Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 20-16

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 20-16.

20. James Simmons

Can Simmons rebound from shoulder problems?

Before the 2010 season, Simmons' career had been on the fast track. Taken in the first round by the A's in 2007, Simmons was assigned to Double-A Midland immediately after signing with the team and had reached Triple-A at the start of the 2009 season. He was a Texas League Post-Season All-Star in 2008 with the Midland Rockhounds and, after adding an improved breaking ball, he entered the 2009 season seemingly on the verge of making the major leagues.

Things haven't gone smoothly for Simmons since the start of the 2009 season, however. He struggled during his stint in the A's big league camp and posted a 5.72 ERA in 119.2 innings with the Sacramento River Cats during the regular season. Simmons especially struggled down the stretch with the River Cats and missed a period of time with shoulder fatigue, which portended things to come for the right-hander in 2010.

Off-season rest didn't clear the pain in Simmons' shoulder and he was held out of spring training entirely. When rehab failed to fix the problem, Simmons underwent exploratory shoulder surgery. Shoulder surgeries are always a dicey proposition for pitchers, so until Simmons is back on the mound and throwing against live hitters, it remains to be seen whether he can get back to the level that he was at before the 2009 season. According to A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Gil Patterson, Simmons is currently throwing without pain, but he is behind the normal throwing schedule for pitchers reporting to spring training and could start the year in extended spring to build up his arm strength.

If Simmons can regain his 2009 form, the A's will have a pitcher with excellent fastball command and a good feel for pitching. He has never lit up the radar gun, but he can work both sides of the plate well. His breaking ball was well behind his fastball when he turned pro, but it had improved quite a bit by the start of 2009 and his change-up is a solid pitch. He was also working on a cut fastball in 2009.

If Simmons can complete his recovery early in the season, he is a darkhorse candidate to make his major league debut at some point during the 2011 season. He will be 24 throughout the season.

19. Daniel Farquhar

The A's have long had an affinity for pitchers with unusual throwing motions. With Farquhar, they have found a pitcher who employs not one, but three unusual throwing motions, creating big problems for hitters trying to track the ball out of his hand.

Farquhar came to the A's from the Blue Jays in the Rajai Davis trade. The soon-to-be 24 year-old right-hander was one of the top relievers in the Blue Jays' chain at the time of the trade. In 2010, he saved 17 games and struck-out 79 in 76.2 innings for Double-A New Hampshire. He also allowed opponents to bat only .189 against him and he induced 1.5 groundouts for every flyout. On the downside, he walked 42 batters. The A's got a close look at Farquhar during the Arizona Fall League, where he struck-out 12 and allowed only eight hits but walked six in 10 innings.

Drafted in the 10th round in 2008 by Toronto, the Louisiana-Lafayette alum has been exclusively a reliever since turning pro. He has a 9.65 K/9 ratio for his career and has allowed only 5.82 hits per nine innings. Control has been an issue for Farquhar throughout his career, however, as he sports a 4.77 BB/9 ratio.

Most sidearmers are soft tossers, but that isn't the case for Farquhar, who can reach 93 MPH with his sidearm and submarine throwing motions. He also on occasion will throw over-the-top, and he has been clocked in the mid-90s from that motion. Not surprisingly, Farquhar gets considerably more movement from his sidearm and submarine motions. He has a sweeping breaking ball that he throws from his lowest arm angle and a harder breaking ball from the sidearm slot. He isn't a big guy, standing at 5'11'' and weighing 180 pounds.

After acquiring Farquhar, the A's invited him to big league camp as a non-roster player. He reported to the team's spring facility early and A's Pitching Coach Ron Romanick was able to get an early look at his new reliever.

"His delivery isn't as low as [Brad] Ziegler's. He changes arm slots. He's a wiry kid, but strong and he loves the throwing program," Romanick said.

"It's interesting. I've never seen somebody who changes arm slots that much, but he's had success doing that, so we'll see how that pans out. He's got good work habits and he seems willing to listen to a few things and do what he needs to do."

The A's put a big emphasis on limiting free passes, especially with their relievers, so Farquhar will have to improve his walk totals if he is going to become a regular member of Bob Geren's bullpen. Some of his control issues may stem from changing his arm slot so frequently. The A's may work with Farquhar to eliminate one of his arm slots in exchange for a more repeatable delivery. Farquhar will have the benefit of working with Romanick, who built Ziegler's throwing motion and worked with submariner Chad Bradford when he was with Oakland. One thing working in Farquhar's favor is that he walked 31 batters in his first 41.2 innings last season, but walked only 11 in his final 35 innings.

Most sidearmers dominate same-side batters but struggle against opposite-side hitters. Farquhar does pitch better against right-handed hitters, but he has held his own against left-handers and profiles more as a set-up man than a situational right-hander. Farquhar will have an outside chance of making the A's roster by Opening Day, but is more likely to start the 2011 season with Triple-A Sacramento.

18. Travis Banwart

Banwart pitched well for Sacramento down-the-stretch.

Banwart's journey through the A's system has been a bumpy one since being drafted in the fourth round by Oakland in 2007. He excelled in his pro debut season in 2007 and pitched well at the start of the 2008 campaign, but was limited by a tired shoulder. Healthy in 2009, Banwart got off to a good start with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds, but faded down-the-stretch. He wound-up striking out only 82 in 146 innings and posting a 5.12 ERA.

Banwart returned to Midland to start the 2010 season and he was a changed pitcher. In 83.1 innings, he posted a 2.92 ERA and allowed only 71 hits. His K:BB ratio still wasn't impressive (59:31), but he was getting good results. The A's promoted Banwart to Triple-A Sacramento mid-season. After struggling early on with the River Cats, Banwart was one of the team's top starters down-the-stretch, as he allowed only eight runs over his final 29 innings. He finished with a 4.81 ERA in 73 innings for Sacramento, but his K:BB ratio improved dramatically to 71:29. He acquitted himself well during the Arizona Fall League, as well, posting a 3.76 ERA and striking out 21 in 26.1 innings in the prospect showcase league.

Perhaps most impressive was Banwart's velocity with Sacramento. According to A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, Banwart's arm strength actually improved as the season wore on and he was clocked in the 92-94 MPH range late in the regular season. A's Rehab Coordinator Garvin Alston was Banwart's pitching coach in 2008 with High-A Stockton and again in 2010 with the Arizona Fall League's Phoenix Desert Dogs. He noted a big improvement in the quality of Banwart's offerings from 2008 to 2010.

"He has better command of his pitches, good action on his fastball and he's been sitting 90-91 every game that he has been out there with a plus change-up," Alston said.

Banwart has credited improved fastball command with the jump in his 2010 performance. He has a curveball, change-up and slider and he isn't afraid to throw those pitches in traditional fastball counts. Banwart receives high marks for his competitiveness on the mound. Despite his strong 2010 season, Banwart wasn't invited to big league camp, but he should return to Triple-A Sacramento to start the 2011 season. He will be 25 throughout the year.

17. Clayton Mortensen* Traded replaced with Arnold Leon

Leon, when healthy, has one of the best curveballs in the A's system.

Editor's Note: In our original top-50 prospect list published on December 3, we ranked Clayton Mortensen as the organization's 17th best prospect. Due to an editing error, we inadvertently left-off Arnold Leon, who should have been ranked at spot 17 (pushing everyone else back a spot). We will be re-ranking the A's top prospects to reflect off-season trades and signings in a few weeks, but given that Mortensen was traded last month, we are taking this rather fortuitous opportunity to correct our editing error early and insert Leon in his proper place on the list.

Leon, like a number of other A's top prospects, saw his career hit a speed bump in 2010 when he went down with an elbow strain in April that resulted in Tommy John surgery. When the elbow injury popped up, the young right-hander was coming off of a stellar 2009 campaign and an outstanding spring training that had A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman raving about his outlook for the 2010 season. Leon lasted only three outings with Double-A Midland and was clearly not himself, as he walked three, struck-out only one and gave-up six hits in 4.1 innings.

Leon's elbow injury was not, in some ways, a surprising development. The native of Culiacan, Mexico, was acquired by the A's from his Mexican Summer League team (Saltillo) before the 2008 season. As part of that agreement, the A's had to share Leon's services during the 2008 regular season. In addition, Leon was committed to his Mexican Winter League team (Culiacan), for whom he pitched every off-season. He was essentially pitching all year, and while the A's were careful to limit his workload while he was with the organization, Leon was still throwing a lot of games for a young pitcher (he turned 22 in September).

The good news is that with the Tommy John surgery has come an entire year off from pitching, which could ultimately help Leon's longevity. In addition, the injury occurred early in the year, so Leon has a chance to be pitching again sometime during the 2011 season.

When healthy, Leon is an intriguing talent. He has above-average command and a plus curveball. He isn't a hard-thrower, but he can hit 93 MPH and sits at 88-91. He works the bottom of the strike-zone well and gets excellent movement on his fastball. Leon has had success both as a starter and as a reliever and he is young enough that even after he returns from his injury, he will have time to be developed as a starter should the A's decide to go that route.

16. Rashun Dixon

Dixon improved his pitch recognition in 2010.

Inconsistency is a common trait among young players and Dixon has experienced plenty of highs and lows over his first three professional seasons. The outfielder starred for the A's Rookie League club in 2008 as a 17-year-old, but then struggled with short-season Vancouver in 2009. Despite his poor numbers with the Canadians, Dixon was given the benefit of the doubt by the A's, who promoted him to Low-A Kane County for the 2010 season. He rewarded their faith with a solid campaign that has raised expectations about Dixon's future once again.

Dixon is arguably the most athletically gifted player in the A's system. He was a highly regarded running back in high school and he comes from a family of athletes: his older brother Anthony is the San Francisco 49ers back-up running back and his younger brother Deshun was drafted in the 10th round by the Tampa Bay Rays last year. Entering the A's system, Rashun was a raw talent, however, as he hadn't concentrated solely on baseball in high school because of his football commitment and he was young for a high school senior.

Despite that rawness, Dixon burst onto the scene in 2008 by posting an 853 OPS in the Arizona Rookie League. That output created arguably unfair expectations for Dixon going into the 2009 season. His inexperience was exposed with the Vancouver Canadians, as Northwest League pitchers threw him a steady diet of off-speed pitches, and his OPS plummeted to 581. Dixon rebounded at the A's Instructional League camp, but the A's thought long-and-hard about having Dixon repeat with Vancouver in 2010, especially after he missed a chunk of minor league camp when he crashed into the outfield wall and injured his eye.

Ultimately, the A's trusted Dixon's talent and sent him to Kane County, where he had a solid .371 OBP and hit .275 while posting a 754 OPS. Perhaps not surprisingly given his youth, Dixon's performance was uneven with the Cougars. He alternated good months and bad months. However, he finished the season on a hot streak, posting an OPS above 800 for the final six weeks of the season. He also hit well in the playoffs, blasting two homeruns.

The A's were pleased with Dixon's performance.

"There just aren't a lot of huge offensive lines put up in the Midwest League," A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said.

"If you had told me at the beginning of the season that he would put up that line in Kane County at that age, I would have said that was a pretty impressive accomplishment. I think we are really happy with his performance and with the fact that he was able to handle the rigors of full-season ball as well as he did."

Dixon has the build of a football player and his power should rebound to his Arizona Rookie League levels when he gets out of the Midwest League and goes to the California League. He has yet to develop much of a feel for base-stealing, but he has above-average speed and could become one of those sluggers with 10-20 stolen bases down-the-road. Dixon's approach at the plate improved considerably in 2010, as he did a better job of recognizing and laying off the breaking ball, although there is still room for improvement in that area. His walk rate (58 in 444 official at-bats) was solid, although he needs to cut down on his strike-outs.

Defensively, Dixon was inconsistent. He is still learning how to position himself in the field and how to maintain the same level of concentration on every pitch. His arm strength is above-average, but he is still learning when to make certain throws and when to hold back.

Dixon has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order force, but he has a lot of refinement to do with his game still. He has been young for every level he has played at and that will continue in 2011 when he joins the High-A Stockton Ports (he will be 20 throughout the entire regular season), so the A's can and will be patient with his development.

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