Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 40-36

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 40-36.

For the entire 2013 Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects list, please click here.

40. James Simmons, RHP

Simmons regained his velocity and made it back to Triple-A.

It has been a long road back to health for Simmons, who was the A's top pick in 2007. A bad shoulder impacted his performance in 2009 and knocked him out for all of the 2010 campaign and half of the 2011 season. Simmons returned from shoulder surgery in 2011 and threw 47.2 innings, mostly for the High-A Stockton Ports. Simmons showed his trademark pinpoint command in 2011 (six walks in 47.2 innings) but his velocity was down and he was very hittable. (57 hits and five homers allowed).

A normal off-season without rehab left Simmons in a much better position to succeed in 2012. He began the year with Double-A Midland and spent the final month of the season with Triple-A Sacramento. With his fastball back in the 89-92 MPH range, Simmons posted a 2.98 ERA in 63.1 innings pitched. He struck-out 50 and walked 22 and allowed only four homeruns.

Simmons followed up that performance with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. He allowed only two hits and two runs in 11.1 innings with an 8:3 K:BB ratio and he made the AFL's Rising Stars team.

"He's physically been able to regain his strength," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said during the season. "He regained all of his velocity and his pinpoint control was always something that was liked in the organization. He can put the ball where he wants. He is back up on the rise."

Despite rarely breaking 92 on the gun, Simmons' fastball has always been his best pitch because of his ability to command the pitch. His secondary pitches have always lagged behind his fastball, and his time-off with the shoulder injury curbed some of his work on those pitches. Simmons' change-up has improved and he has been working on a cutter, as well as improving his slider.

Originally a starter, Simmons has been moved into the bullpen since returning from his surgery. The A's have always valued pitchers who throw strikes regularly in their big league bullpen and Simmons fits that criteria. Oakland left him unprotected in this week's Rule 5 draft and he went unselected in that draft. He will be one of the top Triple-A bullpen options for the A's in 2013 if they have injuries in their big league bullpen.

39. Andrew Werner, LHP

Werner went from the independent leagues to the big leagues in less than three years.

The A's acquired Werner during this off-season in a trade with the San Diego Padres that sent Tyson Ross and A.J. Kirby-Jones to San Diego in exchange for Werner and shortstop Andy Parrino. Werner spent a few months in the Padres' rotation in 2012, posting a 5.58 ERA with a 35:14 K:BB ratio in 40.1 innings.

Werner's rise to the big leagues is a remarkable story. Undrafted after pitching for the University of Indianapolis, Werner spent two seasons in the independent leagues before signing with the Padres in November 2010 after an open tryout. He spent the 2011 season pitching in A-ball, posting a 3.23 ERA and walking only 26 in 136.1 innings.

In 2012, Werner's rise through the minor leagues accelerated. He began the year in the Double-A San Antonio rotation and was promoted to Triple-A after posting a 3.70 ERA with a 89:25 K:BB ratio in 103 innings. He allowed seven runs in 5.1 innings in his first start for Triple-A Tucson, but then regained his effectiveness in his subsequent four starts, allowing eight earned runs in 18 innings with a 17:3 K:BB ratio. At that point, he joined the Padres' rotation for the final six weeks of the season.

Coming out of college, Werner had a couple of things working against him in the draft: he pitched for a low-profile baseball program and he didn't throw hard. The left-hander hasn't added any significant velocity since college, as his fastball generally sits in the mid-80s. But he gets plenty of sinking action on his fastball and has been a groundball pitcher throughout his professional career. He has also been a strike-thrower, and both of those traits (along with being left-handed) should allow him to put together a major league career either in the rotation or the bullpen despite his lack of velocity.

"The biggest thing with him is that he just knows how to pitch," Randy Smith, San Diego Padres' Director of Player Development, said in an interview with our sister site, MadFrairs.com. "He stays within himself with a good sinker and change-up and his breaking pitch has improved. He's a solid back-end starter and really has a chance to contribute on the major league level."

Werner has a deep pitching arsenal and he changes speeds effectively, keeping hitters off-balance. In addition to his fastball, Werner throws a sinker, slider, change-up and a curveball. He commands his pitches well and pitches in the lower part of the strike-zone. Werner has been a starter throughout his career, but his path to the big leagues with Oakland could be the bullpen. During his big league stint with San Diego, left-handed batters hit only .205 against him, while right-handers hit him at a clip 100 points higher.

Regardless of where he slots best with the A's in the big leagues, Werner is likely to remain in the rotation during spring training and with Triple-A Sacramento to keep him stretched out so he can fill in any role for the A's when necessary.

38. Seth Streich, RHP

Streich made a strong first impression.

Streich was the A's sixth-round pick out of Ohio University. A two-way player in college, Streich was drafted as a pitcher, mostly on the promise of his arm strength. Streich acquitted himself well in his first tour in the minor leagues. In 37.1 innings with the A's two short-season squads, Streich had a 2.65 ERA and a 48:18 K:BB ratio.

Coming out of college, Streich was somewhat raw, having always split his attention between playing the infield and pitching. The A's banked on the fact that they would be able to build off of Streich's mid-90s fastball and hard slider, and it appears that they are making progress in that regard.

According to former A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, Streich made significant strides during the A's fall Instructional League.

"Seth Streich didn't even have a breaking ball [coming into Instructs]," Patterson said. "Now he has two of them: a curveball and a cutter."

The A's kept Streich on an innings limit after signing because he had already thrown more than 70 innings during the collegiate season and he had missed two weeks with a hamstring injury. Although he made 13 relief appearances and only four starts with the AZL A's and Vermont, Streich's future – at least for 2013 – is likely the starting rotation. Streich is an excellent athlete and he has good baseball bloodlines, as his older brother Tobias also played minor league baseball.

Streich is likely to start the 2013 season in Low-A Beloit, a locale Streich is familiar with, as his brother Tobias played there in 2010 and 2011. Seth will be 22 throughout the 2013 campaign.

37. Tyler Vail, RHP

Vail overcame an early-season shoulder injury.

It has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for Vail since he was drafted out of high school in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. He excelled during his draft "stub" season, posting a 3.13 ERA and a strong groundball ratio in the Arizona Rookie League. His velocity jumped that following spring and the A's pushed Vail ahead to the Low-A Midwest League as a 19-year-old.

Things did not go as smoothly for Vail in the full-season league, however. He walked 28 in 57 innings for Burlington and was sent back to short-season A ball at the All-Star break. Vail continued to struggle with short-season Vermont, walking more than he struck-out (25 to 22) in 38.2 innings.

A shoulder injury during spring training gave the A's and Vail a chance to step back a bit at the start of the 2012 season. He rehabbed and worked on his mechanics during extended spring training and then made his regular season debut with the Arizona Rookie League A's. Vail dominated the AZL in three short starts, striking out 11 and walking one in 9.2 innings. That earned Vail a promotion back to Vermont, where he would spend the rest of the season, posting a 4.20 ERA with 55 strike-outs and 21 walks in 55.2 innings.

Vail has unusual pitching mechanics, and much of the 2011 season was spent trying to make his throwing motion more conventional. Although the A's continue to tweak Vail's motion, they have come to the realization that he will always have some "funkiness" to the way that he throws.

"We were trying to work with him on mechanics at first with him being a very young guy, but it seems like his style is just going to have to stay the way that it is," 2012 Arizona A's pitching coach Jimmy Escalante said. "He is much more comfortable with himself now. We just let him go out there this year and pitch and he's feeling great."

After his impressive showing in Arizona in 2010, Vail was put on the same track as previous A's high school pitcher draft picks Trevor Cahill and Ian Krol. Vail wasn't able to keep the same pace as those two, but there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic about Vail's future. The right-hander will be 21 throughout the 2013 season. He has a heavy fastball that gets a lot of movement and hits 96 on occasion. His secondary pitches are less refined, but Vail has improved his breaking ball and his change-up has promise.

Vail developed a better mental approach to pitching in 2012 and should continue to improve his mental toughness as he gets older and gains experience. He continues to work on repeating his delivery. Vail should head back to the Midwest League in 2013 and is poised to get better results than in 2011.

36. T.J. Walz, RHP

Walz averaged more than 10 strike-outs per nine innings.

Walz was one of two pitchers from the A's 2011 draft class to start the season on the High-A Stockton Ports' roster. In his first full professional season, Walz put together an impressive campaign as both a starter and a reliever. In eight starts and 31 relief appearances, Walz posted a 3.16 ERA and he struck-out 112 in 99.2 innings while holding Cal League batters to a .226 average against.

The Kansas alum stands only 6'0'' and his fastball rarely cracks 93 MPH, but he put up strike-out numbers comparable to the hardest throwers in the league. Walz has a deceptive delivery and two solid breaking balls to go along with his low-90s fastball and a developing change-up.

The A's had Walz in the rotation to start the year with Stockton and he was a starter for most of his collegiate career. However, he made the move to the bullpen in May and remained there for the rest of the year. Although occasionally homer-prone (six in 52 innings), Walz was dominant out of the bullpen. He struck-out 63 and held opposing batters to a .188 average. His command wavered at times (26 walks), but he was otherwise a tough nut for opposing Cal League hitters to crack out of Stockton's bullpen. Amongst Cal League pitchers who were mostly relievers in 2012, Walz finished second in the league in strike-outs and 17th in the league overall.

Walz held his own out of the rotation (3.78 ERA and a 49:10 K:BB ratio in 47.2 innings), but with his deceptive delivery and above-average slider, Walz has a chance to move quicker through the minor leagues as a reliever than he does as a starter. A senior draft pick, Walz was already 23 in his first full pro season and he will be 24 throughout the 2013 campaign. He should get an opportunity with Double-A Midland, and another strong showing with the Rockhounds could get him to Triple-A by the end of the 2013 season and on the big league radar for 2014.

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