|Capra finished strong with Stockton. b>|
Capra rebounded from that performance in a big way in 2009. The left-hander began the season back with Kane County and he showed dramatic improvement his second time around the Midwest League. Although he went only 4-7, Capra was one of the Cougars' most effective pitchers. In exactly 100 innings, he posted a 3.24 ERA and he struck-out 103 while allowing only 70 hits (opponents hit .197 against him).
In late July, Capra was promoted to High-A Stockton. Although he moved from a pitcher-friendly league to a hitter-friendly environment, Capra maintained a high level of pitching with Stockton. In 52 innings, he posted a 3.12 ERA, struck-out 67 and held opposing batters to a .223 average. He finished the year with a 3.20 ERA and 170 strike-outs in 152 innings pitched. He allowed only 112 hits. Capra finished second in minor league baseball in strike-outs, only six behind the MiLB leader.
Capra doesn't possess an over-powering fastball, but he is able to move his 88-92 MPH heater to both sides of the plate, allowing him to be effective against right-handers and left-handers. His best pitch is his change-up. Capra came into professional baseball with a good change-up, but it has gone from a solid pitch to an out-pitch since coming to the A's. Capra changed his grip on the pitch during the A's 2008 Instructional League camp and that change moved the pitch to a new level. The change-up is not only a swing-and-miss pitch on its own, but it also helps Capra get swing-throughs on his fastball because it changes the timing of the hitters, as well as the hitters' sight-line. Capra also features a curveball that was inconsistently effective for him during the year. He was working on a cut-fastball during the A's 2009 Instructional League.
In some ways, Capra has a similar profile to former A's Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito, with the difference being that Capra's best pitch is the change-up as opposed to Zito and his curveball. Like Zito, Capra is a flyball pitcher who doesn't give up a lot of hits and induces a high number of a swings-and-misses. Also like Zito, Capra can be vulnerable to the homerun and, at times, struggle with his command and with high pitch counts. Capra has also demonstrated good durability throughout his career. He made 27 starts without missing a turn this season and threw 125.1 innings in 2008 between college and the pros.
Capra gets high marks from coaches for his willingness to learn and his mental make-up.
"One of Anthony's biggest assets is his competitiveness," 2009 Kane County manager Steve Scarsone said.
"Sometimes he would struggle with his pitches and maybe be a little wild to the point where he was having to come at hitters in hitter's counts and stuff like that, but even then, that competitiveness and that drive to succeed pushed him forward … I think that is what ultimately is going to push him up because you can't teach that competitive aspect. That is just that drive that few pitchers have, that few players have, and those are the ones who find themselves playing a long time."
Capra has only 52 innings at the High-A level under his belt, but he showed enough during his time in Stockton that he should start the 2010 season at Double-A Midland. To take his game to the next level, Capra will need to cut down on his walks and his homerun rates. The development of the cut-fastball and the continued improvement of his curveball should help with both categories. The A's have no reason to rush Capra through the system, so he will likely spend most of the season at Double-A, although he could get a taste of Triple-A at the end of the year. Capra will be 23 throughout the 2010 season.
19. Arnold Leon
|Leon got a full year in the US under his belt. b>|
Despite being only 20 years old, Leon was sent to Double-A Midland based on the success he had with the Ports, for whom he posted a 2.86 ERA in 28 innings. Leon was the youngest pitcher on the Midland roster in 2009. He began the year in the Rockhounds' bullpen and found Double-A to be tough-sledding early in the year. Before the All-Star break, Leon had a 5.81 ERA and a mediocre 19:15 K:BB ratio in 26.1 innings. Opposing batters hit .302 against him and Leon missed a month between mid-May and mid-June with a sore arm.
Leon's fortunes took a dramatic change after returning from the disabled list. He struggled during his first few outings back, but he posted a 3.12 ERA with a 15:5 K:BB ratio in 17.1 innings in July and then dominated in August, posting an 0.66 ERA and striking out 27 while walking only five in 27.1 innings. Leon's improvement in August came when he moved into the starting rotation. He finished the year with a 3.51 ERA and 63 strike-outs against 28 walks in 74.1 innings.
The right-hander stands at only 5'11'' and his fastball sits in the 88-91 range in the starting rotation and the 90-92 range out of the bullpen. Leon also features a cut-fastball, but his best pitch is his curveball, which the A's had Leon tinker with in 2009.
"We added some velocity to it. He had been throwing it like [Vincente] Padilla does, throwing that 65 miles per hour curveball that just sort of floats up there. We got him to throw it a little bit harder and got him to get a little more spin to it, and it's been a really good pitch," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.
According to Lieppman, when Leon is struggling, he has a tendency to get under his pitches and elevate them. When he is pitching well, he is getting a good downward plane on his fastball and is sharp with his location. Leon gets a lot of movement on his fastball and he has done a solid job of keeping the ball in the ballpark. Despite pitching in two leagues known for high homerun totals (the California and Texas Leagues), Leon has allowed only four homeruns in 102.2 innings.
The biggest question surrounding Leon heading into the 2010 season is whether he will be a reliever or a starter. When the A's acquired Leon, they thought he had a starter's pitch-mix. However, they kept him in the bullpen in 2008 and for much of 2009 in part because the organization was concerned about keeping his innings total low. Leon has pitched in the Mexican Winter League in each of the past three winters and he participated in the A's big league spring training camp the past two years, so he hasn't had a lot of time off to rest his arm. In addition, Leon's role in Mexico has exclusively been as a reliever, so he has a comfort level with the role. Leon is currently pitching in the Mexican Winter League again as a reliever. Through December 15, he had made 20 appearances and thrown 23.1 innings for Culiacan.
"We have bounced back and forth with what is the best thing for him because in Mexico, he is a set-up man and sometimes closer in the winter leagues and, in the past, in the summer leagues," Lieppman said.
"He has just pitched all year around for the past two years and we were almost worried that we were hurting the kid just by starting him, so we have been very conservative with him. Once we got him into his rhythm, we decided to give him his shot at starting. It's all fit perfectly for him. He likes it. He also likes the other aspect of it [relieving], so it is sort of a two-way street with him."
Leon has been challenged since turning pro in Mexico as an 18-year-old. He has consistently been thrown in against competition two to three years older than him. Leon has also had to handle the transition to the United States, learning a new language and a new culture in the process. He has overcome all of those challenges while still posting solid numbers, a testament to his maturity and work ethic.
Whether Leon starts the season back with Midland or at Triple-A Sacramento may depend on whether the A's decide to put Leon in the starting rotation or the bullpen. If he is in a starter's role, Leon will likely start in Double-A. Leon didn't turn 21 until September, so he has plenty of time to refine his game.
18. Ian Krol
The A's have been known over the years for taking players who are willing to sign for "slot money" in the draft. However, in 2008 Oakland took and signed a handful of players to "over-slot" signing bonuses. That trend continued into 2009 when the A's inked three players on the final day of the draft signing period to over-slot bonuses. One of those players was Krol, who was taken in the seventh round by Oakland out of an Illinois high school and was signed to a bonus worth a reported $925,000.
Krol came to the A's with an interesting background. The left-hander was the top-ranked high school pitcher in the state of Illinois going into 2009 and he was projected to be a top-two round pick. However, he was suspended from his high school baseball team for a rules violation and missed the high school regular season. Krol was able to showcase his talent for scouts as part of a semi-pro league in Wisconsin, but he didn't get nearly the exposure he would have if he had been pitching a normal high school season.
Despite the suspension, Krol was given a scholarship offer to pitch for the University of Arizona. Because of his collegiate commitment and his suspension, Krol saw his name drop down the draft boards. When the A's took him in round seven, many followers of the draft believed it would be difficult for Oakland to get him to sign. He did wind-up coming to terms with the A's and, thus far, Oakland is very pleased with the investment.
Because he signed late, Krol didn't have an opportunity to pitch much during the regular season. He made four appearances – three for short-season Vancouver and one for the A's Rookie League team – allowing three earned runs in 4.1 innings. However, the Oakland coaching staff got a longer look at him at the team's Instructional League and came away impressed. Lieppman stated that Krol played like a veteran despite being a first year player.
"Ian Krol is a young man who has great potential. He's 18, and when I say that he is 18, we all remember what it was like to be 18 and know what that means. But this kid works to get better and he wants to raise the bar for himself. Besides that, he's pretty darn good," A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said.
Krol is 6'1'' and he weighs around 180 pounds. His fastball currently sits in the 88-91 range, but the A's believe that he will add some velocity when he fills out his frame. He has an excellent curveball that sits in the low-70s and a good change-up. Krol is athletic and he repeats his delivery well for a younger player. Krol won't turn 19 until next May and he will likely have a gradual path through the minor leagues, especially early on in his career. He is a native of Kane County, but he may not be with the Cougars to start the 2010 season, as the A's may choose to keep him at extended spring training until the weather warms in Illinois.
17. Pedro Figueroa
|Figueroa made a big leap forward in 2009. b>|
It has taken Figueroa awhile to get to this point in his career, but it appears that he is finally matching his talent level with his performance. The native of the Dominican Republic was signed by the A's just before his 18th birthday in 2003. He didn't debut in the United States until 2006 when he was 20 years old. He struggled for the A's Rookie League team that season and then posted mediocre numbers for short-season Vancouver in 2007 as a 21-year-old.
Figueroa took a big leap forward with Vancouver in 2008 and then extended that improvement even further in 2009 in his first year pitching for full-season affiliates. The southpaw has always had a big fastball and a good slider, but until 2008, he was plagued by spotty command. Figueroa changed his approach over the past two years. He no longer tried to over-throw every pitch, became more aggressive in the strike-zone and immediately saw better results.
"He is all of the things that you would want in a pitcher. No more deer in the headlights for him," Patterson said.
"You tell guys every day about being warriors and being mentally tough and not afraid. Sometimes it takes awhile for them to actually believe it in their hearts and their heads. It certainly seems like he has figured it out, and we are very happy for him."
Hard-throwing left-handers are a rare commodity and Figueroa fits into that category, regularly hitting 92-94 MPH with his fastball and occasionally touching 95. He also has a sharp slider that induces a lot of swings and misses and a change-up that has become an effective third pitch for him.
Because he took a long time to get through the A's short-season leagues, Figueroa was old for his leagues in 2009 (he was 23). He will be 24 before he throws his first pitch at Double-A and still has a lot of development left to do before he can be considered major league-ready, at least as a starter. There is a chance that the A's could move Figueroa into the bullpen to get him to the major leagues sooner, but the bullpen is an organizational strength and it may make more sense to give Figueroa the opportunity to develop as a starter, even given his age, because he has the talent to be a top of the rotation type starter. He will be participating in his first major league spring training this February and the A's will have three full option years during which they can evaluate his progress.
16. Clayton Mortensen
|Mortensen will be looking to improve his command in 2010. b>|
Mortensen has had a quick path to the big leagues. He was the Cardinals' supplemental first round pick in 2007 (36th overall) when he was selected out of Gonzaga University. After signing, Mortensen made 16 appearances at the Rookie Ball and Low-A levels, posting solid numbers. The Cardinals jumped Mortensen all of the way up to Double-A to start the 2008 season and he wound-up splitting the year between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. He was inconsistent in 2008, going 8-10 overall with a 4.96 ERA and 105 strike-outs in 139.2 innings.
He returned to Triple-A Memphis to start the 2009 season and had made 17 starts for the Redbirds before being traded. In those 17 outings, Mortensen went 7-6 with a 4.37 ERA and 82 strike-outs in 105 innings. He also made one appearance for the Cardinals, allowing six runs (two earned) in three innings. Once with the A's, Mortensen had a 4.45 ERA in 32.1 innings with Triple-A Sacramento and a 7.81 ERA in 27.2 innings (six starts) with Oakland. Overall, in 100 minor league innings, Mortensen posted a 4.39 ERA and had a 100:48 K:BB ratio in 137.1 innings.
Since coming out of college, Mortensen has been pegged as a polished pitcher who has a solid chance of having a major league career but doesn't have a high ceiling as a starter. He primarily features three pitches: fastball, change-up and slider. His fastball isn't over-powering, but it gets heavy sink and good movement and he uses the fastball along with his slider to induce a lot of groundballs. He managed a 55% groundball rate both at Triple-A and in the big leagues in 2009. He also features a change-up, which can be good at times, but has been inconsistent throughout much of his career.
Mortensen's fastball generally sat in the high-80s, low-90s in 2009, but he did reach the 93-94 range on occasion with the A's late in the season and the A's are hopeful that Mortensen will be able to maintain that increased velocity in future years. Command has been an issue for Mortensen throughout his career. He has walked nearly three-and-a-half batters per nine innings during his minor league career and he walked nearly four batters per nine innings in the major leagues this season. That command will need to improve for him to be a consistently effective starter in the big leagues.
"He is right in the mold of the guys that we like: he is a sinker guy who gets groundballs and has secondary pitches that he can use to get strike-outs," A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said.
"He's got a long pitcher's frame and he has flashed velocity that if he can reach more consistently makes him an even more intriguing prospect."
Mortensen will be competing for a shot at the fifth spot in the A's rotation during spring training. He does a lot of things the A's like, but Oakland's emphasis on throwing strikes will work against him if he can't improve his command by spring. Despite being only two-and-a-half seasons removed from college, Mortensen is not a young prospect. He was drafted as a college senior and he will turn 25 next April. Even if Mortensen doesn't make the A's out of spring training, he should see time in the big leagues in 2010 and will likely be one of the team's first options if one of their starters were to go down with an injury.