35. Jake Goebbert
|Goebbert had a strong first season in the A's system. b>|
The A's acquired Goebbert just before the start of the 2013 regular season when Oakland sent reliever Travis Blackley to the Houston Astros. Goebbert spent most of his first season in the A's organization at the Double-A level, but he received an opportunity in Triple-A for the final five weeks of the season and acquitted himself well at both levels.
Goebbert was a 13th-round selection of the Astros in 2009. The Illinois native starred for three seasons at Northwestern before signing with Houston after his senior year. Goebbert established himself as a run producer early in his pro career, driving in 91 runs during his first full pro season in 2010. In 2011, he appeared at three levels for the Astros (High-A, Double-A and Triple-A), but in 2012, Goebbert was given only a short opportunity in Triple-A and he struggled in 16 games with the Oklahoma City Redhawks. He spent the rest of the season in Double-A with Corpus Christi. With the Astros loading up on minor league talent through various trades in 2012 and 2013, Houston didn't have an obvious path for Goebbert through their system and they chose to give him a chance in another organization.
Although Goebbert was new to the A's organization in 2013, he was a known commodity thanks to the amount of time he spent in the Cal League and the Texas League in 2011 and 2012, where the A's also have affiliates. While in the Houston chain, Goebbert caught the eye of the A's front office for being a difficult out and a player with a well-balanced set of skills.
"Goeb is a solid all-around player," former A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said during the season. "I saw him play a little bit last year when I went into Double-A and he was playing for Corpus Christi. He would drive our pitching guy in Midland Don Schulze nuts because he would take so many quality at-bats. He would say, ‘oh boy, here comes Goebbert, we've got to be careful.' I would say he is not spectacular in any one area, but he is solid in nearly every area.
"He's not slow. He's got average speed. He can play first base. He can play in the outfield. Very versatile player. Plays all positions solid. Very knowledgeable about the game. He has a great routine daily that allows him to come out and show that consistency daily. When someone comes over from another organization, you never know what you are going to get, but I think we did a good job in acquiring this man."
Goebbert played in 105 games for Midland this season and he was one of their top hitters for most of the year. He had a .268/.352/.480 line with 18 homeruns in 396 at-bats. In 21 games with the River Cats during the final few weeks of the season, Goebbert batted only .229, but he posted an 808 OPS thanks to a 15:16 BB:K and seven extra-base hits in 70 at-bats. He established career-highs in homeruns (22) and walks (62).
Goebbert is the kind of player who isn't likely to wow scouts who get one look at him, but he will have a big influence on his team over the long season. He has always been a good gap hitter, but he was able to translate that gap power into homerun power more frequently in 2013. Goebbert sacrificed some of his contact rate for his new-found power, but he also increased his walk rate and saw more pitches per at-bat, making him an even more difficult batter to face than he was in previous years. He is the kind of hitter that helps to wear down a starter early in a game, as he is able to spoil off a lot of pitcher's pitches.
Defensively, Goebbert is a solid defender in left and right fields, and he has just enough speed that he can play center in a pinch. He also handles the glove well at first base and he is a left-handed thrower. Goebbert is a good base-runner and he can steal a bag when a pitcher isn't paying close attention to him.
Goebbert has always been on the older side of the prospect scale because he signed after his senior year of college, but he has consistently performed. The A's haven't finished their off-season maneuvering yet, but based on how Goebbert finished the season with the River Cats, he has a good shot of returning to Sacramento at the start of the 2014 season.
34. Iolana Akau
In the second year under the new draft ‘cap' rules, the A's were able to maximize their cap space to sign a handful of draft picks that were taken several slots below where they were projected to go before the draft. Akau, the A's 2013 20th-round pick, was considered one of the best defensive high school catchers going into this year's draft. Many draft pundits had the native Hawaiian going in the top-five rounds, but they also noted that he had a strong commitment to play at the University of Hawaii. When he fell to the 20th round, the A's snapped him up. After signing their second pick Dillon Overton to a below-slot deal (Overton had Tommy John surgery shortly after signing), the A's were able to lure Akau away from college with an over-slot deal.
One of the A's last signees, Akau appeared in only 11 games for the AZL A's club during the regular season. He received a full slate of games during the A's fall Instructional League and should be on-track with the rest of his draft class going into next spring. Akau didn't do much at the plate during his brief AZL stint (four hits in 30 at-bats), but he threw out a third of all base-runners who attempted to steal on him and wowed scouts with his arm strength and athleticism behind the plate.
Akau will be a project offensively, but even if he develops into a below-average major league hitter, Akau has the potential to be a valuable big league catcher because of his defensive talent, a la Jose Molina. At 5'11'', 180, Akau is built nothing like Molina, but even at a young age, Akau can impact a game with his defense.
"Defensively, Akau is special. I cruised into a game after a long roadtrip to watch our Rookie League guys and this guy threw out two or three base-runners in the first two innings," A's Director of Player Development Billy Owens said. "His footwork was outstanding. It was quick. The athleticism jumps out right away."
Akau was one of the youngest players selected in this year's draft. He turned 18 on August 31. Because he is from Hawaii and was drafted by the A's as a catcher, Akau will draw comparisons to former A's catcher Kurt Suzuki. Akau has a similar build to Suzuki, although he still has lots of growing to do in terms of muscle development. Akau was a star for the Hawaii Little League team as an outfielder, and he has the athleticism to play a number of different positions on the diamond. However, his arm strength, quick throwing release and ability to move laterally behind the plate make him a potential future star with the glove as a backstop.
Akau posted decent numbers offensively in high school, but most scouts agreed that his defense was well ahead of his offense. It will be interesting to see how the A's handle Akau's development if his defense starts to well out-pace his offensive production.
Because Akau is so young and because he plays such a demanding position, he is a good bet to start next season in short-season, likely with the A's affiliate in Vermont. Akau will be 18 until the final two weeks of next year's regular season.
33. Seth Frankoff
|Frankoff was a workhorse for the Ports in 2013. b>|
The 2013 season was a big one for Frankoff, who went from being on the edges of the A's roster depth chart to being a pitcher that the organization is keeping close tabs on. A 27th-round pick out of UNC-Wilmington in 2010, Frankoff spent the first two-and-a-half seasons in pro ball as a starter. He would flash good stuff, as evidenced by a good groundball rate and solid strike-out numbers, but Frankoff would struggle to maintain his stuff for a full six- or seven-inning outing. That prevented him from moving past Low-A ball. Midway through the 2012 season, Frankoff was moved from the rotation to the bullpen. Since then, he has seen significant improvements in his overall numbers and his climb towards the big leagues has accelerated.
Frankoff made the High-A Stockton roster for the first time at the start of the 2013 season. He would remain with the Ports all season, and he was a dominating force for Stockton for much of the season. In 74.1 innings, Frankoff posted a 2.78 ERA. He held opposing batters to a .208 BAA, struck-out 93, walked only 23 and posted a 1.43 GO/AO. Frankoff then pitched in the prospect showcase Arizona Fall League and he continued to shine. In 12.1 innings, Frankoff allowed just eight hits, three walks and two runs (1.46 ERA). He struck-out 15.
"He was the anchor of that bullpen," Stockton Ports' broadcaster Zack Bayrouty said. "He came on in any situation and you knew the game was in good hands. [Stockton manager] Webster Garrison liked to save him for situations like that when he needed a reliable guy, and Seth was that guy. That says a lot about Seth."
Because of his experience as a starter, Frankoff has a starter's four-pitch repertoire. His fastball rarely tops 92 MPH, but he commands it well. He also has a cut fastball that sits in the 88-91 range and generates a lot of soft contact. Frankoff has a reliable change-up and his breaking ball improved significantly in 2013, giving him four pitches he can throw in any count.
The key to Frankoff's success, according to A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson, is his ability to pitch backwards and throw soft early in the count for strikes. The A's have always placed a high value on relievers who can mix their pitches well and throw them all for strikes, even if they don't have elite velocity. Frankoff fits that mold. At 6'5'', 200 pounds, Frankoff is an intimidating presence on the mound. He isn't afraid to challenge hitters and has the ability to come into a situation with runners on-base and get out of it with a groundball. Frankoff has been durable throughout his career, as well, and he led the Ports' bullpen in innings pitched by a healthy margin.
Frankoff turned 25 late in the 2013 regular season, so he is on the older side for a prospect. He should get his first crack at Double-A at the start of the 2014 season. If he continues to control the lower part of the strike-zone at the higher levels, his progress through the upper levels of the system should be quicker than it was through the lower levels.
32. Sean Murphy
|Murphy has made big strides the past two seasons. b>|
As a 33rd-round pick out of a small school, Murphy has had an uphill climb to get on the prospect radar since signing in 2010. After two solid seasons in a row, however, Murphy is firmly on the A's starting pitching depth chart.
The 6'6'' right-hander was selected out of tiny Keystone College as a project prospect. It took a couple of years for Murphy to go from being a thrower to a pitcher, but things really began to click for him in 2012 when he split his season between Low-A Burlington and High-A Stockton. In 2013, Murphy began the year back in Stockton, but he was one of the first pitchers to be promoted when there was movement in the upper levels of the A's system.
After posting a 2.89 ERA in three starts with the Ports, Murphy had 25 appearances for the RockHounds. He was one of the steadiest members of the Midland rotation. In 136.2 innings, he posted a 4.08 ERA and a 121:50 K:BB. He allowed just nine homeruns and his FIP was 3.54 during his time in the Texas League.
Murphy has the look of a flame-thrower, but his fastball sits mostly in the 88-92 MPH range, although it can appear faster to batters because of Murphy's long release point. He has good command of his secondary pitches and he is able to throw them in any count. With his height and pitch-mix, Murphy has a similar profile to current A's starter Dan Straily, although the movement Murphy gets on his pitches isn't as dramatic as Straily's
"I think he does an excellent job of throwing four pitches for strikes," A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said. "He has a curveball he can throw over the plate. He has a good change-up and that change-up keeps him in the count. If he falls behind, he can throw that change-up and the guy puts the ball into play. His fastball command is improving. He's improving with all of his pitches and he has close to five major-league average pitches that he puts over the plate."
Murphy did enough during his first stint in Double-A to warrant a promotion to Triple-A next season, but whether he begins the year on the Sacramento roster will have a lot to do with how many minor league free agent starters the A's sign this off-season. He will be 25 for most of the 2014 regular season.
31. Tanner Peters
|Peters came within two outs of a perfect game on August 9. b>|
Although his ERA wasn't spectacular in 2013, Peters put together one of the most memorable seasons of any Stockton Ports' starting pitcher over the past several years. The right-hander not only came within two outs of a perfect game, he also put together some of the most intriguing statistical lines of any starter in recent Ports' history.
Peters was far-and-away the most steady presence in the Ports' rotation in 2013. He made a team-high 28 starts and threw a team-best 165.2 innings. After injuries limited Peters to just 71.1 innings in 2012, both the starts total and the innings total were important milestones. But Peters was more than the Ports most reliable pitcher; he was also the most unusual in terms of results. For instance, he allowed almost the same number of homeruns (24) as he did walks (27). Not known for being overpowering, Peters still managed to finish second in the California League in strike-outs (one behind the league leader). His K/BB of 5.89 was the best among A's minor league starters and second-best among starters throughout minor league baseball with at least 150 innings pitched.
Since college, Peters has battled the perception that he isn't big enough to be a starting pitcher. Listed at 6'0'', 155 pounds, Peters has Pedro Martinez's build, but he doesn't have anywhere close to Pedro's velocity. What Peters does have is a plus change-up. He also made two significant adjustments during the season that gave him weapons that allowed him to improve significantly after a rough April (7.30 ERA and seven homeruns allowed in 24.1 innings).
The first adjustment was mechanical. Ports' pitching coach Jimmy Escalante moved Peters to the third base side of the pitching rubber. That allowed Peters to pitch more on a downhill plane rather than crossing over his body. The result was improved command, especially down in the strike-zone. The second adjustment was to his pitching arsenal. Peters worked with Escalante and A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson on a slider. The pitch came along quickly and made it hard for hitters to guess what was coming.
"[The slider] gave him a short, quick breaking ball," Emerson said. "In my opinion, the Cal League and the Texas League are the two toughest leagues to pitch in because you are constantly facing the same teams over and over again. You can't disguise your pitches. The hitters know what you have. You know what the hitters can do. Now it is just a matter of executing those pitches. By him adding the slider, I think that will help him out in the long run so that he can have a slow breaking ball and something that's quick."
In some ways, Peters is a shorter version of current A's starter A.J. Griffin. Like Griffin, Peters is able to keep hitters off-balance by mixing his stuff and utilizing a plus off-speed pitch. Also like Griffin, Peters has the tendency to be burned if he misses location because his velocity never tops 92 MPH. Peters cut his homerun rate in half during the second half of his season, a good sign that he was locating better as the season went on. In fact, his HR/9 ended up only slightly higher in 2013 (1.3) than it was in 2012 (1.1) when he was pitching in much more pitcher-friendly leagues.
It is always difficult to know how pitchers with arsenals such as Peters' will fare as they reach the higher levels. Griffin breezed through the upper levels, while other finesse pitchers have hit a wall at the Double-A and Triple-A spots. Peters, 23, should move up to Double-A next season. It should be a good measuring stick for how far he can progress.