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

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.

* 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 23, 2009.

20. Matt Sulentic

After a disappointing 2007 season, Sulentic bounced back in 2008 in a big way, batting .309 with an 849 OPS in 95 games for the High-A Stockton Ports in 2008. The only blemish on his 2008 campaign was that Sulentic finished the year about six weeks early when he broke a bone in his arm after being plunked by an errant pitch. Health again slowed him at the start of spring training, as an off-season illness forced Sulentic to report late to camp. Once healthy, Sulentic joined the Double-A Midland Rockhounds towards the end of April. Since that time, he has been putting up good numbers for a 21-year-old playing Double-A baseball for the first time. In 78 games this season, the corner outfielder is batting .296 with a .354 OBP, a 772 OPS and 18 stolen bases.

Sulentic does a lot of things very well already, and has room to grow as a ballplayer. He has turned himself into an above-average defensive right-fielder and has increased his foot speed to the point that he is more of an asset on the bases than a liability. At the plate, he hits for average and can take a walk. He doesn't yet hit for the power one would like to see in a corner outfielder, although it should be noted that the Rockhounds' home park is not particularly forgiving power-wise for left-handed batters. Sulentic also struggles badly against left-handed pitchers, posting a 557 OPS against southpaws compared to an 850 OPS versus righties. Any improvement against lefties should boost his numbers quite a bit.

Since Sulentic was drafted in the third round by the A's out of a Dallas-area high school in 2006, Oakland hasn't been shy about challenging him to play in leagues against older competition. With the exception of the 2007 season, Sulentic has responded to that challenge. He has a good shot to reach Triple-A at the age of 22 next season.

Status: Holding his own against older competition

19. Tyson Ross

Ross, the A's second round pick in 2008, is in a mid-season transition. The lanky right-hander was just promoted from High-A Stockton to Double-A Midland this week and he should make his debut with the Rockhounds either Sunday or Monday. Before the promotion, Ross was putting together a solid campaign for the Ports. In 86.1 innings, he had posted a 4.17 ERA with 82 strike-outs and 33 walks and he was holding opposing batters to a .237 average. Ross had been especially good lately, going 3-1 with a 2.59 ERA in four July outings. Ross' season hasn't been without challenges, but he has done his best to overcome them. He got off to a rough start and then landed on the DL with right shoulder soreness. When he returned, he was on a restricted pitch count for the next several starts and it was difficult for him to go deep into games, especially because Stockton's defense had a bad habit of committing errors to extend his innings. Eventually the reigns were taken off and Ross was able to show what he can do.

The Oakland native has flashed impressive stuff this season. He features a hard sinking fastball that sits in the low-90s, a slider with big bite, a cutter and a change-up. Ross uses an unorthodox delivery that many scouts have predicted will lead him to injury, but it also creates deception that adds another dimension to his pitches. He has shown good command and the ability to miss bats. Ross will face a big challenge at Double-A, as he will be one of the youngest pitchers in the league at 22 years old. A strong finish could see Ross in Triple-A by early next season.

Status: Making the jump

18. Arnold Leon

Ross won't have the distinction of being the youngest pitcher on the Midland staff because Leon currently holds and will continue to hold that title. The Mexican-born reliever won't turn 21 until after the season, but he is used to pitching against older competition. Before being acquired by the A's before the start of the 2008 season, Leon was pitching in the Mexican Winter and Summer Leagues, which are considered to be roughly Triple-A level. Leon also pitched in High-A last season as a 19-year-old, where he was one of the youngest pitchers in the league. Leon impressed with Stockton in 2008, posting a 2.86 ERA and striking out 28 in 28.1 innings. Things haven't been as easy for Leon in 2009, as he has posted a 4.83 ERA in 41 innings. He has also struggled with arm soreness, which landed him on the DL in June.

Leon returned to Midland in late June and has been much better since the DL stint. Over his last 10 outings, he has a 2.84 ERA and 16 strike-outs in 19 innings. Control has been a problem for Leon this season (20 walks in 41.1 innings), but he has always been a control pitcher in the past, so that may be attributable to the arm soreness. Thanks to his participation in the Mexican leagues, Leon has been pitching virtually non-stop for the past two-and-a-half years, so it isn't a surprise that he came up sore this season. Look for the A's to be careful with him, as he has already pitched roughly the same number of innings as he did during last year's regular season (which he split between Stockton and Saltillo of the Mexican Winter League). Given his youth, Leon won't be rushed and even with a strong finish, he could repeat at Double-A to start next season.

Status: Pitching better after rough start to season

17. Andrew Carignan

After saving 28 games and posting a 2.01 ERA in 2008, Carignan was expected to have a big season in 2009. Unfortunately for the hard-throwing right-hander, health has prevented him from making an impact this season. Carignan sustained a right forearm strain during his first big league camp this spring and he has pitched in only two games this season. A recent set-back in his rehab means that he isn't likely to return to the mound before early August, at the earliest.

The good news for Carignan is that even with the lost season, he is the kind of pitcher who can make up for lost time in a hurry. A polished collegiate closer at the time of the 2007 draft, Carignan proved that he could handle the late-inning duties as a pro last season. Command was an issue for Carignan (as it is for many hard throwers), but it did show improvement toward the end of the 2008 season and during the Arizona Fall League. Carignan was slated for Triple-A before the injury and, assuming he is healthy, should be there at the start of next season, if not sooner. Once he has established himself at Triple-A, he will be one of the A's top options when there are openings in their bullpen.

Status: Rehabbing

16. Brett Hunter

The A's and Hunter made headlines last season when the two came to terms on a record-breaking bonus for a seventh-round pick. Hunter was originally slotted to be a first-round pick, but he fell to the A's in the seventh round when questions emerged about the health of his shoulder. A strong summer by Hunter with Team USA convinced the A's that he was healthy and they gave him a seven-figure bonus. He signed in time to make only three appearances for Arizona and Kane County, although he did appear in seven games in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball league last October.

At the start of the 2009 season, Hunter was assigned to the Low-A Kane County Cougars and he has spent the entire season with the Cougars. In the beginning of the year, Hunter was part of a starter-tandem, but by mid-season, the A's had moved him to the bullpen. It has been a struggle for Hunter this season. In 47.1 innings, he has a 6.85 ERA and he has walked 59 batters. On the plus side, he has allowed only 38 hits and has struck-out 55, a testament to the quality of his stuff.

The A's have been working hard with Hunter to alter his mechanics, which has undoubtedly affected his control. Thus far, health hasn't been an issue for the hard-throwing right-hander, so there is reason for optimism that he will be able to fulfill his promise. Although Hunter is currently in the bullpen, the A's haven't given up the notion that he could be a starter, though he is likely to remain in the bullpen this season. The biggest goals for Hunter for the rest of this season will be to stay healthy and to show some improvement with his command. He will likely get a lot of personal coaching during the A's Instructional League this fall.

Status: Looking to reign it in

15. Fautino De Los Santos

Despite being one of the top arms in the A's system, De Los Santos was something of a forgotten man at the start of this season thanks to the emergence of other top prospects and his elbow injury. The elbow injury, which he sustained last May, wound-up causing him to have Tommy John surgery. At the start of the season, the A's were hopeful that De Los Santos would be back pitching for a full-season affiliate by the end of July. Unfortunately, the right-hander has made only two appearance this season, both for the A's Rookie League team. He experienced soreness after his last outing on July 10th and hasn't been back on the mound since that time.

Tommy John patients can take anywhere from 12-18 months to recover, so, while it is disappointing that De Los Santos isn't back to full strength, it isn't all that surprising. The A's would be thrilled if he got four or five starts in with a full-season affiliate before the end of the season at this point. The good news is that De Los Santos was reportedly throwing well before being sidelined with the soreness. He has top-flight stuff, so if he can return 100 percent healthy at the start of next season, he has the ability to move quickly. He will have to, as De Los Santos will be 24 before the start of next season and he has yet to pitch above A-ball.

Status: Rehabbing

14. Corey Brown

Although Chris Carter received most of the headlines, he wasn't the only power-hitter to have a breakthrough season in the A's system in 2008. Brown joined Carter as one of only two players to reach the 30 homer plateau in the A's system last year, hitting exactly 30 with Kane County and Stockton. Brown also stole 16 bases in 17 chances and collected 27 doubles while playing a solid centerfield. The biggest blemish on his record was his strike-out total, which was an incredible 168 in 134 games. Those strike-outs kept him from his goal of being a .300 hitter, as he finished the year batting .266.

Although Brown is still prone to the strike-out, he has shown great improvements in that area in 2009. In 41 games for the Double-A Midland Rockhounds, Brown has struck-out 40 times. He has also walked 16 times and is batting .308 with a 907 OPS. The only downside to all of those numbers in his games played. Brown has battled shoulder and knee injuries all season and has missed half of the Rockhounds' games. He hasn't played since July 3rd thanks to a balky knee and isn't expected back for another week or two at the earliest.

Status: Rehabbing

13. Jemile Weeks

Injuries have been a common theme in this group of 10 prospects and, unfortunately, injuries have affected Weeks' season, as well. The good news is that he has recovered from his leg injuries, which cost him the first seven weeks of the season. The better news is that he has played like a top 15 draft pick when healthy. In 41 games with the Stockton Ports, Weeks has hit .311 with 17 extra-base hits, 21 walks and a 902 OPS. He has also been impressive with the glove at second base.

Weeks is a player who relies on his legs, so it is imperative that he keeps his legs healthy. The A's have seen what leg injuries can do to a player like Weeks, as a series of hamstring injuries affected 2005 A's first round pick Cliff Pennington for close to two years. The A's have been extremely cautious with Weeks since he returned from the leg injuries, giving him periodic days off and limiting his running on the bases (he is three-for-four in stolen bases). They may not take the reigns off until next season. Despite the limitations, Weeks has shown that he is the player the A's thought they were getting when they took him – a dynamic switch-hitter with the ability to hit at the top of the order, some pop, great speed and the athleticism to be a plus defender. A strong finish could catapult Weeks to at or near the top of our prospect list going into next season.

Status: Looking for a strong finish to a truncated season

12. Henry Rodriguez

Last season, Rodriguez was a bit of a riddle, wrapped in an enigma. The fireballer was practically unhittable, but he also couldn't find the plate for much of the season. Control problems resulted in Rodriguez posting a 5.20 ERA despite striking out 147 batters in 116 innings. Nevertheless, pitchers who throw 100 MPH and have devastating sliders don't grow on trees, so the potential for Rodriguez to have an impact in the big leagues coming into the season was still high despite the control issues. A permanent move to the bullpen also meant that Rodriguez could move quickly through the A's system, so despite having spent much of last year at High-A and struggling in Double-A, Rodriguez has spent the majority of this season in Triple-A.

Because he wouldn't be an A's prospect without some DL time, Rodriguez did miss the first seven weeks of the season recovering from off-season surgery for a hernia he sustained while pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League. After a brief stop in Stockton, Rodriguez joined the River Cats and has been pitching out of Sacramento's bullpen ever since. In 26.1 innings for the River Cats, he has a 3.42 ERA. The strike-out totals have been typically outstanding (45 Ks). Although he will never be confused with Greg Maddux for his control, Rodriguez has walked fewer batters this season. His walk rate was 9.7 per nine innings for Midland last season and it has improved to 6.5 per nine innings for Sacramento this year. That number still needs to come down, but it is a start. Over his last eight innings, he has walked four and struck-out 14. He has remained virtually unhittable, allowing opposing batters to hit only .164 off of him. Rodriguez, a member of the A's 40-man roster, seems like a lock to join Oakland in September, provided he is healthy.

Status: Working his way up

11. James Simmons

Although he has been healthy all season, Simmons has had far from an easy time this year. The right-hander has been very inconsistent for the Sacramento River Cats. In 18 appearances, he has a 5-5 record and a 5.27 ERA in 95.2 innings. His last 10 starts has been indicative of his entire season. In six of those 10 starts, Simmons has been very effective, but he was hit around in the other four. Simmons has always been a pitcher who pitches to contact, but strike-outs have been harder to come-by for Simmons this season, as he has only 61 in 95.2 innings. His patented pinpoint control has also betrayed him at times this season, as he has walked 38. On the plus-side, he has allowed only six homeruns.

Simmons' biggest asset has always been his fastball command, which rates on the high end of the scouting scale. However, he is discovering on the verge of the big leagues that it is going to take another out-pitch to compliment that fastball in order to have consistent success. Simmons has improved his slider and his change-up, but both are still works-in-progress. Whether Simmons develops into an effective big league starter hinges on the progress of those two secondary pitches. At 22-year-old, Simmons has time on his side to improve his pitches.

Status: Working to master the softer pitches

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