Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 40-36

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 Tuesday and Thursday will be "Top Prospect List Day," as we will release our top-50 prospect list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with prospects 40-36.

40. Brad Knox, SP:
Knox was a workhorse this season.
After a very strong 2006 season at Double-A Midland, Knox began the 2007 back with the Rockhounds, as the A's had a back-log of Triple-A level pitchers to start the season. Injuries quickly made openings in the Sacramento rotation, and Knox put himself in good position for a promotion by allowing only 18 hits and a 2.19 ERA in 24.2 innings to start the season with Midland. From late April on, Knox was an important part of the Sacramento River Cats' rotation. In 23 appearances with the River Cats, Knox went 9-7 with a 4.79 ERA in 139 innings. In total between Midland and Sacramento, Knox was 10-7 with a 4.40 ERA.

At the end of the 2004 season, there was concern that Knox had developed a back problem that could potentially side-track his career. However, diligent rehabilitation and prehabilitation of his back has allowed Knox to transform himself into a workhorse on the mound. In 2006, Knox threw 161.2 innings. That continued in 2007, when Knox established a career-high in innings pitched with 163.2. He also added 15 innings in the PCL playoffs and is currently pitching for the Leones del Caracas of the Venezuelan Winter League. He was the winning pitcher for Sacramento in the PCL title game after he threw 7.2 strong innings.

Knox has been a good control pitcher throughout his career, and in 2007, he gave-up only 49 walks in 163.2 innings. He didn't strike out many batters (80), but he was aided by inducing 16 double-plays. Knox regularly worked deep into the game, pitching seven or more innings 12 times during the regular season. He had one complete game and two other games where he was within one out of a complete game. Knox did a good job of keeping the ball on the ground, posting a 1.20 GO/AO ratio.

Knox has always been a difficult pitcher to assess because he doesn't have over-powering stuff and he doesn't strike out a lot of hitters. Early in his career, Knox was able to rack-up an impressive number of strike outs thanks to his mastery of his secondary pitches (especially the curveball). However, as he has moved up into Double-A and Triple-A, his strike out rates have fallen considerably. Nonetheless, Knox has still managed to find a lot of success on the mound thanks to his excellent control and his ability to change speeds and keep hitters off-balance.

"He pitched some big games for us and he has done that throughout his career. He doesn't have the tremendously over-powering stuff, but he finds ways to get outs. At some point, you have to consider that someone who knows how to do that really has some value," Keith Lieppman, Oakland A's Director of Player Development, told OaklandClubhouse.com earlier this off-season.

"He changes speeds well, he has a good change-up and is starting to develop a good cutter. He's trying to be in that mold of someone like a [Justin] Duchscherer. He doesn't have the over-powering stuff, but Knox finds a way to make the right pitches. He just knows how to pitch."

Ultimately, Knox may be best suited for a long-relief role similar to the one that Duchscherer had with Oakland when Duchscherer first established himself as a big leaguer, or as a fifth starter/swingman. Knox has one of the best curveballs in the A's system, as well as a change-up, slider, a cut-fastball and a two-seam fastball. He usually sits in the high-80s with his fastball, although he can touch 91 if he is dialing it up. Knox works quickly. He generally pitches to contact and trusts his defense, which allows him to reach the later innings of games. That approach resulted in more hits than innings pitched at Triple-A this season, but before that, he had always allowed less hits than innings pitched.

Knox has good size for a starting pitcher. He is 6'3'' and a solidly built 215. Knox is a good athlete and he fields his position well. He is very business-like on the mound and even-keeled, a temperament that has helped him have success in big games during his minor league career. He uses an over-the-top throwing motion, and he gets good leg drive into his pitches. Knox is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December. Assuming he isn't selected, Knox could get a non-roster invitation to major league spring training this year. He will likely begin next season in Triple-A, but he could position himself for a call-up to the big leagues if someone on the A's staff gets hurt with a strong start to the season.

39. Connor Robertson, RP:
Robertson had an injury plagued season.
The 2007 season was both memorable and frustrating for Robertson, all at the same time. On the one hand, Robertson spent his first spring training with the major league team and made his major league debut in May. On the other hand, he struggled with the big league team and then broke his thumb, losing almost two months of the season. Robertson then missed the Sacramento River Cats' PCL playoff run and a chance for a September call-up with a calf strain at the end of the season.

Thanks to that broken thumb and strained calf, Robertson got only 40.1 innings of work at the minor league level this season, 39.1 of it at Triple-A. It was Robertson's first extended look at the Triple-A level (he had had a brief taste of that level in 2005), and he had a 4-1 record with two saves and a 4.35 ERA for the River Cats. Robertson, who has always had a very strong K/9 throughout his career, continued to strike out batters at a prolific rate in 2007, striking out 40 at Triple-A.

Robertson's numbers during his brief major league stint were ugly, however. He allowed four runs on six hits in two-plus innings of work. He struck out two and walked two. Robertson's last major league outing of the season ended with Robertson walking off of the mound in pain after he was struck in the hand by a come-backer that broke his thumb. Robertson remained on the major league DL from May 22 to July 17. Last month, Robertson was outrighted from the A's 40-man roster.

Despite the injuries and the disappointing few outings in the major leagues, Robertson still has a good future as a major league reliever. He has a career K/9 ratio of nearly 12 for his four-year minor league career and a career ERA of 2.81. He struggled with his command in 2007, both at the major league and minor league levels, something he'll need to improve on to stick at the major league level.

Robertson doesn't throw overwhelmingly hard (he's usually in the 88-91 range), but he has tremendous movement on all of his pitches, making him very difficult to hit off of. His fastball has a lot of sink, and he also features an above-average slider and a change-up. Robertson throws at a three-fourths arm angle that can be deceptive to hitters. Although he was dropped off of the 40-man roster, Robertson could still get an invitation to major league spring training as a non-roster player. He could be one of the first arms the A's turn to if they sustain any injuries in their bullpen next season.

38. Brad Kilby, RP:
Kilby is pitching well at the AFL currently.
After dominating the Midwest League in 2006, there was some thought that Kilby would skip a level and go right from Low-A to Double-A to start the 2007 season. That didn't happen right away for Kilby, but it didn't take long for the left-hander to make that jump. Kilby appeared in seven games for the High-A Stockton Ports, racking up three saves and 16 strike outs in only 8.1 innings. When a spot opened up in Midland in late-April, Kilby got the call and he spent the rest of the regular season with the Rockhounds.

Kilby made a smooth transition to Double-A. He was the Rockhounds' most consistent reliever in 2007, posting a 2.88 ERA in 65.2 innings. He struck out 69 with Midland and 85 overall in 74 total innings. Despite being a flyball pitcher, Kilby did a solid job keeping the ball in the park, allowing only six homers in 74 innings. For his career, Kilby has allowed eight homers in 162.1 innings.

After the season, Kilby was added to the roster of the Phoenix Desert Dogs at the Arizona Fall League after A's prospect Jerry Blevins was removed from the roster to play for Team USA. Kilby has found good success at the AFL thus far. Despite being in a hitter's league, Kilby has posted a 1.74 ERA in 10.1 innings. He has walked a fair share of guys (six), but he has been able to work around it.

Control has sometimes been an issue for Kilby, who has a career 3.44 BB/9 ratio. However, he has been an excellent strike out pitcher throughout his career, averaging nearly 11 strike outs per nine innings. Kilby features a three-quarter throwing motion that he uses to hide the ball from the hitters. He has a high-80s fastball that he can throw in the low-90s when he reaches back for something extra. His fastball has good movement and he can throw it to both sides of the plate. Kilby has a good change-up and he is working on improving his slider, especially to left-handed hitters.

Kilby, who was a power-hitting DH in college, is a big guy at 6'1'', 225. He has had some conditioning problems at the start of each of the last two seasons, and he will need to come into camp in top shape next year, especially if he is given a major league invite. Kilby has done very well in late-game situations throughout his career, and although he is left-handed, he is capable of being a full-inning set-up man. He figures to start next season at Triple-A, assuming that he has a strong spring training.

37. Mike Mitchell, RP:
Mitchell missed most of the season with a shoulder injury.
Mitchell's absence much of the season was one of the more disappointing injuries in the A's system this season. The right-hander looked poised to break camp as part of the A's bullpen after an outstanding showing at major league camp. Mitchell had also been very impressive during the Arizona Fall League the previous off-season. Unfortunately, a sore right shoulder sidelined Mitchell for the first half of the season. He attempted to rehab the injury without surgery and even appeared in nine games for the A's Rookie League team and the High-A Stockton Ports in July. The pain was still there, however, and Mitchell's velocity was down. He wound-up having surgery on his shoulder in August, an injury that turned out to be a partially torn labrum.

When we spoke to Oakland A's Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi in early October, Zaidi stated that Mitchell's rehab was going well and that he could be ready at the start of spring training if there are no set-backs with his recovery. Assuming that he is healthy, Mitchell has an outside chance to compete for a major league bullpen spot this spring.

Mitchell has the kind of stuff that plays well in the back-end of major league bullpens. He throws a sinking fastball in the mid-90s and he has a lot of swing-and-miss to his game. Mitchell has had a number of injuries during his minor league career. In addition to the labrum problem this season, he had Tommy John surgery in 2004. His only fully healthy season was 2006, when he saved 18 games and had a 3.22 ERA in 52 games spread out over three levels (High-A, Double-A and Triple-A). In 10 games this spring with the A's major league team, Mitchell didn't allow a run and gave-up only five hits in 11.2 innings. He can struggle with his control at times, but he induces a lot of groundballs which helps him get out of jams even when he is wild. If he can get healthy, Mitchell's stuff will give him a good chance to be a good major league reliever.

36. Michael Richard, SS:
Richard was selected in the 11th round out of Prairie View A&M in the 2007 draft. Richard was a senior draft pick after he spent his college time at Prairie View A&M and Gulf Coast Community College. Richard reported to the short-season Vancouver Canadians, where he spent his entire first season as a pro.

Richard was one of the NCAA's top base-stealers in 2007 and that carried over into his season with Vancouver. The shortstop swiped a team-leading 25 bases in 31 chances for the Canadians. Richard also did a good job getting on-base in his initial season. He hit .289 in 225 at-bats and he had a .400 OBP. His K:BB ratio was an even 1:1 with 35 walks and 35 strike outs. The only negative in Richard's offensive game was his lack of power. He had only seven extra-base hits, including one homer (an inside-the-parker). Home run power wasn't a big part of Richard's game in college, so isn't likely that he will hit for much during his pro career, although he should collect a decent number of doubles and triples.

Defense was also not a strong suit for Richard. He committed 18 errors in only 61 games. There was some thought coming out of college that Richard would have to move to second base. The A's may also consider moving Richard to center, where his speed could be a big asset. Richard was old for his league (he turned 23 in late August), and he showed the plate discipline that one would expect from an older player.

Richard has plus speed and has reportedly been clocked as having 6.5 speed. He is also an intelligent player both at the plate and on the bases, and he should be able to put that speed tool to good use. If there is room at High-A, the A's may push Richard to Stockton directly next season given his age. If he is allowed to run at the pace he did this season, Richard could be the first A's prospect since Esteban German to steal 50 bases or more.

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