Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 20-16

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, 20-16.

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

20. Raul Alcantara, RHP

Alcantara's numbers weren't reflective of his talents.

The Andrew Bailey traded netted the A's a 2012 Gold Glove winner and 32-homerun-hitter (Josh Reddick) and the A's 2012 minor league position player of the year (Miles Head). However, when the trade was consummated, some scouts pointed to the third player the A's received in the deal – Alcantara – as the player with the highest talent ceiling.

Reaching that talent ceiling will be a process for Alcantara, however. The hard-throwing right-hander came to the A's organization with 125.2 innings of professional baseball under his belt, all at the short-season levels. He was raw and only 19 years old, but the A's felt he was ready for the challenge of a full-season league in 2012. Although his numbers weren't impressive with the Low-A Burlington Bees, the A's still felt Alcantara made positive progress with his development in 2012.

The A's kept Alcantara on a short leash innings-wise, keeping him to a roughly 100-inning limit. He made 17 starts and 10 relief appearances for the Bees, and he posted a 5.08 ERA with a 57:38 K:BB ratio in 102.2 innings. Alcantara's best pitch was his low- to mid-90s fastball, but the A's had him focus on his secondary offerings. While that was a detriment to his overall numbers in 2012, that focus should bear fruit for Alcantara down-the-road.

"We're very happy with his improvements with the change-up and the breaking ball is starting to come around," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said towards the end of the season. "Next year will be one that we can let him loose and throw a lot more innings."

Alcantara continued his work on his secondary pitches into the Instructional League season. He worked on a cut fastball that served as an off-speed pitch, regularly coming in around 86 MPH, and he made marked improvements to his change-up. Alcantara's fastball generally sat in the 91-94 MPH range during the fall camp.

The wiry right-hander is 6'3'', 180 pounds, so it is possible that he will add even more velocity as he fills out his frame. Even if he doesn't, Alcantara should garner significantly more swings-and-misses than he has thus far in his career based on the pure quality of his stuff. Because the A's and Red Sox have been aggressive with Alcantara's development path, he has significantly more experience against advanced competition than most 20-year-olds.

Depending on how Alcantara looks in the spring, the A's could decide to bump him up to High-A Stockton in 2013 or they could allow him to prove himself back in the Midwest League at the start of the year with the possibility of a mid-season promotion. If healthy, Alcantara should be allowed to make 25+ starts and reach the 140-150 inning plateau. He will be 20 throughout the 2013 season.

19. Beau Taylor, C

Taylor has an excellent eye and above-average bat control.

The 2012 season didn't get off to the best start for Taylor, but his fortunes dramatically improved as the season progressed. The A's 2011 fifth-round pick fought through a back injury during spring training and got a late start to the regular season, but he swung the bat well for High-A Stockton once he was activated. In fact, he hit so well with the Ports that he was given a late season audition with Double-A Midland despite being only 22-years-old.

Taylor played in 52 games with the Ports and he was arguably their best hitter during that stretch. The left-handed hitting catcher batted .328/.412/.446 and had a nearly 1:1 K:BB ratio (28 walks and 29 strike-outs). The A's moved Taylor up to Double-A for the final seven weeks of the season. He swung the bat fairly well with Midland initially (.300/.375/.340 in his first 15 games), but he slumped during the final month of the season and finished his time with the Rockhounds with a .233/.303/.275 line in 120 at-bats.

Of the position players on the Rockhounds' roster in 2012, only Miles Head was younger than Taylor. The results at the Double-A level weren't pretty, but they should give the Central Florida alum a good base to build off of for the 2013 season. The 6'0'', 200 pound backstop doesn't yet hit for a lot of power, but he has excellent plate patience and contact skills. Taylor has always been able to hit for average.

Defensively, Taylor is still a work-in-progress, although he showed improvement during the 2012 season. Taylor had only three passed balls in 61 games behind the plate, but he was charged with eight errors and threw out 17 of 75 attempted base-stealers (23%). Taylor was converted to catching in college, so he is still learning the position. He has put a lot of work into improving his defense and he is a good athlete. The back injury combined with sharing time with fellow prospect Max Stassi in Stockton kept Taylor's playing time at catcher relatively limited in 2012. He should see more time behind the plate in 2013, which should help Taylor improve with the glove.

"[T]he bat carries him," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said towards the end of the season. "He came out stroking in Stockton and is starting to get a better feel for catching."

Taylor is likely to return to Midland at the start of the 2013 season, where he should share time at catcher once again with Stassi. Back injuries are always tricky and are especially tricky for catchers, so Taylor's health will be worth monitoring. However, if he is healthy, Taylor is an intriguing prospect with his ability to control the strike-zone as a hitter. If his catching skills catch up with his bat, he could be challenging for a spot on the A's roster sometime in 2014.

18. Arnold Leon, RHP

Leon moved up three levels in 2012.

Thanks to nearly two seasons lost to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, Leon was somewhat of a forgotten man at the start of the 2012 season. The right-hander was one of the A's top pitching prospects at the start of the 2010 season, but he injured his elbow just weeks into that season and went under the knife midway through the 2010 campaign. His rehab progressed somewhat slowly and he was only able to throw 6.1 innings – all for the Rookie League A's – in 2011.

Leon had some positive momentum going into the 2012 season, however. He was able to compete during the A's 2011 fall Instructional League. While his velocity wasn't quite back to its normal levels by the end of the camp, Leon was throwing pain-free and showing signs of being the pitcher who was so highly regarded before the injury. Leon came into spring training healthy and with his velocity back on track, but the A's were conservative with him, sending Leon back to High-A Stockton to start the year. The last time the native of Mexico had pitched for the Ports was in 2008, his first season in the US.

Leon wasn't the only member of the 2008 Ports' championship squad to return to the team at the start of the 2012 season. Sean Doolittle, who had been a slugging first baseman/outfielder on that squad, also returned to the Ports, but as a reliever. Doolittle dominated the California League and was sent to Double-A by the end of April. The rest was history, as Doolittle quickly ascended to the big leagues, where he would become one of the A's most important relievers.

Leon didn't make it to the big leagues in 2012, but his path was similar to Doolittle's. Leon earned his promotion to Double-A by mid-May and was in Triple-A by the end of June. He would spend the rest of the season with the River Cats.

Although Leon had spent time as both a starter and as a reliever prior to his injury, he was used exclusively as a reliever in 2012. For the Ports, he had a misleading 5.28 ERA in 15.1 innings. His FIP was 1.96 and he struck-out 25 while walking only five. Leon's ERA with Midland was more reflective of how well he pitched. In 15.2 innings for the Rockhounds, he had a 2.30 ERA (1.48 FIP) with 18 strike-outs and only three walks.

Leon made his Triple-A debut on June 25th and would compile a 1.77 ERA in 35.2 innings. His FIP wasn't as good with the River Cats (4.28), mostly because his command wasn't quite as sharp. He walked 15 and struck-out 31. Still, it was an impressive season overall for Leon, who had a 2.70 ERA and a 74:23 K:BB ratio in 66.2 innings over those three levels. He followed that up with a strong performance for his winter league team in Mexico, striking out 16 in 11.1 innings for Culiacan. The A's rewarded Leon with a spot on their 40-man roster this November.

Before the injury, Leon's fastball generally sat in the 88-91 MPH range when he was starting and would creep up to the 89-93 MPH range out of the bullpen. In 2012, his velocity was steadily in the low-90s and occasionally touched 95. Leon's best pitch is his curveball, which he can throw at a couple of different speeds (including one that is in the high-60s). He also has an excellent change-up and a slider. Leon's command has always been one of his best assets, although it wasn't quite as sharp in 2012 as it has been in the past. Command issues are common in the first year after a pitcher has Tommy John surgery, however.

"Arnold has four excellent pitches," said A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson, who had Leon in Midland in 2010 and in Sacramento in 2012. "More times than not, three of those show up that are really good that night.

"The sky is the limit for Arnold for me. He's aggressive. He's young. He throws strikes. He has that ability to throw his change-up when he is behind in the count. He's a great competitor. He is fun to watch pitch. I'm a big fan of Arnold Leon."

While Leon's 2012 path through the minor leagues was similar to Doolittle's, his career arc since 2010 is most similar to fellow A's 40-man roster member Pedro Figueroa. Both Leon and Figueroa were starters when they injured their elbows in 2010 with Midland, neither were able to get any significant regular season innings in 2011 and both spent the 2012 season exclusively as relievers despite their past experience as starters. Figueroa was a little bit ahead of Leon during the A's 2011 fall Instructional League and he arrived at the A's big league spring training throwing well enough to get on the radar of the A's big league coaching staff. Figueroa would throw 21.2 innings for the A's in 2012 and could figure prominently in the A's plans in 2013.

Leon could also play a significant role for the A's in 2013. If the right-hander's command returns to its pre-surgery levels, he could be a dominant reliever given his four-pitch mix and his ability both to get strike-outs and induce groundballs. Despite missing nearly two seasons to injury, Leon is still relatively young, having started his career with the A's in 2008 as a 19-year-old. Leon will be 24 until next September.

Although Leon has a starter's pitch-mix, he is probably not going to return to that role. He would have to be on a strict innings-limit in 2013 given that he only threw 66.2 innings in 2012 and that would effectively end his chances to contribute to the A's roster in 2013. Given his spot on the 40-man roster and the A's depth in young starting pitching, he is a bigger asset to the A's as a reliever. While the back-end of the A's bullpen is set going into spring training, the middle-inning roles will be open for competition during camp. With an impressive spring, Leon could force his way on the A's Opening Day roster. Even if he doesn't make the team out of camp, he could position himself for a mid-season call-up with a strong start to the season.

17. Nolan Sanburn, RHP

Sanburn helped Arkansas finish third in the College World Series.

The A's waited until their fifth pick in the 2012 draft to select a pitcher. That pitcher was Sanburn, who went in the second round as the 74th overall pick in the draft. The University of Arkansas right-hander was a draft-eligible sophomore and didn't sign with the A's until the final day of the draft signing period. While the draft signing period has shortened significantly with the deadline coming in mid-July rather than mid-August as it had the past few seasons, Sanburn still was only able to get a handful of appearances after signing. Despite throwing only 18.2 innings in his professional debut season, Sanburn should be in a good position to play for a full-season affiliate at the start of the 2013 season.

After signing with the A's, Sanburn was assigned to Oakland's short-season affiliate, the Vermont Lake Monsters. He was on a strict pitch count with the Lake Monsters after a long collegiate season that lasted into the College World Series. None of Sanburn's seven starts for Vermont were allowed to go past three innings pitched. He threw exactly three innings in all but two of his outings and compiled a 3.86 ERA with 19 strike-outs and six walks. Sanburn allowed two homeruns, but had a better than 50% groundball rate.

The A's coaching staff got their first extended opportunity to work with him during the team's fall Instructional League camp. They came away impressed with his progress during the camp. Sanburn's fastball regularly sat in the mid-90s and he showed a sharp breaking ball. He also made progress on developing a change-up.

In college, Sanburn was used as both a late-inning reliever and as a starter. Many scouts projected him as a closer-type coming out of college, but the A's are going to try him out as a starter first.

"We've seen him start and relieve this year," A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota said after the draft. "I know that he has only made a few starts [in college] this year, but we were lucky enough to be there for those starts.

"He's got the mix to do it. He obviously throws hard. He's got an above-average curveball and the makings of an above-average change-up. So he's got enough starter mix. We think he can stretch out and develop into a fine starter."

Whether Sanburn can stick as a starter will be dependent on his ability to improve his change-up and tighten up his command. He is likely to open the 2013 season with the A's Low-A affiliate in Beloit, but he could make the jump to High-A Stockton by mid-season with a strong start. He will turn 22 in late July.

16. Matt Olson, 1B

Thanks to the departures of Josh Willingham and David DeJesus via free agency, the A's had three picks before the second round of the 2012 draft. The A's used all three picks on high school position players. The last of trio to be selected was Olson, a first baseman out of Georgia.

All of the A's top three picks had impressive debuts in 2012. They all began their pro careers with the A's Rookie Ball team and all three would make it to short-season Vermont by the end of the season. Olson spent the most time in the Rookie League, but it was still a strong debut for the 6'4'', 235-pound left-handed hitter. Olson was a key contributor to an AZL A's team that made it to the Arizona League championship game.

In 46 games with the AZL A's, he hit .282/.345/.520 with eight homers, 41 RBI and 16 doubles. Olson received a promotion to short-season Vermont for the final week of the season. He had three hits in 11 at-bats, including a homerun, and he walked three times.

The A's were impressed with how Olson handled himself as an 18-year-old making his professional debut. Olson worked hard to make in-season improvements both offensively and defensively, and he had a good fall Instructional League. Olson did have a tendency to press at the plate at times, a trait that was reflected in his strike-out totals (50 in 188 at-bats). He walked only 19 times, and his K:BB ratio was his only blemish in an otherwise solid professional debut.

A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson sees Olson improving his plate discipline and contact rates as he gains experiencing.

"I think the strike-outs are a products of probably two things: coming into the game thinking that you have to impress immediately and show why you got drafted," Steverson said. "You get over-anxious and out of your own element a little bit of what you have done in the past. He has got a tremendous eye. Our scouts have reiterated to me that they have seen him throughout his amateur days and he has good plate discipline, so that doesn't just disappear.

"That is probably just a change in mindset on his part. We've spoken about it and hopefully that part of his game will be able to come back to fruition for him because he does have a good eye. I think the strike-outs are just a product of him trying to come in and do too much early."

Olson finished second in the Arizona League in homeruns. While the A's projected him as a power-hitter when they drafted him, they were pleasantly surprised to see how quickly that power emerged as a pro. Olson tended to be a bit pull-happy, but Steverson sees potential for Olson to have power to all fields.

"Basically we like to get all of our players in position to stay over the ball, over the plate, use the big part of the field and to take their hands to where the baseball is and guide the ball to all fields. And that is where he is going to be," Steverson said. "Obviously his power is mostly to centerfield and right-field, but he can drive the ball to left-field also. We just want him to become a complete hitter and not have him think that he is just a power hitter. He can be a good hitter first."

Olson was exclusively a first baseman during his pro debut and mostly played that position in high school. He has a big frame, but Olson has quick feet and is athletic, so the A's could give him a look in a corner outfield position down-the-road if they want to increase his versatility. He displayed good hands and a decent arm at first this season and could develop into an above-average defender at that position.

Regardless of whether Olson ultimately stays at first or moves to a corner outfield spot, his bat will determine how far he goes in the A's system. He will need to continue to develop into a middle-of-the-order threat with a traditional power bat. The A's don't have a lot of left-handed hitting power bats in their system, so Olson could be a valuable commodity for Oakland if he develops as they hope he will.

Although Olson only received a handful of at-bats at the short-season level in 2012, he should start the 2013 season with Low-A Beloit. The A's won't rush Olson, who will turn 19 just before the start of the 2013 regular season. The Midwest League is notorious for being difficult on power hitters, so the A's will likely encourage Olson to continue to work on his approach and not worry as much about the power numbers. The A's may keep Olson back in Arizona for the first few weeks of the regular season until the weather in the Midwest warms.

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