50. Justin Higley
|Higley is raw but has impressive tools. b>|
Generally speaking, players selected in the MLB draft out of college in rounds five through 20 share a similar profile. Usually they are players with strong collegiate track records of success. They don't always have a high ceiling, but often come with a fairly predictable performance floor. Higley, the A's 13th-round pick out of Sacramento State this year, doesn't fit that profile. Despite playing three years collegiately, Higley is far from a polished product and he offers a much higher ceiling-but comes with a lot more risk-than most of the college players taken in rounds five through 20 this year.
Although Higley rates highly for his overall tools, he hasn't had an easy road to professional baseball. The Sacramento area native starred at Jesuit High School but still received no baseball scholarship offers. He walked on at Sac State and hit a non-descript .237 during his freshman season. In 2012, Higley made the All-WAC team when he hit .274 in 53 games as a sophomore. This season, Higley saw his average drop to .252, but he hit a career-high 10 homers, showing power that he had previously only hinted at with the Hornets.
The A's saw plenty of Higley in high school and in college, but they got an up-close look at him at a pre-draft workout at the Coliseum, and he opened a lot of eyes that day. Higley showed plus speed and he even hit an opposite field homerun during BP. Despite his less than spectacular numbers at Sac State, Higley's physical projection was enough to entice the A's to take him fairly early in day two of the draft.
"His numbers haven't really borne out the kind of ability that we think he has," A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota said following the draft. "He can really run and he has power potential. We think his best days are ahead of him as he gets more instruction under his belt. We were less concerned about the numbers. Certainly it is something to consider, but we just loved the tool package with him."
Higley's lack of polish was reflected in his first professional assignment, as the A's sent him to the Arizona Rookie League rather than the New York-Penn League despite his collegiate experience. Higley took advantage of playing against players mostly to his junior, finishing ninth in the league in OPS (853) and tied for third in homers (six). Higley was 24th in the league and second on the AZL A's squad in OBP (.363) and he led his team in SLG, while finishing fourth in the league in that category (.490). Higley also finished in the top-five in strike-outs, whiffing 57 times in only 153 official at-bats.
Higley is officially listed at 6'4'', 200, and he has a long and lanky build. The 2013 season was the first time he incorporated power lifting into his workout regimen and the increase in his power numbers was noticeable. He has plenty of room on his frame to continue to add strength and that power should also continue to develop along with his body. Higley was one of the youngest college hitters to be taken in the draft, and he won't turn 21 until late December. Higley has above-average speed and that speed tool is already one he uses well. Although he didn't steal many bases (four in seven chances), Higley showed excellent speed out-of-the-box, and that helped him collect four triples during the AZL season.
"I've seen him in some games down here in Arizona really lace some balls," former A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said during the season. "He's kind of flippy with the hands and he's got an approach. I've seen him hit some doubles and triples where that speed comes into play. He can stride out when he gets on the base-paths."
Defensively, Higley only started playing in the outfield during college, so he is still rough around the edges. That has limited him to the corners, although as he learns the nuisances of playing the outfield, he could wind-up in center, as he has the speed for the position. Higley was clocked at 6.4 in the 60-yard dash at that pre-draft workout at the Coliseum.
Physically, Higley bares a resemblance to former A's prospect Grant Desme both in terms of his body-type and his overall skill-set. Higley isn't nearly as polished as Desme was when he came out of Cal-Poly, but Higley does offer many of the same raw tools. He will need to develop a better two-strike approach as he moves into the full-season leagues, as his swing-and-miss tendencies will be exploited even more heavily by more advanced pitching if he doesn't adjust. Given his propensity to strike-out, Higley isn't likely to hit for high average year-in and year-out, but he can work the count a bit and should be able reach double-digits in homeruns and stolen bases every year.
Although Higley spent his pro debut in the Rookie League, he will have a chance to fight for a spot in a full-season league this spring.
49. Ryan Huck
|Huck has intriguing power projections. b>|
At this time last year, it would have been a stretch to envision Huck on any prospect list for a major league organization. The Western Kentucky first baseman was preparing for his senior season at the school after three relatively non-descript campaigns. However, he had a breakthrough 2013 season for the Hilltoppers, and he parlayed that into a 27th-round draft selection by the A's. Once he signed, he got off to a fast start to his professional career. Injuries slowed him down the final few weeks of the season, but Huck showed enough early on to open eyes.
In 53 games with the Hilltoppers, Huck set all sorts of school records by posting a .367/.469/.694 line with 16 homers and 56 RBI in 53 games. The St. Louis native was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League after signing with Oakland, but he quickly demonstrated that he was too advanced for the league. In 10 games, he hit .475/.533/.850 with two homers and 11 RBI. That performance earned him a promotion to short-season Vermont. In his first 25 games with the Lake Monsters, he hit .279/.380/.465 with three homers and 14 RBI. He was named to the New York-Penn League All-Star team.
Huck missed two weeks with a foot injury midway through his Vermont stint, and he didn't find the same level of success after he returned. Over the final three weeks, he posted a .189/.294/.257 line. Still, despite that poor finish, Huck's overall line with Vermont of .238/.341/.369 was above league average for the pitcher-friendly New York-Penn League. Between the two short-season leagues, Huck hit .285/.378/.465 with five homers in 200 at-bats.
Huck played some catcher in college, but he was exclusively a first baseman and DH in his pro debut and his future is likely at the first base bag. He moves well for a player of his size (6'5'', 255), but he isn't a threat to steal bases. Like many power hitters, Huck will have his fair share of strike-outs, but he also has a good idea of the strike-zone and can work the count well. His best tool is his power.
"Overall, when you look at him, you wouldn't say he's a picture of good mechanics," former A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said. "His approach is different. He kind of has a low-to-high swing. I wouldn't call it an upper-cut swing. It's just low-to-high. He has control over his body in the box for a big guy. He has some thump behind it, too."
Although Huck is significantly taller, he has a similar projection to former A's prospect and current minor league hitting coach Tom Everidge. As a senior sign, Huck will always been racing against time to reach the major leagues before he is considered too old to be a prospect. However, power is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity in baseball and if Huck can continue to show the ability to leave the yard, he should be given plenty of chances to advance.
48. Seth Streich
|Streich's season ended early. b>|
The beginning and the end of the 2013 season weren't great for Streich, but the middle was quite productive for the right-hander and could provide him the building blocks for a break-through 2014 season, health permitting. The A's 2012 sixth-round pick got off to a slow start this year with Low-A Beloit, posting an ERA of 5.52 before the All-Star break. However, he dominated after the break until elbow soreness ended his season four weeks early. The injury did not require surgery, and he is expected to be healthy at the start of spring training, although elbow soreness is always a concern for pitchers.
Streich finished the 2013 season with a 3.82 ERA and 10 wins in 21 starts for the Snappers. The right-hander allowed just two homeruns over 110.2 innings and he posted a GO/AO of 1.32. His K:BB was an unspectacular 82:41, but it was dramatically improved over the final two months of his season. In June and July, Streich walked 18 and struck-out 48 in 66 innings. During the first two months of the season, he walked 23 and struck-out 34 in 44.2 innings.
Streich made several adjustments over the course of the season that allowed him to improve significantly. The first was with his delivery, as he was able to finish his throwing motion better by getting over his front side more efficiently. The second was an improvement with his breaking ball, which lagged far behind his fastball and change-up coming into the season. Over the off-season, Streich experimented with a cut fastball, but that pitch was interfering with the development of his curveball and the command of his fastball and he stopped throwing it. As the season went on, Streich's curveball improved significantly.
"The breaking ball is coming and it's constantly getting better and better. That's upped his game," A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said towards the end of July. "In every outing, he seems to be getting more confidence with that curveball and he's able to repeat it well. It just adds an extra dimension to his game and has made him a lot better."
Streich's best pitch is his fastball, which has heavy sink and sits in the 91-93 MPH range and can touch 94. His command of the pitch improved throughout the year, allowing him to get ahead of hitters more consistently as the season went on. His change-up was a solid pitch, and while the curveball still isn't as good as his fastball and his change-up, it is much improved and gives him three legitimate pitches. He isn't a big strike-out pitcher, but sinkerballers often produce lower strike-out totals in exchange for quick outs on the ground. Streich has a starter's build at 6'3'', 210 pounds, and he is a good athlete, having been a two-way player at Ohio University.
"I like the consistency that Seth has given us throughout the year," Beloit manager Ryan Christensen said during the season. "He's one of our go-to guys that I feel good about running out there each time he goes out. He's a great competitor on the mound and works with a good pace and tempo. When he has consistency and command, he's very good."
The elbow injury limited Streich to 110.2 innings in 2013 and kept him out of the A's fall Instructional League. If he is fully healthy at the end of spring training, Streich should be assigned to High-A Stockton, where he will need all three of his pitches to navigate the hitter-friendly California League. He will be 23 throughout the 2014 season.
47. Aaron Shipman
|Shipman had a big second half for Beloit. b>|
When the A's selected Shipman in the third round of the 2010 draft and then signed him away from a college commitment, they envisioned a player who could impact the game at the top of the line-up while also adding value in the center of the outfield. Since that time, Shipman has shown flashes of being that type of player, but he has also spent a lot of time either struggling or recovering from injuries.
Shipman's 2013 season seemed like more of the same early on. Assigned to the Low-A Beloit Snappers out of the gate, Shipman hit only .140 over his first 50 at-bats. He was then sent back to Arizona to rehab an elbow injury (ulnar neuritis). Shipman would miss the rest of the first half of the season, returning to the field at the start of the Arizona Rookie League season. He swung the bat well in six games with the AZL A's before he was sent back to Beloit.
When he returned to the Midwest League, Shipman was a different player at the plate. Shipman has always had a good eye at the plate, but he showed an aggressiveness with the bat that he hadn't displayed previously. That modified approach produced impressive results. In the 51 games after he returned from his stint in Arizona, Shipman posted a .314/.417/.361 line. He had a 33:34 BB:K and he collected eight extra-base hits.
While missing time with an injury is never a positive, it worked out well for Shipman, who was able to take a mental and a physical break during the season.
"He was able to kind of wipe that slate a little bit and start anew," former A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said. "It was almost his own mini spring training while still rehabbing his injury. He was able comeback with a different mindset and create a different idea of what he wants to do all over again.
"It wasn't that his thought-processes were wrong. It was that they could be modified. I think he did a good job of modifying his thought-processes and going back and getting his game back on the table."
While Shipman doesn't project to have much power, he does have all of the tools to be a table-setter at the top of the order. He has maintained a close to 1:1 K:BB during his minor league career and his career OBP is .360 despite a career BA of just .241. Before his time in Arizona this season, Shipman had a tendency to look for the walk rather than looking for a pitch to drive. That led to a lot of passive contact and a low BABIP. His BABIP improved dramatically during the second half of this season, along with his line-drive rate.
Defensively, Shipman can cover a lot of ground in centerfield and he has average arm strength. He is easily one of the fastest players in the A's system. Shipman stole a career-high 19 bases this year, although his SB% was still mediocre (he was caught seven times). Shipman spent much of this fall's Instructional League working on getting better jumps and reading pitchers and he showed a lot of improvement.
Despite all of the missed time due to injuries, Shipman is still in a good position to spend his age 22 season at the High-A level. If he starts the season with Stockton, he will be playing in a hitter-friendly league for the first time in his career. Shipman has missed more than 100 games over the past two seasons because of injuries, so putting together a healthy season will be an important milestone for him.
46. Austin House
|House has one of the best change-ups in the A's system. b>|
Pitchers in the A's system learn early on the importance of being able to throw a change-up. After fastball command, perfecting a change-up is the area most stressed by A's pitching coaches. Coming into this season, House already had an above-average change-up, so it was his breaking ball that took the focus in 2013.
House began the year as part of the Beloit Snappers' piggy-back rotation, but he was moved into the bullpen full-time midway through the season. By the end of the year, House was the Snappers' primary closer. The change in roles was by design. The A's wanted House in the rotation early in the season so he could throw more innings and get more work in on his curveball. Once he got comfortable with that pitch, they moved him into the late-innings role that they envision as his future. House finished his first full professional season with a 3.97 ERA and a 72:43 K:BB in 99.2 innings. He allowed nine homeruns and posted a 1.61 GO/AO.
"You'd like to think the Ryan Cook-type role. Come in in the seventh or eighth with the lead and get some guys out," A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said of House's role in the bullpen. "The plan with House early was to develop a breaking ball because he didn't have much of one. When you are going one or two innings in an outing, there might be times when you might not even throw one or you'll throw one or two.
"Early in the year, we had him in the piggy-back [starter] situation, forced him to throw eight, 10, 12 breaking balls a night and now he trusts his breaking ball. He's got something to wipe out a right-handed hitter that's breaking. You put him back in the bullpen and he's got a good change-up and now he's got a much better breaking ball to get right-handers out."
At times this season, House was dominating, especially out of the bullpen. But he also struggled at times with his mechanics, causing command issues. He appeared to tire at the end of the season, not an uncommon occurrence for pitchers in their first full professional seasons.
When he is on, House has four pitches – a sinking fastball that sits 90-92 and can touch 94, a plus change-up, a solid slider and a curveball that improved considerably during the 2013 season. Although he was a three-year player for the University of New Mexico, House is still relatively new to pitching, not having thrown many innings in high school. He is a strong competitor and he should have the mental make-up to handle late-inning situations. House held right-handed hitters to a .222 BAA this season and he had a better than 50% groundball rate overall.
House should move up to High-A in 2014. If he can shore up his command, House could move quickly now that he is in a bullpen role.