Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 25-21

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 25-21.

25. Dusty Coleman

A wrist injury ruined Coleman's season.
In 2008, the Oakland A's broke with their recent tradition and signed a handful of draft picks for over-slot signing bonuses. One player to sign with Oakland for more than the Commissioner's recommended bonus amount for his draft slot was Coleman, who inked a $675,000 bonus despite being a 28th round pick. The A's had to give Coleman, who was projected as a top-three or four-round talent before the draft, a significant bonus to sign because he was a draft-eligible sophomore at Wichita State, giving him leverage in the negotiations.

At the start of the 2009 season, Coleman was assigned to Low-A Kane County in the traditionally pitcher-friendly Midwest League. Despite the reputation of the league and the early season cold weather, Coleman got off to a terrific start for the Cougars. He hit .323 during the month of April with a .405 OBP and a 959 OPS. That hot streak continued into May and he hit six homeruns during the month. However, things began to go downhill for Coleman during the month of May. He suffered a wrist injury that he thought was a sprain but wound-up being a broken bone. Coleman played through the injury, but his numbers began to suffer soon after the injury was incurred. By the end of May, his batting average had dipped to .290. He didn't homer at all during the months of June or July and batted only .214 with a 550 OPS for those two months.

Despite those declining numbers, Coleman was promoted to High-A Stockton for the final five weeks of the season. He didn't fare much better with the Ports. In exactly 100 at-bats, Coleman managed only a .220 average and one homerun and his OPS was an anemic 634. He was shut-down for the final week of the season with wrist pain. Coleman was scheduled to attend the A's Instructional camp but he wound-up having to have surgery on the right wrist to correct the broken bone instead. He is currently rehabbing the wrist and the A's are hopeful that he will be recovered by the start of spring training.

It is hard to judge Coleman's season because it is difficult to assess exactly how much impact the wrist injury had on his season. He was able to play through it, but has acknowledged that it did affect his throwing and contributed to him generating some bad habits at the plate. Coleman racked up an astounding 154 strike-outs in only 446 at-bats in 2009. Some of those swings and misses can probably be attributed to the sore wrist, but strike-outs were an issue for Coleman even in 2008 when he was healthy, as he struck-out 36 times in only 99 at-bats. In addition, his K-rate was only marginally better early in the 2009 season before his injury than it was afterwards. The impact of the wrist injury can more clearly be seen in his line-drive rate, which went from 23% in April and May to 8% in June, July and August.

Defensively, Coleman committed 28 errors, but he drew raves for his range, athleticism and arm strength and the general consensus among Midwest League observers was that he would develop into a strong defensive shortstop as he gained experience. He is big for a shortstop, but he moves like a smaller player and should be able to stick at the position despite being 6'2''. On the bases, Coleman showed speed that was a tick above average, although he was sometimes too aggressive when trying to steal bases. He swiped 20 bags in 30 chances.

2009 Kane County manager Steve Scarsone saw the season as a learning experience for Coleman.

"Dusty Coleman is just a good professional player in the sense that he went about his work and gave his maximum effort. As the season went on, he found himself getting into some slumps and getting frustrated. At that age, that's going to happen," Scarsone said.

"These guys come out of college where they have always had success and now sometimes you have to see how they deal with their first adversity, so to speak, and how they can battle through. He had to make adjustments to continue to be successful at the professional level and he continued to work hard."

The 2010 season will be a big one for Coleman, who will likely find himself battling for playing time at shortstop in Stockton with A's 2009 first-round pick Grant Green. Coleman will need to demonstrate quickly that he is the player he was early in 2009 and not the player he was the final three months of the season. He will need to find a way to cut down on his strike-outs or it will be difficult for him to maintain the pace that he set early in 2009, even if he is healthy. With Green also slated to play in Stockton, look for Coleman to see time at second base in addition to shortstop. The A's may try to separate them with a mid-season promotion to Double-A Midland in order to get both players adequate reps at short. Coleman will put himself in a good position to be the one who earns that promotion with a hot start. He will turn 23 in late April.

24. Matt Spencer Note: Traded to the Chicago Cubs

Spencer is now on his third organization in two years.
Stability has been in short supply for Spencer since he was drafted in the third round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007. The Arizona State alum was traded during his first full professional season, going from Philadelphia to the Oakland A's in July 2008 as part of the Joe Blanton trade. Spencer spent the entire 2009 campaign as a member of the A's organization, but before he could get too comfortable, he was traded again, this time to the Chicago Cubs on December 3. Despite all of the movement throughout his career, Spencer has made steady progress towards the big leagues.

In 2009, Spencer began the year with High-A Stockton despite the fact that he hit .333 with a 935 OPS in 41 games with the Ports during the second-half of the 2008 season. Starting in Midland was less a reflection of his performance with the Ports the year before and more a function of the A's crowded outfield and first base situations, as Oakland had prospects stacked up at the top levels of their system in both positions at the start of the year. The Ports got off to a horrible start to the 2009 season and Spencer accounted for most of the team's offensive production early in the season. He hit .279 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in only 30 games with Stockton before finally getting a promotion to Double-A.

Spencer would spend the rest of the season with Midland, playing an important role offensively for a team that wound-up winning the Texas League crown. He hit better than .300 for most of his time with the Rockhounds before a slump during the season's final two weeks dropped his final average to .294. He hit nine homers, drove-in 62 runs and posted an 808 OPS for the Rockhounds. Between Stockton and Midland, Spencer had an 833 OPS in 488 at-bats. He added two homers and scored nine runs in eight playoff games.

Spencer has a big build at 6'4'', 230, but he moves well and shows surprising athleticism. He is an aggressive hitter, having only walked 38 times this season, but he doesn't strike-out an inordinate amount for a middle-of-the-order style batter. Spencer spent most of the 2009 season playing either in the corner outfield spots or acting as a DH, but he can also play first base, although the outfield is his better position defensively. He has a strong arm, but has only average range in the field. A left-handed hitter, Spencer handles right-handed pitchers much better than he handles lefties.

Being traded to Chicago is likely a good move for Spencer's career prospects. In Oakland, he was stacked behind a number of the A's top prospects in the outfield and at first base and the A's may not have had room for him at Triple-A to start the 2010 season. However, he should get an opportunity at that level next season with Chicago. He will be 24 throughout the season.

23. Shane Peterson

Peterson made it to Double-A as a 21-year-old.
It was a whirlwind 2009 season for Peterson, who began the year in High-A in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and finished the season as a member of the Double-A Texas League champion Midland Rockhounds in the Oakland A's organization. In between, Peterson acquitted himself well in his first full professional campaign.

Peterson was the Cardinals' second round pick in the 2008 draft (59th overall) out of Long Beach State. The outfielder signed quickly with the Cardinals and he spent the 2008 season in the short-season New York-Penn League, batting .291 with an 809 OPS. Based on that strong performance, the Cardinals jumped Peterson from short-season to High-A at the start of 2009. Playing in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Peterson displayed a good mix of power and speed, posting a .428 SLG and swiping 10 bases in 76 games. He also hit .298. Peterson was then promoted to Double-A Springfield of the Texas League, a big leap for a player who was only 21 years old and less than a year removed from college. He handled the transition well, batting .284 with a 743 OPS in 17 games before being traded to the A's in late-July.

Peterson came to Oakland as part of the Matt Holliday deal. The A's kept Peterson in the Texas League and he joined the Midland Rockhounds, for whom he was the youngest player on the roster. Peterson would spend the rest of the season with Midland. He got off to a strong start with the Rockhounds. Through his first 33 games with Midland, Peterson hit .298 with a 776 OPS. He struggled during the final week of the regular season, however, and finished with a .273 average and a 729 OPS in 39 games. Peterson rebounded in the post-season, leading Midland offensively. In 30 at-bats, he hit .433 with two homers, three doubles and a 1233 OPS. For the entire regular season, Peterson hit .288/.353/.415 with 10 homers and 16 stolen bases.

In some ways, Peterson is a similar player to fellow A's prospect Aaron Cunningham. Like Cunningham, Peterson does a little bit of everything at the plate, but he doesn't have one stand-out tool. Peterson showed signs of emerging power in 2009, but he is still mostly a line-drive hitter at this stage of his career. Defensively, Peterson offers a lot of versatility. He played all three outfield positions and first base this season. He was solid at all four positions, although there are questions about whether Peterson can stick in centerfield longterm.

A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman compared Peterson to another current A's outfielder.

"I kind of look at Peterson like a Ryan Sweeney. Peterson has the ability to play infield and outfield and he is a good contact hitter. He's now starting to hit for a little power and is starting to figure things out," Lieppman said.

"He is a good physical specimen."

Although Peterson's final OPS for the season was below 800, it was still an impressive campaign when one considers that he was 21 throughout the season, making him one of the younger players in both the Florida State and Texas Leagues.

"The amazing thing about Shane Peterson is that he would be about average or maybe even young for a college junior coming out in the 2009 draft," A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said.

"For him to be able to reach Double-A and actually be able to hold his own, play good defense and run the bases well was impressive. He hit around .300 with some extra-base power. I think we were really happy with his performance. That is a pretty aggressive spot to put a 21-year-old in and he handled it pretty well."

Because Peterson doesn't have blazing speed or 30-homerun power at the moment, he has often been labeled a "tweener" by scouts who don't think he'll hit enough homers to be a starting corner outfielder or have enough speed to stick in centerfield, an assessment that has dogged Sweeney and Cunningham throughout their careers, as well. Peterson has a patient approach at the plate. He sees a lot of pitches and draws his fair share of walks, although his strike-outs climbed in 2009. He employs an unusual set-up at the plate where he puts his weight forward in his stance, but his swing is easy and level. Defensively, he is very smooth at first base and held his own at all three outfield spots. He has average speed for an outfielder, but good instincts on the basepaths. He was caught stealing only once in 2009. Peterson will be 22 throughout next season.

22. Brad Kilby

Kilby was one of the River Cats' top relievers.
It many ways, it was the year of the reliever in the Oakland A's system, from the big league team on down, as A's bullpen arms impressed on several levels. One of the system's most impressive relievers was Kilby. The left-hander finally broke through to the major leagues on the strength of an outstanding season with Triple-A Sacramento and he has now put himself in a position to secure a long big league career.

Kilby began the 2009 season with Triple-A Sacramento. It was his second consecutive season with the River Cats. In 2008, he posted a 3.47 ERA with 66 strike-outs 26 walks and a .202 BAA in 70 innings. It was a pretty good season for Kilby, although he allowed a career-high in homeruns per nine innings (1.2) and struck-out fewer than 10 batters per nine innings for the first time in his career (8.5), giving him things to work on for 2010. Kilby was eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time last off-season and there was some thought that he might be selected after Oakland chose not to protect him. However, he sustained a head injury when he was struck by a line-drive while playing in the Dominican Republic that winter, scaring off interested teams.

Kilby was not invited to major league spring training, but he did get the call to be in the A's big league bullpen for a number of big league spring games, giving the A's coaching staff time to assess his progress. He pitched well during the spring and continued that into the regular season with Sacramento. It didn't take long for Kilby to develop into one of the River Cats' most valuable relievers. The left-hander appeared in 45 games for Sacramento, posting a 2.13 ERA and allowing only 40 hits in 63.1 innings (.179 BAA). He struck-out 77, walked 24 and allowed five homers. When September 1st rolled around, Kilby got the call from Oakland as a September call-up. He quickly made a strong impression on the A's, appearing in 11 games, including one start when Oakland was looking to use only relievers for a game late in the season. In 17 innings, he allowed only one earned run on 10 hits. He struck-out 20 and walked four.

Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco was impressed with what he saw from Kilby this season.

"He's a guy who is not afraid to throw strikes. He can get lefties and righties out. I think that is his big plus. He's got a good off-speed and he is sneaky fast. He hides the ball well behind his back," DeFrancesco said.

Kilby doesn't possess a big fastball, but he saw an uptick in velocity this season that brought his fastball from the 88-90 range to the 89-92 range. He also saw improvement with his change-up and slider thanks to some minor mechanical tweaks he made with Sacramento pitching coach Rick Rodriguez. Kilby has been effective against righties and lefties throughout his career and in 2009 he actually pitched better against right-handers. He can move his fastball to the inner and outer halves of the strike-zone against right-handers, making it hard for them to get comfortable against him. Kilby has a very deceptive delivery that not only hides the ball well but also disrupts the timing of the hitters.

Kilby is a flyball pitcher, which can occasionally make him prone to the homerun, although he cut his homer totals almost in half in 2009 as compared to 2008. He has been durable throughout his career, never missing an extended period of time due to injury and tossing at least 70 innings in each of his last three seasons.

The Elk Grove, CA, native will enter the 2010 season with a strong chance of making the A's bullpen out of spring training. He will have plenty of competition from fellow southpaws Jerry Blevins and Craig Breslow, however, and the A's probably won't carry more than two lefties in their bullpen. Even if Kilby starts the year in Sacramento, he figures to see significant time in Oakland in 2010. He will be 27 throughout the season.

21. James Simmons

It was an up-and-down season for Simmons.
Going into the 2009 season, Simmons' career was on an accelerated track. The A's top pick in 2007 began his professional career at Double-A and he posted solid numbers at that level both in 2007 and in 2008 despite being on the younger side for the league. He participated in the Arizona Fall League after the 2007 season and was invited to major league spring training for 2009. His progress hit a speed bump during the 2009 regular season, however, when he made the jump to Triple-A.

Simmons spent the entire 2009 season as a member of the Sacramento pitching staff. In 119.2 innings, he posted a career-worst 5.72 ERA and allowed opposing batters to hit .292 against him. In addition, Simmons saw his K:9 rate drop to 6.1 while his BB:9 rate rose to 3.5.

Simmons was plagued with inconsistency throughout the season, often stringing two or three good starts together, only to follow them with two or three poor outings. The right-hander especially struggled away from the River Cats' home park, as he posted a 7.19 ERA on the road compared to a 4.41 ERA at home. Simmons was sidelined in early August with a strained right deltoid muscle that forced him to miss three weeks. When he returned to Sacramento in September, he allowed 11 runs in only five innings and was clearly rusty. He didn't appear in any of the River Cats' post-season games.

After the regular season ended, the UC-Riverside alum was sent back to the AFL for a second tour through that league. The A's wanted Simmons to work on developing an out-pitch, something that he has been searching for throughout his minor league career. Not having a go-to pitch with two strikes on a batter was something that Simmons could pitch around at Double-A, but his struggles at Triple-A were often precipitated by his inability to put away batters. Simmons spent much of his stint at the AFL working on adding a cut fastball and on improving his curveball and change-up.
There was some concern among A's fans after the conclusion of the AFL season when it was revealed through PitchFx data that Simmons averaged only 86 MPH on his fastball during the AFL season. During the 2009 regular season, Simmons was usually in the 88-91 range, but his velocity was down during the AFL. Some of that is likely attributable to Simmons' work with the cutter, which is slower than his regular two- and four-seam fastball. Simmons was also clearly not in top pitching shape at the end of the regular season coming off of his delt injury and he may still have been feeling the effects of that injury during the fall league.

Assuming that Simmons' velocity returns to normal in 2010, the key for his possible resurgence will be any improvements he can make on his secondary offerings. His fastball command has always graded at the top of the scale, but he needs another top pitch in order to get out top-level hitters on a consistent basis. At times in 2009, his change-up was that second pitch; at other times, he featured an above-average slider. However, those pitches weren't always working well for him from start-to-start. If the cut fastball becomes a weapon he can reach for regularly that will be a big improvement to his game.

Despite the rough 2009 season, Simmons still has a chance for a long major league career as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Despite having two-plus seasons in the upper levels of the minors under his belt, Simmons is still only 23 years old and he will be 23 throughout the 2010 season. Given the A's depth with their starting pitching and Simmons' youth, Oakland can afford to be patient with the Southern California native.

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