Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 5-1

It's that time of the year when we take stock of the Oakland A's organization and analyze the top prospects. For the past few weeks, every Tuesday and Thursday has been our "Top Prospect List Day," as we released our top-50 prospect list in groups of five. Today, we conclude the series with the top-five prospects in the Oakland A's system.

5. Sean Doolittle, 1B:
Doolittle had a big Instructional League season.
The A's used their second pick of the draft on Doolittle, who was a two-way star for the University of Virginia. Coming into the 2007 collegiate season, Doolittle was high on a number of teams' draft charts. The biggest question about Doolittle wasn't whether he was a top collegiate prospect; it was whether Doolittle was a future pitcher or position player.

The left-hander went 8-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 82 innings for Virginia in 2007 and hit .301 with an 885 OPS as a first baseman for the Cavaliers. Those offensive numbers were down from his previous two years in school, when he posted 912 OPSs in each season. His "down" year at the plate made a number of teams back off of Doolittle as a first baseman and project him as a pitcher. Oakland liked what they saw with Doolittle at the plate anyway and even though the team is short on top left-handed pitching prospects, the A's were adamant from the moment they picked him that he would be a position player in their system.

The A's sent Doolittle to short-season Vancouver to begin his professional career. He appeared in 13 games with the Canadians, batting .283 with a .421 OBP in 46 at-bats. Oakland then moved Doolittle up to Low-A Kane County, where he spent the rest of the season. He struggled during most of his stay with the Cougars, batting .233 with four homers and a 667 OPS in 193 at-bats. Doolittle did pick-up the pace during his final 10 games of the season, however, when he batted .304 with six walks in 23 at-bats.

Where Doolittle really shined was after the season during the A's Instructional League. Doolittle earned the Most Valuable Player award for his efforts during instructs and earned high praise from Keith Lieppman, the A's Director of Player Development, for his efforts both at the plate and with the glove.

"He really continues to be a good draft and he looks like somebody who is going to get there pretty quickly," Lieppman told OaklandClubhouse.com in October.

"He's got great hands and he picks up a lot of errant throws. He is just a really confident kid, both in the field and at the plate. He's pretty solid."

Doolittle stands 6'3'' and he is a lean 195 pounds. He has a smooth left-handed swing and a very discerning eye at the plate. Doolittle uses the whole field well, is balanced at the plate and waits well on pitches.

Coming out of college, the thought was that Doolittle projected more as a Mark Grace-type hitter, a high average and high on-base percentage hitter without much homerun power. Doolittle did little to dispel those projections during his pro debut, as he only managed four homers in 68 games. However, Doolittle hit with a lot of power during the Instructional League after making some adjustments with his lower body. The A's also believe that Doolittle will improve his hitting in all aspects now that he is concentrating on batting full-time and is no longer pitching. In the field, Doolittle is already advanced for his age. He has soft hands, quick feet and a good arm for a first baseman. He is also very athletic and smooth around the bag.

Despite Doolittle's struggles at Kane County, the A's may move him straight to High-A Stockton, especially if the adjustments he made this fall continue to produce results this spring. As a polished collegiate player, Doolittle has a chance to move quickly through the minor leagues. He will be 21 throughout the entire 2008 minor league regular season.

4. Andrew Bailey, SP:
Bailey had 150 strike outs in 2007.
The A's took a bit of a flier on Bailey when they took him in the sixth round of the 2006 draft out of Wagner College of the Northeast Conference only a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Bailey has met or exceeded all of the A's expectations in his first year and a half in the pros. The right-hander posted a 2.02 ERA in 58 innings during his first pro season with Vancouver in 2006. Although he didn't have all of his feel back for pitching that he lost while he was rehabbing his elbow, he still managed to strike out nearly a batter an inning and hold opposing batters to a .187 BAA during the 2006 season.

Bailey's 2007 season got off to a slow start when he injured a muscle in his side during spring training and then had to spend the first few weeks of the year at extended spring training. He joined the Cougars in early May, and after one relief appearance, Bailey was a part of the Kane County rotation. His record with the Cougars wasn't pretty (1-4), but that was more a product of the cold Kane County offense than his performance. He posted a 3.35 ERA and struck out 74 in 51 innings.

He was promoted to High-A Stockton after the All-Star break, and he continued to throw well in the hitter-friendly California League. In 11 starts, Bailey posted a 3.82 ERA with 72 strike outs in 66 innings. He finished off the year by making one start with Triple-A Sacramento. He was brilliant in his outing with the River Cats, allowing one run on four hits in eight innings. On the season, Bailey had a 3.46 ERA and 150 strike outs in 125 innings.

In an interview with OaklandClubhouse.com, Oakland A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Ron Romanick called Bailey a "mini-Curt Schilling."

"He kind of looks like [Schilling] body-wise. He's big barrel chested and he has the same type of delivery. He can pitch up in the ‘zone with his fastball. It's a nice little rising fastball. He can basically go out and pitch with his fastball to both sides of the plate," Romanick said.

Bailey's fastball sits in the mid-90s and has good movement. He also has a big overhand curveball that he can use to freeze batters trying to zero in on his fastball. Additionally, Bailey features a change-up, which he didn't use much during the regular season, but he worked on it extensively during the Instructional Leagues in hopes of featuring it more next season.

The biggest flaw in Bailey's current repertoire is his command. He walked 54 batters in 125 innings this season and allowed 14 homers, mostly on location mistakes. His stuff is good enough that many of his location mistakes aren't handled by lower level hitters, but he will need to improve his command as he begins to compete against more experienced hitters. Scouts worried about Bailey's throwing motion when he was coming out of college, but he has smoothed out his motion since turning pro.

Thanks to the Tommy John surgery, Bailey was a four-year collegiate player, so he is already 23 and will turn 24 next May. He will likely begin the 2008 season in Double-A and could move up to Triple-A mid-season if he is throwing well. Bailey has a starter's build and projects as a work horse capable of throwing 200+ innings a season. He will need to improve his command to be a successful starter in the major leagues. If his control doesn't improve, the A's could move him into the bullpen, where his plus-fastball and good curveball would likely make him a solid back-end of the bullpen pitcher. However, he has the stuff to be a successful big league starter. With the A's starting rotation in a state of flux, Bailey could be a factor for Oakland as soon as 2009.

3. James Simmons, SP:
Simmons handled the advanced competition in Double-A well.
Going into this season's draft, Simmons was considered the pitcher with the most advanced fastball control and arguably the most polish of any of the draft-eligible juniors. Simmons went 11-3 with a 2.40 ERA and only 15 walks in 123.2 innings for UC-Riverside in 2007. After the draft, UCR Head Coach Doug Smith told OaklandClubhouse.com that Simmons "has as good of command as anyone I have ever been around. He can throw it dead-on where he is looking the vast majority of the time."

The A's believed that Simmons' advanced fastball command made him well-suited to pitch at an advanced level right away. The A's placed him with Double-A Midland immediately after he signed. It was the highest level that the A's have started a pitcher at since Mark Mulder began his career at Triple-A in 1999.

Simmons pitched mostly out of the bullpen during his stint with Midland. The A's wanted to limit his work load after he threw so many innings during his final season with Riverside. Simmons held his own against hitters who were often four or five years to his senior. In 29.2 innings, Simmons posted a 3.94 ERA with a 23:8 K:BB ratio. He gave up a lot of hits (36) but was able to limit the damage.

After the season, the A's continued to challenge Simmons by sending him to the Arizona Fall League. He worked exclusively in relief during the AFL, allowing three runs in 9.1 innings. He struck out eight, walked three and allowed one homerun.

"Simmons ultimately acquitted himself pretty well at the Double-A level," Farhan Zaidi, Oakland A's Baseball Operations Analyst told OaklandClubhouse.com in September.

"If you were to draw up a player who could move very quickly through the system, it would be a guy like him who has great command and who throws strikes and is a college pitcher who had a lot of success in college and is an intelligent guy who has an idea of how to pitch."

Simmons has a good pitcher's build at 6'3'', 205 pounds. He has an over-the-top throwing motion and repeats his delivery well. Simmons' fastball is his best pitch, not because of his velocity – which sits anywhere from 88 to 93 MPH – but because of his control of the pitch. He can throw it pretty much wherever he wants to and he can throw it to both sides of the plate. Simmons also has a good change-up, off of which he gets a lot of swings-and-misses. His slider is still a work-in-progress, and his development of that pitch will go a long way in determining how quickly he advances to the major leagues.

Some scouts wondered if the A's planned to keep Simmons in the bullpen thanks to his role with Midland and at the AFL this season. However, A's officials see Simmons as a starter. He maintains his velocity well and he has the kind of build and throwing motion that should lend itself to being a starter.

"He has a nice delivery and he can really spot a fastball. He is a great learner and he has a good body. He has all of the nice tools that a player like that should have," Ron Romanick told OaklandClubhouse.com during the season.

It isn't clear where the A's will send Simmons to start the season. Even though Simmons had some success at Double-A this season, Oakland may decide to send him to High-A Stockton to break him in as a starter in professional baseball. However, if his slider shows improvement this spring, Simmons could start back in Double-A.

2. Trevor Cahill, SP:
Cahill finished with a 2.73 ERA.
The A's took Cahill with their top pick in the 2006 draft out of a San Diego area high school. Oakland convinced him to turn down a chance to attend Dartmouth College to turn pro. The A's didn't see much of Cahill during his first pro season. He signed late and appeared in only four games with the A's Rookie League team in 2006. Cahill ended his pro debut on a high note, combining with Henry Rodriguez to throw a nine-inning no-hitter in his final game of the season.

Oakland started Cahill off slowly in 2007. He was held back at extended spring training for the first month of the season so that he didn't throw too many innings in the cold Chicago spring weather. Once the weather warmed in May, the A's sent Cahill to Kane County, where he spent the rest of the season.

Cahill got off to a slow start with the Cougars, posting a 5.40 ERA in May. However, he improved in every month after that. Cahill posted a 3.49 ERA in June, a 3.33 ERA in July and an 0.74 ERA in August when he led the Cougars in a late-season run towards the playoffs. He finished his first full pro season with an 11-4 record and a 2.73 ERA with 117 strike outs in 105.1 innings pitched. The A's named him as their Organizational Pitcher of the Year for his efforts.

Despite being only 19 years old, Cahill has an advanced feel for pitching. He is a strike thrower with a good compliment of secondary pitches to go along with a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid-90s. He arrived in the pros with a good, hard slider and a knuckle-curveball and he added a circle change-up during the off-season that he was able to throw for strikes consistently during the regular season.

"He came into spring training with a change-up. He worked on it all winter and he came into camp with a really nice what I'd like to call a back-and-forth game. It has allowed him to pitch effectively at a higher level," Ron Romanick told OaklandClubhouse.com during the season.

A shortstop for much of his high school career, Cahill is athletic and does a good job of repeating his delivery. Cahill was sick at the start of spring training this season and lost a lot of weight that he didn't regain until midway through the season. That showed in his numbers. He had a 3.94 ERA before the All-Star break and a 2.26 ERA after the break. He has room to add muscle to his 6'3'', 200 pound frame. Cahill already throws hard, but he may be able to add a mile per hour or so on his fastball as he finishes growing into his body.

Cahill gets high marks for his work ethic and his poise on the mound. He improved his game on his own time during his off-season last year, an unusual feat for such a young pitcher. The A's won't push Cahill, given his age, but if his performance continues to be as dominant as it was during the second half of the 2007 season, Oakland may be forced to fast-track him to the big leagues.

1. Daric Barton, 1B:
Barton was the A's Organizational Player of the Year.
Barton returns to the top spot in our rankings after slipping last season on the heels of an injury plagued 2006 season. He had his health in 2007 and that good health resulted in a strong season and his introduction to major league baseball. Barton has been in our top-five since joining the organization from St. Louis as part of the Mark Mulder trade in November 2004. This will likely be the last season Barton appears on this list, as he is set to be a major league regular in 2008.

Barton very well may have been a major league regular in 2007 if not for his injury-marred 2006 campaign. The first baseman broke his left elbow in a collision at first base in late May in 2006 while with Triple-A Sacramento and missed the rest of the regular season. He recovered in time to play in the Dominican Winter League, where he played well. That performance in the DWL helped Barton work the rust off and he was ready to go at the start of spring training 2007.

After batting .440 with an 1163 OPS at big league camp this spring, Barton was sent back to Triple-A Sacramento. He got off to a slow start with the River Cats, batting only .221 during the month of April. However, he picked up the pace in May, posting an 869 OPS. June was Barton's break-out month. He hit .454 with a .500 OBP and a 1157 OPS. He finished the minor league regular season with a .293/.389/.438 line in a team-high 136 games.

Barton helped lead the River Cats into the PCL Championship Series by batting .550 with four homers and 10 RBIs during the five-game PCL Divisional Playoff Series versus the Salt Lake Bees. He was promoted to the major leagues after that series and continued his red-hot streak at the major league level. Barton walked in his first major league at-bat and never looked back, batting .347 with four homers and a 1067 OPS in 72 at-bats with the A's.

When Barton first came over from St. Louis in the Mulder trade, some around the organization felt that Barton was aloof and didn't seem serious about working on his craft. However, he has matured a lot over the past three years. He was one of the biggest personalities on the River Cats' roster, and blended in very well with the veteran Sacramento clubhouse. Barton was able to poke fun at himself when he struggled defensively at third base when he was filling in at the hot corner while the River Cats were suffering from major injury problems. He also performed well under pressure in the playoffs, collecting numerous big hits in key situations.

Farhan Zaidi was impressed with Barton's demeanor at the major league level.

"I think a huge part of doing well on the field when you first come up is having a certain comfort level, which he certainly has. You saw it when he was at the plate, too. He didn't try to do too much. He stuck to the same approach that we saw in spring training and that he exhibited throughout the Triple-A season," Zaidi told OaklandClubhouse.com after the season ended.

"I think a lot of it has to do with his own inner confidence in believing that he belongs here and he has an approach that, offensively at least, translates really well to the major league level, which is that he sees a lot of pitches and he hits the pitch that he wants to hit and doesn't try to pull outside pitches or generally do too much."

Barton is a classic Billy Beane-type player. He works the count exceedingly well, sees a lot of pitches and is constantly on-base. Barton has excellent bat control, and he can spray the ball to left-field or pull the ball hard to right. He has good balance at the plate and has a picturesque left-handed swing. Unlike many middle-of-the-order hitters, Barton doesn't strike out much, having whiffed only 266 times in 1657 minor league at-bats.

There have always been questions about how much power Barton will have as a major leaguer. He never hit more than 13 homers in any of his minor league seasons. Barton hit only nine homers during the Triple-A regular season in 2007, but he hit eight more homers during the month of September split between the PCL playoff series and the major leagues for 17 total on the season. Zaidi believes that the power Barton displayed in September is for real.

"I don't think that there is any question that this is a guy who has very legitimate power and he could hit 20 to 30 homers in a season. But nobody is really fixated on that number. We are concentrating more on him getting his base-hits and getting his walks and getting on-base at a high percentage. If he is hitting the ball hard consistently, the numbers will take care of themselves," Zaidi said.

"Having seen him in spring training the last three years and having seen him over the years, he has definitely matured a little bit physically and he has gotten stronger. He has always been a guy who seemed to be selective with the pitches that he chose to try to pull. He's not the kind of guy who is looking to hit every ball into the seats. On certain pitches, he is really just trying to dump the ball into left-field. When he gets a pitch he can drive, he really puts an impressive swing on it. I think we had all seen enough of him, and we had seen those swings where he was really trying to put a charge in the ball to know that this was a guy who certainly could be a middle-of-the-order hitter in the big leagues."

Defensively, Barton made a lot of improvements in 2007. He will probably never win a Gold Glove at first base, but he has improved his footwork and his instincts have improved dramatically around the bag and on balls hit to the second base hole. Barton's throwing arm is only average, although generally accurate.

Barton is clearly ready to take the next step towards becoming a major league regular. He will enter spring training as the favorite to be the A's every day first baseman and it would be a big surprise if he isn't the Oakland's starting first baseman on Opening Day. Barton figures to be among the early favorites for the American League Rookie of the Year award.

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