Mid-Season Review: A's Prospects 11-20

During the off-season, we named our top-50 prospects in the Oakland A's system. Now that we have passed the midway point of the season, we thought it would be a good time to check the progress of those players. In the fourth in our series, we take a look at the progress of prospects 20-11 from our off-season list.

20. Jerry Blevins

Blevins entered the 2008 season as the A's top relief prospect, and he has lived up to that advanced billing all year. The 6'6'' left-hander was acquired by Oakland last July from the Chicago Cubs for Jason Kendall. The 2007 campaign was a breakthrough season for Blevins, who posted a 1.63 ERA and a ridiculous 102:18 K:BB ratio in 77.1 minor league innings spread across three different levels. Prior to last season Blevins had been a fringe prospect, at best, struggling to find his release point in the lower levels of the Chicago Cubs system. Blevins struggled during a brief September call-up with Oakland, but he still looked like a future relief ace coming into the season.

Beginning the year with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, Blevins acted as one of the team's closers. In 28 games for the River Cats, Blevins had a 2.78 ERA and 36 strike-outs against only six walks in 32.1 innings with 10 saves. Despite his rough outing in Toronto on Thursday, Blevins has strung together an impressive set of appearances since being called up to Oakland on July 4th weekend. In 15 appearances with the A's, Blevins has allowed only four runs on nine hits and five walks in 15 innings. He has struck-out 16 and has held big league hitters to a .170 BA. Blevins has good velocity and deception and solid control for a pitcher his size. Lefty relievers who can pitch both to lefties and righties are hard to find, and Blevins is one of them. He should have a place in a big league bullpen for years to come.

Status: In the big leagues to stay

19. Greg Smith

Smith was one of six prospects that the A's received from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade. Although Smith had consistently put up good numbers as a minor leaguer, he was viewed by many pundits as a throw-in in the Haren trade thanks to the fact that he didn't have overpowering stuff. What Smith did have, however, was "pitchability" or a cerebral approach to the game that A's officials believed would help him translate his good minor league numbers to the major leagues despite his lack of an overpowering fastball. Thus far, they have been proven correct.

Although he began the year in Triple-A, Smith was quickly a part of the A's rotation. After one start for the River Cats on minor league Opening Day, Smith was promoted to Oakland when Rich Harden and Justin Duchscherer went down with injuries. Smith quickly pitched his way into a regular spot in the rotation. From April through the end of June, Smith posted a 3.44 ERA with 70 strike-outs and 40 walks. He regressed some in July, when he posted a 6.18 ERA and struck-out only 14 against 16 walks. However, for the season, he still has an impressive 3.99 ERA in 133 innings and two complete games.

Smith has shown the ability to pitch away from hard contact, limiting big league hitters to a .232 average. He has also dominated the opposing team's running game, picking off an incredible 12 runners thus far this season (there have only been 10 successful stolen bases on him all year and no other A's pitcher has picked off more than two runners all season). Smith's walk and homer totals are a little high, but with a little more run support, he could easily be 10-5 instead of 5-10 and in the running for the American League Rookie of the Year award. He should be a fixture in the A's rotation again next year.

Status: Third among AL rookie starters in ERA

18. Vince Mazzaro

There is arguably no other prospect in the A's system who has done more to increase his visibility this season than Mazzaro. The right-hander was left off of many publication's top prospects lists coming into this season after he posted a 5.33 ERA in 153.2 innings at High-A Stockton. However, Mazzaro came into spring training in excellent shape and with a little more zip on his sinking fastball. After earning a spot in Double-A to start the season, Mazzaro quickly became one of the best pitchers in the Texas League. In 137.1 innings for the Midland Rockhounds, Mazzaro went 12-3 with a 1.90 ERA. He didn't strike-out a lot of batters (104), but he walked only 36, allowed only 115 hits and three homeruns. Mazzaro was a starter in the Texas League All-Star game and was promoted this week to Triple-A despite being only 21 years old.

Mazzaro, a third-round pick of the A's in 2005, has proven over the past three seasons that he is a workhorse. In 2006, he threw 119.1 innings for Low-A Kane County and then followed that with a team-leading 153.2 innings for the Ports in 2007. At 143 innings already this season, Mazzaro looks poised to lead all A's minor league starters in innings pitched by the end of the year. The right-hander has an above-average power sinker that sits in the low-90s. He also has a feel for his change-up and his curveball. At 6'2'', 210 pounds, Mazzaro has good size for a starting pitcher. He works quickly and keeps his defense in the game by pounding the strike-zone.

At 21 years old, Mazzaro is now one of the youngest players in the Pacific Coast League and the youngest on the Sacramento roster. The New Jersey native hasn't gotten the publicity that his Midland rotation mates Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill have this season, but being that he is already at Triple-A, Mazzaro may reach the big leagues before either of them.

Status: Rising quickly

17. Grant Desme

Desme was considered one of the possible steals of the 2007 draft when he fell to the A's in the second round after breaking his wrist during the final month of his junior season at Cal Poly. Before the broken wrist, some draft experts had projected Desme to go in the late first round or early supplemental first round. After allowing the wrist to heal, Desme appeared in 12 games with the short-season Vancouver Canadians at the end of last season, hitting .261 with a homer in 46 at-bats.

This season has been a lesson in frustration for Desme. A shoulder injury during spring training has cost him most of the year. He appeared in only two games for the A's Rookie League club in late July (homering once in three at-bats) before shutting it down with shoulder pain, likely for the season. Desme will be 23 at the start of next season with only 14 professional games under his belt. Assuming that he is healthy at the start of next season, he has the talent to make up for lost developmental time and move up in the A's system quickly, but he can't afford too many more injury set-backs.

Status: Injured

16. Henry Rodriguez

Rodriguez was the talk of the A's spring training camp, as the 21 year old dazzled the A's big league coaching staff with his triple-digit fastball and hard slider. Rodriguez built off of the momentum he gained during spring training and parlayed that into a good start to his season with the High-A Stockton Ports. In three outings, he allowed only three earned runs in 17 innings and he struck-out 23 while walking only five. Rodriguez was then promoted to Double-A Midland. That is when his season started to unravel on him. The right-hander, who has always struggled with his command, couldn't hit the strike-zone consistently with Midland, walking 36 in 33.2 innings and allowing 47 hits. That resulted in an 8.82 ERA and a demotion back to Stockton. Since returning to the Ports, he has been a mix of the dominant pitcher he was early in the season and the struggling pitcher he was with Midland. In 47.1 innings over 10 starts since returning to Stockton, Rodriguez has posted a 4.72 ERA with 30 walks and 68 strike-outs. He was recently moved into the bullpen, where he has allowed five runs in 4.1 innings with three walks and five strike-outs.

Rodriguez has arguably the best arm of any A's pitching prospect. His fastball regularly sits in the high-90s and he can top 100 MPH with relative ease, something he demonstrated in front of a national audience during the MLB All-Star Futures Game, during which he threw a scoreless inning and hit 101 on the radar gun. However, unless Rodriguez can harness his good stuff and find the strike-zone more consistently, he is going to have a tough time competing at the higher levels. His future likely lies where he is pitching right now – in the bullpen, where he might be able to get by with a little more wildness than he could in the starting rotation.

Status: Looking to get back under control

15. Javier Herrera

Herrera has been one of the A's top prospects since he won the Northwest League MVP award in 2004. Unfortunately, a series of injuries and a 2005 suspension for performance-enhancing drugs have sabotaged nearly all of his seasons since 2004. After missing all of the 2006 season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, Herrera played in only 82 games in 2007 thanks to hamstring problems. Those hamstring problems carried over into Herrera's winter league season in Venezuela and through to the start of the 2008 minor league season. Herrera missed the first two-and-a-half months of the season as he rehabbed his hamstrings back into playing shape. The outfielder finally joined the Double-A Midland Rockhounds in late June. He got off to a slow start with Midland, collecting only 10 hits and two extra-base hits in his first 44 at-bats. Since then, however, Herrera has been swinging the bat much better. He hit .280 with a 781 OPS in July and is batting .409 with a 1095 OPS in six games in August. Herrera is currently riding a 13-game hitting streak.

When healthy, Herrera is one of those rare players who can hit for power, average and steal bases. He also has a plus throwing arm. Unfortunately, injuries have severely hampered his development, so he has hardly had the playing time to improve his weak areas over the past few years, namely his plate discipline and his routes to balls in the outfield. The hamstring problems have also limited his running game. Despite the missed time, Herrera is still only 23, so he has some years left to develop into a more complete player. The health of his hamstrings will go a long way towards dictating whether he can develop into the everyday major league centerfielder that the A's envisioned he would be back in 2004.

Status: Possibly turning the corner

14. Corey Brown

Brown was the A's third overall pick in the 2007 draft. The supplemental first round selection had a strong professional debut season with the Vancouver Canadians, tying for the team lead in homeruns with 11 and posting a 924 OPS in a notoriously difficult league for hitters. Brown was sent to another pitcher-friendly league to start the 2008 season, the Midwest League. He responded well to the challenge once again, hitting .270 with 14 homers and an 842 OPS in 84 games for the Low-A Kane County Cougars. Just after the All-Star break, Brown was promoted to the High-A Stockton Ports. After a slow start with the Ports, Brown has heated up recently. He has collected hits in each of his last eight games, five of those hits being homeruns. Overall, he is batting only .240 for the Ports, but he has eight homers and an 813 OPS in only 100 at-bats. For the season, Brown is tied for second in the A's system in homeruns with 22. He has also stolen 13 bases in 13 chances.

As a hitter and as a fielder, Brown does a lot of things well. He hits for power, sees a lot of pitches, runs the bases well, can cover a good amount of ground in the outfield and has an accurate throwing arm. His biggest area of weakness, however, is in the strike-out column. In 108 games this season, Brown has whiffed an incredible 141 times. It has been an especially big problem in Stockton, where he has struck-out 45 times against only nine walks in 24 games. Brown's overall production has generally masked his strike-out problems, but the strike-out totals are preventing him from being the player he wants to be: a guy who can hit for a high average in addition to hitting for power. Brown walks a decent amount, but not enough to justify the strike-out totals a la Jack Cust or Adam Dunn. The Oklahoma State product has talked about trying a different two-strike approach, and it is likely something he and the A's coaching staff will work on during the Instructional Leagues this winter. He had to miss instructs last season with a torn tendon in his pinkie finger.

Status: Solid production could improve with fewer strike-outs

13. Jermaine Mitchell:

After posting a solid offensive season with Low-A Kane County in 2007, Mitchell was expected to put up good numbers in the offensive-friendly California League in 2008. It hasn't really come together for Mitchell with the High-A Stockton Ports this season, however. The speedy centerfielder has seen his average hover around .240 all season and his slugging percentage dip below .400. Through 93 games with the Ports, Mitchell is batting .237 with six homers and a 690 OPS. On the plus side, he has stolen 20 bases in 24 chances and he has kept his OBP at roughly 100 points higher than his batting average.

Mitchell, a left-handed hitter, has really struggled against left-handed pitching all season. Against southpaws, he is batting .190 with a 524 OPS. Versus right-handers, he has been a lot more respectable, hitting .258 with five of his six homers and a 763 OPS. At times, Mitchell looks like the best player on the field and he has the talent to put up much better numbers than he has thus far this year. But he hasn't been able to put together a long stretch of good play so far this season. He will need to finish strong to earn a shot at Double-A at the start of next year.

Status: Still looking to put it all together

12. Sean Doolittle

Before the 2007 draft, the biggest question surrounding Doolittle as a hitter was whether he would hit for enough power to be an everyday first baseman. Thus far this season, Doolittle has answered that question with an emphatic yes. The left-hander began the year in High-A Stockton, where he hit .305 with 18 homeruns in 86 games. He has cooled off since being promoted to Double-A Midland, where he is hitting only .239 with four homers, but his 22 homers in 114 games thus far this season is still an impressive total. To top that off, Doolittle has also flashed a strong glove at first base and in the outfield. He has quickly made himself one of the A's top position player prospects only one year removed from being selected in the draft.

Like fellow 2007 supplemental first round selection Corey Brown, Doolittle's biggest weakness this season has been his strike-outs. In 114 games, he has struck-out 125 times. Like Brown, Doolittle walks a decent, but not overwhelming amount, so he will need to cut down on his strike-outs to put up a high average to go along with his good power numbers going forward. There shouldn't be too much concern about the dip in Doolittle's numbers since being promoted to Midland, however. He has been pretty unlucky on balls he has hit into play with the Rockhounds. A strong 25.3 line-drive percentage has only translated to a .277 batting average on balls in play, which is very unlucky. Some of those line-drives are likely to start falling in as the season progresses and his numbers should go up as a result. All in all, it has been a very positive year for the University of Virginia product. He is a strong candidate to participate in the Arizona Fall League this off-season.

Status: On the rise

11. Ryan Sweeney

With the exception of a handful of rehab games with Triple-A Sacramento, Sweeney has spent the entire season with the A's. The sweet-swinging outfielder, who was acquired as part of the Nick Swisher trade, has been a steady presence for the A's near the top of the order most of the season. In 85 games, he has an impressive .293 batting average and eight stolen bases in nine chances. Sweeney hasn't yet started hitting for the power he might later in his career (four homers in 276 at-bats), but he has done a good job of spraying line-drives around the ballpark. Sweeney has excellent bat control, doesn't strike-out a lot and has hit very well with runners in scoring position and with runners on third and less than two-outs (he has had only two unproductive at-bats in that situation all season). He has also played solid defense both in centerfield and in the corner spots.

Ideally, Sweeney would either develop into more of a homerun threat or add to his walk and stolen base total. That being said, for a 23-year-old, he has more than held his own in the big leagues this season and his future appears to be bright. He has had to play through a number of nagging injuries this year and has played well despite the pain. Sweeney has the inside track on being in the A's everyday outfield yet again next season.

Status: A .290 hitter in the big leagues

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