Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 30-26

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 30-26.

30. Matt Sulentic

Sulentic had a solid season with Midland.
After re-establishing himself as a prospect with a solid 2008 campaign, Sulentic came into 2009 looking to prove that his performance with High-A Stockton in 2008 was no fluke. Despite having to overcome an off-season illness that set him back during spring training, Sulentic was able to recover in time to put together a solid 2009 for Double-A Midland.

The outfielder was selected in the third round of the 2006 draft out of a Dallas-area high school. Sulentic starred for short-season Vancouver right out of the gate and quickly became one of the A's top hitting prospects. He hit a significant bump in the road in 2007, however, when he managed only a .175 average in 56 games with Low-A Kane County before being demoted to short-season Vancouver, where he hit a mediocre .261. Sulentic rebounded in a big way in 2008 after the A's showed confidence in him by skipping him past the Midwest League and straight to Stockton and the California League. In 95 games with the Ports, Sulentic hit .309 with an 849 OPS.

That performance earned Sulentic a promotion to Double-A Midland in 2009, where, at age 21, he was the second-youngest position player on the Rockhounds' roster for much of the season. Sulentic missed the first three weeks of the regular season thanks to an off-season illness that caused him to lose a significant amount of weight. The A's didn't want Sulentic to report to spring training until he had regained the weight, so he wound up at extended spring training. Once he arrived in Midland, however, he was a fixture in the Rockhounds' everyday line-up. In 113 games, he batted .288 with a 759 OPS. For much of the season, Sulentic was batting above .300 before an August slump brought his average down. In a star-studded Midland batting order, Sulentic was over-shadowed for much of the season. However, he provided perhaps the defining moment of the Rockhounds' 2009 regular season when he hit a walk-off homer during the season's final weekend to clinch Midland's spot in the Texas League post-season.

Sulentic provided a surprising element of speed on the base-paths in 2009, swiping a career-high 21 bases in 30 chances. A left-handed hitter, he hit well against right-handed pitching, batting .315 with an 840 OPS. He struggled against southpaws, hitting only .226 with a 570 OPS. Sulentic also excelled away from Midland's Citibank Field, which has a reputation of playing poorly for left-handed hitters. On the road, Sulentic hit .300 with an 820 OPS versus his .278 and 707 performance at home. Sulentic also improved his line-drive rate by a significant amount (up to 21% from 13% with Stockton).

Because he began his career with such a bang, it feels like Sulentic has been in the A's organization forever. However, he only turned 22 in October. Since signing with Oakland, he has always been on the young side for the leagues he has competed in, but, with the exception of the 2007 season, he has always held his own. Sulentic has shown a tremendous work ethic as a pro. Considered a poor defender when he was drafted, Sulentic devoted significant off-season time towards improving his defense and he is now an above-average corner outfielder. He also improved his foot-speed through rigorous off-season work-outs and is now more of an asset on the basepaths than a liability.

Because he is only 5'10'' and isn't a pure speedster many scouts have labeled him a "tweener" – someone who is not quite powerful enough at the plate to be a corner outfielder and not quite fast enough to be a centerfielder. Sulentic is one of those players who does everything pretty well across the board, but he hasn't yet developed one defining tool. The Rockhounds used him as a lead-off hitter at times in 2009, but his strike-out-to-walk ratio was roughly 3:1, not good enough for a lead-off hitter. Sulentic has shown flashes of power at times, but he has homered only 16 times over his last two seasons in relatively hitter-friendly leagues.

For Sulentic to take the next step, he will need to decide what kind of player he wants to be offensively. He has proven that he can hit for average, but often times he has used a slugger's approach at the plate rather than looking to get on-base. Given that his frame isn't likely to add a significant amount more muscle, Sulentic would likely be better served concentrating on increasing his on-base percentage and becoming more of a top-of-the-order hitter rather than playing to be a middle-of-the-order bat. The 2010 campaign will be a pivotal one for Sulentic, as the A's will have to make a decision about whether to protect him in the Rule 5 draft after the season. Given the A's glut of outfielders in the higher levels of their system, Sulentic is likely to start the season back in Midland, where he will get everyday at-bats. Once the outfield crowd thins some in Sacramento, he should get his shot at Triple-A. He will be 22 throughout the 2010 season.

29. Mickey Storey

Storey succeeded at every level he played in 2009.
Over the years, the A's have had a number of inspiring stories of draft picks taken in round 30 or higher making it to the major leagues. Jeff Gray, Brad Kilby and Connor Robertson are three recent examples. After a breakout 2009 campaign, Storey appears to be the next in line to continue that tradition.

Drafted in the 31st round in 2008 out of Florida Atlantic University, Storey was so far off of the prospect radar at the start of the 2009 season that he wasn't even invited to spring training and had to compete for a spot out of extended spring training instead. Storey pitched well out of the gate at extended spring training and when injuries opened up a spot on the Low-A Kane County roster, Storey was given an opportunity to show what he could do. He got off to a fast start with the Cougars and never looked back. In 51.2 innings split mostly between Kane County and High-A Stockton with short stints in Double-A and Triple-A included, Storey posted a 1.22 ERA, saved 18 games, held opposing batters to a .150 average and posted a 71:8 K:BB ratio.

Storey followed that performance with a strong post-season showing. Added to the Midland roster during the season's final weeks, he pitched well enough in four appearances (7.2 innings with no runs allowed) to earn Midland manager Darren Bush's trust for the post-season. Storey led the Rockhounds' bullpen in appearances during their championship post-season run. Storey was then sent to the Arizona Fall League, where he pitched well in the prospect showcase. In 11.1 innings, he posted a 3.97 ERA and had a 13:3 K:BB ratio. Of the five runs he allowed during his AFL stint, four of them came in one appearance.

The A's brass are understandably excited about Storey's rapid progression this season. A's Director of Player Development has compared Storey to two-time Oakland All-Star Justin Duchscherer, while A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator Gil Patterson has described Storey's curveball as unhittable. The Oakland coaches and front office not only like his stuff, but they are also high on his competitive demeanor on the mound.

"He has tremendous command and his curveball is incredibly deceptive," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said.

"He has a good approach on the mound and really shows no fear."

Storey was a starter in college, so he has three fairly well-developed pitches already in his arsenal – fastball, curveball and change-up. He was also working on a cut-fastball during the Arizona Fall League season. Storey's best pitch is currently his curveball, which he can throws at a range of speeds from the high 60s to the mid 70s. He has excellent command of his 88-91 MPH fastball, as well. One of his off-season goals is to add weight through strength training, something he hopes will add another mile or two per hour to his fastball.

"He has a curveball that they just can't hit. He has got a little bit of life on his fastball. Not over-powering, but he's at 90. But he can come in and go strike one-strike two-strike three with that curveball anytime he wants to," Patterson said.

"As great as locating your fastball is, and the game basically revolves around that, if you can throw a breaking ball for strikes, ‘woo, boy,' and he can."

Despite his success as a closer in 2009, Storey may be moving into the rotation in 2010.

"The jury is still out [on starting or relieving]. We are going to look at how things shake out after the Rule 5 and where our pitching situation stands, but we know he can do both. He is a mini-Justin Duchscherer," Lieppman said.

"He has the same kind of stuff with the depth on the breaking ball, the different speeds on the breaking ball. If he gets the cutter, he has enough velocity. He should be able to do it. I know that he is working really hard on putting some weight on and trying to be durable enough to handle a lot of innings. We'll have to make a decision on that at some point in the off-season."

Storey finished the year with the Midland Rockhounds, but he did get a taste of Triple-A in two appearances with Sacramento (three innings, no hits or runs allowed). That coupled with his AFL season could be enough to allow Storey to start his 2010 season as high as Triple-A. However, he is more likely to begin the season with Midland, especially if he moves into the starting rotation. Given the polish that he has on his off-speed pitches and his command, Storey shouldn't take long to move through the upper levels of the minor leagues. His development curve would obviously be longer as a starter. As a reliever, he could be in the big leagues as soon as the end of the 2010 season. As a starter, he would probably need at least a full season and a half more experience. He will be 24 at the start of the 2010 season.

28. Rashun Dixon

2009 was a year of learning for Dixon.
After a standout rookie campaign in 2008, Dixon came into 2009 with a lot of expectations riding on his shoulders. The A's 2008 10th round pick posted a .525 SLG and an 853 OPS for the A's Rookie League team that season and had scouts buzzing about his five-tool talent. He wasn't able to replicate that success with short-season Vancouver in 2009, however, as he hit only .214 with a .281 SLG and a 581 OPS. A strong performance at the A's Instructional League camp has left a lot of hope for better things next season for the talented Dixon.

Dixon was given a six-figure signing bonus by the A's last season to lure him away from a football scholarship to Mississippi State. He came to the A's with the label of being a project – someone with immense physical talent but not much baseball experience thanks to his time playing football. In 2008, Dixon showed that talent by not only hitting eight homers in 174 at-bats, but also collecting 10 triples. He also showed that inexperience by striking out in more than a third of his at-bats. Inexperience seemed to win out over talent for Dixon in 2009. In 196 at-bats with the Canadians, he struck-out 73 times and managed only nine extra-base hits. According to Lieppman, many of Dixon's struggles at the plate came against the breaking ball, a weakness that was more routinely exploited by Northwest League pitchers as the season wore on.

During the fall, Dixon participated in the A's Instructional League and he was able to remind the A's coaching staff about why they were so excited about him in 2008. He was the A's best hitter in camp and earned the camp's MVP award. Lieppman saw a lot of growth from Dixon at Instructs.

"Offensively, he was much, much better. A much better grasp of the strike-zone and of being able to handle breaking balls," Lieppman said.

"For the most part, he covered up those holes and started getting on top of the fastball. He has a nice ability to go to the opposite field. He did a lot of things well."

Dixon is a physical specimen at 6'2'', 210 pounds. He has a powerful swing from the right-side of the plate and above-average speed. Dixon has flashed a strong throwing arm, as well, although he was battling shoulder soreness that limited his throwing during Instructs. He has the speed to play centerfield, but he will need to develop a better feel for outfield routes to handle that position full-time.

Patience is going to be the name of the game for the A's and for Dixon. The ups-and-downs of developing a raw talent like Dixon are to be expected and the fact that the A's saw some progression from him at the end of the season is a good sign that he is coachable. Oakland hasn't had the greatest track record with "toolsy" players of late, but with the A's system being as deep as it is currently, Oakland has the luxury of moving Dixon along slowly, which should give him every opportunity to succeed. The A's will make every effort not to put him in a situation where he will fail, so if he is still struggling with breaking pitches come next spring training, he may begin the year at extended spring training once again to get more one-on-one instruction. However, if he is swinging the bat well, Dixon should jump to full-season ball at the start of the 2010 campaign. The A's demonstrated with Sulentic in 2007 that they aren't shy about moving players past a level even if they have struggled at it if they are playing well enough in spring training to warrant the promotion. Dixon will be 19 for most of the 2010 season.

27. Justin Marks

Marks pitched well for Louisville.
When the A's signed shortstop Orlando Cabrera as a free agent last off-season, they gave up their second round pick for the 2009 draft. Consequently, Marks was actually the A's second pick of that draft even though he was taken in the third round. The left-hander out of Louisville came to the A's with a scouting report that is reminiscent to many players the A's have drafted over the years: a polished collegiate player with a track record of success and the ability to move quickly through a system.

Marks came to Oakland after a solid career at Louisville. The Kentucky native went 11-3 for the Cardinals in 2009, posting a 3.77 ERA and striking out 129 in 105 innings pitched. He signed with the A's in mid-July for a signing bonus of roughly $375,000. Marks was sent to the A's minor league complex in Arizona and was supposed to ship out to short-season Vancouver after a few outings with the A's Rookie League team. However, he suffered a bad groin injury during his first professional start and was sidelined the rest of the season. The injury also cost him an opportunity to participate in the A's Instructional League camp.

When healthy, Marks has four well-developed pitches: fastball, change-up, curveball and slider. His fastball sits in the high-80s to low-90s and the curveball is of the 12-6 variety. None of his pitches grade out as being well above-average, but in college he was comfortable throwing any of them in any count and he did a good job of mixing his pitches. He has good command and a clean, repeatable delivery. At 6'3'', 190 pounds, Marks has the frame to be a starting pitcher.

"We were thrilled to get Justin Marks where we got him. He was one of the guys that we hoped would get to us at that pick. He is a polished, college, left-handed pitcher who has a four-pitch mix and really knows how to use it," A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota said after the draft.

Because Marks came to the A's with a well-developed repertoire, he should be able to start next season in a full-season affiliate's rotation despite not pitching at short-season in 2009, provided he is healthy, of course. Marks has the ability to move up in the system quickly. He may not have the ceiling of a number one or two starter, but Marks does have the ability to be a serviceable back-of-the-rotation starter in the major leagues. He will be 22 all of next season.

26. Sam Demel

Demel moved up two levels in 2009.
With their third round pick in 2007, the A's selected right-handed reliever Sam Demel from Texas Christian with the idea that he would be a fast-moving prospect capable of getting to the big leagues in a relatively short amount of time. Thus far, Demel has proved to be pretty much what they expected him to be on draft day.

Demel moved up two levels in 2009 after spending all of the 2008 season with the High-A Stockton Ports. With Stockton, Demel posted eye-popping strike-out totals, whiffing 90 in only 67 innings. He also was the team leader in saves with 18. However, Demel stayed at Stockton for the entire year as he and then-Ports' pitching coach Garvin Alston spent a significant amount of time tinkering with his mechanics in order to increase his fastball command and the command of his change-up. Demel's command was the only black spot on his record with Stockton. He walked 32 and often found himself pitching behind in the count.

In 2009, Demel showed improvement with his command. He began the year with Double-A Midland, where he dominated for the Rockhounds during the first half of the season. In 29.1 innings, he posted an 0.61 ERA and walked only nine while striking out 26. He also saved 11 games and held opposing batters to a .209 average. Mid-season he earned a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento where he moved into a set-up role in the veteran River Cats' bullpen. Demel's command was less consistent with the River Cats, but he still managed solid results in his first taste of Triple-A baseball. In 32.1 innings, he posted a 3.62 ERA and struck-out 33 while holding opposing batters to a .225 average. The only blemish on his record, once again, was his walk total, which rose to 21 with the River Cats.

Towards the end of the regular season, Demel began working on a cut fastball, which he brought with him to the Arizona Fall League. He struggled initially at the AFL, allowing six runs over his first four outings. However, over his last seven appearances (7.2 innings), he allowed only one run on six hits and three walks and he struck-out seven.

Demel will enter the 2010 season on the verge of the major leagues. The A's will likely want to see him walk fewer batters with Sacramento before giving him his first opportunity in the big leagues, but that is the only thing standing in his way at this point. He has a good mix of pitches for a late-inning reliever: a sinking fastball that sits in the 92-94 range, a big bending breaking ball that is very difficult for hitters to pick-up out of his hand and a good change-up. The cut fastball will give Demel another weapon, as well. The key for Demel is command of the fastball and change-up. When he is commanding both of those pitches, he is nearly impossible to hit. The A's have a particularly deep bullpen, but Demel should be one of the first in-line for a look in the big leagues should a spot open next season.

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