Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 35-31

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 profile our top-50 prospect list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with a review of prospects 35-31.

35. Jermaine Mitchell

Mitchell's numbers were disappointing in 2008.
After putting together a promising season in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League in 2007, Mitchell was expected to pile up big numbers for High-A Stockton in the hitter-friendly California League in 2008. That never materialized for the fleet-footed outfielder, as Mitchell wound-up posting pedestrian statistics for the Ports (.244/.338/.377).

Mitchell got off to a decent start to the season, batting .260 in April with a 782 OPS and four stolen bases. His production dipped in May (724 OPS), however, and it bottomed out in June and July when he had OPSs of 588 and 661, respectively. He was able to finish off his season on a strong note in August when he had his best month of the season, batting .283 with four homers and an 813 OPS. He continued that good hitting into the playoffs, batting .326 with six RBIs.

Despite competing on a team with a lot of the A's top prospects, Mitchell, at times, looked like the best player on the field. He can do a little bit of everything when he is going well: hit for average, get on-base, drive some balls into the gaps, lay-down a bunt, chase down a flyball in center and steal bases. However, he wasn't able to do all of those things consistently enough to put up the numbers that were expected of him for 2008. His strike-outs were only up slightly, but his walks were way down and he slugged only .377 for the season. The left-handed hitting Mitchell struggled badly against southpaws, hitting only .208 with a 610 OPS.

Because he got on-base at only a .338 clip, Mitchell didn't have a ton of opportunities to utilize his best tool: his legs. He stole 23 bases in 29 chances. Defensively, Mitchell was inconsistent out in center. He was able to cover a lot of ground, but at times took circuitous routes to the ball. Mitchell spent a lot of time in the corners and at DH once Corey Brown was added to the Ports' roster.

Mitchell has all of the tools, but he is going to need to translate those tools into consistent production fast, or he is in danger of losing a lot of ground to an increasingly deep group of A's outfield prospects. Mitchell turned 24 earlier this month, so he wasn't young for the California League last season and he will be old for the league next year if he has to repeat.

34. Jason Fernandez

Fernandez had a 3.36 ERA and nine wins for Stockton.
Despite posting a 2.77 ERA for the Low-A Kane County Cougars in 2007, Fernandez entered the 2008 season as one of the lower profile pitchers on the talent-laden High-A Stockton Ports' pitching staff. Fernandez more than held his own on the Ports' staff, however. In 19 outings (18 starts), he posted a 3.36 ERA in 109.2 innings. Fernandez also spent a month with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds and had two early season outings in Triple-A.

Although Fernandez's ERA with Stockton, in particular, was strong, his other numbers were more mixed. In 2007, he struck-out 99 in 110.2 innings for Kane County, but his strike-out rate fell in 2008, as he had only 110 in 150.1 innings. His walk rate also climbed from roughly 3.5 in nine innings in 2007 to more than four per nine innings in 2008. He maintained his strong groundball-to-flyball ratio, however.

While with Stockton, Fernandez tended to fluctuate between outstanding and mediocre. He threw some of the best-pitched games of the year for Stockton, but he would also go through stretches where he was very hittable. These types of fluctuations aren't uncommon for young pitchers in the California League, as there isn't much margin for error. Fernandez's struggles with his command caught-up with him during his time with Double-A Midland, where he posted a 4.91 ERA in 36.2 innings. Although his ERA was high, Fernandez managed to avoid being blown out in his outings with the Rockhounds. He lasted at least five innings in all six starting appearances and he allowed more than four runs only once.

Fernandez has a live arm and he features a good pitch mix that includes a sinking fastball, a four-seam fastball, a hard slider, a curveball and a change-up. The sinker has become a featured pitch for Fernandez since turning pro, and he uses it to induce a lot of groundballs. His sinker runs from 88-91 and he can get his four-seam fastball up to 94 when he is reaching back for something extra. He has a clean, over-the-top delivery that he repeats well.

Although he was a starter almost exclusively in 2008, Fernandez split his time between the rotation and the bullpen in 2007. It still isn't clear where he fits best long-term. Fernandez has enough pitches to be a starter and he has proven that he can handle the heavy workload. However, he doesn't have a great swing-and-miss pitch as a starter, but the extra velocity he gets as a reliever might allow him to compile more strike-outs.

Fernandez has indicated a preference for relieving in the past, and it is likely that that is where he will end-up down-the-road. The A's will probably give him another shot as a starter to begin next season, but if he gets off to a slow start with Midland, look for Fernandez to make the move into the bullpen for good.

33. Andrew Bailey

Bailey has excelled as a reliever.
Bailey began the year as one of the A's top starting pitching prospects, but after a slow start in the Double-A Midland Rockhounds' rotation, Bailey was moved to the bullpen, where he found great success. He has carried that success over into the Arizona Fall League, where he is currently is sporting an 0.69 ERA in 13 innings.

It was a tale of two seasons for Bailey, who posted a 1-8 record and a 6.18 ERA in 15 starts and went 4-1 with an 0.92 ERA in 22 relief outings. As a starter, Bailey often found himself working behind in the count. His walks (45 in 71.1 innings) were way up and his homerun totals jumped, as well (12). Once he moved into the bullpen, Bailey was more aggressive in the strike-zone. He walked only 11 in 39.1 innings and, most importantly, he allowed only one homerun.

Oakland A's bullpen coach Ron Romanick, who worked with Bailey in his first two minor league seasons and has been coaching him during the Arizona Fall League, thinks that the switch to the bullpen allowed Bailey to take a new, more aggressive mindset to the mound.

"He always had good control, but when you play up at Double-A or higher, it kind of shows you where you are at and what you need to work on. He throws it over the plate and he has really good stuff, but sometimes when you go to the bullpen, it simplifies that approach because you don't have to pick like you do as a starter," Romanick said.

"When you are not having success [as a starter], you tend to start getting into that ‘I'm going to pick the corners' mentality, so it can seem like you are not having a lot of control."

Once Bailey moved to the bullpen, he also began to work on a new pitch – a cut fastball – which became a big weapon for him by the end of the season. He also features a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a curveball and a slider, although he hasn't thrown the slider as much since adding the cutter. Bailey's velocity even as a starter was in the low- to mid-90s. As a reliever, he has been able to reach as high as 95.

Throughout his minor league career, Bailey has been a big strike-out pitcher. He had 110 strike-outs in 110.1 innings in 2008 and 150 in 125 innings in 2007. As a starter, he had always been prone to the homerun and to the walk, although he has improved in both of those categories as a reliever (at the Arizona Fall League, Bailey has 15 strike-outs and only one walk and no homeruns allowed in 13 innings). He has the pitch-mix to be a starter, and the A's may be tempted to try him out there again next season. However, Bailey had Tommy John surgery in college and he will be 25 in late May, so the bullpen may offer him the best opportunity to have a long major league career. With his ability to get a strike-out and his good velocity, Bailey profiles well as a late-inning reliever. He is likely to begin next season at Triple-A, but he could be in the major leagues as a reliever by mid-season.

32. Matt Spencer

Spencer had a lot to smile about with Stockton.
Acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in July, Spencer was thought to be the throw-in of the Joe Blanton trade. The outfielder/first baseman was the Phillies' third round pick in 2007 out of Arizona State, but he had a mediocre debut with Williamsport of the New York-Penn. League (789 OPS) in 2007 and was struggling for High-A Clearwater of the Florida State League (686 OPS) at the time of the trade. A change of scenery seemed to be the cure to what ailed Spencer offensively, however, as he hit .331 with eight homers and a 930 OPS in 41 games for the Stockton Ports after the trade.

Spencer has been a difficult player to scout throughout his collegiate and professional career. A high school star in Tennessee, Spencer never established himself as a top player in two seasons with the University of North Carolina. He transferred to Arizona State for his junior season, and found his hitting stroke in Tempe, batting .378 with a 1064 OPS for the Sun Devils. After being selected in the third round by Philadelphia in 2007, Spencer hit .263 with nine homers in 51 games for Williamsport.

The 2008 season did not begin well for Spencer, who never got on-track for Clearwater in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. In 85 games, he was batting only .251 with a .368 SLG when he was dealt to Oakland. The better hitting environment in the California League suited Spencer immediately. He hit .449 in 12 games in July right after the trade. His average fell in August (.278), but he increased his homerun total to six in 115 at-bats. For the season, Spencer wound-up hitting .280 with 14 homers and a 774 OPS in 126 games for Stockton and Clearwater.

Spencer has a big frame at 6'4'', 230 pounds, and he looks like he would be strictly a DH/1B type when you first see him on the field. However, he is faster than he looks and is a very smart base-runner. In 14 stolen base opportunities in 2008, Spencer stole 12 (he was seven-for-eight with Stockton). Defensively, Spencer spent a lot of time with Stockton at first base, although he also saw time in the corner outfield spots. As a first baseman, Spencer showed decent range, but he was appeared inexperienced at the position and occasionally made mental errors. In the outfield, Spencer has deceptive range and a strong throwing arm. He pitched in relief for Arizona State as a junior.

Spencer's defensive versatility should allow him to continue to move up the A's system despite the fact that Oakland has a number of strong first base and outfield prospects right now. Historically, Spencer has had decent plate discipline, but he walked only six times in 168 at-bats with Stockton. That sometimes happens to hitters in the California League, but he will need to improve that ratio considerably at the higher levels to keep moving up. Spencer, who will be 23 next season, is one of the best left-handed hitting power hitters in the A's system currently. The 2009 season will be pivotal for Spencer, who will be looking to prove at the Double-A level that his numbers with Stockton weren't a California League-fluke.

31. Jared Lansford

Lansford took well to the bullpen.
After missing virtually the entire 2007 season with an arm injury, Lansford was healthy for the entire 2008 season. The A's 2005 second round pick split his season between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. He began the year in the Stockton starting rotation, but after two poor starts (eight runs in 8.1 innings), he was moved into the bullpen, where he would stay for the rest of the year.

Lansford shined as a reliever. In 55 relief innings for Stockton, he posted a 3.76 ERA and struck-out 67 batters. Those numbers are actually a bit misleading, as his reliever ERA with Stockton jumped from 2.35 to 3.76 in July, when he allowed 12 runs in 10.1 innings. That was right around the time that Lansford's name was being mentioned in trade rumors, and it may have been a distraction for him. In mid-July he was promoted to Double-A, where he quickly became one of the Rockhounds' go-to relievers. In 25.2 innings, he had an 0.70 ERA and five saves.

Lansford pitched so well for Midland that the A's promoted him to Triple-A for the Pacific Coast League playoffs. He appeared in two games for Sacramento in the post-season, earning a win in one of the games and allowing one run in 2.2 innings with three strike-outs and no walks. Lansford was sent to the Arizona Fall League after the season was over. Thus far, he is sporting a 6.30 ERA in 10 innings, although four of those runs came in one bad outing when he didn't record an out. After missing all of last season, Lansford may be feeling fatigue at this point in the season given that he is now over the 100 inning mark.

The 2008 season was a pivotal one for Lansford. As a starter, he wasn't able to maintain his velocity deep into games and he didn't have a good swing-and-miss pitch. As a reliever, he has been able to keep his velocity in the low- to mid-90s and has gotten a lot more swings-and-misses. Lansford's heavy sinker is his best offering, followed by an improving change up. He generates a lot of groundballs with his sinker and he allowed only four homeruns in 89 regular season innings. Lansford uses a deceptive, downhill throwing motion that hides the ball well. He is a good athlete and he controls the running game well.

Lansford just turned 22 in October, but he could be challenging for a spot in a big league bullpen by the second half of 2009.


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