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 21-30 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 13, 2007.
21. Shane Komine, SP:
After making his major league debut in 2006, Komine came into spring training with an outside chance of making the 25-man roster. He struggled a bit during spring training, allowing four runs on nine hits and three walks in only seven innings, and was sent to Triple-A Sacramento to start the season. As he did in 2006, Komine got off to a slow start this season, posting a 3-9 record and a 5.38 ERA for Sacramento during the first half of the season. He really struggled away from Raley Field, posting an 0-5 record and an 8.66 ERA in seven starts. Despite his struggles, the A's have called on Komine twice this season. During his first stint with the team, Komine did not make an appearance. However, in his second stint, he came into a game in the first inning and threw 6.1 innings of relief, allowing four runs. He is still with the A's in the bullpen as their long reliever, although he hasn't made an appearance since that 6.1 inning outing.
It isn't clear how long the A's will keep Komine in their bullpen this time around. With Connor Robertson
and Huston Street
starting their rehabs and Joe Kennedy
moving to the bullpen, Komine may be the odd man out. Long-term, however, Komine's future is probably in the bullpen and not the starting rotation. He has good stuff (fastball in the low to mid-90s and a plus, hard curveball), but he has had injury problems during his career and his velocity has tended to fluctuate during his longer outings. Look for Komine to transition to the bullpen full-time at some point this season. He is a good candidate to be a September call-up for the A's (if he doesn't remain on the team now) and should compete for a bullpen spot next season.
22. Chad Lee, P:
Lee was selected in the fourth round of last year's draft as a high ceiling junior college pitcher. The big red flag with Lee in college was his injury history, which included an ACL tear and a possible arm injury. He had a solid debut with Vancouver last season and was slated to join the Kane County Cougars' rotation this year. However, he developed arm problems at the end of spring training and hasn't made an appearance so far this year. He has been shut-down indefinitely and may miss the rest of the season.
23. Jeff Baisley, 3B:
After winning the Midwest League MVP in 2006, Baisley made the big jump from Low-A to Double-A. He didn't appear to have any trouble making the adjustment to the higher level of competition. Baisley hit only .244 in April, but he ramped it up in May and June, posting 833 and 932 OPSs, respectively. Unfortunately, Baisley injured his knee right before the All-Star break and he has been out of action since June 17.
Baisley was old for the Midwest League last season, but he is more in the correct age range for the Texas League this year. He has shown that he can hit for power at the higher level, although he can still improve on his plate patience. Baisley has always drawn praise for his soft hands at third. If he can get back on the field relatively quickly, he could see some time in Sacramento by the end of the year. The A's are committed to Eric Chavez
at third base for quite some time, but Baisley could draw interest from other teams if he can regain his health quickly.
24. Dan Meyer, SP:
After two years of only bad news about Meyer, A's fans have finally had a season of promising news about the talented left-hander. Meyer underwent shoulder surgery during the last off-season and this year he has been healthier than he has ever been while a member of the A's. He spent about a month in extended spring training to start the season and then made one start in Double-A Midland before heading to Triple-A Sacramento, where he has now made 14 starts. He is 5-1 on the season with a 4.29 ERA and a 60/41 K:BB ratio in 7.1 innings.
Meyer's control has been sporadic this season, as his 41 walks would indicate. However, his velocity has returned to its normal low-90s range and he is getting excellent movement on all of his pitches. At times, he has too much movement, which has led to walks and high pitch counts. In May, he struggled with his control but stayed out of the middle of the strike zone and managed a 3.54 ERA. In June, he has been in more of the strike zone, but that has led to more hits and a higher ERA (5.67). His two July starts have been a mix of both his May and June efforts. These types of struggles are to be expected for a pitcher who essentially hasn't thrown with a healthy arm in two years. As he regains his feel for his stuff, Meyer's control should improve dramatically. The A's aren't going to push Meyer, but they could call him up in September to give him a look out of the bullpen. If he finishes this year off healthy, Meyer could be a big factor next spring for either a bullpen or starting rotation spot.
25. Toddric Johnson, OF:
Johnson came into this season as one of the bright spots from the 2006 draft class after he had a 901 OPS in 10 games for Vancouver and then hit .286 in 28 games for Low-A Kane County. A speedster with a good eye, Johnson was expected to see a bulk of the playing time in Kane County as the Cougars' lead-off hitter and centerfielder this season. Johnson got off to a decent start to the season, batting .275 with a .351 OBP in 13 April games. However, he has seen his play fall off dramatically in May (.224 BA/531 OPS) and June (.132 BA/390 OPS). He has hit for very little power (10 doubles and no homers or triples in 206 at-bats) and has only had three stolen base attempts (all successful).
Johnson is a lot more talented than his numbers would show, but his poor play has put him in a hole in terms of his prospect status. He will turn 23 at the end of the year, so he would lose a lot of luster as a prospect if he had to repeat at Kane County next season. Johnson came to the A's as a line-drive hitter with a good eye and good speed – exactly the kind of player who normally succeeds in the Midwest League. He can still rescue his season with a strong finish, but he'll have to start swinging the bat better soon. Maybe his four hits in his last six at-bats are a sign that he is turning it around.
26. Justin Sellers, SS:
Sellers got off to a poor start this season, batting only .213 in April. He was much better in May and June, batting .260 and .252, respectively. Thus far in nine games in July, Sellers has been red-hot, batting .357 with a 910 OPS. Sellers has been much better against right-handed pitching this season, despite being a right-handed hitter, although there aren't many left-handed starters in the California League, which may be contributing to his struggles against southpaws. Defensively, Sellers had to adjust to a position switch in April and May, as he moved over to second base to accommodate Cliff Pennington
. He moved back to his natural position at shortstop in late June and, perhaps not coincidentally, he began swinging the bat much better after that point.
Sellers has a tendency to swing for the fences and at 5'10'', 160, that approach often gets him in trouble. In a lot of ways, Sellers is similar to fellow A's middle infield prospect Gregorio Petit
in that he is a talented defensive player who could be a solid top-of-the-order presence if he shortened his swing and tried to use his speed more. Defensively, Sellers still makes the occasional error on an easy groundball, but he has impressed with his range and his arm, especially at short, and is up there with Petit and Pennington as the top defensive middle infielders in the A's system. Sellers just turned 21 in February and has been one of the Ports' youngest players for the entire season. As a young player, he has had a steep learning curve in terms of his approach to hitting, but he has good baseball instincts and has made solid adjustments throughout the season offensively and defensively. If he can continue to improve as the season moves on, Sellers should find himself in Double-A next season as a 22 year old.
27. Jason Ray, P:
Ray spent most of last season as a starting pitcher, but he finished the year in the bullpen and the A's determined that that was where his fastball/curveball combination would be best utilized. Ray got off to a strong start out of the bullpen, but then went on the DL in mid-April. He returned for a brief stint at the end of May/ early June, but has been on the DL ever since. In 10.2 innings, Ray has allowed three runs and has struck out 14 against nine walks.
When he is healthy, Ray has one of the best fastballs in the A's system. He throws it in the mid-90s with movement. He also has an excellent curveball. He has struggled with his control throughout his career and that continued during his brief stint with Stockton this season. His build is similar to that of A's pitcher Rich Harden
: under 6'0'' tall, but muscular. As a reliever, Ray should be able to move through the system quickly once he is healthy. He'll need to display better control to be an impact reliever at the higher levels, however.
28. Dallas Braden, SP:
Braden didn't pitch very much during the regular season in 2006 due to a shoulder injury and a facial injury prevented him from participating in the Arizona Fall League. However, Braden pitched well during the Puerto Rican Winter League and got off to a great start with Double-A Midland to start the 2007 season. Braden made two starts for the Rockhounds, allowing only three runs in 12 innings. He struck out 13 and walked only three. After one start with Sacramento during which he allowed one run in six innings, Braden was promoted to Oakland. He won his first start by stifling the Baltimore Orioles
, but he struggled in subsequent starts, especially with home runs. Braden was sent down to Sacramento in early May, brought back against soon after that, sent down again in early June, brought back in late June and then sent down again in early July. During his last stint with the A's, Braden came out of the bullpen. In his last two outings, Braden threw 2.2 scoreless innings at Yankee Stadium. Since being sent back down to Sacramento, Braden has returned to the starting rotation with great success. He is a strong candidate to join the A's rotation as a replacement for Joe Kennedy next week.
During Braden's time in Oakland, he demonstrated that he could get big league hitters out by striking out 18 in 23.2 innings. He also showed that he could be hit around if he misses his location. He has been a high strikeout pitcher throughout his career and that appears to be something that will continue in the major leagues. Braden throws a low-90s/high-80s fastball with a good assortment of off-speed pitches. He is aggressive and the A's like his moxie on the mound. Scouts have always pegged Braden as a candidate for the bullpen thanks to his diminutive stature (6'1'', 185). His arm troubles last season also contributed to that idea. However, he has enough pitches to stick as a starter and it appears the A's will give him another chance to stick as one in the majors this season. At worst, with his screwball/slider/fastball combination, Braden should be a solid reliever in the big leagues.
29. Ben Jukich, SP:
Jukich was one of the more interesting stories coming out of the A's 2006 draft class. The left-hander was almost 24 when he was selected, as he had taken time away from baseball before going to college. He was very solid during his pro debut, pitching well for both short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County. Jukich was pushed to High-A Stockton at the start of the 2007 season, where he was in the Ports' starting rotation for the first two-and-a-half months of the season. In mid-June, he was traded to the Cincinnati organization as part of the Chris Denorfia
deal and was assigned to the Reds' High-A affiliate in Sarasota. Like many young players, Jukich struggled during his first few outings after being traded. However, he has pitched very well for the Sarasota Reds in his last two starts.
Jukich has a build similar to former A's lefty Mark Mulder
and a hard curveball that was one of the top in the A's organization before he left. He has good control (62:25 K:BB ratio this season), but he often catches too much of the strike zone, which has caused him to give up a lot of hits this season. Because of his time away from the game, Jukich is old for his level, but still young in terms of his development as a pitcher. He may move through the Reds' system quicker as a reliever, although with their lack of left-handed starting pitching, the Reds will likely give Jukich a long look as a starter.
30. James Shull, SP:
Shull has one of the best arms in the A's system, but he hasn't been able to show it over the last two years. The right-hander missed all but two early season starts in 2006 and wound-up having Tommy John surgery. Then this off-season, Shull injured his shoulder and had to have surgery, which will keep him out for the entire 2007 campaign. One arm injury is hard to overcome. Two may be a very difficult task indeed. Shull, who struck out 81 batters in 73 innings for Vancouver in 2005, will be 24 at the start of next season, so he'll have a lot of catching up to do once he gets back on the mound.