Infielders/Catchers that just missed the top-50
Please note that players are listed in alphabetical - not rank - order.
Vitals: 16th-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft; Age: 23; 6’0’’, 180; L/R
Brizuela had the unfortunate fate of being drafted at the same position as the team’s first-round pick in 2014. That meant that when Brizuela broke camp last spring with High-A Stockton, he was only going to stay with the Ports for as long as 2014 first-round pick Matt Chapman was rehabbing a knee injury. Once Chapman returned, Brizuela was sent to Low-A Beloit, where he spent the rest of the year. He made the best of his situation, however, putting together a very solid year with Beloit. In 109 games, Brizuela hit .270/.358/.446 with 11 homers. He was particularly good the second half of the year, hitting .304/.376/.506 with eight homers in 68 games.
Brizuela still has work to do defensively. He committed 26 errors at third with Beloit, which is a high total for a college player. However, he is a solid hitter with a good idea of what he wants to accomplish at the plate and the ability to pull the ball out of most parks. Given a chance to play regularly in the California League in 2016, Brizuela could put up some big numbers.
Vitals: 8th-round pick in 2015 MLB Draft; Age: 21; 6’2’’, 220; L/R
Collins was the first catcher selected by Oakland in the 2015 draft. A product of Georgetown, Collins had a highly productive three-year career for the Hoyas and hit .370 with a 975 OPS during his junior season. He spent most of his pro debut with the Vermont Lake Monsters, with whom he earned a spot in the New York-Penn League All-Star game. Although his overall numbers weren’t spectacular (.256/.333/.325), Collins was considered a tough out and one of the more consistent defensive catchers in the league. His season ended a little early when he sustained a concussion on a foul-tip to the mask.
Collins hit for power in college, but he is still learning how to generate that power with wood bats, according to Vermont manager Aaron Nieckula. Nieckula liked what he saw from Collins’ overall game, calling him a leader on the field and a good game-caller. Collins threw out 28% of would-be base-stealers with the Lake Monsters.
“In terms of his physical tools, he threw well enough. He blocked well enough. I thought he received well,” Nieckula said. "He handled the umpire/catcher relationship really well. He was just an overall solid defender. Once again, I don’t think there is any one tool that is going to blow you off of the face of the earth, so to speak, but he’s just a solid-average dude behind the plate.
“Offensively, he was good for us. He was very consistent. He had some good at-bats right in the middle of the order. I think [he] is going to hit for some power once he understands his swing a little better.”
Vitals: 15th round pick in the 2013 MLB Draft; Age: 20; 6’2’’, 195; R/R
The 2015 season was a rough one for Diaz, who looked poised for a big leap forward when he broke camp on the Beloit Snappers’ roster at age 19. Diaz struggled badly in his first taste of full-season ball, hitting only .100/.158/.157 in 140 at-bats. He struck-out 49 times and walked only eight times. Things didn’t get much better for Diaz when he landed in Rookie Ball, as he hit only .171/.259/.276 in 76 at-bats.
Diaz has one of the best infield arms in the A’s system and the hands and athleticism to be a special fielder down-the-road. He has split his time defensively between third and short. Diaz’s bat will likely play better as a shortstop, but he may get too big for the position.
“Diaz has the feet and the hands of a shortstop but the legs and size of a third baseman,” A’s Special Assistant to the General Manager Grady Fuson said.
Diaz showed some promise as a hitter in 2014. While Diaz had a rough 2015 season, he was only 19 and still has time for a rebound.
Vitals: 12th-round pick in 2015 MLB Draft; Age: 21; 6’2’’, 230; R/R
A junior college transfer, Iriart starred for the University of Houston in his one year of NCAA baseball. He hit 15 homers in 63 games and parlayed that performance into a 12th-round selection by the A’s. Iriart spent his pro debut season with the Vermont Lake Monsters. He finished tied for second in the New York-Penn League in RBI with 45 and was tied for 11th in homeruns with five. Despite those numbers, Iriart’s season was a rollercoaster. He started and ended well but struggled for a long stretch in-between and finished with a .230/.304/.359 line. Iriart hit lefties well, but struggled versus right-handers. He also performed much better at home (811 OPS) than he did on the road (531).
Iriart’s pro debut was a learning experience and he showed the ability to learn and make adjustments mid-season. He has power, especially to right-center, and a knack for making positive contact with runners in scoring position. Iriart’s strike-out totals were much too high (86 in 256 at-bats), something he will have to work to whittle down as he advances. Defensively, Iriart showed a quick glove and feet and a strong arm, according to Vermont manager Aaron Nieckula.
“He is an RBI machine. He has a PhD in driving guys in,” Nieckula said. “You know, he scuffled. He got off to a decent start and then he tanked for a four-to-six week period. I’d say maybe late July, first week of August, it started to click for him and he started to rebound. He started to lay off pitches out of the ‘zone and he made a lot more hard contact. He just put together better ABs.
“Through all of the struggles, the kid had tremendous emotional control. He was under control. He kept working. He kept having fun out at the ballpark. He was definitely our run producer. You put him in the three-four-five [spots in the order] and with a runner on base, he’s definitely the guy I’d like to have up in those situations.”
Vitals: 13th-round pick in 2014 MLB Draft; Age: 23; 5’11’’, 185; R/R
It was a tale of two seasons for Kuhn in 2015. During the first half of the year, Kuhn sat around the Mendoza line for Low-A Beloit, batting just .199/.286/.290. In the second half, Kuhn was very productive, hitting .283/.356/.463 with seven homers in 64 games. Factoring in Kuhn’s track record in college and his pro debut season, his second half performance is much more in-line with his talent than his first half numbers.
Kuhn packs power into his 5’11’’ frame. He pulled all 10 of his homeruns last season and saw the majority of his balls hit into play go to the pull-side or up-the-middle. Kuhn pressed early – chasing a lot of bad pitches and either missing them or rolling over on them – but once he found his rhythm in the second half, his natural ability to drive the ball took over. Kuhn could stand to cut-down on his strike-outs (19.5% K-rate), but his walk-rate was solid (10.1%). He is still looking for a permanent position on the field, but Kuhn showed some versatility by splitting time between first base, left field and right field. Given his strong finish to 2015, Kuhn could be in for a big year in the California League in 2016.
Vitals: Acquired by the A’s from the Minnesota Twins for Orlando Cabrera in July 2009; Age: 27; 5’11’’, 195, R/R
Ladendorf’s age (he’ll be 28 on Opening Day) and the fact that he spent much of last season on the A’s big league roster on the DL kept him off of our top-50 list, but he deserves mention here as a rookie-eligible player who could have an impact at the big league level this year. Ladendorf had a dream start to his 2015 season when he earned a spot on the A’s Opening Day roster in his first big league camp. He collected his first big league hit that week, but was sent back to Triple-A on April 12. Soon thereafter, Ladendorf broke his ankle on a base-running play at second base. He wouldn’t return to the field until early August. He finished with only 83 at-bats in Triple-A and 17 at-bats in the big leagues.
Despite missing most of the year, Ladendorf remained on the A’s 40-man roster throughout this off-season, a testament to how much the A’s value his utilityman skills. Ladendorf is a natural shortstop who can also play second, third and all three outfield positions – and play them well. Offensively, Ladendorf has a line-drive swing that produces a lot of contact. He hasn’t been a big stolen base threat the past few years, but Ladendorf has above-average speed and would be a solid late-game defensive and base-running replacement, should the A’s decide to carry one this season.
Vitals: Signed as an amateur free agent before the 2013 season; Age: 20; 6’1’’, 160; S/R
After two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Marinez made his US debut in 2015 with the AZL A’s. He spent the entire season playing at age 19 and flashed impressive tools, especially on the defensive side of the ball. At the plate, Marinez hit .241/.303/.304 with 16 walks and 33 strike-outs. He had his best month at the plate in August, when he hit .263 with a .329 OBP. A switch-hitter, Marinez didn’t receive many opportunities to hit right-handed (he had five hits in 37 at-bats), but he swung the bat fairly well from the left side (.273 in 121 at-bats).
Defensively is where Marinez really opened eyes, as he showed athleticism and a plus arm from short. He helped to turn 22 double-plays in 323.2 innings. Marinez also logged a little time at second and third. He is still very raw, but A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman sees similarities between Marinez and a young Angel Berroa, who would go on to win the AL Rookie of the Year in 2003.
“He is very aggressive and has played similarly to what Berroa did when he was a young player with us,” Lieppman said. “I think Berroa walked only five times in 700 at-bats, or something like that, when he was in A-ball. This guy is similar to that. He’s just learning how to play correctly, but he’s showing athleticism and fine shortstop instincts and a big arm.”
Vitals: 34th-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft; Age: 23; 6’2’’, 210; R/L
Nogowski is one of those players who contributes quietly throughout a season without standing out in any one particular area. A 2014 draft pick, Nogowski skipped Low-A and spent the entire season in High-A with the Ports. He hit .274 with a .352 OBP and played a solid first base. His K:BB was an impressive 47:39 in 354 at-bats. Nogowski hit only four homeruns in the homer-friendly California League and has never hit for much power even dating back to college. Unfortunately for Nogowski, he plays the one position where his one failing as a player becomes particularly pronounced: first base. First basemen who don’t hit for power generally don’t land high on prospect lists.
Despite the lack of power, there is a lot to like about Nogowski’s game. He is an outstanding contact hitter and he is selective at the plate. He’s the kind of hitter who makes a pitcher work and stretches the line-up for the guys around him. Defensively, he gives his infielders a good target at first and covers a lot of ground. If Nogowski can find a way to add more power to his swing, he could become a very intriguing prospect.
Vitals: Fifth-round pick in the 2011 MLB Draft; Age: 26; 6’0’’, 205; L/R
Taylor has been trapped in a circle between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland the past three seasons. The A’s fifth-round pick had always hit the ball extremely well at the High-A level, but had struggled to hit in Double-A. In 2015, Taylor began the year in Stockton and struggled to hit for the first time at that level in his career. However, he hit much better in a late-season stint with the RockHounds, which could be a good sign heading into next season.
It is Taylor’s glove and throwing arm that give him a chance to reach the big leagues even with his struggles at the plate. Taylor calls a good game, has excellent footwork behind the plate and threw out 47% of would-be base-stealers last season. Taylor is in big league camp as a non-roster invitee. A strong spring and a quick start at the plate could push Taylor up the A’s minor league catching depth chart.