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.

40. Jeff Urlaub

Urlaub pitched well against advanced competition this season.

Urlaub has been on the edge of the A's top-50 prospects list for the past two seasons, but he finally pushed the door in this year after proving that he could continue to find a high level success against higher-level competition. The left-hander has done nothing but pitch well since he turned pro in 2010, but because he was 23 at the time he was drafted, he has always been old for his level, making it easier to minimize his accomplishments. It's getting harder to ignore Urlaub's talents, however, as he spent 2013 pitching well against players not far from the big leagues.

During the regular season, Urlaub spent the entire year with Double-A Midland. In his first season at that level, Urlaub acquitted himself well, posting a 3.86 ERA with a 40:13 K:BB in 46.2 innings. He was unlucky on balls hit into play (.333 BABIP), but he allowed just two homeruns and his FIP was in-line with his previous seasons in A-ball, when his ERA was under 3.00.

Former A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson compared Urlaub to A's reliever Jerry Blevins three years ago, and their similarities grew this season as Urlaub improved his curveball. He doesn't throw quite as hard as Blevins, but his fastball sits at 87-90 and he spots it well in the lower half of the strike-zone. His best pitch is his change-up, which sits the high 70s. He also has a slider.

Urlaub's stock continued to rise this off-season when he pitched in the prospect showcase Arizona Fall League. He was one of the top relievers in the Mesa Solar Sox's bullpen, helping them to the AFL Championship game. In 13 innings this fall, Urlaub allowed four runs (2.77 ERA). He gave up 14 hits, but he walked just three and he struck-out 16.

Urlaub's command and his ability to mix his pitches are the reasons that he has a shot to be a major league reliever despite having only average fastball velocity. In 194 innings pitched in the minor leagues, Urlaub has walked just 35 while striking out 196. He has also allowed only 10 homeruns. Since 2011, he has held left-handed batters to a .216 average and a 585 OPS. He hasn't fared much worse against right-handers, posting a .230/594 line.

Urlaub had Tommy John surgery during college, but he has been healthy since turning pro. He is a good athlete and he showed off an above-average pick-off move during the AFL Championship game, when he nabbed two runners at first base.

The A's generally sign several Triple-A level minor league free agents during the off-season, but Urlaub still has a strong chance to start the 2014 season with Sacramento. If he doesn't start the year at that level, he will likely be on the short-list for a mid-season promotion once there are openings on the River Cats' roster.

39. Josh Bowman

Bowman's command betrayed him early in 2013.

Going into the 2013 season, Bowman was a popular pick as the next A's pitching prospect to make a quick jump from the lower levels to the major leagues. Bowman's second half of the 2012 season with High-A Stockton drew a lot of comparisons to the work that Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin did with the Ports the year before they each rose from Double-A to the big leagues. Unfortunately, Bowman's 2013 season didn't go according to that script.

The A's 2010 10th-round pick began the year with Double-A Midland. He looked off almost from the start of the year. Bowman didn't walk a batter in his 2013 debut, but he then proceeded to walk at least three in each of his six starts and none of those starts went more than five innings. After eight outings with the RockHounds, Bowman was sent back to High-A Stockton with a 4.54 ERA and an ugly (and uncharacteristic) 18:21 K:BB.

Things got worse for Bowman initially with the Ports. He allowed 15 runs in just 6.1 innings over two starts with Stockton before he was placed on the disabled list. Bowman would miss three weeks. After he returned from the DL, Bowman displayed form much closer to what he had showed in 2012. In 94 post-DL innings, Bowman had a 70:18 K:BB and a 4.50 ERA.

It is likely that Bowman was not 100% at the start of the season. He struggled with back stiffness at various points during the season and that impacted his mechanics, especially early in the year. He also had to overcome the disappointment of being demoted mid-season, something that had never happened to him during his pro career up until that point.

"I think the struggles not only were physical, but also, at times, he was disappointed that he had to come back to Stockton," Stockton Ports' radio broadcaster Zack Bayrouty said. "I think that stretch in late May when he had a couple of bad outings, he told me in an interview that maybe mentally he wasn't all there during those starts and that he had been frustrated. But he said he learned to work through it and he was better because he had to go through that period. I think moving forward it will be an experience that he remembers and he leans on whenever he goes through a tough time.

"He'll get another shot in Double-A. He's such a smart guy and he has really good stuff. When he gets another chance at Double-A, I think you'll see a different guy starting next year than he was starting this year."

Bowman's fastball sits in the 89-93 MPH range and he gets good movement and sink on the pitch. Early in the season when he was struggling with his command, his movement was taking the fastball too far out of the strike-zone, but he worked on some mechanical adjustments with Ports' pitching coach Jimmy Escalante that allowed him to start his pitches in a spot where the movement would take him in or close to the strike-zone.

Bowman also has a cutter that sits in the high-80s and he features a curveball and an above-average change-up. Thanks to the command issues Bowman faced early in the season, his walk rate was up in 2013. However, after his DL stint, his walk rate was right around two per nine innings. Bowman's strike-outs were down even after he returned from the DL, which will be something to watch going into next season. His homer rate was also up slightly.

Assuming Bowman is healthy next spring, he should get another chance at the Double-A level at the start of the 2014 season.

38. Conner Crumbliss

Crumbliss set a number of personal highs in 2013.

For the first time in his career, Crumbliss took a step back in his progress towards the big leagues. Despite that misstep, it was hardly a lost season for the Kansas native.

Just as he has every season since 2010, Crumbliss earned a promotion at the start of the 2013 season, reaching Triple-A for the first time in his career. However, Crumbliss also had to face the challenge of being a part-time player for the first time. He spent six weeks on the River Cats' roster, but he appeared in just 20 games and netted only 56 at-bats. Crumbliss never found his rhythm with Sacramento, posting a .136/.297/.356 line. That resulted in Crumbliss being demoted a level for the first time in his career.

Once again an everyday player with Midland, Crumbliss quickly got back on-track at the plate. In 92 games, Crumbliss hit .280/.405/.432 with the RockHounds. That slashline was an improvement over his 2012 campaign with Midland, when he hit .257/.414/.391. Crumbliss hit for more power in 2013 than he has in any other season of his career. Despite having the fewest at-bats in any season since his pro debut campaign in 2009, Crumbliss hit a career-high 13 homers. He posted a career-best .421 SLG.

It isn't power, but patience which is Crumbliss' calling card. With an 81:76 BB:K rate, Crumbliss extended his streak of seasons with more walks than strike-outs to five. Because his OBP was so low with Sacramento, however, he saw his streak of seasons with a better than .400 OBP come to an end at four.

Crumbliss has been one of the toughest outs in all of minor league baseball since he was drafted. Although he will never be mistaken for a middle-of-the-order hitter, Crumbliss has increased his power every season and he has proven he can burn a team that challenges him middle-in. Crumbliss is a decent runner, as well, and he has always stolen bases at a solid rate (77% career stolen base percentage). He offers versatility defensively, as he can play the outfield and second base. All of those skills make him a good candidate for a bench spot in the big leagues.

The 2014 season will be pivotal for Crumbliss. If he gets another shot at Triple-A, he will need to prove that his 2013 stint with the River Cats was an aberration and not a sign that he can't play at that level. He will also need to show that he can find success even without regular playing time, as that is the role he would likely be asked to fill at the major league level. Crumbliss is on the older side for a prospect (he will be 27 for most of next season), but his tools should age well.

37. Ryon Healy

Healy was the A's fourth overall pick in 2013.

With their first pick in the second day of the 2013 draft, the A's took Healy from the University of Oregon, where he had starred for an emerging Pac-12 program. The hulking Healy hit .333/.408/.566 with 11 homers in 228 at-bats during his junior season for the Ducks. It was one of the best offensive seasons in Ducks' history.

Healy signed roughly 10 days after the draft and he was initially assigned to the Arizona Rookie League, where he worked to get his timing back after the layoff between the end of the Oregon season and the draft. Healy hit only .214 in 28 at-bats, but he collected three extra-base hits and posted a .500 SLG before earning the trip to the New York-Penn League to join the Vermont Lake Monsters.

Despite appearing in less than half of the Lake Monsters' regular season schedule, Healy finished second on the team to B.J. Boyd in homeruns with four. He also finished third in RBI and fourth in doubles. Through his first 14 games with the Lake Monsters, Healy hit .315/.345/.500. However, he struggled down-the-stretch, batting .185/.194/.315 over the season's final 22 games.

Between Arizona and Vermont, Healy homered six times in 174 at-bats. He also made a lot of contact, striking out just 28 times. Surprisingly, he wasn't able to work his way on-base via a walk very often, however. During his junior season at Oregon, Healy walked more than he struck-out, but he walked only five times during his pro debut season. Healy isn't as patient a hitter as his junior year numbers would suggest. As the best hitter on his Oregon team, Healy was pitched around a fair amount with the Ducks. However, his track record from previous seasons suggests that he has better discipline than his pro debut season demonstrated.

"He has very good bat speed, good knowledge of what he wants to do in the box. He's a very interesting guy," former Oakland A's roving minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said. "He provides some pop, hits for a pretty good average and is a pretty good athlete."

Healy moves well despite being 6'5'', 225. He primarily played first base at Oregon, but he had experience from high school and in the summer leagues at third. The A's plan to give him a long look at third, and that is where he spent most of his playing time while with Vermont. He looked rusty at times, not surprisingly, but he should continue to see time at the position in the near term, as his bat will be more valuable at the hot corner.

"We have some scouts who believe he at least has a chance to play third base," Oakland A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota said. "For whatever reason, he played mainly at first base at Oregon, but we think he has the physical abilities to play over there at third and we are going to see how it works out."

If Healy has to move back to first, he will bring a good glove to that position. He was considered one of the better collegiate defensive first basemen in this year's draft. Healy had some minor back trouble during his collegiate season, but he was able to play regularly once signing his pro contract and he completed the A's fall Instructional League camp without incident.

Healy is likely to start next season with Low-A Beloit. With Healy's solid contact rate and his ability to hit with power to all fields, he could have a big year for the Snappers next season even though he will be playing in a pitcher-friendly league. However, he will need to improve his walk rate to find that success.

36. Shane Peterson

Peterson made his major league debut in 2013.

In some ways, the 2013 season will be one Peterson will never forget. In other ways, the 2013 season was filled with forgettable moments. After a breakthrough 2012 season landed Peterson on the 40-man roster for the first time, he took advantage of his roster status by putting together an outstanding stint in big league spring training. That led to Peterson getting the call to the big leagues for a short stint when Brandon Moss was on the paternity leave list in April. Peterson made a game-saving defensive play and recorded his first big league hit in two big league games.

Peterson hit well with the River Cats at the start of this season, but he seemed to press after returning from Oakland. His OPS in May was 749 and he posted OPSs of 565 and 646 in June and July, respectively. Peterson found himself again in August, putting up a .307/.398/.500 line with four homers in 114 at-bats. He finished the year with a .251/.358/.387 line.

Despite the up-and-down nature of Peterson's season, he still established a career-high in homeruns (12), RBI (79), walks (77), stolen bases (17 in 19 chances) and doubles (25, tied for a career-best). Peterson's strike-outs were up significantly, however, and he K'd 127 times. The increased strike-outs are a good indication that Peterson was pressing to put up big numbers in order to find his way back to the major leagues.

"I think for him, he went to look for a feeling of a number, where it was always right in front of him," former A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said. "He's not any different of a dude. Not a different guy, but I think he finally realized recently that he hasn't changed his swing and he hasn't changed his approach that much, but he had gotten out of what had gotten him to this place for too long. He needed to get back to what he did well.

"He has been able to be more successful that way. He has all of the tools in the world to get back to the big leagues and enjoy a career."

The A's have emphasized versatility with the players they have carried on their 25-man roster since manager Bob Melvin took over the club halfway through the 2011 season. Peterson offers a manager a lot of versatility. The left-hander can play all three outfield spots and he has a solid glove at first base. Peterson isn't a burner, but he runs well and is a smart base-runner. For his career, he 73 stolen bases in 88 chances (83%).

Peterson has consistently been a tough out throughout his minor league career. His career on-base percentage is .375 and he has 547 strike-outs in 643 career games. In a lot of ways, Peterson is a poor-man's Mark Kotsay. He doesn't have Kotsay's defensive prowess in center and has less power, but, like Kotsay, Peterson is an instinctual player who adds a number of different elements to a roster.

Although it seems like Peterson has been in the A's system forever, he will turn 26 next February, putting him in the middle of his prime years. He doesn't project to be a major league regular on a contending team, but he could be a valuable bench player for a contender.

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