Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 15-11

It's that time of the year when we take stock of the Oakland A's organization and analyze the top prospects. For the next few weeks, we will profile our top-50 prospect list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with a review of prospects, 15-11.

Note: These rankings are from our original top-50 prospect ranking posted on November 17, 2011. We will re-rank the A's top-50 prospects to incorporate any newly acquired players in late January.

15. Bobby Crocker

Crocker had a strong professional debut.

It is not uncommon for the A's to keep track of players they drafted but failed to sign out of high school. One such player was Crocker, who was originally selected by the A's in the 38th round in 2008 out of Aptos High School. After three strong years at Cal-Poly, SLO, Crocker remained on the A's radar and Oakland took the outfielder in the fourth round. This time around, he signed quickly. After spending a few weeks working on mechanics with A's coaches in Arizona, Crocker was sent to short-season Vermont, where he starred for the Lake Monsters.

In 32 games for the Lake Monsters, Crocker hit .322/.367/.441 with six stolen bases in seven attempts. A's Assistant General Manager David Forst said Crocker stood out from the crowd in Vermont.

"Bobby Crocker jumps out at you. He's kind of the highest round pick there and you know who he is the moment he walks onto the field," Forst said.

"He's big, he's well put together. He hit a couple of balls to the opposite field that showed some really impressive power."

The A's might famously not be trying to sell jeans, but Crocker has the classic athlete build that scouts dream on. He is listed at 6'3'', 220 pounds and he has above-average strength and speed. Some scouts fear that Crocker will continue to add muscle, causing him to lose the speed that currently allows him to play centerfield. However, for the moment, Crocker has the range to stay in center. At the plate, Crocker has shown flashes of the power one would expect from a player of his body type, but he has yet to translate that ability into consistent in-game power.

The last outfielder the A's drafted out of Cal-Poly was another player with power and speed, Grant Desme. A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota sees some similarities between Desme and Crocker.

"They are similar in that they are both big and physical and athletic," Kubota said.

"I think that Grant had shown more power in his game at this point than Bobby has. Bobby is probably a better runner. But really, longterm they both had similar profiles. They are big and physical and athletic. Bobby will need to develop his power to get there, but they share a lot of the same characteristics."

Crocker's swing can get long at times, leaving him vulnerable to strike-outs, although he has been working to shorten his swing. He has an aggressive approach at the plate, and he will need to improve his control of the strike-zone as he advances. With his collegiate experience and his success in the New York-Penn League, Crocker has a chance to skip the Low-A level and start next year at High-A Stockton. He will turn 22 in May.

14. Stephen Parker

Parker's power was down in 2011.

After a breakthrough campaign with High-A Stockton in 2010, Parker had a somewhat disappointing 2011 season with Double-A Midland. The third baseman hit for a decent average (.286) and got on-base at a solid clip (.373), but his power numbers dropped significantly from his levels at High-A (.413 in 2011 after a .508 mark in 2010).

Part of the drop in numbers may have been as a result of adjusting to a higher level of competition. He got off to a hot start in April before the league adjusted to him in May and June. Parker eventually adjusted back and posted a .313/.416/.424 line after the All-Star break, although only two of his 10 homeruns would come after the break.

Scout.com's National Baseball Expert Frankie Piliere still sees power potential in Parker's bat.

"I did expect to see bigger power numbers out of Parker in 2011, but I still buy into his power for the long haul," Piliere said.

"I'm interested to see how he fares in 2012 but I do think he has the power to profile there."

Parker will need his power to return in 2012 to remain among the A's top prospects. He has an above-average grasp of the strike-zone and he does a good job of using all fields. A left-handed hitter, Parker has hit well against both lefties and righties during his career. He has average speed for a corner infielder, but isn't a threat to steal.

Defensively, Parker is still a work in progress at third base. The A's believe he will eventually be at least an average defender at the position, but he still remains inconsistent with the glove. His 20 errors tied him for the most among Texas League third basemen.

Parker finished the season and played in the post-season with Triple-A Sacramento and he is expected to start the 2012 campaign at that level. Parker is the A's best third base prospect above the A-ball level and he could get a shot in the big leagues as soon as 2013 if he can show improvements defensively and return his power to his 2010 levels in 2012. He will be 24 throughout the 2012 season.

13. Renato Nunez

Nunez flashed his potential in 2011.

Nunez was the A's most ballyhooed international amateur free agent signing in 2010. He received a seven-figure signing bonus to join the A's organization out of his native Venezuela. The teenager made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2011 and he is expected to make the jump to the US in 2012.

When the A's signed Nunez as a 16-year-old, they raved about his power potential and his arm strength. He flashed both of those tools in 2011, although he also showed that he is a work-in-progress. The third baseman got off to a strong start to the DSL season, but he struggled down-the-stretch as the league grew more familiar with him. On the year, he finished with a .268/.301/.407 line with five homers and 12 doubles in 53 games. Defensively, Nunez was wildly inconsistent, committing a league-high 30 errors at the hot corner.

During the fall, the A's sent Nunez to the United States to participate in the A's fall Instructional League. A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman saw marked improvements from Nunez, especially defensively. A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens was also pleased with what he saw from Nunez at Instructs.

"He is making improvements at third base and he's got some real power and he's a smart kid," Owens said.

Nunez will turn 18 in April and should be one of the younger players on the A's Arizona Rookie League squad in 2012. He is still growing into his 6'1'', 185-pound frame and he is also still learning pitch recognition and the strike-zone. Nunez has a long development path ahead of him, but he has the raw tools to be a power-hitting third baseman with a plus arm.

12. A.J. Griffin

Griffin pitched at four levels in 2011.

It was a whirlwind season for Griffin, who began the year with Low-A Burlington and wound-up pitching for all four of the A's full-season affiliates. In 160.2 regular season innings, Griffin posted a 3.47 ERA and a remarkable 156:32 K:BB ratio. He didn't slow down during the post-season either. In 21 post-season innings for High-A Stockton, Griffin posted a 1.29 ERA, while striking out 28 and walking only two.

Griffin's standout 2011 season followed an impressive 2010 professional debut during which he served as the closer for the short-season Vancouver Canadians. In 21.1 innings for the C's, Griffin posted a 27:7 K:BB ratio and he allowed only 15 hits while saving 15 games. The A's never intended for Griffin to be a reliever long-term, however, as he already had a starter's pitch arsenal when he graduated from the University of San Diego. They used him as a reliever in 2010 to keep down his innings count after a long collegiate season.

Griffin's command is his most impressive attribute. He has walked only 41 batters in 209 professional innings (including the playoffs). Early in his collegiate career at USD, Griffin was a hard thrower, reaching 94-95 MPH at times. However, he now works more frequently in the 88-91 MPH range. He is 6'5'' and is an intimidating presence on the mound despite not being a hard thrower.

"Griffin can locate so well, and he gets a good downhill angle. He has a great change-up and can spin a breaking ball a little bit," A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said.

Griffin was a four-year collegiate player, so he was already 22 when he was drafted. He will be 24 throughout the 2012 campaign. His arsenal is well developed and what he is now as a pitcher is most likely what he will always be. One pitch that could improve is his curveball. It is a 12-6 slow breaking pitch and can be a plus pitch for him at times, but he can also hang it on occasion, as evidenced by the 17 homeruns he allowed in 2011. If he can add more sharpness to the pitch, he should be able to bring down that homerun total, although he is a flyball pitcher.

Griffin got a taste of both Double-A and Triple-A last season and held his own, for the most part. He will begin the 2012 season back at Double-A, but he should get some time in Triple-A by the end of the year and could be in the conversation for a spot in the major leagues by 2013.

11. Adrian Cardenas

Can Cardenas settle in at one position?

The 2009 and 2010 seasons for Cardenas were all about him getting over the Triple-A hurdle. In 2011, he finally proved he could hit for average and get on-base regularly at that advanced level. There are still some remaining questions that the infielder will have to answer before he gets a long look in the big leagues, however.

The Florida native has been a top prospect since he was drafted in the first round out of high school by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006. Since that time, Cardenas has shown the ability to hit for average. In nearly 2,500 career minor league at-bats, Cardenas has a .303 average. He has hit for .290 or better at every minor league level. Cardenas is a contact hitter who doesn't walk or strike-out much. He has only 260 career walks and 354 career strike-outs.

One area that hasn't developed yet for Cardenas offensively is his power game. The left-handed hitter is well built at 6'0'', 205 pounds, but he utilizes a swing that is more conducive to going the other way or lining the ball into the gap than going over the fence. In 491 at-bats for Sacramento in 2011, Cardenas hit .314 with a .374 OBP, but he slugged only .418. Cardenas has average speed and hasn't been a major base-stealer throughout his career.

Where Cardenas lines-up defensively is the biggest question about his overall game, however. A natural second baseman, Cardenas is blocked at that position in Oakland by Jemile Weeks, so the A's have tried moving him around the field to find a better fit. Over the past few years, he has spent time at shortstop, third base and in left field. He struggled at third and scouts don't believe he has the range to handle shortstop. Cardenas was fine in left field, but he doesn't have the power that most teams desire for that position.

Cardenas has an excellent feel for hitting and profiles as the kind of hitter who would hit for average in the big leagues. Whether hitting for average is enough to make him a major league regular remains to be seen. Settling into a permanent defensive position would help clarify his major league future. With Weeks firmly ensconced at second in Oakland, Cardenas' best opportunity at the major league level may come with another organization.

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