A's Crystal Ball: Five Predictions For 2009

With the minor league regular season set to begin this week, we thought it would be fun to take a look into our crystal ball and make five predictions for what might happen to the Oakland A's system during the 2009 minor league season.

Note: In 2008, we also made five predictions. Here is the original article and here are the results.

Prediction: Midland will make the playoffs

Despite finishing with a solid 75-65 record, the Midland Rockhounds were the only Oakland A's full-season affiliate to miss the post-season in 2008. They fell short by one game. History doesn't figure to repeat itself this season, as the Rockhounds look poised for a big year. Their Opening Day roster is a blend of players with extensive Double-A experience and players who were key contributors to the High-A Stockton Ports' 2008 Cal League championship squad.

The Rockhounds have a number of top prospects in their everyday line-up, including infielder Adrian Cardenas, catcher Josh Donaldson, infielder/outfielder Chris Carter, infielder Josh Horton and centerfielders Corey Brown and Javier Herrera. Midland will also feature reigning Texas League RBI champion Tom Everidge, as well as former first-round pick Danny Putnam, who had an OPS of 877 in 89 games for Sacramento last season. Putnam is the only player on the Midland roster who has big league experience.

Midland's roster also features a few newcomers to the organization. Utilityman Corey Wimberly will be starting his third year in the Texas League, having competed with Tulsa for the past two seasons as part of the Colorado Rockies' chain. Wimberly, who had a strong spring in big league camp, led the Texas League in stolen bases last season with 59. Infielder Yung-Chi Chen also joins the A's organization after five years in the Seattle Mariners' organization. Chen, who was also in big league camp, was a Futures Game participant in 2006, when he split his season between High-A and Double-A. He hit .324 that year with 72 RBIs. Right-hander Rocky Roquet is another new member of the A's organization, having been acquired just before the start of the season from the Chicago Cubs. Roquet battled injuries last season, but when healthy, he has a lively fastball and has racked up impressive strike-out totals during his minor league career.

The Rockhounds had a star-studded pitching staff last season, with top prospects Vince Mazzaro, James Simmons, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Henry Rodriguez, Andrew Bailey and Ryan Webb all spending time in the Midland rotation. The names might not be as well known in 2009, but Midland should have a strong starting rotation once again. Right-handers Travis Banwart, Graham Godfrey and Jason Fernandez lead the pack, and 20-year-old Arnold Leon figures to be part of the rotation, as well. Midland had a shut-down bullpen in 2008, with closer Andrew Carignan and set-up men Bailey and Jared Lansford putting together outstanding seasons. The Rockhounds will have some firepower in the back-end of their bullpen again this season, with closer Sam Demel on the staff.

Prediction: Three A's prospects will pass the 30-homer mark in 2009

Last year we predicted that at least one A's prospect would reach the 30-homer milestone, and it turned out that we were being pessimistic, as two players actually got to that total (Chris Carter and Corey Brown). We are going to up the ante again this season and say that there will be a third player to cross that threshold in 2009.

Carter and Brown remain strong candidates to reach the 30-homer plateau. Another candidate could be first baseman/outfielder Sean Doolittle, who hit 22 homers last season and is coming off of a strong spring. He will be making the difficult jump to Triple-A, but the Pacific Coast League is a fine league for hitters and Doolittle should have good protection in the River Cats' line-up. Doolittle was on pace to break the 30-homer barrier at the mid-point of last season, but he managed only four homeruns during the second half of the year with Midland. He seemed to wear down during the second half last year, but he came into camp in great shape and should be able to handle the rigors of the full season better in 2009. Doolittle hit eight homeruns in 32 games in the Arizona Fall League last October, which gave him 30 in 169 games between the minor league regular season and the fall league.

Another candidate to reach that milestone is Tom Everidge, who will begin the year back in Double-A after putting together a strong campaign in 2008. He hit 22 homers and drove-in 115 runs for Midland last year and he has a history of improving his numbers the second time through a league. Although he has never hit more than 18 homers in a single season, Aaron Cunningham could challenge the 30-homer plateau if he gets enough time in the minor leagues. Cunningham hit 18 homers in 129 major and minor league games last season, although he was somewhat limited early in the year by a wrist injury that he sustained during spring training. Cunningham dominated the Triple-A level in 20 games last season (.382/.461/.645) and he is coming off of a strong big league camp during which he had a .523 SLG in 44 at-bats. Catcher Josh Donaldson (nine homers in 47 games for Stockton last season) and outfielder/infielder Matt Spencer (eight homers in 41 games for Stockton last season) could also be players to watch in the power category.

Prediction:A's farmhands will steal more bases in 2009

For years, the Oakland A's system from top to bottom has been station-to-station. However, over the past several years, the Oakland front office has been slowly injecting more speed into the system. The A's had five players steal more than 20 bases last season and four of those players are back in the system in 2009 (Archie Gilbert, Michael Richard, Cliff Pennington and Jermaine Mitchell). In addition, the A's added Texas League stolen base champ Corey Wimberly during the off-season and will possibly have fuller seasons from Eric Patterson and Jemile Weeks (Patterson stole 19 bases in 77 games for the A's and Cubs' Triple-A squads in 2008; Weeks played only 19 games with Low-A Kane County because of a hip injury – he will begin the year at extended spring training, but isn't expected to miss too much of the season.)

The A's also added a lot of speed in the 2008 draft, taking Weeks, Rashun Dixon, Tyreace House, Chris Berroa, David Thomas, Jason Christian, Mitchell LeVier and Nino Leyja, all of whom have above-average speed. Last season, A's minor leaguers swapped 559 bases, so that is the total to beat in 2009.

Prediction: A California native will win at least 10 games for A's affiliates in 2009

The A's have dipped into their own backyard in the draft in recent years and they have a few Bay Area natives who are among the team's top pitching prospects. The Stockton Ports will feature two of those Bay Area products: left-hander Carlos Hernandez, who hails from Santa Clara, and right-hander Tyson Ross, who is from Oakland. Hernandez went 7-0 in 14 appearances last season (13 starts) and allowed only one run in 11.1 innings in the post-season for Stockton. Ross also pitched well for the Ports in the playoffs last year. The 6'6'' right-hander was the A's second-round pick in 2008 out of Cal.

South Bay native Jared Lansford may not be in the starting rotation any more, but that might not keep him from winning at least 10 games. He is starting the year with Sacramento and is coming off of an outstanding 2008 season during which he transitioned from the starting rotation into the bullpen. Lansford can give his team multiple innings out of the ‘pen and has a tendency to be put into close games, so he could rack-up some wins that way. Lefty reliever Brad Kilby is another candidate to rack up 10 wins out of the bullpen. The Elk Grove native won seven games for Sacramento last season.

The A's have long mined the Southern California amateur ranks for pitching prospects and they have a number of candidates to win 10 games who hail from that region of the state. SoCal native and UC-Riverside alum James Simmons won nine games last season despite missing time with a sleep disorder. Anaheim native Bobby Cramer is back in the organization after a year in the independent leagues and he won nine games for A's affiliates in 2007. The A's gave Southern California native Brett Hunter the highest signing bonus of any seventh round pick in the history of the draft and he will begin the year in a pitchers' league with Kane County.

Prediction: At least eight players will make their major league debuts with Oakland this season.

The last two seasons, the A's have had double-digit totals when it has come to players making their major league debuts with the team. Given the number of players with major league experience at Triple-A this season, it doesn't seem as likely that the A's will match that double-digit total in 2009. However, they should still see a steady influx of young talent debuting in 2009.

The team already has four players on its Opening Day roster who have or will make their major league debuts in 2009 (Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Landon Powell and Andrew Bailey). There are a number of other candidates to join that quartet in the big leagues this season: pitchers James Simmons, Vince Mazzaro, Ryan Webb, Jared Lansford, Andrew Carignan and Henry Rodriguez are obvious candidates. A reliever with a lot of Triple-A experience like Brad Kilby could also be in the running to make his debut.

There are fewer position players likely to make their debuts in 2009. One possibility is Sean Doolittle, who has risen quickly through the A's system. Another is outfielder Javier Herrera. Herrera will begin the year in Double-A, but he could get a look from the A's in September. This is his final option year, so the A's need to have some understanding of what they have with Herrera before the end of the season. Infielder Adrian Cardenas has an outside shot of making his big league debut by the end of the year, as well.

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