Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 20-16

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 20-16.

20. Landon Powell, C:
Powell's injury cut short a break-out season.
Up through July 1, Powell was arguably the best story of the season in the A's system. The 2004 first round pick was in the middle of a break-through campaign and he had just made the jump from Double-A to Triple-A for the first time. Unfortunately, Powell tore his ACL on July 2nd and the good news ended. He missed the rest of the season and his future as a catcher is very much up in the air as he recovers from his second ACL tear in three years.

After missing the entire 2005 season with an ACL tear, Powell was healthy for the 2006 campaign. He spent the bulk of the season with the High-A Stockton Ports, batting .264 with 15 homers and a 789 OPS in 90 games. He finished the season with Double-A Midland, where he hit .268 with one homer and a 675 OPS in 12 games.

Powell played nearly 30 pounds overweight throughout the 2006 season, and the A's challenged him to lose that weight before the 2007 campaign by dangling a major league camp invitation that was contingent on Powell losing weight. He came into camp in the best shape of his minor league career and earned his first taste of major league spring training. He was assigned to Double-A Midland to start the season, where he got off to a very slow start at the plate. Through May 24th, Powell was batting only .208 with a 623 OPS. Three days later, he had a breakout game at the plate, driving-in five runs with a double and a homer. He never looked back after that date.

During the month of June, Powell was as red-hot at the plate as any hitter in all of minor league baseball. He batted .425 with a .505 OBP and an .813 SLG in 80 at-bats. He homered eight times and drove-in 26 runs. By the time he was promoted to Triple-A at the end of June, Powell had brought his Double-A line up to .292/.391/.502 with 11 homers and 39 RBI. That red-hot hitting continued at Triple-A, where he homered in each of his first three games before injuring his knee in his fourth contest. He finished the year with 14 homers and a 910 OPS in 64 total games.

But for the questions surrounding the health of his knee, Powell would be one of the top catching prospects in baseball. A switch-hitter, Powell has power from both sides of the plate and good plate discipline. What makes him special, however, is his defensive ability. Despite being a big man (Powell is 6'3'' and generally plays somewhere between 240-270 pounds), Powell is surprisingly nimble behind the plate. He has a strong and accurate throwing arm. He had only four errors and two passed balls and he threw out nearly 56 percent of possible base-stealers in 61 games this season. He developed such a strong reputation for controlling the running game while at Double-A that most teams limited their running with Powell behind the plate. Case in point, the number of attempted steals per game versus the Rockhounds nearly doubled after Powell left Midland.

Powell's future as a catcher is in great doubt at the moment. Despite the fact that he isn't likely to be ready for Opening Day, he was placed on the A's 40-man roster last week to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, a testament to the A's faith in Powell's abilities. He demonstrated a powerful enough bat in 2007 to be considered at first base or DH, but his real value is the total package he brings as an offensive and defensive player as a catcher.

"Certainly the knee is something that you have to worry about. We are hopeful that we don't have that same occurrence. His catching skills make him what he is. He's a switch-hitter with power and the whole thing, but with his great receiving skills and his throwing, there are really no other places for him right now [than at catcher]," Keith Lieppman, Oakland A's Director of Player Development, told OaklandClubhouse.com this October.

Powell struggled with his weight during his last rehabilitation from the torn ACL. He showed newfound dedication to his fitness last off-season and he will need to have more of that to recover successfully from this latest injury. Even if everything goes smoothly with his rehab, Powell is likely to miss a good portion of the first two months of the regular season. He will turn 26 before the start of the 2008 season, so Powell doesn't have the luxury of time to make the big leagues during his peak years. If his rehab stalls, the A's may have to move him to first or DH, just to try to get something out of his bat. However, in an ideal world, Powell will be healthy enough to be catching games for Sacramento by mid-season and play well enough there to join the A's in September.

19. Jason Fernandez, P:
Fernandez opened a lot of eyes in 2007.
Fernandez flew under the radar for much of the season, quietly putting together an excellent season. The Louisiana alum was selected in the 11th round in 2006 and posted fairly non-descript numbers as a reliever with Vancouver last season. He was impressive during the A's 2006 Instructional League, winning the camp's Most Improved Pitcher award.

The right-hander was assigned to Low-A Kane County out of spring training. Like the rest of the Cougars' pitching staff, he got off to a slow start to the season. He made five appearances during the month of April, posting a 7.30 ERA and walking 12 in 12.1 innings of work. It would be Fernandez's only bad month of the season. He recovered to post a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings in May, striking out 28. He would then post ERAs of 3.38, 1.48 and 2.79 in June, July and August, respectively.

Fernandez was primarily a reliever for Kane County for the first half of the season. Before the All-Star break, he made 17 appearances, all but one of them coming in relief. Shortly after the All-Star break, Fernandez moved into the Cougars' starting rotation, with excellent results. Fernandez was particularly effective down the stretch for the Cougars, helping Kane County make a late-season push towards the playoffs. He finished the year with an 8-2 record and a 2.77 ERA with 99 strike outs and 46 walks in 110.2 innings, and he held Midwest League batters to an impressive .209 BAA. He made 11 starts, going 4-2 with a 2.26 ERA, and he had a 4-0 record and a 3.45 ERA in 20 relief appearances.

Fernandez features a good sinking fastball that he throws in the 89-91 range and can touch 93 on occasion. He also has a good, hard slider and a hard curveball. Fernandez is 6'2'' and he has room to fill out. He is aggressive to both sides of the plate and isn't afraid to challenge hitters.

He gets high marks from coaches for his mental toughness on the mound. The A's believe he has the stuff to be a starter, although his combination of a good sinking fastball and hard slider could make him a strong late-inning reliever. As a reliever, Fernandez struck out more than a batter an inning this season. After his disastrous month of April, Fernandez walked only 11 and struck out 45 in 35 relief innings. Oakland will probably continue to develop Fernandez as a starter for now, although they could convert him back to the bullpen if they want to move him up the system quickly. He will be 23 throughout the 2008 season.

18. Jared Lansford, P:
Lansford wasn't healthy until the winter league season.
The 2007 season was mostly a lost one for Lansford, who missed all but the first start of the regular season with a lat muscle problem in his throwing shoulder. Lansford rehabbed the injury without surgery and returned to the field in time to participate in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball league. He threw 30.2 innings during the HWB season and should be on a normal off-season program in preparation for spring training.

Thanks to the injury, Lansford didn't have a chance to improve on his solid first full pro season in 2006 when he went 11-7 with a 3.82 ERA in 115.1 innings split between Low-A Kane County and High-A Stockton. Lansford was excellent in 2006 for Kane County, posting a 2.84 ERA and holding Midwest League batters to a .234 BAA. He struggled in a late-season audition with Stockton, allowing 16 earned runs in only 11.1 innings. He allowed four runs in four innings in his only 2007 start for the Ports, and then posted a 5.87 ERA in 30.2 innings for Waikiki of the HWB.

The biggest concern to come out of Lansford's 2006 season was his anemic strike out total. He whiffed only 59 in 115.1 innings. His strike out totals were better in Hawaii, where he struck out 20 in 30.2 innings. He was still working on a change-up at the start of the 2007 season and his further development of that pitch should result in better strike out totals down the road.

Lansford's best pitch is his fastball, which he throws in the low-90s with sink. In terms of secondary pitches, Lansford has that change-up along with a knuckle-curveball and a slider. He has good size for a starting pitcher and he is athletic, having played in the middle infield in high school. Health-wise, Lansford has struggled with arm and shoulder soreness on-and-off throughout his pro career, although none of the injuries have been considered serious.

Lansford is likely to start the 2008 season back at High-A Stockton, although with the A's having more high ceiling pitching talent in the lower levels of the minor leagues than in the upper levels, the A's will likely not hesitate to move him up to Double-A if he is healthy and pitching well during the first half of the season. Lansford will be 21 throughout the entire 2008 season, so he isn't far off of pace despite missing most of the 2007 season.

17. Andrew Carignan, RP:
Carignan can reach the high-90s with his fastball.
After a stand-out career as the closer for the University of North Carolina, Carignan was selected in the fifth round by the A's in this year's draft. He joined the team late, as he was helping North Carolina reach the NCAA College World Series finals. The A's also gave Carignan a few weeks off after the NCAA tournament to be with his family, who had lost their family home to a house fire earlier in the year.

Carignan skipped past the short-season level and made his professional debut in Low-A Kane County in late July. He appeared in 12 games with the Cougars, allowing three earned runs in 13.1 innings. He saved four games and won one, while taking one loss. Midwest League hitters had a tough time hitting off of Carignan. He allowed only six hits (.136 BAA) and struck out 19. The right-hander did struggle with his command, however, walking 11. That helped lead to four unearned runs scored.

Despite being only 5'11'', Carignan is a hard thrower. He usually throws in the 93-95 range, and he hit 97 during the A's Instructional League this fall. His fastball has a sneaky quality to it and late life. He also throws slurvy slider that acts as his change-of-pace pitch. Carignan was working on a change-up during the Instructional League.

Even though Carignan hasn't fully developed his secondary pitches, he has still been effective against both left-handed and right-handed hitters during both his collegiate and brief professional careers. He isn't afraid to come inside to lefties and challenge hitters in tight spots. Carignan is well-versed at pitching in high-leverage situations. He gets high marks for his aggressiveness and mental toughness on the mound from coaches and scouts.

To find success in the higher levels of the minor leagues, Carignan will have to improve his command and his secondary offerings. If he makes those improvements, Carignan should have a good future as a late-inning set-up man or closer.

16. Mike Madsen, P:
Madsen jumped three levels in 2007.
After posting a 6-1 record and a 1.69 ERA for Vancouver in 2005, Madsen was many pundits' pick for breakout prospect in 2006 in the A's system. Unfortunately, the 21st round pick out of Ohio State had a disappointing 2006 campaign, posting a 7.34 ERA in a season split between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. Despite a strong spring, the A's had Madsen repeat at High-A Stockton to start the 2007 season, and it looked as though some of the luster was off of Madsen's prospect status.

He quickly regained what he had lost in 2006, however. In four starts with Stockton, Madsen struck out 20 in 24 innings and posted a 3.75 ERA. He was promoted to Double-A Midland in May, and it was there that Madsen really shined. In 11 starts with the Rockhounds, the right-hander went 5-2 with a 2.76 ERA and 69 strike outs in 65.1 innings.

That effort earned Madsen a promotion to Triple-A. He didn't have the same consistent success with Sacramento, although he was very effective at times. Madsen was the A's representative at the Major League Baseball All-Star Futures Game and he pitched well for the River Cats in the playoffs. He finished the regular season with an 11-5 record and a 3.84 ERA in 147.2 innings. He struck out 129 and walked 65.

According to A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Ron Romanick, the difference for Madsen in 2007 as opposed to 2006 was location and the addition of an improved breaking pitch.

"What he thought visually was down, was really right at the thigh, which is a good hitting pitch, and we were trying to get him to aim below the knee or at the hollow of the knee," Romanick told OaklandClubhouse.com during the season.

"He came back [this spring] with a little bit different grip on his breaking ball and that developed into a really nice breaking ball, a swing-and-miss one, to go with re-adjusting his gun sight. He has good stuff, so we let him throw a two-seamer and a four-seamer. Now his pitches have a little different dimensions and his change-up is improved. Again, his visual of what a good pitch down in the ‘zone was has changed and his addition of a good swing-and-miss breaking ball has meant that his confidence has gone through the roof."

Madsen's fastball sits in the low-90s and hits 93 when he is raring back for something extra. He has an above-average change-up and a good slider, but the biggest addition to his pitching arsenal this season was a curveball that he was able to use as an out-pitch. He has the stuff to stay as a starter, but his size and build (5'10'', 160) might be best suited for the bullpen.

Madsen was a senior draft pick in 2005, so he was old for his league until he reached Triple-A. He will spend the entire 2008 season at age 25, so next season will be a big year for Madsen. He could earn a non-roster invitation from the A's to big league spring training and he should be a candidate for a look at the major league level next season if he is pitching well and there are injuries on Oakland's staff.

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