40. Rashun Dixon
|It's still a learning process for Dixon. b>|
When the A's drafted Dixon in the 10th round in 2008 and gave him asix-figure signing bonus not to play football and baseball at Mississippi State, the organization knew that his development would be a long-term project. Four seasons into that project, both the organization and Dixon are still hard at work trying to translate his immense physical talent into on-the-field production. While the results have been uneven, the sense among the A's minor league coaches is that it is still just a matter of time before Dixon realizes his potential.
"He is raw and highly tooled which takes time to tame. Some organizations only dream of having a specimen like him," A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said.
At 6'2'', 210 pounds, Dixon is built like an NFL strong safety and is one of the most physically imposing players in the A's system. At times, he has flashed five-tool potential, but those flashes have been surrounded by large stretches of time when he has struggled. In 2010, Dixon posted a respectable stat line with the Low-A Kane County Cougars when he hit .275/.371/.383 in a difficult hitter's environment. He jumped up to High-A Stockton in 2011, but was often overwhelmed by the more advanced pitching repertoires of California League hurlers. He never saw his average go above.260 throughout the year and finished with a .243/.317/.379 line in 125 games. To his credit, Dixon finished the year swinging the bat well and he hit well during the Ports' post-season run.
Despite having three-and-a-half years of minor league experience under his belt, Dixon is still one of the younger prospects on the organization's top-50 list. He turned 21 in late August 2011 and was one of the youngest regular position players in the Cal League for much of the season. At times, Dixon has shown some frustration with the speed of his development, but he has also shown a solid work ethic and the ability to becoached. He has participated in the A's fall Instructional League each of the past four years and has made improvements during each of those camps. This year, A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman praised Dixon's work at Instructs and noted that Dixon had "made a number of advancements with his approach at the plate."
"[He has improved with] [p]itch selection and everything really. He had a good idea of what he was doing up there," Lieppman said.
Handling breaking balls has been Dixon's biggest weakness as a hitter since he turned pro. If he is able to recognize those pitches earlier, he could see a dramatic improvement in his numbers very quickly. The A's have moved Dixon up a level each season of his career regardless of his success or failure the year before, but he may repeat at High-A to start the 2012 season to continue his work on pitch recognition. Given his age and the rawness of his tools, there is no reason to rush Dixon. Of all of the A's top-50 prospects, Dixon has arguably the highest ceiling as a prospect, but he also has a long way to go to reach that potential. He will continue to be a player to watch closely next season and beyond.
39. Michael Spina
|Spina improved several aspects of his game in 2011. b>|
Spina continued his steady climb through the A's system with another solid year at the plate. The University of Cincinnati grad followed up on his 23-homer season with High-A Stockton in 2010 by posting an 803 OPS for Double-A Midland. Spina's homer total dropped by 13 in 2011, but he showed improvements in all other aspects of his game offensively. Defensively, Spina continued to hone his skills at first base, a position he took on for the first time in 2010.
The jump from High-A to Double-A is arguably the most difficult jump for a minor league hitter, but Spina handled the task well. He was streaky during the season, but still managed to put up solid overall numbers. He began the year red-hot, posting a 1093 OPS in April. Spina slid some in May (764 OPS) and slumped in June (605 OPS), but he picked up the pace after the All-Star break, batting.319. Interestingly, despite posting a batting average nearly 70 points higher after the All-Star break, Spina's OPS stayed the same (803 before the break and 802 afterwards), in large part because his power numbers dipped (.430 SLG before the break and .413 afterwards). A's Assistant GM David Forst opined during the season that Spina's dip in power may have been a result of dealing with the oppressive Texas summer heat for the first time.
Texas heat or no, Spina managed to make himself a more productive hitter by beingmore selective at the plate with Midland. In 2010, he walked 64 times in 135 games with Stockton, but he struck-out 142 times. The strike-out totals were a big factor in his .253 BA. With Midland, he made a conscious effort to be less aggressive and make more consistent contact and it worked. He upped his walk total to 70 in 129 games and dropped his strike-outs to 110. His OBP was a solid .380.
Defensively, Spina made great strides towards becoming an asset with the glove. A third baseman throughout his collegiate career and during his first pro season in 2009, Spina was converted to first base in 2010. There were some growing pains that season as he adjusted to the new position, but in 2011, he looked more natural there and he committed only seven errors for a .994 fielding percentage. That fielding percentage was best among regular Texas League first basemen.
The Texas League is a tough hitting environment for right-handed power hitters, but Spina's power numbers will need to increase for him to raise his profile even further next season since he is a first baseman. If he can combine his improved plate patience with the power numbers that he posted with Stockton, Spina will see his stock rise dramatically. One way he can improve those power numbers is to increase his production versus left-handed pitchers. Despite being a right-handed hitter, Spina has hit much better versus right-handed pitchers the past two seasons.
Spina was selected by the A's after his senior season in college, so he began his professional career on the older side of the prospect curve. However, by playing a full season at Double-A at age 24, Spina is making his age less of an issue. Based on how well he played in 2011, he should get an opportunity atTriple-A in 2012. Unfortunately for Spina, the A's have a backlog of first-base types on the 40-man roster and if a couple of them wind-up in Triple-A, he could go back to Double-A to start the year.
38. Sean Doolittle
|It will be a new look for Doolittle in 2012. b>|
Injuries have ruined the past three seasons for Doolittle, but he and the A's are hopeful that a position change will dramatically alter that dynamic for the2012 season. Doolittle was the A's second overall pick in 2007 and he was on the verge of making the major league roster when he injured his knee in May 2009. That knee injury required multiple surgeries and kept him off of the field for the rest of the 2009 season and all of the 2010 campaign.
The 2011 season was supposed to be a different story for Doolittle. He was added to the A's 40-man roster and entered spring training with two healthy knees. The A's kept Doolittle at extended spring training at the start of the year so that he could build up the strength in his surgically repaired knee, but he was only days away from being sent to Triple-A Sacramento to be their everyday firstbaseman when he suffered another setback. This time the setback was a wristinjury that occurred during an at-bat. The recovery from that torn wrist tendon moved slowly and he was unable to swing the bat pain-free for the rest of the summer. In August, both he and the A's came to the agreement that Doolittle's time as a position player was over and he began his transition to the mound.
Pitching isn't anything new for Doolittle, who starred at the University of Virginia as both a left-handed pitcher and a first baseman. Though the A's liked Doolittle better as a position player, there were several teams at the time of the draft that viewed Doolittle as having big league potential on the mound. Doolittle has embraced the opportunity to return to the mound and spent the fall Instructional League season pitching regularly.
The early reviews of Doolittle as a pitcher have been positive. He was touching 95 MPH and sitting in the 91-94 MPH range during the fall camp. That type of velocity from a southpaw is relatively rare and the fact that he was able to throw strikes was also encouraging. Fellow A's prospect Michael Taylor is a believer that Doolittle will be able to make the transition from top hitting prospect to top pitching prospect.
"Anytime you have 93-95 [MPH] from the leftside that's easy and it moves, [coupled with the fact] he's already pitched before, so it's nothing new, I think the transition will be really easy for him," Taylor said.
"You can tell when a guy has something special and he has a very special arm."
The biggest challenge for Doolittle will be refining the "softer" aspects of his game – secondary pitches and in-game management, such as keeping the runners close and pitch-outs.
"Sean still needs some more arm speed on his change-up. He slows his arm down a little bit on his slider, but it comes out awfully good," A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said.
Without much of a track-record as a pitcher versus higher-level competition, it is hard to know exactly what toexpect from Doolittle in 2012. However, his arm strength and command make him worth keeping a close eye on. He has the athleticism to make the proper adjustments to his throwing motion and he is highly motivated to enter spring training ready to compete on Opening Day. Although Doolittle is already 25 years old, he doesn't have the wear-and-tear on his arm that most 25-year-old pitchers do, so the A's don't have to rush him. On the other hand, he is entering his second season on the A's 40-man roster, so the team will need to move him up the ladder relatively quickly before he runs out of options. Because of his options situation, it is more likely that Doolittle will be developed as a reliever than as a starter.
37. Pedro Figueroa
|Figueroa is on-track to return in 2012. b>|
Like Doolittle, Figueroa missed most of the 2011 season due to injury, although his absence was expected entering the season. The hard-throwing left-hander injured his elbow midway through the 2010 season and had Tommy John surgery late that summer. His rehab from the surgery went relatively smoothly, and he was back on the mound by the end of the summer and was able to participate during the A's fall Instructional League camp. It is expected that Figueroa will be ready to pitch at the start of spring training.
Before being injured in 2010, Figueroa was one of the most intriguing A's pitching prospects. The Dominican southpaw took a long time to make his mark as a prospect despite the fact that he had a lively fastball. In 2008, he openedeyes in the Northwest League by striking out 77 in 68.2 innings and registering his fastball in the 93-96 MPH range. In 2009, he had a break-through season, striking out 145 in 152 innings while posting a 3.38 ERA for the A's two full-season A-ball teams. Figueroa was added to the A's 40-man roster after the 2009 season. In 2010, he was limited to only 13 starts and 71.1 innings thanks to the elbow injury. He made two appearances in 2011, striking out six in two innings for the A's Rookie ball team.
By the end of the A's fall Instructional League camp, Figueroa was back to throwing almost as hard as he was before the surgery (he was clocked at 94-95 MPH) and he was throwing his slider well. Barring any setbacks this off-season, he should be pitching fairly restriction-free at the start of next year.
Figueroa has been a starter for most of his professional career. However, because he took some time to develop as a pitcher, he is already 26 years old. Given his age, his recent elbow injury and the fact that he will be in his third year as a40-man roster player this season, Figueroa will likely make the move to thebullpen in 2012. As a reliever, he has the potential to be a late-innings threat versus hitters on both sides of the plate. A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens has compared Figueroa to longtime major league reliever Damaso Marte. Figueroa has struggled at times with his command and with hischange-up, both issues that would be minimized to a certain extent as a reliever. Provided he is healthy and throwing well, Figueroa figures to get a look at the major league level at some point in 2012.
36. Chris Bostick
|The A's are excited about Bostick's potential at the plate. b>|
There was no A's 2011 draft pick who made a bigger impression in a shorter period of time than the A's 44th-round pick. A shortstop from Rochester, New York, Bostick was the only high school player to sign with the A's out of their 2011 draft class. Bostick signed with the team late in the summer after the organization liked what it saw from Bostick's performance in the New York Collegiate Baseball League. The A's signed Bostick away from a baseball commitment to St. John's University.
"We think he has a lot of upside," A's Director of Amateur Scouting Eric Kubota said after the organization signed Bostick.
The right-handed hitter appeared in 14 games with the A's Rookie Ball team in late August. To say he was hot while playing for the AZL A's would be an understatement. In 52 at-bats, he batted .442 with eight extra-base hits. He scored 13 runs and stole four bases in four opportunities. Bostick continued to impress at the plate during the A's fall Instructional League camp.
Bostick was a two-sport star in high school and got some attention from colleges to play wide receiver, as well as shortstop. Had he been playing his high school baseball in Florida rather than upstate NewYork, Bostick likely would have drawn more attention from teams during the top-10 rounds of the draft.
At 5'11'', 185, Bostick isn't a big guy, but he should have plenty of size to play in the middle infield. He has above-average speed and is very athletic. Bostick has received high praise for his "hit tool," specifically for his quick wrists and his ability to square the barrel of the bat on the ball. Defensively, he has shown quick feet and a strong arm at shortstop. He should see time at both shortstop and second base in 2012.
Although he had a strong debut with the AZL A's, Bostick could spend the 2012 season at the short-season A level with the Vermont Lake Monsters. He will be 19 throughout the season and is still learning the game. Coming from a cold weather state, Bostick hasn't had the experience of playing 100+ games in a year, nor has he faced as much high-level competition as some of his fellow 2011 high school draftees. If the A's do send Bostick to Vermont, he will have an opportunity to play near friends and family, another added bonus when developing a young player.