A's Top-10 Prospect Rankings In Review

Starting next week, we will begin our annual ranking of the Oakland A's top-50 prospects. This ranking will come along with scouting reports on each player. Before we begin the rankings, we thought it would be educational to look back at our past lists. Inside, find out who we ranked among the A's top-10 prospects in our pre-season lists from '06-'09 and how those players have developed.

*Note: we had three versions of the pre-season 2008 rankings. Two that came out before and during a time when the A's made a flurry of trades and one that came out after. We are using the one that came out after the trades since that was a truer reflection of the team's prospects heading into the 2008 season. Players are listed alphabetically.

Brett Anderson: #1 in pre-season 2009 rankings; #5 in pre-season 2008 rankings
Anderson has been in the A's organization just long enough to be ranked twice among the system's top-10 prospects. It seemed likely before the 2009 season that we'd have an opportunity to rank Anderson a third time this off-season, but he surprised a lot of people by skipping over a year at Triple-A and making the A's Opening Day roster. Anderson was acquired by the A's before the 2008 season in the Dan Haren trade. Most publications labeled Anderson as a top prospect going into the 2008 season, although there were questions about whether he had the ceiling of a top-of-the-rotation starter or a third starter. At this time, we look justified in giving Anderson such high rankings. In his one full season in the A's minor league system (2008), Anderson pitched well at two levels (High-A and Double-A), helped the US Olympic team win a bronze medal in Beijing, posted a 118:27 K:BB ratio in 105 minor league innings and moved into the starting rotation for the Triple-A playoffs for Sacramento. In 2009, Anderson was one of the AL's top rookie starters, going 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA and 150 strike-outs in 175.1 innings for the A's. He projects to be one of the A's top starters in 2010.

Andrew Bailey: #9 in pre-season 2008 rankings
Bailey was on our prospect radar from the time that he was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 draft by the A's. We ranked him 19th going into the 2007 season and ninth going into the 2008 campaign (he was ranked fourth in the 2008 pre-trade rankings). However, we dropped Bailey to the 33rd position heading in 2009, a decision that looks pretty foolish now. Bailey was moved to spot 33 because of his struggles during the first half of the 2008 season, when he posted a 6.18 ERA as starter with Double-A Midland. Although we noted in our scouting report that Bailey had tremendous second-half success as a reliever and was still a likely candidate to make the big leagues even as soon as mid-season 2009, we felt that his move to the bullpen lessened his potential "prospect" value in the long-run.

Bailey proved us wrong in 2009 when he made the A's Opening Day roster and then went on to have one of the best seasons of any reliever in the American League. He went 6-3, saved 26 games, posted a 1.84 ERA and struck-out 91 in 83.1 innings. Bailey also made the AL All-Star team. Over the course of his three years in the A's system, Bailey was compared to no lesser caliber of pitchers as Curt Schilling and Mariano Rivera by A's minor league pitching coordinators Ron Romanick and Gil Patterson, respectively. Those comparisons alone probably should have had us ranking Bailey higher in last year's list.

Daric Barton: #1 in pre-season 2008 rankings; #3 in pre-season 2007 rankings; #1 in pre-season 2006 rankings

From the moment that Barton was traded to the A's before the 2005 season, he was a fixture in the organization's top prospect rankings. From 2006-2008, Barton was listed among our top-three prospects. His only slip out of the top spot came after an injury-plagued 2006 season that saw him miss time thanks to a broken arm. Barton's star has dimmed some since he was last eligible to be ranked. He had a disappointing rookie season in 2008 (674 OPS in 140 games with Oakland) and spent much of the 2009 season in the minor leagues after the A's went out and signed two veteran players to handle first base. Many pundits practically wrote Barton off after a horrific April in Triple-A when he hit below .200. He recovered to post a respectable 844 OPS with the River Cats despite that bad month of April, however, and quietly showed improvement at the major league level, as well. In 54 games with the A's, he hit .269 with a 784 OPS. At the moment, Barton is expected to have the first crack at the A's starting first-base job for 2010, although the A's now have a number of top prospects at first base in Triple-A, so Barton will have to play well out of the gate to retain his job and justify our consistently high rankings of him. Ironically, the biggest question that we had about Barton's game has turned out to be his best asset thus far at the major league level: his defense.

Travis Buck: #1 in pre-season 2007 rankings
Buck was selected in the supplemental first round of the 2005 draft by the A's and he barely missed our top-10 list going into the 2006 season, finishing 11th. He would blow by that ranking going into 2007 when he put together a 2006 campaign that saw him hit .349 in 34 games for Stockton and .302 in 50 games for Midland. Those numbers pushed Buck to the top of our pre-season 2007 list. That would be his last entry on our rankings, as he made the A's Opening Day 2007 roster and put together a fine – if injury plagued – rookie season, posting an 851 OPS in 82 games. Things haven't gone as smoothly for Buck since that time, however. A slow start to his 2008 campaign and then a series of injuries cost him his hold on the A's starting right field job and over the past two years he has spent more time in Sacramento or on the DL than he has in Oakland. It isn't clear what Buck's future with the A's is at this point. Even with the inconsistent playing time and the injuries, Buck's career major league numbers are still pretty decent for a young player. Over the past three seasons, he has played in 156 games (545 at-bats) and he has a .257/.336/.435 line. He still has time to justify our number one ranking.

Trevor Cahill: #2 in pre-season 2009 rankings; #6 in pre-season 2008 rankings; #2 in pre-season 2007 rankings
Cahill actually would have been ranked number two in all three years that he was in the A's minor league system if it weren't for all of the pre-season trades before the 2008 campaign, as he was ranked second in our original 2008 ranking. These consistently high rankings are reflective of the minor league career that Cahill put together with Oakland. In two-plus minor league seasons, Cahill posted a 2.68 ERA and had a 1.09 WHIP in 238.2 innings. Like Anderson, Cahill was a surprise member of the A's 2009 Opening Day roster and he made 32 starts for Oakland, going 10-13 with a 4.63 ERA in 178.2 innings. Cahill's major league rookie season was up-and-down. The jury is still out on whether Cahill will develop into the number one or two starter that we predicted he'd be, but the fact that he could post an ERA under 5 in the American League as a 21-year-old is certainly nothing to sneeze at. The future still appears to be bright for Cahill.

Adrian Cardenas: #6 in pre-season 2009 rankings
Cardenas was acquired by the A's during the 2008 season, so his first entry into our rankings was last pre-season. A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens told us that Cardenas was "born to hit" and a .296 average in 2008 seemed to support that sentiment. Cardenas finished the 2008 season as a 20-year-old at Double-A, making him one of the youngest players in the Texas League. He returned to Midland in 2009 and hit well, batting .326 with an 838 OPS in 79 games. Cardenas' time in Triple-A with Sacramento was more uneven. He finished with a .251 average and a 689 OPS in 51 games with the River Cats, but most of those poor numbers came in an early stint with Sacramento when he hit .177 in 18 games. He hit .289 in 33 games during his second go-around with the River Cats. Nothing Cardenas did in 2009 would suggest that he would fall out of our upcoming top-10 rankings for 2010.

Chris Carter: #5 in pre-season 2009 rankings; #10 in pre-season 2008 rankings
Carter wasn't one of the better-known prospects to come over to Oakland in the Dan Haren trade, but he has quickly elevated his profile. In two years in the A's system, Carter has hit 67 regular season homeruns, been named the California League's Rookie of the Year and the Texas League's Most Valuable Player and helped two affiliates win league championships. Carter's 39 homeruns with Stockton in 2008 were the most that any A's prospect had hit in a number of years and were enough to move him up five spots to number five in our pre-season 2009 ranking despite the fact that he hit only .259 with Stockton and hadn't yet settled on a defensive position. Carter put together an even better season in 2009, improving his overall hitting game (batting .329 with a .422 OBP) while still hitting for power (.570 SLG) and improving defensively. Like in 2009, Carter is set for a ranking bump up in the 2010 list.

Aaron Cunningham: #10 in pre-season 2009 rankings; #8 in pre-season 2008 rankings
Cunningham arrived in Oakland in the Dan Haren deal and he has been a fixture in our top-10 rankings over the past two seasons. Although he has appeared in 55 major league games with Oakland over the past two seasons, Cunningham will still enter the 2010 season with rookie eligibility and, thus, will still be eligible to be in the rankings in 2010. Cunningham has done nothing in the minor leagues not to support his top-10 rankings. After batting .329 with a 932 OPS in 2008, Cunningham hit .302 with an 851 OPS in 2009. However, his time in the major leagues hasn't been quite as successful. He hit .250 in 22 games in 2008 and .151 in 23 games in 2009. His plate discipline has disappeared during his big league stints and he has struggled defensively. That being said, Cunningham doesn't have anything else to prove in the minor leagues, so he is likely to exhaust his remaining rookie eligibility in 2010 and his success in the big leagues next season will go a long way towards determining whether he will live up to our high rankings or not.

Fautino De Los Santos: #4 in pre-season 2008 rankings
Of the players the A's acquired before the 2008 season, De Los Santos was thought arguably to be the most talented of the bunch, although he was also thought to be the player with the highest risk of not reaching his potential. He came to the A's with a reputation for having premium stuff, but he also had very little track record. Still, based on his breakthrough 2007 season in the Chicago White Sox chain, we ranked De Los Santos in our top-five for 2008. That spring he showed the kind of elite stuff that the A's believed they were getting when they dealt Nick Swisher for him. However, he injured his elbow early in 2008 and hasn't really been healthy ever since. De Los Santos will be 24 next season and he has yet to pitch above the High-A level, so he'll need to get healthy and productive in a hurry to produce the kind of career we projected for him before the 2008 campaign.

Josh Donaldson: #8 in pre-season 2009 rankings
Donaldson came over to the A's midway through the 2008 season in the Rich Harden deal and hit .330 with a 955 OPS for Stockton after the trade. He struggled with the Chicago Cubs' Low-A affiliate before the trade, but his numbers with Stockton were too good to ignore. Donaldson spent all of 2009 with Midland and while he didn't put up the kind of numbers he had with the Ports in 2008, Donaldson still hit .270/.379/.415, good numbers for a catcher. Donaldson has a tough task in front of him in breaking the A's catching rotation with Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell entrenched at that position in Oakland, but Donaldson can play some third and first in addition to catching, so he is bound to get his shot in the big leagues at some point soon. That positional flexibility coupled with his above-average plate discipline and gap power make Donaldson a strong candidate to repeat in our top-10 rankings for 2010.

Sean Doolittle: #7 in pre-season 2009 rankings
Doolittle fell just outside of our top-10 rankings for 2008, but he moved into that elite company for 2009 by hitting 22 homeruns and posting an 854 OPS for Stockton and Midland. He also impressed at the Arizona Fall League. Doolittle was one of the stars of the A's big league spring training camp before the 2009 season and got off to a good start with Triple-A Sacramento (811 OPS) before a knee injury in early May sidelined him for the rest of the season. The missed time hurt Doolittle, who watched as some of the A's other first base prospects put together big seasons, but he proved that he can handle the outfield as well as first base before he was injured, so that should help his prospect ranking and his chances of making the big leagues in 2010.

Andre Ethier: #3 in pre-season 2006 rankings
Ethier's stock rose dramatically before the 2006 season, as he earned the 2005 Texas League MVP award and was one of the top performers in that season's Arizona Fall League. Going into that year, there had been questions about Ethier's future after he had to undergo back surgery that cut his 2004 season short. The questions about his back, as well as some doubts about whether he would ever develop the power required of a corner outfielder, led the A's to feel comfortable dealing Ethier to the Dodgers for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez before the start of the 2006 season. At the time of the trade, we surmised that it was a good deal for the A's because Ethier wasn't likely to ever be a better player than Milton Bradley at the major league level and Oakland was also getting Perez in the deal and he appeared to have some promise. The trade helped the A's make the 2006 ALCS, as Bradley was an asset for Oakland in an injury-plagued campaign, but ultimately neither Bradley nor Perez figured prominently in the A's future. Ethier, on the other hand, has developed into a star in the big leagues, with an 853 OPS in four MLB seasons. His power has increased each season and the back has never been an issue for him since the surgery. Right now, he is making us look foolish for ranking him lower than number one that season.

Jairo Garcia / Santiago Casilla: #6 in pre-season 2006 rankings
At the time that we made these rankings, Casilla was known as Jairo Garcia. As Garcia, he was a 22-year-old flame-throwing relief prospect who had control issues but lightening stuff and time to refine his game. However, his prospect status diminished considerably just weeks after we released the 2006 rankings when it was revealed that he was really Santiago Casilla and was really 25 years old. Casilla, now 29, has carved out a so-so major league career – 5.11 ERA in 160.1 major league innings over three seasons – but he isn't likely to develop into an elite major league reliever. Had we known his real age at the time of the '06 rankings, we would have placed him somewhere in the middle of the top-50 list, which would be ranking about commiserate with the numbers he has produced during his career.

Carlos Gonzalez: #3 in pre-season 2008 rankings
Of the prospects acquired in the Haren trade, Gonzalez was arguably the most well-known, having been on the national prospect radar for many publications since 2005. A five-tool athlete, Gonzalez came to the A's with almost unlimited potential, and with some questions about his plate discipline. His first, and ultimately only, season with Oakland mirrored that scouting report. He dazzled on the field at times, but also struggled for long stretches in the big leagues, as pitchers exploited his wide strike-zone. The A's traded Gonzalez in a package that netted them Matt Holliday before the 2009 season. The change of scenery has suited Gonzalez, who starred for Colorado in 2009 (878 regular season OPS and a blistering performance in the NLDS). He might be a player the A's regret letting go. Perhaps it is only fitting that his ranking in 2008 was the same as Ethier's in 2006.

Gio Gonzalez: #4 in pre-season 2009 rankings; #2 in pre-season 2008 rankings
Gonzalez was part of the same package that netted the A's De Los Santos and Ryan Sweeney. While many pundits believed that De Los Santos was the best prospect in that group, we actually ranked Gonzalez ahead of De Los Santos, figuring that while both pitchers had high ceilings, Gonzalez was more likely to reach his than De Los Santos was to reach his. The jury is still out on both players, as De Los Santos hasn't been healthy and Gonzalez has been up-and-down. He has split each of the past two seasons between Triple-A and the big leagues and he has generally excelled at Triple-A and struggled in the majors. His big league stint in 2009 was an improvement over his 2008 stretch, but he still walked too many batters and allowed too many homeruns. Gonzalez has big league stuff (109 strike-outs in 98.2 big league innings in 2009 is evidence of that), but he'll need to develop a better feel for his change-up and better command to reach the ceiling we projected for him in 2008.

Javier Herrera: #2 in pre-season 2007 rankings; #2 in pre-season 2006 rankings

Along with Barton, Herrera was a constant in the rankings of top A's prospects from 2005-2007. During that time period, Herrera was one of the rare five-tool athletes in the A's system and his ceiling seemed almost limitless. Not even a suspension for steroids in 2005 and Tommy John surgery in 2006 could diminish his star. They probably should have, however. The injuries continued for Herrera in 2007 and 2008 and that ultimately resulted in his release from the A's organization in 2009. Herrera still hasn't signed on with another major league organization, a testament to the seriousness of his health problems and the lack of progress he made with his game when he was on the field over the past few years.

Jared Lansford: #10 in pre-season 2007 rankings

Lansford made this list after posting a 2.86 ERA as a 19-year-old starter for the Kane County Cougars in 2006. At the time, we were impressed by his poise on the mound and the movement on his fastball, but did have some concerns about Lansford's low strike-out totals and his late season struggles with High-A Stockton. As it turned out, we would have been wise to heed those warning signs, at least as far as Lansford's future as a starter, as he struggled until a move into the bullpen. He has also had a missed season of development (2007) thanks to a shoulder injury. While he is certainly still a good prospect for Oakland, he won't develop into the major league starter we projected him to be before the 2007 season.

Vince Mazzaro: #9 in pre-season 2009 rankings
We have always been high on Mazzaro, even when he was posting ERAs in the 5.00s during the first few years of his career. He ranked 11th in our original pre-season 2008 rankings, 17th in our pre-season 2007 list and 21st in our pre-season 2006 list. We consistently pointed to Mazzaro's above-average stuff and felt that it was only a matter of time before he developed the consistency to make that stuff effective on a regular basis. That prediction eventually came true in 2008 when he had a breakout year and won the Texas League's Pitcher of the Year award and moved into our top-10 list. He followed that in 2009 with another strong showing at Triple-A before an up-and-down rookie performance with the A's. Mazzaro still has work to do to become a consistent major league starter, but it was clear during his debut season that he has the stuff to succeed on the big stage.

Kevin Melillo: #6 in pre-season 2007 rankings; #8 in pre-season 2006 rankings

Injuries have stymied Melillo, who made our top-10 list twice as an above-average hitting second baseman who looked for a time like he would be the heir apparent at second in Oakland to Mark Ellis. Melillo collected double-digit homeruns in 2005, 2006 and 2007. However, he injured his wrist early in the 2007 season and although he played through it, his power stroke hasn't been the same since the injury. Melillo was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008 and spent last season in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Dan Meyer: #4 in pre-season 2006 rankings

When Meyer was acquired by the A's in the Tim Hudson trade before the 2005 season, he immediately became one of the A's top prospects. Despite an injury-plagued first season in the A's chain, Meyer was still in our top-five going into 2006 based on our belief that he would recover from his shoulder problems and regain the form that made him one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball at the time he was traded. Unfortunately for Meyer and for Oakland, the shoulder injury turned out to be trickier to fix than originally anticipated and he didn't recover his full health until the 2007 season. Once he was healthy, Meyer struggled with his command for much of the next two seasons. He was claimed off of waivers by the Florida Marlins before the 2009 season. The Fish moved Meyer into their bullpen with great results. He posted a 3.02 ERA and was one of their most reliable relievers. Meyer could be in for a productive major league career after all, even if it isn't the career we projected for him back in 2006.

Cliff Pennington: #10 in pre-season 2006 rankings
Pennington was the A's top pick in 2005 and he landed in our top-10 rankings for the 2006 season on the strength of his strong 2005 professional debut. He never cracked that list again, as Pennington had a disappointing and injury-marred 2006 season and a relatively unimpressive 2007 campaign. He recovered to put up good numbers in 2008 and reach the major leagues. After an impressive two-month stint with the A's in 2009, Pennington has put himself in a position to be the A's starting shortstop in 2010, a development that would justify our original top-10 assessment of his talent.

Danny Putnam: #9 in pre-season 2006 rankings
Putnam made our top-10 list after driving in 100 runs for Stockton and playing well for Midland in the 2005 post-season. Injuries slowed down his career after that 100 RBI campaign, however. A knee injury marred his 2006 campaign and a broken hand hurt him in 2007 (although he did make his major league debut). Putnam was relatively healthy and very productive in 2008, but by then the A's had a number of outfield prospects who had passed him on their organizational depth chart. He was traded to the San Diego Padres in 2009. Going into the 2006 season, Putnam's scouting report was that he was a solid RBI producer with a good sense of the strike-zone, but without the power normally associated with a corner outfielder. Putnam's homerun power has improved markedly over the past two years (he hit 16 in 2008 and 21 in 2009), but he has been – fairly or not – stuck with the "four-A" label over the last couple of years and hasn't been able to shake it.

Landon Powell: #8 in pre-season 2007 rankings
Powell was the A's top pick in 2004, but despite a strong minor league track record (a career 800 OPS with a reputation of being a top defensive backstop), he was only in our top-10 rankings once thanks to a series of serious knee injuries that threatened the future of his career at a number of points. Powell fought through those injuries and finally made it to the major leagues in 2009, and he had a strong season as Kurt Suzuki's back-up. When the A's made Powell their number one pick, they projected him as their starting catcher for years to come. Injuries may prevent Powell from being the everyday player the A's thought they were getting, but he still looks poised to be a valuable contributor to Oakland in a more limited role.

Richie Robnett: #9 in pre-season 2007 rankings; #7 in pre-season 2006 rankings
Robnett was the A's second first-round pick in 2004 along with Powell. He was drafted as a raw prospect with tremendous power and the tools to be a powerful, athletic corner-outfielder in the big leagues. He also had a reputation for swinging and missing a lot and that aspect of his game wound-up overwhelming the positive aspects. Injuries didn't help either, as Robnett was limited in 2006 and 2008. Robnett was traded to the Cubs before the 2009 season along with Justin Sellers (netting the A's valuable reliever Michael Wuertz), but he struggled with the Cubs before being released and picked up by the Yankees. He fared better with New York before injuries once again cut his season short. He will enter his age 26 season with a career minor league OPS of 749.

James Simmons: #7 in pre-season 2008 rankings
Simmons was the A's first-round pick in 2007 and he made the top-10 list after debuting as a professional at Double-A, the highest level for an A's prospect to debut at in a number of years. Simmons posted solid numbers with the Rockhounds in 2007 and 2008, but he struggled in his first crack at Triple-A in 2009. He has shown good fastball command and improvements with his slider and his change-up, but he is still looking for an out-pitch. Finding that pitch will determine whether he becomes a fixture in a major league rotation (as we projected) or not.

Kurt Suzuki: #4 in pre-season 2007 rankings; #5 in pre-season 2006 rankings
Suzuki was the second catcher selected by Oakland in 2004 after Powell, but he moved ahead of Powell on the A's minor league depth chart when Powell injured his knee in 2005. Suzuki was consistently successful offensively in the minor leagues and he moved through the A's system quickly, reaching the big leagues by mid-season 2007. We always believed in Suzuki's bat, which has been an asset in the big leagues (he led Oakland in RBIs in 2009), but we weren't high on his defensive abilities back in his first entry on our top-10 list. That aspect of his game has improved tremendously and he is now one of the better defensive catchers in the American League. It is safe to say that Suzuki has exceeded even our lofty expectations of him.

Matt Sulentic: #5 in pre-season 2007 rankings
Sulentic was the A's second pick (third round) in 2006 and he burst onto the professional scene by hitting .354 for Vancouver. There were questions about his size from the moment he was drafted (Sulentic is under six-feet tall and is an outfielder), but scouts loved his pure hitting ability. His stock among prospect-watchers fell precipitously when he had a horrible 2007, as he hit below .200 for Kane County. No one knew what to expect from him in 2008, but the A's put their trust in his talent and sent him to Stockton despite his previous struggles in Kane County. He excelled with the Ports (.309 BA and an 849 OPS) to regain his status as a legitimate prospect. Sulentic followed that with a decent year with Double-A Midland, hitting .288 with the Rockhounds as a 21-year-old. There are still questions about whether Sulentic will hit for enough power to be a major league outfielder, but he is still a prospect to watch going into the 2010 season.

Michael Ynoa: #3 in pre-season 2009 rankings
Ynoa's inclusion in our top-10 rankings last season was a leap of faith considering that he hadn't even thrown one professional pitch. He will likely make our top-10 again this year on a similar leap of faith. Ynoa, who was the highest profile amateur signing out of Latin America in 2008, is arguably the most talented pitcher in the A's system, but he hasn't had a chance to prove it yet. He was scheduled to pitch in the Arizona Rookie League this past season, but he missed it with a sore right elbow. The elbow did not require surgery and assuming he is healthy next season, he will likely debut in the Arizona Rookie League in June.

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