61 walks and 82 strike-outs in 75 games, some began to compare Kirby-Jones to former A's DH Jack Cust. While the two men share a similar build (Kirby-Jones, like Cust, isn't quite six-feet tall, but he has a powerful 220 pound frame), A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi doesn't see Kirby-Jones as developing into the same type of "three-true outcomes" player that Cust has been in the big leagues (a "three-true outcomes" player is one who fills up the stat-sheet with true-outcome statistics – strike-outs, walks and homeruns – outcomes that can't be influenced by the defense).

"[Kirby-Jones] is a guy who walked in college, although I was a little bit surprised about how much he walked in the Northwest League. Some of that actually was him getting pitched around. Particularly before Choice got there, he was viewed as such a dangerous hitter. At least the reports we got from that staff [in Vancouver] was that he wasn't getting a lot to hit and a lot of those walks were him clearly being pitched around as opposed to him working the count," Zaidi said.

"He hit for an extremely high average in college, but then again, Jack hit for an extremely high average in the minors, too. Overall, I still think of Kirby-Jones as more of a contact-oriented hitter than Jack. I don't think he is going to be quite at the same extreme three-true outcomes player as Jack, but there are some comparisons."

Kirby-Jones has a chance to contribute more defensively than Cust has throughout his career. Kirby-Jones committed 12 errors at first base for Vancouver this year, but he has the tools to be a solid defensive first baseman. A former standout defensive lineman in high school, Kirby-Jones has good athleticism and can move his feet well. He was a pitcher, in addition to a first-baseman, in college and has an above-average throwing arm for first base. He spent a lot of time working on his defense during the A's Instructional League and made some improvements.

Offensively, Kirby-Jones has a solid approach at the plate. He waits for the ball well and has power to all fields, although he did get a little pull-happy at times in Vancouver. He, like many power hitters, is susceptible to the strike-out as he rarely shortens his swing with two strikes just to make contact. Whether he is able to maintain his high level of production despite the high strike-out totals will hinge on his ability to continue to draw a lot of walks and punish any mistake pitches that cross his path. Kirby-Jones proved in Vancouver that his power translates well to wood bats and, should he start next season in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, Kirby-Jones should have no trouble putting up good power numbers again in 2011.

33. A.J. Griffin

Griffin was a shut-down closer for Vancouver.

Griffin was the second of two University of San Diego pitchers selected in consecutive picks by the A's in the 2010 draft. Thus far, the team is more than pleased with both selections. While 12th-round pick and fellow Torero Matt Thomson led the short-season Vancouver Canadians' starting rotation, Griffin was the team's dominant closer.

The towering right-hander made four appearances for the A's Rookie League club, allowing only a hit and striking out six in five innings before he was promoted to Vancouver. Once with the Canadians, Griffin appeared in 20 games, racked up 15 saves and allowed only 14 hits and seven earned runs (2.95 ERA) in 21.1 innings. He struck-out 27 and walked seven and he didn't allow a homerun.

Ironically, it was Thomson who was the reliever and Griffin who was the starter with USD during the collegiate regular season. In fact, it was because Griffin was a starter for USD that the A's moved him to the bullpen when he signed, as they wanted to limit his innings after he threw 98 innings for the Toreros during the college season. Griffin had an outstanding 10.31 K/9 ratio with USD and he struck-out nearly five times as many batters as he walked during the college season.

Griffin pitched in both a starting and relief capacity in college, finding success in both roles. He has a starter's pitch mix, with an 88-92 MPH fastball, cut fastball, slider, change-up and curveball. The change-up and slider are already excellent pitches. Griffin has an aggressive approach to pitching, attacking the strike-zone and challenging hitters to beat him. He is a flyball pitcher, so he does give up his share of homeruns, although he didn't give up any in his pro debut.

Griffin is 6'5'' and his height makes it difficult for hitters to time his fastball. He was used a lot in college, especially his junior season when he worked as both a starter and a closer, often in the same week. However, he hasn't had any health issues. The A's have yet to decide whether Griffin will be used as a starter or a reliever long-term, although given the success he had as a closer with Vancouver, it will be tempting for the A's to leave him in that role. If he goes into the rotation, Griffin will probably start the 2011 season with Low-A Burlington. If he stays in the bullpen, he could jump to High-A Stockton.

32. Paul Smyth

Smyth had Ports' fans smiling much of the season.

When 2009 35th round pick Smyth posted a perfect professional debut – not allowing an earned run in 36.1 innings with short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County – the Atascadero native opened a lot of eyes. However, many pundits remained reserved about their assessment of the sidearming right-hander, waiting to see how he responded when pitching in more hitter-friendly environments against more advanced competition in 2010. After excelling in the California League in 2010, Smyth is starting to erase a lot of those reservations.

Smyth served as the High-A Stockton Ports' closer for the entire season, racking up 28 saves, which put him tied for second in that category in the league. He appeared in 58 games and allowed only 68 hits in 77.2 innings while striking out a remarkable 94 batters. As one would expect from a sidearmer, Smyth did an excellent job of keeping the ball on the ground, recording nearly one-and-a-half ground-outs for every fly-out and allowing only four homeruns. He finished the season with an ERA of 3.01.

Unlike many sidearmers, including A's reliever Brad Ziegler, Smyth has always thrown sidearm, so he has more consistency with his release point than many sidearmers who learned the motion later in their careers. Although Smyth doesn't have the blazing fastball that his career 10.89 K/9 ratio would suggest, he can reach 93 MPH with the pitch and regularly sits in the 88-91 MPH range with a lot of sinking movement. His arm angle isn't quite as low as Ziegler's, but he does hide the ball well, especially from right-handed hitters who had only a 577 OPS against him in 2010 (lefties had a 704 OPS). Smyth also has an excellent curveball and a solid change-up.

What A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Gil Patterson likes best about Smyth is his attitude on the mound, however.

"[B]oy, I tell you what, [Smyth] is something. No fear. Come right after you, here you go. Come get this. He is not afraid to go right after you," Patterson said.

Smyth has always had a rubber-arm, throwing at least 50 relief innings since he started his collegiate career. His 77.2 innings in 2010 were the most of his college or professional career, however, and he did appear to tire in the later months of the season. Batters hit .289 against him after the All-Star break and he allowed seven runs in 2.2 innings over his final three appearances (including a playoff appearance with Double-A Midland). As he gets used to pitching a full professional season, those numbers are likely to improve. Smyth has an excellent mindset for a late-inning reliever, as he challenges hitters in the strike-zone and has a short memory when things go badly.

Smyth was a four-year player at Kansas, so he will be 24 throughout the 2011 season despite having only a year-and-a-half of professional experience. Age isn't as important for relievers, especially one with Smyth's pitching profile. He figures to start the 2011 season with Midland and could be in Triple-A Sacramento by the second half of the year. Smyth has an outside chance of pitching in the big leagues in 2011 and, if he repeats his 2010 performance, he should be in the conversation for a major league role at some point in 2012.

31. Argenis Paez

Despite never having pitched above the short-season Rookie ball level, Paez engenders a lot of confidence from the A's minor league coaching staff. In 2010, the 20-year-old right-hander from Venezuela posted another outstanding season with the Arizona Rookie League A's and much is anticipated from Paez for 2011.

Paez was signed by the A's as an amateur free agent from Venezuela before the 2008 season. After pitching in the Dominican Summer League in 2008 and the start of 2009, Paez jumped to the Arizona Rookie League for the final two months of the 2009 season. He acquitted himself well, posting a 3.68 ERA and a 46:21 K:BB ratio.

Paez improved on those numbers in 2010 in a full season in the AZL. In 65.2 innings, Paez posted a 3.15 ERA and he struck-out 53 while walking only 17. He also induced 2.68 groundouts for every flyout and allowed only four homeruns.

Paez's best pitch is his sinking fastball, which currently sits in the low-90s and should gain some velocity as he grows into his 6'3'' frame. He also features a curveball and change-up and both pitches gained polish this season as he worked with Arizona A's pitching coach Ariel Prieto. His build and pitching repertoire is similar to that of current A's starter Trevor Cahill, although he doesn't have the level of polish to his game that Cahill did at age 19.

Paez turned 20 after the 2010 season concluded, so he has plenty of time for development. He may skip over short-season A and go right to Low-A Burlington in 2011. A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Gil Patterson was so impressed with Paez's maturity that he said Paez was a candidate to be a spot starter for either Low-A Kane County or High-A Stockton towards the end of the season had they needed a starter.

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