A's 2013 MiLB Breakout Candidates, P2

Opening Day is a chance for a fresh start for every player in professional baseball, but those fresh starts are especially welcome to players who struggled the previous season. In this two-part series, we look at 10 Oakland A's prospects who had down 2012 seasons statistically who look poised to improve in 2013. In part two, we look at five pitchers hoping to rebound in 2013.

For part one of this series, please click here.

Sonny Gray, RHP

It wasn't an easy first full professional season for Gray, who made his professional debut at the Double-A level in 2011 and returned to Midland for almost all of the 2012 season. Gray was one of the younger pitchers in the Texas League and he held his own, posting a 4.14 ERA in 148 innings. The right-hander had strong groundball numbers and allowed only eight homeruns, but he struck-out just 97 batters and he walked 57. Gray made one regular season start for Triple-A Sacramento and then pitched well for the River Cats in a post-season outing.

Gray is slated to return to Triple-A and there are plenty of reasons to believe that Gray will fare better in 2013 even with the offense-friendly nature of many of the Pacific Coast League's ballparks. Command was an issue for Gray for much of the 2012 season, but it did improve as the season wore on. In addition, Gray worked on a new finish to his throwing motion for most of the 2012 season and he seemed more comfortable with the mechanical changes this spring. Although his numbers in big league camp weren't impressive, Gray's stuff looked sharp. With a heavy fastball that can touch 95 MPH and a plus breaking ball, Gray's strike-out numbers should be higher in 2013. In addition, he has improved his change-up, which should help Gray generate even more swings-and-misses.

Ian Krol, LHP

The 2011 season was a complete loss for Krol, so the mere fact that he was able to log 97 innings and remain healthy the entire 2012 season was a positive. However, a lot more was expected statistically of Krol, who posted an ugly 5.20 ERA in a season split between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. Krol coughed up 106 hits and 13 homeruns. In 2010, Krol allowed only 116 hits and eight homers in 138.1 innings. Krol's command wasn't quite as sharp in 2012, either, as he walked 26 after walking only 28 in all of 2010.

There are reasons to be optimistic that Krol will fare better in 2013. He will likely return to Midland, where he finished the 2012 season pitching out of the Rockhounds' bullpen. Krol should be back in the starting rotation full-time. The A's moved him to the bullpen at the end of last season to limit his innings coming off of a year during which he threw five innings. Krol's strike-out rate improved from his 2010 season. He was also not alone on the Ports' roster in having a higher than normal H/9 rate. With more advanced fielders behind him, Krol's H/9 should go down this season. Despite the lost season in 2011 and his struggles in 2012, Krol is still a left-handed pitcher who has reached the Double-A level at age 21. He still has plenty of time to continue his development.

Blake Hassebrock, RHP

Not much went right for Hassebrock in 2012. The hard-throwing right-hander began the season with Stockton as part of what became an ill-fated six-man rotation. Hassebrock was injured in a late-April start and missed two months on the disabled list. When he returned, Hassebrock was never the same pitcher who posted a 2.64 ERA in the Midwest League in 2011. Although his velocity was still good, Hassebrock's location was off and he was hit hard. In 50.2 innings with Stockton, he allowed 84 hits and walked 20 batters. He also allowed six homers. Hassebrock was sent back to Low-A for the final month of the season. Although he had a much better 4.00 ERA in 27 innings, he still allowed 43 base-runners.

There is still plenty to like about Hassebrock's future. He has an above-average fastball-slider combination and a good idea about how to attack hitters. Hassebrock has also improved his change-up, which will be an important pitch for his development. Despite his struggles last season, Hassebrock still managed to strike-out 64 in 77.2 innings. Hassebrock is likely to return to Stockton to start the year, and if he pitches well during the first half of the season, he could reach Double-A by the end of the year.

Murphy Smith, RHP

Smith looked like a pitcher on the rise after he posted a sub-4.00 ERA and he walked only 33 in 137 innings for High-A Stockton in 2011. The right-hander then went on to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. Smith earned a promotion to Double-A Midland and spent the entire 2012 season with the Rockhounds. He was inconsistent in 2012, posting a 4.82 ERA in 140 innings. Smith's walk rate jumped (he walked 57) and his strike-out rate dropped significantly (83 versus 100 in 2011).

Although he posted poor strike-out and walk-rates in 2012, Smith still had a strong groundball rate and he allowed only eight homeruns. Smith began the year in the bullpen, but he moved into the rotation and spent most of the year there. He isn't over-powering, but Smith has a four-pitch mix (fastball, curveball, change-up and cutter) that he mixes well. When he is locating, Smith works quickly and attacks the strike-zone. With better command, Smith should improve in 2013. He may start the year back with Midland, but he will be one of the top candidates for a mid-season promotion to Triple-A if he is pitching well.

Raul Alcantara, RHP

When the A's sent Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney to the Red Sox, there were some within the scouting community that believed that Alcantara was the best player the A's received in return. While Josh Reddick and Miles Head had big first seasons in the A's organization, Alcantara struggled in his first year pitching in a full-season league. The slim right-hander threw 102.2 innings for the Low-A Burlington Bees, eclipsing his career-high by more than 45 innings pitched. While Alcantara flashed plus stuff at times with the Bees, he didn't have much success inducing swings-and-misses. Alcantara struck-out only 57 batters, a surprisingly low number for a pitcher in the lower-levels with his mid-90s fastball. His walk rate also creeped above three per nine innings, and he allowed more than one homerun per nine innings pitched.

At 19-years-old, Alcantara was one of the youngest players in the Midwest League last season. Considering his age and the fact that he had pitched in the US for only one season before last year, Alcantara's 2012 was hardly a disaster. However, it did expose the need for Alcantara to add more variation to his repertoire. He has been working on a swing-and-miss breaking ball this spring and the addition of that pitch will allow Alcantara to get hitters off of his fastball. He also learned a lot about setting up hitters last season and that experience should help him in 2013. It is likely that Alcantara will return to the Midwest League in 2013 (this time with the A's new affiliate in Beloit), and he should have better success this time around. Alcantara turned 20 in December.

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