1) Jermaine Mitchell
For the first few years of Mitchell's professional career, he was considered one of the A's best prospects, albeit at a time that the system was thin on position player talent. Mitchell had a big debut season in 2006 after he was selected in the fifth round out of UNC-Greensboro. A strong season in 2007 for Low-A Kane County put Mitchell in our top 10 for A's prospects. However, starting in the 2008 season, his career hit a roadblock in High-A Stockton.
Mitchell would spend more than two-and-a-half seasons with the Ports before finally playing well enough to earn a promotion to Double-A last season. While with Stockton, Mitchell was wildly inconsistent. Some days, he was the best player on the field. But all too frequently, he wasn't a factor for the Ports.
This year has been a different story for Mitchell. Rare has been the game that he hasn't had a positive impact for Double-A Midland. On Wednesday, he finished only a single short of the cycle and stole his eighth base. Mitchell already has 11 triples, as well as six doubles and six homeruns. He is batting .363 with a 1164 OPS in 38 games.
At 26, Mitchell is old for Double-A, but if he continues to hit at or near this pace for another month, he will force the A's to find a spot for him in Triple-A. Given the fact that the A's have four outfielders who are up for free agency for next season (Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp and David DeJesus), Mitchell could get a look in September if he continues to have a strong season.
2) Anthony Recker
Recker is the Rodney Dangerfield of A's prospects. The catcher has done nothing but put up solid numbers year after year, but he hasn't gotten his due from prospect watchers. Recker was an annual member of our A's top-50 prospect until the 2009 season, when he fell off the list in large part because he began to serve primarily as a back-up for Josh Donaldson.
Recker began this season as Donaldson's back-up in Sacramento, as well, but he has played himself into a regular role with the River Cats. In 33 games, he is batting .306 with a 907 OPS. He has four homers, 13 doubles and a .394 OBP. The Allentown, Pennsylvania native had an 837 OPS in 80 games for the River Cats last season.
Recker, a 2005 18th-round pick, continues to share time behind the plate with Donaldson and has gotten time at DH and at first-base. The fact that he has played some first base this season is also improving his prospect status, as he had been limited almost exclusively to catcher up until this season. The additional defensive versatility will make him a more attractive candidate for a big league roster. The A's will have to make a decision about Recker at the end of the season. He is eligible for minor league free agency this winter, and the A's will likely have to add him to the 40-man roster to keep him in the system.
3) Shane Peterson
Although Peterson was the prospect with the lowest profile in the package the A's acquired for Matt Holliday from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009, Oakland's front office thought very highly of the outfielder/first-baseman. Peterson, the Cardinals' 2008 second-round pick, reached Double-A midway through his first full professional season in 2009.
Coming into this season, he appeared stalled at Double-A, however. Peterson spent half of the 2009 season, all of the 2010 season and began the 2011 campaign at Double-A. Last season, Peterson got off to a very slow start with Midland. He finished strong, but wound-up with a mediocre 722 OPS.
It has been a different story for Peterson at the start of the 2011 campaign. He got off to a fast start for the Rockhounds, batting .278 with an 854 OPS in 14 games. Injuries to Chris Carter and Wes Timmons gave Peterson an opportunity in Triple-A and he has taken advantage of that chance. In 23 games for the River Cats, he is batting .313 with a 908 OPS.
Peterson has always had a good eye and a solid glove, especially at first base, but there have been questions about whether he has enough power to be a major league outfielder or first-baseman. Thus far this season, he is showing improvement in that area with a .482 SLG. He has shown an improved patience at the plate, as well, with a 23:27 BB:K ratio.
Despite the time he spent at Double-A, Peterson is still relatively young for Triple-A at 23-years-old. Peterson is making a case for an invitation to the Arizona Fall League this off-season and a possible invite to big league spring training next year.
4) Dusty Coleman
Coleman was a highly regarded prospect after he signed an above-slot contract following the 2008 draft. The shortstop got off to a hot start in 2009 with Low-A Kane County but he injured his wrist in late May and his numbers plummeted after the injury, although he played most of the rest of the season with the injury. Coleman missed the entire 2010 season after off-season surgery failed to correct the injury and a second procedure was needed.
Coleman was cleared for full baseball activities over the winter and came into spring training in great playing shape. He had a strong spring and he has continued to play into the regular season for the High-A Stockton Ports. Although his batting average is only .264, he has been very productive. Coleman has 22 walks in 39 games and six homers. His OPS is a solid 828. Coleman has also been a factor on the bases, swiping 10 bags in 13 chances.
During spring training, A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman indicated that Coleman would have been considered for a starting spot in Double-A if 2009 A's top pick Grant Green wasn't slotted for everyday duty at shortstop for the Rockhounds. If Green earns a promotion or there is another infield opening in Midland, Coleman should get his opportunity at Double-A.
5) Nino Leyja
Leyja burst onto the scene in 2008 when he hit .315 for the A's AZL Rookie League team as a 17-year-old. He had a disappointing 2009 campaign, but remained on the top-50 prospect list based on the promise he demonstrated in 2008. Another disappointing campaign in 2010 dropped him off of this year's list, however.
Leyja looks to be back to the player who captured our attention in 2008. The middle infielder is currently batting .279 with a .388 OBP in 38 games. He has 24 walks and has stolen 10 bases in 11 chances. Leyja has yet to show much power and has been struggling against left-handed pitchers, but overall he has played very well.
Despite his lack of progress through the system the last two seasons, Leyja is still young for his level at 20-years-old. He has plenty of time to develop power and refine his defensive skills. Leyja has the skills to be a top-of-the-order force with his speed and patient approach. If Coleman moves up to Double-A. Leyja could be in-line for a promotion to High-A Stockton.