Mid-Season Review: A's Prospects 10-1

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 final in our series, we take a look at the progress of prospects 10-1 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 29, 2009.

10. Aaron Cunningham

Cunningham was one of six prospects the A's acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Dan Haren before the 2008 season. The outfielder made a good impression on his new organization in his first season, batting .329 with 17 homeruns and a 932 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A in 107 minor league games. Cunnigham spent the last six weeks of the 2008 season with the A's, appearing in 22 games. He hit .250 with a 710 OPS. At the start of the off-season, it was believed that Cunnigham would compete for a spot in the A's outfield during spring training, but those notions were put to rest when Oakland acquired Matt Holliday. With the exception of a two-week stint in May when he was in Oakland, Cunningham has spent the entire season at Triple-A, where he is batting .298 with nine homers and he has an 869 OPS.

All-in-all Cunningham has continued to show in the minor leagues the skills that made him an attractive trade target for Oakland in November 2007. He hits for average and decent power and does a good job of hitting both lefties and righties. On the base-paths, he isn't a speed-burner, but he has enough footspeed to steal his share of bases. Cunningham has suffered two fluke injuries since joining the A's organization: he broke his wrist during last spring training, costing him the first few weeks of the 2008 season, and three games into this season, he dislocated his shoulder crashing into the catcher at home-plate and missed a month. Neither injury has had a long-term impact on Cunningham, however. Cunningham has proven pretty much all he can prove at the minor league level, so the next step for him will be translating his minor league numbers into major league production. In 46 at-bats with the A's earlier this season, he hit only .152 and he struck-out 15 times. He often looked anxious and impatient at the plate, traits he hasn't shown in the minor leagues. Cunningham should see plenty of time in the A's outfield this September (if not earlier), and if he can look like the Sacramento-version of himself, he will be a leading candidate for a starting job in Oakland in 2010.

Status: Waiting for an opening

9. Vince Mazzaro

Last season, Mazzaro surprised many pundits with a break-through season that saw him go from a 5.00+ ERA in the California League in 2007 to leading the Texas League in ERA in 2008. Going into the 2009 season, some scouts remained skeptical of Mazzaro's rapid climb in 2008, pointing to his late-season struggles at Triple-A as a sign that perhaps the Texas League performance was a career outlier. Mazzaro put some of those questions to rest during spring training, when he pitched very well during much of his first major league spring training. What doubters remained were likely converted once the season started, as Mazzaro showed the same level of dominance in Triple-A that he had in Double-A in 2008. In 10 appearances with Sacramento, the right-hander posted a 2.38 ERA and struck-out out 44 in 56.2 innings. He allowed only two homeruns and held opposing batters to a .205 average.

At that point, the A's felt that Mazzaro had proven all he needed to in the minor leagues and they promoted him into their rotation at the start of June. He was brilliant in his first five big league starts (all in June), posting a 2.95 ERA and striking out 28 in 36.2 innings. Mazzaro has come down to earth in July, posting an 8.51 ERA with only 15 strike-outs and 11 walks in 24.1 innings. Much of his recent struggles can be attributed to poor location, something that he didn't have much of in the minor leagues in 2008 and 2009. He has shown that when he is locating, he has the stuff to be an excellent major league starter. With the A's out of the pennant race, Oakland has the luxury to be patient with Mazzaro, so don't look for the team to give him a quick hook even if the struggles continue. This season will be a good learning experience for Mazzaro, who figures to be a big part of the A's rotation for years to come.

Status: Getting feet wet in the big leagues

8. Josh Donaldson

With Sean Gallagher now in San Diego, Matt Murton in Colorado and Eric Patterson struggling in the big leagues, Donaldson may be the A's last hope of getting anything notable out of their trade of Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin in July 2008. Donaldson is certainly doing his part to make that trade look at least salvageable. After batting .330 with a 955 OPS in 47 post-trade games with the Stockton Ports in 2008, Donaldson hasn't quite produced those numbers in 2009 with Midland. However, he is still putting together an impressive statline. In 92 games, the catcher/infielder is batting .274 with 39 extra-base hits, a .402 OBP and an 833 OPS. He was named to the Texas League's mid-season All-Star team and has an 883 OPS in July after struggling to the tune of a 649 OPS in June.

Some of the reason for Donaldson's July resurgence may have to do with the fact that he has gotten some days off from catching in July. The Texas heat can be brutal on catchers, and he was behind the plate nearly everyday the first half of the season. Donaldson has been mixing in some games at third base in July and the A's have liked what they have seen from him at that position. He has also improved his catching, although he is likely always to be an offensive catcher first. Donaldson has shown remarkable plate discipline this season, walking 70 times against 68 strike-outs, a good sign considering his plate discipline was only average in 2008. The A's have no reason to rush Donaldson, as they have two young players manning the position in Oakland. However, Donaldson could be ready for a cameo as soon as next season. The fact that he can handle third base and also has some experience playing first base could potentially make him a very valuable part of a big league club.

Status: Playing well at Double-A

7. Sean Doolittle

From a position-player perspective, Doolittle was the talk of the A's big league camp this spring. Oakland's 2007 supplemental first round pick impressed the A's brass with a potent bat, slick defense and a high energy approach to the game. Despite the fact that he struggled some at Double-A during the second half of 2008, Doolittle was sent to Triple-A to start the 2009 season in large part because of that spring performance, as well as a good performance at the Arizona Fall League. Doolittle made the A's look smart early in the season, getting off to a good start with the River Cats. In 28 games, he had an 811 OPS and 10 extra-base hits in 105 at-bats. Unfortunately, Doolittle hasn't been able to add to those totals. He injured his knee on May 8th and has been out ever since. He has been rehabbing the injury (a tear in his patella tendon) and hopes to be back on the field in the next few weeks.

If he hadn't gotten injured, Doolittle almost certainly would have seen some time in the big leagues at this point in the season given the injuries that the A's have had at Doolittle's two positions (first base and right-field). There is a chance still that he will see some time with the A's in September, although the team may hesitate to add him to the 40-man roster this season, as Oakland has a crowded 40-man roster already and a number of young players they need to evaluate. If Doolittle doesn't make his big league debut this season, he is almost certain to debut in 2010, health-permitting. The A's have been in need of a good hitter who can play multiple positions well, and Doolittle is an above-average first baseman and has shown he can handle right-field.

Status: Trying to get healthy

6. Adrian Cardenas

The A's return for Joe Blanton has thus far been significantly better than their return for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin, and Cardenas has been a big reason why that is the case. The infielder was billed as a hitting machine when he was acquired, and he has lived up to that advanced billing. After batting .296 between A-ball and Double-A last season, Cardenas has elevated his game in 2009. In 95 games between Triple-A and Double-A, Cardenas is hitting .310 with an 803 OPS. Those numbers are depressed some by his time in Triple-A, when he hit only .177 in 18 games. He has spent the rest of the season with Double-A Midland, and he has been one of the top hitters in the Texas League during that time. In 77 games, he is batting .335 with a .402 OBP and an 861 OPS. He is currently the Texas League batting average leader by seven points. Oh, and did we mention that he is only 21-years-old, making him one of the youngest players in the Texas League?

Depending on how he finishes the season, Cardenas could find himself at the top of this list going into next year. He has been described as a hitter who could hit .300 falling out of bed, and he has done just that this season. In every month he has played with Midland, he has hit at least .316. Cardenas has shown an advanced feel for the strike-zone and, although he has only three homeruns on the year, he has shown more gap power, collecting 26 doubles and two triples in 316 Double-A at-bats. Defensively, Cardenas has spent most of the season at second base, although he has also seen significant time at third and a little time at short. In an ideal world for Oakland, Cardenas would be able to stick at shortstop, but it is far more likely that he will be a second or third baseman in the major leagues. Which position he eventually lands on has a lot to do with the development of a few of the A's other top prospects, such as second baseman Jemile Weeks and newly acquired third baseman Brett Wallace. Cardenas will be 22 for all of next season, so he will be young for Triple-A next year. However, his advanced approach at the plate could net him some major league time in 2010 and should land him a starting spot somewhere in the A's infield by 2011.

Status: Rising star

5. Chris Carter

Like Cunningham, Carter came to Oakland as part of the Dan Haren trade and, like Cunningham, Carter made a strong first impression with his new organization in 2008. The right-handed slugger crushed 39 regular season homeruns for the High-A Stockton Ports before leading Stockton to a California League championship. He has followed up that performance with another strong campaign in 2009. Playing for Double-A Midland all season, Carter has been a force at the plate. Although he isn't on-pace to match the 39-homer total, he has improved his offensive game in a number of categories: raising his average to .309, his on-base percentage to .409 and cutting down on his strike-out totals. The 17 homeruns he has hit and the 75 runs he has driven-in are nothing to sneeze at, either. Carter has even added some "speed" to his game, stealing 11 bases in 13 tries.

Although Carter still has work to do to cut down his strike-outs (he has 100 in 99 games), he has definitely become a more well-rounded hitter in 2009. He is using the whole field better and isn't looking to hit a homerun in every at-bat. A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens predicted last season that Carter could be a .300 hitter, and he has developed into one in 2009. He will exceed his doubles and hits totals from last season and should still finish with a homerun total in the 20s. Despite being only 22, Carter rates in the top-10 in the following Texas League categories: batting average (sixth), homeruns (second), RBIs (second), hits (second), doubles (second), on-base percentage (first), slugging percentage (second), extra-base hits (first) and runs scored (first).

Defensively, Carter has made strides, as well. In 2008, he was moved from first to third to right-field, as the A's were trying to find the spot in which he was most comfortable. He has settled exclusively on first base in 2009, and, while he isn't a Gold Glover there, he has improved greatly over his first base efforts in 2008, when he often looked tentative fielding groundballs and making throws across the diamond. His .991 fielding percentage is second in the Texas League among regular first basemen. Carter remains the A's top power prospect and will certainly be among the top names on this list heading into next year.

Status: Pushing for a Texas League MVP

4. Gio Gonzalez

Throughout his career, Gonzalez has been a riddle wrapped in an enigma, and things have been no different for the talented left-hander in 2009. Gonzalez came into the 2009 season with a strong shot of making the A's Opening Day starting rotation. A sore arm during spring training scuttled those plans, and he began the year in Triple-A Sacramento, where he had posted a 4.24 ERA and struck-out 128 batters in 123 innings in an up-and-down 2008 season. Gonzalez was up-and-down again with Sacramento in 2009, although he was more "up" than "down." He posted a 2.12 ERA in April, followed that with a 5.23 ERA in May, but then rebounded to post an 0.39 ERA in June. It should be noted that his tumultuous May included two one-outing stints with Oakland in which he was asked to be a long-reliever, a role that he isn't all that accustomed to. Gonzalez allowed only one run over his last 30.1 Triple-A innings.

In mid-June, Gonzalez got the call to the big leagues when Josh Outman landed on the DL. Since arriving in Oakland, Gonzalez has been on a rollercoaster. He was torched for six runs (four earned) in 3.2 innings in his first start with the A's, but followed that with two solid outings (five innings/three runs versus Detroit and six innings/two runs versus Cleveland) before tossing a one-inning relief appearance just before the All-Star break. His return from the All-Star break was a rude one, as he allowed 11 runs in 2.2 innings in a game in which the A's would ultimately comeback from a 12-run deficit. However, he followed that disaster with an outstanding effort at Yankee Stadium last week, allowing two hits and one run in 6.2 innings.

With Outman out for the year, Gonzalez will most likely remain in the A's rotation all season, even if the ups-and-downs continue. Oakland has to know going into next year if they can count on Gonzalez to be a regular member of the rotation and the rest of this season will be a good test. There is little question that Gonzalez has the stuff to be a major league starter. In 67.2 major league innings, he has 69 strike-outs. However, he has shown that he can be too emotional on the mound at times, and when his emotions get the best of him, his location suffers, leading to walks and more hittable pitches. The A's are hopeful that as Gonzalez matures (he is still only 23), some of that emotion will diminish.

Status: Working out the kinks

3. Michael Ynoa

For many A's fans, Ynoa's projected participation the 2009 Arizona Rookie League was the most anticipated American debut since the Beatles crossed the pond. Unfortunately, that debut has yet to materialize, as the talented right-hander has been sidelined with an elbow injury that he incurred during the A's Extended Spring Training. He is a big long-shot to pitch at all during the regular season and is more likely to make his 2009 "debut" during one of the A's two Instructional Leagues.

Ynoa is the biggest unknown in the A's organization. Signed for the largest bonus ever handed out to a non-Cuban Latin American free agent, Ynoa comes to the US with the expectations that he will be an elite major league pitcher. However, he also has virtually no actual in-game pitching experience. An elbow injury at this stage of his career, while certainly not devastating, is a bit of a concern, as the A's don't have idea of how he will handle a regular starter's workload. Ynoa was reportedly throwing well before the injury and, by all accounts, has extremely special stuff, but it appears it will be at least another year before we can see how that stuff matches up against minor league hitters during regular season play.

Status: Injured

2. Trevor Cahill

It was a flip of the coin between Cahill and Brett Anderson as to who was number one and who was number two in the A's system after last season. The career paths of Cahill and Anderson have mirrored each other almost exactly and an argument easily could have been made for both of them to receive the number one ranking. Cahill and Anderson entered spring training as non-roster invitees who were expected to start the year in Triple-A. By the end of the spring, both had pitched their way onto the A's Opening Day roster. Since Opening Day, both have had their high moments and their struggles.

Cahill has struggled with his command for most of the season, but despite walking 49 in 115 innings and striking out only 56, he has still managed to post a respectable 4.77 ERA. He has allowed three runs or less in all but five of his 21 starts, so, for the most part, he has been a reliable starter for Oakland day-in and day-out. Down-the-road, the A's expect to see better results from Cahill as he improves his command and location within the strike-zone. Command was Cahill's only issue in the minor leagues, but he was able to mask that deficiency because his stuff was so good. Major league hitters are able to lay-off of the pitches just off the plate, so Cahill will need to adjust his location accordingly to go from a mid-4.00s starting pitcher to a guy who regularly posts ERAs in the 3.00s.

Status: Adjusting to the big leagues

1. Brett Anderson

If Anderson were given an edge over Cahill going into this season, it was due in large part to Anderson's command, which was a little more advanced than Cahill's. That differential has been even more apparent this season, as Anderson has shown terrific command for much of the year while Cahill has struggled. Although Anderson's ERA sits at 4.33, one could make the argument that he has actually pitched much better than that for much of the season. In 108 innings, Anderson has struck-out 85 batters while walking 31. Homeruns have been his biggest issue, as the lefty has allowed 14. Much as he did last season in the minor leagues, Anderson has gotten stronger as the season has gone on. Over his last seven starts, Anderson has allowed only 11 runs in 44 innings. During the month of July, he has a 1.87 ERA despite facing all teams with playoff aspirations (Boston twice, New York, Tampa Bay and the Angels). Perhaps most impressively, Anderson has 33 strike-outs and only nine walks in 33.2 innings in July.

In the minor leagues, Anderson reminded a number of scouts of former A's ace Mark Mulder because of his poise on the mound, his command of a large repertoire of pitches and his above-average control. That comparison has looked pretty spot on lately, with the added bonus that Anderson now throws significantly harder than Mulder ever did. In fact, over the last six weeks, Anderson has been clocked in the 95-97 MPH range. In the minor leagues, he was more often clocked in the 91-94 MPH range. Given that Anderson just turned 21 in February, it isn't surprising that he has added velocity as he continues to mature into his body. The future of the A's organization is closely tied to the success of their young pitchers, and with Anderson leading the way, that future is looking promising.

Status: On a roll in the big leagues

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