A's Top Prospects: Beyond The Top-50, Part 1

Every year, our most difficult task is choosing only 50 prospects to include in our Oakland A's top prospect list. There are many more players than those 50 to keep an eye on, some of whom will develop into household names in a few years. In a two-part article, we look at 35 players that we considered for our list but didn't make the cut for one reason or another…

Note: These names are in alphabetical order and not in rank order. Below are players A-L.

Anthony Aliotti: The A's 15th round pick in 2009 has distinguished himself as one of the top fielding first basemen in the A's system. Aliotti also did a decent job at the plate in 2010 for Low-A Kane County, batting .278 with a .397 OBP and 77 RBIs. The St. Mary's College alum's biggest weakness is that he doesn't yet hit for the power expected of a first baseman. He had only five homeruns and a .379 SLG in 2010. The southpaw hit left-handers just as well as he hit right-handers and his post All-Star OPS with Kane County was 826. If he can increase his overall power numbers without sacrificing his plate discipline, the 23-year-old could see his stock rise quickly.

Yusuf Carter: Carter is an unusual prospect in that he has been old for his level the last two seasons, but that has been, in large part, because he is making the transition to a difficult new defensive position. Carter was picked up by the A's in the minor league Rule 5 draft before the 2009 season. An outfielder in the Chicago Cubs' chain, Carter was moved behind the plate by Oakland. Carter had played some catcher as an amateur, but he was learning on the fly in 2009 with Stockton when he appeared in 91 games. He struggled defensively, but showed improvement as the season went on. Offensively, he posted an 867 OPS and hit 14 homers. In 2010, Carter began the year with Double-A Midland and struggled offensively before landing on the disabled list. He returned to Stockton after recovering from his injury and hit 13 homers in only 48 games while posting an 897 OPS. Carter turned 26 last month, but he is young to catching. He has good hands and a strong arm and his power separates him from most other minor league catchers. The A's are deep in minor league catching talent, however, so he'll need to stay healthy in 2011 and continue to improve defensively to remain on the depth chart.

Jason Christian: A shoulder injury has severely impacted the past two seasons for Christian, who put together an impressive pro debut season in 2008. The infielder was the A's fifth-round pick in 2008. He posted an 821 OPS in 2008 and stole 28 bases in 31 chances in 86 games for Low-A Kane County in 2009 before a shoulder injury ended his season early. Christian began the 2010 season on the High-A Stockton roster, but he was ineffective in the early going, batting only .162 in 12 games before landing on the DL again. After completing his rehab, he spent the remainder of the 2010 season with Kane County, for whom he got off to a slow start initially but hit well down the stretch. Christian can play all over the infield and has the patience and speed to be a top-of-the-order hitter. He will need to show that the shoulder injury is behind him in 2011 to move back up the prospect rankings.

Dusty Coleman: Like Christian, Coleman saw his 2009 and 2010 seasons severely impacted by injury. In 2009, Coleman played the entire season, but he probably shouldn't have, as it was revealed after the season that he was playing with a broken wrist for much of the year. He had surgery after the 2009 season, but the first surgery left him with some pain and mobility issues, so he had to go under the knife a second time. He missed the entire 2010 campaign. The A's went over-slot to sign Coleman – their 28th round pick in 2008 – and they like the athleticism and power that he brings to the shortstop position. Before the injury, Coleman was among the league leaders in most hitting categories in the Midwest League and the A's feel that wasn't a fluke. Wrist injuries can be tricky for hitters, but if Coleman can regain his pre-injury form, he will be a player on the rise in 2011.

Bobby Cramer: A major league rookie at age 30, Cramer doesn't fit the profile of a typical prospect, which is why we left him off of our top-50 prospects list. Nonetheless he is likely to have the biggest impact on the A's in 2011 of any player on this list. Cramer had a long and unusual odyssey to the major leagues, a journey that included being released by the Tampa Bay Rays while he battled a shoulder injury, retiring from baseball first to work on an oil rig and then teach high school math, signing with Oakland and rising from A-ball to Triple-A in one season only to be let go the following off-season, playing independent baseball, re-signing with the A's only to be loaned out to a Mexican Summer League team in his second season with the team, winning the Mexican League's Pitcher of the Year award, starring for Triple-A Sacramento during their push for the playoffs and, finally, making his major league debut as a starter for one of the top rotations in baseball. Cramer distinguished himself with the A's last season (3.04 ERA in four starts) and is pitching well in big league camp as he pushes to be the A's fifth starter on Opening Day. He is a crafty left-hander whose fastball sits in the mid- to high-80s, but he has an excellent feel for his secondary pitches and good location. If he can stay healthy, he could carve out a nice career as a fifth starter, even though he is already 31.

Vicmal De La Cruz: De La Cruz was one of the A's two high-profile international amateur signings in 2010. The 17-year-old Dominican outfielder was considered one of the top talents in this year's "July 2nd signing class," although he actually didn't sign with the A's until mid-November. De La Cruz reportedly signed for an $800,000 bonus. He is a left-handed hitter with outstanding raw tools. He has above-average speed, a strong throwing arm and a powerful, if sometimes wild, swing that scouts anticipate will allow De La Cruz to develop into a power hitter as he grows into his body. De La Cruz and fellow 2010 "July 2nd signing" Renato Nunez were not included on our 2011 top prospects list because they hadn't yet played at least one professional inning. De La Cruz is a likely addition to the 2012 list, and he is set to make his pro debut with the A's Dominican League club in 2011.

Jose Guzman: Guzman made our "Beyond the top-50" list last year and, although he had a strong season for Low-A Kane County in 2010, he just missed the top-50 again this year. The Dominican right-hander saved 18 games for the Cougars while posting a 3.40 ERA and striking-out 49 in 50.1 innings. Although Guzman has been in the organization for six years and has pitched at least one inning for a full-season affiliate the past five seasons, Guzman's 2010 campaign was his first full year with a full-season affiliate. The 23-year-old doesn't have plus velocity, but when he is pitching within himself, he locates well in the lower-half of the strike-zone and he has a good change-up. Guzman was a starter early in his career, but he has been exclusively a reliever the past three seasons and the role suits him well. He should go to Stockton in 2011.

Michael Hart: Hart was selected in the 19th round by the A's in 2008. He pitched well in his pro debut season with Vancouver and had a 2.96 ERA in 24 relief innings with Low-A Kane County in 2009 when he landed on the DL with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Hart began the 2010 season at extended spring training and was on the short-season Vancouver Canadians' Opening Day roster. Hart dominated the Northwest League, posting a 1.06 ERA and striking out 27 while walking only five in 17 innings. He joined the High-A Stockton roster for the final six weeks of the season and had a 2.77 ERA with a 12:7 K:BB ratio in 13 innings with the Ports. Because he missed time with injury, Hart has only 90 professional innings under his belt and he is already 24, but the right-hander has good stuff. As a reliever, he could move quickly through the system if he is healthy.

Carlos Hernandez: Although the win is an overrated stat for pitchers, there is still something to be said for a pitcher who consistently puts his team in a position for the W. Hernandez has been that guy throughout his minor league career. The left-hander went 7-0 in 2008, 15-8 in 2009 and 9-3 in 2010. A workhorse, Hernandez doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he gets results with a solid array of off-speed pitches and the ability to induce groundballs. After finishing the 2009 season with Double-A Midland, Hernandez spent all of 2010 with the Rockhounds, as well. He posted a 4.37 ERA in 129.2 innings. He struck-out 96, but saw his walk total jump to 48. Hernandez did do a good job keeping the ball in the park, however, allowing only six homeruns. Hernandez had a rough stretch in June and July, when his ERA was in the sevens, but he had an ERA under 3.00 for April, May, August and September. He pitched for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League and struggled with some arm fatigue that limited him to only five outings. He pitched well in three of the outings but struggled in two. Hernandez has Dallas Braden-like intensity on the mound and profiles as a similar pitcher to Braden, but Hernandez doesn't have Braden's plus change-up. Hernandez will compete this spring for a spot in the Triple-A Sacramento rotation.

Ryan Hughes: Hughes doesn't have numbers that jump off the page, but he has intriguing potential. The son of former NFL guard Ernie Hughes, the younger Hughes didn't take up baseball with any seriousness until he was at Chabot Community College. He was an all-state discus thrower in high school and that arm strength has carried over onto the mound. The A's 2010 16th round pick was previously a 2008 16th round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He only threw 10 innings for Nebraska in 2010 and didn't put up good numbers, but the A's see a lot of potential in the 6'6'', 230 pound left-hander. The East Bay native has a solid fastball that is clocked at 90 MPH, but is firm. He also has a good split-finger and slider. Although he is already 22, Hughes has put very little mileage on his arm due to his lack of high school pitching experience, so his timeframe is a little different than most prospects.

Brett Hunter: Things haven't gone according to script for Hunter since he signed a record-breaking above-slot deal with the A's after being selected in the seventh round in 2008. Hunter was considered a first-round prospect before the draft, but slid thanks to an arm injury. He has struggled with arm problems off and on since then, and has also found trouble keeping a consistent throwing motion and arm slot. The results haven't been pretty. In 87 minor league innings over the past two-plus seasons, Hunter has a 6.39 ERA and he has walked 90 batters. On the plus side, his pure stuff is still good enough that he has struck-out 111 batters and has allowed only six homeruns. Hunter spent the last six weeks of the 2010 season on the DL and missed Instructs while he was rehabbing an arm injury. He was cleared for spring training, but it isn't yet known whether he will be ready at the start of the 2011 season. A starter in college, Hunter spent last season in the bullpen and he is likely to remain there. If he can get his delivery worked out, he could be a dangerous relief prospect with his mid-90s fastball and sharp breaking ball.

Ben Hornbeck: The 2009 season was a breakthrough campaign for Hornbeck, who struck-out 159 batters in only 116.1 innings while posting a 3.17 ERA for Kane County, Stockton and Midland. Unfortunately, the 2010 season wasn't as kind to Hornbeck, who struggled badly with Midland and then was unable to recapture his 2009 form with Stockton. In 131.2 innings, he struck-out 138, but he allowed 156 hits and 21 homers, resulting in a 4.85 ERA. Hornbeck has a plus change-up, but his fastball and breaking ball are only average, making him very hittable if his command isn't perfect. Hornbeck has always been very difficult for lefties to hit and he may be an ideal candidate to move to the bullpen as a left-handed specialist.

Deyvi Jimenez: Jimenez, a big, strong right-hander from the Dominican Republic, put together a solid season with the Vancouver Canadians in 2010 and looks ready to make the jump to full-season ball. In 61 innings, Jimenez posted a 3.54 ERA. He struck-out 48 and walked only 13. His strike-out totals were lower than one would like to see, but he induced a ton of groundballs and showed good command. Unfortunately, Jimenez finished the season on the shelf with a sore right elbow. Assuming he is healthy at the start of 2011, he will likely make his full season debut with Low-A Burlington.

Jonathan Joseph: His progress has been gradual, but Joseph finally made his mark in professional baseball in 2010. In a career-high 94.1 innings split between short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County, the Dominican right-hander posted a 3.05 ERA and struck-out 90 while allowing only two homeruns. The soon-to-be 23-year-old Joseph is a hard-thrower, regularly hitting 94 MPH on the radar gun. His secondary pitches have taken longer to develop, but they are getting better. Joseph will likely get a chance to start with High-A Stockton in 2011.

Jared Lansford: Lansford put together another puzzling season in 2010. As he did in 2009, Lansford, 24, pitched well for Double-A Midland, but struggled badly with Triple-A Sacramento. In 37 innings with the Rockhounds, Lansford had a 2.43 ERA and 12 saves. He struck-out 29, but walked 19. The Pacific Coast League did not treat him kindly, as Lansford had a 7.94 ERA in 17 innings. Although his sinker has continued to be a very effective pitch, Lansford's command has caused him a number of problems. He walked 27 in 54 innings last season, a number that will have to improve if he is going to take the next step in his career.

Ryan Lipkin: Lipkin was a repeat draftee by the A's, who took him in the 24th round in 2010 after using their 43rd round pick on him in 2009. Oakland was able to sign him this time around and the USF alum is making a strong initial impression on the A's. Although his .272/.328/.353 line in 184 at-bats with Vancouver last season was mediocre, he had a strong finish to his 2010 campaign, batting .338/.423/.397 in August, and he played well during the A's fall Instructional League. He is advanced defensively and has a good eye at the plate. The A's are deep at the catcher position, but a team can never have too many talented back-stops.

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