10. Chris Bostick *Traded
|Bostick will be playing in the Rangers organization next season.|
Although they traded Bostick earlier this month, the A's will get an up-close-and-personal look at his development over the next several years. Bostick was one of two top prospects the A's sent to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom. Although the A's and Rangers don't share a High-A league, Oakland and Texas each have affiliates in the Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues, and, of course, share a major-league division.
That Bostick was already a valuable trade chip less than three years after he was drafted is a testament to what he has accomplished since he turned pro. Unlike many players who sign out of high school, Bostick came into pro ball with little fanfare. Bostick was a two-sport star in Rochester, New York. Between the time he spent on the gridiron and the poor weather in upstate New York, Bostick didn't get as much time in front of baseball scouts as many of his high school peers. The A's took a flier on him and followed him after the 2011 draft while he played in a summer wood bat league. They eventually signed him away from a commitment to St. John's University.
Bostick made his presence known quickly. He posted a 1136 OPS in 14 games in the AZL and then starred during the A's 2011 Instructional League. Injuries limited Bostick some in 2012, but the A's still saw enough from him to feel confident enough to send Bostick to the full-season Midwest League at the start of the 2013 season.
Bostick shook off a slow start with the Beloit Snappers to put together a solid season. In 129 games – many out of the lead-off spot – Bostick posted a .282/.354/.452 line. He filled up the stat-sheet, hitting 25 doubles, eight triples and 14 homers. Bostick also stole 25 bases in 33 chances and drove-in 89 runs.
"Chris' make-up, from the day he walked into rookie ball, he was ready to play," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "There was a total professionalism and desire to be an outstanding major league player someday. He has a work ethic and a drive to succeed. It's incredible."
Defensively, Bostick is still learning the nuances of handling second base. He committed 22 errors in 125 games for Beloit last season. Bostick has the athleticism and the work ethic to become a competent defensive second baseman, however.
Unfortunately for Bostick, he is joining an organization in Texas that is deep in young middle infield talent. He should advance to the High-A level at the start of next season, but the depth chart at second base in the Rangers' organization gets crowded above that level. Still, given what Bostick has already overcome as a professional, it would be foolish to bet against his ability to climb to the major leagues.
9. B.J. Boyd
|Boyd added power to his game in 2013.|
Since moving to Oakland in 1968, the A's have had a long history of stars playing for the team who hailed from the Bay Area – Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, Carney Lansford, Dennis Eckersley, to name a few. Boyd, a native of Palo Alto, is angling to be the next on this list.
A fourth-round pick of the A's in 2012, Boyd joined the A's with a reputation for being a raw prospect, in large part because he divided his attention between baseball and football in high school. While the speedy centerfielder is still learning the nuances of certain aspects of the game, Boyd has proven to be much more polished than scouts anticipated.
After hitting .301 with an 835 OPS for the AZL A's in 2012, Boyd was assigned to short-season Vermont in 2013. The Lake Monsters' lead-off hitter for much of the season, Boyd put together a solid campaign in a league not friendly to hitters. In 71 games, he hit .285/.375/.442. The league-average slashline for the New York-Penn League in 2013 was .242/.313/.338.
Boyd finished 15th in the league in hitting, seventh in OPS, eighth in homeruns and third in walks. He shared the Lake Monsters' MVP award with fellow outfielder Boog Powell. For much of the season, Boyd hit even better than his final slashline would indicate. He carried an OPS of 923 on August 14 before a three-week slump at the end of the season dropped his overall numbers.
Since turning pro, Boyd has demonstrated the ability to hit for average and work his way on base either via a base-hit or a walk. He showed marked improvement in his ability to hit for power between his first and second seasons. His slugging percentage jumped nearly 10 points from the AZL to the New York-Penn League despite the New York-Penn League being much more difficult for power hitters. His homer rate jumped from 0.9% to 4.1% and he continued to reach the gaps at a good rate, collecting 13 doubles and two triples in 260 at-bats.
Former A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson was impressed with how quickly Boyd learned to pull the ball.
"Probably the biggest thing is that he has gained the ability to turn the field around," Steverson said. "I'd say probably 85% of his balls last year were either up the middle or opposite field. Now, I wouldn't call it a complete reverse, but a lot of his balls are now up-the-middle or to the pull-side.
"That's understanding a different contact point, which sometimes comes a little later in a career for some guys that were initially very good opposite field hitters. They have a very tough time not staying inside the ball too much. Because they are so good at going the other way, they have a tendency to block the barrel out on pitches where they should release the barrel-head. Sometimes that process takes a little while to learn to release the barrel for a different contact point."
Boyd isn't tall (5'10''), but he still carries his football running back physique. Despite his strength and burgeoning power, Boyd is projected to be a top-of-the-order hitter rather than a middle-of-the-order bat. He is one of the fastest players in the A's organization, although he has yet to translate that speed into consistent success stealing bases. Boyd spent much of the A's fall Instructional League working with coaches on his base-running. Boyd has drawn comparisons to former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Ray Lankford and current Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford for his ability to supply occasional power from the top-of-the-order while also getting on-base and being a threat to run.
"B.J. has that strong, football build. When his body is in optimal condition, he can really run," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens. "The ball definitely comes off his bat well. The eight homeruns in 250 at-bats this year were definitely not a fluke. The power is there. Honestly, the kid is a pretty advanced hitter. The strike-out to walk ratio was good. He knows how the pitchers are attacking him and he's loose at the plate. His bat path is direct to the ball. He is able to relax and he is a very good athlete.
"He is definitely combustible and he will have an offense-type package going forward. He has a chance to have that power-speed combination and be a kid who steals 20+ bases, gets on-base a lot, hits for high average, and thumps the baseball with a lot of extra-base hits and some homeruns."
The A's see Boyd as a centerfielder. He has the speed and range for the position, although he is still working on learning his routes and improving his arm strength. He split time last season between left and center, sharing time in center with Powell. Boyd should continue to share time in center with Powell next season.
Boyd miscalculated what he needed to do to prepare his body for the baseball season last off-season and didn't come into spring training in the best shape for playing everyday. He learned a lot from that experience and should be ready to make that jump to full-season ball this spring, likely with Low-A Beloit. Boyd will turn 21 in mid-July.
8. Michael Ynoa
|Ynoa finally had an opportunity to pitch for a full season.|
It was a season of firsts for Ynoa in 2013. It was his first year on the 40-man roster and his first time pitching at a full-season league level. Ynoa also made his first All-Star team and crossed the 50- and 75-inning thresholds for the first time. After years of being held back by injuries, Ynoa was generally injury-free in 2013 and was able to focus solely on his development. While there is still plenty to be cautious about in regards to his future, there is also, for the first time, a realistic path for his development. While Ynoa's 2013 season wasn't perfect, there were a lot of positive aspects for him to build off of.
Ynoa's season began with a hiccup, as he was late to report to his first big league spring training because he had chicken pox. Once he was healthy, Ynoa joined the team in Phoenix. While he didn't get much time with the big league club, Ynoa was able to participate fully in minor league camp and he broke camp on the roster of a full-season affiliate for the first time in his career.
Ynoa was part of a very talented Low-A Beloit Snappers club that included several of the team's top prospects. He made 15 starts for the Snappers, although he was on a strict pitch-count in all of his outings. In 54.2 innings for Beloit, Ynoa posted a 2.14 ERA. He struck-out 48, walked 18 and allowed three homeruns. Midwest League batters hit .221 against him and he was named to the league's mid-season All-Star team.
Shortly after the All-Star break, Ynoa was promoted to High-A Stockton. Things didn't go quite as smoothly for Ynoa with the Ports. His fastball command was shaky throughout most of his time with Stockton, and that was reflected in his numbers. He had a 7.71 ERA and a 20:17 K:BB in 21 innings with the Ports despite flashing plus stuff. Ynoa also appeared in the MLB Futures Game in mid-July and he had a rough outing on that big stage.
Ynoa's second-half struggles perhaps should have been expected given that he was entering new territory in terms of the number of innings he had thrown. Before 2013, Ynoa's career-high in innings pitched was 30.2 (established in 2012). In fact, Ynoa surpassed his career innings total halfway through his time with Beloit. Ynoa also missed roughly three weeks with shoulder soreness in August, although the DL time was considered precautionary and he was able to return for the final week of the season. In fact, Ynoa put together arguably his most dominating performances in his last two outings, which came in relief for Stockton (one hit and one walk allowed with four strike-outs in three innings pitched).
After the season ended, Ynoa was able to participate fully in the A's fall Instructional League camp. That camp left him at more than 80 innings for the year, putting him in good position to cross the 100-inning threshold next season.
The good news for the A's and Ynoa was that his stuff looked good for most of the season. Although he had trouble locating it at times, Ynoa had excellent velocity on his fastball throughout the season, often sitting in the mid-90s. His curveball was inconsistent, but, at times, was a devastating pitch, and his change-up showed improvement.
"It was good for the talent to be validated and it was good for Michael to get out there and compete against his peers and get a taste of what professional baseball is all about," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "He was able to log some innings, get stronger and really be able to assess his performance. He had a chance to go into the off-season with some actual innings under his belt. For all parties concerned, that was going to be positive.
"If you think about a swimmer, Michael Phelps comes to mind with the wide-back and the 6'7'' frame with a sinewy look that is still strong. This kid has amazing athleticism and body. The ball comes out of his hand clean. It comes out hot, 95+. The breaking ball is there. Just from a circumstance standpoint, he was never able to validate that talent, but this year he did. I still think this was just a precursor to bigger things and better things down-the-road. Now we've seen a glimpse of the talent. Hopefully next year, he cracks the door in."
Because Ynoa signed as a 16-year-old in 2008, he had to be added to the 40-man roster last November to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. That meant his options clock began ticking even before he reached full-season baseball. Unfortunately for Ynoa and the A's, unless he receives a medical exemption that results in a fourth option year, Ynoa will only have the 2014 and 2015 seasons before he is out of options. That could impact how the A's choose to develop him, although they plan to keep him in the starting rotation for now.
"I don't know where he is going to go next year, but a guy who has his kind of electric stuff is someone who you have to run out there every fifth day," A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said.
Ynoa's biggest challenge (aside from remaining healthy) will be to improve his command. Command can often be an issue for pitchers as tall as Ynoa, as it can be difficult for them to repeat their deliveries consistently. If Ynoa can't sharpen his command, his best fit may be a relief role long-term. However, if he can harness his fastball and improve the touch on his change-up to create more velocity separation between the change-up and the fastball, he could find a lot of success as a starter.
Scout.com's National Baseball Analyst Kiley McDaniel had this to say about Ynoa after he saw Ynoa pitch in the MLB Futures Game:
"This was my and many top evaluators first chance to see Ynoa in game action and while his name is a bit of a cautionary tale and surrounded with plenty of rumor, he showed the ability scouts need to see to project a useful big league rotation piece. With an injury history, every scout I talked to is wary of over-projecting with some suggesting Ynoa is a bullpen fit just due to the risk factors and lack of information. I have him as a #4 starter with room to move up or down based on the progression of his feel and health."
Despite the many set-backs, Ynoa is still just 22 years old. He is likely to start the 2014 season back with High-A Stockton, with an eye on giving him some time at the Double-A level by the end of the year.
7. Matt Olson
|Olson's power has been on display since he turned pro.|
In 2012, the A's used their three first-round picks on high school position players. Olson was the third of those picks. A tall, powerful first baseman, Olson had an up-and-down first full professional season, but there was still a lot of good to take away from his 2013 campaign.
After hitting nine homeruns in 188 at-bats during his pro debut season with the A's short-season affiliates, Olson connected on 23 homeruns in 481 at-bats with the Low-A Beloit Snappers. That homerun total was the second-most in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League in 2013. Olson also finished second in the league in RBI (93) and fifth in walks (72). On the flip-side, Olson hit only .225 and he struck-out 148 times, second-most in the league.
Olson's talent is obvious, but he will have some hurdles to overcome to improve his contact rate to a point where he can raise his average to a respectable number. The 6'5'' left-hander has a long, leveraged swing that generates a lot of power, but it also leaves him vulnerable to swinging-and-missing. Olson improved his strike-zone recognition significantly in 2013, but he still had trouble catching up with pitches in certain spots at times. Olson tinkered with his set-up at the plate throughout the season, trying to find a spot where he could cover the whole plate without leaving himself vulnerable to being tied up inside.
"He's six-foot-five, 200-plus pound guy with great leverage, but he stands a long ways away from the ‘zone," former A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said."Overall, he's taken his walks and he's going to have his fair share of strike-outs, but consistently getting himself into the strike-zone, being that tall, finding a spot that he can stand in that will allow him to be as consistent as he can be getting into the ‘zone with that leverage, is probably the biggest part of it. For him, learning his body and how it works and putting him in the strongest position he can with that six-foot-five frame is probably the most optimum with him.
"With him being tall and having long arms, he is going to have a bit of hole in his swing somewhere. People are going to try you in to see if you can pull your hands in and get the head of the bat to the ball. People are going to go away from you and see if your swing gets long if they go away. Especially with the power that he has and the ability that he has, he has done a good job of battling that to this point. I know his batting average is not to where he would like it, but I think the progress of his maturity as a hitter has come along pretty well."
One of the areas that Olson struggled with the most was hitting left-handed pitching. Learning to hit left-handers is often a struggle for young left-handed hitters. Olson managed only a .180 BA with a 613 OPS versus southpaws (he hit .241 with an 816 OPS versus right-handers). On the plus side, Olson increased his flyball percentage and decreased his K-swinging percentage in 2013.
Olson is an excellent athlete who should be an asset with the glove at first base throughout his career. He has an excellent work ethic and has done a good job of taking the advice of coaches and incorporating it despite being only 19.
"This kid has had a tremendous attitude. He loves the game of baseball and he is a very good athlete at first base," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "I made the analogy the other day – and obviously this is a ways down the road – but he kind of fields his position like the old Minnesota Twins player Kent Hrbek. He throws very well. He's got tremendous footwork. He's athletic, agile and he picks throws well.
"Down the road, he has a chance to be a plus defensive first baseman with a plus throwing arm and he will eventually hit for power. Right now, we just want him to keep his approach sound, use the field, take those walks when they are given and make quality contact."
Olson will turn 20 just before the start of the 2014 regular season. He is likely to be assigned to High-A Stockton to start the year. Given the hitter-friendly nature of the Cal League, Olson could be in-line for a huge power season with the Ports.
6. Renato Nunez
|Nunez has a powerful, aggressive swing.|
In 2010, the A's gave a 16-year-old Nunez a $2.2 million bonus to sign as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela. Three years later, it is easy to see what the A's liked about the powerful third baseman. While Nunez has plenty left to work on, he has also shown signs of being a special talent.
Nunez made his US debut in 2012 in the Arizona Rookie League. He blistered the AZL, posting a .325/.403/.550 line in 160 at-bats. Those numbers gave the A's confidence that Nunez could skip the short-season New York-Penn League and jump straight to the full-season Midwest League. Nunez got off to a fast start with the Snappers, but as the long season dragged on, his numbers dipped. Despite the late-season fall-off, Nunez finished the year with 19 homers and 85 RBI.
Nunez has what can only be described as an extremely aggressive approach at the plate. He has very quick wrists and he is capable of turning around a fastball with ease. He has power to all fields and a smooth swing. Nunez had a 16% line-drive rate in 2013. His aggressive approach has left him vulnerable to off-speed pitches, however. As the league got the ‘book' on Nunez, he saw fewer and fewer fastballs and his numbers fell. Nunez's K:BB was 136:28 in 2013.
If Nunez can gain a better understanding of the strike-zone, he could become an extremely dangerous hitter, the kind that is capable of hitting .300 with 25+ homers every season.
"Renato Nunez, the kid is a hitter," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "He is an aggressive swinger. He has a fast bat and makes adjustments well and he has power. He is a tremendous make-up kid. The sky is the limit for his future."
Whether Nunez can remain at third base is still an open question. The A's believe Nunez has the arm strength and the athleticism to be a solid third baseman, but he struggled with the glove in 2013. In 114 games, he committed 39 errors. The A's have one of the best minor league infield coordinators in the game in Juan Navarrette and Nunez has spent and will continue to spend a lot of time working with Navarrette on his defense. Given how valuable a hitter of Nunez's talents would be at third base, the A's will give Nunez plenty of time to see if he can make the necessary improvements.
Although Nunez will be just 20 years old next season, he is likely to make the jump to High-A Stockton in 2014.