Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 5-1

After several weeks, we conclude our review of the Oakland A's top-50 prospects with our picks for the top-five prospects in the A's system. These rankings were made on December 3 and did not take into account trades made since that time. We will release a modified list taking all off-season player movement into account later this week, so stay tuned.

5. Corey Brown * Traded

Brown struggled with Sacramento, but starred with Midland.

Brown was traded to the Washington Nationals along with Henry Rodriguez for Josh Willingham this off-season. The trade gives Brown a fresh start in an organization that is rebuilding and will be leaning on young players throughout the 2011 season. Brown, who was added to the A's 40-man roster before the trade, is in Nationals' camp currently and is competing for a spot in Washington's outfield.

It was a strange 2010 campaign for Brown. The A's 2007 supplemental first-round pick put together a full and healthy season one year after being limited to 66 games by knee and shoulder problems. Overall, Brown put up impressive numbers, posting a .283/.370/.466 line in 131 games. He also stole 22 bases in 24 attempts and cracked double figures in doubles, triples and homeruns, while also playing solid defense in centerfield.

Brown's overall line was somewhat misleading, however. The Oklahoma State alum began the year with Triple-A Sacramento, but struggled badly in his first crack at the level, batting only .156 with a 482 OPS in 109 at-bats. He was sent back to Double-A in late May and turned his season around instantly. In 90 games with Midland, Brown hit .320 with a 916 OPS. He made the Texas League's post-season All-Star team and the Topps Double-A All-Star team. His .320/.415/.502 line was an improvement over his solid 2009 line with Midland (.268/.349/.488 in 250 at-bats). Despite the good numbers with Midland, Brown wasn't brought back to Sacramento until the final week of the regular season. He hit well in seven games with the River Cats, batting .346 with three homers.

There are few questions about Brown's raw talent. A former two-sport star in high school, Brown still has his wide receiver speed and strength. He is one of those rare players who legitimately has the power and speed to be a perennial 20-20 player while also being a candidate to reach base at a .400 clip. Within the A's front office, there were some who believed that Brown was the team's most talented prospect.

Brown has a few factors working against him, however. At 25 years old, Brown is not a young prospect and he has only had 135 at-bats at the Triple-A level, the majority of which were poor at-bats. He has also struggled with injuries throughout his minor league career, the most serious of which have been to his knees and shoulder. Despite being a patient hitter who is capable of racking up impressive walk totals, Brown has struggled with making consistent contact throughout his career. In 2010, he struck-out 129 times in 131 games, and that was the first time in his career he had struck out less than one time per game played.

The 2011 season will be an important one for Brown. If he can capture the Nationals' attention during spring training, he should have an opportunity to play in the major leagues. If he gets off to a good start, Brown could carve out a permanent role with the Nats.

4. Michael Taylor

Consistency will be key for Taylor in 2011.

The 2010 season didn't go according to script for Taylor. Acquired by the A's for fellow top prospect Brett Wallace before the season, Taylor was expected to take over as the A's right-fielder at some point during the 2010 season. Instead, he struggled with inconsistency at Triple-A, putting together a mediocre season with the River Cats.

In some ways, Taylor's struggles came as a surprise. Drafted in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007, Taylor struggled in his first pro season in 2007, but had dominated the minor leagues ever since then. In 2008, he hit .346 with a 968 OPS across two A-ball levels. He followed up that performance with a stellar 2009 campaign, during which he hit .320 with a 944 OPS at Double-A and Triple-A. Given those two seasons, it was assumed that Taylor would handle the Pacific Coast League with ease and force his way into the A's line-up by mid-season.

In retrospect, it may have been naïve to assume that a young player like Taylor would be able to handle switching organizations without missing a beat. As it turned it out, it was difficult for Taylor to find his footing in his first season with the A's. When he got off to a slow start, Taylor began to press and he tried making adjustments to his swing, listening to a lot of different advice. None of those adjustments were effective and at times during the season, he looked very unsure of himself at the plate. He finished his season with a .272/.348/.392 line with Sacramento.

Although his 2010 campaign was not up to the standards he had set the previous two seasons, Taylor did have some positives emerge from his time with the River Cats. He learned a lot about dealing with adversity, something that he says will help him as he grows as a player. Taylor also proved that he could still make a positive contribution to a team even when he isn't at his best. He was named the River Cats' Most Improved Player at the end of the season.

"There were a lot of expectations of Michael going into last year and it's no secret that he struggled with that. He was dealing with a lot. He was part of a very high-profile trade. He was coming to a new organization. I don't think those were the easiest adjustments for him to make," Farhan Zaidi, A's Director of Baseball Operations, said.

"As much as people talk about his season being a disappointment, he still hit .272, drove-in 78 runs and stole 16 bases. Even in a bad year, he actually did some things pretty well, so those are encouraging signs for us. This is a guy who when we acquired him, we thought he had a chance to be a star at the big league level. One tough season in a season of transition is not going to change that."

Taylor will have a lot to prove this season, however. Although he has always been more of a gap hitter and a hitter for average than a pure homerun hitter, Taylor will need to demonstrate that he can be a 20-homer-a-year guy to grab a job in the major leagues. He will also need to have a more consistent swing from at-bat to at-bat. Taylor spent the fall at the Arizona Fall League, where he worked with Phoenix Desert Dogs' manager (and current Dodgers' manager) Don Mattingly on smoothing his swing into one fluid motion, something that should allow Taylor to get around on the baseball better in 2011.

There is no question that Taylor has the physical skills to be a star in the big leagues. In addition to being able to hit for average, Taylor has above-average speed for a player of his size (6'6'', 260) and an above-average throwing arm. Although he doesn't currently project to be a homerun champion, Taylor does have power. During the Pacific Coast League playoffs, Taylor hit a homerun to the opposite field during a night game at the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Park, one of the more homer-unfriendly parks in the major leagues. He is a hard worker and is very intelligent.

The key for Taylor in 2011 will be his ability to find a consistent approach that he can use every at-bat. Now that the A's have had him in their organization for a year, their hitting instructors will also be better equipped to help Taylor find the swing that works best for him when he does run into a slump during the season. With the A's acquisitions of Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham this off-season, Taylor will not be under any pressure to get to the big leagues on a particular timetable. If he puts together a season like the ones he had in 2008 and 2009, the A's will find a place for him, but their season won't be riding on whether he can get to the big leagues or not.

That all being said, the 2011 season is a key one for Taylor. At 25 years old, Taylor can't afford another down season and still remain a top prospect.

3. Michael Choice

Choice had an impressive pro debut.

In 2010, the A's selected 10th overall in the draft, the first time the team had picked in the top-10 since they took Barry Zito ninth overall in 1999. Oakland is hoping not only that Choice is as memorable a pick as Zito but also that he is the last top-10 pick they'll have for another decade. It took Zito only a year to reach the big leagues after being drafted. Choice will certainly take longer than that to get to Oakland, but his quest to the big leagues got off to a good start in 2010 with an impressive pro debut.

Choice was the second four-year college position player to be taken in the 2010 draft and some argued that he was the top four-year college talent available from the position-player perspective. The centerfielder was lightly recruited coming out of high school and played for a smaller collegiate program in the University of Texas, Arlington. However, his numbers were too impressive with UT-A for him to go unnoticed in the college draft. As a junior, Choice hit .383 with a 1276 OPS in 196 at-bats for the Mavericks. He was able to put up these gaudy numbers despite regularly being pitched around. Choice walked 76 times in only 60 games played.

Choice signed with the A's in late July to an above-slot bonus of $2 million. After a few games with the A's Rookie League team to shake off the rust, Choice was assigned to short-season Vancouver and he got a full month of at-bats with the Canadians. In 102 at-bats, Choice hit .284/.388/.627. Despite having less than half of the at-bats of the league leader, Choice finished eighth in the Northwest League in homeruns with seven. His slugging percentage would have placed him at the top of the leaderboards had he had enough at-bats to quality for the title. After collecting three hits in nine at-bats for the Canadians during the Northwest League playoffs, Choice added two homeruns in three games for Low-A Kane County during the Midwest League post-season.

The A's front office came away impressed with Choice's pro debut.

"He's definitely got light-tower power. Anyone can notice that right away," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said.

"He has power to all fields. The thing that really stands out about Michael Choice is that he plays so hard, that he is so intense. He's thirsty for knowledge. He's a grinder. He really cares about the game, his teammates. He is very similar to Greg Vaughn. He fits that profile."

The A's went out seeking power during the 2010 draft, and Choice was the center piece of their efforts. Many scouts ranked Choice behind only Bryce Harper in that category among those drafted in 2010.

"We felt as far as [power] goes there probably wasn't anyone else in the draft quite like him. Bat speed and hand speed is just tremendous and should translate into very good power at the major league level," A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota said after the draft.

Choice isn't a one-trick pony, however. He also has good enough speed to handle centerfield and he has a good eye at the plate. Choice's main weakness as a prospect is his contact rate. Choice struck-out regularly in college and that pattern continued into the pros, as he struck-out 45 times in 109 at-bats for the AZL A's and Vancouver. Many scouts have chalked up the high strike-out totals to Choice's set-up before swinging, which involves quite a bit of movement and weight shifting in his lower half. That may lead the A's to have Choice remake part of his swing at some point, but for now, the A's are leaving him alone.

"When you have a gifted player like that those are the things that you don't want to mess with right now. You want to make sure that he has good balance, good head position and that he has a good idea of himself," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.

"What would have happened if someone had tried to change Gary Sheffield with his quirky mannerisms and the things that he did? You try to quiet it down and you try to use it within the means that they already have, but you definitely don't want to immediately change it. He's had success like this, so you don't really want to just all of a sudden change it. What we try to do more right now is work on learning how to make adjustments on small things and teach the players that making adjustments is a tool and sometimes it is more important than a run tool or a throw tool."

Despite playing three full seasons in college, Choice is still a relatively young prospect. He didn't turn 21 until mid-November. Although he is relatively young, Choice should be moved fairly aggressively by the A's. He will likely start the season with High-A Stockton, where he could put up huge offensive numbers given the offensive nature of the California League. If he does rack up big numbers with the Ports, Choice should have an opportunity at the Double-A level by the end of the season. For him to move up that quickly, however, he will need to show an improved contact rate. With his power, Choice will never be asked to cut down his swing with two-strikes, but a better understanding of when to try to pull a pitch and when to go the other way should help Choice limit those strike-out numbers somewhat. If he can make those adjustments, Choice could be challenging for a spot in the A's outfield as early as spring of 2013.

2. Grant Green

Green had a strong first full professional season.

In 2009, the A's selected Green with the 13th overall pick in the draft. Many thought the A's got a steal in grabbing Green with that pick, as he had been projected as high as a top-five pick going into the 2009 collegiate season. Green signed with the A's to an over-slot deal on the final day of the draft signing period. Because he signed so late, Oakland got only a glimpse of Green on the field during the 2009 regular season. The A's got a full season look at Green in 2010 and he made a very positive impression.

Despite getting only 19 regular season minor league at-bats in 2009, Green was sent to High-A Stockton for the start of the 2010 season. A polished collegiate player from USC, Green was expected to be able to handle full-season baseball from the beginning of his pro career, and he met those expectations. Despite a mediocre start to his season, Green put together a stellar year with Stockton, posting a .318/.363/.520 line with 20 homers in 548 at-bats. Green was named to the post-season All-Star teams for the California League and Topps and was tabbed as the A's Organizational Player of the Year.

As a hitter, there was little Green didn't do well in 2010. He used the whole field and showed good power (especially after the first two months of the season). His walk-to-strikeout ratio wasn't great (38:117), but other than that, he looked very much the part of a professional hitter who could put up All-Star numbers as a middle infielder in the big leagues. Defensively, it was another story, however. Green spent the entire season at shortstop and he led all California League shortstops with 37 errors. Some of the errors were sloppy mistakes as a result of poor footwork, but others came on throws where it appeared he didn't have enough arm strength to get the ball to the intended target.

Green acknowledged throughout the season that his defensive was a major work-in-progress and he put in a lot of extra work to improve at short. Before the Arizona Fall League, Green spent time at the A's fall Instructional League working specifically on his defense. Unfortunately, Green didn't get a lot of work on defense in the AFL thanks to a calf injury that kept him on the bench for a big chunk of that season.

For now, the A's are taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to whether Green will stick at shortstop long-term. His offensive profile is strong enough to play at almost any defensive position (perhaps with the exception of first base) and the A's think Green is athletic enough to play in a number of different places. Where he ends up at the major league level may have as much to do with the A's roster at that time than how he looks with the glove.

"As a shortstop with his kind of offensive profile is one of the most valuable players in baseball probably, so there is every intention of giving him every opportunity possible to stick there because of the value that he brings to that position," A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said.

"But part of that is going to be a question of organizational depth also. We will have to look at Grant's position moving forward both as a function of how we evaluate his defensive ability and what is the best way to keep him moving up the ladder and get him to the big leagues."

Regardless of where he ends up on the field, Green's biggest attribute as a player will likely be his offensive game. A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota likened Green's offensive profile to Robin Yount when Green was drafted and Green showed Yount-like tendencies in 2010 with his athleticism and in the way that he hit for average and power. Like Yount, Green has good speed, although Green didn't run often, as the Ports' powerful line-up limited the number of base-stealing opportunities. Down-the-road, Green should reach the 15-20 stolen base mark. Green could also make the Yount-like move from shortstop to centerfield eventually, although a move to second base seems more likely.

The A's kept Green at High-A until the post-season in 2010. He will start the 2011 season with Double-A Midland and could stay there all year even if he puts together a big year at the plate because of the number of infield prospects the A's are likely to have at Triple-A Sacramento. Even if Green doesn't get much – or any – Triple-A time in 2011, he could still be a factor for the A's at some point during the 2012 season.

1. Chris Carter

Carter could have A's fans smiling soon.

In many ways, Carter's debut with the A's in 2010 is a good summary of his entire professional career. Carter began his major league career ice cold, going 0-33 before finally collecting his first hit. However, after breaking that hitless streak, Carter was a big factor at the plate, going 13-for-37 (.351) with three homers, seven walks and a double. Throughout his career, Carter has started off slow at every new level, but once he has found his comfort zone, he has dominated every league he has played in. The A's are hopeful that that pattern holds true for Carter's major league career.

Acquired as part of the Dan Haren trade before the 2008 season, Carter has moved up the A's chain at a slow, but steady pace. In 2008, he was the California League's Rookie of the Year, hitting 39 homers for the Stockton Ports in 137 games despite a slow start to his season. Carter was promoted to Double-A Midland in 2009, and he overcame another slow start to win the Texas League Player of the Year award by batting .329 with 28 homers in 125 games. He got a taste of Triple-A at the end of the 2009 season and hit .259 with an 812 OPS for the River Cats in 13 games.

Carter got off to a good start to his 2010 season, posting an 872 OPS for Sacramento. However, he hit only .214 in May (with a 770 OPS) and .227 in June (with a 808 OPS) before hitting his stride in July (.318 with a 1075 OPS) and August (.268 with a 958 OPS). Carter finished his 2010 season with a .258/.365/.529 line in 465 at-bats for Sacramento.

"At every level, he struggled early while getting accustomed to that part of the game at that level – the speed of the game or his understanding of it, whatever has affected him at each level, he has usually struggled early. And then, at some point, things usually begin to kick-in for him and he gets confident and the game comes together for him," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.

"We had expressed that to Bob Geren and the people in Oakland, that in the minor leagues, this has been his M.O. that this is what he has done in the past. We didn't expect him to go 0-for-33 [laughs], but if you notice, after that, he began to get a little bit of a sense of it. His at-bats became a little more aggressive and you really saw a different Chris than you saw in his previous at-bats. I think he is on-track and he will be able to do what people expected of him."

At the end of the season, Carter was not only dealing with a jump to the big leagues. He was also having to handle a position switch from first base to left field. A third baseman when he first turned pro out of high school, Carter has primarily played first base in the minor leagues. He saw some time in right field (in addition to third and first) with Stockton in 2008 and again in 2009 with Midland and Sacramento, but the vast majority of Carter's playing time has come at first. With Daric Barton establishing himself as the A's everyday first baseman, the A's decided to move Carter to the outfield at the end of the 2010 season as a way to get him to the big leagues faster.

Carter has never been a strong defensive player, although he has improved his play at first base considerably since 2008. However, the A's feel he has the athleticism and the arm strength to handle the corner outfield positions. Thus far, Carter has been a work-in-progress in left field. He is still learning to read the ball off the bat and take the proper routes. However, both of those areas should improve with increased time in the outfield.

Carter was supposed to get that additional experience in the outfield over the winter in the Venezuelan Winter League, but he injured his wrist at the end of the 2010 regular season and was never cleared to play in Venezuela. The wrist injury isn't expected to be a factor for Carter this spring, but losing out on an opportunity to gain experience in the outfield will likely make it even harder for him to force the A's to make him their everyday left fielder on Opening Day.

The A's acquired veterans David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui in part so they wouldn't have to rush prospects like Carter and Michael Taylor into everyday roles before they were ready. Although Carter's path to the big leagues is blocked by those veterans at the moment, many still believe that Carter will be a big factor for the A's in 2011. Carter is the best power prospect the A's have had in years. The A's, pointing to his 2009 season with Midland and his 2007 season in Low-A, believe Carter can hit for average in addition to hitting for power. He will always be a player who strikes out a decent amount, but he has shown the ability to wait for his pitch and take a walk. Carter is very even-tempered and has a good disposition for hitting in the middle of the line-up. He posted a 1017 OPS with runners in scoring position in 2010.

Barring injuries during spring training, Carter, 24, will begin the 2011 campaign in Sacramento with the express instructions to work on his outfield defense and on raising his average closer to .300 (like he did in 2009 after hitting only .258 with Stockton the previous year).

"He's a guy who is still very much a part of our long-term plans and a guy we are still very much excited about. We just think that he could use a little more seasoning after hitting .258 in Triple-A and if he pounds down the door and does great in Triple-A, he's going to be a big part of this team next year," Zaidi said.

"I don't think that anybody is necessarily trying to hold him down, but I think after his performance last year, I think we didn't necessarily want to have to rely on him to be a very productive big leaguer from Day One of the 2011 season."

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