Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 15-11

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 15-11.

15. Max Muncy

Muncy led the organization in homers and RBI.

Addison Russell – deservingly so – has received the bulk of the publicity amongst the Oakland A's 2012 draft class. While Russell has been on a fast track since signing with the A's last June, it is Muncy, and not Russell, who has advanced the quickest in the draft class thus far. Muncy, of course, had an advantage over Russell, having come into professional baseball after three years of Big 12 baseball rather than straight out of high school. Still, it is impressive how quickly Muncy has climbed the ladder.

The A's selected Muncy in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. They felt the Baylor alum was already an advanced hitter even before he turned pro, and the A's made Muncy the only member of their 2012 draft class to begin his pro career in a full-season league. Muncy had 229 at-bats with the Low-A Burlington Bees in 2012 and he posted a .275/.383/.432 slashline in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League.

The A's didn't hesitate to challenge Muncy again in 2013. He began the year in the High-A California League, spent the second half of the season in the Double-A Texas League and then finished the year in the prospect-showcase Arizona Fall League. Muncy made it easy for the A's to justify his quick progression. In 351 at-bats with High-A Stockton, Muncy hit .285/.400/.507 with 21 homeruns. He was named to the California League mid-season All-Star team.

Muncy was promoted to Midland in mid-July. He got off to a slow start with the RockHounds, hitting only .182 over his first 75 at-bats. After that, Muncy got his footing and hit .296 with an 876 OPS in August before finishing with two homers in eight at-bats in September. Muncy would post a respectable .250/.340/.413 line in 172 at-bats with Midland. For the year, his slashline was .273/.381/.476 in 523 at-bats. He led all A's minor leaguers in homeruns (25), RBI (100) and walks (88).

In many ways, Muncy is a classic Billy Beane-era Oakland A's prospect. He is a polished collegiate player with an advanced understanding of the strike-zone and the ability to wear pitchers down into making a mistake. Muncy may not have the high ceiling of a five-tool prospect, but he is likely to make the most of his skills.

At 6'0'', 190, Muncy's body-type is similar to current A's first basemen Daric Barton and Brandon Moss. Muncy is a bit of a hybrid between Barton and Moss. Like Barton, Muncy has a plus glove at first and an excellent eye at the plate. Like Moss, Muncy has some thump in his bat, although he doesn't have Moss' raw power and he doesn't strike-out at the same high rate. Muncy is a deceptively good athlete. He saw some time at third base during the Arizona Fall League and he has some experience at various infield positions from his time in high school.

From a growth perspective, Muncy is likely maxed out physically and he doesn't project to add a significant amount of strength down-the-road. That may limit his long-term power potential, although he has already hit for more power as a pro than many expected him to when he was in college.

A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens compares Muncy to a former big league corner infielder who frequently out-performed scouts' expectations.

"Max Muncy, I relate him to that left-handed version of Kevin Millar. He has that baseball knack to him," Owens said. "Max is a baseball rat."

Given that Muncy is a first baseman, he will need to develop Millar-level power (15-20 homers annually) to be an everyday player in the major leagues. Muncy's power numbers this season were enhanced by his time in the California League. He took advantage of the short porch in right field at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton during his time with the Ports. His power fell off in the Texas League, a league that can be tough on left-handed power hitters in particular. He also didn't show much power in a small sample size during the AFL. In general, however, Muncy was noticeably better at taking advantage of pitches he could pull out than he was during his first pro season in 2012.

The 2014 season will be a good test for Muncy, who will be 23 until late August. He will likely return to Midland to start the year. If he can hit like he did during the season's final five weeks when he homered four times and reached base at a nearly .400 clip, Muncy could make the jump to Sacramento by mid-season. Although current A's starting first baseman Moss is Oakland's best power hitter, he is a better outfielder than he is a first baseman. Muncy could position himself as the A's first baseman of 2015 with a big 2014 season.

14. Dylan Covey

Covey's pitching motion reminds some of two of the greatest right-handed pitchers of all-time.

Three years ago, Covey was the 14th name called in the 2010 draft. The right-handed pitcher out of Maranatha HS in Pasadena then made headlines when he elected not to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers after he was diagnosed with diabetes. Covey spent the next three years pitching at the University of San Diego and learning how to manage his diabetes. This June, the A's called his name in the draft again, this time in the fourth round. They may have gotten a major steal with that pick.

While at USD, Covey struggled with inconsistency, thanks in large part to command issues. He still featured a top-shelf pitch repertoire, however, so the A's felt there was plenty to work with when they signed him. During his pro debut season in 2013, Covey was, at times, brilliant, but was also, at times, inconsistent with his command. He struck-out 15 and walked only one in 12 shut-out innings with short-season Vermont, but Covey came back to earth a bit with Low-A Beloit, as he posted a 4.75 ERA and a 31:17 K:BB in 47.1 innings. Still, there was a lot to get excited about during Covey's debut.

Using a classic, over-the-top delivery that has elicited comparisons to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens from A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson, Covey threw three pitches during his pro debut – a fastball that sat 92-94 and touched 95, a big breaking curveball and a change-up. He also has a slider, but the A's have had Covey shelve the pitch for now so that he can focus on his command. Covey was an extreme groundball pitcher in 2013, netting grounders from nearly 60% of the batters he faced. When he was throwing well, his pitches sat mostly in the lower-half of the strike-zone. When his command was off, his pitches drifted upwards in the ‘zone and he was hit a lot harder.

"For him, it's all about command. Will he get the command to make his pitches effective in the big leagues?" Emerson said. "He's got an excellent delivery. He's got feel for all four of his pitches. I can't rave enough about what I have seen from this kid so far.

"With him, you can have all of the stuff in the world and be a minor league thrower. We are trying to develop major-league pitchers. It will be about him being able to execute his pitches. He has the pitches right now. It's about can he execute them and can he learn the professional game of how to pitch with those pitches."

When he was with Beloit, Covey worked with Snappers' pitching coach John Wasdin on cleaning up the finish on his delivery so that he was completing his pitches on a straight line rather than falling off to one side. It is a similar mechanical adjustment to the one that A's 2011 top pick Sonny Gray had to make when he first turned pro. Gray struggled with his location until he was able to make that mechanical fix. Although they are built very differently, Gray and Covey are similar in that they are groundball pitchers with good velocity and big bending curveballs. Covey, like Gray, also gets high marks for his mound demeanor.

"I like his competitive nature and he's a bulldog on the mound that likes to come after people," Beloit Snappers manager Ryan Christenson said.

Although Covey will always have to remain diligent to manage his diabetes, he hasn't been limited on the mound by the disease. At 6'2'', 210 pounds, Covey has a starter's build. Between college, the minor league regular season and Instructs, Covey threw more than 140 innings this season, so he should have no problem handling a full season in the starting rotation in 2014.

Covey will enter spring training with a chance to break camp in the High-A Stockton rotation. Even if he starts the year back with Beloit, Covey figures to get a crack at the California League at some point in 2014. He will be 22 until mid-August.

13. Chris Kohler

In 2012, the A's spent their third round pick (106th overall) on a high school left-hander out of Southern California. The A's failed to sign Kyle Twomey, who ended up pitching for USC in 2013. Oakland received a compensatory third-round pick in 2013 for not signing Twomey. Once again, they used pick 106 in the draft on a high school lefty from Southern California, Chris Kohler. This time, the A's were able to sign that pick, and the early returns are very encouraging.

Kohler spent his pro debut season pitching for the AZL A's. The 6'3'' left-hander came into pro baseball having already thrown 110 innings, so he was limited to two-inning outings while in the Arizona Rookie League to keep his overall innings total low. Even with the innings limit, Kohler made a big first impression. In 22.2 innings, he struck-out 32 and posted a 2.78 ERA. Kohler did walk nine, but he held opposing batters to a .224 BA and he had a 54.5% groundball rate. He was especially dominating against left-handed hitters in his pro debut. They batted only .063 against him and rarely got the ball in the air. Kohler didn't allow a homerun during his pro debut and his FIP was 1.70.

Kohler continued to progress during the A's fall Instructional League. His change-up was only passable during the regular season, but Kohler improved the pitch significantly during Instructs and became more confident about throwing it in hitter's counts. His fastball was clocked in the 89-93 MPH range and his sharp breaking ball was, at times, a dominant out-pitch.

The A's coaching staff and front office have not only been impressed with Kohler's stuff, but they have also been impressed with the improvements he has made and how quickly he has adjusted to professional baseball.

"His numbers were good and his stuff was better," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "He is definitely a student of the game and he is exciting to watch."

"He's made great progress," A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said. "He reminds me very much of Andy Pettitte. He's got that classic delivery and he's got that lean-back that Pettitte had.

"He throws a lot of strikes and he's got a feel for his change-up and his breaking ball already at 18 years old. For him, it's just a maturation from just becoming a pitcher on an everyday basis and learning how to pitch. His weapons are pretty close to being there; he's just got to modify the command of his weapons. But he's got three really good pitches."

Kohler is an excellent athlete and he repeats his delivery well. He was a two-way player in high school, and Owens said that many scouts believed Kohler could have made an impact as a professional as a position player, as well.

Although Kohler won't turn 19 until early May, he has an excellent chance of starting next season in the Low-A Midwest League, especially if he can carry-over the improvements to his change-up that he made during Instructs.

12. Bobby Wahl

Wahl looks like a steal after he fell to the fifth round in the draft.

Coming into the 2013 collegiate season, Wahl was on most pre-draft rankings lists as a first-round or supplemental first-round pick. Despite an outstanding season at Mississippi that saw Wahl go a perfect 10-0 with a 2.03 ERA, Wahl slipped past the first and supplemental first rounds all the way to the fifth round, where the A's grabbed him. Oakland was able to bring Wahl into the fold with an over-slot bonus of $500,000.

Wahl slipped in the draft because of questions about his health. His missed a little time during the collegiate season with what was reported as a blister issue. However, there were rumors that Wahl was actually suffering from right shoulder soreness. Those rumors were bolstered by the fact that Wahl's K/9 slipped from 9.45 in 2012 to 7.19 in 2013 and his BB/9 jumped more than 1 between the two years. The A's took on that risk, and right now it appears that they may have hit gold.

Although the A's were careful to limit Wahl's innings and pitch count during his pro debut season, there were no signs that he was hurting during the minor league regular season and the A's fall Instructional League camp. Wahl's numbers for the AZL A's and the Vermont Lake Monsters were decent – 28:8 K:BB in 21.2 innings and a 4.15 ERA – but his stuff was much better than the numbers would indicate (five of the nine runs Wahl allowed in 20.2 innings with the Lake Monsters came in his final outing of the season). His fastball sat in the 92-94 range and touched 96 and he threw a devastating curveball and a solid change-up.

Wahl drew raves from the A's coaching staff and front office during his pro debut.

"Bobby Wahl was super electric," A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said. "He was sitting 94 to 96 with a well above-average major league curveball. He bought into the pitching inside. He showed a change-up when he fell behind in the count. In one-inning stints, this guy was about as nasty of a pitcher as you'd see in the major leagues."

"Bobby Wahl: big conference [SEC], big stuff," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "His fastball hits 96 and moves a lot. His breaking ball is nasty. He's got a good change-up. I'm not sure what all of the particulars were [in the draft], but to see him out there pitch this summer and during Instructional League, he has a chance to be a quick mover. His stuff is top-shelf. He has a nastiness and a competitiveness that is going to bring out the best in him. He's exciting to watch."

Between his collegiate season and his time with the A's, Wahl threw roughly 130 innings this year. If he is healthy in 2014, he should be able to pitch out of the rotation all season. Wahl was a star for Mississippi for three years in a top baseball conference and he also comes to the pros with Team USA experience. He was a starter exclusively during his final two years as a Rebel, but he has relief experience from his freshman year and during his time with Team USA. Wahl has the stuff to be a top-half-of-the-rotation starter, but he could also be a dominating late-inning reliever if he doesn't develop as a starter.

Given Wahl's polish, he should be challenged by the A's in 2014 with an aggressive assignment, likely the High-A California League. He will be 22 throughout the 2014 season.

11. Nolan Sanburn

Muncy led the organization in homers and RBI.

The A's selected Sanburn in the second round of the 2012 draft, and he was the first pitcher the team took off of the board that season. The hard-throwing right-hander from Arkansas didn't get much time on the mound during the 2012 regular season, but he wowed the A's during fall Instructs and big things were expected of him in 2013. A spring training shoulder injury limited what Sanburn was able to do in 2013, but by the end of the season he was dominating in a relief role. Once again, he will enter spring training with big expectations after a strong showing in the late summer and fall.

Before injuring his shoulder in camp, Sanburn was slated to be a part of the Low-A Beloit starting rotation in 2013. Sanburn has experience as a starter and as a reliever from his collegiate days, but the A's had planned to develop him as a starter. Those plans were altered when he strained his shoulder. He would spend the spring and early summer rebuilding the strength in that shoulder before he was finally sent out to Beloit in mid-July.

Because the A's wanted to be careful with Sanburn after the injury, they used him in a relief role with the Snappers. He was limited to two-inning appearances, which were generally capped at 40 pitches an appearance. It took a little while for Sanburn to get back into a groove with the shorter outings. He walked seven in his first 10 innings with the Snappers and struggled to command his mid-90s fastball.

Once Sanburn grew comfortable on the mound, he began to find his command and he started to dominate the Midwest League. In 16 innings in August, Sanburn allowed just one run on nine hits. He walked two and struck-out 14. Sanburn continued that progression into the fall, when he pitched well in more extended outings during the A's fall Instructional League camp.

"Nolan did a great job [at Instructs]," A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said. "We made sure we got him starting ball games. We limited his pitches to about 50 pitches per outing, but he got in 11.2 innings. He was outstanding.

"Mid-90s fastball, power curveball, excellent slider and very good change-up. Nolan was very impressive each and every time he went out there. If he pitches like he pitched during the Instructional League, he should rise through the system pretty fast."

Coming out of college, many draft pundits pegged Sanburn as a potential closer rather than as a starter, in large part because Sanburn stands only 6'0'' and he doesn't always have good fastball command. However, Sanburn has the stuff to be a number two starter in the big leagues if he can tighten up his command. When he is on, his fastball not only sits in the mid-90s but it also has lots of movement. When he is struggling, his velocity is still there, but the fastball tends to flatten out and stay in the upper-half of the strike-zone. Sanburn has two excellent breaking balls – a hard slider that moves sharply across the plate and a curveball that can change the eye-level of the hitter. Sanburn's change-up has improved from his college days and is a useful pitch in any count.

"He has some of the best stuff in the organization going forward," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "I can't pigeon-hole him into a role. It's all there from a physical standpoint. Hopefully, next year in 2014, he can build off of that outstanding stuff that he has."

The plan for now is to have Sanburn return to a regular starting role at the beginning of the 2014 season, likely at the High-A level. As long as Sanburn shows no physical limitations, he should be able to remain in the rotation for most of the year, although the A's may cap him at 110 innings after he threw only 45 innings between the regular season and Instructs. If he can command his fastball, he should have no problem in the California League and he could see the Texas League by the end of the year. Sanburn will turn 23 midway through the 2014 season.

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