Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 15-11

It's that time of the year when we take stock of the Oakland A's organization and analyze the top prospects. For the next few weeks, every Monday and Wednesday will be "Top Prospect List Day", as we will release our top 50 list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with a review of prospects 15-11.

15. Scott Deal, SP

Scott Deal had himself quite a season in 2006. Despite a poor showing in his pro debut last year, the 5th round pick put together solid numbers at short season Vancouver this season. His line for the year: 8-4 with a 3.91 ERA, 35 K, 17 BB and 73 H in 76 IP. Deal wound up 18th on Baseball America's Northwest League Top 20 Prospects list, and later was named Most Valuable Pitcher at the A's instructional league camp in Arizona this fall.

As his statistics show, Deal is not a strikeout pitcher, instead relying on good control and a heavy sinking fastball that sits in the high-80s and touches the low-90s to get a lot of groundball outs. On the positive side this helped him put up a great HR/9 ratio of 0.36. On the negative side his inability to make batters miss in the lower levels does not bode well for his future performance at higher levels.

At 6'4'', 190 lbs. it is surprising that he doesn't project as more of a power pitcher. He could add velocity as he fills out, but then again the A's thought he'd improve his velocity by streamlining his mechanics. He did a great job of making his delivery fluid and repeating it consistently as the season wore on, but his fastball didn't gain anything in the process.

Deal might be able to improve his strikeout rate by working on his breaking stuff, but so far he doesn't seem to have a feel for either his changeup or slider. Both pitches are average at best, and so far he hasn't used the slider much at all.

There is a lot to like here, from his size and frame to his excellent control to his relative youth. Watch for an improved K rate. If it comes, he'll be on track to make a name for himself as a starter. If it doesn't, he projects as a situational reliever who could wind up being a solid 7th or 8th inning guy in the majors.

14. Cliff Pennington, SS

2006 probably could not have gone any worse for Cliff Pennington. The organization's top choice in 2005, Pennington entered the season with a solid showing at Low-A Kane County under his belt. He struggled early at High-A Stockton, looking lost at the plate and stiff in the field. On the few occasions I saw him play (early in the season), his footwork around second base seemed to have disappeared and his throws were erratic. At the plate was even worse. He was patient, but often took hitter's pitches and swung weakly at pitcher's pitches, grounding out or popping up an inordinate amount of the time. Think Mark McGwire in 1991 (misguided patience) combined with Jason Kendall of 2004 (tons of 6-3 and 4-3 putouts). His slugging percentage in 201 plate appearances at Stockton was a paltry .277. He finished hitting .203, with a .302 OBP, two homers, seven doubles and 35 strikeouts. Then he missed more than two months with various hamstring injuries. Ugly.

On the bright side his walk rate was solid, with 24 free passes in 46 games, and he stole seven bases while being caught only once. His defense got better as the season progressed, but his offensive production didn't come around until just before he injured himself the final time in Stockton. He didn't return to active duty until the end of the season in the Arizona Rookie League. There, he looked more comfortable, hitting .464/.531/.643 with three doubles, a triple and four walks in 28 ABs.

2007 could go either way for Pennington, but it's safe to say that this is a make or break year for the Texas A&M alum. If he continues to struggle he won't retain any of the front office favor he has left as a first round pick. If he can start hitting, cut down on his strikeouts, play solid D and show the speed in 2005 (25 steals in 31 attempts), he'll quickly find himself back among the organization's top prospects. A lot of that will depend on a properly-healed hamstring and a fast start wherever he begins the season – most likely Stockton.

13. Marcus McBeth, RP

Originally drafted as an outfielder in 2001, Marcus McBeth is one of the more intriguing players in the Oakland farm system. In late April I answered a mailbag question about McBeth after eight lights-out appearances (one hit, two walks, 14 strikeouts and 7 saves in 8 2/3 IP) at High-A Stockton. Here's what I said: "Given that he is so new to pitching I think the A's will keep him in Stockton for another month or two at least. A second half in Midland seems plausible as long as he shows that his command is here to stay."

It wasn't long after I wrote that piece that the A's promoted McBeth all the way to Sacramento, skipping AA all together. This turned out to be a mistake, as he gave up nine runs (three homers) in 7 1/3 IP over 6 appearances. The A's sent McBeth down to Midland – probably to prevent lingering damage from whiplash. He bounced back nicely there, going 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA in 54 1/3 IP over 45 appearances. His component stats were sharp, with only 43 hits allowed to go along with a 62/20 K/BB ratio. While his control isn't where the A's want it to be, he's improving steadily and has shown the ability to curb spurts of wildness mid-inning.

McBeth just wrapped up a solid AFL season, going 1-0 in 11 appearances, with a 4.50 ERA, 11/3 K/BB and 7 H in 10 innings. He has a heavy low-90s fastball that can reach the mid-90s on occasion, an outstanding change-up and an improving slider. He figures to be in the mix for a big league roster spot next spring, but I feel he'll be better served if they send him to Sacramento. If he succeeds there after struggling there last season, both he and the organization will feel confident with a promotion to Oakland. The most reasonable scenario would put him in the A's bullpen by July.

12. Jason Windsor, SP

Jason Windsor is a good example of the vast difference in talent between AAA and the Major Leagues. He was simply dominant in the minors in 2006, going a combined 17-2 in 26 starts between AA and AAA. In six starts for Midland he threw 33 ½ IP, allowed 27 hits and two homers while posting a 35/10 K/BB and 2.97 ERA.

At Sacramento, he fell into the workhorse mode he filled so well at Cal-State Fullerton. In 20 starts, he pitched 118 innings, allowing 128 hits and two homers to go with a 123/32 K/BB and 3.81 ERA. The A's called him up on July 17th to face the Orioles in Baltimore, and Windsor acquitted himself nicely with a five-inning, three run (one earned) performance. He walked three, struck out three and allowed five hits. Not spectacular, but not bad for a big league debut. What was most impressive was that Windsor hit 94 MPH with his fastball several times after sitting in the 88-91 range most of his professional career. However, his subsequent starts did not go as smoothly.

In three subsequent appearances Windsor struggled, getting shelled in 2 2/3 innings against the Red Sox (four runs on nine hits), throwing a clean ninth in a 7-2 loss against Cleveland, then getting lit up for five runs on seven hits against the Mariners in his final big league start of 2006. He finished 0-1 with 21 H in 13 2/3 IP, a 5/6 K/BB and 6.59 ERA.

As I've written several times, I don't see Windsor as a viable Major League starter. His lack of velocity makes him a back-of-the-rotation guy at best, and I think his control and moxie could be a lot more valuable in a middle relief role. He is a fierce competitor who screams "bullpen!" to me, but it remains to be seen where the A's think he'll fit. They'll probably slot him into Sacramento 's rotation again next year unless he has a lights-out spring and lands somewhere on the Oakland staff.

11. Jermaine Mitchell, OF

I love Jermaine Mitchell. Is that clear enough? Maybe it's because he has power, patience, speed, range and a strong arm. Or it could be all of that combined with his performance. Drafted in the 5th round out of UNC-Greensboro last June, Mitchell hit .362/.460/.507 with seven doubles, two triples, three homers, 22 walks and 14 steals in Vancouver.

Voted the 10th-best prospect in Baseball America's Northwest League, Mitchell showed up all over Baseball America's draft report card, tabbed as the best athlete, having the best speed and displaying the most power among 2006 Oakland draftees. He gets down the line quickly, and at 6'0'', 200 pounds he reminded me a bit of Kenny Lofton (though with more muscle on his frame). I don't think he has the same kind of speed, but I have to say that the last guy that blew my hair back like this going from home to first was Junior Felix. Ichiro is probably a lot faster, but Felix surprised me. Mitchell was the same way. I expected quickness, but I didn't expect what I saw. It made me laugh out loud and look around to see how others were reacting.

The caveat is that Mitchell played the entire season at age 21, which is about average and maybe a little old for the Northwest League. By comparison, Matt Sulentic tore the league apart as an 18 year-old. Still, Mitchell has the athletic ability to be a legitimate centerfield/leadoff guy. He has plenty of range on defense, gets good jumps and takes good routes to fly balls. He'll start the year at Kane County and will moved quickly if he performs.

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