10. Eric Sogard
Sogard was the favorite to win the A's back-up infield job coming out of spring training. He battled Andy LaRoche to the final day of camp before the A's decided to keep the veteran LaRoche and send Sogard down to Triple-A for more seasoning. The seasoning Sogard required was mostly in the area of defense at shortstop, a position he was asked to move to towards the end of 2010. The natural second baseman started nearly every day at short for Triple-A Sacramento and held his own at the position. He continued to be a pesky hitter at the plate, batting .298 with a .381 OBP and a .401 SLG in 79 games for the River Cats. Sogard was recalled to Oakland two weeks ago and since then has appeared in four games, reaching base five times.
As a hitter, Sogard is similar to Mark Ellis in Ellis' prime. Sogard doesn't have Ellis' homerun power, but the ASU alum does have a better eye and, like Ellis, does an excellent job of fighting off pitches and forcing up pitch counts. Sogard has been one of the toughest outs in the A's minor league system the past two seasons and has been among the organization's leaders in pitches-seen per at-bat. With Sacramento, he walked 40 times against 34 strike-outs and he has walked three times and has struck-out once in 11 big league at-bats this year. He doesn't have blazing speed, but he can swipe a base on occasion and is a smart base-runner. Sogard's best position defensively is second base, but he has shown he can handle shortstop and third base. The past two seasons he has overcome slow starts in April to put up solid slash-lines for a middle infielder. Although former A's back-up infielder Adam Rosales is playing well in Sacramento, Sogard is a strong candidate to remain with the A's for the rest of the season and he should see more playing time as the season progresses.
Status: Looking to stick
9. Max Stassi
Big things were expected of Stassi in 2011, especially on the offensive-side of the ball. The highly regarded backstop showed great improvements defensively during his first full professional season in 2010, but struggled offensively in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. Stassi was assigned for the 2011 season to the High-A Stockton Ports, and it was anticipated that he would be able to put up good offensive numbers in the California League. Unfortunately for Stassi, his 2011 season never got on-track, as a shoulder injury relegated him to DH-duty and eventually ended his season after surgery. Bothered by the sore shoulder all season, he hit .231/.331/.331 in 31 games for the Ports before being shut-down for the year.
Stassi had shoulder soreness in high school, which is one of the reasons that he lasted until the A's picked him in the fourth round, so the injury isn't new, but it finally got to the point where he couldn't play through it. The rehab is going well thus far and he had the surgery early enough during the 2011 season that he should be healthy for most or all of 2012. Coming into the season, Stassi was considered arguably the best defensive catcher in the A's minor league system, quite a feat for a player who struggled behind the plate early on in 2010. He has shown power during his minor league career, but he is still working to refine his approach to cut down on his swings-and-misses. He will continue on with that task next season. Despite the full season set-back, Stassi is only 20, so the A's have plenty of time to be patient with his development.
Status: Recovering from surgery
8. Jemile Weeks
For the past two-and-a-half years, injuries have plagued the A's 2008 first-round pick. Finally healthy in 2011, Weeks has broken-through to the big leagues and looks destined to stay there, as long as he remains healthy. From 2008 through the end of last season, Weeks' tenure with the A's had been defined by long stints on the disabled list and inconsistent play in the field. While the health of his legs will always be something that Weeks will have to keep an eye on, his effort in the field has been superlative this season and it has generated excellent results. Despite two mediocre campaigns with Double-A Midland in 2009 and 2010, Weeks was promoted to Triple-A in 2011 and he responded by hitting .321/.417/.446 in 45 games. He made his major league debut in early June and quickly displaced the veteran Ellis as the A's everyday second baseman. In 39 games with Oakland, Weeks is batting .316/.351/.418.
Weeks has shown the kind of player he can be this season. Between Triple-A and the big leagues, he has stolen 20 bases while getting on-base at a solid clip. Weeks will never be a power hitter like his older brother Rickie, but he has used his speed to collect a decent number of doubles and triples. He is the kind of dynamic presence at the top of the order that the A's haven't had in a long time. Defensively, Weeks is still prone to the occasional rookie mental mistake, but he has shown excellent range and athleticism at second. For the rest of the season, Weeks will be in the line-up for the A's for every game that his body allows him to and he should be a big part of Oakland's future moving forward, health-permitting.
Status: Establishing himself in the bigs
7. Stephen Parker
Parker had the biggest breakthrough campaign of any A's prospect in 2010. He went from struggling badly with Low-A Kane County in his pro debut season in 2009 to starring with the Stockton Ports in 2010, hitting 21 homers and posting a 900 OPS. This season, Parker hasn't had the same level of success with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds, but he is still putting together a solid campaign. In a league that isn't always kind to left-handed power hitters, Parker is batting .286/.360/.422 over his first 97 games in the Texas League.
Parker's 2010 campaign was remarkable with Stockton in part because of his consistency. He never had a bad month. This year, Parker did have one poor month (May) and that month is currently dragging down his overall numbers. In May, he batted .210//306/.314. In every other month, he has hit at least .294 with OPSs ranging from 769 to 898. Parker has really hit his stride in July. In 22 games, he is batting .351/.419/.479. Defensively, he is still struggling with errors at third base, but has also shown some range at the position. The A's don't have plans to move him to another position currently. If he finishes the season strong, Parker should enter 2012 as a member of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats and could get an invite to the A's major league spring training camp.
Status: Finding his groove in Midland
6. Ian Krol
After a strong first full professional season in 2010, Krol emerged as the A's top pitching prospect heading into the 2011 campaign. Unfortunately, the 2011 season has been fraught with injury and controversy for Krol and he has yet to make a non-rehab start this season.
The trouble began during spring training when he strained his left forearm. The recovery from the injury was a slow one and he didn't return to game action until late June when he began rehabbing with the A's Rookie League club. After three appearances with the AZL A's (5 innings pitched with no hits or walks), Krol was days away from being sent out to High-A Stockton when he used offensive language in a Tweet and was suspended indefinitely. Krol was on thinner ice than most prospects in the A's system because he had been in trouble during high school, which resulted in him being kicked off of his high school team. It isn't clear when Krol will be allowed to return. For the rest of this season, Krol's goals should be to pitch as well as he can once he is cleared and to stay out of trouble. Give his mostly lost season, Krol is likely to spend some time at the High-A level in 2012.
5. Adrian Cardenas
After two frustrating stints at the Triple-A level in 2009 and 2010, Cardenas has finally shown that he can handle Triple-A pitching in 2011. The infielder has been a .300 hitter at every level he has played at professionally, but he batted only .251 and .267 during his first two stints with the River Cats in a combined total of 109 games. This season has been a different story. His batting average has remained at the .300-level or higher all season and he is batting .306/.380/.418 in 90 games.
Despite those solid numbers, Cardenas may not be any closer to a full-time job with the A's. The A's seem uncertain what to do with Cardenas defensively. A shortstop in high school, Cardenas has mostly played second base as a pro. While second is his best defensive position, he is blocked there by Weeks and Sogard. The A's tried Cardenas at third base, but he was never comfortable at the position. He has played some left-field, but he doesn't have the power that most corner outfielders possess and he doesn't have the foot speed to play centerfield. Oftentimes this season, Cardenas has DHed, although he has played more at second base since Weeks was promoted to Oakland. Cardenas' future may lie with another big league team. He could get a shot with the A's later this year as a way to showcase him for a possible off-season trade.
Status: Hitting well but blocked in bigs
4. Michael Taylor
Very little went right for Taylor in his first season as a member of the A's organization. In 2010, he hit a disappointing .272/.348/.392 in 127 games for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. For comparison, in 2009, Taylor batted .320/.395/.549 in 116 games split between the Philadelphia Phillies' Double-A and Triple-A squads. The 2011 season also got off to a poor start for Taylor when he injured his wrist towards the end of spring training and had to miss the first six weeks of the season. Since that time, however, things have been looking up for Taylor, who has been healthy and has hit better in 2011 for Sacramento. In 58 games, he is batting .277/.356/.459.
The most encouraging aspect of Taylor's campaign thus far has been the return of his power. He has already hit more homers in 2011 than he did in more than twice as many games in 2010. He is also walking at a slightly higher rate, although his strike-out total has climbed some. Defensively, he continues to show a strong arm in whichever corner outfield spot he is playing. Taylor still isn't hitting at the level he was in 2009, but his improvements this season should be enough to get him a look in the big leagues this season, especially once the A's have traded some of their veteran outfielders. Oakland has nothing to lose and everything to gain in assessing what they have in Taylor at the big league level.
Status: Showing improvement
3. Michael Choice
After wowing the A's major league coaching staff during big league spring training, Choice got off to a somewhat disappointing start with High-A Stockton this season. Before the Cal League All-Star break in mid-June, Choice was batting only .248, although he had an 853 OPS. Since the All-Star break, Choice is batting .393 with a 1202 OPS. The A's 2010 first-round pick's overall slash line is now a very healthy .293/.385/.575 in 95 games. He is currently sporting a 44-game on-base streak, the longest current streak in the minor leagues. Choice has been particularly red-hot in July, batting .416 with 10 homers in only 22 games. His 27 homers and 70 RBIs rank first and ninth in the Cal League, respectively.
There is no doubting Choice's talent level. He has often been a man-among-boys in the Cal League and, of late, has been a one-man wrecking crew. Unlike many sluggers, Choice isn't a one-dimensional player. He has above-average speed and although his routes in centerfield still need some work, he has demonstrated decent range at the position. Strike-outs have been Choice's biggest weakness dating back to when he was in college. He has improved his strike-out rate since last season, and, most encouragingly, has improved his strike-out rate in June and July after high totals in April and May. Choice sees a lot of pitches, which makes him vulnerable to strike-outs, but he also draws his share of walks and is anything but an easy out in the line-up. The A's had planned to keep Choice in Stockton all season, but he may force them to promote him to Double-A in August if he continues to destroy Cal League pitching at this Tecmo Baseball rate.
Choice left the Ports' game on Sunday early with a mild quad strain. Assuming that the strain doesn't keep him on the sidelines for very long, he could move up to Midland as part of an expected post-trade deadline position movement surge. If he stays in Stockton, he could threaten Chris Carter's Stockton record of 39 homeruns in a season. Choice is likely to be one of the A's representatives at the Arizona Fall League this October and is looking like the leading candidate to be Oakland's top prospect heading into 2012.
Status: Homerun king
2. Grant Green
One of the biggest debates within the A's minor league system heading into this season was whether Green would stay at shortstop. The question was answered earlier this month when the A's moved their 2009 first-round pick from shortstop to centerfield with Double-A Midland. The move is not so much of a statement as to whether Green would ever be able to develop as a big league-caliber shortstop, but is more of a sign that the A's are anxious to get his bat to the big leagues and getting there as an outfielder will take Green a lot less time than it will as a shortstop.
Offensively, the 2011 season hasn't been outstanding for Green. In 89 games, he is batting only .288/.350/.402 for Midland after posting a .318/.363/.520 line with High-A Stockton last season. Green had a particularly slow start in April when he hit only .245, but he has hit .284 or higher in every month since then. In July, he is batting .307 with a season-best .424 SLG. Green showed impressive power during the MLB All-Star Futures Game and most scouts still believe that he will hit with authority at the big league level. Green could move up to Triple-A before the end of the season. Depending on how quickly he takes to his new defensive position, he could start pushing for a spot in the big leagues sometime late next year.
Status: Heating up in Texas
1. Chris Carter
The 2011 season has been one of frustration for Carter. At the end of last season, Carter appeared to be in the A's plans as the team's everyday left-fielder or DH. Instead, he had to watch during the off-season as Oakland acquired two corner outfielders and a veteran DH. Sent back to Triple-A at the start of the year, Carter got off to his typical slow start and then re-injured his thumb/wrist, an injury he initially sustained trying to dive for a ball late last year. He didn't return until mid-June, when he spent a week with the High-A Stockton Ports, mashing three homers in six games. He collected another three homers in nine games for Sacramento and was promoted to the big leagues, only to sit on the bench for more than a week. Once he started getting regular playing time, his timing was off and he collected only four hits in 30 at-bats before being sent back to Sacramento. Carter struggled upon his return to the River Cats, although a four-for-six night with a homer on Sunday could be a sign that he is about to get back into the groove.
Much of Carter's troubles this season can be traced back to his move from first base to the outfield. The A's had good intentions and were attempting to find a non-DH spot for Carter, as first base appeared to be blocked by Daric Barton. Carter had trouble with the outfield from the get-go, however, and his hand injury was a direct result of playing out of position. Although not a Gold Glover at first, Carter has grown comfortable at the position and confidence is an important part of his game. Carter is also a rhythm player. He always needs some time at the start of a season to get into the groove. With only 187 at-bats so far this year, Carter is still finding his way this season. He has succeeded at every level he has played once he has gotten comfortable. Hopefully Carter will get a true opportunity to play everyday in the big leagues soon so the A's can make a true evaluation of his abilities at that level.
Status: Trying to get keyed in