Tyler Ladendorf (Twins second-round pick, 2008): Ladendorf has been in the A's system so long it is easy to forget that he wasn't drafted by Oakland. The A's acquired Ladendorf at the July trading deadline in 2009 from Minnesota for shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Since then, Ladendorf has spent the bulk of his A's career with Double-A Midland.
Ladendorf's first full season with the A's in 2010 was spent with the Stockton Ports. He hit .274 and played excellent defense for Stockton that season. The 2011 season was a difficult one for Ladendorf at the plate. He hit only .225 for Midland and had four hits in 19 at-bats for Sacramento in a brief Triple-A cameo. In 2012, Ladendorf got off to an excellent start at the plate with Midland, but he faded down the stretch, finishing with a .240/682 line. Last season, Ladendorf missed time with injury, but he had his best Double-A season, posting a .263/.340/.398 line. He appeared in eight games with the River Cats, as well.
The A's system remains backlogged in the middle infield, and it could be an uphill battle for Ladendorf to make the River Cats' roster out of spring training unless there are injuries or trades this spring. Ladendorf is an exceptional defender and he can play multiple positions, making him a valuable asset for any minor league manager. He also has good speed, although that hasn't translated to many stolen bases in recent years.
Unless something dramatic happens, Ladendorf is likely to split his 2014 season between Midland and Sacramento once again. Because of his defensive abilities, Ladendorf should be a coveted minor league free agent if he reaches the open market at the end of the year.
Brett Hunter (A's seventh-round pick, 2008): Going into the 2008 draft season, Hunter had been pegged as a potential first-round pick based on his mid-90s fastball and devastating breaking ball. The Pepperdine star had an up-and-down junior season that was marked by whispers of arm problems. He slipped in the draft and the A's grabbed him in the seventh round. They paid Hunter first-round money and brought him in just before the signing deadline.
Since turning pro, Hunter's career has been marked by injuries and inconsistent command. In six minor league seasons, he has amassed just 230 innings pitched. Hunter has struck-out more than a batter an inning (266 in 230 innings), but he has also walked his fair share (164). He has been tough to hit, allowing just 194 base-hits and 18 homeruns.
Hunter's 2013 season got off to a late start as he finished his rehab from injury, but once he was on the mound, he had arguably his best season as a pro. Pitching mostly for Double-A Midland, Hunter posted a 3.25 ERA and a 49:20 K:BB in 36 relief innings. He allowed just one homerun and batters hit .152 against him. Over his last 10 outings of the season, Hunter allowed runs in just one of those outings.
When healthy, Hunter has the kind of pure stuff that plays well at any level of the game. Whether he gets a chance in Triple-A or even the big leagues with the A's will depend on if he can stay healthy and if he can improve his shaky command. Hunter will turn 27 in late June.
Jeremy Barfield (A's eighth-round pick, 2008): Under normal circumstances, Barfield would probably be one of those players just counting the days until he finishes his seventh year with the A's. Like many minor leaguers, Barfield's progress through the A's system was stymied in recent years by a backlog of talent at his position at the Triple-A and big league levels of Oakland's organization. Barfield, a right-fielder, reached Double-A at the start of his third full professional season, but he found himself stuck in Midland after that, spending all of the 2011 and 2012 seasons and part of the 2013 campaign with the RockHounds.
Barfield finally had an opportunity at the Triple-A level midway through last season. After posting an 848 OPS for Midland during the first two months of the season, Barfield was promoted to Sacramento. His playing time with the River Cats was limited, however, and by early July the A's asked him to make a change that will dramatically alter the path of the rest of his career.
Always the best throwing outfielder in the A's system, Barfield will now try to be one of the A's best left-handed relievers. Barfield made the switch to the mound during the final two months of the 2013 season and he has been hard at work on his new position since then, participating in both of the A's fall Instructional League camps and the team's spring mini-camp.
Barfield is expected to start the season with High-A Stockton. If he is to reach the big leagues with Oakland, he will need to follow a similar path to the last A's left-handed position player who switched to the mound – Sean Doolittle, who rose from Stockton to Oakland during his first season as a pitcher in 2012.
Rashun Dixon (A's 10th-round pick, 2008): The A's signed Dixon away from a football and baseball scholarship to Mississippi State. His pro career got off to a promising start in 2008 when he posted an 853 OPS in the Arizona Rookie League. Since then, Dixon has yo-yoed between periods of success and failure. Going into his age 23 season, he is looking to advance past the High-A level for the first time.
Dixon's 2013 season is fairly representative of the up-and-down nature of his pro career to date. He began the year at extended spring training after straining an oblique muscle during the final days of spring. Once healthy, he was assigned to Low-A Beloit, where he played until a spot opened up at the High-A level. Dixon annihilated the Midwest League, hitting four homers and collecting 10 hits and nine walks in 36 at-bats.
Once with Stockton, Dixon continued to hit for power, but he struggled to make consistent contact. In 86 games (285 at-bats), Dixon hit 12 homers and he walked 48 times, but he also struck-out 116 times. His best month did come in August, however, perhaps a sign that he started to make adjustments.
Dixon is very talented and has shown flashes of his potential at times, but he is running out of time to put it all together with Oakland. He will be competing this spring for a spot with Double-A Midland, although given his struggles with Stockton last year, he is likely to start at that level. Luckily for him, Dixon will be just 24 at the end of the season. Given his age and his talent, he should have no problem landing a deal with another organization this off-season should he hit the open market.
Trey Barham (A's 25th-round pick, 2008): Always an underdog as a late-round selection out of a small collegiate baseball program, Barham appeared to be on the verge of the big leagues in 2012 when an elbow injury stalled his progress. The left-handed reliever got his first opportunity with Sacramento in 2012, but he struggled badly, walking an uncharacteristic eight in 9.2 innings. Barham was sent back to Double-A and soon after he was diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament. He had Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the 2012 season and much of the 2013 campaign.
Barham returned to regular season action towards the end of the 2013 season. After seven appearances with the A's Rookie League club, Barham finished the year with High-A Stockton. Although his command was a little off (not unexpected after Tommy John surgery), Barham otherwise looked like the pre-injury version of himself. In 11.2 innings with the Ports, he struck-out 16 and walked seven.
Barham will be in the Double-A/Triple-A mix this spring. If he doesn't make it on the A's 40-man roster by the end of this season, Barham should generate plenty of interest on the open market as a left-handed reliever with a history of inducing groundballs and throwing strikes.
Ryan Doolittle (26th-round, 2008): Injuries, more than anything else, have held back the progress of Doolittle. Since turning pro, Doolittle has thrown only 163 innings thanks to a variety of arm injuries. His latest arm injury in 2012 resulted in Tommy John surgery. Doolittle returned to regular season action at the end of the 2013 season and is looking to pitch a full season in 2014.
When Doolittle has been healthy, he has been very effective. His career ERA is 3.04 and his K:BB is 157:20. He has allowed just 10 homeruns and fewer than one hit per inning. Doolittle was a starter early in his career, but given the time he has lost to injury, it wouldn't be surprising to see him in a relief role this season. He recently finished a stint in the A's spring mini-camp and is competing for a spot on the Midland roster this spring. Doolittle turns 26 later this month.
Dusty Coleman (A's 28th-round pick, 2008): Coleman, as a red-shirt sophomore, signed an over-slot deal with the A's in 2008 after a strong collegiate career at Wichita State. Coleman got off to a fast start with the A's, reaching High-A Stockton during his first full professional season in 2009. Although he played an entire season in 2009, it turned out that he had a broken wrist for much of that season. The injured wrist hampered his effectiveness at the plate and required off-season surgery.
Unfortunately for Coleman, the initial wrist surgery didn't heal properly and he had to have surgery again in 2010. He missed that entire season. Although he has been healthy since then, that missed year hurt his progression through the A's system, as other players moved ahead of him on the depth chart.
Defensively, Coleman is an outstanding shortstop with excellent range and an above-average arm. Offensively, he has been a work-in-progress. In 2011 with Stockton, Coleman hit 15 homeruns, but he struck-out 171 times. In 2012, it was much of the same thing for Coleman, who homered 15 times for Midland, but struck-out 182 times.
Last season, Coleman made adjustments to try to increase his contact rates. He raised his average to .260 (he hit .201 in 2012) and his OBP jumped to .344 (it was .284 in 2012), but his power numbers dipped significantly (three homeruns). Coleman did collect 34 doubles and 10 triples and he was generally an all-around better hitter. Coleman can play every infield position but first base. He will be in the mix with Ladendorf for a spot in Triple-A. Coleman finished the 2013 season with the River Cats.
Shawn Haviland (A's 33rd-round pick, 2008): Like Barham, Haviland has been an underdog his entire career. Also like Barham, Haviland's momentum towards the big leagues was hindered by Tommy John surgery in 2012.
A Harvard alum, Haviland moved relatively quickly through the A's system during the first few years of his career. He hit his first speed-bump in 2011 with Midland when he posted an ERA of 7.08 in 143 innings with the RockHounds. In 2012, Haviland returned to Midland and he made improvements, lowering his ERA to 4.80 and increasing his K/9 by more than 1. He was part of the A's Arizona Fall League contingent that October. Unfortunately, he left the league early with elbow pain that eventually required Tommy John surgery.
Haviland spent the 2013 season rehabbing his elbow. He should be ready to pitch at the start of the regular season, barring any set-backs.
Omar Duran (signed by A's in November 2007): Duran journey through the A's system has been anything but smooth since he signed with the organization as a teenager in the winter of 2007. The left-hander has battled injuries and control problems, but he has flashed enough potential to remain on the A's prospect radar after all of these years.
Arm injuries have plagued Duran for much of his career. In 2013, he established a career-high for innings pitched with 58.1. He then added to that total with 9.2 innings pitched in the Arizona Fall League. Duran's 2013 numbers are a good summary of him as a pitcher – he struck-out more than a batter-and-a-half an inning (91 strike-outs in 58.1 innings for the Ports and Lake Monsters), but he also walked nearly a batter an inning (43) and his ERA was 4.17 despite allowing batters to hit only .189 against him.
When healthy, Duran has a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can occasionally touch the high-90s. He also has a devastating breaking ball that is very difficult for both right-handers and left-handers to track. Duran has trouble throwing strikes, however, and his command often leaves him vulnerable to the big inning.
Lefties who throw mid-90s fastballs don't grow on trees, but Duran will need to demonstrate that he can stay healthy and throw strikes more consistently to reach the upper levels in the A's system this year.