During the off-season, we named our top-50 prospects in the Oakland A's system. As we hit the midway point of the season, we thought it would be a good time to check the progress of those players. In the first in our series, we take a look at the progress of prospects 11-20 from our off-season list.
* Note: These rankings were made prior to the 2007 season. Adjustments for 2007 performance will be made to the rankings during the off-season. All statistics through July 4, 2007.
11. Jermaine Mitchell, OF
Expectations were high for Mitchell coming into this season after he hit .362 with a 967 OPS for the Vancouver Canadians during his first pro season. He hasn't had the same level of success thus far this season with Kane County, but he has still had a good first half. Mitchell made the Midwest League All-Star team after batting .295 with nine stolen bases in 62 games before the All-Star break. He has struggled in the week since the All-Star break, however, seeing his average drop to .283. Mitchell, who was the A's fifth round pick last season, is one of the best athletes in the A's system. He has shown-off that athleticism this season for Kane County. Mitchell has 11 stolen bases and four triples already. He has also done a good job getting on-base, posting a .374 on-base percentage before the All-Star break and .364 on-base percentage overall. Mitchell hasn't yet hit for as much power as he figures to down-the-road, although the Midwest League is notoriously tough on power numbers during the cool spring months and Mitchell posted excellent power numbers in June (.495 slugging percentage) as the weather warmed.
Mitchell, who doesn't turn 23 until November, has a very high ceiling. He has similar athleticism to Javier Herrera
, but he has more polish and less raw power. Mitchell has a table-setter's mentality at the plate. He sees a lot of pitches and can hit according to the situation, but can also burn a pitcher who thinks he is going to slap the ball the other way. Despite being left-handed, Mitchell has destroyed left-handed pitching this season while struggling against righties. He is a natural centerfielder, although he has spent considerable time in left and right this season. With Herrera being promoted to Double-A Midland, there is room in Stockton for a centerfielder should the A's decide to promote Mitchell during the second half of the season.
12. Jason Windsor, SP
After a break-through 2006 season that saw him make his major league debut, Windsor has had a rough 2007 campaign. He entered spring training with a strong chance to start the season as the A's fifth starter. However, he had an up-and-down spring training and lost out to Chad Gaudin
and Joe Kennedy
in the camp's final weeks. Windsor then got off to a rough start in Sacramento, posting a 7.33 ERA in April. He recovered nicely in May, posting a 3.64 ERA and going 4-1 for the month in five starts. Unfortunately, Windsor developed shoulder pain in May and hasn't pitched since May 23. He is in the middle of a rehab program, but is still a ways away from returning to the mound.
Windsor's injury has come at a bad time for him personally, as he almost certainly would have seen some time in the major leagues in June with all of the A's injuries. The injury has also robbed Windsor of a chance to prove that he has improved on the areas that he needed to work on after his big league stint last season. Windsor proved last season that he can get big league hitters out, but it was also clear that Windsor doesn't have a lot of margin for error with his location when he is facing big league hitters. The A's like Windsor's off-speed stuff and he could have a future as a set-up man, a la Justin Duchscherer
13. Marcus McBeth, RP
McBeth entered the 2007 season on a big wave of momentum. He saved 28 games for three A's affiliates in 2006 and was a star at the Arizona Fall League. McBeth began the season as the closer for the Sacramento River Cats and he got off to a good start, allowing two earned runs in 10.1 innings and saving five games for Sacramento. Then in early May, McBeth was traded to Cincinnati as part of the Chris Denorfia
trade. McBeth joined Triple-A Louisville and was excellent for the Bats, posting an 0.75 ERA and saving six games in 12 appearances for Louisville. That work earned McBeth a promotion to the major leagues. He has struggled a bit during his stay in the majors, but the Reds like him and he should be a part of their bullpen of the future.
14. Cliff Pennington, SS
After missing much of last season with leg injuries, Pennington began the 2007 season where he started the 2006 season: in High-A Stockton. He got off to a slow start with the Ports, but heated up in May and June. In 68 games for the Ports, Pennington hit .255 with six homers, 36 RBI, nine stolen base and a .348 on-base percentage. Those numbers weren't off the charts for Pennington, but he was swinging the bat better than his numbers indicated and he was fielding well, so the A's moved Pennington up to Double-A during the California League All-Star break. Since arriving in Midland, Pennington has held his own. In 14 games, he has walked 10 times and he has a .393 on-base percentage.
After struggling last season, Pennington has gotten himself back to the style of play that made him a first round pick in 2005. He has fielded his position well, covering a lot of ground and using his strong arm to make plays deep in the hole. He has also used a classic lead-off hitter's approach at the plate, seeing a lot of pitches and stealing bases when the opportunities present themselves. Pennington still has a tendency to get down on himself when he is struggling, which can occasionally exasperate his slumps. However, he has done a good job slowing himself down, especially in the field, and he is a smoother player than he was last season. Pennington will have a half season to prove that he can hit Double-A pitching. If he does well, he could be in Triple-A by next season, where he will compete with Gregorio Petit
to be the next in-line behind Bobby Crosby
15. Scott Deal, SP
At 20 years old, Deal is part of a very young rotation in Kane County. The rangy right-hander, like so many young pitchers, has struggled with inconsistency this season. He has been brilliant at times – throwing a complete game on June 25 and allowing only three runs in 21 innings from May 30-June 11 – however, he has gotten hit around at other times. Deal didn't strike out many batters last season and that trend has continued in 2007, as he has struck out only 44 in 87 innings. He hasn't walked many (24), but the lack of strikeouts makes him vulnerable when the balls being put into play aren't right at his fielders.
Deal has a classic starter's frame at 6'4'', 180. He works quickly and induces a lot of groundballs with his heavy low-90s sinker. Deal has good control, but he doesn't yet have a great swing-and-miss pitch. If he can develop that swing-and-miss pitch, Deal could have a nice future as a starting pitcher. However, if he continues to rely only on his fielders, he will have a tough time stringing together consistently solid outings. Deal is still very young and the A's will likely take their time with him as he moves up the system.
16. Craig Italiano, SP
Thus far, Italiano's professional career has been a lot like that old blues tune: if he didn't have bad luck, he would have no luck at all. Last season, Italiano got off to a good start with Kane County, only to injure his shoulder and miss the final four months of the season. He worked hard to get back on the mound this spring and after a stint in extended spring training, he returned to the Cougars' rotation on April 18. After five inconsistent appearances for the Cougars, Italiano was in the middle of a solid outing when he was struck in the forehead by a vicious line-drive. He would end-up with a fractured skull and he is expected to miss the rest of the season.
It is going to be a tough road back for Italiano. If he can overcome his latest injury, Italiano still has a bright future on the mound, even with two lost seasons. Italiano has one of the best fastballs in the A's system and he won't turn 21 until late July. Even before his shoulder injury, some scouts saw Italiano as a late-inning reliever, as he has a high effort delivery and he is a hard thrower. The A's will likely give Italiano more time as a starter when he returns to the mound, but the A's could decide to move him to the bullpen if they want him to move up the system more quickly. For the moment, however, the biggest focus for the A's and Italiano will be to return him to full health.
17. Vince Mazzaro, SP
Like Deal, Mazzaro has struggled with inconsistency this season. At times, he has been nearly unhittable. For instance, on June 7, Mazzaro allowed only one hit in seven innings and he struck out 12. At other times, Mazzaro has struggled with his command. The result has been a 7-8 record and a 5.38 ERA for the season. He has struck out 77 batters in 93.2 innings, while walking 48. Mazzaro has pitched very well against left-handed hitters, but he has struggled against the righties.
The California League can be tough on any young pitcher's ERA and, despite his high ERA, there have been plenty of things to be excited about in regards to Mazzaro's season. His stuff has been very good at times. His fastball has sat consistently in the low- to mid-90s and, at times, he has had a very good change-up and curveball. Mazzaro is still learning to be consistent with the location of his pitches and to pitch to the edges of the strike zone rather than the middle of the ‘zone. Mazzaro has shown both last season and this year that he can handle a starter's work load and is capable of pitching deep into games. His progression thus far has been similar to that of teammate Ryan Webb
's, although Mazzaro throws harder than Webb.
18. Chad Boyd, OF
After batting .349 last season for Vancouver and Kane County, Boyd was expected to be one of the Stockton Ports' top offensive players in 2007. He struggled to start the season and eventually had to share playing time with Steve Kleen
and Jose Pineda
. Recently, Boyd has been back in the every day line-up and he has been hitting well, compiling a .343 average over his last 10 games. For the season, Boyd is hitting .264 with five homers in 231 at-bats.
At the start of the season, it appeared that Boyd was trying to swing for the fences in the hitter friendly California League ballparks. That approach took Boyd out of his comfort zone, where he looks to hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. When he is on, he is spraying line-drives to all fields and he is allowing the homeruns to come accidentally. He has gotten back to that approach recently, with good results. Boyd turned 22 in March, which is the right age for the level that he is playing at. He had a big second half of the season last year. If he can duplicate that success this year, he should see Double-A next season.
19. Andrew Bailey, SP
Bailey got off to a slow start this season when he strained his oblique muscle during spring training. He spent the first month of the year at extended spring training, debuting with Kane County in early May. He struggled during his first two outings, but then kicked it into gear after that. Over his last nine appearances, Bailey struck out at least six batters in all but two of the outings. He reached double-digits in strikeouts four times. In total, Bailey struck out 74 in 51 innings for the Cougars. That performance earned Bailey a promotion to Stockton, where he will debut soon.
Bailey sports an above-average fastball that can reach the mid-90s. He also has a good overhand curveball and a developing change-up. Bailey underwent Tommy John surgery as a junior at Wagner College, but he has a starter's build and should be able to stay in the rotation as long as his elbow holds up. He is already 23 and he would have likely started the year in Stockton if it wasn't for his spring injury. He'll get the rest of the year to establish himself at High-A.
20. Danny Putnam, OF
Putnam began the 2007 season where he ended the 2006 season: in Double-A Midland. However, he wouldn't stay there for long. He got off to a great start for the Rockhounds, batting .327 with 10 extra-base hits in only 13 games. The timing of his start proved fortuitous, as Putnam was called up to the major leagues in late April when injuries decimated the A's outfield. Not surprisingly, Putnam struggled at the major league level, batting only .214 in 28 major league at-bats. However, he ended his time in Oakland on a high note, homering in his last game before being sent back down to Sacramento. Putnam's stay in Sacramento was short-lived, however, as he was hit by a pitch during his first week with the team and ended up with a broken hand. He missed more than a month and is now completing a rehab assignment with High-A Stockton. He should return to Sacramento by next week.
Putnam showed some good versatility when he was in Oakland, playing all three outfield positions. He looked over-matched at times by major league pitching, but considering he hadn't yet spent a full-season even at Double-A, it wasn't surprising. Putnam has a compact swing and he hits well to all fields. He isn't a big guy, but he hits with surprising power at times. He came into the pros with a reputation as a poor defensive outfielder, but he has improved dramatically since he was drafted. He is probably still best suited for a corner outfield spot, but he showed that he could play center in a pinch. That added versatility could give him a shot as a fourth outfielder with the A's as soon as next season.