Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 45-41

It's that time of the year when we take stock of the Oakland A's organization and analyze the top prospects. For the next few weeks, we will profile our top-50 prospect list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with a review of prospects 45-41.

45. Tyler Ladendorf

It isn't often that established major league players expected to impact pennant races are traded straight-up for Low-A level minor league prospects, but it happened this July 31st, when the Oakland A's dealt shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the Minnesota Twins for Ladendorf. Cabrera helped the Twins make the post-season, but the A's are hoping for a longer lasting return from Ladendorf. The Des Plaines, Illinois, native had a disappointing 2009 season, but the A's are still strong believers in his raw ability.

Ladendorf was selected by the Twins in the second round of the 2008 draft (slot 60 overall) out of Howard Junior College in Texas. He was coming off of two monster seasons with Howard. His freshman year he stole an astonishing 65 bases in 65 tries and his sophomore year he hit better than .500 with 16 homers in only 53 games. Ladendorf turned down a scholarship offer to the University of Oklahoma to sign with the Twins for a reported $700,000.

Since turning pro, Ladendorf has been unable to put together much offensively. He hit only .204 with a 601 OPS in 45 games for the Twins' Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2008. Ladendorf began the 2009 season at extended spring training and got off to a fast start with Rookie-level Elizabethtown, batting .410/.500/.721 in 17 games before earning a promotion to the Low-A Midwest League. He cooled considerably upon moving up to Low-A Beloit and was batting .233/.292/.267 at the time he was traded to Oakland. After the trade, the A's kept Ladendorf in the Midwest League with the Kane County Cougars. His numbers improved some with Kane County (.231/.301/.338), but were still disappointing overall.

Despite the lack of offensive production, Oakland's minor league coaching staff is still excited about Ladendorf's potential. A two-sport star in high school (he received some recruiting interest in football as a wide receiver/cornerback), Ladendorf is one of the better athletes in the A's system. He has above-average speed and tremendous pure athleticism. That athleticism was put on display at the A's fall Instructional League, when he was forced to play all over the diamond defensively, including in the outfield, due to injuries to his teammates. A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman called the shortstop "our best defensive outfielder."

"He was making plays. It showed an aptitude that he could play outfield very easily. He was also solid at shortstop. I like what I saw there. We also played him some at second. He's very athletic and showed all kinds of range," Lieppman said.

Offensively, Lieppman saw improvements from Ladendorf, as well. He believes that the 21-year-old is a late-developer with the bat and that better results are around the corner.

"I think the big question with him was the bat, and I think that is all going to come together. As a junior college player out of Howard, that is not a really big school or a big program. Some of these guys are really late bloomers and I think he's going to be one of those guys," Lieppman said.

Ladendorf has an outfielder's build, but a shortstop's hands and range. His arm is average to slightly above-average and he has good footwork. Numerous scouts have noted that he has the ability to make difficult plays look routine. He is big for a shortstop, however, and he may eventually grow out of the position. Given that and the fact that he has shown he can handle the outfield and other infield spots, it seems likely that Ladendorf will be moved around the field next year to develop his skills at multiple positions. His glove should be a plus for him as he moves up levels.

Offensively, Ladendorf is more difficult to project. He has the tools to be an above-average offensive player at shortstop. He has quick wrists, gap power and enough speed to beat out infield hits and take extra bases. His plate discipline wasn't a strength in college, but he showed improvement in that area in 2009. Ladendorf isn't a homerun hitter yet, but the gap power he currently has could turn into homerun power as he develops, given his broad frame. On the bases, Ladendorf displays above-average speed, although he isn't just a burner, as he combines good base-running instincts with his speed to steal bases. He hasn't had an opportunity to steal much since turning pro, however, in part because he hasn't gotten on base that often.

Ladendorf finished his 2009 regular season swinging the bat well for Kane County and that, combined with his strong showing at Instructs, are reasons to be optimistic that he will turn a corner with the bat in 2010. With Dusty Coleman and Grant Green likely to see the majority of time at shortstop and second base at High-A Stockton at the start of next season, Ladendorf is likely to begin the 2010 campaign back at Kane County. However, if he is swinging the bat well, he is likely to be promoted to Stockton once either Coleman or Green moves onto Double-A Midland. Ladendorf will be 22 all of next season.

44. Argenis Paez

In October 2007, the A's front office and coaching staffs met for an organization-wide meeting which set the tone for the team's dramatic shift towards adding younger players through a series of trades and putting more resources into the domestic and international scouting departments. Since that time, the A's have made a number of signings in the international market, none more talked about than the team's signing of Michael Ynoa in July 2008. Less talked about was the team's signing of Argenis Paez, a right-hander out of Venezuela. He signed as a 17-year-old before the 2008 season and made his professional debut with the A's Dominican Summer League club that same season, posting a 3.57 ERA in 12 starts (45.1 innings).

Paez showed enough during his 2008 campaign to earn a trip to the US this season. After making three appearances in the Dominican Summer League, Paez debuted with the A's Rookie League club in late June and quickly made a strong impression on the A's Arizona coaching staff. He tossed 51.1 innings for the AZL A's and posted a 3.68 ERA. He allowed only 44 hits (.235 BAA) and one homerun and he struck-out 46 batters while inducing groundballs on two-thirds of all balls batted into play.

"Your first year, especially as a young kid, is so difficult to make that transition, especially coming from another country and playing in a long season, and so forth. Of all of these kids, he was probably the most impressive of the pitchers," Lieppman said.

Paez, who turned 19 in October, is a solidly built right-handed pitcher. He currently throws his fastball in the 88-91 range with sinking action, but A's coaches believe that with his frame, he will add velocity as his body matures. Paez also has an over-hand curveball and has started to develop a good change-up. He was one of a select group of A's Latin American-born prospects to be invited to the team's US Instructional League camp. During that camp, A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson and A's AZL pitching coach Ariel Prieto worked with Paez to lower his arm angle, which added more movement to his pitches.

Both Lieppman and Patterson view Paez as a player to watch in the A's organization.

"He is someone that is going to be on the radar, very much so. He's been great," Patterson said.

"Of our young, Latino players, he is one of the guys who we have sort of earmarked. We think he is going to be a pretty good one," Lieppman concurred.

The A's don't have any need to rush Paez, so he is likely to start next season at extended spring training and make his regular season debut with the short-season Vancouver Canadians. If he pitches well with Vancouver, he could see some time with Kane County late in the season.

43. Jared Lansford

Lansford struggled with Sacramento.
It was, undoubtedly, a strange season for Lansford. The right-hander came into the season on a high note after a strong 2008 campaign that saw him make a successful switch into the bullpen, pitch in the Arizona Fall League and receive an invitation to the A's major league spring training camp. A lot was expected of Lansford, who began the 2009 season with Triple-A Sacramento as a 22-year-old. Things didn't go according to plan, however. From the outset of the season, Lansford struggled badly with his command and he had to fight inconsistency with his location throughout the season. Nonetheless, despite those struggles, he managed to post a 2.36 ERA and save 12 games for Double-A Midland and recorded the save in the Rockhounds' Texas League clinching game.

Lansford, a 2005 second round pick out of a South Bay high school, posted a 3.34 ERA and struck-out 94 batters in 89 innings, mostly in relief, for the High-A Stockton Ports and the Midland Rockhounds in 2008. It was a big comeback season for Lansford, who made only one appearance in 2007 thanks to a torn muscle in his shoulder area. Lansford had been a starter until April 2008, when the A's put him into the bullpen with the thought that he would be able to be more aggressive in the strike-zone as a reliever than he was in a starter's role. That thinking appeared brilliant in 2008, as Lansford was so efficient in the strike-zone that he threw the fewest number of pitches per batter of anyone in the A's system.

Lansford appeared to lose some of that aggressiveness in 2009. Whether he was intimidated by the advanced hitters at Triple-A at the start of the season or he was merely in a mechanical funk, Lansford found that he couldn't hit the strike-zone with the River Cats in April. In eight appearances, he allowed 11 runs in 11 innings and walked an incredible 12 batters while striking out only one. Lansford was sent back to Arizona at that point to work with A's minor league rehab coordinator and 2008 Stockton pitching coach Garvin Alston on regaining his mechanics and his approach.

After his time with Alston, Lansford was sent to Midland, where he would spend the rest of the season. He continued to struggle with his command off-and-on with Midland – walking 20 and striking out only 29 in 45.2 innings – but he managed to be effective for the Rockhounds nonetheless. He led the team with 12 saves, posted a 2.36 ERA and allowed only two homeruns while holding opposing batters to a .253 average. Lansford's command improved as the season went on. After walking 12 in 17 innings in June, he walked five in 13.1 innings in July and then walked only two in 13.1 innings in August (while striking out 12). In fact, after the All-Star break, Lansford had a 1.63 ERA and a 21:8 K:BB ratio in 27.2 innings.

It is hard to know exactly why Lansford struggled like he did, especially early in the season. Patterson surmised mid-season that Lansford may have been feeling the after-effects of a long 2008 campaign that ended in late October in the Arizona Fall League combined with a short off-season thanks to his invitation to big league camp.

"It has been a tough rode for Jared. If you say to me, is it all physical or all mental, I would say no. It's probably more 50/50 this year with the mental and the physical side," Patterson said in a mid-season interview.

"He had a long stretch there [in 2008 and in spring 2009] and I think a good off-season is going to help him physically as well as mentally. Then I think next year … we'll see the Jared Lansford that we really saw last year."

Lansford has the tools to be a solid set-up man in the major leagues. He features a fastball with heavy sinking action that helps him induce a lot of groundballs. As a starter, he threw his fastball in the 87-91 range, but he has increased that velocity to 90-94 out of the bullpen. He also has a sharp breaking slider and an overhand curveball. Lansford has an unusual delivery that allows him to hide the ball well, but may have also contributed to his 2007 injury and his inconsistency in 2009. He is an excellent athlete and fields his position well, something that is important given the high number of groundballs he induces.

Likely as a result of those inconsistencies in 2009, Lansford has been left exposed by the A's to the upcoming Rule 5 draft. He will be one of the more high-profile names in that draft, and there is a very real possibility that he could be taken by a non-contending team looking to beef up its young pitching ranks. If he isn't taken in the draft, Lansford should get another shot at Triple-A Sacramento next season, provided that he is throwing strikes consistently during spring training. Despite the bumps in the road in 2009, there is still a strong possibility that Lansford will make his major league debut in 2010. He will be 23 throughout the season.

42. Jason Christian

Christian played well at third.
Christian, a fifth-round pick of the A's in 2008, put together one of the best pro debut seasons in the A's system when hit .294 with an 821 OPS in 68 games for short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County last year. He returned to Kane County in 2009 and was in the middle of a solid first full season when his year was cut short by a separated left shoulder. The injury required surgery and cost him the final eight weeks of the season.

Before the injury, Christian was one of the most valuable everyday players in the Kane County line-up. In 330 at-bats, the Michigan alum hit .261/.341/.385. However, those numbers were not entirely indicative of the season Christian was having. In the four months that he played, he hit .286 or higher in each month, save one. That month was May, when he hit only .204 with an anemic 577 OPS. Minus the month of May, Christian had an OPS higher than 800, an impressive accomplishment in a difficult league for hitters (the Midwest League).

Christian also impressed with his glove and on the bases. In the field, he made a smooth transition from his natural position at shortstop to third base, where he showed good hands, a strong arm and agile feet. On the bases, Christian used his strong baseball instincts to swipe 28 bases in only 31 chances. Had he not gotten hurt, Christian would have likely set the Kane County franchise record for stolen bases (the record is 35, held by Michael Richard).

"[H]is game was really made on hustle and headiness to anticipate situations and take advantage of things as the game went on. An example of that was just him being on base and catching the infielders with their heads down and he'd take a base without the ball even being pitched. This happened several times and as a coach, you sit back there and go ‘wow.' It's great to have a player who can give you an advantage during a game like that," Kane County manager Steve Scarsone said.

Christian has a tall, lanky build similar to that of Bobby Crosby, with less muscle development. He has decent speed for a player his size, although he isn't likely to be a 30+ stolen base player at the major league level. Christian, like many of the A's young hitting prospects, strikes out a decent amount, but he also sees a lot of pitches and has the ability to work a walk. A left-handed hitter, he struggled badly against southpaws in 2009, batting only .173 with a .239 OBP against them. He hit .289 with a .373 OBP against right-handed pitchers. Christian's splits against lefties and righties weren't nearly as pronounced in 2008, so these struggles may be a one-season anomaly. If he can bring his numbers against lefties back up, he'll see a significant boost in his overall line.

From a power perspective, Christian doesn't currently project to be a typical third-base masher. He hit only seven homeruns in 330 at-bats last season and four in 238 at-bats the year before. However, he has played all of his professional games in difficult hitter's leagues. He has room to add muscle to his frame, so adding power as he gets older is not out of the question. Offensively, Christian has a similar profile to Mark Ellis – a hitter who sees a lot of pitches, can reach double-digits in homeruns and steals and, at times, threaten the .300 mark – but from the left-side of the plate.

At the start of spring training, Christian will be seven months removed from his surgery and the A's are hopeful that he will be ready physically to participate in camp at 100 percent. If he is healthy, he is likely to start the season with High-A Stockton, where he should see the majority of the playing time at third base. Playing at Stockton will give Christian his first opportunity to compete in a hitter-friendly environment and he could raise his profile considerably with a strong offensive season with the Ports. He will turn 24 during the middle of 2010 season.

41. Carlos Hernandez

Hernandez led all A's minor leaguers with 15 wins.
In 2008, Hernandez was one of the talks of the A's system, as he came out of nowhere to go 7-0 with a 2.04 ERA in 75 innings for short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County and then followed that performance with a strong showing for High-A Stockton during the post-season and a Most Outstanding Pitcher performance at the A's Instructional League camp. Despite those good numbers, there were some scouts who doubted that Hernandez would continue to find success as he moved up to the higher levels.

Hernandez was given a good test in 2009 when he was sent to Stockton to start the season. Pitching in the hitter-friendly California League, Hernandez was inconsistent at times with the Ports, but, overall, he held his own. In 19 starts, he won nine games and posted a 3.99 ERA in 108 innings. He had a 90:36 K:BB ratio and he allowed only nine homeruns. Cal League hitters batted .257 against him. Hernandez also spent a significant amount of time at the Double-A level, where, at age 22, he was one of the youngest pitchers on the Rockhounds' staff. He found the Texas League to be tougher sledding than the California League. Although he went 6-1, he posted a 4.62 ERA and struggled with his command, walking 16 in 39 innings. On the plus side, he allowed only two homeruns. Hernandez also had one relief appearance with Triple-A Sacramento, tossing three scoreless innings and striking out five. On the season, he went 15-8 with a 4.06 ERA and 116 strike-outs against 53 walks in 150.2 innings.

At 5'11'', 160, Hernandez is built like a bulldog, and he pitches like one, too. Not blessed with an overpowering fastball, Hernandez relies on his ability to change speeds and work the edges of the strike-zone in order to succeed. His fastball rarely gets above 89 MPH, but his best pitches are his secondary offerings – his slider, curveball and change-up. He induces a lot of groundballs and does an excellent job of keeping hitters off-balance. Hernandez also receives high marks from A's coaches for his competitiveness. That competitiveness got him in trouble during the Texas League playoffs when he was suspended for three games for brushing back San Diego prospect Mitch Canham with a pitch in a heated first round game. He would return to the Rockhounds' active roster in time to get a key out in the eighth inning of the title-clinching game.

There will always be people who doubt Hernandez because of his size and lack of a big fastball. However, during his brief professional career, he has shown that he can handle the challenges that have been put in front of him. As long as he continues to produce, Hernandez will continue to receive opportunities from the A's to advance. The 2010 season will be a big one for Hernandez, who will likely return to Double-A Midland. If he can show that his shaky command at that level was a fluke, Hernandez could see Triple-A by the end of the season. If his command continues to falter at Double-A, he could be moved into the bullpen. Hernandez will be 23 for all of next season.

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