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, we continue the series with a review of prospects 20-16.

20. Arnold Leon

Leon had a successful return to the starting rotation.

Leon's 2013 season got off to a crazy start, but when the dust settled, he had a solid season in his return to the starting rotation. The right-hander was added to the A's 40-man roster before last spring, but he spent much of spring training with the Mexican WBC team rather than the A's big league club. Leon got national attention when he intentionally hit a member of team Canada in a WBC match-up, setting off an epic brawl.

There were no further repercussions from the WBC incident, and Leon's 2013 season wound-up being fairly uneventful. Considering that he missed more than 12 months after Tommy John surgery in 2010, an uneventful season was just what the doctor ordered for Leon. In Leon's first season back from Tommy John in 2012, he came out of the bullpen and pitched at three different levels (High-A, Double-A and Triple-A). Before the injury, Leon had split his time between the bullpen and the rotation and the A's decided to give him another shot as a starter now that he was completely healthy. He rewarded that decision by pitching a full year and establishing a career-high in innings pitched.

Leon began the season with Double-A Midland and he made 13 starts for the RockHounds before a mid-year promotion to Sacramento. In 72.2 innings with Midland, Leon had a 3.84 ERA and a 48:11 K:BB. Leon would spend the second half of the season with Sacramento. Although his ERA was higher (4.42), most of Leon's numbers with the River Cats were in-line with his time in the Texas League. In 71.1 innings in Triple-A, Leon had a 49:13 K:BB. It is arguable that he actually pitched better with the River Cats. His homer rate was actually lower in the PCL, as was his BAA. In fact, Leon's FIP with Sacramento was 3.23, while his FIP with Midland was 4.11.

The 144 innings pitched were a career-high for Leon, and that will give the A's plenty of different options for how to use him in 2014. His major league future is likely as a reliever, but given the success he has had in the rotation at the upper levels, Leon can continue as a starter in 2014, giving the A's extra depth. He can serve in a role similar to the one that Jesse Chavez served for Oakland in 2013, starting in Triple-A until the A's have a need for a reliever who can go multiple innings.

"I think that starting gives you more opportunities. He has the delivery for it," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "He's a strike-thrower, has a nice breaking ball and a solid change-up and his velocity still hovers in the 92-94 MPH range. Starting gives you a chance to be on the pecking list of possible starters, but also, the fact that you are lengthened out, you can always go a little bit shorter, as well.

"We have seen his velocity be anywhere from 92-94, pound the ‘zone, throw an abundance of strikes as a starter. His velocity is a tick higher than that in the bullpen. He still gives you an option of being a starter or a reliever in the Triple-A or big league level stretched out where if you didn't have him stretched out, you take away the starting possibility."

Leon has a solid fastball that sits in the low-90s as a starter and can reach 96 in shorter outings. He spots the fastball well to both sides of the plate and he gets some sink on the pitch. His best pitch is his curveball, which he has tinkered with since signing with the A's in 2008. Leon originally had a very slow, Rodrigo Lopez-esque curveball that would wind into the strike-zone in the 60s-MPH range. The A's have worked with Leon to shorten the bend in that curveball and to speed it up some. The pitch is still a plus weapon for him, and the A's are more confident that the faster, shorter version will be more effective against major league hitters. He also has an excellent change-up that he can throw for strikes in any count, a slider and a cut fastball.

Leon struggled with his command at times in 2012 as he was returning from Tommy John surgery, but he was back to his strike-throwing self in 2013. That he was able to exceed his career-high in innings pitched by 70 innings with no ill effects was a good sign that the elbow problem is behind him. He will be 25 throughout most of the 2014 regular season. Leon could get an opportunity to compete for a bullpen spot with the A's this spring, but if he returns to Sacramento, he will likely go back into the River Cats' rotation.

19. Drew Granier

Granier had an up-and-down season.

It was a tale of two seasons for Granier, who dominated the California League but found it tougher sledding in the Texas League.

Granier began the 2013 season with the Stockton Ports, a year after striking out more than a batter an inning in the Midwest League with the Burlington Bees. The right-hander got off to a fast start with Stockton, and he was named to the California League's mid-season All-Star team after he led the league in strike-outs during the first half of the year. In 83 innings with the Ports, Granier had a 3.25 ERA and 97 strike-outs.

After the All-Star break, Granier was promoted to Double-A. Command had been an issue for Granier even when he was pitching well for Stockton, and that weakness was exposed at the Double-A level. In 72.1 innings with the RockHounds, Granier posted a 5.23 ERA. He struck-out 56 and walked 42. On the season, Granier finished with a 153:82 K:BB in 155.1 innings.

Despite Granier's struggles with Midland, his time in Double-A was well-spent. Granier's best pitch is his curveball, which is a swing-and-miss, pitch-away pitch. At the A-ball level, Granier was able to get hitters to chase that pitch out of the strike-zone. In Double-A, the more advanced hitters were able to lay off the curveball more often. Consequently, Granier was forced to rely more on his third pitch – a change-up. The change-up improved during the year and it will be the development of that third pitch that will determine whether he can continue his climb all the way to the big leagues.

"I think when you are throwing a lot of breaking balls in A-ball and are getting a lot of chase swings from A-ball hitters, you're not going to get as many chase swings at the higher level," A's roving minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said. "He has always been a little stubborn about using his change-up in A-ball because he can get A-ball hitters to chase his breaking ball. Now in Double-A when you've got hitters who have been in Double-A for a few years, maybe some ex-big leaguers, they aren't going to be chasing the breaking ball as much.

"He needs to be able to use that change-up to force them eventually to chase that breaking ball. If you are over-exposing it in A-ball, but it's a decent pitch, you are going to get a lot of swings-and-misses. If you over-expose it in Double-A, Triple-A or the big leagues, you just aren't going to get as many swings at it."

A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens compared Granier's struggles in his first taste of Double-A to another former A's prospect's first run through the Texas League.

"That's the biggest jump in baseball. A.J. Griffin really jumps out at you as a similar situation," Owens said. "He went from Low-A to High-A to Double-A, hit a speedbump, got sent back to High-A. The next season, he was ready for Double-A. Drew was leading the California League in strike-outs… [Y]ou make that jump to Double-A and the hitters are more advanced and more experienced. They chase less. Definitely a faster-paced game with more power that can be exploited.

"It's just a natural progression. I still see Drew Granier as having a chance to fit in that A.J. Griffin-mold as that good, homegrown backend starter. He's got a good fastball. He's up to 94. His breaking ball is his bread-and-butter pitch. I think his experience in Double-A will force him to utilize his change-up a lot more. Then coming back next year, in 2014, when the change-up improves, his numbers will improve at the higher levels."

Granier will be 25 throughout the 2014 season. He figures to begin next season back in the Double-A rotation. If he can cut down on his walk rate, Granier could reach Triple-A by mid-season next year.

18. Dillon Overton

Overton starred for Oklahoma but was hurt during the final months of the OU season.

Overton was the A's second-overall pick in 2013, but they won't get to see him pitch until sometime late in 2014 or perhaps 2015. The left-hander from Oklahoma was diagnosed with a torn UCL during his post-draft physical and he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after signing a below-slot deal with the A's. Overton will miss 12-18 months while recuperating from the surgery.

Overton was one of the top left-handed starters in college baseball during his three years at Oklahoma. Coming into the 2013 season, he was viewed as the program's top pitcher, although he would be surpassed during the year by Jonathan Gray, who was selected with the third-overall pick in the 2013 draft. Overton struck-out 126 in 122.2 innings for the Sooners as a sophomore, but his numbers slipped in 2013, when he struck-out 79 in 92.1 innings and his walk-rate rose. Overton missed two starts late in the season with a forearm strain. He would return to pitch for OU in the collegiate baseball post-season, but the injury caused him to drop some in the draft.

The A's admitted after the draft that there were medical questions about Overton, but it isn't clear that they were expecting him to require surgery. In any case, the A's were able to get Overton for a much lower bonus than he would have commanded if he had been healthy, and they were able to use that bonus pool money on other picks.

Elbow surgeries for pitchers are never a good thing, but Tommy John surgery has had a much higher success rate over the past 10 years than it did in the early history of the surgery. If Overton is able to recapture his pre-injury form, he could rise up the A's prospect charts quickly.

The 6'2'', 170-pound left-hander has a similar build to former A's lefty Dallas Braden. Despite his slight build, Overton can maintain his low-90s velocity deep into starts. He also features a sharp breaking slider and a solid change-up. His command was good throughout his collegiate career and he was known for being a fierce competitor on the mound.

"He is more slight of frame. But we feel like his athleticism allows him to compensate," A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota said after the draft. "It's the body he has been given and he's pitched with it and we feel like that will not be an issue as he moves forward. He's a very athletic kid. He's just more wiry than most.

"He can really pitch with his fastball. He's flashed a plus breaking ball. I know he doesn't necessarily look like a power pitcher, but he can pitch that way at times. But he has a feel to pitch. He has a very good change-up. He's polished and he has upside to his stuff."

Overton turned 22 in late August, and he may be 23 by the time he throws his first pitch in a professional game. He was considered to be a polished pitcher at the time of the draft, so if his stuff returns quickly, he could move through the A's system at a fairly rapid pace.

17. Miles Head

Head's 2012 shoulder injury lingered into 2013 and eventually required surgery.

Acquired before the 2012 season as part of the return for Andrew Bailey, Head had a smooth first season in the A's organization. He dominated the California League and then held his own against advanced competition in the Texas League. He finished his season split between Stockton and Midland with a 968 OPS and 23 homeruns in 124 games. He was the A's Organizational Player of the Year.

Head's 2012 season did end on a down note, however, as he tore the labrum his left shoulder while swinging in his first game of the Arizona Fall League season. The injury didn't require surgery at the time, but it knocked him off of his normal workout routine. Despite the injury, Head was expected to be 100% by the start of spring training. The A's were surprised when Head reported to camp in February overweight. Rather than spend his first big league camp trying to open the eyes of the A's major league staff, Head spent that time trying to get into tiptop shape.

The A's sent Head back to Double-A Midland to start the year, but there was hope that he would see Triple-A by the end of the season. Instead, he never got on-track with the RockHounds. He appeared in 40 games with Midland and managed just a 527 OPS. He hit .196 and had only two homeruns in 148 at-bats. He was shutdown for good in mid-June.

The shoulder injury that the A's hoped would be resolved by spring training instead lingered throughout the 2013 campaign and badly hampered what Head was able to do at the plate. Head was on the DL for almost a month from May 20 to June 13 in an attempt to rehab the injury, but after only four games back, it became clear that he needed surgery to correct the injury. The A's are hopeful that Head's injury will be completely resolved by next spring training.

"Miles' injury obviously impacts the swing," former A's roving minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said. "As any player, they want to play through anything they can to keep their careers moving forward. Sometimes you just need to speak up, and say ‘I'm not me.' I think overall, Miles was just never able to be himself this year health-wise, which affected his play. I don't think he's any less of a hitter than he was last year. I just think that he was hindered by some injuries that didn't allow him to put his best foot forward every game."

Fortunately for Head and the A's, he was young for his level last season (he turned 22 in May), so while it was a lost season, he still has time to recover from a development perspective. Head has always been a ‘bad-body prospect,' but his conditioning was never an issue until this season when he wasn't able to workout as much because of the injury. He will need to show improved dedication to his fitness in light of the condition he showed up in this spring, but he is young and likely learned a lot from his struggles this season.

When healthy, Head is a line-drive machine. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated that he can hit for average and he has showed signs of burgeoning homerun power in 2012. Defensively, Head is likely to be a first baseman long-term, but the A's will continue to develop him as a third baseman for as long as he can hold his own at the position. Both at first and at third, Head has shown he can make the routine play, although he doesn't have a lot of range, especially at third. Head's injury is to his non-throwing shoulder, so it shouldn't have an impact on his defense next season.

Head will likely return to Midland at the start of next season. The A's are hopeful that he can have the results in 2014 that they hoped he would have in 2013.

"I don't think any year is lost. Hopefully you can learn and progress," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "The talent is still there. From an at-bat perspective, getting as many at-bats as possible is important because every level is more difficult. Because of a lot of different circumstances, he didn't have the at-bats this year. But anybody who knows Miles Head knows that he is a natural hitter. The ball comes off of his bat in every direction. He is going to have power down-the-road.

"There are challenges and sometimes guys hit a bump in the road. Things don't happen right away. Miles is still young. He is a deceptive athlete. We are just going to go ahead and give him a clean slate for 2014."

16. Bruce Maxwell

Maxwell improved with the glove and held his own at the plate.

The A's selected Maxwell in the second round of the 2012 draft after the Alabama native posted Tecmo Baseball-like numbers at Division III Birmingham-Southern College. Considered a better hitter than defensive catcher coming out of college, Maxwell has made significant strides with the glove in the year-and-a-half he has been in the A's system. His hitting has suffered some from his work on his defense; however, the A's are confident that Maxwell will eventually be a big weapon at the plate.

Maxwell split his first full professional season between Low-A Beloit and High-A Stockton. With the Snappers, Maxwell earned a spot in the Midwest League All-Star game by batting .286 with a 747 OPS in a pitcher's league. He connected on the first two homeruns of his pro career and posted a 24:26 BB:K in 57 Midwest League games.

Midway through the season, Maxwell made the jump to High-A. His numbers fell some with the Ports, although he saw his SLG rise from .387 to .394. His overall slashline with Stockton was .263/.355/.394 with five homers in 47 games. He walked 19 times and struck-out 34 times. Maxwell improved at the plate once he got comfortable in the California League, and he hit .280/.345/.440 with three homers in 84 at-bats in August.

Defensively, Maxwell made significant strides both with his footwork behind homeplate and with his game-calling. A first baseman when he arrived at Birmingham-Southern, Maxwell doesn't have a lot of experience catching, but he has been working closely with current A's roving minor league hitting coordinator and catching coordinator Marcus Jensen on the nuances of being a big league catcher. The A's were so pleased with the improvement Maxwell has shown with the glove that they sent him to the Arizona Fall League to replace David Freitas for the final week of the AFL season (Freitas left the league early to get married).

Maxwell still has plenty of work to do with his catching, in particular with his throws down to second base. He caught 15% of all attempted base-stealers this season. Maxwell has a strong arm, but he is still working on improving his footwork to speed up his release. He can also be stiff at times when going after balls in the dirt, but he made strides in that area and should continue to get better at blocking balls as he gains experience.

At 6'2'', 235 pounds, Maxwell looks like a middle-of-the-order hitter and the power displays he puts on in batting practice are good indications of his natural power. He hasn't yet translated that natural power into in-game power on a consistent basis, but it was starting to come around towards the end of last season. Maxwell does an excellent job of making contact and he could be one of those rare power hitters that doesn't strike-out very much. The A's envision Maxwell as a .300 hitter with double-digit power numbers down-the-road.

"Sometimes you like to do comparisons, but Bruce Maxwell is just a natural hitter," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "Honestly, the most exciting thing about Bruce Maxwell is that his catching improved so much. I think Bruce concentrated so much on his catching… – and his catching went up three clicks – that from an offensive standpoint, he didn't quite assert himself as he is capable of.

"Going forward, now that he has established himself as a good defensive catcher, his offense will come back in full force. Because this guy is a good hitter, no doubt. Take away his numbers. I know he got on-base and whatnot in the California League, but I'm excited about his bat. His bat gets through the ‘zone. He's got a flat-plane swing. He has a taste of loft. He has a tremendous eye at the plate and he controls the ‘zone. The bat speed and the strength is there."

Maxwell is a very coachable player who is confident in his own abilities but is also willing to work to improve his weaknesses. He could receive a non-roster invitation to big league spring training next season, where he would have a chance to work with the A's big league staff. Maxwell is likely to start next year in Stockton, but he could be in-line for another mid-season promotion if he gets off to a good start. He will turn 23 in late December.

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