Note: this is not a re-ranking of current prospects. A new top-50 prospects list will be released this off-season.
A sparkplug second baseman, Rodriguez earned a promotion to a US affiliate after batting .302 with a .373 OBP during his professional debut with the Dominican Summer League A’s last year. Rodriguez spent the first half of this season playing at extended spring training, showing flashes of promise with his line-drive swing and solid glove up-the-middle. He is currently getting his feet wet with the AZL A’s, having accumulated 17 at-bats over seven games. He has only three hits, but he has yet to strike-out and he has walked twice.
Depending on how much Rodriguez plays during the Arizona Rookie League season, he could return to the AZL next year or move up to short-season Vermont. At 18-years-old, Rodriguez has plenty of time to develop.
Status: Getting acclimated to the AZL
49. Justin Higley
Although he was a college draft pick, Higley was still considered a raw prospect coming out of Sacramento State. He was also on the younger-side for a collegiate junior, having just turned 21 last December. The A’s were conservative with Higley’s development this year, keeping him back at extended spring training for the first half of the year and sending him to short-season Vermont at the start of the New York-Penn League campaign. Thus far, that decision looks wise, as Higley has had a strong start to his season. That strong start – coupled with attrition in the outfield ranks at the A-ball level due to trades and suspensions – has pushed Higley up to full-season ball this week. He debuted with the Beloit Snappers on Wednesday night after batting .281/.337/.562 with five homers, 25 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 24 games for Vermont.
Higley has an intriguing mix of power and speed in his game. He can drive the ball to all fields, hitting some of the longest homers of any prospect in the A’s system. Higley is also one of the fastest players in the A’s system, and that speed was on full display in Vermont, where he not only racked up big stolen base numbers but also hit an inside-the-park grandslam on a ball on which most players would have settled for a double. He still needs to improve his plate discipline (32:8 K:BB thus far), but his potential makes him a player to watch. He should spend the rest of the season with Beloit.
Status: Lighting up the baseball and the basepaths
48. Ryan Huck
Huck posted a .465 SLG in 200 at-bats for the A’s two US short-season teams in his professional debut last year. Although he faded down-the-stretch after suffering a lower body injury, Huck still impressed during his time with the Vermont Lake Monsters last year, flashing intriguing power potential. The A’s sent Huck to Low-A Beloit at the start of this season, hoping that he would tap into that power potential even further. Unfortunately, he got off to a slow start with the Snappers and has yet to get his season going in the right direction. Now back with Vermont, Huck has a .210/.294/.313 line in 195 at-bats.
Huck was a college senior when he signed, so he doesn’t have the luxury of time to prove himself in the A’s system. A strong finish will give Huck another shot next year, but if he continues to struggle, he could need a big spring to avoid being left off of a full-season roster at the start of next season.
Status: Needs a hot streak
47. Seth Streich
After a slow start, Streich put together a strong season with Beloit in 2013. Unfortunately, a scary elbow injury kept Streich on the DL for the final month of the season and left him a question mark going into 2014. Streich was able to rehab the injury and avoid surgery. The A’s have been careful with Streich this season, keeping him below 100 pitches, but he has remained healthy and has arguably been the best pitcher in the A’s system this season. In 18 starts with High-A Stockton, Streich has a 2.98 ERA and a 98:20 K:BB in 96.2 innings. He has a 1.36 GO/AO and was named to the California League’s mid-season All-Star team.
Streich’s elbow will remain a concern for the rest of this season, but if he can remain healthy, he could enter next year as the A’s top pitching prospect. Streich fills up the lower-half of the strike-zone. He still lacks a major league change-up, but the rest of his repertoire is advanced and he could settle nicely into the A’s rotation in a few years.
Status: On the rise
46. Aaron Shipman
After three years filled with frustration, Shipman finally put together a healthy and productive stretch last year with Low-A Beloit. He missed most of the first half of last year with an injury, but he hit .279 with a .397 OBP for the Snappers in 68 games. Shipman jumped to High-A Stockton this year. Although he has missed some time with injury, Shipman is in the middle of his best season as a pro. In 51 games, Shipman has a .287/.412/.408 line. He has 13 stolen bases in 15 chances and six triples. He even homered for the first time in his professional career.
Shipman profiles as a classic centerfielder. He has an excellent eye, well above-average speed and very little power. Shipman can also cover a lot of ground in centerfield. He has played all over the outfield with the Ports this season, but he should see more time in center during the second half now that Billy McKinney has been traded. Although Shipman was drafted in 2010, he is still just 22 and should be in-line for a promotion to Double-A next season.
Status: Productive when healthy
45. Austin House
Based on ERA alone, House’s last two seasons haven’t been that impressive. But ERA doesn’t tell the full story when it comes to how well House has pitched. Last season, House posted a 3.97 ERA in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League, but he opened a lot of eyes with his plus change-up and his ability to induce groundballs. This year, House has been the closer for the Stockton Ports for most of the season. His ERA is 5.25, but he has been much more effective than that number. House has a 55:14 K:BB in 36 innings with Stockton and a 1.63 GO/AO. His FIP is 2.84. House is currently pitching for Triple-A Sacramento, helping supplement a bullpen that has been thinned by promotions. In five innings, House has yet to allow a run for the River Cats.
House has the stuff to be a successful big league reliever. The right-hander has a major-league quality change-up and a sinking fastball that he locates well. His slider has also improved this season and the continued development of that pitch should give House three legitimate weapons. With his ability to miss bats and induce groundballs, House fits the A’s reliever prototype well.
Status: Out-pitching his ERA
44. B.A. Vollmuth
Despite hitting 21 homers last season, Vollmuth’s 2013 campaign with High-A Stockton was disappointing. He managed just a .212 average and he struck-out 161 times in 125 games. The A’s sent Vollmuth down to Low-A to start the 2014 season, electing to promote 2013 draft picks Ryon Healy and Chad Pinder to High-A instead. With Beloit, Vollmuth’s struggles have gotten even worse. In 299 at-bats, he has a .197 average and just six homeruns.
With A’s top pick Matt Chapman now on the Beloit roster, Vollmuth is seeing more time at first base than third base. When early season Beloit first-baseman Michael Soto returns from a broken hand, Vollmuth could be the odd-man out. Disappointing for a player in Vollmuth who the A’s took with their second-overall pick in 2011.
Status: Under the Mendoza line
43. Vicmal de la Cruz
Vicmal de la Cruz
After a big pro debut in the DSL in 2011, de la Cruz was a prospect on the rise. Since coming to the States in 2012, however, the outfielder has failed to live up to that early promise. For the third straight season, de la Cruz is toiling in the Arizona Rookie League. And for a third straight season, his stats in the AZL have actually declined. Through 13 games, de la Cruz is batting .192/.232/.250.
Injuries have played a role in de la Cruz’s struggles. He has battled injuries to his legs and wrist each of the past three seasons. He has also struggled to make adjustments to pitchers who can throw their off-speed pitches in fastball counts. de la Cruz is still very talented and he is only 20, but he is going to have to show something positive soon to continue to receive opportunities.
Status: Stalling out in Rookie ball
42. Sam Bragg
An 18th-round pick out of junior college last season, Bragg turned down an opportunity to play in the SEC to sign with the A’s. He had a very solid pro debut, posting a 1.24 ERA in 29 innings and reaching Low-A Beloit. This year, Bragg has been with the Snappers all season and he has been one of the steadiest contributors in the Beloit bullpen. In 50.1 innings, Bragg has a 3.40 ERA and a 48:18 K:BB.
Bragg has been used exclusively as a reliever since turning pro, although there was some thought of making him part of the tandem starting rotation in Beloit early in the year. He has a deep arsenal of pitches and he can run his fastball up to the mid-90s when he needs it. Assuming he continues to pitch as well as he has already this season, Bragg should be in High-A for his age-22 season next year.
Status: On the right course
41. Kyle Finnegan
Finnegan was the A’s sixth-round pick out of Texas State last season. He had a strong debut with short-season Vermont, posting a 2.70 ERA in 50 innings before a late-season promotion to Low-A Beloit. This year, Finnegan has been in the Beloit rotation all season. Despite struggling with his mechanics at various points in the year, Finnegan has pitched well for the Snappers. In 91.2 innings, he has a 3.34 ERA. He has just 45 strike-outs, but he has allowed just 78 hits.
Unfortunately, Finnegan was placed on the disabled list on Thursday with an undisclosed injury. Whether Finnegan can continue to work on smoothing out his mechanics during the second half will depend on the seriousness of his injury. Injury-aside, he has put himself in a solid position to reach High-A next season during his age-23 year.
Status: On the DL