Photo by Kimberly Contreras

Oakland A's top-50 prospects mid-season review: 50-41

During the off-season, we named our top-50 prospects in the Oakland A's system. Now that we have passed the midway point of the season, we thought it would be a good time to check the progress of those players. In the first of our series, we take a look at the progress of prospects 50-41 from our off-season list.

Note: this is not a re-ranking of current prospects. A new top-50 prospects list will be released this off-season. To view our preseason top-50 Oakland A's prospects list, click here.

Stats as of 7/12/16

50) Corey Walter, RHP

Walter continues to defy all expectations in his second full professional season. The 28th-round pick in 2014 out of West Virginia pitched at High-A in his first full pro season and dominated the hitter-friendly Cal League out of the bullpen (1.42 ERA in 57 innings). The A’s gave Walter a new challenge in 2016: a bump up to the Texas League and a spot in the Double-A Midland starting rotation. Walter has responded with a 2.55 ERA in 67 innings and he earned a mid-season Texas League All-Star nod. He recently moved back to the bullpen, as the A’s will look to limit his innings the rest of the season to keep him around 100 after throwing 57 in 2015. 

Walter isn’t a strike-out pitcher (he has 37 this season and 110 in 151 in his career), but his sinker sits in the low 90s and dives down on hitters just as it reaches the plate. He also has an effective slider that keeps hitters off-balance. Walter’s ultimate big league home is likely the bullpen, but his foray into the starting rotation has allowed him to work on pitch sequencing and improving his change-up. Walter’s command has also improved this season and he has maintained his 60% groundball rate from 2015. He has been equally effective against both righties and lefties.

Depending on how many moves the A’s make with their pitching staff at the deadline, Walter may have an opportunity to join the Triple-A Nashville staff before the end of the year. He is on target to be pitching in Triple-A at the start of 2017, at the very least, and could be a factor for the A’s as soon as next season.

Status: Raising his profile again

49) James Naile, RHP

Naile opened a lot of eyes around the A’s organization during the team’s 2015 fall Instructional League. The 2015 20th-round pick drew raves from that camp for his sinking fastball and his slider. That buzz continued into the spring, when he had another strong camp. Naile began the season with Low-A Beloit and has spent much of the year in the Snappers’ rotation. However, when the A’s needed a spot starter in Triple-A and Double-A last month, they called on Naile, who made two starts at each of those upper levels. Naile held his own against the advanced hitters and has been one of Beloit’s top starters all year. Overall, he has a 3.36 ERA with a 65:22 in 99 innings and a 2.72 ERA in 76 innings with the Snappers.

Naile, who missed all of the 2014 season in college after undergoing Tommy John surgery, features a deep arsenal of pitches: a four-seam fastball that tops out at 93, a two-seamer that sits in the high-80s/low-90s and has significant late biting action, a slider that has been called one of the best in the A’s system by several A’s minor league pitching instructors, and a developing change-up. Naile commands his pitches well and isn’t afraid to challenge hitters. He’s allowed just three homeruns all season and has a 63% groundball rate this season. Naile was effective as a closer during his pro debut season last year, but he looks well equipped to continue as a starter for the time being.

Naile has made three starts since returning to Beloit, pitching at least seven innings in all three outings. If there is a second-half shift among the A’s minor league rotations, Naile seems poised to move up to High-A Stockton and finish his season there.

Status: Living up to the preseason hype

48) Daniel Gossett, RHP

The 2015 season was nothing short of disastrous for Gossett, who was the A’s second-round pick in 2014 out of Clemson. Despite serving as an ace at an ACC school and coming to pro ball with a reputation for being polished, Gossett struggled mightily in Low-A in his first full pro season. In 144.2 innings with Beloit, Gossett had a 4.73 ERA – and that was after he showed significant improvement during the second half of the season. Coming into this season, it was hard to know what to expect from Gossett, who was pushed to the hitter-friendly California League despite his Midwest League struggles (although we did peg Gossett as a preseason breakout candidate).

Gossett has responded with a big bounceback season. He has looked every bit the part of a second-round pick this year, which has been split between Stockton and Double-A Midland. In 83 innings, Gossett is holding opposing batters to a .219 BAA and he has 90 strike-outs. He has allowed just seven homeruns in those 83 innings after allowing 16 in 144.2 innings last year. His ERA has benefited from all of these improvements, and he sports a solid 3.47 mark between the two levels.

Gossett has been throwing a cutter this season to go along with his two-seam and four-seam fastball and his change-up. His fastball can be a little straight, so the cutter gives Gossett another pitch with a wrinkle that allows him to keep hitters off-balance. His change-up is still his best pitch and one of the best change-ups in the A’s system.

Although Gossett earned an early season promotion from High-A to Double-A, he is likely remain with Midland the rest of this season. If he puts together a second half similar to his first, Gossett should be in a strong position to be knocking on the doors of the big leagues at some point next year. 

Status: Righted the ship

47) Trey Cochran-Gill, RHP

The A’s acquired Cochran-Gill from the Seattle Mariners for Evan Scribner during the off-season. An Auburn alum, Cochran-Gill threw at three levels for the Mariners during his first full professional season, reaching Triple-A and spending the majority of the season pitching out of the Double-A Jackson bullpen. Cochran-Gill struggled with his command in 2015, but he posted well above-average groundball numbers.

The A’s assigned Cochran-Gill to Midland at the start of the season and he has spent the entire year in the RockHounds’ bullpen. He had a rough month of May when he went through a dead-arm period, allowing 14 earned runs in 18.1 innings. Since then, Cochran-Gill has been one of the top relievers on the Midland staff. He has allowed just one run in 17.1 innings. Command has continued to be an issue off-and-on for Cochran-Gill, but it has improved significantly from last year. He has walked 19 in 48 innings and has struck-out 40 in 48 innings. His groundball rate is 64%. Cochran-Gill is mostly a two-pitch pitcher, featuring a sinker that can touch 94 and has plenty of life and a sharp breaking slider that sits 82-84.

Midland has a strong bullpen this season, so it isn’t a slam dunk that Cochran-Gill will get a call to Nashville if trades create openings in the Sounds’ bullpen. However, he is on a solid path to receive consideration for a spot in the Sounds’ bullpen at the start of next season.

Stats: Killing grass with groundballs

46) Brett Graves, RHP

Like Gossett, Graves struggled during his first full professional season in 2015. The A’s 2014 third-round pick out of Missouri struggled with diminished velocity throughout the 2015 campaign and posted a 5.36 ERA in 142.2 innings for the Snappers. Although Graves hasn’t matched Gossett’s success thus far in 2016, there are signs that things are turning around for the right-hander. Over his last four starts with Stockton, Graves has allowed five earned runs in 18 innings despite battling a blister issue. In his last outing, he blanked the San Jose Giants for six innings of one-hit baseball.

The best development for Graves so far this year is that his velocity has started to tick back up to the 92-94 MPH levels that he pitched at while in college. He is continuing to develop a solid two-seam fastball to compliment the four-seamer, and he is also throwing a change-up and a cutter. Graves is a strong competitor and has continued to work hard to make adjustments. 

A strong second half could go a long way towards positioning Graves for a spot in the Double-A Midland rotation next season. However, if he continues to struggle, he could move to the bullpen in 2017, where his stuff might tick up to the point where he could be a very effective reliever. 

Status: On a nice run in Stockton

45) Argenis Raga, C

Raga is a graduate of the A’s Dominican Academy. He has earned notice the past two seasons with his improvements at the plate and with the glove. A former infielder, Raga has focused almost exclusively on catching the past two seasons. In 2015, as a 20-year-old, Raga spent most of his season with Low-A Beloit. He struggled badly during the first half of the season, but was arguably the Snappers’ top hitter during the second half. That performance earned him an opportunity with High-A Stockton to start the 2016 season. He has remained with the Ports all year, appearing in 53 games and posting a .254/.330/.333 line in 177 at-bats. 

At the plate, Raga has shown a strong command of the strike-zone and good bat control. He has a 9.8% walk rate for Stockton and has struck-out in 17.1% of his at-bats. Raga has yet to show much in-game power, but he has shown flashes of power in BP and that could develop over time. Defensively, Raga continues to be on a learning curve behind the plate. He has a strong arm but hasn’t mastered the footwork necessary to catch many runners. At times, he can start moving his feet too quickly in anticipation of making a throw, leaving him in a bad position to block balls in the dirt. Raga is a good athlete, however, and a hard worker. He has the ability to improve defensively as he gains more experience.

At 21, Raga is young for the Cal League and has held his own, for the most part. He will likely continue to share reps behind the plate for Stockton for the rest of this season and could return to the Cal League again in 2017 to continue to work on his defense.

Status: Holding his own

44) Brett Siddall, OF

Siddall, the son of former big leaguer and current Toronto Blue Jays’ broadcaster Joe Siddall, was the A’s 13th-round pick in last year’s draft. The younger Siddall had a strong pro debut season, posting an 826 OPS in 62 games between the Arizona Rookie League and the New York-Penn League. In 2016, Siddall has manned the outfield for the Beloit Snappers all season. He has had an up-and-down season at the plate, and he currently sports a .251/.338/.365 line in 85 games.

Siddall got his season off to a great start when he posted a 929 OPS in April. He struggled in May and June, however, but has shown signs of improvement during the first half of July. Throughout his struggles, Siddall has maintained a solid approach at the plate, posting a 9.5% walk rate. He has been a bit unlucky on balls hit into play, putting up a below average .286 BABIP. His power has been down as compared to 2015, but the Midwest League can be tough on power hitters in general. Defensively, he has played a solid right field.

Siddall’s approach has been solid all season and point towards a potential uptick in his production the final six weeks of the year. A strong finish will put him in a solid position to move up to the Cal League at the start of 2017.

Status: Navigating the Midwest League

43) Bruce Maxwell, C

In addition to Gossett, Maxwell was our other preseason pick to have a breakout campaign. Thus far, Maxwell has made us look pretty smart. After one-and-a-half disappointing offensive seasons in Double-A, Maxwell parlayed a strong showing during big league camp this spring into an opportunity in Triple-A. He hasn’t let that opportunity be wasted. Sharing time with Matt McBrideBryan Anderson and others, Maxwell has been a steady contributor both at the plate and behind it for the Sounds. The 2012 second-round pick finished the first half of the 2016 season with a .282/.358/.429 line, by far his best half of production at the plate in his pro career.

The biggest uptick for Maxwell offensively has been with his power. He has always had a good understanding of the strike-zone and the ability to make regular contact. However, until this season, he had never been able to translate his prodigious pre-game power into in-game production. This year, Maxwell’s ISO is a career-best .158. He is still walking at a solid rate (10.7%), and, while his strike-outs are up some, they are still within a reasonable range (18.8%). Maxwell’s power has been particularly evident lately, as he has hit all five of his homeruns over the past month. He has struggled against left-handed pitchers, but the left-handed hitter has an 834 OPS versus righties this season.

Defensively, Maxwell has made monumental improvements since he turned pro. Once a liability behind the plate, Maxwell has grown into an asset. He’s a good game caller who works with pitchers well and he has improved his footwork on balls in the dirt considerably. His arm strength is above-average and he has thrown out 37% of would-be base-stealers this season.

The A’s currently have three catchers on the 40-man roster, but, with Josh Phegley on the disabled list, none of those 40-man roster backstops are in the minor leagues. Phegley is expected to return fairly soon, but if there is another injury or if the A’s move one of their top-two catchers, Maxwell could make his major league debut as soon as this season. If not, he is a strong candidate to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season.

Status: Nearing the big leagues

42) Jhonny Rodriguez, OF/1B

Rodriguez made a strong impression during his US debut season last year with the AZL A’s, when he hit .284 with a .450 SLG in 109 at-bats. Rodriguez’s time in the AZL was cut short when he had to return home to the Dominican Republic because of a family emergency, but the feeling was that he was one of the organization’s most promising teenage hitters. This year, the A’s assigned Rodriguez to short-season Vermont, where he is competing as a 19-year-old. Although a recent slump has brought down his numbers, Rodriguez has earned praise for the quality of his at-bats and for his work ethic as he works through his current slump.

The teenager, who turns 20 later this month, has one of the smoothest left-handed swings in the organization. He has some pop in his bat, as well, and many within the organization project him to hit for power as he develops. An outfielder until this season, Rodriguez saw plenty of time at first base during extended spring training, and he is likely to cycle between the corner outfield and first base throughout his career. He doesn’t run all that well, but he has a solid throwing arm and is a good athlete. 

Rodriguez is part of a young core of players on the Vermont squad who are playing away from the A’s Dominican or Arizona complexes for the first time. He will continue to experience ups-and-downs this season, but if he continues to show a good work ethic and grind out quality at-bats, Rodriguez should be in a good position to move to full-season ball in 2017.

Status: Getting his feet wet in Vermont

41) Carson Blair, C

Blair made the jump from minor league free agent signing to big league catcher in one season last year. Although he was designated off of the A’s 40-man roster during the off-season, he returned to the organization as a minor league free agent for a second straight year. The 2016 season hasn’t quite gone according to plan for Blair, unfortunately. He fell behind Maxwell in the depth chart during spring training and began the year with Double-A Midland. After a strong start with the RockHounds, Blair injured his oblique on April 27th.

That injury cost Blair nearly two months. He finally returned to the field at the start of the New York-Penn League season, rehabbing for a week with the Vermont Lake Monsters. After completing that rehab, he re-joined Midland on June 22, but found himself back in Triple-A 10 days later when McBride got the call to the big leagues.

Blair has accumulated just 81 at-bats this season, but he is batting .333/.407/.481 in that limited action. He continues to show the power and athleticism behind the plate that impressed the A’s brass last season. Blair may have to return to Midland once McBride re-joins the Sounds, but as long as Blair is producing, he should have no trouble finding another opportunity as a minor league free agent next year – whether that is back with the A’s or with another organization.

Status: Back on the field

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