Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 25-21

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 25-21.

25. Sam Demel

Demel hides the ball extremely well.
The A's 2007 third round pick had a solid second professional campaign after an up-and-down pro debut last season. After signing last year, Demel was sent directly to High-A, where he struggled and posted a 7.07 ERA in 11 innings (with 15 walks) for the Stockton Ports before being sent to Low-A Kane County, where he fared better, allowing only one earned run (and walking four) in 9.1 innings.

Demel was sent back to High-A Stockton for the 2008 season and he would spend the entire year with the Ports. At the start of the season, he was sharing closer duties with Andrew Carignan, but he became the Ports' primary closer when Carignan was promoted to Double-A in late April. Demel was much more effective in the California League the second time around. In 67 innings, he posted a 3.36 ERA and struck-out an incredible 90 batters. His walks were still too high (32), but he allowed less than one hit per inning and only five homeruns all season despite the hitter-friendly nature of the California League.

There is a lot that Demel already does very well. The right-hander is not the biggest guy (he is right around six feet tall), but he generates a lot of velocity from his quick-action throwing motion. Demel's fastball sits around 91-94 MPH, but it can appear a lot faster than that to a hitter because he hides the ball so well that it is nearly impossible for a hitter to pick up his release point. He induces nearly two times as many groundballs as he does flyballs and he fields his position well. Demel's biggest area of weakness currently is his control, which can abandon him at times. At the start of the year, Demel was more of a thrower than a pitcher, but he did a much better job of having a plan of attack at the start of each at-bat as the season went on.

Demel's fastball not only gets good velocity, but it also has good run action. He has an excellent breaking ball and change-up, as well. Scouts have always worried that Demel's throwing motion will eventually result in injury, but he has been healthy up to this point, although he was shut-down after only a few outings in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball league with a tired arm. A's officials termed the shut-down as merely a precaution and he is expected to be 100 percent at the start of spring training.

Demel has the mental make-up to be a late-inning reliever in the big leagues. He relishes the challenge of finishing off a close game and his numbers were best in the ninth and extra innings of games this past season. He should get a crack at pitching in his home state of Texas with Double-A Midland at the start of next season.

24. Dusty Coleman

Coleman has the arm and athleticism to stay at short.
The A's made a few headlines this summer when they went over slot to sign a few of their lower round draft picks. One of Oakland's over-slot signings was Coleman, who was taken in the 28th round out of Wichita State as a draft-eligible sophomore. Coleman, a shortstop, didn't sign with Oakland immediately and participated in the prestigious amateur wood bat Cape Cod League for much of the summer. He starred at the Cape, hitting .330 with a .424 OBP in exactly 100 at-bats. That was all Oakland needed to see from Coleman, and they inked him to a contract that was commiserate with third round money ($675,000).

Because Coleman signed late, he appeared in only 26 games with the A's two short-season teams. He struggled a bit initially, batting only .222 with 10 strike-outs in 27 at-bats with the A's Arizona League team and getting off to a 5-for-27 start with the Vancouver Canadians. However, he picked it up over the last two weeks of the season, batting .429 in his last 14 games. He wound-up hitting .319 with eight doubles, one triple and an 814 OPS in 19 games for the Canadians.

Coleman was a three-sport star in high school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (he was the quarterback of the football team and an All-State point guard in basketball, as well as a star baseball player). He is an excellent athlete and he has good hand-eye coordination and quick feet. Coleman is also very coachable and willing to try new things to improve his game. He dabbled in switch-hitting both in high school and in the Cape and could try that again down-the-road (he is a natural right-handed hitter). He has good size for a shortstop (6'2'', 185 pounds) and the arm strength to stay at the position.

As a hitter, Coleman has an aggressive swing that generates power to all fields. He struck-out 36 times in only 26 games with Arizona and Vancouver this season, and he spent his time in the A's Instructional League working on ways to cut-down on his swings-and-misses. Coleman has average speed and he is a solid fundamental base-runner. He is also a good bunter.

A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman was impressed with the progress that Coleman made during Instructs.

"He has made some tremendous improvements defensively [during Instructs] and is making huge adjustments with the bat. He was really worried about some of his swing and misses during the season and he has learned some techniques to help with that aspect of his approach so he has been more consistent," Lieppman said.

Coleman will compete with Michael Richard and Jason Christian for a chance to start next season at the High-A Stockton level. The A's suddenly have a number of intriguing shortstop prospects at Double-A or below (Justin Sellers, Josh Horton, Christian, Richard and Nino Leyja), so the A's will have some tough decisions to make about where to slot all of them. Look for Coleman to see time at second and third base, as well as shortstop, next season as a way to get him in the line-up everyday regardless of what level he is at.

23. Carlos Hernandez

Hernandez has one of the best breaking balls in the A's system.
Hernandez was one of the A's last draft-and-follow signings. After being selected in the 35th round in 2006, Hernandez inked a deal with Oakland just before the 2007 draft. The draft-and-follow rules changed after the 2007 season, making Hernandez and Dante Love the last two prospects signed by Oakland under the old rules. The lefty struggled in his first taste of pro ball, posting a 6.75 ERA in 12 innings for the A's two short-season affiliates in 2007, and he was kept at extended spring training at the start of the 2008 season.

The Santa Clara native finally got his opportunity to pitch in game action at the start of the short-season, as he was part of the Vancouver Canadians' Opening Day rotation. He shined for the C's, posting a 1.82 ERA in 39.2 innings. He struck-out 38 and walked only seven while limiting opposing hitters to a .221 average.

Hernandez earned a promotion to Low-A Kane County in late July. He allowed four runs in 5.2 innings in his first start, but was dominant in his subsequent outings for the Cougars. After that first start, he allowed only five runs in 29.2 innings. He struck-out 22 and walked only six. Between Vancouver and Kane County, Hernandez finished 2008 with a 7-0 mark and a 2.04 ERA with 67 strike-outs and 14 walks in 75 regular season innings. He allowed only one homerun.

Hernandez continued that domination into the post-season. He allowed no runs and only two hits and one walk in 5.1 innings for Kane County in his only post-season start for the Cougars. Once the Cougars were eliminated, he was promoted to High-A Stockton, where he played a big role in the Ports' run to the title. In two starts for Stockton, Hernandez allowed only one run in 11 innings. He struck-out 14, walked only three and allowed only nine hits. Hernandez continued to impress the A's brass during Instructs, where he was named the most outstanding pitcher in the camp.

In a lot of ways, Hernandez is similar to current A's lefty Dallas Braden, who zoomed through the A's minor league system despite being a late-round pick. Like Braden, Hernandez is a diminutive left-hander (5'11'', 160 pounds) whose fastball sits in the 86-90 MPH range. Also like Braden, Hernandez has an above-average breaking ball and an advanced feel for his change-up. He does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground and locating his pitches.

"This kid just consistently used all of his pitches," Lieppman said. "He forced the organization's hand by consistently just going out and pitching. He's one of the unsung heroes of the season. To go to Stockton and win those last two [playoff] games for them, it's a remarkable story. I'm proud of the way he went about it because it isn't a guy's favorite trek to start the season in extended spring. Guys are down and they want to be on an everyday club, and he persevered and forced the organization to keep pushing. That's kind of how we see him, as a guy who has earned his stripes, for sure."

Hernandez, who will be 22 at the start of next season, has improved his velocity since turning pro and it is possible that he will be able to add a mile per hour or so to his fastball as he continues to develop. However, it is his secondary pitches that will define him as a pitcher. Sometimes pitchers who don't have great velocity start to try to pitch around the strike-zone against more advanced hitters. Hernandez, however, continued to pound the strike-zone when he jumped to Stockton for the playoffs, a good sign for his development as a pitcher. He will likely start next season in Stockton, but he could move quickly if he continues to dominate the league as he did in the post-season.

22. Rashun Dixon

Dixon has all of the physical tools to be a star.
Dixon was another player that the A's went over-slot to sign this season. The Mississippi high school star was taken in the 10th round despite being tabbed as a first-day draft talent. He fell in large part because he had a football scholarship to Mississippi State, and many teams thought it would be hard to get Dixon to commit to baseball. The A's felt otherwise and were proven correct when they got him to sign for $600,000, a bonus commiserate to a first-day pick.

The right-handed hitting outfielder didn't turn 18 until the end of August, so he spent his entire first pro season with the A's Rookie League club in Arizona. There he wowed scouts with his vast array of tools. In 45 games, Dixon displayed plus power (.525 SLG), great speed (eight triples in 179 at-bats) and the ability to cover a lot of ground in centerfield. He finished with a line of .263/.328/.525 and he was second in the Arizona League with eight homeruns.

Dixon is a very raw prospect, but he has the tools to be a super-star. Despite still being a teenager, Dixon has the mature, muscular frame of a Division I skill position football player. He was a standout wide receiver/running back in high school and was expected to challenge for a starting spot with Mississippi State as a freshman had he chosen to pursue football. Dixon has a powerful swing and once he gets going on the basepaths, he is hard to stop. His league-leading 10 triples were a testament to the fact that once a ball was in the gap, he was off-to-the-races. He also hit some tape measure homeruns. It has been a long time since the A's have had a prospect with his combination of power and speed.

"Rashun is a physical specimen. He is a plus runner. I shudder to think of being an opposing defensive back when he was running the football. He has tremendous bat speed and power potential," Billy Owens, the A's Director of Player Personnel, said during the season.

"When the ball is in the gap, he is coming like a locomotive. He's got tremendous make-up and desire and he is a physical specimen."

Dixon's approach at the plate is still being smoothed out, however. He struck-out 68 times and walked only 18 times in 45 games and he has a tendency to swing at nearly everything at this point in his young career. He has plus-power, but he still needs to learn the art of cutting down his swing with two-strikes. Defensively, Dixon has the speed and the hand-eye coordination to be an above-average centerfielder. He still has a lot of work to do with his routes, as he is relatively new to the position. Dixon was a catcher in high school, in large part because he was the team's best athlete. Because he is so young and he has a lot of areas in his game to smooth out, Dixon is likely to spend next season in the Northwest League with Vancouver.

21. Javier Herrera

Herrera's window of opportunity is closing.
For years, Herrera has been one of the A's top prospects, but he is quickly running out of time to establish himself as an everyday major league outfielder. The five-tool outfielder from Venezuela was added to the A's 40-man roster before the start of the 2006 season, but his career has been marred by injuries ever since. He missed the entire 2006 campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery during spring training and then missed parts of the 2007 and 2008 campaigns with chronic soreness in his hamstrings.

When he has gotten onto the field, Herrera's performance has been uneven. In 2007, Herrera hit .274 with nine homers and a 785 OPS in 62 games with High-A Stockton and then hit .254 with three homers and a 767 OPS in 20 games with Double-A Midland before being shutdown for the season in July with a hamstring injury. In 2008, Herrera didn't make his debut until June, as he was continuing to have trouble with his hamstrings during spring training. When he arrived in Midland, he struggled over his first 44 at-bats, hitting only .227 with a 579 OPS. However, he picked up his game in July (.280/.362/.419 in 93 at-bats) and finished the season on a strong note in August (.274/.333/.519 with six homers and six stolen bases). He finished the year playing 13 of the final 15 games in the outfield after spending much of the year as a DH.

Although Herrera has had his three allotted option years already, he will not be out of options next season, as he was given a fourth option year because of his time missed due to injury. He is expected to get his first extended look at Triple-A in 2009.

"Obviously having that fourth option is going to be huge for him because he has had limited time in Triple-A and this will give him the opportunity to go there and continue to develop and maybe even get some time at the big league level next year," Farhan Zaidi, the A's Baseball Operations Analyst, said after the season.

"He still has great talent and he still has great speed and, when he is healthy, he still plays a great centerfield. The talent is still there. The question is whether he can stay healthy."

Even when he is healthy, Herrera still has aspects of his game that he needs to work on. He is often overly aggressive at the plate, as was demonstrated by his 71 strike-outs against only 22 walks in 61 games in 2008. He also has a tendency at times to rely on his great physical tools in the outfield or on the basepaths, rather than making the right fundamental play. Despite the 2006 elbow surgery, Herrera still has an above-average throwing arm. The hamstring injuries have limited his speed somewhat, but he can still swipe some bases when his legs are feeling good. He has the potential to be a 20-20 hitter and an above-average centerfielder in the big leagues, although the time he has missed with injuries has reduced his chances of reaching that ceiling.

Although he has seemingly been around the A's system forever, Herrera will be only 24 at the start of next season. With the trade of Carlos Gonzalez, the A's suddenly have a possible opening in centerfield in 2010, and Herrera could position himself for that spot with a strong and healthy 2009 season. Next season is his last option year with the A's, so it will be his final shot with the team.

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