45. Graham Godfrey
|Godfrey was one of the top starters in the PCL in 2011. b>|
The 2011 season certainly didn't start the way that Godfrey wanted it to, but it definitely ended the right way. At the beginning of the year, it appeared that Godfrey was on the "outside looking in" in terms of having a legitimate chance of making the major leagues. Despite having spent the majority of the 2010 season with Triple-A Sacramento, Godfrey was sent to Double-A Midland to start the 2011 campaign. He was the Rockhounds' Opening Day starter, working four innings with no earned runs allowed and six strike-outs. As it turned out, that would be Godfrey's only start for the Rockhounds in 2011. An injury to Michael Wuertz a few days into the season necessitated the promotion of Tyson Ross to the big leagues, opening a spot for Godfrey in the Sacramento rotation. Godfrey would go on to be one of the top starters in the Pacific Coast League and he would make his major league debut.
In 107.1 innings for the River Cats, Godfrey posted a 2.68 ERA. He allowed only 92 hits (holding batters to a .227 average) and posted an 89:30 K:BB ratio. Godfrey also went 14-3 for Sacramento, helping the River Cats to the best regular season record in the PCL. In the middle of all of that, Godfrey made his major league debut on June 10 in Chicago. Although his first start wasn't a memorable one, Godfrey made a strong impression by out-dueling Tim Lincecum and beating the San Francisco Giants in his second start. He would pitch fairly well in an outing against the New York Mets five days later, but was sent down to Triple-A after that. Godfrey would be recalled at the end of August. He would appear in two more games, allowing three runs in eight innings of work.
Godfrey has been a part of the A's organization since November 2007, when he was acquired as the main prospect in the deal that sent Marco Scutaro to the Toronto Blue Jays. The A's have always like Godfrey's stuff, but he had produced inconsistent results. Before last season, his best year came in 2009, when he was named to the Texas League's post-season All-Star team. Godfrey's fastball generally sits in the 89-92 MPH range and he has a good slider, as well as a slow curveball and a change-up. The A's worked with Godfrey to raise his arm angle and that slight adjustment may have been the key for Godfrey's turnaround.
"Last year [Godfrey's] arm was really low. He even went to winter ball and pitched with a low arm. I mentioned to him this spring, ‘I think your stuff is just better with your arm raised,'" Gil Patterson, the A's minor league pitching coordinator, said during the season.
"At first, I don't think he bought into it but he tried it a few times and had some success. He throws harder and the angle to homeplate is better, and his breaking ball is better. Everything he does is just better from up there. Really, the proof is in what he's done."
Godfrey's ceiling is likely as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but there is value in having a pitcher who has good command and can eat up innings like Godfrey can. He has also shown that he can keep the ball in the park despite being a flyball pitcher and that he is durable. Since joining the A's organization, he has never missed any significant time due to injury. The A's have entered this off-season in a rebuilding mode and may look to deal one or more members of their current starting rotation. Should that occur, look for Godfrey to have a legitimate chance at a spot in the A's rotation this spring. If he doesn't make the team out of spring training, Godfrey figures to be one of the A's top options should injuries strike during the season.
44. A.J. Kirby-Jones
|Injuries impacted Kirby-Jones' 2011 season. b>|
After an outstanding professional debut campaign with short-season Vancouver in 2010, Kirby-Jones had a frustrating 2011 season with Low-A Burlington. He suffered a wrist injury and was hit in the head during the season and had an uneven campaign, finishing the year with a .240/.360/.415 line for the Bees. Kirby-Jones had dramatic home-and-away (969 OPS at home/576 OPS away) and left-right splits (701 OPS versus lefties/802 OPS versus righties) and saw his batting average by month fluctuate up and down more than 100 points every month. He also went two months with only one homer, but hit 12 homers over the other full two months he played in.
Much of Kirby-Jones' inconsistency stemmed from his injuries, which disrupted his rhythm and prevented him from ever finding that consistent swing that he could use all season. It was a far cry from his 2010 debut season during which he posted an 887 OPS and reached base at a .417 clip. Still, despite the inconsistencies, Kirby-Jones' overall numbers with the Bees were hardly terrible for a pitcher-friendly league such as the Midwest League. Despite appearing in only 94 games, Kirby-Jones was third on the team in homeruns, fourth in RBIs and third in OPS. His 56 walks were also second-most on the team. He finished 24th in the Midwest League in OPS and 25th in homeruns.
The A's expect a more consistent performance from Kirby-Jones next season, when he will likely be suiting up for High-A Stockton. Playing in a more offensive-friendly environment will certainly help the slugger and he made some progress with his swing at Instructs this fall that A's coaches believe will help him maintain his production all season.
"He's made a number of nice adjustments [at Instructs]. He is much more relaxed at the plate and he has a much better set-up. He's looked good down here," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.
Although he doesn't have the typical height of a major league first baseman (Kirby-Jones stands at 5'10''), he has that prototypical power that teams look for. Lieppman has said that Kirby-Jones is one of the strongest players in the A's system and that he has some of the strongest hands. He has only played in difficult hitting environments since turning pro and has 27 homers in 169 games. Although he hasn't hit for average as a professional, he has done a solid job of getting on-base and has shown a willingness to take a walk when teams are pitching around him, something that has happened with some frequency the past two seasons. He could have a monster offensive season for Stockton next year. Defensively, Kirby-Jones has good feet and soft hands and should be able to handle the first base position as he moves up the chain.
43. Connor Hoehn
|Hoehn's command is improving. b>|
It was a year of transition for Hoehn, who spent much of the season working on an alteration in his throwing mechanics that the A's believe will allow him to have more consistent command. The end result was a poor ERA with High-A Stockton (5.21 in 48.1 innings), but excellent strike-out numbers and an improved K:BB ratio. Hoehn's best month was the last month of the season, leaving optimism that Hoehn could be in for a breakthrough 2012 campaign.
Since Hoehn was drafted in the 12th round in 2009, he has put up impressive strike-out totals. In 156 career innings, he has 188 strike-outs. Until this year, however, he was also racking up a decent amount of walks per nine innings. In 2009, he walked nine in 20 innings and in 2010, he walked 39 in 87.2 innings. Hoehn and the A's coaching staff spent a lot of the 2011 season working on mechanical adjustments designed to cut down on those walks, as well as give him a better idea of where he was throwing within the strike-zone. The A's limited his innings during the middle of the season to allow him time to work on these adjustments and, by August, he seemed to be benefiting from the change.
"We lowered his arm angle just a touch and he seemed to be getting the grasp of it," A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said during the season.
The change in arm angle did result in a reduction in Hoehn's velocity, as he was down to 89-90 for much of the season after sitting at 92-94 the year before. By the end of the year, however, Hoehn's velocity was starting to return and Patterson was optimistic that he would be able to add another MPH or two with the new mechanics.
"We told him, ‘ok now that you can repeat a little bit, you can really start to let it go.' I still think we have a chance to get that 92-93 MPH average, but right now it's probably 91. But he's coming back and the velocities are starting to jump," Patterson said.
"I'm happy with that. I'd rather have 92 where you want it than 94 and have no clue where it is going. That's my goal with him, to have the low-90s where he wants it instead of the 94, 95 and he has no idea where it is going."
Hoehn's major bugaboo in 2011 was his homeruns allowed total. He gave up 11 longballs in 48.1 innings, which was the major factor in his inflated ERA. Improved command should help this number, although he is a flyball pitcher and therefore may be prone to the occasional longball throughout his career. He has an excellent slider, although when he tires he does have a tendency to leave it up in the hitting zone, and a workable change-up.
The Washington, D.C. native only turned 22 midway through the 2011 season. Whether Hoehn starts the 2012 season in Double-A will likely depend on how well he is repeating his new delivery this spring.
42. Sean Jamieson
|Jamieson is a top-flight defender. b>|
Jamieson was one of the biggest early surprises from the 2011 draft class. A senior from a small school, Jamieson wasn't on the radar for many who follow the draft prior to his being selected by Oakland in the 17th round. The native of Ontario, Canada, quickly demonstrated why the A's chose to use a top-20 round pick on him. He established himself as the top defensive shortstop in the New York-Penn League and did a good job of getting on-base and stealing bases when he had the opportunity.
Jamieson spent his entire 2011 professional debut season with the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters. The 22-year-old hit only .235, but he walked 37 times in 69 games, posting a solid .350 OBP. Once on base, Jamieson was a threat, swiping a team-high 27 bags in only 32 opportunities. He finished ninth in the league in walks and third in stolen bases. Jamieson also led all New York-Penn League shortstops in fielding percentage and made several spectacular plays at the position.
"Sean Jamieson … is a kid that looks like he can stay at short. He has the arm strength and the athleticism, the foot speed and a chance to hit," Rick Magnante, manager of the Vermont Lake Monsters, said during the season.
Jamieson had a solid showing at the A's fall Instructional League and he will enter spring training as a player to watch. Jamieson still has work to do in learning how to drive the ball with wood bats. He had only a .312 SLG and 13 extra-base hits in 260 at-bats. However, his glove is advanced enough that if the A's decide fellow shortstop Yordy Cabrera needs another year in Low-A, Jamieson could get the nod to start for Stockton at the High-A level. Either way, he will be placed with a team on which he can get a lot of everyday playing time. Look for Jamieson to also see some time at second base next season, as he could be a valuable utility infielder in the big leagues with his defensive prowess and good speed.
41. Nick Rickles
|Rickles has an advanced approach at the plate and a strong arm behind the plate. b>|
Rickles was another standout performer from the A's 2011 draft class. A catcher from Stetson University, Rickles was the A's 14th-round pick. In his professional debut season, Rickles showed the ability to hit for average, get on-base and hit for a decent amount of power for a catcher. The A's also thought enough of Rickles' maturity that they sent him to Triple-A Sacramento for a week to serve as an emergency catcher. He didn't get into a game with the River Cats, but he gained value experience that should help him in his first full professional season in 2012.
Rickles appeared in 47 games after signing with Oakland, the majority coming with short-season Vermont. He also appeared in a handful of games for the AZL A's. Combined he batted .310/.370/.458. He collected 17 extra-base hits in 145 at-bats and had a 15:28 BB:K ratio. He also led all New York-Penn League catchers with a 41.3% caught-stealing rate.
The Florida native has a solid approach at the plate and is athletic. He is 6'3'', 225 pounds and he has a strong arm and quick feet. In college, he was a threat to steal and even this year, he racked up six stolen bases in seven chances and had four triples. Rickles is extremely patient at the plate and has shown the ability to drive pitches when given the opportunity.
With the additions of Max Stassi, Ryan Ortiz, Beau Taylor and Rickles in recent drafts, the A's are not short on good, young catching prospects. Although Rickles may be advanced enough to play for High-A Stockton at the start of next season, he could be sent to Low-A Burlington, as the A's try to spread out the playing time at the two full-season A-levels between Taylor, Stassi and Rickles. Rickles will be a player to keep an eye on in 2012.