25. Beau Taylor
|Taylor made a strong first impression with the A's brass. b>|
In most years, the Oakland A's use at least one of their top-10 draft picks on a catcher. This year, that catcher was Central Florida's Beau Taylor, who was selected with the A's fifth-round pick. The A's viewed him as one of the top catchers available in the 2011 draft and were pleased he was still available in the fifth round.
According to A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota, it was Taylor's defensive skills that separated him from many of the other catchers on the board.
"We had a couple of scouts who said he was the best defensive catcher they saw all year," Kubota said shortly after the draft.
"He's just got a knack for it. He's very athletic. He's agile. He really can receive the ball well. He blocks well and does all of those things. He has plenty of arm strength."
Thanks to Taylor's advanced defensive skills, the A's didn't hesitate to send him to a full-season league when injuries opened up a spot on the Low-A Burlington Bees' roster. He would assume the everyday catching duties in Burlington and did a good job handling the staff. It took Taylor a little longer to get adjusted at the plate, but his bat eventually came around. After posting a 627 OPS in July, Taylor posted an 813 OPS in August and was one of the Bees' top offensive players.
A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman was impressed with Taylor's performance in the Midwest League.
"Beau Taylor has handled his first opportunity at this level well. It's not easy coming out of college and jumping right into this level," Lieppman said.
"Beau has swung a good bat and thrown very well. He's really improved his range. The adjustment he's had to make is being required by us to call his own game. He's developing relationships with the pitchers. There's a lot of interaction with guys who have been here all season, whereas he's just coming out of college. He's being stretched in different dimensions. It isn't as easy as people think."
A's Assistant General Manager David Forst was also impressed with Taylor.
"Taylor has swung the bat really well. You can see right away watching this guy why he had so much success in college. He has a short swing and he has a solid approach at the plate. He knows what he is doing," Forst said.
The left-handed hitting Taylor's biggest weakness in his first pro stint was his ability to hit left-handed pitching. He hit .172 versus lefties and .322 against right-handers with the Bees. Taylor's homerun power was also non-existent during his first pro stint, but that was likely part of his adjustment period to hitting with wood bats. He is a candidate to move up to High-A Stockton at the start of next season and playing in the California League should help his power numbers.
Taylor's glove will allow him to advance fairly quickly, although the A's do have catching prospects Ryan Ortiz and Max Stassi ahead of him on the depth chart. Taylor has a similar profile to former A's catching prospect John Baker, a solid receiver and a patient left-handed hitter with some power potential.
24. Jai Miller
|Miller will compete for a spot with the A's this spring. b>|
In his second stint with the A's, Miller finally put all of his immense talents together and had a dream season with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. Miller, a former top prospect in the Marlins' organization, was originally acquired by Oakland as a waiver claim at the start of the 2010 season. He struggled during the first few weeks of that season and was designated for assignment by Oakland and later claimed by the Kansas City Royals. He would have a solid season for Triple-A Omaha and would play in the big leagues at the end of the 2010 season. During the off-season, he signed a minor league deal with the A's.
Miller had a huge month of April – posting a 1229 OPS – and never looked back. He would have an OPS of 902 or higher in every month but August. He finished the year with a career-high 32 homeruns. Miller also drove-in a career-best 88 runs and stole 16 bases in 16 chances. The A's added Miller to the 40-man roster towards the end of the season and he hit a homerun and batted .250 in 12 big league at-bats.
A three-sport star in high school, Miller was lured away from a football and basketball scholarship at Stanford by the Marlins in 2003. He has flashed the power-speed combination that drew the Marlins to Miller throughout his career, but he has also struggled with contact issues that have prevented him from becoming a big league regular. He has struck-out at least 100 times in every season as a pro and his .368 OBP in 2011 was a career-high.
The contact issues certainly didn't abate for Miller in 2011. He whiffed a career-high 179 times, although he also walked a career-best 54 times. Because of his contact issues, Miller will never hit for average, but if he can produce the kind of power numbers he put together in 2011, he could still be a useful player. Defensively, he covers a lot of ground in centerfield and has a good arm. He also runs the bases well, combining speed with baseball smarts.
Despite having been drafted in 2003, Miller is still only 26 years old (he will turn 27 in January). He isn't likely to develop into an everyday major league outfielder at this stage in his career, but with his power, speed and defensive skills, he could be a valuable bench player. The A's outfield situation is in flux, but as of now, he is a leading candidate to make the team's 25-man roster out of spring training.
23. Zhi Fang Pan
|Pan has shown lots of natural hitting ability in a short time. b>|
Pan's addition to the A's system before the 2010 season was a strong sign that the organization's expanded international scouting department was starting to pay dividends. He was the organization's first amateur free agent signing out of Taiwan. Pan made a strong impression as a 19-year-old in the Arizona Rookie League in 2010 and then followed up his debut with another standout season in 2011, this time for short-season Vermont.
In 37 games, Pan hit .336 with a .386 OBP for the Lake Monsters. He might have put up even better numbers, but his time with Vermont was cut short first by a minor hand injury and then when he traveled back home to Taiwan to try out for the Taiwanese national team. He would make that team and he participated in the MLB All-Stars versus Taiwan exhibition in the fall.
Pan's hit tool is his calling card. In 80 career minor league games, he is a career .333 hitter. Although he has a career .386 OBP, he isn't particularly patient, walking 25 times in 300 career at-bats. However, he has an advanced feel for putting the bat on the ball and he uses the opposite field extremely well.
Pan has above-average speed, although that has yet to translate into a lot of stolen bases. He has yet to learn how to turn on pitches, but he hits a lot of balls on a line and the A's believe he will develop more gap power as he develops as a pro and adds weight to his 6'1'', 170 pound frame. He hits righties and lefties well, although the left-hander's power numbers were actually significantly better versus left-handed pitchers last season.
Defensively, Pan is a natural shortstop, but he has also played a lot of second base, thanks in part to a sore elbow that limited him at the tail-end of 2010 and during the spring of 2011. The A's will likely continue to have him play both middle infield positions as he progresses through the system.
Minor injuries have prevented Pan from moving as quickly through the A's system the past two seasons as he would have otherwise. He will jump to a full-season league next year, likely with Low-A Burlington. Pan will be 21 throughout the 2012 season.
22. Andrew Carignan
|Carignan is back on track after a 2009 injury. b>|
It took two years, but Carignan is finally back to where he was during the spring of 2009 before a strained forearm caused him to miss much of the 2009 and 2010 campaigns. He breezed through three levels of the minor leagues in 2011 and finally made his major league debut at the end of the season. Carignan is now in-line to play a significant role in the A's bullpen next season.
The 2011 campaign didn't start out well for the North Carolina alum. He missed the start of the season with a stress fracture in his foot. Carignan debuted with High-A Stockton in May, but after 11 innings during which he allowed only four hits, two walks and no earned runs, he was promoted to Double-A Midland. Carignan was similarly dominant with the Rockhounds, allowing only 13 base-runners in 11.1 innings before his ticket was punched to Triple-A. He would throw 16.2 innings with the River Cats, allowing four earned runs and 18 base-runners. In 39 total minor league innings, Carignan had a 46:12 K:BB ratio and he held opposing batters to a .181 average while coughing up only two homeruns.
Since his college days, Carignan has been a power pitcher. Before his arm injury, Carignan's fastball regularly topped 96 MPH and was clocked as high as 98 on occasion. His velocity hasn't quite returned to those levels as of yet, but he still averaged 93.5 MPH on his fastball during his major league stint and the A's expect that he will continue to regain his arm strength next year. His slider is his out pitch and he is mostly a two-pitch pitcher, although he will occasionally throw in a change-up. Carignan is only 5'11'' and he employs a deceptive delivery that makes it difficult for hitters to get a bead on his offerings.
That deceptive delivery is essential to Carignan's success, but it can also cause him problems with his command. It took Carignan a lot of time to regain his release point after his injury and he does have a tendency to lose his feel for the strike-zone on occasion. His control was significantly better in 2011 than it had been in 2008 and 2010, however. He has the stuff to pitch in the later innings in the big leagues, but he will have to earn the trust of the A's brass that he can throw strikes to get the call in the seventh inning on. Carignan will enter spring training with an opportunity to break camp as a member of the A's bullpen.
21. Ryan Ortiz
|Ortiz is still recovering from 2010 shoulder surgery. b>|
Ortiz is yet another A's prospect who was on the comeback trail in 2011 after an injury cut short his 2010 campaign. The right-handed hitting catcher saw his 2010 season end after 58 games when he injured his throwing shoulder. He would eventually have surgery on the shoulder. The rehab on that injury continued into the 2011 season and he wasn't sent out to a club from extended spring training until May.
Although Ortiz posted an 873 OPS with Stockton in 2010, he was sent back to the Ports in 2011. He quickly demonstrated that he was too advanced of a hitter to be in the California League, however. In 28 games, he hit .340/.455/.515 and he posted a 21:22 BB: K ratio. Ortiz was promoted to Midland in July and continued his hot hitting with the Rockhounds initially. He batted .317/.443/.444 in 63 at-bats in July before fading down the stretch. Ortiz finished his stint with the Rockhounds with a .237/.357/.303 line in 152 at-bats. Some time-off between the end of the regular season and the Arizona Fall League seemed to reinvigorate Ortiz. He hit .310/.448/.500 in 15 AFL games.
Ortiz's best asset as a hitter is his control of the strike-zone. In 181 career minor league games, he has walked 104 times and has struck-out only 138 times. He has flashed power to all fields at times, although he has a tendency to look to go the other way with pitches rather than try to drive them. The shoulder injury may have impacted his power some over the past two years as well.
Defensively, Ortiz is still developing. He has a tall frame for a catcher and struggles at times to get down on balls in the dirt. Although he played in the field for most of the 2011 season, his arm strength was still limited by the surgery and he had trouble controlling the running game. That element of his game should improve as his arm strength returns. He is a good athlete with soft hands and quick feet.
In some ways, Ortiz is a similar player to current A's catcher Kurt Suzuki, although his frame is very different and Ortiz isn't as advanced defensively as Suzuki was at the same stage in his career. Ortiz will likely return to Midland to start the 2012 campaign, but he should get an opportunity to play at the Triple-A level at some point during the season, provided that there are spots available on the River Cats' roster.