Note: this is not a re-ranking of current prospects. A new top-50 prospects list will be released this off-season.
10. Bobby Wahl
Wahl was the A’s fifth-round pick last season, but he was tabbed as a potential draft steal. The Mississippi star was a potential first-rounder going into the 2013 season, but he slipped in the draft thanks to injury concerns. The A’s were careful to monitor Wahl’s workload last year and Wahl has been mostly healthy this season (he missed a few weeks early in the season with an oblique strain). He struggled as a starter for Low-A Beloit, but the high-energy, hard-throwing right-hander has excelled since moving into the bullpen in June. On the season, Wahl has 45 strike-outs in 44.2 innings for Beloit and Stockton. He has tossed two scoreless innings with two strike-outs since his promotion to High-A.
Wahl recently made the jump to High-A Stockton, and, if he stays healthy, he should be on an accelerated course towards the big leagues now that he is a reliever. Wahl has starter stuff, but he was having trouble keeping sharp with four days in-between starts. As a reliever with regular work, Wahl has found his release point and is over-powering hitters. His fastball can touch the mid-90s and he has a good curveball and change-up. Wahl is a natural leader and could thrive in a closer’s role. He should finish the season with Stockton and will have a chance to move up to Double-A at the start of next year.
Status: Thriving in the bullpen
Like Wahl, Sanburn was originally projected to be a starting pitcher, but his intensity wound-up playing better out of the bullpen. The former Arkansas star was the A’s second-round pick in 2012. Sanburn missed half of last season with a shoulder injury, but he has been healthy all year pitching out of the Stockton bullpen. In 62.1 innings, Sanburn has a 2.74 ERA and a 66:22 K:BB. He has allowed 64 hits, but only five have left the ballpark.
Sanburn has a power-pitcher’s repertoire: a mid-90s fastball that can touch 97 and a hard slider and curveball to go along with a change-up. He has improved his location as the season has gone on and has walked just four over his last 18 innings. Like Wahl, as long as Sanburn stays healthy, he should be on a fast track to the big leagues as a reliever. He is likely to finish the year with Stockton and move up to Midland at the start of next season. Sanburn could reach Triple-A by mid-season next year if he continues to pitch well.
Status: Dominant reliever
8. B.J. Boyd
Boyd was the A’s fourth-round pick in 2012 out of Palo Alto High School. The former two-sport high school star had an outstanding debut with the AZL A’s in 2012 and then continued to open eyes in 2013 with short-season Vermont. He was named the Lake Monsters’ co-MVP last season. The jump to full-season ball has been a rocky one for Boyd, however. In 103 games with the Beloit Snappers, Boyd has a .227/.308/.322 line with five homers and 12 stolen bases in 21 chances. He has been a bit unlucky at the plate, as his K-rate has actually dipped from last year while his BB-rate has gone down only slightly. His BABIP has been a decidedly unlucky .270 (down from .348 last season).
The Midwest League is notoriously tough on hitters, and Boyd hasn’t appeared to get comfortable at any point this season, although he is on a mini-hot streak for the Snappers currently. Boyd devoted a lot of his time in high school to football, so he is still learning the ins-and-outs of being a full-time baseball player. He has the talent to be a solid number two hitter – he has plus speed, sees a lot of pitches and can hit for power when presented with a pitch to pull. He has the speed to play center, but he has yet to master the routes needed to be a plus defender there. Boyd turned 21 in July and the A’s will be patient with his development. With a strong Instructional League season, he could jump up to Stockton at the start of next year despite the down 2014 season.
Status: Working through the Midwest League
7. Michael Ynoa
There is no prospect in the A’s system that is more enigmatic than Ynoa. The right-hander has unquestionably the best fastball-slider combination in the A’s system, but his progress has been thwarted throughout his career by injuries and inconsistency. This season, as a reliever for Stockton, Ynoa has been brilliant at times and surprisingly hittable at other times. He has also missed time twice with injuries, although neither time was the injury considered serious (Ynoa isn’t on the DL currently, but he hasn’t pitched since July 27th after leaving a game with soreness.)
In 40.2 innings for Stockton, Ynoa has a 6.20 ERA. He has 3.74 FIP, however. He has struck-out more than 12 batters per nine innings (56 in total), but his more than four walks per nine innings have hurt him. He has also allowed five homeruns. When Ynoa is on, his fastball sits at 97-99 and can exceed 100. He also has an excellent hard breaking ball and a change-up that can be effective when he is throwing well. Ynoa can still lose his mechanics, which impacts his ability to locate. Repetition on the mound should help him gain more consistency, but the frequency with which he has missed time to injuries during his pro career has prevented him from getting those consistent reps. Assuming Ynoa returns to the mound in the near-term, he will have a few weeks to show he is ready to start next season in Double-A. Ynoa will be in his final option year in 2015, so the A’s would love to see him reach the big leagues by the end of 2015.
Status: Working to get back on the mound
6. Matt Olson
Olson had an underappreciated 2013 campaign with Low-A Beloit. He hit only .225 for Beloit, but that number masked what he did do very well, which was hit for power in a league better suited for pitching (23 homers) and walk a lot (72). One year later, Olson is doing plenty to ensure that no one overlooks him again. In 115 games for Stockton, Olson has a .260/.405/.560 slashline. He leads A’s minor leaguers in homeruns (34) and walks (99). Olson has cut his strike-out rate by more than 4% over last year while walking at a nearly 6% better clip. His IsO is .295 and he has raised his batting average to a respectable .260 level despite remaining unlucky in the BABIP department (.279 last year/.268 in 2013).
Olson won’t ever compete for batting titles, but he has a chance to be a big impact hitter in a major-league line-up. He has power to all fields and excellent plate patience. Although his swing still has some holes, he has worked to eliminate a number of them and has become a better all-around hitter this season than he was last year. Olson is an excellent defensive first baseman, as well, and should bring value with the glove as well as the bat. He has spent some time in right and left field, as well, and should continue to gain experience at those positions to add to his versatility. Olson has a chance to set the Ports’ franchise record for homeruns in a season (he’s currently six short) and is a big reason the Ports look destined for the post-season. He is likely to remain in Stockton the rest of this year and head to Midland in 2015.
Status: Chasing records
5. Renato Nunez
Last season, Nunez got off to a hot start for Low-A Beloit, only to fade towards the end of the season and finish the year with a 725 OPS. This season has been the opposite for Nunez. He had a solid, but not spectacular first half (770 OPS), but he has been steamrolling his way toward the end of the season this year (1099 post-All-Star break OPS thus far). The result has been a significant improvement in his overall numbers in his age-20 season. In 103 games with Stockton, Nunez has a .287/.348/.560 line with 28 homers and 86 RBI.
Nunez has arguably the most raw power of any hitter in the A’s system. He has tremendous bat speed and rarely gets cheated on a swing. Nunez has worked hard to improve his pitch recognition and has a better handle on what opposing pitchers are trying to do to him this year as opposed to last. He has worked hard to be more of a complete hitter and not just a homerun hitter, and the results have reflected that work. He still doesn’t walk a lot, but he is striking out a lot less than last year. Defensively, he still has work to do to be a major-league caliber third baseman, but he has improved at the hot corner. Continued improvements will give him a chance to stick at third, although ultimately he may be a first baseman or left fielder. Nunez won’t turn 21 until the start of next season and should be at Double-A on his birthday.
Status: Killing it in the Cal League
McKinney was the A’s top pick in 2013 and Oakland wasted no time challenging the former Dallas-area high school star. He jumped from short-season to High-A Stockton at the start of 2014 and he was the youngest position player on the Ports’ squad until he was traded to the Chicago Cubs on July 5. McKinney held his own as a 19-year-old with Stockton, posting a 730 OPS with a solid walk rate. He moved to a more pitcher-friendly league with the Cubs (the High-A Florida State League), but McKinney has been red-hot with his new club, posting an 888 OPS in 97 at-bats.
McKinney profiles as a Mark Kotsay-type outfielder, a guy who can handle all three outfield positions, hit for average, take his walk and reach double-digits in homeruns. He may not stick in centerfield as a regular in the major leagues, but he should be able to fill in at that position in a pinch. The Cubs have a lot of minor league talent, but McKinney should be one of their top-15 prospects going into next year.
Status: Tearing it up in Florida
Last season, Robertson made a solid impression with Low-A Beloit, posting a 754 OPS in his first full professional campaign. He was hampered early in the season, however, as he continued to recover from off-season knee surgery. That recovery cost him most of April and limited his playing time early in the year. Once he got his legs under him, Robertson looked fluid in the field and started to show a lot of promise at the plate. This season, Robertson has had no physical restrictions and he has been outstanding on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he has jump-started a potent Stockton offense all season and is sporting a .298/.395/.464 line through Wednesday. Defensively, Robertson has made both solid and spectacular plays at shortstop.
As a hitter, Robertson has grown into his own with Stockton. He has cut his strike-out rate and increased his walk rate while adding more power. Robertson has handled the lead-off role for Stockton extremely well, seeing a lot of pitches and getting on-base at a good clip in front of the Ports’ big boppers. Robertson doesn’t run all that well, but he does pretty much everything else well. Offensively, Robertson has a similar profile to current A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie (although Robertson isn’t a switch-hitter). Robertson has the potential to add even more power than Lowrie eventually. Defensively, Robertson has a chance to be an above-average major-league shortstop. His emergence this season made it easier for the A’s to trade away top prospect Addison Russell. Robertson should start Double-A a few weeks after his 21st birthday next season and could reach the big leagues by 2016.
Status: Making waves with Stockton
Alcantara entered the 2014 season as the A’s top pitching prospect and he started the season with positive momentum after a strong spring training that included his first stint in big league camp. Alcantara had three good starts with Midland, but he left his third start with elbow soreness and wound-up having Tommy John surgery. He is out for the year.
Assuming a normal recovery, Alcantara should be back on the mound in April or May of next season. He probably won’t be pitching for an A’s affiliate, however. It is rumored that Alcantara is the player to be named later in the A’s trade with the Cubs. If he does join the Cubs’ organization, he will be one of the top pitching prospects in a talented system that still skews towards position player talent. Despite the lost year, Alcantara will be only 22 next season.
Status: Recovering from surgery
1. Addison Russell
The A’s consensus top prospect coming into 2014, Russell got off to a poor start when he tore his hamstring during the second game of the regular season. He missed virtually the entire first half of the year, returning in rehab games just before the Texas League All-Star break. Not long after the break, he was traded to the Cubs in the blockbuster deal that sent Jeff Samardzija to Oakland. Since the trade, Russell has lived up to the hype as one of the best prospects in baseball. In 105 at-bats with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, Russell is batting .295/.339/.562 with eight homers.
Russell does nearly everything well. He hits for average, runs well and has above-average power for a middle infielder. Defensively, Russell has soft hands, good range and a strong throwing arm. If he has a flaw, it is with his plate discipline, as he can be a free swinger at times. But there is no reason to think that Russell won’t be a star at the major-league level for years to come. The Cubs have a lot of talent in their system at shortstop, so Russell could move to third base, but he should be able to handle short if given the opportunity. He could reach the big leagues by mid-season next year.
Status: Starring in Double-A