Ranking prospects is an inexact science, to say the least.
A lot of work goes into creating a list of the top players in the Oakland A's system every year, but that work is done with the knowledge that some of the players we rank in our top-50 will well-exceed our expectations, while others will fall short of our predictions of their futures.
With nearly a decade of prospect-ranking in our back pockets, we can take a look at how we have fared with these lists over the years.
Below we review the top-two players in our rankings from 2006-2013 and how those rankings are holding up in 2014.
For a complete index of our top-50 prospects coverage dating back to 2006, please click here.
Russell made a little bit of OaklandClubhouse history before the start of last season when he became the first player we named as the A's top prospect during the off-season after his pro debut season. The shortstop had a big pro debut, batting .369/.432/.594 with seven homers and 16 stolen bases in 55 games. Russell also had the benefit of a longer pro debut season. The 2012 season was the first with the new, shorter post-draft signing period. That meant that Russell and the rest of his 2012 first-round draft class received significantly more playing time during their pro debut than first-round picks from previous seasons. Russell made it back-to-back top prospect designations in 2014 after posting an 885 OPS with 17 homers and 21 stolen bases as a 19-year-old in the High-A California League. He is now one of the top prospects in all of baseball, justifying our initial top prospect ranking in 2013.
Straily was a strong runner-up in 2012, and he looks poised to have a long pro career after a good rookie season in 2013. Straily led all minor leaguers in strike-outs with 190 in 152 innings for Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento in 2012. He also had a 3.89 ERA in 39.1 innings for the A's that season. In 2013, Straily made 27 starts for the A's and he had a 3.96 ERA and 124 strike-outs in 152.1 innings.
A's 2011 first-round pick Sonny Gray landed fifth on the list behind Russell, Straily, Michael Choice and A.J. Cole. Given how much Gray improved last season and how impressive he looked during his MLB debut, Gray is looking more and more like he should have been number two on the list, or, at the very least, number three.
2012: Michael Choice, OF
Runner-Up: Jarrod Parker, RHP
The A's top pick in 2010, Choice earned our 2012 top prospect honors after a big first full professional season in 2011. The centerfielder had a 918 OPS and a league-leading 30 homers in 118 games for the High-A Stockton Ports that season. He helped lead the Ports to the California League Championship series and he was a Cal League post-season All-Star. Choice had a disappointing 2012 season that was hindered by a broken hand, but he recovered to put together an All-Star season with Triple-A Sacramento in 2013. He made his major league debut with the A's in September and was traded this off-season to the Texas Rangers. Choice is expected to be on the Rangers' Opening Day roster this season.
In the months leading up to the start of the 2012 season, the A's made several deals that were intended to position the A's for a run at the post-season in the future. Instead, those moves helped the A's make the post-season in 2012 – and again in 2013. Parker, who was acquired on December 9, 2011 from the Arizona Diamondbacks, has been an instrumental part of the A's last two post-season runs. He had a 3.47 ERA and 140 strike-outs in 181.1 major-league innings in 2012 and a 3.97 ERA and 134 strike-outs in 197 major-league innings in 2013.
The A's had several standout rookies in 2012, and their best was Yoenis Cespedes. The A's signed Cespedes as an international free agent after we released our final top-50 prospects list, although given his experience as a professional in the Cuban league, he wouldn't have been qualified for our list. A.J. Griffin at 18, Josh Donaldson at 27 and Ryan Cook at 38 were, in retrospect, far too low considering how good all three were as rookies in 2012.
Carter rose to the top of the A's prospect list after he hit 31 homeruns and posted a .529 SLG during his first season in the Pacific Coast League. The tall right-handed hitter struck-out a lot (138), but he walked 73 times and drove-in 94 runs. Carter had a rough major-league debut in 2010, but he still had the look of the A's long-term answer at either first base or DH. As it turned out, Carter wouldn't make an impact with the A's until 2012, when he provided a potent bat off of the bench. He was then traded to the Astros before the 2013 season in the deal that landed Oakland Jed Lowrie. Carter was an everyday player in 2013, and he hit 29 homers in 148 games, but he also struck-out an eye-popping 212 times.
Green was the A's top pick in 2009, but he played in only five games that season after signing at the deadline. In 2010, he appeared in 131 games for the High-A Stockton Ports and was a force offensively, posting an 883 OPS with a .318 average and 20 homers. It would turn out to be Green's best season at the plate in the A's system. He struggled defensively at shortstop and would be moved off of the position midway through the 2011 season.
The A's could never find a defensive home for Green, but he continued to shine with the bat. In 2013, he had an 879 OPS with the Sacramento River Cats before he was traded to the Angels in exchange for Alberto Callaspo. Green had a brief stint with the A's before the trade, and he would spend the final six weeks on the Angels' roster. All told, Green hit .250 with a homer and a 644 OPS in his first MLB experience (45 games).
Our 2011 top-10 did not include Josh Donaldson, who came in at number 11. Every player in the top-10, with the exception of number seven Stephen Parker, has logged time in the big leagues. One is already retired, however (Adrian Cardenas, number five).
2010: Michael Taylor, OF
Runner-Up: Chris Carter, 1B/DH
The A's acquired Taylor during the off-season before the 2010 season. It was a rare prospect-for-prospect trade, as the A's dealt top prospect Brett Wallace to the Toronto Blue Jays for Taylor (the Blue Jays had acquired Taylor earlier that day from Philadelphia as part of the Roy Halladay trade).
It was easy to see what the A's liked about Taylor, who posted OPSs of 968 and 944 in each of his first two full professional seasons. He struggled during his first season in the A's system, however, putting up a disappointing 740 OPS for Triple-A Sacramento. Taylor has played much better for Sacramento since then, but he hasn't had a long look in the big leagues. He is now out-of-options as he enters his fifth season in the A's system.
Carter we already covered. One thing to note about Carter is that his 2009 campaign was his best as a pro to date. Carter earned the Texas League's MVP award that season by hitting a career-best .337 with an 1011 OPS. He doubled 41 times and homered 24 times in 125 games with the RockHounds.
Going into the 2009 season, you could have flipped a coin between Anderson and Cahill to decide which pitcher was the A's top prospect. Both were drafted in 2006, and both had big 2008 seasons pitching for High-A Stockton, Double-A Midland and Team USA in the Olympics. Ultimately, our decision to pick Anderson over Cahill came down to the fact that Anderson was left-handed and that he had shown a little bit better command than Cahill in 2008.
Anderson and Cahill would spend the 2009 season in the A's rotation as 21-year-olds. Since then, Anderson has shown flashes of being a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he has been held back by injuries – Tommy John surgery in 2011 and a foot injury that kept him out for much of last season. The A's traded Anderson this off-season, having only had one full MLB season (his rookie year) with Anderson on the mound.
Cahill, meanwhile, has had better health, but his production has been on a steady decline the past few seasons. Cahill had a 2.97 ERA and 18 wins in 2010 for the A's, but since then he failed to post an ERA under 3.70 and his walk rate has risen. The A's traded Cahill before the 2012 season for a package that included Jarrod Parker and current set-up man Ryan Cook.
Our A's top-10 prospects list going into the 2009 season was a particularly talented group. Only number three prospect Michael Ynoa has yet to play in the big leagues, and two have made the All-Star team, while a third (Josh Donaldson) finished third in the AL MVP voting this past season. The 2009 AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey ranked 33rd on our list that season, a reflection of his uneven 2008 season that saw him struggle as a starter in Double-A but excel after a move to the bullpen.
2008: Daric Barton, 1B
Runner-Up: Gio Gonzalez, LHP
The A's farm system was strong in 2009, but it was arguably at its strongest heading into the 2008 campaign. Between the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the A's traded three major leaguers (Nick Swisher, Dan Haren and Marco Scutaro) and received back a bushel of minor league talent that took the A's farm system from middling to premier status. The A's acquired several future major leaguers in those three deals and two have already played in the MLB All-Star game (Gio Gonzalez and Carlos Gonzalez).
Oakland continued to add future big league talent during the season when they traded Rich Harden and Joe Blanton in separate deals that netted the A's Josh Donaldson, Josh Outman and Adrian Cardenas, among others.
Barton still led our list even after the Haren and Swisher trades were made. Looking back, that was clearly a case of bias towards a player we had seen a lot of over players such as the Gonzalezes that we hadn't seen play live. Barton was undoubtedly an excellent prospect at that point in his career. He had hit .293 with a .389 OBP with the River Cats in 2007, and he was 21 for most of that season. Barton then hit .347 in a September call-up stint with the A's that had many believing he would be a perennial contender for batting titles. It hasn't worked out that way for Barton, who struggled during his rookie season in 2008 and has since ridden the I-80 shuttle between Sacramento and Oakland.
To his credit, Barton has made himself into a solid defensive first baseman (a feat that didn't seem possible in 2007). He was arguably the A's most valuable position player in 2010 when he had a 798 OPS and rated near the top of the defensive leaderboards at first base. But he struggled in 2011 and 2012 before putting together a solid 2013 season. Barton will be competing for a spot on the A's roster this spring after hitting .318/.403/.439 in 66 September at-bats with the A's last year. Despite his up-and-down career, Barton is still just 28 years old.
In retrospect, either our picks for number two (Gio Gonzalez) or number three (Carlos Gonzalez) best prospect in the A's system in 2008 would have been better selections. Neither player is with the A's any longer, but both have established themselves as stars in the National League. Among our top-10 that season, only number seven James Simmons has yet to appear in the big leagues and four have made All-Star teams.
2007: Travis Buck, OF
Runner-Up: Javier Herrera, OF
There is a lot of ‘what might have been' as it relates to the careers of our top-two A's prospects heading into the 2007 season. Buck, the A's second pick in 2005, looked every bit the part of a perennial big league All-Star during his first three professional seasons. Buck hit .346 in 41 games during his pro debut season in 2005 and then posted a .320/.385/.521 line in 84 games for High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. Injuries cost Buck significant time that season, but he had a strong Arizona Fall League showing and looked poised for big things in 2007.
As it turned out, we were right about 2007. Buck earned a spot on the A's Opening Day roster with a big spring training, and he was arguably their best position player that season. He hit .288/.377/.474 for the A's that year. The only negative was that he missed the last few months of the season with an injury. Injuries have hindered Buck ever since. He wasn't able to reproduce his 2007 production in three injury-plagued seasons in 2008-2010 and Buck was let go by the A's before the 2011 season. He has yet to play 100 games in any pro season. Buck has signed a minor league deal with San Diego for the 2014 season.
Herrera has had similar misfortunes over the past seven years. The five-tool outfielder was one of the first high-profile players to be nabbed under baseball's drug-use prevention program back in 2005. Despite that set-back, Herrera still had an outstanding 2005 season once he served his suspension (back then it was 15 games for a first offense). Then in 2006, he injured his elbow during spring training and missed the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Still, he was just 21 and looked to have unlimited potential.
Leg injuries kept Herrera from reaching that potential, however. He played in only 82 games in 2007 and 61 games in 2008 because of severe hamstring tears. Then in 2009, Herrera injured his hamstring during the first game of the season. He was released by the A's later that year and spent the 2010-2012 seasons in independent leagues. In 2013, Herrera latched on with the San Francisco Giants, and he made quite a comeback. In 131 games at the Double-A level, Herrera hit .296/.376/.485 with 16 homers and 23 stolen bases. He is a non-roster invitee to big league spring training for the Giants this year. Herrera is still just 28 years old.
2006: Daric Barton, 1B
Runner-Up: Javier Herrera, OF
We have covered Barton and Herrera already, but it is worth noting how good both players were at a young age. Barton had a .317/.426/.478 line as a 19-year-old at High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland in 2005. His K:BB was 79:97.
Herrera won the Northwest League's MVP in 2004 as a 19-year-old with Vancouver, posting a 948 OPS in a very pitcher-friendly environment. He then had an 834 OPS between the pitcher-friendly Midwest League and Triple-A Sacramento as a 20-year-old in 2005.
Our number three prospect that year was OF Andre Ethier, who won the Texas League's MVP award in 2005 and then was one of the top players in that fall's AFL. The A's traded Ethier before the 2006 season to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deal that brought Milton Bradley to the A's. Ethier has since hit .288/.362/.470 with 141 homers in 4,006 MLB at-bats.