|McKinney overcame a slow start to post a fine pro debut season.|
If it wasn't already clear in 2012 that the Oakland A's were no longer an organization that looked to draft college players more than high school players, that point was reiterated in 2013 when the A's took a high school player with their top pick for a second consecutive season. In 2013, McKinney was the player the A's tabbed with their first pick (24th overall), and thus far the reviews have been positive.
McKinney came to the A's after a standout high school career in Plano, Texas. The left-handed centerfielder was one of the top prep position players in Texas heading into the draft. During his senior season, McKinney hit .372 and he struck-out only six times during the entire year. The A's were drawn to McKinney, who they believe has an innate ability to get the bat on the ball – something that should allow him to hit for average as a professional.
"He has extremely good hand-eye coordination and he has a really good feel for the barrel [of the bat]," A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota said after the draft. "He is really able to get the ball on the barrel."
The A's were able to get McKinney signed shortly after the draft, so he got plenty of playing time during the short-season. He spent most of his pro debut with the Arizona Rookie League A's. It took McKinney a few weeks to get used to the speed of professional baseball, but once he got his bearings, he began to show the hit tool that he displayed in high school. In 46 games in the AZL, McKinney hit .320/.383/.414 with seven stolen bases in seven chances. He spent the final week-and-a-half of the season in the New York-Penn League. In 34 at-bats, McKinney hit .353/.405/.559 with four extra-base hits. He finished the year with a .326/.387/.437 line in 215 at-bats. He had nine doubles, three triples and three homeruns.
McKinney was considered a consensus top one- or two-round pick coming into the draft. Some teams shied away from McKinney in the first round because they believed that he had maxed out physically at 6'1'', 195 pounds.
"McKinney is somewhat polarizing as he's a smaller guy without big raw power and without obvious plus speed, so some clubs saw him as a tweener that didn't fit everyday in center or left," Scout.com's National Baseball Analyst Kiley McDaniel said just after the draft. "Most clubs see him as an above-average runner with good instincts on the bases that can stick in center and while his mechanics aren't perfect, just hits like it's going out of style."
Kubota said that while McKinney may be done growing taller, he should still have room to add strength that will allow him to develop more power and increase his speed a tick. Both Kubota and A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens have compared McKinney to former A's centerfielder Mark Kotsay, who was able to do a little bit of everything on the field.
"Billy McKinney is a professional hitter. You say that knowing that the kid is 19 years old," Owens said. "Going back to when Armond Brown scouted him all the way back to his sophomore year of high school, there were always rumblings that Billy McKinney was the best hitter in the state of Texas. We have lofty expectations of him internally and we think of Mark Kotsay in terms of having those kind of instincts.
"Defensively, he has a nose for the baseball. He is able to go all different directions, back and forward to the baseball. He has a good throwing arm and he loves to play the game. He had a high stolen base percentage. Then when he went to Vermont, he thumped a couple of extra-base hits and got on-base with walks and was able, in a short period, to show that he could handle a more advanced assignment. But first and foremost, dating back to when Armond Brown identified him as a sophomore, we thought he was the best hitter in Texas and he has done nothing to diminish those lofty expectations."
McKinney continued to impress during the A's fall Instructional League. When he struggled at the start of his pro debut, McKinney was overly aggressive at the plate, as he tried to anticipate what the pitcher was throwing rather than waiting back and reacting. As he adjusted to the level of competition, McKinney got back to his natural approach at the plate, which is a little more selective and relies on his instincts. During Instructs, he continued to refine that approach.
"He's a very good ballplayer," former A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said after Instructs concluded. "I think Billy has been able to grow in this program by recognizing more of himself and why he does what he does."
Although McKinney only got a taste of the New York-Penn League at the end of last season, he should be ready for full-season baseball at the start of next year. McKinney should break camp with Low-A Beloit, where he will be challenged by a pitcher-friendly league. McKinney turned 19 in late August.
|Robertson flashed a plus glove as well as a promising bat in 2013.|
Robertson's first full professional season got off to a slow start as he completed his rehab from a knee injury he sustained during the fall Instructional League in 2012. Once he was back on the field and playing every day, Robertson dazzled in the field and showed promise at the plate.
The A's second overall pick in 2012, Robertson put together a solid professional debut season. Unfortunately that season ended on a down note, as Robertson injured his knee in a freak accident when he caught a cleat while taking batting practice early on in the A's Instructs camp. Robertson had surgery for the injury and then rehabbed aggressively with the goal of being ready for the start of the 2013 season. Robertson's knee was close to being ready to go by the end of spring training, but the A's elected to keep him back in Arizona for the first few weeks of the season so that he wouldn't be exposed to the poor weather of the early part of the Midwest League season.
Robertson made his 2013 debut during the final days of April. For the first month he was with the Beloit Snappers, he was on a modified schedule, where he was given days off on a regular basis. Robertson hit .245 with a 672 OPS in May, and that was his worst month of the season. He hit .262 in June, .270 in July and then really hit his stride in August, posting a .314 average. He hit five of his nine homeruns during the month of August and he posted a season-best 877 OPS. Despite being a full two years younger than the average player in the Midwest League, Robertson finished with an above-average .277/.353/.401 line. The average line in the Midwest League in 2013 was .254/.328/.375.
Robertson's bat was solid, but it was his glove at shortstop that really shined in 2013. He committed 13 errors in 99 games, an excellent total for a shortstop at the Low-A level. Robertson showed above-average range, good hands and a strong arm.
"Daniel is just fundamentally sound," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "He's confident. He catches the ball cleanly. His footwork is exemplary. His throws are on the money. He is fearless and he ranges well on pop ups. He is a team leader out there. He's into the game and into every pitch."
The A's love the way Robertson approaches the game, although they have worked with him on scaling back his intensity at times.
"He's a tremendous athlete. He really wants it. Sometimes he'll get frustrated when he doesn't do it exactly how it should feel. Which is typical," former A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson said. "I think right now he is starting to get to the point where he understands where the verbiage we have been using is going to. It's not about the results. It's about ‘was that right?' He's at the point now where he can say, ‘that felt good' even though he didn't get it, or even though he missed it."
Robertson projects to be an above-average fielding shortstop that will hit for average, reach base regularly and hit for some power. He struck-out less and walked more than the average Midwest League player this season. Robertson is still learning to get the loft that will move his gap power into homerun power, but that should come as he develops. He wasn't able to run as freely as normal during the 2013 season because of his knee, but when he is completely healthy, he has enough speed to steal the occasional base and he has good instincts.
In a lot of ways, Robertson profiles similarly to former A's second baseman Mark Ellis, who was a shortstop for most of his minor league career and probably could have had a career at short in the major leagues had he not injured his throwing shoulder before the 2004 season. The A's could have the fortunate ‘problem' of having two excellent shortstops to choose from in Robertson and top prospect Addison Russell in a few years. At that point, the A's could move Robertson to third or second, and he shouldn't have any issue handling that move should that be in the team's best interests.
Despite missing the first few weeks of the season, Robertson checked all of the boxes during his time with Beloit and is on-track to move up to High-A Stockton in 2014. He will turn 20 just before the start of the regular season.
|Alcantara made significant strides in 2013.|
When the A's acquired Josh Reddick, Miles Head and Alcantara from the Boston Red Sox for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney before the 2012 season, many scouts believed Alcantara was the most valuable piece in that package. Reddick and Head both had big debut seasons in the A's organization in 2012, while Alcantara had a mediocre season as a teenager pitching in the Midwest League. In 2013, injuries limited Reddick and Head, but Alcantara had a standout season.
The right-hander began the 2013 season where he left off in 2012 – in the Midwest League. During his first go-around in the MWL as a 19-year-old, he posted a 5.08 ERA in 102.2 innings. Alcantara only walked 38 and he had a 50% groundball rate, but he struck-out just 57. In 2013, Alcantara posted a 2.44 ERA in 77.1 innings in the MWL. He struck-out 58 and walked just seven while maintained a solid 41.5% groundball rate.
After the All-Star break, Alcantara was promoted to the California League. He saw his groundball rate dip some and his walk rate went from 2.2% to 5.2%, but Alcantara struck-out 66 in 79 innings and he posted a 3.76 ERA in a hitter-friendly league. He finished the year with a 3.11 ERA and a 124:24 K:BB in 156.1 innings.
Alcantara is a rarity in that he is a young pitcher who has good velocity but he is more of a pitcher than he is a thrower. He mixes his pitches well and can add and subtract on a fastball that can touch 95 and sits in the 91-94 MPH range.
"We were very, very excited to get him, and once we got him, even in 2012, the velocity was up to 94," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "The breaking ball was on the cusp and he had a good change-up. If you watched him, his preparation in-between starts was meticulous. In the stands, he always paid attention more so than the average pitcher in the minor leagues. He was able to tread water in an advanced assignment in 2012.
"This year, he hit the ground running. The maturity showed. The fastball tickled that 95-range. The breaking ball got better and the change-up was really good already. He was able to improve his sequences and was just getting acclimated to that level and catching up. When you are a teenager in a full-season league, the talent might be there, but the results might not be. This year, he was able to combine the talent with the results."
Despite Alcantara's plus stuff, he doesn't get as many swings-and-misses as one would expect to see. His strike-out rate improved as the season went on, however, and that was in part due to a mechanical adjustment that allowed him to be more direct to the plate.
"Earlier in the year, he was a little bit across his body and even some last season where he couldn't get that ball to the glove side," A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said.
"Now he's getting that ball to the glove side better and now that he can get the ball to the glove side better, the breaking ball is a lot better. He's got a good pitch mix and he knows what he is doing out there. He uses his fastball to both sides of the plate. It's just made him a lot better to have cleaned up his line. He has the ability to throw to his glove side."
The native of the Dominican Republic didn't turn 21 until early December and he is still growing into his 6'3'' frame. He could continue to add velocity as he matures and his command is already a plus asset. Alcantara is learning when to pitch to contact and when to try for a strike-out, and his strike-out percentage is likely to be better in 2014. He has an above-average change-up and a solid breaking ball to go along with his mid-90s fastball. Alcantara can throw all three pitches in different counts.
Alcantara was more than three years younger than the average pitcher in the California League in 2013 and he still pitched significantly better than the average for the league. The A's haven't been shy about challenging Alcantara since they acquired him. He was added to their 40-man roster in November so that he was protected from the Rule 5 draft. Assuming he pitches well during spring training, Alcantara should jump to Double-A Midland at the start of 2014.
2. Michael Choice *Traded
|Choice could torment his original club over the next few years.|
The A's may have traded their 2010 top pick, but they are still likely going to be seeing a lot of him over the next few years. Choice was part of a rare intra-division trade that landed the outfielder in the Texas Rangers organization. Just before the start of the annual Winter Meetings, the A's acquired outfielder Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom for Choice and second base prospect Chris Bostick.
It will be very interesting to see how Choice develops in the major leagues. The UT-Arlington alum came to professional baseball with a reputation for plus power but a propensity for swinging and missing. True to form, Choice hit 30 homers in 118 games during his first full professional season, but he also struck-out 134 times in 467 at-bats. Since that time, Choice has made several adjustments to his swing mechanics. As a result, Choice has cut down on his strike-outs and has improved his ability to hit for average. He has traded some of that raw power to make those improvements, however. The question is whether Choice will be able to tap back into that raw power while maintaining that improved contact rate at the major league level.
Choice's 2012 season was cut short by a broken hand, but he was healthy throughout the 2013 campaign. Normally a slow starter, Choice posted an 873 OPS during his first month at the Triple-A level, and he never looked back. Choice was one of the Sacramento River Cats' most consistent hitters in 2013, and he posted a .302/.390/.445 line in 132 games. He hit only 14 homeruns, but Choice had 29 doubles and he drove-in 89 runs. Choice was named to the Pacific Coast League's post-season All-Star team.
Choice made his major league debut with the A's in September. He hit the ball better than his .278/.316/.333 line in 18 at-bats would indicate. Choice also showed a good glove in right-field.
"This year, he came into spring training focused and the first day of big league camp, he was a man on a mission," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "His body got into a little bit better condition and his legs were strong the whole year. He made a few alterations with his swing where his swing was just a tad bit shorter and compact to the ball. Those changes were reflected in his .302 batting average [for Sacramento].
"He was able to establish himself and when he came to the big leagues, he was able to hit the ground running. He definitely asserted himself and got acclimated."
Choice not only made adjustments to his hitting mechanics, he also gained experience in the corner outfield spots after spending most of his minor league career up until that point in centerfield. Choice has the speed and arm strength to play center now, but he is likely to be a corner outfielder in the longterm. He has improved his routes to the ball over the course of his minor league career and should be at least an average defender. Despite his speed, Choice has never been a regular threat to steal, but he could run more with an organization like the Rangers.
The Rangers recently agreed to terms with free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and they have Leonys Martin and Alex Rios returning from their 2014 outfield. Nevertheless, Choice has a decent chance of breaking spring training on the Rangers' 25-man roster. Even if he doesn't break camp with the Rangers, Choice is likely to see time in the major leagues in 2014. He will be 24 throughout the 2014 season.
1. Addison Russell
|Russell plays like a veteran despite being a teenager.|
There have been a lot of good players that have passed through the A's system over the past 10 years. However, no position player has generated as much excitement as Russell has since he was drafted by the A's 12th overall in 2012. In fact, A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens recently stated that Russell was the most exciting prospect the A's have had in the 16 years Owens has been with the organization.
Russell made a splash during his professional debut season by hitting .369/.432/.594 with seven homers and 16 stolen bases in 55 games spread over three levels (Arizona Rookie League, New York-Penn League and Midwest League). That performance earned Russell a non-roster invitation to major league spring training. At 19, he was the youngest player to be invited to big league camp in all of baseball.
At the conclusion of camp, Russell was assigned to the High-A California League, where he was once again the youngest player in the league. Russell's season got off to a rough start when he injured his back during pre-game warm-ups a few days into the season. Although the injury wasn't serious, he missed nine days as a precaution. The soreness would linger for several weeks after he returned to action.
The injury slowed Russell's adjustment to the league. At the end of April, he was hitting below the Mendoza line and some were wondering whether the A's would send Russell down to Low-A. The A's front office felt that Russell was holding his own against the Cal League competition despite the poor numbers. Their faith in him was validated by mid-May. He added 40 points to his batting average between the end of April and the end of May. By the end of June, Russell was sporting an 822 OPS. He was one of two A's players to be named to the MLB All-Star Futures Game.
Russell continued to get better as the season progressed. He finished his time with the Ports with a .275/.377/.508 line with 17 homers, 21 stolen bases and 10 triples in 107 games. The A's promoted Russell to Triple-A for the final weekend of the season. He only collected one hit in 13 at-bats, but it gave him a taste of that level of competition. Russell was named to the Cal League's post-season All-Star team and he was the Cal League's Rookie of the Year.
The Florida native was not only a star with the bat; he also flashed an above-average glove. Russell showed good side-to-side agility, as well as a strong arm and soft hands at short. He has a natural athleticism that allows him to make the spectacular play, but he is also fundamentally sound. There was some talk that Russell would have to move to third when he was in high school, but Russell looked every bit the part of a major league-caliber shortstop in 2013.
Russell won't turn 20 until January, but the A's haven't been shy about challenging him since he turned pro. He moved up three levels during his pro debut season and was nearly three years younger than most of his Cal League counterparts in 2013. It is not only Russell's talent that gives the A's the confidence to move him quickly, it is also his demeanor and maturity.
"His make-up, his will to succeed, his drive, how competitive he is, probably the way he was raised, this guy is battling to succeed every day," Owens said. "His talent is immense. It's easy to get the stopwatch out and nestle in to see what he can do because he is a five-tool shortstop. He can make all of the plays with excellent range. His body control is outstanding. His arm is fabulous. He is able to hit for average. He can steal bases and he will hit for power.
"All of that stuff is there, but the separator for me is that he is a great teammate. The coaching staff raves about his make-up in terms of being ready for early work and preparation. He is just so focused and intent on being an elite player at the top level that nothing fazes him. Whatever challenges and expectations you put on him, he is going to exceed those from a work standpoint."
In 1997, the A's had a 19-year-old infielder play his first full professional season in the California League. Eric Chavez posted a 765 OPS for Visalia that season, homering 18 times and driving-in 100. He would blister Texas League and Pacific Coast League pitching in 1998 and was a regular for the A's by 1999. In an ideal world, history would repeat itself with Russell's development. The A's won't rush their top prospect, but they won't hold him back either. He is likely to start the 2014 season with Double-A Midland, but he will be given every opportunity to move up if his performance warrants a promotion. Russell has the look of a future superstar.
Stay tuned later this week as we release our revised top-50 prospects list to account for players traded and acquired.