* Note: These rankings were made prior to the 2010 season. Adjustments for 2010 performance will be made to the rankings during the off-season. Stats as of July 20, 2010
20. James Simmons
The A's top pick in 2007 zoomed to Triple-A by his second full professional season. After posting ERAs in the threes with Midland in 2007 and 2008, Simmons struggled to the tune of a 5.72 ERA with the Sacramento River Cats in 2009. He missed time in August with arm soreness and then struggled badly during his final few starts of the season. He was supposedly healthy by the fall and he threw 24 innings during the Arizona Fall League season, posting a 4.50 ERA with only 11 strike-outs.
Over the off-season, Simmons developed shoulder soreness and rehab and medical testing was unable to determine the cause of the problem. It never abated, however, and exploratory surgery was looking more and more likely as of two weeks ago. He isn't expected to pitch this season.
Status: Lost season
19. Anthony Capra
Capra put together a strong 2009 season, ripping through two levels of A-ball and leading all A's minor leaguers in strike-outs with 170 in 152 innings. It has been a steeper learning curve for Capra in 2010 in Double-A. Through Tuesday, his ERA was 4.14 and he had struck-out 81 in 87 innings. Most importantly, he had seen his walk total jump from 61 in 152 innings to 60 in 87 innings.
Capra has struggled with his command at times throughout his career, but it has been a particularly big problem this season. He has still been hard to hit, with a .233 BAA, and he has only allowed seven homeruns, so a drop in his walk rate should equate to an even quicker drop in his ERA. The jump to Double-A is the most difficult one in the minor leagues for pitchers and Capra is still learning to pitch at that level. He may need another half season there in 2011, much like Travis Banwart had this season.
Status: Learning to handle Double-A
18. Arnold Leon
Coming into this season, there was a lot of excitement surrounding Leon, who finished off the 2009 season on a hot streak and pitched extremely well during spring training. When camp broke, he was sent back to Midland, where he spent the 2009 season, and it was clear from the outset that he wasn't 100 percent healthy. In three appearances, he walked three, struck-out only one and allowed six hits and three runs in only 4.1 innings. He was sidelined with a sore right elbow and soon thereafter underwent Tommy John surgery. His rehab timetable could put him back on the field in May of next season, if things go smoothly. Luckily Leon won't turn 22 until September, so he will still have plenty of time for development when he returns to the field.
Status: Out for the year.
17. Ian Krol
There is arguably no other prospect in the A's system having a season as good as the 19-year-old Krol, who has been one of the top pitchers in the Midwest League only a year removed from high school. Krol, who signed an above-slot signing bonus for a seventh-round pick last season, pitched only a handful of professional innings in 2009, so the 2010 season has been his first extended taste of the pros. So far, so good. Through Tuesday, Krol was second in the Midwest League in ERA and first in WHIP with 2.26 and 0.92, respectively. His K:BB ratio was an impressive 71:16 and he had allowed only two homeruns.
Krol isn't overpowering and, despite being only 19, many scouts believe that he won't add a lot of velocity as he gets older because of his 6'1'' frame. He gets high marks, however, for his command, his ability to mix his pitches and his competitiveness on the mound. Dallas Braden has proven that those characteristics can lead to success at the big league level. Krol has thrown 95.2 innings, so he doesn't have many innings left before he reaches the innings limit the A's have imposed on him. Given that, there isn't much more that can be expected of Krol for the rest of this season. There doesn't need to be, as he has already exceeded all expectations for his first full pro campaign.
Status: On the rise
16. Eric Sogard
Sogard was the "other" player in the deal that brought Kevin Kouzmanoff to Oakland, but he is making a name for himself. After surviving a horrific April with Sacramento during which he hit only .234 with a 550 OPS, Sogard has raised his average to .306 and his OPS to 777 thanks to three straight solid months at the plate. Sogard has been particularly good in July, batting .344 with a 917 OPS. He came to the A's with a reputation for having a terrific eye at the plate and that has held true, as he has struck-out only 37 times and has walked 46 times in 92 games.
Sogard has spent most of his season at second base with the River Cats, although he has played a handful of games at third base. He has been steady in the field, although he isn't likely to win any Gold Gloves at second. Sogard handles the bat well and he has decent speed with good base-running instincts. He could give the A's another alternative to consider at second base next season if the team doesn't pick up Mark Ellis' option.
Status: Raising his profile
15. Pedro Figueroa
The hard-throwing Figueroa finally put it all together last season, posting a 13-6 record with a 3.38 ERA and 145 strike-outs in 152 innings for Kane County and Stockton, numbers that were commiserate with his significant talent. Figueroa was added to the A's 40-man roster during the off-season and he pitched well in his first major league spring training camp. Sent to Double-A Midland, Figueroa got off to a good start, posting a 3.27 ERA with 18 strike-outs in 22 innings in April. However, his performance fell off of a cliff in May and June, as he posted ERAs in the sixes in each month.
There was a very good reason for the slip in numbers. Figueroa was sidelined with an elbow injury in mid-June. He is likely done for the season and was being evaluated by doctors to see if he needed surgery.
Status: Likely out for the season
The 2009 season was a memorable one for Mortensen, who made his major league debut. It was also memorable in a negative way, as he was arrested for a DUI near the end of his season. Mortensen had mediocre numbers in 2009, posting a minor league ERA in the fours and a major league ERA in the sevens. He returned in 2010 determined to improve on those numbers and he has done just that. A PCL All-Star, Mortensen was tied for the league lead in wins with 10 through Monday. He struggled in his last outing, but before that, he had a streak of eight starts in which he pitched into the seventh inning or later and allowed three runs or fewer.
The biggest addition to Mortensen's repertoire this season has been a curveball, which has given him another weapon to go with his slider and his change-up. Mortensen looked much improved in his one major league start, as well. After allowing a two-run homer two batters into his start, Mortensen gave-up only one more earned run in six innings, striking out seven. The A's have as much young starting pitch depth as any team in baseball, but injuries can thin that depth quickly and Mortensen has put himself in a strong position to step-in if the A's need another starter.
Status: Solidifying his spot on the depth chart
13. Fautino De Los Santos
The past two seasons were mostly lost for De Los Santos, who had Tommy John surgery in early 2008 and missed virtually all of the 2009 season, as well. A former top starting pitching prospect, De Los Santos was moved to the bullpen this season and after a few weeks in extended spring training at the start of the year, the right-hander has been healthy and throwing well in his new short inning role. Although the ERA is mediocre at 3.99, De Los Santos has pitched better than that number for Stockton and Midland. He has struck-out an incredible 45 in 29.1 innings while walking only nine. He has also done a good job of inducing groundballs and has allowed only one homerun. Why the high ERA? Mostly bad luck, as he has given up only 28 hits.
Although De Los Santos won't be able to fill the role of top-of-the-rotation starter that the A's hoped he would when he was acquired in the Nick Swisher trade, De Los Santos could still fill an important role in the Oakland bullpen. Given that he is already 24 and is in his first option year, De Los Santos is likely to be on an aggressive track the rest of this season and next year. He could see some time in Sacramento by the end of this year and should be in the big leagues, health-permitting, at some point in 2011.
Status: Adjusting well to new role
12. Henry Rodriguez
Since he made his US debut in the Arizona Rookie League in 2006, Rodriguez has had tantalizing talent and maddening wildness. That wildness cost him a chance to stay in the starting rotation and, at times, threatened his future as a major league reliever. Rodriguez has made huge strides with his command this season, however, and he could be on the verge of a break-out at the big league level. The right-hander, who is regularly clocked in the 96-100 MPH range, has been outstanding for Sacramento all season. In 21.1 innings, he has a 1.69 ERA and 31 strike-outs. He has walked nine, which isn't a Greg Maddux-like number, but it is a big improvement for Rodriguez and a manageable walk total, especially when one considers that he has allowed only 10 hits. Rodriguez has pitched well in pressure situations, as well, saving a team-best 11 games for the River Cats despite spending chunks of time in Oakland and on the DL with a hamstring strain.
Rodriguez was recalled to Oakland on Monday and he should be given a decently long look this time around after making only four appearances in nearly three weeks of big league action earlier this year. He likely would have been a part of the A's bullpen earlier, but he missed much of June with a hamstring strain. With Michael Wuertz and Brad Ziegler not as sharp in 2010 as they were in 2009 and Craig Breslow entering the category of being over-worked, Rodriguez could cement a major role for himself in the A's bullpen if he can gain manager Bob Geren's confidence by limiting the walks. Rodriguez is in his last option year with the A's, so Oakland will want a solid evaluation of the youngster before the year is out.
Status: Getting his big league opportunity
11. Tyson Ross
Like Andrew Bailey last spring, Ross came out of nowhere to earn a spot in the A's Opening Day bullpen with a fantastic spring training. The A's 2008 second-round pick entered the spring with the expectations that he would get a few innings in big league camp and then be sent to Double-A Midland to start the season. Ross changed those plans when he kept putting zeros up on the board. When the A's realized that Joey Devine and Michael Wuertz were going to start the year on the DL, Ross became a good option for their bullpen. The rookie started off his major league career well, but he eventually began to struggle throwing strikes consistently and he saw his ERA balloon to 5.49 in 39.1 innings. He struck-out 32, but he walked 20.
The A's always insisted that Ross' role in the bullpen was a temporary one. A starter throughout his career, Ross has a starter's pitch-mix and the A's see him in a major league rotation down-the-road. The 6'6'' right-hander was finally sent back to Triple-A Sacramento in mid-July, where he has been inserted into the River Cats' rotation. He is still being stretched out and has allowed four runs in 5.2 innings with eight strike-outs and four walks. Depending on how the A's season fares, Ross could get a spot start or two in the big leagues in September. If he can get his strike-throwing rhythm back, Ross could compete with Vince Mazzaro, Clayton Mortensen and Josh Outman for the A's fifth starter spot next spring.
Status: Being stretched out in Triple-A after big league audition