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.
10. Eric Sogard
|Sogard is a tough out at the plate.|
Players such as Sogard are often lost in the shuffle when it comes to prospect rankings. Not particularly big (5'10'', 190 pounds) or flashy, Sogard has a tendency to fly under the radar. However, Sogard is the kind of player who does many of the little things well that help a team win, making him a valuable asset.
Originally acquired by the A's from San Diego before the 2010 season, Sogard has spent two years in the A's system, splitting both of them between Triple-A Sacramento and the big leagues. In 2010, Sogard spent the entire regular season with the River Cats but received a September call-up to Oakland after the River Cats' post-season run ended. In 2011, he was the A's final cut out of spring training and would spend the final two-and-a-half months with Oakland as the team's back-up middle infielder.
Sogard's two years in Sacramento are indicative of the kind of player he can be when given the chance to play everyday. He was firmly ensconced in the top two spots in the River Cats' line-up the past two seasons and earned a reputation during that time for being one of the toughest outs in the Pacific Coast League. In 2010, he hit .300 with a .391 OBP and in 2011, he nearly matched those numbers with a .298 average and a .381 OBP. He walked more than he struck-out both seasons and posted slugging percentages above .400, all while playing above-average defense at second and showing a solid glove at shortstop.
In 2011, Sogard spent most of his time with Sacramento at shortstop thanks to the presence of second basemen Jemile Weeks and Adrian Cardenas on the Sacramento roster. A natural second baseman, Sogard began learning the shortstop position in 2010 and showed significant improvement with his turns around the bag and his range at short in 2011. Sogard also improved his base-running in 2011, swiping 13 bases in 16 chances for the River Cats after going 14-for-23 in 2010. The only blemish for Sogard with the River Cats was his April performance. Although he hit .270, he posted only a 689 OPS, his only month with an OPS below 819. He started slowly in 2010, as well, so getting off to a better start will be an area of focus for Sogard in future years.
Although Sogard spent 10 weeks with the A's in 2011, he managed only 70 at-bats over 27 games. He struggled with that inconsistent playing time, batting only .200 with an uncharacteristic .243 OBP. Despite those struggles, Sogard figures to be the favorite to win the back-up infield job with the A's this spring and is currently the A's top option at both second and short should starters Jemile Weeks or Cliff Pennington go down with injuries.
Sogard doesn't have Weeks' dynamic speed or Pennington's cannon for a right arm, so he is likely to continue to slot behind both players on the A's depth chart for the foreseeable future. However, given the history of leg injuries for both Weeks and Pennington, the A's may look to use Sogard more frequently in 2012 to keep some of the wear-and-tear off of their starting double-play combination. Sogard can also spell third baseman Scott Sizemore in a pinch.
In some ways, Sogard is a similar player to former A's second baseman Mark Ellis. He has Ellis' ability to see a lot of pitches per at-bat and can flash occasional homerun power. Sogard can not only work a walk, but he is also an excellent contact hitter and is difficult to strike-out. As a base-runner, he doesn't have blazing speed, but he is fast enough to swipe bases when the situation dictates. Defensively, Sogard has an above-average glove at second and is capable of filling in at short and third when needed. He will turn 26 in May.
|Vollmuth has power potential and a strong arm.|
Top pick Sonny Gray got most of the post-draft hype, but the A's were equally excited that Vollmuth was available for them to draft with their second pick, which didn't come until the third round in 2011. Vollmuth, a third baseman/shortstop out of Southern Miss, was projected by many pundits to be a top-two round pick, so the A's felt they had a steal when he was still on the board at slot 105.
Vollmuth came to the A's after a standout career for the Golden Eagles. During his final two seasons in college, Vollmuth hit 32 homeruns and posted an OBP above 1000. His junior season with Southern Miss was somewhat of a disappointment, in that he saw his average drop from .386 to .301 and his homer total go from 20 to 12. Some of that drop can be attributed to the change in bats in college baseball this season, which helped suppress offensive numbers across the country. Vollmuth also battled a variety of injuries during the season, including a hip flexor injury. In addition, he was a marked man in Conference USA in 2011 as one of the conference's top prospects and rarely got good pitches to hit.
Because he dropped further in the draft than expected, Vollmuth wasn't quick to sign with Oakland. The A's were able to get him into the system a few days before the signing deadline, however, and that allowed for just enough time for Vollmuth to play in a handful of games with the A's two short-season squads. After working off the rust with the A's Arizona Rookie League team, Vollmuth flew out to short-season Vermont to help the Lake Monsters' final weekend of the season push towards the playoffs. He was a star over those final four games of the season and a big reason the Lake Monsters earned a playoff spot on the last day of the year. In four games with Vermont, Vollmuth collected seven hits in 14 at-bats. He scored eight runs, doubled four times, tripled once and drove-in six. Vollmuth also walked twice for good measure.
Since Eric Chavez's injury problems began to sideline him for significant stretches in 2008, the A's have been looking for their next cornerstone at third base. Current A's third baseman Scott Sizemore showed some promise during his 2011 rookie campaign, but it could be Vollmuth who eventually steps into Chavez's role as a middle-of-the-order threat and above-average defensive third baseman. At 6'3'', 215, Vollmuth has a power hitter's body and the game to match. His power has been his calling card throughout his career, even when he has struggled with other aspects of his offensive game. During his 2009 stint in the Cape Cod League, for instance, Vollmuth hit only .230 with a .274 OBP but he still managed to slug at a .470 clip and hit five homers in 100 at-bats.
"I saw Vollmuth struggle mightily in the Cape two summers ago. But I still came away grading out his hit tool very highly," Scout.com's National Baseball Expert Frankie Piliere said.
"I think struggling up there probably helped prepare him for the pros too. He's a guy I think could advance quickly on the strength of his bat."
A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said that Vollmuth's power was a big factor in why the A's coveted him during the draft.
"His main attribute is the fact that he has serious power. The A's have always been starving for serious right-handed power and B.A. Vollmuth has the potential to carry that attribute," Owens said shortly after the draft.
The A's also believe that defense will be an asset for Vollmuth. In college, he split his time between shortstop and third base, but the A's are planning to keep him at third. They like his arm strength and his hands and believe he will be an above-average defender at the position.
"I think he's certainly a profile third base prospect. He's definitely got power. He's got defensive ability. He has played shortstop a great majority of his career," A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota said after the draft.
"We've seen him at third and we anticipate that the transition to third will be seamless and that he is going to be a very good defender with power potential."
Vollmuth turned 22 in late December. Given his age and his collegiate experience, he is a candidate to skip over the Low-A level and go straight to High-A Stockton in 2012, provided the A's have the roster room at that level. With his power, Vollmuth could put up huge numbers in the hitter-friendly California League.
8. Vicmal De La Cruz
|De La Cruz shined in his professional debut in the DSL.|
De La Cruz is easily the most intriguing position player to come out of the A's Dominican Academy in several years. The now 18-year-old outfielder was signed by the A's as an international free agent before the 2011 season. As a 17-year-old, De La Cruz hit .318/.438/.453 with 10 stolen bases and 37 walks in 58 games for the A's Dominican Summer League team in 2011. After a strong showing during the A's US fall Instructional League, he is expected to make his US affiliate debut in 2012.
Although De La Cruz was highly regarded when he was signed to a six-figure bonus, he surprised nearly everyone with his polish during his professional debut season. Known for his fierce swing as an amateur, De La Cruz showed a blend of aggressiveness and patience that escapes many hitters until they are much older. The native of Santo Domingo struck-out only 27 times in 192 at-bats while walking 37 times and batting .318. His .438 OBP was seventh-best in the league and his 891 OPS was ninth-best. De La Cruz also finished 10th in the league in batting average, tied for 14th in triples and tied for 22nd in doubles. He was the MVP of the league's mid-season All-Star game.
Despite the strong debut, De La Cruz will still have plenty to prove when he debuts either in the Arizona Rookie League or the New York-Penn League in 2012. He will be adjusting not only to a higher level of competition, but also to a new culture. The A's sent De La Cruz to the US for their fall Instructional League to help start his acclimation to US culture, but he will still have some growing pains on that front in the near-term.
Currently, De La Cruz is slender, but well-built, with a smooth swing from the left-side. The A's believe he will fill out his 6'0'', 180 pound frame as he ages and will eventually add homerun power to his list of offensive attributes. For the moment, he is a gap hitter with above-average speed. Nagging injuries limited De La Cruz to only 10 stolen bases with the DSL A's in 2011, but he should rack up some impressive stolen base totals in time. He uses the whole field well and has a good understanding of the strike-zone. A's coaches have also noted that De La Cruz picks up instruction well and he showed significant improvement during his time at Instructs.
"Vicmal can swing it. From a body-build standpoint, he reminds me of Raul Mondesi," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said.
"He has a tenacious demeanor about him. His motor is always as high as can be."
De La Cruz turned 18 in late November, and he will be brought along gradually by the A's. He will report to the A's complex in Phoenix this spring and may stay in Phoenix for the entire year, first for extended spring training and then for the Arizona Rookie League. If the A's feel that he is acclimated enough to the US, they may try to push him up to short-season Vermont, but the team will be careful not to rush him.
7. Max Stassi
|Stassi's season with Stockton was cut short by a shoulder injury.|
Stassi's 2011 season was over almost before it began thanks to a right shoulder labrum injury that required surgery and cost him the final three-and-a-half months of the year. The Yuba City native has been busily rehabbing the shoulder since late May and is expected to be able to start the 2012 campaign either on Opening Day or close to it.
Before the injury, there were big expectations for Stassi for the 2011 season. The A's 2009 fourth-round pick had an uneven first full professional season in 2010 with Low-A Kane County. Stassi hit for power early in the season, but struggled defensively. His glove improved significantly as the year wore on, but his approach at the plate deteriorated and his production dropped off precipitously. There was optimism that a move from the pitcher-friendly Midwest League to the hitter-friendly California League would help Stassi get his bat back to where it was early in the 2010 campaign.
Unfortunately, right shoulder soreness prevented that scenario from playing out. It wasn't Stassi's first encounter with right shoulder pain. He suffered from shoulder soreness during his last year in high school. That injury, coupled with a perceived strong commitment to UCLA, dropped Stassi from being a projected supplemental first-round pick to where he was selected in the fourth round.
Although Stassi was able to play through the soreness for much of 2010, the pain intensified at the tail-end of spring training. At first, there was hope that he would be able to rehab the shoulder while gaining experience as the Stockton Ports' DH. However, after six weeks with Stockton, Stassi's shoulder wasn't improving and it was starting to impact his at-bats, as well. At that point, the A's and Stassi elected for the surgery and he missed the rest of the year.
When healthy, Stassi is one of the best defensive catchers in the A's system, which is quite a statement considering how much he struggled with the glove early on in 2010. His rapid improvement with the glove is a product of his work ethic, which A's coaches and front office personnel rave about. Offensively, Stassi did show some improvement with his pitch recognition before the surgery, although his power was non-existent. Given the injury, it's hard to read too much into any of the numbers that he compiled with the Ports in 2011.
Stassi's rehab has been going well and he was throwing at the A's fall Instructional League and swinging a bat, although he wasn't catching live games. Fellow A's catching prospect Ryan Ortiz had a similar surgery in 2010 and he missed the first month of the 2011 season. Stassi's surgery came about a month earlier in the year than Ortiz's, so there is optimism that Stassi will be ready to go at the start of the regular season. His arm strength may not be 100 percent in 2012, but as long as he is pain-free, he should be able to continue his development.
"As far as him working hard and him being a baseball rat and him being around the field every day, he'll get through [the rehab] because no one is going to work as hard as Max," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said.
"Once he's able to catch without restrictions, you'll see the talent elevate itself."
Given that Stassi only spent six weeks with the Ports, it is highly likely that he will return to Stockton for the 2012 campaign. Despite the lost season, Stassi is still on the young side for his level. He won't turn 21 until March, making him younger than most college players drafted last season. With the A's depth at the catcher position, the team can afford to move deliberately with Stassi.
6. Ian Krol
|Krol had a season to forget.|
Arguably the most disappointing aspect of the A's 2011 season from a player development perspective was the lost year for Krol. The A's 2010 minor league pitcher of the year injured his forearm during spring training, costing him the first half of the season. Then when he was days away from being sent out of Arizona to High-A Stockton, Krol typed an inflammatory Tweet and was suspended by the organization for the rest of the year.
Krol pitched only five official innings in 2011, all for the A's Arizona Rookie League team. He was outstanding in those five innings, not allowing a base-runner and striking out six. However, the suspension prevented Krol from building on those appearances.
Going into the 2011 season, Krol was the A's top pitching prospect. Despite the lost season, he remains a top prospect in the Oakland system, although he can't afford any more missteps like he had in 2011. From a pitching perspective, Krol finished the year at the A's fall Instructional League. While his stuff and location at Instructs weren't quite up to his 2010 levels, but he was healthy and in a good frame of mind, leaving the A's coaching staff optimistic about what lies in store for Krol in 2012.
"I think getting Ian Krol back [in 2012] will be good. He had a good camp here [at Instructs] and should be up and going at a normal pace at the start of spring training," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.
A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson believes that with a normal off-season of rest, Krol should be back to the pitcher he was in 2010, when he had a 2.80 ERA and an 111:28 K:BB ratio in 138.1 innings for Low-A Kane County and High-A Stockton as a 19-year-old.
"I think when he gets home and has a regular spring training and then pitches in a regular game, I don't think there will be many bumps in the road for him," Patterson said at the end of Instructs.
Despite being only 20 years old, Krol has an advanced feel for pitching. His fastball velocity ranges anywhere from 87-92 MPH, but it is his ability to locate his fastball that makes him successful. He also has a good feel for his breaking ball and change-up and he can use all of his pitches in any count. Krol has excellent command and is a groundball pitcher. As he advances, he will be challenged by more experienced hitters who aren't as easily fooled by mixing up his pitch selection.
On the mound, Krol receives high marks for his competitive nature and his mental toughness. Off the mound, he can be immature at times, a trait that has already cost him a season of high school baseball and half a season of minor league ball. Krol will be on thin ice with the A's from a behavior standpoint and will need to prove to the organization that he can be as trustworthy off the mound as he is on it.
Before injuring his forearm during spring training, Krol was slated to go to High-A Stockton and that is likely where he will be sent to start the 2012 season. He should be part of a talented rotation that will include fellow top prospects A.J. Cole and Blake Hassebrock, among others. Krol won't turn 21 until May, so he will still be on the young side for his level despite missing most of 2011.