Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 10-6

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 10-6.

10. Grant Desme, OF:
Desme missed time with a broken wrist.
The A's didn't get to see much of their second round pick during the short-season, as Demse was still recovering from a broken wrist he sustained during the collegiate season when he signed with the A's. If it hadn't been for that broken wrist, however, Desme more than likely wouldn't have been available when the A's selected him with the 74th pick in the 2007 draft.

Desme began the 2007 collegiate season as a decent, but not top-level prospect. However, thanks to a break-out campaign for Cal Poly, Desme began to be mentioned in the first round territory. He won the Big West Conference's Triple Crown and was named a First Team All-American after batting .405 with 15 homers and 53 RBI. Desme missed the final few weeks of the season after breaking his wrist, but his numbers were still good enough to hold up for the conference lead in average, homeruns and RBIs.

After rehabbing his wrist injury, Desme joined short-season Vancouver for the final two weeks of the minor league season. He homered in his first game and batted .261 with a .358 OBP and a 750 OPS. Desme had severe splits during his first stint as a pro, batting .667 with a 1639 OPS versus lefties and hitting only .162 with a 514 OPS and 19 strike outs in 37 at-bats versus righties. These severe splits were likely a result of Desme's layoff after the wrist injury because he had a .433 BA versus righties and a .315 BA versus lefties during his 2007 collegiate season.

A high school shortstop, Desme is an athletic outfielder. He stands at 6'2'', 205 and he has a lean, muscular build. Desme didn't hit for much power with Vancouver, but he showed big-time power while with Cal Poly which should translate to good homer and doubles totals in professional baseball. He runs well enough to play in center, but his arm plays well in right-field, and he has shown a good glove. Desme stole 12 bases in 15 chances with Cal Poly. He has the speed to be a 15-20 steals-a-year guy in the pros, although with the A's, he may not get the chances to steal that many bases.

Desme, like many of his fellow Canadians teammates, struggled with strike outs while with Vancouver. He whiffed 21 times in 46 at-bats. A lot of those strike outs were a product of rust; although, he has been vulnerable to breaking pitches through-out his career. Much of Desme's dramatic improvement from his sophomore to his junior seasons at Cal Poly was due to his improved pitch recognition. He will need to continue to improve his selectivity at the plate to keep his strike outs in-check.

The A's are in need of power in the upper levels and he is one of a handful of players that the A's selected in 2007 who could give the system a much-needed power boost. Desme has five-tool potential. Broken wrists can be tricky injuries for power hitters to recover from, although Desme will be 10 months removed from the injury come spring training, so he should be 100 percent for the start of next season.

9. Henry Rodriguez, P:
Rodriguez can throw upwards of 100 MPH.
Rodriguez has arguably the best arm in the A's system. The 20-year-old right-hander has hit 100 MPH and he regularly sits in the upper-90s with his fastball. The Venezuelan native spent the 2006 season in the Arizona Rookie League, where he finished on a high note when he combined with Trevor Cahill to throw a no-hitter. After spending the first few weeks of the 2007 season at extended spring training, Rodriguez jumped all the way to a full-season affiliate, as he spent the year in Low-A Kane County. He was a big part of a young Cougars staff that was one of the most impressive staffs in the Midwest League this past season.

Rodriguez went 6-8 with a 3.07 ERA in 20 appearances (18 starts) for Kane County in 2007. In 99.2 innings, Rodriguez allowed only 75 hits (a .214 BAA) and struck out 106. He also limited the opposition to two homeruns for the entire season. Rodriguez is currently pitching for his hometown Aguilas del Zuila in the Venezuelan Winter League. Through Sunday, Rodriguez had a 2.54 ERA in 28.1 innings and 26 strike outs.

As with many young, hard-throwing pitchers, Rodriguez struggles at times with his command. He walked 58 during the regular season and has issued 16 free passes thus far this winter. Much of Rodriguez's control issues come when he tries to over-throw his pitches, says Oakland A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Ron Romanick.

"He can bring it. He definitely can. It is just a matter of him sometimes going so hard that he can't control it. Last year, it seemed like two or three out of every four starts, he would get going too hard and would just get out of control and he'd start throwing balls. He wouldn't be wild, but he would just miss out of the ‘zone with an overthrow. Now, it appears that it is one out of every five or every six starts where he will over-throw. So his consistency factor has really come around and it has allowed him to pitch there," Romanick told OaklandClubhouse.com during the season.

Rodriguez is 6'1'' tall and he is a wiry 175 pounds. His best pitch is his fastball, and he throws both a two-seamer and a four-seamer. He saw solid improvement with his change-up this season and he was able to use that pitch to get outs when he was wild with his fastball. He is also developing a curveball, which is improving although still behind his change-up.

Based on his fastball alone, Rodriguez has a very good shot at a long career in the major leagues. Whether he makes it to the majors as a starter or as a reliever likely depends on his development of his secondary pitches and further improvement of his control. Rodriguez was added to the A's 40-man roster this off-season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, so he will get a chance to compete with major leaguers this spring. He will likely begin the season at High-A Stockton, where he will be tested by the hitter-friendly California League. If Rodriguez can continue to strike out more than a batter an inning and limit hitters to BAAs in the low .200s, he should move quickly through the system. He will be 21-years-old throughout the 2008 season.

8. Javier Herrera, OF:
Herrera was hampered by injuries once again.
Herrera has been one of the biggest disappointments in the A's system over the past two seasons, thanks in large part to an alarming list of injuries. The five-tool outfielder has been a favorite among scouts since he burst onto the scene with an MVP performance with Vancouver in 2004. In 2005, Herrera was suspended for 15 games for violating the league's performance enhancing drug policy, but he still put together a solid season, posting an 818 OPS in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League and collecting five hits in 12 at-bats in a brief stint with Triple-A Sacramento. He raised expectations even further with a strong performance for his hometown Leones del Caracas that winter.

The 2006 season was a lost campaign for Herrera, who had to undergo Tommy John surgery at the start of the season. He also missed that winter league season and didn't return to the field until spring training 2007. The A's took it slow with Herrera this year. Although he started the season on-time with the High-A Stockton Ports, he was DHed a decent amount during the first month of the season. He got off to a rough start with the Ports, batting only .196 with a 529 OPS in April. He picked up the pace considerably in May, batting .318 with six homers and a 992 OPS. Herrera struggled again in June, batting only .242 with a 717 OPS. He also injured his hamstring, which cost him three weeks of games. Herrera returned in July and collected six hits in 13 at-bats before being promoted to Double-A Midland, having hit .262 with nine homers and a 785 OPS for Stockton.

Herrera would only appear in 20 games for Midland, however. He hit .254 with three homers and a 767 OPS in 71 at-bats before tearing his hamstring in late July. He would miss the final month of the season with the hamstring injury. The A's were hopeful that Herrera would be able to make-up some of those lost at-bats during the Venezuelan Winter League season. Unfortunately, he injured his hamstring once again during the pre-season warm-ups and he is likely to miss the entire VWL campaign.

On the plus-side, Herrera flashed all of his five tools this season. In a little more than half a season, he hit 12 homers and 22 doubles, stole 12 bases and showed that he still had his cannon throwing arm despite the Tommy John surgery. Taking out his poor month of April, Herrera hit .286 on the season. On the down-side, he didn't show very good plate patience (73:23 K:BB) and he was caught stealing seven times in 19 chances. In addition, his hamstring problems are starting to appear chronic.

There is no doubt that Herrera has the tools to be a star at the major league level. His athleticism makes him impossible to ignore on the baseball field. He has the range to play center and his leaping ability and fearlessness around the fence allows him to make some spectacular, homerun-saving catches. He also has a very strong throwing arm, which would allow him to play in right-field in addition to center. Herrera still has trouble taking proper routes to balls, however, and he has a tendency to play for the spectacular play rather than the smart one.

Offensively, he has good power. He posted a .449 SLG in 2007 despite slugging .250 during the month of April. He can rack up the steals, as well, although he hasn't yet learned all of the nuances of reading pick-off moves. His hamstring injuries also limited him at times on the base-paths. He has a similar skill set to that of former Braves centerfielder Andruw Jones, although Herrera, at 5'10'', is significantly smaller than Jones and he doesn't have Jones' natural instincts in the outfield or all of his raw homerun power.

Unlike Jones, Herrera hasn't had a fast path to the major leagues. The 2008 season will be his sixth season in the United States and he has yet to play more than 100 games in any one season. Herrera will be only 23 coming into next season, but it will be his fourth season on the A's 40-man roster, meaning that Oakland will have to decide at the end of the year whether or not he is ready to be in the major leagues.

Herrera has an upbeat personality and he is well-liked by his teammates and coaches. However, there have been questions about his work ethic in the past, especially when it has come to his rehabilitation from serious injuries. Given those questions, the A's may decide to start Herrera in Triple-A Sacramento next season so that they can keep a close eye on him. Even if he starts the season back at Double-A Midland, Herrera figures to get a shot in Triple-A at some point during the 2008 campaign. With Mark Kotsay's contract expiring after the 2008 season, the A's centerfield position could be there for Herrera to take hold of in 2009 if he can put together a healthy and productive 2008 campaign.

7. Corey Brown, OF:
Brown hit 33 homers between college and the pros.
Brown had an outstanding professional debut season with short-season Vancouver after being selected by the A's with the 59th overall pick in the 2007 draft. After swatting 22 homers for Oklahoma State, Brown connected for 11 longballs with Vancouver. He finished with 33 extra-base hits in 213 at-bats and a .545 SLG for the Canadians. Brown also walked 37 times and posted a .379 OBP. He finished fifth in the Northwest League with a 924 OPS.

Brown's numbers might have been even better if he hadn't torn a ligament in his hand with two weeks left in the season. He was forced to miss the rest of the season and the A's Instructional League season. It was a reoccurrence of an old injury Brown sustained in college, but he is expected to be 100 percent by the spring and the injury is healing without surgery.

The Florida native was one of the top power hitters among the draft-eligible juniors in this year's draft, and he showed that plus power with Vancouver. His performance with the Canadians helped Brown quiet some of the concerns that he couldn't hit with a wooden bat that surfaced the previous summer when he struggled at the wooden bat Cape Cod League.

A left-handed hitter and thrower, Brown has good speed and an above-average throwing arm to go along with his plus-power. He was a high school football star and he plays with the aggressiveness of a football player on the baseball diamond. His hand injury came on a hard, head-first slide.

Brown has always struck out a lot, dating back to his college days, and that trend continued in the pros. He whiffed 77 times in only 59 games. However, Brown isn't a free-swinger at the plate. He sees a lot of pitches and collects his share of walks (37 in 2007). His approach at the plate is similar to that of current A's outfielder Nick Swisher in that he isn't afraid to take pitches while looking for one that he can put a charge into. Despite being left-handed, Brown handled left-handed pitchers well with Vancouver, hitting .273 with an 853 OPS versus southpaws and .265 with a 953 OPS versus right-handers. Brown batted .306 with a 1087 OPS away from Vancouver's spacious Nat Bailey Stadium, which may mean bigger numbers for Brown next season.

Defensively, Brown has some work to do on his routes out in center. He has the speed to be a good centerfielder, but he has a tendency to midjudge balls over his head. Brown could be moved to right down-the-road, but the A's will likely give Brown time to learn the position, as his bat will be a lot more special out in centerfield.

Brown has a similar skill-set to major league centerfielder Mike Cameron, although Brown has less speed and range in center. Depending on where the A's have room and how he plays next spring, Brown could skip Low-A Kane County and head straight to High-A Stockton and the California League. Brown will be 22 throughout the 2008 season.

6. Jermaine Mitchell, OF:
Mitchell has blazing speed.
After hitting .362 during his pro debut season with Vancouver in 2006, Mitchell followed up with a solid 2007 campaign for Low-A Kane County. He did an excellent job of getting on-base all season, posting an OBP of .390 overall and never posting an OBP below .359 in any one month. Mitchell also stole 24 bases and was the only Cougar player to post an OPS above 800 (he had an 803 OPS). He posted decent power numbers for a lead-off hitter, connecting on 20 doubles, five triples and eight homers in 431 at-bats (.413 SLG) in a tough power league.

During the months of October and November, Mitchell competed in the Hawaiian Baseball League. He did a good job of getting on-base in Hawaii (.368 OBP), but he struggled to hit for power on the islands, managing only four extra-base hits in 88 at-bats. He was also caught stealing seven times during the HWB season after being caught eight times during the entire minor league regular season.

Despite his disappointing HWB numbers, Mitchell's 2007 season was still a positive one. He is looking like a steal coming out of the fifth round of the 2006 draft. He has five-tool talent and the kind of advanced pitch selection that makes him look like a future top-of-the-order hitter in the major leagues. Mitchell walked 74 times in 122 games in 2007, tops on the Cougars and fourth best in the Midwest League. He did strike out 115 times, something that he will focus on improving in 2008.

Mitchell was a two-sport star in high school, and he still has his football build. He stands 6'0'' and is a muscular 210 pounds. A left-handed hitter, Mitchell handles southpaws well (947 OPS versus lefties in 2007). He has a line-drive swing and gap power to all fields. His speed is his top tool, however, as he was one of the fastest players in the Midwest League in 2007. Mitchell's combination of speed, on-base skills and gap power is similar to that of a young Shannon Stewart.

Defensively, Mitchell projects as a centerfielder, although he spent more time in right than he did in center or left in 2007. His arm is only average, but his speed allows him to cover a lot of ground. Mitchell is still working on smoothing out his routes to the ball, especially from centerfield.

After years of producing very little outfield talent, the A's suddenly have a handful of legitimate outfield prospects, and Mitchell leads the pack. He will be 23 next season, and he will likely start the season with High-A Stockton, although the A's could push Mitchell to Double-A Midland if they decide to start Corey Brown in Stockton. Mitchell should get a shot at Double-A next year even if he doesn't start there. He could push for a chance in the big leagues as soon as 2009 if he has a big 2008 season, although a more conservative estimate would have him arriving in the majors in 2010.

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