Note: this is not a re-ranking of current prospects. A new top-50 prospects list will be released this off-season.
10. Ian Krol
After Krol missed virtually the entire 2011 season with an arm injury and a suspension, the hope was that the left-hander would be able to pick-up where he left off in 2010, when he was a Midwest League post-season All-Star. Things haven't gone that smoothly for Krol, who has a 5.49 ERA in 78.2 innings with the High-A Stockton Ports this season. Like many of the Ports' pitchers this year, Krol hasn't been aided by a spotty Stockton defense, but he has also not helped his own cause with inconsistent command.
When Krol dominated the Midwest League in 2010, he did so thanks in large part to impeccable command, especially of his secondary offerings. He walked only 19 in 118.2 innings with Low-A Kane County that season and held opposing batters to a .223 average. This year, Krol has a respectable 66:21 K:BB ratio in 78.2 innings, but he has often found the fat part of the strike-zone, a fact reflected in his homerun total (12 allowed). Overall, Krol has been a groundball pitcher this year, although his groundball rates are down some.
Krol has received high marks for his competitiveness on the mound, but he has struggled to work through outings when he hasn't had his best stuff this season. Missing all of last season has definitely had an impact on Krol this year, and he has yo-yoed between good and bad outings. At 21 years old, Krol is still young and has plenty of time to develop. A strong final month of the season would give him a nice confidence boost going into the off-season and could put him into consideration for a spot in Double-A next year. The A's have been cautious with Krol's pitch counts and innings totals this season, but he figures to exceed the 100 inning mark as long as he remains healthy through the end of the year.
Status: Healthy but still finding his way
Early in the off-season, Taylor looked to be virtually guaranteed a spot in the A's outfield, as Oakland was expected to lose all four of their starting 2011 starting outfielders/DHs via free agency. However, in the span of a few weeks, the A's re-signed veteran Coco Crisp and added veterans Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes, as well as second-year man Josh Reddick and rookies Collin Cowgill and Yoenis Cespedes. These moves left Taylor on the outside looking in. Despite the discouraging situation, Taylor has put together his best season since joining the A's organization in 2010.
In 82 games with Triple-A Sacramento through Tuesday, Taylor was batting .316/.420/.490. He had walked nearly as many times as he has struck out (54 to 69, respectively) and he had 35 extra-base hits and 11 stolen bases. Despite those good numbers, Taylor hasn't seen much time in the big leagues. He was with the A's for a week earlier in the year, but he appeared in only four games. Taylor had three hits in 16 at-bats and he struck-out seven times.
With Reddick, Smith, Gomes and Cespedes playing well and Crisp heating up, Taylor may remain on the outside looking in unless the A's make a couple of trades at the deadline. Taylor has plenty of talent and he deserves an extended look in the big leagues to see what he is capable of doing at that level. At this point, he may need a trade to a different organization in order to get that opportunity, however.
Status: Putting up big numbers while waiting on a chance
8. Derek Norris
It didn't take long for Norris to assume the mantle of the A's catcher of the future. Acquired in the trade with the Washington Nationals this off-season, Norris quickly established himself as a candidate for the big leagues with a strong spring. He got off to a fast start with Triple-A Sacramento, batting .329/.344/.565 in April. Norris tapered off in May and June, posting OPSs of 743 and 710, respectively, but the A's still made the move in mid-June to call-up Norris so that he could share playing time with incumbent starter Kurt Suzuki.
Norris got off to a good start with the A's. In his first 23 at-bats, he had eight hits, including two homeruns. The first of those two homeruns was a three-run walk-off homer against the San Francisco Giants that helped the A's avoid an embarrassing three-game sweep at home. Since those first 23 at-bats, however, Norris has cooled off considerably at the plate. He has only two hits and four walks over his last 30 at-bats and he is 0-for his last-23. Because Suzuki has also been struggling at the plate and Norris has continued to play solid defense, the A's haven't curtailed Norris' playing time yet. If the slump continues much longer, they may consider turning back to either Josh Donaldson or Anthony Recker, both of whom served as Suzuki's back-up at various points this season.
Long-term, the A's envision Norris being their everyday catcher, however. Throughout his minor league career, the 23-year-old has reached base at an above-average pace while hitting for considerable power. Once a defensive liability, Norris has dramatically improved his receiving skills and game calling and he continues to get better with each game caught in the big leagues. As long as he continues to catch a good game, Norris should get some leeway to adjust to big league pitching at the plate this season and maybe even next year. Oakland has an expensive option on Suzuki for next season that they are unlikely to pick-up, making it even more likely that Norris will be the A's starting catcher next season. The A's have several solid catching prospects in the minor leagues, but none are likely to challenge Norris next year for the everyday role, giving him plenty of time to show what he can do both at the plate and behind it.
Status: Gaining big league experience
7. Chris Carter
In many ways, this is a do-or-die season for Carter, at least as it relates to his career with the A's. The slugging first baseman has dominated the minor leagues since joining the A's in a trade before the 2008 season, but he struggled in limited big league opportunities in 2010 and 2011. Carter wasn't given much of a chance to make the team out of spring training and he began this year with Triple-A Sacramento. It marked the fourth straight season that Carter had spent at least some time with the River Cats.
True to his history, Carter got off to a relatively slow start to the year. He posted an 884 OPS in April, but slumped to a 768 OPS in May. June rolled around and Carter's bat picked up the pace, as he put together a 926 OPS. That performance put Carter in position for a recall to the big leagues when the A's sent down Tyson Ross on June 30. Carter homered in his first game with the A's and hasn't slowed down since then. In 11 games (29 at-bats) at the big league level this season, Carter has five homeruns and seven walks. Six of his nine hits have gone for extra-bases and he became the first rookie in A's history to hit a pinch-hit, walk-off homer when he defeated the Seattle Mariners on July 6th with a three-run blast.
It is still too early to tell if Carter has finally found his groove in the big leagues, but the signs are encouraging. He has always seen a lot of pitches per at-bat, but Carter is doing a better job of swinging at hittable pitches and letting the bad pitches go or fouling them off. Carter has made contact on 74% of the pitches he has swung at with the A's this season, after making contact on only 56% in his stint with Oakland last season. Carter has been platooned, for the most part, since joining the A's, but he actually hit significantly better (907 OPS versus a 720 OPS) against right-handers than he did versus lefties with Sacramento. He has three homers in 14 at-bats versus right-handers in the big leagues this season. Those numbers should earn Carter more playing time against right-handers as the season progresses. Carter is currently sharing time with the red-hot Brandon Moss at first base, but the A's will make room for Carter on an everyday basis if he continues to have quality at-bats like he has been having thus far.
Status: Looking to make his stay in the big leagues permanent
6. Brad Peacock
Peacock burst onto the prospect radar last season with the Washington Nationals organization when he posted a 2.39 ERA and he struck-out 177 in 146.2 innings across Double-A and Triple-A. He also pitched well in a late-season major league cameo, allowing only a run in 12 innings over three appearances (two starts). Peacock was traded to the A's this off-season in the Gio Gonzalez deal and he was expected to challenge for a big league rotation spot. Thus far, the season hasn't gone according to script for Peacock.
After a disappointing spring training, Peacock was assigned to Triple-A Sacramento. He had a solid month of April, posting a 3.49 ERA with a 28:10 K:BB ratio in 28.1 innings pitched. In May, his ERA jumped to 6.41 for the month, but his peripherals remained similar to his April numbers – a 23:8 K:BB ratio in 26.2 innings and only one homer allowed. Things fell apart for Peacock in June, however. He struck-out 29 in 19.2 innings, but he walked 16 and allowed 31 hits. His ERA for the month was an ugly 11.44. That poor performance has carried over into July, as he has allowed four homeruns and has walked nine in 16 innings.
Peacock did pitch well in his last start, allowing only a run on four hits and three walks in six innings. He struck-out eight. For the season, Peacock has struck-out more than one batter per innings pitched (96 Ks in 90.2 innings pitched). Despite the four homers allowed in July, he has only given up nine total on the season despite being a flyball pitcher. Command, rather than stuff, has been Peacock's biggest issue this season. Before his breakthrough 2011 campaign, Peacock had been hindered in the lower levels of the minors by command issues. He has shown what he is capable of doing when his command is sharp. If that command returns at any point this season, Peacock should see a rapid improvement with his numbers. Given the A's current depth at starting pitcher, Peacock may not get a look this year even if he improves down-the-stretch, but he will be in the conversation for a rotation spot in 2013 if he can finish strong.
Status: Looking for that 2011 command
5. Grant Green
At the midway point of last season, Green was moved from shortstop to centerfield. When the move was made, it was done with the idea that Green's path to the big leagues would be shorter as an outfielder than as an infielder. Since that time, however, the A's have added considerable outfield depth (see Taylor, Michael), making Green's path to Oakland as an outfielder a bit more murky. Green has still primarily played in the outfield for Sacramento this season, but over the past month or so, he has seen more and more time at other infield positions in order to increase his versatility. Through Tuesday, Green had appeared in 70 games as an outfielder for the River Cats (30 in center and 40 in left), and he had eight games played at short, seven at third and one at second base.
Regardless of what position Green ultimately settles into, it will be his bat that gets him to the big leagues and not his glove. As a hitter, Green has had a decent season with the River Cats. He got off to a slow start, but now has a .289/.335/.442 line in 83 games with Sacramento this season. After hitting only nine homeruns in 127 games with Double-A Midland last year, Green has equaled that total in only 83 games this year. Despite being an aggressive hitter, Green has often batted lead-off for the River Cats. His .335 OBP is down from his marks the previous two seasons, but he has already established a career-high in stolen bases with 10. Green will never remind anyone of Daric Barton in terms of his plate discipline, but Green has consistently demonstrated the ability to hit for average throughout his minor league career, and that has continued into 2012. Green has also cut down on his strike-outs considerably this season.
Given the A's depth in the outfield and the team's uncertainty at third base and shortstop, Green will increase his chances of making the A's roster by showing he can handle the infield positions defensively. Green was struggling at shortstop when the A's moved him last season and he has three errors in only 30 chances there with Sacramento this year. He will need to improve those numbers to be taken seriously as an infielder from a defensive perspective at the major league level. That may be tough to do with irregular playing time in the infield. As a 2009 draft pick, Green will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December if the A's don't add him to their 40-man roster. It is a near certainty that the A's will add him to the roster, so there is a chance the organization will make the move before the off-season and give Green a look in September.
Status: Roaming the field for Sacramento
4. A.J. Cole
It has been a tale of two seasons for Cole, the talented right-hander who was considered the top prospect acquired by the A's from the Washington Nationals for Gio Gonzalez this off-season. Cole was challenged at the start of the season with an assignment to the hitter-friendly California League. The 20-year-old put up nightmare numbers with the Stockton Ports, posting a 7.82 ERA and going 0-7 in eight starts. Batters hit .364 against Cole, although he did post a solid 31:10 K:BB ratio in 38 innings pitched.
In late May, the A's decided to give Cole a change of scenery and they moved him down to Low-A Burlington. After a rough debut with the Bees, Cole has become the dominant pitcher that he A's believed he was capable of being when they acquired him. In 11 starts for Burlington, Cole has a 2.30 ERA, a 61:10 K:BB ratio and a .232 BAA. Cole has done a better job of inducing groundballs with Burlington and his K/9 rate has jumped to 10 from 7.3 in Stockton while his BB/9 rate has gone down from 2.4 with Stockton to 1.6.
Cole didn't pitch nearly as poorly as his ERA would indicate when he was with Stockton and he could get another look with the Ports before the end of the season. He was victimized by some poor defense while with the Ports and often had one bad inning spoil what otherwise would have been solid outings. At 20 years old, Cole was young for the Cal League. With his arm strength and feel for the strike-zone, Cole has a high ceiling. Despite the set-back with Stockton early in the year, Cole's future still looks bright.
Status: Back on track with Burlington
3. Sonny Gray
Gray made pitching at the Double-A level look deceptively easy last season when he allowed only one run in 20.2 innings after being selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2011 draft. The right-hander returned to the Texas League this season and has found it to be a bit rougher sledding than it was in 2012. Gray's ERA is a disappointing 4.38, but he has been pitching much better of late. Over his last three starts, he has allowed only two runs on 16 hits in 17.1 innings pitched. He has walked 10 while striking out 11.
Walks and command in general have been Gray's biggest issues this season. He has struggled to command his fastball, resulting in an inflated walk total (46 in 96.2 innings) and fewer swings and misses than he is normally accustomed to generating (he has only 62 strike-outs this season). Gray has done a good job of keeping the ball in the park (only four homers allowed), but batters are hitting .269 off of him after hitting only .214 against him during that 2011 stint.
Although Gray was considered a polished pitcher coming out of college, there were still things he needed to work on – namely fastball command and his change-up. The A's coaching staff has been working with Gray on the finish to his throwing motion since last fall and they believe that once he stays more on-line with his finish (rather than spinning off to the side), he will command his pitches – especially his fastball – better. The change-up has improved this year over how he threw it in college, but he is still refining his touch on what will be an important third pitch for Gray. Gray's velocity has been solid this season (91-95 MPH) and his breaking ball has also been excellent. Coaches love Gray's work ethic and believe he will eventually make the adjustments needed to become a major league starter.
Status: Working through his first full season
Parker, the A's top pitching prospect and the key member of the trade package Oakland received from Arizona for Trevor Cahill, had a rough start to his tenure with his new organization. He struggled badly with his command during spring training, culminating in a very rough outing as a member of the Sacramento River Cats in the A's-River Cats preseason scrimmage. Parker's command issues seemed to disappear magically when the schedule turned from exhibition to games that counted, however. In four starts to begin the year with Sacramento, Parker walked only six in 20.2 innings. He struck-out 21 and posted a 2.18 ERA. When the A's back-end starters – Graham Godfrey and Tyson Ross – began to struggle, Oakland quickly turned to Parker to fill one of those slots and they haven't looked back.
Although he didn't make his 2012 major league debut until late April, Parker was a candidate to make the AL All-Star team thanks to his outstanding first half numbers. Parker has struggled with his control at times in the big leagues, but he has otherwise been dominant. In 91 innings with Oakland this season, he has a 3.16 ERA. Parker has struck-out 71 and has held opposing batters to a .226 average. He has allowed only four homeruns and his 41 walks are the only blemish on his otherwise stellar stat-line. Parker has had a couple of poor starts, but in the majority of his outings, he has completely stifled the opposing team. He became the first pitcher in 99 years to allow one run or fewer in 10 of the first 14 starts of his career.
Thus far this season, Parker arguably has been more valuable at the major league level than the pitcher he was traded for. His ERA+ is 127, while Cahill has compiled an ERA+ of 114 for the D-Backs this season (albeit in 23 more innings pitched). Health-permitting, Parker should be a mainstay at or near the top of the A's rotation for several years to come.
Status: Breezing through the big leagues
It has taken a little while, but Choice finally appears to be back on track at the plate. The A's top prospect had a poor first half of the season with Double-A Midland, but he has been on fire since the All-Star break. In 73 games before the break, Choice hit a disappointing .256/.326/.367. Since then, he is batting .410/.471/.639 with three homers in 13 games. On the year, his line is .283/.352/.414.
Slow starts aren't anything new for Choice. He got off to a relatively slow start with High-A Stockton last year and still wound-up leading the California League in homeruns with 30. A's prospects – especially right-handed ones – have struggled to hit for power with Midland the past few years thanks in part to the strong winds at the Rockhounds' home Citibank Ballpark. Choice has had more than a few long drives knocked down by the wind this year and his overall numbers could be a lot better in a different hitting environment. With the exception of his power numbers, Choice's overall statline is very much in-line with the numbers he put up for Stockton last season. His walk totals are down a bit, but his strike-out numbers are also down some.
There is little doubt that Choice will hit for power, so while his first half with Midland was disappointing, it doesn't do much to damage his position as a prospect. Choice has a complicated swing and it is possible that he is one of those hitters who needs a month or two to get his timing down every season. If his July and August come close to resembling the July and August he put together last year with Stockton, Choice's overall statline should be in-line with expectations when all is said and done.
Status: Getting into the groove with Midland