10. Josh Donaldson
|Donaldson will be in big league camp for a second straight year. b>|
Originally a supplemental first-round pick of the Cubs in 2007, Donaldson made a splash by posting a 1075 OPS and batting .346 for short-season Boise that season. However, the Auburn alum had a strange 2008 season during which he hit only .217 with a 625 OPS for Low-A Peoria of the Midwest League and .330 with a 955 OPS for High-A Stockton of the California League, so there were some questions about which version of Donaldson the hitter would show up in 2009. In addition, Donaldson was facing questions about his defense behind the plate, as he struggled at times with his technique blocking balls in the dirt.
Offensively, Donaldson went a long way towards answering those questions. Although a late-season slump dropped his overall numbers some, Donaldson still put together an impressive line, especially for a catcher. He finished fifth in the Texas League in RBIs with 91 (thanks in large part to a .340 batting average with runners in scoring position), ranked second in the league in doubles with 37 and third in walks with 80. All of this production came despite the fact that he was donning the catcher's gear night-after-night in the oppressive Texas heat. He tied for the league lead in games played behind the plate with 102.
In some ways, Donaldson profiles similarly at the plate to current A's catcher Kurt Suzuki. Both are right-handed hitters with smooth, line-drive swings that produce a lot of doubles in the gaps and the occasional homerun. Donaldson has racked up more walks than Suzuki did in the minor leagues, although Suzuki was far less prone to the strike-out. Suzuki put up similar numbers to Donaldson at Double-A Midland in 2006, posting a .285/.392/.415 line. Like Suzuki, Donaldson has decent speed for a catcher and is capable of stealing the occasional base. He swiped seven in 2009.
Defensively, Donaldson showed improvement in 2009, although he is still a work-in-progress. He is a relatively new convert to the catching position, having been moved to catcher from third base while in college. Donaldson received high marks from Midland coaches, as well as the pitching staff, for his ability to work with the pitchers and call a good game. He also showed a strong arm behind the plate, finishing second in the league in caught stealing percentage with a 39.6% mark. However, he still struggled with his receiving skills at times. Donaldson led the league in errors with 16 and in passed balls with 17.
In addition to catching, Donaldson appeared in 15 games at third base and two games at first base in 2009. Donaldson has some experience at both positions (he was a collegiate third baseman and played some first base at the Arizona Fall League in 2008) and his ability to play those positions as well as catch could be the key for Donaldson having a long career in the major leagues, especially with Oakland. Donaldson will be at the Triple-A level in 2010 and should be major league ready by the end of the year. Unfortunately for Donaldson, the A's have one of the better young catching tandems in the major leagues in front of him in Suzuki and back-up Landon Powell. Oakland could move one of those catchers to make room for Donaldson, but if they don't, the A's may try to sneak Donaldson onto the roster as more of an infielder and third catcher than as strictly a catcher. Look for Donaldson in 2010 to see more time at third, in particular, both during major league spring training camp and the Sacramento River Cats' regular season. He will be 24 throughout the 2010 season.
9. Sean Doolittle
|Doolittle was hitting well before his knee injury. b>|
At the start of the season, Doolittle was one of the talks of the A's system. Oakland's 2007 supplemental first round pick put on an impressive show at major league spring training. Among the A's players who got regular playing time during the spring, Doolittle finished second on the team in batting average with a .379 average in 29 at-bats. He also hit two homers, drove-in 11 runs and stole three bases.
"I would say that of the guys in big league camp, probably he and Ryan Sweeney are the two guys who have made the most consistently hard contact. I mean of all of our positions players. He was really, really impressive," A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said near the end of spring training.
Doolittle's performance at spring training convinced the A's that he was ready for Triple-A despite the fact that he struggled at Double-A in 2008. The first-baseman hit .305 with 18 homers and a 945 OPS in 86 games with High-A Stockton that season, but then managed only a .254 average and a 699 OPS in 51 games with Midland. Doolittle recovered to play well at the Arizona Fall League – making the AFL's All-Prospect team and hitting .293 with eight homers and a 941 OPS – but it was assumed until his outstanding camp that Doolittle would return to Midland before being challenged at Triple-A.
When the A's decided to send Doolittle to Sacramento to start the season, it meant that the Virginia alum would need to move to a new position. Daric Barton began the year with the River Cats and the A's wanted him to see the majority of playing time at first base. Doolittle had seen time in the outfield during the AFL season and then again during spring training, so it wasn't a hard transition for him to move to that position.
Doolittle got off to a good start at the plate with the River Cats and was batting .267 with four homers and an 811 OPS through 28 games when he hurt his knee. He was in the middle of a hot streak with six hits in his last 12 at-bats when he felt his left knee give out. It turned out that the injury was a torn patella tendon. The injury was initially treated non-surgically with rehab and a regimen of plasma injections into the knee designed to facilitate healing. At various points during the rehab process, it appeared that Doolittle was close to being ready to return to the field. Unfortunately, every time he would get to that point, there would be a set-back. The final set-back came during the A's fall Instructional League. Doolittle was there to get some at-bats before heading out to play winter ball, but he was unable to run the bases. At that point, it was determined that Doolittle would have surgery on the knee.
Recovery from surgery on a torn patella tendon can last anywhere from four months to a year. The A's are optimistic that Doolittle, who had surgery in October, will be recovered in time for the start of minor league spring training camp, but his prognosis won't be fully known until closer to spring training.
When healthy, Doolittle is one of the A's more well-rounded position player prospects. Coming out of college, Doolittle was criticized for not hitting for as much power as a prototypical first baseman. However, since turning pro, he has shown more power than expected. He hit 22 homers in 2008 and was slugging .448 at Triple-A at the time of the injury. Doolittle was a two-way player in college, and he credits his increase in power to being able to devote his full attention to hitting.
Doolittle is also a talented defensive player, especially at first base. In the outfield, Doolittle was still learning his way, but he demonstrated good instincts and the ability to cover a lot of ground in right. Doolittle also flashed a strong throwing arm, not a surprise given that in college he was a top left-handed pitching prospect. There will be questions heading into the 2010 season about whether Doolittle can remain in the outfield thanks to his knees. Before injuring the left knee, Doolittle was already experiencing soreness in the right knee. It isn't clear whether the knee issues were linked to his time in the outfield or not.
The A's have a lot of depth at both positions at the moment, so it isn't clear whether Doolittle would have a greater chance of making the A's roster in 2010 as an outfielder or a first baseman. If he is able to continue playing both positions, Doolittle could give the A's flexibility on their roster that they have been missing since they traded Nick Swisher before the 2008 season.
Before Doolittle challenges the A's roster, he will need to continue to refine a few aspects of his offensive game at the Triple-A level. He has struck-out in more than 20% of his at-bats since turning pro. He has walked a decent amount, but the strike-outs have prevented him from being a .300 hitter. Assuming that he is healthy at the start of the season, Doolittle will start the year in Sacramento where he will likely be battling with other top A's prospects such as Chris Carter and Michael Taylor to be the guy who gets the call should the A's have an injury. Doolittle will be 23 throughout the season.
8. Grant Desme
|Desme did it all for Stockton. b>|
Desme came into the season as a big unknown. A top collegiate talent, he had missed much of the past season-and-a-half with injuries. In 2007, Desme appeared in only 12 games for short-season Vancouver after signing with Oakland because he was still rehabbing a broken wrist he sustained during his final collegiate season. Then in 2008, he was limited to only two games thanks to a shoulder injury.
Health was not an issue for Desme in 2009 and he quickly showed why many scouts believed the A's got a steal when they landed him in the second round in 2007. After starting the season 0-20 with Low-A Kane County, Desme put together a monster campaign. In 131 games for the Cougars and for High-A Stockton, Desme hit .288 with an organization-best 31 homers. He also stole 40 bases, becoming the only player in professional baseball to put together a 30 homer-40 stolen base season in 2009. Desme posted a 933 OPS and he added 31 doubles and six triples.
During the Arizona Fall League, Desme continued his break-through season. He became the first player to win the league's MVP award without ever having played above the A-ball level. In 27 games, Desme hit .315 with 11 homers, 27 RBIs and he posted a 1079 OPS. He also walked 16 times.
"With all of the injury struggles that he had coming into this year, we were just hoping coming into the year that he was a guy who could stay healthy, really. He has now established himself as one of the top prospects in the organization," Zaidi said.
Steve Scarsone, Desme's manager at Kane County, was impressed with Desme's leadership skills.
"He not only did some great things on the field, but he proved to fill that mature leader role on our team. Not so much the guy who was yelling and screaming and telling people what to do and what not to do, but more of a guy who played hard everyday and gave his maximum effort," Scarsone said.
"Some of the younger guys were able to feed off of him. That is an important aspect of a player. It's not necessarily teachable. It's just something that he naturally has."
Despite his outstanding season, public opinion is mixed on Desme. Some scouts have downplayed his strong statistical season to a degree because he was competing at the A-ball level at age 23, while others have argued that Desme should get a break on the age issue because he essentially missed two years of development and therefore had the experience of a 21-year-old even if he was 23. The other area that had scouts arguing was whether his strike-out totals were too high to make him an elite hitting prospect. Desme struck-out 148 times in 131 games while walking only 54 times. He struck-out 34 more times in the AFL against those 16 walks. One positive sign for Desme was that he struck-out less and walked more with Stockton than he did earlier in the season with Kane County when he was working through some of the rust of missing virtually the entire 2008 campaign.
All of those arguments aside, there is no question that Desme will be a prospect to watch in 2010. The outfielder offers a nice blend of tools. He can hit for power to all fields and hits well for average. A right-handed hitter, Desme destroyed left-handed pitching in 2009 (1078 OPS), while still faring well against right-handers (873 OPS). Although he stole 40 bases in 2009, he doesn't have track-star speed, but Desme's strong instincts on the bases should allow him to be a double-digit base-stealer in the major leagues. He also is a solid defensive player. Desme split his time between center and right field in 2009. His best position is right field, but he held his own in center. Desme has a strong throwing arm and was effective at cutting off balls to the gaps.
The 2010 season will be an important one for Desme. He will almost assuredly start the season at Double-A with a chance to reach Triple-A by the All-Star break and an outside chance to make his major league debut by next September. To reach those goals, however, Desme will need to prove that his numbers in 2009 weren't inflated by the fact that he was playing against competition a year or so younger than him for much of the season. He will also have to continue the trend he started of improving his K/BB ratio every month last season. If he can accomplish those goals, Desme could very well be a starting outfielder for the A's or another major league team by early 2011. He will turn 24 at the start of April.
7. Michael Ynoa
|Ynoa missed the season with elbow problems. b>|
As was the case last season when we ranked Ynoa as the A's third-best prospect, this ranking is a leap of faith. Although Ynoa did get into game action at the A's Instructional League in the Dominican Republic this fall, he has yet to pitch in a traditionally competitive environment, so it is hard to know how his immense talents will match-up against other prospects. Still, the possibilities of what he can accomplish on the mound are too immense to ignore. Ynoa has electric stuff for a player at any age, let alone one still learning how to pitch. He already can touch 95 MPH with his fastball and he throws an over-hand curveball and a change-up. As he gets older, he is likely to add a slider or a cut-fastball. Ynoa has an easy, over-the-top delivery that creates a big downward angle.
At 18-years-old, Ynoa is a kid in a man's body. He stands at 6'7'' and weighs roughly 215 pounds, but he is also still growing, something that may have contributed to his elbow strain this summer. Consequently, the A's are being extra cautious with his throwing program, making sure that they don't put too much strain on his arm too soon.
"I think with young kids you kind of want to let them grow and let those bones come together and not force things. At this stage, there wasn't that tremendous rush to have him out there rather than just allowing him to gradually improve and let his arm recover and just let him grow up. He is such a tall, skinny kid and he is still growing. To put extra force on that arm would not be wise at this time," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said.
That being said, the A's can't baby Ynoa forever. He will have to get out on the mound in competitive action soon and there is every expectation that he will be pitching for one of the A's US affiliates in 2010. More likely than not, it will be one of the short-season affiliates, either the A's Rookie team in Arizona or the Vancouver Canadians. He will be 18 throughout the 2010 season.
6. Max Stassi
|De Los Santos has had two lost seasons thanks to injuries. b>|
Stassi was taken by Oakland in the fourth round of the 2009 draft out of high school. Before the draft, he was projected to be a first or high second-round pick, but he fell on draft day thanks to questions about his signability. The A's took a chance that they would be able to bring him into the fold even with the fourth round pick and they made it happen just before the draft signing deadline in August. He was signed to a $1.5 million bonus, which was a record-breaker for a fourth round selection at the time of the draft.
Because he signed late, Stassi didn't get much regular season action, but he did appear in 14 games for the A's two short-season affiliates before the end of the year. His first game was with the Arizona A's, but the remaining 13 came with short-season Vancouver, where the 18-year-old was competing against mostly polished collegiate players. He more than held his own with the Canadians, batting .286, driving in eight and collecting four doubles in 49 at-bats. He also impressed defensively.
"For Stassi to go right to Vancouver, I don't think we've done that with a high schooler since Matt Sulentic and then, before that, Ben Grieve. Those are the kind of guys who have gone there. Stassi, it's too bad that he didn't sign earlier because he was fitting right into that situation," Lieppman said at the end of the regular season.
"The good thing is that we knew he could catch, but then he went in and was able to hit at that level, as well, and he put up good at-bats. We were surprised and excited about how well he played."
At the conclusion of the regular season, Stassi reported to the A's Instructional League camp, where he continued to impress. Teammate Jeremy Barfield noted that Stassi had "ridiculous pop" at the plate, while Lieppman remarked that Stassi played like a veteran and called him a "huge addition to our system." Scarsone, who managed the A's Instructional League team, also had high praise for Stassi.
"Everyone is very high on him and rightfully so. For one, he's still young and he's got so much time to work out the bugs and get to the higher levels and still be young enough to be a long-time asset to the A's," Scarsone said.
"He's just one of those guys who just wants to play hard and he has some great tools behind the plate. Offensively, he's going to need to continue to work out some of the bugs, but that is to be expected at that level. Good guy and I think he is going to be one of the cornerstones of the organization as he moves up. He's going to be one of those guys who we are always going to be leaning on to be a leader, too. I think he is going to be a good one."
At 5'10'', Stassi isn't tall, but he is a well-built 205 pounds. He was a dominant player in high school, winning The Sacramento Bee's Player of the Year honor in both his junior and senior seasons and making the paper's All-Metro team for four consecutive seasons. He hit .514 with 40 homeruns in four years at Yuba City High School. Stassi has a smooth, two-handed swing that he uses to spray the ball to all fields. He showed good gap power in his first pro stint and has the build to have above-average power for a catcher as he matures. Defensively, Stassi shows great athleticism behind the plate, moving well laterally to block balls in the dirt. He battled through shoulder tendinitis during his senior season at Yuba City that affected his throwing ability, but he was healthy by the time he signed with the A's and he showed better throwing skills with Oakland than he did during the high school season.
Stassi will only be 19 in 2010, but he is advanced enough as a baseball player that he is likely to jump to full-season baseball. He may not start the season in Kane County (the A's often like to have their younger prospects start the season in extended spring training to avoid having them play in poor weather conditions early in the year), but he is a strong candidate to spend the majority of the season with the Cougars. Stassi will be challenged by the Midwest League, as he will almost certainly be one of the youngest players on the field, but it will be a good opportunity for him not only to work against older players, but to catch in a league known for having polished pitching prospects. Despite his age, Stassi could be a quick-mover through the A's system and is likely to be the team's top catching prospect for the next few years.