10. Max Stassi
|Despite a sore shoulder, Stassi's throwing improved as the season went on. b>|
When the A's took Stassi in the fourth round of the 2009 draft and then signed him to an above-slot deal, the team talked about how impressed they were with his maturity. That sentiment was echoed during big league spring training, when the teenager came into camp and held his own against seasoned major leaguers. The A's put Stassi's maturity to the test in 2010, sending him to the pitching-friendly Midwest League, where he logged 110 games. Although the stats weren't pretty, Stassi's season with Kane County may wind-up being crucial to his overall development.
Stassi's overall line with Kane County was .229/.310/.380. He finished tied for 21st in the league (and first on his team) in homeruns with 13, but was sixth in the league in strike-outs with 141. Stassi was hampered throughout the season by a myriad of injuries, including a sore shoulder and a bruised hand, and the grind of playing through those dings clearly caught-up with him during the second half of the season. He had an OPS of 755 before the All-Star break, but only 610 after, and he hit .169/.330/.239 in August.
Despite those struggles, the A's are still high on Stassi's chances of being an above-average offensive catcher in the major leagues.
"I relate [Stassi's struggles] back to what a difficult hitting environment [the Midwest League] is," A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said.
"I think with Max, some of it was the rigors of his first full season and playing a physically demanding position. I think his offense was affected a little bit just by wearing down physically by the end of the season. I think we still feel very positively about his offense, his power and his ability to be productive in more hitter-friendly environments further up the ladder."
Defensively, Stassi's season took an opposite track from his hitting. He began the year looking lost behind the plate, failing to get down on balls in the dirt and throwing to the shortstop side of the bag on base-stealing attempts. However, by the end of the season, Stassi was a solid defensive catcher. Despite not throwing out a runner for the first few weeks of the season, he finished the year with a respectable 33% caught-stealing rate and he earned the trust and respect of the Cougars' pitching staff.
"The defense is great now and that pitching staff was one of the best in the Midwest League, which is a testament to his work behind the plate," Zaidi said.
Stassi should have the opportunity to play close to his Yuba City home with the High-A Stockton Ports in 2011. Being in the California League will also afford Stassi the opportunity to hit in better weather and in more offense-friendly ballparks. To improve his offensive numbers, Stassi will have to cut his K:BB ratio down from the ugly 141:45 mark in 2010. He told off-season workout buddy and spring training roommate Brad Kilby that his goal is to cut his strike-outs down by at least 40. Stassi should also benefit from having experienced the rigors of a full minor league season and from a second trip through the A's big league spring training.
At 19 (he won't turn 20 until mid-March), Stassi has plenty of time to develop in the minor leagues. Given that he is a catcher, the A's won't rush his development either. Look for Stassi to be a one-level-a-season player throughout his minor league career.
9. Jemile Weeks
|Weeks needs to be off-and-running in 2011. b>|
When the A's selected Weeks with their first-round pick in 2008, many believed he would be challenging for a major league job during the spring of 2011. A series of hip injuries have slowed Weeks' progress towards the big leagues, however. For the third straight season, Weeks missed significant playing time because of a hip injury. In 2011, Weeks will need to prove he can stay healthy or risk being passed by other A's prospects on the depth chart.
The hip trouble began for Weeks in 2008 when he tore the labrum in his left hip trying to beat out an infield hit during the Kane County Cougars' game at Wrigley Field. He missed the rest of the 2008 season and the first six weeks of the 2009 campaign. Once Weeks returned to the field in 2009, he was able to stay healthy, although the A's were careful to give him regular days off and they limited his running. In 2010, he began the year with no restrictions and was off to a great start with Midland (.304/.368/.490 in 26 games) before he strained that same hip flexor once again trying to beat out an infield hit. Weeks would miss six weeks with the injury.
After playing 10 games for the A's Rookie League team in July, Weeks returned to Midland, but he never got into the same groove he was in at the time of the injury. He hit only .246/.316/.351 the rest of the season and finished with a line of .267/.335/.403 in 67 games with the ‘Hounds.
Offensively, Weeks has yet to reach his full potential. Despite having the raw speed to rack up 50 steal seasons on a regular basis, he stole only 16 in 23 attempts last season and only nine the year before. Weeks has been streaky during his short professional career and has struggled to pull himself out of bad slumps. A switch-hitter, Weeks struggled from the right side in 2009, but hit better from that side than he did the left side in 2010. Weeks didn't hit for as much power in 2010 as he did in 2009. He does have surprising pop for a player of his stature, although homeruns will never be a huge part of his game.
Defensively, Weeks has improved dramatically since his collegiate days, when he was considered a liability at second base. He has done a much better job making the routine plays and has shown incredible athleticism at the position at times, as well.
Weeks' legs are a huge part of his game and they haven't been truly 100 percent since he injured himself in 2008, which may explain his inconsistency at the plate. For him to move forward as a player, Weeks will need to be able to run without reservation. He is already 24, so if Weeks has another injury-marred season, he may see his window of opportunity in the big leagues start to close. That being said, with his talent and skill-set, Weeks is only one healthy and productive season away from being considered the front-runner to take over for Mark Ellis at second base in Oakland in 2012.
|Parker was consistently productive for Stockton. b>|
If there is a player who serves as a testament to the difficulty of starting a professional career in the Midwest League, it is Parker. In 2009, Parker was sent to Kane County after being drafted in the fifth round and he was considered a draft disappointment when he hit only .244/.312/.362, numbers that were especially bad when one considered that he spent most of his time defensively at first base. Parker turned heads at the A's fall Instructional League, however, and the organization felt confident enough in his hitting ability to promote him to High-A in 2010 despite the poor 2009. He rewarded that confidence in spades.
While some prospects in the A's system had periods of the year when they were better than Parker, no one prospect was as consistently excellent at the plate as the BYU alum. In 139 games for Stockton, Parker hit .296/.392/.508. Parker's lowest OPS by month was 825 and he had a 918 OPS before the All-Star break and an 882 OPS after. Not surprisingly, he was named to the Cal League's Post-Season All-Star team and to the Topps Class A All-Star team. Parker continued that performance into the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .327 with an 885 OPS in 98 at-bats.
As a hitter, there is little not to like about Parker's game. He has a balanced approach at the plate and a smooth swing that can generate top-spin. Parker has a good idea of the strike-zone and isn't afraid to work the whole field. Not surprisingly, the left-handed hitting Parker hit right-handers better than southpaws, but he held his own against lefties (.268/.359/.457). In many ways, Parker is the best offensive third base prospect the A's have had since Eric Chavez.
Defensively, Parker is still a work-in-progress. Parker moved back to his natural third base in 2010, a position the A's expect him to stay at. He committed 33 errors in 2010, many of them of the sloppy variety. The A's believe that Parker has all of the tools to be a solid defensive third baseman, and that the inconsistency in his play there stems from a lack of time spent on developing that aspect of his game.
"He, like many college players, was focused on the offensive aspects of the game," A's Director of Player Personnel Keith Lieppman said.
"The Arizona Fall League was really the first time that he began the process of becoming a good defender. It is just a matter of dedication and focus from this point on. A comparison, Scott Brosius made 61 errors at Madison his first full year in pro ball."
As Parker, who will be 23 throughout the 2011 season, was piling up the numbers with Stockton, it was assumed that Parker would move up to Double-A at some point during the second half of the season. He wound-up staying in Stockton for the entire year, however, as the A's chose to keep the core group of prospects on that team (including Grant Green, Jeremy Barfield, Michael Spina, Ryan Ortiz and Tyler Ladendorf) together for the entire season. Although the A's have a need at third base for 2012, they will likely take a similar approach with Parker in 2011, keeping him together with Green et. al unless there is a pressing need in Triple-A.
7. Ian Krol
|Krol has remarkable control for a young pitcher. b>|
As first impressions go, it is hard to make a better one than Krol did in his first full professional season. The A's 2009 seventh-round pick arrived with fanfare after signing an above-slot draft deal and he did not disappoint in his first season, going 10-4 with a 2.80 ERA and a 111:28 K:BB ratio in 138.1 innings for Low-A Kane County and High-A Stockton. He took home the A's Organizational Pitcher of the Year award for his efforts.
Krol spent the majority of the season pitching only a few miles from home with the Cougars. In 24 appearances, he posted a 2.65 ERA and allowed only 98 hits in 118.2 innings. Krol was named to the Midwest League's mid-season and post-season All-Star teams. For the final two weeks of the season, Krol was promoted to High-A Stockton and he made four starts for the Ports, posting a 3.66 ERA and a 20:9 K:BB ratio in 19.2 innings.
Despite being only 18 months removed from high school, Krol has impressive polish on the mound. At 6'1'', 180 pounds, he relies more on location and mixing his pitches than he does on pure velocity, often out-thinking hitters to get outs. Many scouts have a limited view on Krol's ultimate ceiling as a major league pitcher because of his lack of velocity, which often sits in the high-80s.
"His fastball velocity is interesting. It kind of fluctuates. He will be 86-90 in some games and in other games he will be 88-92, even touching 93. But what he really brings to the table is one) his command, and two) is his secondary pitches. He has a really good breaking ball and change-up," A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said.
Krol also receives high marks for his on-the-mound competitiveness, drawing comparisons to current A's starter Dallas Braden. In fact, Braden may be a strong comparison for Krol overall, as both southpaws rely on fooling hitters more than blowing the ball by them. Krol's command may be more advanced than Braden's was at this same stage in his career, although Krol doesn't miss bats as frequently as Braden did as a minor leaguer.
Krol will be challenged in 2011 with a full season in the California League. He demonstrated that he could hold his own in that league in the four late-season starts, but he did show some slips in his command (walking nine and allowing three homeruns in 19.2 innings after walking only 19 and allowing only five homeruns in 118.2 innings in Kane County), although his strike-outs also jumped up. If Krol can continue to induce a lot of groundouts (he averaged 1.38 groundouts for every flyout in 2010), he should do fine in the California League.
After throwing 138.1 innings with no problem in 2010, Krol shouldn't be on an innings limit in 2011, which will give him a chance to work past the sixth inning in games, something he was rarely allowed to do in 2010. He should spend most, if not all, of the year with Stockton. Krol will turn 20 in early May.
|Cardenas hit better for Sacramento late in the season. b>|
It was a little bit of déjà vu all over again for Cardenas in 2010, as the infield prospect starred at the Double-A level but found tougher sledding in Triple-A. He would hit .304/.379/.396 in 109 games split almost evenly between Sacramento and Midland, but his performance at the two levels was dramatically different. With the River Cats, he hit only .267/.320/.329, but with the Rockhounds, his line was .345/.436/.469. There were some signs during the final weeks of the season that Cardenas was starting to come around offensively at the Triple-A level, however.
The 2010 season began ignominiously for Cardenas. After a strong showing during the A's big league spring training, Cardenas tore ligaments in his thumb on a play at second base during minor league camp. He would miss the first four weeks of the season recovering from the injury. When he arrived in Sacramento, it was apparent that the injury layoff sapped his momentum from the good spring training. Cardenas hit only .228 with a 565 OPS in 31 games for the River Cats before being sent back to Midland. He also struggled defensively, especially at third base where the A's had moved him at the start of the season (he was a shortstop in high school and has primarily played second base in the pros).
Although clearly frustrated by the A's decision to send him back to Midland, where he had spent significant parts of the previous two seasons, Cardenas buckled down and put together an outstanding season with the Rockhounds. Before his low at-bat total dropped him off the leaderboards, Cardenas was among the top hitters in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS in the Texas League. He improved in every offensive category except stolen bases over his excellent 2009 season with Midland.
When Cardenas returned to Sacramento, he was a different hitter. In 27 games, he hit .313 with a 747 OPS. He was especially hot over the final 10 games of the season, batting .343/.400/.400. It may have helped Cardenas at the plate that he played second base almost exclusively upon his return to Sacramento, as he was clearly more comfortable at that position.
Although it feels like Cardenas has been stalled between Double-A and Triple-A forever, he is still only 23 years old and his game is still taking shape. In many ways, he has a similar offensive profile to current A's first-baseman Daric Barton, who has never hit for the power one would expect from a corner outfielder, but has the ability to hit at or near .300 with an OBP of .400 every season. Barton was able to make his lack of power less of an issue by becoming an elite defensive player, something that Cardenas has not yet demonstrated, although in fairness to Cardenas, he has been moved around from short to second to third since coming over to the A's in 2008.
Cardenas had the opportunity to step away from baseball this off-season when he enrolled as a student at New York University, which may help him clear away the frustration of his 2010 season. He was added to the A's 40-man roster this off-season and will have another opportunity at Triple-A to begin the year. A fast start at the plate would go a long way towards quelling any concerns that he can't handle Triple-A pitching. Defensively, Cardenas will likely see more time at both second and third in 2011. If he can improve his consistency on the routine plays, he should make his major league debut at some point in 2011.