Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 15-11

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 15-11.

15. Fautino De Los Santos

De Los Santos struck-out more than 13 batters per nine innings in 2010.

Expectations were sky-high surrounding De Los Santos when the A's acquired him from the Chicago White Sox as part of the Nick Swisher trade before the 2008 season. De Los Santos wowed everyone in the organization with his performance during minor league spring training that year, but by the time he reached the regular season, he wasn't the same pitcher. After five mediocre starts with the High-A Stockton Ports, De Los Santos was shelved with an elbow injury that resulted in Tommy John surgery.

The Dominican right-hander returned to the mound for the Arizona Rookie League season in 2009, but he was limited to only 11.2 innings, as he experienced a number of minor set-backs in his recovery from surgery. That trend appeared to be continuing at the start of the 2010 campaign, as he began the year at extended spring training. However, he joined the Ports' roster in mid-May and was able to put together a healthy season for the remainder of 2010.

When De Los Santos first joined the A's organization, he was a starter. However, with the time he missed due to the elbow injury, the A's felt De Los Santos' quickest path to the major leagues would be in the bullpen, so he transitioned to that role full-time in 2010. He made 37 appearances in 2010, all in relief, and tossed 47.1 innings for Stockton and Double-A Midland.

De Los Santos' ERA was not particularly impressive (5.13), but the ERA was only part of the overall story of his season. His other stats were quite strong – he struck-out an eye-popping 73 batters and he allowed only one homerun while inducing nearly one-and-a-half groundouts for every flyout. De Los Santos' radar gun readings were also impressive, as he sat in the 94-96 MPH range and was able to touch 98 on occasion. He also added a breaking ball that, by season's end, was an out-pitch.

"He's throwing an outstanding breaking ball now that's tight. That was one of the knocks against him [when he first joined the A's] was that he didn't have a really solid off-speed pitch," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.

"He calls it a curveball, but it is a really tight, short, tough pitch with depth to it."

Although De Los Santos' velocity has returned, his command is still not completely back to where it was before the injury. It is often the case for pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery that their command doesn't completely return for two years. He also struggled at times against left-handers and may need to add a workable change-up to keep left-handers honest. De Los Santos was added to the A's 40-man roster before the 2010 season, so he will have a chance to compete for a spot in the A's bullpen this spring, although he will be a longshot. With his velocity and sharp breaking ball, De Los Santos profiles as a late-inning reliever in the big leagues, although to be a closer he will need to improve his command and effectiveness against lefties.

If De Los Santos shows improved command, he will most likely start the season with Triple-A Sacramento. Even if he returns to Midland for the beginning of the year, he should get a significant amount of time in Triple-A in 2011. He will be 25 throughout the 2011 regular season.

14. Sean Doolittle

Will Doolittle be off and running again in 2011?

It has been two years of frustration for Doolittle and the A's. On the cusp of a major league call-up in May 2009, Doolittle injured his left knee and has been unable to get back on the field since. After multiple set-backs with his rehab and two surgeries, Doolittle has finally made good progress with his rehab from the injury and the A's are optimistic about his status for 2011.

A non-roster invitee to big league camp in 2009, Doolittle captured the attention of the A's front office with his energetic style of play and his ability to hit for power and average while playing a strong corner outfield and first base. The team's 2007 supplemental first-round pick posted an 854 OPS in 2008 with High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland and made the AFL All-Prospect team that fall. After starring in big league spring training in 2009, Doolittle got off to a strong start with Triple-A Sacramento, posting a .267/.364/.448 line in 105 at-bats before the injury.

When healthy, Doolittle profiles similarly to former A's outfielder Nick Swisher in that, like Swisher, Doolittle can comfortably handle first base and right-field, while also playing centerfield in a pinch. Doolittle is actually a better defender than Swisher was at the same stage of his career. Doolittle has a plus throwing arm and was a top prospect as a left-handed pitcher in college. Doolittle doesn't have Swisher's patience at the plate, but he has a good approach and can get on-base at a good clip, although he does have a tendency to strike-out a lot. Doolittle doesn't have Swisher's raw power, but he does have good power, having hit 22 homeruns and 40 doubles in 137 games in 2008 and four homeruns and five doubles in 28 games in 2009.

Doolittle is well-regarded enough around baseball that the A's added him to their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter despite the fact that he had missed the bulk of the last two seasons. Until Doolittle steps on the field again during live game action, it remains to be seen if or how quickly he can get back to being the type of player he was in 2009. If he is healthy, however, he would give the A's some flexibility on the roster as a player who can play two positions and hit for power. If he plays well in spring training, Doolittle should start the year back with Sacramento and he could reach the big leagues by season's end. He will be 24 throughout the season.

13. Michael Ynoa

Ynoa's elbow injury will set him back another year.

After more than a year of anticipation, Ynoa finally made his professional pitching debut with the Arizona Rookie League A's in 2010. Unfortunately, his debut season lasted all of nine innings before he was shut down with elbow soreness that resulted in Tommy John surgery. Now it is likely that the A's will have to wait until 2012 to see Ynoa pitch in a regular season game again.

The good news for the A's is that in the little time Ynoa was on the mound in 2010, he showed why the team shelled out $4.25 million to sign him in 2008. Ynoa threw an easy 92-95 MPH fastball with a sharp curveball that generally sat around 82 MPH. A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Gil Patterson said that Ynoa had "a chance to be a beast" based on how he threw in Rookie Ball.

Ynoa had his surgery in August and the recovery period is generally nine to 12 months. He is already at A's spring training and, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, is throwing on flat ground and hopes to be throwing off the mound by July. That schedule assumes no set-backs in his recovery and set-backs are common within the first year post-surgery.

The native of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, is 19 and will turn 20 in late September. Consequently, Ynoa will be roughly the same age as most draft-eligible college juniors when he takes the mound in 2012, but he will be pitching with significantly less experience against top-level talent than a US collegiate player. That being said, the A's aren't likely to rush Ynoa's development given the investment the team made in him and his talent. He is likely to spend at least two full seasons at A-ball levels before reaching Double-A. Once he gets to Double-A, his ascension through the minors may speed up if he is pitching like the A's believe he is capable.

Age isn't as important for a pitcher as it is for a position player and, despite the injury, Ynoa doesn't have that much wear-and-tear on his arm, so he could still easily have a 10 year or more major league career in his future. At 6'7'' with broad shoulders, Ynoa has the build to be a workhorse starter and he has the natural velocity to be a force on the mound. But the 2012 season will be an important one for Ynoa's development, as the A's will need to make a decision after that season on whether to add him to their 40-man roster.

12. Josh Donaldson

Donaldson sacrificed walks for homeruns in 2010.

It was a season of ups and downs for Donaldson in 2010. In his first year at the Triple-A level, Donaldson hit a career-high 18 homeruns and he posted an 812 OPS, his highest OPS since 2007 when he was in short-season. He also made his major league debut and hit his first big league homerun. On the downside, Donaldson hit a career-low .238 and appeared in only 100 games at the major and minor league levels thanks to injuries. He also struck-out 12 times in only 32 big league at-bats.

Donaldson has made steady progress through the A's chain since he was acquired in the Rich Harden deal in 2008. A third-baseman in college, Donaldson converted to catcher his final year at Auburn and has been improving his skills behind the plate each year. He has played some third base and a little first base since turning pro, although the overwhelming majority of his playing time has been as a catcher. Offensively, he has traditionally been a patient hitter with gap power, although he sacrificed some of that patience for homerun power in 2010.

In 2010, Donaldson also had to battle an injury. He has been remarkably durable since turning pro, but he missed a month of action in 2010 with a knee injury. He was healthy by the end of August and played well in the final few weeks of the regular season and the post-season, so it isn't an injury that will have any lingering effect.

Donaldson is an excellent athlete for a catcher and he has a strong arm. His mechanics blocking balls and runners are still works-in-progress, although both areas have improved every year. At the plate, his swing can get a bit long – especially when he is pressing to hit homeruns – and big league pitchers exposed that during his major league stint last season. When he is playing within himself, he has a much more balanced approach at the plate and above-average on-base skills.

Donaldson, who will be 25 throughout the 2011 season, will enter spring training with a chance to unseat Landon Powell as the A's primary back-up catcher. Donaldson doesn't have Powell's defensive skills, but Donaldson offers the defensive versatility of being able to play third and first in addition to catch. If he doesn't make the A's Opening Day roster, Donaldson will be the River Cats' everyday catcher to start the season and will be the first catcher the A's call on if they have injuries.

11. Eric Sogard

Sogard's glovework was impressive at second.

For the moment, the deal the A's made with the San Diego Padres before the 2010 season is known as the Kevin Kouzmanoff trade. But just as the Johnny Damon deal became more about Mark Ellis a few years later, the Kouzmanoff trade may eventually be known more for bringing Sogard to Oakland. In fact, after an outstanding first season in the A's organization, Sogard may now be in the lead to replace Ellis at second in Oakland longterm.

Sogard made a strong first impression with his new club by hitting .273 with an 834 OPS in 22 at-bats during big league spring training. His strong spring didn't immediately carry over into his regular season play, however, as he struggled to the tune of a .234/.277/.273 line in April. That would be his only poor month and by season's end, he was the igniter in the second spot of the River Cats' line-up, posting a .300 average and a .391 OBP. He was the team leader in on-base percentage and finished 10th in the Pacific Coast League in that category. That aspect of his game was particularly important for Sacramento, as Sogard often hit between Corey Wimberly (who broke the franchise record for stolen bases) and sluggers such as Chris Carter and Dallas McPherson. Sogard continued that style of play during a September stint with the A's, as he collected three hits and two walks in seven official at-bats.

"He battles pitchers, gets quality at-bats. He may be one of the guys who had the highest number of pitches seen over the course of the summer," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.

It was Sogard's defense at second base that really got him noticed, however. Previously an area of weakness for Sogard, the Phoenix native was the River Cats' top defensive infielder in 2010. Then-Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco called Sogard a "Gold Glove second baseman." Sogard also saw time at shortstop and third base, especially towards the end of the season. A natural second baseman, Sogard was learning on the fly at those other positions, especially at shortstop, but had made progress learning those positions by the end of the season. He is expected to see time at all three positions this spring.

"[Current A's Advisor to the GM] Grady Fuson, back [in 2009] when they were both still with San Diego, grabbed Sogard and pretty much told him that he needed to improve a lot of his game: turning double-plays, his throwing mechanics on difficult throws, and then learning to make the exceptional play," Lieppman said.

"He had a few areas that were described to him [as areas of weakness] and he went home during the off-season and really worked on becoming a better defensive player. He became a really good defensive second baseman. You begin to acknowledge guys who stand-out like that. Day-in and day-out, he was a Mark Ellis-type player for Sacramento."

At 5'10'', 185 pounds, Sogard isn't physically imposing. His footspeed is only average and he won't ever hit for big power. However, he is the kind of player who can quietly become very valuable to a team with his glovework and his ability to get on-base and work the count. In a system filled with players who strike-out at alarming rates, Sogard stands out for his contact abilities and his impressive BB:K ratio, which is better than 1:1. For 2011, his best path to the big leagues with Oakland will be as a bench player, but assuming the A's don't re-sign Ellis at the end of the 2011 season, Sogard will be a top candidate for the second base job in 2012.

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