|Weeks will probably run more in 2010. b>|
The A's made Weeks their first-round pick in 2008. The second baseman out of the University of Miami went 12th overall in that draft. He was attractive to Oakland because of his success at a high-level collegiate program, as well as his raw athleticism and ability to jump-start an offense at the top of an order. The A's got a small taste of what Weeks was capable of in 2008 when he played in 19 games with the Low-A Kane County Cougars and hit .297/.422/.405 with six stolen bases and a 13:12 BB:K ratio. Unfortunately, Weeks' season was cut short at those 19 games when he tore a hip flexor muscle trying to beat out an infield hit.
The rehab for the hip flexor injury was long and arduous. It forced Weeks to miss the A's 2008 Instructional League camp. He was healthy enough to participate in major league spring training before the 2009 season, but Weeks developed leg soreness that caused him to miss the first seven weeks of the 2009 regular season. Once he was healthy enough to report to a full-season affiliate, Weeks was sent to High-A Stockton. He got off to a red-hot start with the Ports, hitting safely in his first 22 games with the Ports, posting a .400 batting average with seven homeruns and 23 RBIs. He slowed down after that, batting only .216 over the next 27 games, at which point, the A's promoted him to Double-A Midland with a .299/.385/.468 line. Weeks appeared in 30 regular season games with the Rockhounds and hit only .238 with a 645 OPS in 30 games for Midland. He had a strong post-season with Midland, however, hitting two homeruns in eight games and posting a 905 OPS.
Weeks' performance during the Arizona Fall League was similar to his regular season. He started slowly, was red-hot during the middle and then slumped at the end of the league season. Weeks still showed enough to the scouts and coaches at the AFL to earn a spot on the league's All-Prospect team. He hit only .241, but he demonstrated his pure speed by swiping five bases and collecting four triples in 21 games.
Weeks has admitted that he had to learn to deal with failure on the field for the first time in his career and he believes that his struggles in 2009 will make him a better player in 2010. Despite the inconsistencies, the A's front office and coaching staff were pleased with what they saw from Weeks in 2009.
"He's got some skills. That young man can play the game. He can run a little bit, he's got a good arm, he can hit from both sides, although I think he's a better hitter from the left-side, and he's a good clubhouse guy. He plays the game hard and that is what you look for in a player. I think he's going to be a good one at the big league level. For me, I think he profiles as a second baseman in the big leagues," 2009 Stockton manager Aaron Nieckula said.
A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman was impressed with Weeks' ability to handle the challenges of reaching Double-A and competing in the AFL this season with less than a month of professional experience under his belt.
"He came from a great [college] program at Miami, but, in reality, he barely played a month last year [in pro ball]. Starting in May when he really got to play, because he didn't really do much until then, this is really like a first full year for him. To consider that he is already up in Double-A and [went] to the Fall League, that is really a lot to throw on a young guy," Lieppman said.
"We haven't done that to anybody that I can remember. We've done it with some pitchers, but it is hard for a position player just to jump right to that level and have success. We are happy that he has had success in spurts. He is making those adjustments and he seems to be healthy and we are happy where he is at."
A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi agreed.
"I think we are just as confident in Jemile's hitting and base-running ability as we were when we drafted him," Zaidi said.
As a hitter, Weeks profiles as the type of top-of-the-order threat the A's have been missing for years. He has a good sense of the strike-zone, the ability to hit from both sides of the plate, gap power and the speed to steal 30+ bases on a regular basis. The speed aspect of his game was something the A's had Weeks focus on during the fall league. They brought in A's Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson to tutor Weeks on the finer points of stealing bases and utilizing his speed to control the game. The A's limited Weeks' ability to run during the season because they were being cautious with his leg injuries, but, assuming he is healthy, he should have plenty of opportunities to run in 2010.
Weeks hit significantly better as a left-handed hitter in 2009, posting an 899 OPS versus a 615 OPS as a right-handed batter during the regular season. It was a trend that carried over into the AFL season, as well. That wasn't always the case for Weeks in college, however, so the splits may be more of a by-product of Weeks' inconsistent playing time than a long-term indicator of his ability to hit from both sides of the plate. In addition to the missed time at the beginning of the season, Weeks was often rested every fourth or fifth game, especially early in the season when he was just coming back from injury. Layoffs can be especially tough for switch-hitters who have to maintain rhythms for two swings. Weeks had roughly double the number of at-bats against right-handed pitchers than he did against lefties.
Physically, Weeks isn't a big guy, standing at 5'10'', 175 pounds, but he has decent power for a player of his stature. He has shown the ability to reach the alleys for extra-base hits and he can occasionally turn on a pitch and hit it out. He hit 12 homeruns in 119 games between the regular, post- and fall seasons, and he projects to have the power to reach the low double-digits in homers in the big leagues. His biggest asset offensively is his ability to get on-base and in scoring position in front of the middle of the line-up, however.
There were questions about Weeks' defense when he was drafted. Some scouts speculated that he would have to be moved off of second base, perhaps to centerfield. However, he had made great strides with his defense since turning pro and the A's are confident that he can stay at second. Lieppman believes that many of Weeks' previous struggles at second came more because he focused on his hitting in college rather than his defense. Weeks has spent significant time with A's roving minor league infield instructor Juan Navarrette and the improvements were evident to those who watched him play in 2008 and then again in 2009. During his time in Stockton, he was the best defensive infielder on the squad.
"He's definitely been on the upswing defensively. He's cleaned up his footwork and has made improvements all around," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said.
The 2010 season will be a big test for Weeks. He needs to prove that he can stay healthy and that he can produce on a more consistent basis over the course of a full season. The A's have Mark Ellis signed only through the 2010 season (with an option for 2011), so Oakland could have an opening at second as soon as 2011. Weeks will be vying with fellow top prospect Adrian Cardenas for an opportunity to take that spot should Ellis not be retained. Both players are invited to big league camp and are expected to see significant time at Triple-A in 2010, although Weeks is likely to begin the 2010 season at Double-A. He will be 23 throughout the season.
4. Adrian Cardenas
|Cardenas finished strong with Sacramento. b>|
Like Weeks, Cardenas had to face adversity on the baseball diamond for the first time in his career in 2009. After getting off to a red-hot start with Midland to begin the season, Cardenas was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento in May. He struggled badly in his first stint at that level, batting only .177 in 18 games. Cardenas returned to Double-A and again found immediate success. He was batting .358 with the Rockhounds as late as July 16th, but he slumped over the next two weeks and saw his average fall to .326 before being promoted back to Sacramento. Cardenas again got off to a slow start with the River Cats, going 0-for-his-first-15, but he found his stroke after that and ended up hitting .330 over his final 106 at-bats of the season. He finished the year with a .299/.365/.419 line in 130 games split between Midland and Sacramento. Cardenas was named to the post-season Texas League All-Star team after batting .326/.392/.446 in 79 games with the Rockhounds.
"We are definitely happy that during his second go-around in Sacramento, Adrian [was] hitting the ball with a little bit more authority whereas the first time he came up, he was feeling for contact and probably was trying to avoid strike-outs and was really focused on putting the ball into play. Now he is going more gap-to-gap and showing that hitting ability that we felt he certainly has," Zaidi said in September.
"[B]ased on our evaluations, he is pretty polished with his approach. He doesn't strike-out much and he works the count and he has a short swing, so there are aspects to his game that we thought would translate well even at a relatively higher level for his age."
At the plate, Cardenas has been labeled as a pure hitter since his high school days. He has a smooth swing from the left-side that produces a lot of line-drives, but doesn't yet generate the kind of loft and backspin required to hit homeruns. Consequently, Cardenas hit an impressive 41 doubles and added four triples in 2009, but he managed only four homeruns. Although Cardenas is only six-feet tall, he is well-built and the A's believe that he will eventually learn to add the loft and spin to his swing to hit more balls over the fence.
Cardenas has a patient approach at the plate ideal for hitting for a high batting average. He sees a lot of pitches, can hit with two strikes, isn't afraid to take a walk, but also doesn't strike-out much (especially for a younger player), having whiffed only 73 times in 508 at-bats in 2009. He struggled against left-handed pitchers in 2009, but he has generally had relatively even splits between left-handed and right-handed pitchers throughout his career.
Defensively, Cardenas still has work to do. A shortstop in high school, he has played second, short and third during his professional career. Scouts are pretty unanimous in their opinion that Cardenas isn't suited to be a shortstop in the big leagues. He has a strong arm, but he hasn't shown the ability to move laterally well enough to cover the ground necessary to be a big league shortstop. Cardenas' range has been fine at second and third, although he still struggles with his footwork on double-plays at second and he has a propensity to rush easy plays. He committed 19 errors during the regular season.
"I think second base is Cardenas' best position, but I think he has really improved a lot at third…I think just having him play [at third] and having him understand the position, he improved and it made him a better second baseman. He is still an adequate shortstop, as well, but I think his best position is second," Lieppman said.
Whether Cardenas breaks into the major leagues at third or second may ultimately be determined by personnel changes within the A's organization. Currently, the A's have very little depth at the third base position. They traded away their top third base prospect (Brett Wallace) earlier this month and A's incumbent third baseman, Eric Chavez, is still a big question mark to play regularly thanks to health concerns. Oakland did acquire infielder/outfielder Jake Fox from Chicago earlier this off-season, but Fox is more of a DH-type than a true third baseman. With Weeks moving up the chain rapidly while playing second base, the A's may decide to move Cardenas to third to fill that need. Either way, Cardenas figures to garner a lot of attention at major league spring training camp this February/March.
"We are definitely happy with where he is. He is a guy who can play a couple of different positions and we haven't penciled him at a certain position at a certain point in time going forward, but he is obviously a big part of our plans," Zaidi said.
In many ways, Cardenas has a similar scouting report to the one that current A's first-baseman Daric Barton had when Barton was making his way up through the minor leagues. Like Barton, Cardenas has always played against older competition and has shown a good eye, the ability to hit .300 and gap power. Also like Barton, Cardenas has been dogged with questions about his defense and his ability to hit for homerun power down-the-road.
Barton reached the big leagues at age 21 and was a big league regular by age 22, although he is still trying to find his permanent footing as a big leaguer. Cardenas will be 22 throughout the 2010 season and he has an outside chance of being a big league regular at some point during the season. He will mostly likely begin the regular season in Sacramento, but that plan could change if Cardenas has a huge spring training and the A's don't have any great alternative options at third base. From a development-perspective, he probably needs at least another half-season of fine tuning at Triple-A to be truly ready for the big leagues.
3. Grant Green
|Green got a cup of coffee with Stockton. b>|
Because Green signed so late (August 17th), he didn't have a chance to see much action during the minor league regular season. He joined the High-A Stockton Ports for the final week of the season and hit .316 with a double and three RBIs in 19 at-bats. Green was limited to DHing during his time with Stockton, as the A's didn't want to risk him getting injured in the field after not playing for much of the summer.
"[W]e wanted him to get some at-bats at that level [High-A] and he did remarkably well. He just stepped right in and had solid at-bats. The manager [Aaron Nieckula] really was impressed with how he played the game. You could see how he was picked where he was and what kind of a player he is going to be," Lieppman said.
After the season ended, Green participated in the A's Instructional League camp, where he was able to get more time in the field and with the A's instructional staff, especially A's roving infield instructor Juan Navarette. Coming out of college, there were concerns about Green's ability to stay at the shortstop position. He committed a number of errors during his final season at USC and some scouts believe that at 6'3'', Green is perhaps too big to play the position effectively. Although Green is still raw in certain areas defensively, Lieppman sees the potential for Green to be a strong defensive shortstop.
"He's got really good hands, good agility. His whole understanding of how to play the position is right there. Now it is a matter of learning the professional game," Lieppman said.
"His focus in college was about offense. He was a little bit like Jemile Weeks at Miami. Their whole focus was on hitting. Defense came second. In Green's case, that may have been the same issue. We really focused in on that with Navarette."
Offensively, Green is already polished. Despite battling a sore wrist at the start of the season, Green still hit .374 with 19 doubles, five triples, four homeruns and 32 RBIs in a little more than 200 at-bats with USC. For his three-year career with the Trojans, Green hit .359 with a school-record 20 triples to go along with 48 doubles, 15 homeruns and 102 RBIs. He also stole 32 bases, 16 of those coming in 2009. Green really made his mark among scouting circles during the 2008 Cape Cod season when he hit .348 with six homeruns in 161 at-bats. He won the prestigious wood bat league's "Outstanding Pro Prospect" award for his efforts.
Green has a good sense of the strike-zone and he hits to all areas of the field effectively. He doesn't have big homerun power, but Green is capable of racking up a lot of doubles and triples thanks to his line-drive swing and above-average speed. He has always hit for high average and has the skill-set to be a profile number two hitter in the major leagues.
Green is a Southern California native and the A's had followed him extensively through his high school and collegiate days. A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota likened him to Hall-of-Famer Robin Yount when describing Green's skill-set, i.e., a tall, rangy shortstop with above-average athleticism and the ability to hit for average, some power and steal bases. Owens described Green as being able to "swing the bat as good as any player [the A's] have selected in the draft over the last 10 years."
"I think overall when you look at his tools and his actions, he is going to be a perfectly good shortstop [defensively]. He is going to hit for average with gap power and he is going to steal some bases for you. He is going to be a very good overall player," Baseball Prospectus' minor league expert Kevin Goldstein told OaklandClubhouse.com after the draft.
Despite getting less than 20 at-bats in 2009, Green is expected to start the 2010 season at the High-A level with the opportunity to move up to Double-A by mid-season if he is producing with Stockton. Green will be 22 throughout the 2010 season and given his polish and experience playing in a high-profile collegiate conference, he is expected to be moved aggressively by Oakland. He could reach the big leagues as soon as late 2011 and realistically could be challenging for the A's full-time shortstop job by the start of 2012.
2. Chris Carter
|Carter improved at first base in 2009. b>|
Coming into the 2009 season, there were a lot of split opinions on the future projections for Carter despite his 2008 campaign with Stockton that saw him finish second in the minor leagues in homeruns. Because he hit only .259 and struggled defensively, Carter was labeled as a one-tool player by many scouts. The A's believed that he was a better overall hitter than he showed in 2008, however, and they challenged him to use the whole field and swing for the fences less.
"I think the thing with Chris Carter is that he was a young player last year who was moving over into a new organization for the first time [in 2008]. He hit .291 in Low-A with the White Sox [in 2007], but he might have been putting too much pressure on himself his first season here [in 2008, when he hit .259]. He still hit for the power, but there were holes that developed in his swing and the average dropped. He sat down with Keith Lieppman and [A's Minor League Hitting Coordinator] Greg Sparks [after the season]. Chris really wanted to get back to being a good hitter again and not just a slugger. They made the necessary adjustments with him and he was able to take off," Owens said.
Carter responded to the challenges in a big way. In his first season at the Double-A level, he dominated the Texas League by hitting .337/.435/.576 in 490 at-bats (125 games). He was challenging for the league's Triple Crown before the A's promoted him to Triple-A for the final three weeks of the season. Carter showed improved maturity at the plate with the Rockhounds. In 2008, California League pitchers effectively stopped giving him good pitches to hit midway through the season. Carter often chased balls out of the strike-zone or tried to pull outside pitches as a result. With the Rockhounds in 2009 he did a much better job of taking what was being given to him, going the other way when pitchers stayed outside and taking his walks when pitchers weren't around the plate. Carter's disciplined approach at the plate slipped some when he was promoted to Triple-A, but he may have been pressing for a September call-up with the River Cats. He appeared to find himself during the River Cats' post-season run when he hit four homeruns and posted a .296/.387/.778 line in seven games.
"To have cut down on his strike-outs and improved his at-bats like he did is not an easy task in such a short period of time from last year until now. He is a much, much better hitter," Lieppman said.
"His quality of at-bats have improved and he doesn't give a lot of at-bats away. He has really improved mentally. His focus is a whole lot better on every pitch as opposed to letting some at-bats get away from him. He's locked in the majority of the time and that is a really big part of his success."
Carter is easily the best raw power prospect the A's have had in years. With Oakland starved for power in the line-up, many have called for Carter to get his shot in the big leagues as soon as Opening Day 2010. However, he could still use some work at the Triple-A level, especially on his defense. Carter has played a number of positions since joining the A's organization before the 2008 season. He has seen time at first base, third base, left field and right field. In 2008, Carter looked mostly lost at all of those positions, although he did show a strong arm in the outfield. The A's had Carter work primarily at first base in 2009 and he showed dramatic improvement at that position, leading Texas League first basemen in fielding percentage. Carter also saw some time in left field towards the end of the season, but first base is more likely his future full-time position.
"I think Carter eventually will reside at first base, but he has the capability to play in the outfield. It isn't a perfect position for him right now but he can take it out there and spell guys in the outfield," Lieppman said.
"I think that he will wind-up at first, but he is really working hard to improve his game there. His preparation and his focus from pitch-to-pitch. We are really looking for him to make the same adjustments defensively that he made going from a .250-.260 hitter to what he put up there this year."
Owens compared Carter's learning curve at first base to Barton's when he was coming up through the minor leagues. Barton was considered a below-average defensive first baseman throughout his minor league career, but at the major league level, he has developed into an asset with the glove.
"I think his athleticism is often unjustly maligned in certain aspects. Chris is a good athlete. He has good hands, can run a little bit and has a good arm. I sort of equate [people's perception of his defense] to Daric Barton when he was in the minor leagues. People were always maligning his defense in the minors, but I knew that Daric was a good athlete and that he was better than people were giving him credit for. When Daric got to the big leagues, he showed that he was a good defensive player. Chris is going to be the same way," Owens said.
Even if Carter doesn't improve defensively, his bat should more than justify his spot in an everyday major league line-up as a DH. It remains to be seen whether Carter can maintain a .300 batting average in the major leagues, but he is a legitimate threat to be a perennial 30+ homerun hitter, an increasingly rarer commodity in today's game. Carter has taken a little time to adjust to every level that he has played at. His worst months with Stockton were April and May and April was the only month with Midland that he posted an OPS below 900. Consequently, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Carter require an adjustment period when he gets to the big leagues. However, if the A's are patient with him, he should reward them with power numbers the team hasn't seen since Frank Thomas and Nick Swisher both had more than 30 homers in 2006. Carter will be 23 throughout the 2010 season.
Original 1. Brett Wallace: Traded to the
|Wallace will now ply his trade with Toronto. b>|
When we released our rankings in mid-November, Wallace topped the charts. The corner infielder came to the A's in a mid-season deal with the St. Louis Cardinals involving outfielder Matt Holliday. He was traded again in early December, this time to the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Michael Taylor, who conveniently slides into our rankings at the same number one position Wallace resided in.
During his brief time with the A's, Wallace was impressive. In 44 games with Triple-A Sacramento, he hit .302 with nine homers, 28 RBIs and an 870 OPS despite being one of the youngest players on the team (he didn't turn 23 until late August). In 138 games with Sacramento, Triple-A Memphis and Double-A Springfield, Wallace hit .293/.367/.455.
For the most part, there are very few questions about Wallace's abilities at the plate. He has an advanced approach to hitting and the ability to hit for power and drive-in runs. The biggest questions about Wallace surround his defense at third base, which has been described as a work-in-progress. When Wallace was in the A's organization, Oakland officials were adamant that he could handle the position. However, when he was traded, many saw the deal as an indication that the Oakland front office didn't really believe he could stay at third because the A's are thin at third base. It isn't clear whether Toronto plans to keep Wallace at third or move him to first.
Wallace has an usual build, as he carries most of his weight in his lower body. That, combined with an unusual running style, have made many dismiss Wallace as being unathletic. He certainly won't win any footraces, but Wallace is a better athlete than many give him credit for. He doesn't have tremendous range at third, but he has good hands and an average throwing arm. He has had little trouble handling first base when he has been asked to play there.
Wallace isn't even two years removed from being drafted in the first round by the Cardinals and he has already been traded twice, both times in high-profile trades. Regardless of what team he winds up playing with for the majority of his career, Wallace should have a long stretch in the big leagues. He will be 23 for most of the 2010 season.
Revised 1. Michael Taylor
|Taylor slides into the number one slot. b>|
In some ways, Taylor and Wallace are similar players. They are both products of Pac-10 college programs, with Taylor hailing from Stanford and Wallace hailing from Arizona State. Both are intelligent, middle-of-the-order hitters who project to hit 20+ homers, hit for average and be run-producers in the major leagues. And both have moved through the minor leagues at a steady clip. Wallace reached Triple-A midway through his first full season in the minors; Taylor reached Triple-A during the final third of his second full professional season.
It is there that the similarities between the two stop, however. While Wallace falls into the "we are not selling jeans" category of ballplayer (i.e, a ballplayer who doesn't necessarily look the part but produces the numbers), Taylor is the physical prototype for a slugging corner outfielder. He is built like an NFL tight end, standing 6'6'' and weighing 250 pounds. Taylor is an above-average athlete who swiped 21 bases in 2009 and can play all three positions in the outfield (although he is best-suited in the corners, more on that later).
Taylor's journey to minor league stardom was also a bit of a surprise. Wallace entered professional baseball with the hype that comes from being a top-15 pick. He was also a two-time Pac-10 player of the year and a two-time Pac-10 Triple Crown winner. Taylor, on the other hand, had an inconsistent career at Stanford and was a fifth round pick in 2007. At the time he was drafted, he was considered a raw prospect who didn't take full advantage of his pure athletic talents, whereas Wallace was considered a nearly finished product.
Taylor's "rawness" was exposed in 2007 during his professional debut season when he hit only .227 with a 665 OPS in 66 games for short-season Williamsport of the New York-Penn League. He dedicated himself to reworking his swing before the 2008 season and produced terrific results. In 132 games for Low-A Lakewood and High-A Clearwater, Taylor hit .346 with 19 homers, 88 RBIs and a 968 OPS. His time with Clearwater was particularly impressive, as he posted a 939 OPS in a league that is notoriously difficult on hitters.
In 2009, Taylor set out to prove that his 2008 breakthrough was no fluke and he did just that, tearing through Double-A before putting together a solid 30-game stint at Triple-A to close out the year. At Double-A Reading, he hit .333 with 15 homers, 65 RBIs and a 977 OPS in 86 games. He then hit .282 with five homers and an 850 OPS in 110 at-bats with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He missed some time with Lehigh Valley with a strained right oblique, but recovered in-time to rejoin Reading for the post-season. Taylor was named a Topps Double-A All-Star for his efforts this season.
Although some of his tools rate higher than others, Taylor is a five-tool athlete. He has hit for average throughout his career, has power, can run and has a strong throwing arm. When he was in college, he employed a very level swing (often referred to as the Stanford swing, as the Stanford coaching staff emphasizes it) that was effective at producing consistent contact, but didn't generate much loft for homeruns. Taylor has since tweaked his swing to generate more loft, but he still doesn't get the consistent rise on the ball that Carter does, although Taylor is capable of challenging Carter in a homerun distance contest. Taylor is not going to lead the league in walks, but he draws a decent number and his strike-out totals are relatively low for a middle-of-the-order hitter. His splits against lefties and righties have been roughly equal throughout his career.
Defensively, Taylor profiles more as a corner outfielder, even though he arguably has the speed to play center. He had 11 outfield assists last season and should have enough arm strength to play in right. He still needs to improve on his routes to the ball, especially in left field, but, for the most part, Taylor projects to be an adequate defensive outfielder, at the very least. He has always received high marks for his work ethic and his coachability.
At the time the A's acquired Taylor, the Oakland front office indicated that he would have every opportunity to win a spot on the team's Opening Day roster this spring. However, with the team's acquisition of Coco Crisp, the A's can afford to have Taylor spend some more time in Triple-A before calling on his services. Because of the oblique injury, Taylor only had 110 at-bats at Triple-A. He went to Mexico this winter to make-up for some of those lost at-bats, but had his winter league season cut short (65 at-bats) by a sore elbow. Given that and the fact that Taylor just turned 24 in December, the A's may prefer to have him spend at least the first six weeks of the season in Triple-A. Nonetheless, barring any major injuries or a surprising drop-off in his level of play, Taylor should make his major league debut in 2010.