Mid-Season Review: A's Prospects 30-21

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 third in our series, we take a look at the progress of prospects 30-21 from our off-season list.

* Note: These rankings were made prior to the 2009 season. Adjustments for 2009 performance will be made to the rankings during the off-season. All stats as of July 14, 2009.

30. Nino Leyja

Leyja burst onto the scene last season when he hit .315 with 10 stolen bases and an 862 OPS in 43 games for the Arizona Rookie League A's as a 17-year-old. Those numbers earned Leyja an AZL Post-Season All-Star nod and raised his profile from an unknown 15th round pick to a legitimate prospect. Leyja spent most of the first half of this season working out in the A's extended spring training camp in Arizona, waiting for the start of the Northwest League season. He was on the short-season A Vancouver Canadians' Opening Day roster and hit .269 with three stolen bases in 16 games with the C's before injuries in Kane County necessitated that Leyja be sent to the Midwest League to fill-in. He has two hits in 16 at-bats with the Cougars, both of them going for extra-bases (a homer and a triple).

The Northwest and Midwest Leagues can be difficult even for polished collegiate hitters, so it is no surprise that Leyja has struggled some at the plate this season. His plate discipline, which was solid during his 2008 campaign in Arizona, has regressed thus far in 2009, as he has struck-out 22 times and has walked only five times in 83 at-bats. He has shown decent power in a limited time-frame, collecting three doubles, a triple and two homers in those 83 at-bats. Leyja is a raw talent who won't turn 19 until October. His learning curve is expected to be a decently long one and the A's have no need to rush him with shortstop Dusty Coleman at Kane County and with the A's having spent their first-round pick this season on a polished collegiate shortstop in Grant Green. If Leyja shows improvement from Opening Day to the end of the season, Oakland will be satisfied with his progress, even if he doesn't match his AZL numbers from last season.

Status: Getting his feet wet

29. Craig Italiano

After serious injuries robbed Italiano of his 2006 and 2007 seasons, the hard-throwing right-hander finally got a season of good health in 2008. He parlayed that good health into an 8-4 record and a 3.78 ERA in 100 innings split between Low-A Kane County and High-A Stockton. Italiano returned to Stockton in 2009 and made 16 starts with the Ports before being traded last week to the San Diego Padres organization. In those 16 starts, Italiano had a 5-6 record and a 5.63 ERA with 75 strike-outs and 40 walks in 76.2 innings. Since the trade, Italiano has been moved into the bullpen of the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm and he has allowed one run in 4.1 innings with four strike-outs and one walk.

Although Italiano's numbers with Stockton were uneven, he was in the middle of his best stretch of pitching of the season at the time he was traded. The 6'4'' right-hander displayed good crispness on his fastball and big break on his curveball much of the season. He struggled with his slider and change-up at times and with his command, but the fastball-curveball combination was, at times, dominant for Italiano. The Padres have stated that Italiano has been moved into the bullpen to limit his innings, as he was already up to 76.2 innings this season at the time of the trade. His career-high was 100 innings, accomplished last season. However, it would be no surprise if Italiano wound-up making a career in the bullpen, utilizing that good fastball and plus curve.

Status: Traded

28. Grant Desme

The 2008 season was a lost one for Desme, who missed virtually the entire season with wrist and shoulder problems. Health has not been a problem for Desme thus far in 2009, as he has appeared in 86 games for Low-A Kane County and High-A Stockton. Hitting for power has not been a problem for Desme this season, either, as he leads the entire A's organization with 19 longballs in only 331 at-bats. He has also swiped an impressive 28 bases in 30 chances and has played good defense in the outfield. Desme's biggest problem has been making consistent contact, however. The A's 2007 second-round pick has whiffed in one-third of his at-bats (110 in all) and has walked only 30 times.

Desme is perhaps the most intriguing prospect in the A's system, based both on his skill-set and on the results he has produced this season. He is one of the most athletically gifted players in the A's system, something that has been evident in his speed-and-power numbers, as well as his defense. However, his approach at the plate is, at times, overly aggressive, something that may be a product of the missed season. He is also playing catch-up, to some extent, age-wise, as the missed season has put him in a position of being older than most players at his level. Still, for a first full professional season, Desme is putting up some impressive numbers and the fact that he has a chance to be the first A's prospect in many a moon to put together a 30-30 season can't be ignored. He is definitely a player to be watched for the remainder of the year.

Status: Chasing some big numbers

27. Jason Christian

Like Leyja, Christian was another 2008 A's draft pick who made a strong first impression in his rookie pro season. The lanky infielder from the University of Michigan hit .294 with an 821 OPS and 13 stolen bases in 68 games with the Canadians and Cougars in 2008. He has followed up that debut season with a solid effort for the first half of 2009. In 84 games for Kane County, Christian is batting .262 with 40 walks, seven homers and 27 stolen bases (in 30 chances). He was a Midwest League mid-season all-star and was an important part of the first-half division champion Cougars' outstanding start to the season.

Although Christian's OPS for the season is only 729, that number gets much better when one removes his only bad month this year. In every month but May, Christian has hit at least .286 and he has had OPSs of 806 in April, 848 in June and 737 in July. A left-handed hitter, Christian has struggled versus southpaws (.179 average and a 555 OPS), but has done much better versus right-handers (.287 average and 787 OPS). A shortstop for most of last season, Christian has settled in at third base and has handled the transition to that position with relative ease. Given the A's lack of system-wide depth at third, Christian is quickly becoming one of the team's better third base prospects, having both the ability to hit for high average, as well as speed, some power and good plate discipline.

Status: Looking for a strong finish to erase bad May

26. Josh Outman

Early in the season, Outman was one of the very best stories in the Oakland A's system. The left-hander, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Joe Blanton trade in July 2008, earned a surprise spot in the A's rotation after a strong spring and parlayed that into a terrific start to his rookie season. By June, he was battling Dallas Braden for the honor of top A's starting pitcher. However, he was sidelined with elbow soreness on June 19th and it was quickly discovered that he required surgery that will likely keep him out until late next season.

Before the injury, Outman was 4-1 with a 3.48 ERA with 53 strike-outs in 67.1 innings. With the exception of his last start (which he left with elbow pain), Outman had gone six innings or more in every start since May 1st, with the exception of one. Even before the elbow injury, there was some debate about whether Outman was better suited for the rotation or the bullpen. He certainly proved this season that he has the stuff to be an effective major league starter, but there was always some concern that his high-effort delivery would be an impediment to starting long-term, and the elbow injury might further encourage the A's to put Outman in the bullpen. With a mid-90s fastball and an array of effective secondary pitches, Outman could be a dominating reliever if his health prevents him from starting.

Status: Injured

25. Sam Demel

Demel had a solid, if not spectacular, campaign for the Stockton Ports in 2008. The team's closer for much of the season, Demel saved 18 games and struck-out 90 in 67 innings for the eventual Cal League champions. However, Demel walked 32 in those 67 innings and, at times, struggled to repeat his delivery and command his fastball. He has had significantly fewer problems in both of those areas this season, and it has really reflected in his numbers. Demel began the year in Double-A with Midland, and he dominated the Texas League, saving 11 games and posting an 0.61 ERA. He struck-out 26 and walked nine in 29.1 innings, while holding opposing batters to a .209 average. Demel was promoted to the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats at midseason and he has done well there in seven outings, allowing two runs and striking out 11 in nine innings. He has walked eight with Sacramento, although six of those eight walks came in two consecutive outings.

Demel has the repertoire to be a late-inning reliever in the big leagues, and he may get a chance to pitch at that level come September. He features a fastball that sits at 91-94, as well as a plus change-up and a breaking ball that acts like a splitter. At times, the change-up and breaking ball are unhittable and now that he is throwing the breaking ball more consistently for strikes, he is an even more effective pitcher. The A's have a number of promising relief prospects, and Demel is near the top of that list.

Status: Pushing for a September call-up

24. Dusty Coleman

Prior to last season, it was practically unheard of for the A's to go "over-slot" to sign draft picks. However, they went over-slot to ink a handful of picks in 2008, including Coleman, who got top-five round money despite being selected in the 28th round out of Wichita State. Coleman has been the starting shortstop for the Kane County Cougars all season, and has demonstrated why the A's were willing to pay more to get him into the organization. Like Christian, Coleman's numbers are somewhat depressed by one poor month (June, in Coleman's case), but he is still boasting an impressive .268/.366/.447 line despite the dip in June. Coleman has 21 doubles, three triples and eight homers in 284 at-bats and he has stolen 17 bases. Defensively, Coleman has committed 20 errors, but many of those came early in the season. He has shown a strong arm and good range in the shortstop spot all season.

Coleman is a big, athletic shortstop with a Bobby Crosby/Troy Tulowitzki build. He has shown good power to all fields and the ability to take a walk (with 37 in 77 games). Like Desme, Coleman has struggled to make consistent contact at times, having 90 strike-outs already this season. He is also refining his base-running skills, having been thrown out trying to steal in seven out of 24 chances. Still, there is a lot to like about Coleman, who has posted an OPS of 813 in 96 games in the pitcher-friendly Northwest and Midwest Leagues. The A's seem inclined to leave him in Kane County all season, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him moved more aggressively through the system as his career progresses. Until Grant Green signs, Coleman is the A's top shortstop prospect.

Status: Establishing his prospect status

23. Carlos Hernandez

Hernandez, a little-known draft-and-follow pick by the A's in 2006, was one of the best stories in the A's system in 2008 when he broke-through with a 7-0 record and a 2.04 ERA in 75 innings for Vancouver and Kane County. Hernandez hasn't quite equaled that success this season, however. The lefty from Santa Clara has spent the majority of the year with Stockton, where he is currently 4-5 with a 5.28 ERA. In 59.2 innings with the Ports, Hernandez has 50 strike-outs and 23 walks. He also spent a month with the Midland Rockhounds, when the Rockhounds' rotation was thinned out by injuries. The 22-year-old held his own at that level, going 6-1 with a 4.50 ERA. However, his command wasn't as sharp in Double-A, where he walked 14 and struck-out only 20 in 36 innings.

Hernandez is not a hard thrower, so how far he goes will have a lot to do with his fastball command and the effectiveness of his secondary pitches. Both have been inconsistent at times. He has been brilliant in many outings, including one on May 12th when he tossed six hitless innings at Inland Empire, but he has had a handful of bad outings tossed in where he was leaving his pitches out over the plate and was making himself much too hittable. Hernandez has proven to be a workhorse. He has averaged nearly six innings a start and has already established a career-high in innings pitched with 95.2. Given that he threw only 75 innings last season, Hernandez may see some time in the bullpen during the second half of the season to limit his innings. He figures to get another chance at Double-A next year.

Status: Looking for consistency

22. Rashun Dixon

Dixon, the A's 10th round pick last season, was one of the handful of draft picks that the A's went over-slot to sign. A two-sport star in high school, Dixon was signed away from a collegiate football and baseball scholarship. Upon signing, he quickly became one of the talks of the Arizona Rookie League, thanks to his unique set of skills. Built like a football player, Dixon demonstrated great power and speed in his first pro season, collecting 22 extra-base hits (including 10 triples) in 179 at-bats. He also demonstrated how much he had to learn, striking out 68 times.

Like Leyja, Dixon spent much of the first half of the season in Arizona at the A's extended spring training. He was on the Opening Day roster for the Vancouver Canadians and homered on Opening Day. Since then, it has been a rough road for Dixon, who is batting only .215 and has 32 strike-outs in 79 at-bats. He put together arguably his best day with Vancouver on Tuesday, going 2-3 with two doubles, a walk and a run scored and no strike-outs. Dixon has some interesting splits in his small sample of games. He is hitting .350 against lefties and .169 versus righties. In addition, he is batting .250 at home and .171 on the road and .333 during the day versus .188 at night. Lastly, he is hitting .314 with an 886 OPS with the bases empty, but .136 with a 447 OPS with runners on-base. All of these splits are indicative of a young player learning the game and are somewhat to be expected. Dixon won't turn 19 until after the season and he has never been a full-time baseball player before this year, so it will take him some time to refine his game. The A's will be plenty patient with him.

Status: Learning the game

21. Javier Herrera

Before Dixon and Desme, it was Herrera who arguably possessed the best package of speed and power in the A's system. Herrera burst onto the scene in 2004 when he hit .331 with 12 homers and 23 stolen bases in 65 games as a 19-year-old with Vancouver. He followed that performance up with a solid campaign for Kane County, with whom he hit .275 with an 818 OPS and 26 stolen bases. That season was sullied somewhat by an Opening Day suspension for performance enhancing drugs (Herrera was one of the first players to be caught under the new testing system), but his future still looked bright going into the 2006 season. Unfortunately, he injured his elbow that spring, missing the entire year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was never the same player after that.

In 2007, he hit .274 with a 785 OPS for Stockton and posted a .254 average with a 767 for Midland before being sidelined with a severe hamstring injury that cost him the second half of the 2007 season and the first few months of 2008. He hit .267 with a 769 OPS in 61 games for Midland in 2008 and had a strong finish to the season, leaving room for some optimism that he was going to have a big year in 2009. It wasn't to be. He sprained his wrist on Opening Day and, while rehabbing that injury, injured his shoulder. He was released by the A's on May 19th. It doesn't appear that he has signed with another organization and, given the severity of his injuries, he may be done with professional baseball at age 24.

Status: Released

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