Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 25-21

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 25-21.

25. Tyler Vail

It is easy to measure how much the A's philosophy on drafting high school pitchers has changed since the publication of the book Moneyball by the fact that it wasn't that notable that Oakland selected Vail in the fifth round this past season. The right-hander from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is the latest is a recent collection of high school pitchers the team has targeted in the early rounds of the draft. Less than a year removed from being drafted, Vail is already drawing comparisons to two pitchers selected by the A's out of high school: Trevor Cahill and Vince Mazzaro.

Vail was the fourth high school player taken by the A's in rounds two through five in 2010 and the first to sign. He reported to the A's Rookie League team in Arizona and made 13 appearances. Although 10 were starts, the majority of Vail's appearances were limited to three innings, as the A's wanted to ease him into professional baseball. Vail acquitted himself well in his first pro season, posting a 3.13 ERA and allowing only a .218 BAA in 31.2 innings. He struck-out 29, walked eight and allowed only one homerun. Vail also induced 1.30 groundouts for every flyout.

Coming out of a relatively low-profile high school baseball program in the Northeast, Vail didn't have a lot of the pre-draft hype that was attached to many of the other high school pitchers taken in the top-five rounds of the draft. The A's were well-versed in Vail's game, however, as team scout Jeff Bittiger has known Vail for a number of years. Bittiger has made a good career finding top pitching talent in the Northeast for the A's, including Mazzaro and Andrew Bailey.

Two of the biggest concerns surrounding Vail coming out of high school were his size (he is only 6'1'', 190) and that he hadn't played against what many consider top-flight high school baseball competition. A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota feels that Vail's size won't be a detriment to his ability to be a starter and Vail answered some of the questions about his ability to play against top competition by pitching well in the Arizona Rookie League.

A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Gil Patterson is impressed with Vail's polish and his ability to apply instruction quickly.

"Tyler is a great kid. A sponge," Patterson said. "He has a good fastball with life and command and a good change as well. His breaking ball needs the most work."

Because of the sinking action and movement on his fastball, Vail has drawn comparisons to Mazzaro and Cahill. Vail's velocity sits in the low-90s and can hit 95. He has a high-effort delivery that is reminiscent of Mazzaro's in the way that he employs a lower release point and hides the ball well. Vail made the transition from position player to pitcher late in his high school career, much like Cahill did. Also like Cahill, Vail is an excellent athlete and he can field his position.

Both Cahill and Mazzaro spent their entire first full professional seasons in the Midwest League and Vail is likely to follow a similar path. Look for the A's to limit his innings to roughly 100, likely by starting Vail at extended spring training and having him join the Bees when the weather warms.

24. Matt Thomson

Thomson was brilliant once turning pro.

No player taken during the 2010 draft raised his profile more within the A's organization than Thomson did last year. The 6'4'' right-hander from the University of San Diego went from being a relatively non-descript senior selection in round 12 to a rising prospect in the span of one short-season. Buoyed by a jump in velocity and pinpoint command, Thomson set the standard for performance in his draft class, posting a 1.94 ERA and a 71:10 K:BB ratio in 51 innings for short-season Vancouver and High-A Stockton.

Thomson was the first of two senior pitchers taken by the A's out of USD with back-to-back picks in the 2010 draft. San Diego had one of the deepest pitching staffs of any collegiate team and that was reflected in the way that Thomson was used at USD, as he was primarily a reliever for the Toreros in 2010 after serving mostly as a starter in 2009. Thomson actually pitched better in a relief role for San Diego, but the A's weren't hesitant about moving him into the rotation.

After three somewhat shaky relief appearances for Vancouver, Thomson joined the Canadians' rotation and quickly got into a groove. In nine starts for the C's, he allowed only five runs (three earned) in 42 innings (0.64 ERA). He gave-up only 25 hits and six walks and he struck-out 53. Thomson was named the Northwest League's Pitcher of the Week three times. On top of that, he was asked to make a spot start for High-A Stockton when Justin Marks landed on the DL. Thomson pitched up to the level of competition, scattering only two hits and two walks and striking out 10 in five innings for the Ports.

In college, the book on Thomson was that he was a command pitcher with a high-80s fastball and a good slider. Since turning pro, however, Thomson's velocity has jumped into the low-90s and his slider went from being merely good to being an out-pitch. He was able to make those improvements without losing any of his command, as well. Thomson also features a decent curveball and change-up. At 6'4'', 200 pounds, Thomson has a traditional starter's build. He has always done a nice job missing bats, something that carried over from college into the pros. Thomson is a flyball pitcher, but he didn't allow a homer in his first pro season and gave-up only nine in three years in college.

"We really like him. I think he is somebody who has improved a lot from what we thought we had coming out of the draft. He was a definite performer. He made a big impression on the entire system," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.

Because he was a senior when the A's selected him, Thomson will be 23 at the start of the 2011 season. However, he has the stuff and pedigree coming from a top collegiate program to be promoted aggressively. The A's will likely start Thomson in Stockton and he could reach Double-A by the end of the year.

23. Steven Tolleson

Tolleson is a non-roster invitee to big league camp.

The breakout season came one year later than expected for Tolleson. Added to the Twins' 40-man roster before the 2009 campaign, Tolleson was projected to play in Triple-A for Minnesota and then push for a back-up infielder job with the Twins in either late 2009 or 2010. Instead, Tolleson struggled to the tune of a 720 OPS in 130 games between Double-A and Triple-A and was designated for assignment. The A's claimed Tolleson before the start of spring training and the change of scenery did wonders for the infielder.

Assigned to Triple-A Sacramento at the start of the season, Tolleson got off to a hot start in April and never looked back. He hit no lower than .296 and posted an OPS of 879 or higher in every month of the season with Sacramento. That performance translated into Tolleson seeing a decent amount of playing time with the A's in two different stints and he hit .286 with a 748 OPS in 49 at-bats spread over 25 games. In 80 games for the River Cats, Tolleson hit .332/.412/.503.

Despite those good numbers, Tolleson was designated for assignment again this off-season, but the A's were able to retain his services when he cleared waivers. He was invited to big leagues spring training as a non-roster invitee and will be competing with Adam Rosales, Eric Sogard, Andy LaRoche and Wes Timmons for the A's back-up infielder job.

Tolleson is a natural second baseman, but he played a lot of shortstop and third base with Sacramento in 2010. His glove isn't strong enough at any of those positions to be an everyday player in the major leagues currently, but he is competent enough at all three to be a major league bench player. At the plate, Tolleson has an excellent command of the strike-zone and average power for a middle infielder. He has average speed and isn't a big threat on the basepaths.

Tolleson's ceiling is that of a back-up infielder at the major league level. Given his ability to get on-base, hit for average and play multiple positions, Tolleson can bring value to a team's bench. He will be 27 throughout the 2011 season.

22. Aaron Shipman

In an extremely talented 2010 class of high school players coming out of Georgia, Shipman was, at times, lost in the pre-draft hype shuffle. However, the A's believe that the centerfielder has the talent and baseball acumen to make a name for himself in 2011 and beyond.

"[H]e was a guy who was rated very highly that we liked and we maybe rated higher internally than perhaps the public perception of him, which by itself was quite high," A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said after the draft.

"He's just a really good athlete. A well above-average runner. A guy who can fill out and maybe come into some power. A true centerfielder."

The A's also liked Shipman's baseball bloodlines, as his father Robert was a former minor league baseball player and is currently a high school baseball coach. Oakland was impressed with Shipman's swing and ability to square up the ball on the barrel of the bat and they liked what they saw from him defensively in centerfield, as well.

None of those perceptions changed once Shipman signed with Oakland. He inked his deal with the A's on the final day of the signing period, so Shipman appeared in only four games with the A's Rookie League team. However, the team got a long look at him during the A's Instructional League camp this fall.

"[Shipman] handled the Instructional League with no problems," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.

"He makes adjustments quickly and really improved his routes and positioning in centerfield. He will start as a top-of-the-lineup type player and we'll see how it evolves from there."

Shipman is an excellent athlete who ran the 60-yard dash in 6.4 seconds at pre-draft prospect showcases. He has an above-average throwing arm and was also a pitcher in high school, where his fastball was clocked in the 90s. Shipman is a lean 6'0'', 180, but there is room for him to add muscle as he gets older, which should translate to more power, although speed and on-base/hit abilities are likely to be his best offensive attributes.

Shipman recently turned 19. Based on his strong showing at Instructs and his baseball pedigree, Shipman may skip short-season A and spend the 2011 campaign with Low-A Burlington.

21. Yordy Cabrera

Going into the 2010 draft, Cabrera was one of the most discussed names on the board. There was considerable controversy over where Cabrera should slot in the draft. Many scouts considered him to be a top-half of the first round talent, but his draft stock was hurt considerably by the fact that he was already 19, would be turning 20 by the end of 2010 and he was only in high school. Primarily due to those age concerns, Cabrera slid out of the first round and the A's happily picked him up with their second round pick.

Cabrera is the son of a longtime minor league coach and former top prospect, Basilio Cabrera. The younger Cabrera was raised in the Dominican Republic until he was 14, when he moved to Florida with his family. Yordy didn't speak English at the time of the move, so he was kept back in school to allow for his English skills to develop. He is now a fluent English speaker and was one of the top high school players in Florida over the past several years, both in the infield and on the mound, where his fastball was clocked in the mid-90s. His father has managed the Gulf Coast Rookie League Tigers for the past few seasons and Yordy spent a significant amount of time hanging around the club.

Cabrera already has a major league frame at 6'4'', 200 pounds, and the A's believe his body will continue to grow and develop. The A's are also impressed with Cabrera's agility and athleticism. He is currently a shortstop, although many scouts believe Cabrera will eventually have to move to third base as his body matures. The team is confident that he has the arm and the hands for both positions.

"Cabrera is a physical presence at SS," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said. "He has probably has the best infield arm in the system. [During Instructs,] he made major improvements on jumps, range and learning to play the [shortstop] position."

The A's are also not concerned about the age issue as it relates to Cabrera, primarily because of his baseball bloodlines and his exposure to the professional game at a young age.

"He comes from good baseball family and has been around numerous major league players so he is confident and capable of handling the stresses involved with the game," Lieppman said.

"He loves to play the game."

Cabrera is currently a gap-to-gap hitter, but the A's believe he will develop plus-power for an infielder. He has good speed and athleticism for a player his size. His arm is a plus tool. Given his exposure to professional baseball and his age, Cabrera will most likely start the 2011 season with Low-A Burlington and he could be a candidate for a cup-of-coffee at the High-A level by season's end if he performs well with the Bees.

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