Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 45-41

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 45-41.

For the entire 2013 Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects list, please click here.

45. Bruce Billings, RHP

Billings could be an option for the A's in 2013.

Acquired as part of the deal that sent Mark Ellis to the Colorado Rockies in 2011, Billings spent a short time on the A's 40-man roster in 2011 but has since been a non-roster player. Despite not being added to the roster for the past year-and-a-half, Billings has been a valuable pitcher at the Triple-A level and represents big league depth for the A's out of both the bullpen and in the rotation.

Exclusively a starter early in his career, Billings spent half of the 2010 season and virtually all of the 2011 campaign in the bullpen. The A's moved Billings back into the rotation in 2012 and he made a smooth transition back into that role. In 25 starts for the River Cats, the right-hander posted a 3.98 ERA, while striking out 117 and walking only 39 in 133.1 innings. Billings also had a 10-strike-out performance in the post-season for Sacramento.

According to 2012 River Cats' pitching coach (and current A's minor league pitching coordinator) Scott Emerson, Billings was able to utilize his entire four-pitch arsenal (fastball, curveball, slider and change-up) last season after being mostly a fastball-slider pitcher in 2011.

"He threw a lot of strikes and was able to go soft behind in the count to keep hitters off balance," Emerson said.

Billings has big league velocity, as his fastball sits mostly in the 91-94 MPH range. He also has a hard slider to compliment the softer curveball and change-up. He has been a flyball pitcher and was at times prone to allowing homeruns last season (he had a 1.01 HR/9 ratio). But Billings' solid command minimized the impact of those homeruns and he also benefited from a good defensive outfield in Sacramento.

Billings wasn't added to the A's 40-man roster in November, so he will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft later this week. Assuming he isn't selected by another team, Billings has a strong shot of being a non-roster invitee to the A's big league spring training camp. Oakland has a lot of starting pitching depth, but the organization has learned over the years that no matter how much pitching depth a team has, that depth will be tested during the season. If the A's experience a significant rash of injuries in the bullpen or the rotation, Billings will be a strong candidate for a call-up. He is 27 and will be eligible for minor league free agency next season if he isn't on the 40-man roster.

44. Graham Godfrey, RHP

Godfrey pitched through an injury late in the 2012 season.

Godfrey's rise from obscurity to the major leagues in 2011 was one of the better stories in the A's system that season. The right-hander was a Triple-A All-Star after going 14-3 with a 2.68 ERA in 107.1 innings. He was recalled to the big leagues for the first time and had a 3.96 ERA in 25 innings pitched for the A's. In his first big league spring training, Godfrey posted a 5.09 ERA in 17.2 innings but showed enough to make the A's Opening Day roster.

Things didn't go smoothly for Godfrey early in the year with the A's, however. His first start of the year was solid (two runs in six innings against Kansas City), but he allowed five runs (three earned) in five innings against Seattle in his next outing and then was sent back to Triple-A after walking five in five innings in a loss against Cleveland on April 20.

Once back with the River Cats, Godfrey resumed pitching as he had in 2011. In six starts in April and May for Sacramento, Godfrey posted an ERA under 1.25 and he struck-out 29 while walking five in 37.2 innings. Godfrey's command wavered in a late May start with Oakland, however, as he walked three and allowed four runs in three innings against the Angels. His last big league outing of the year would be a two inning relief appearance against the Yankees during which he allowed three runs (two earned) in two innings.

Godfrey pitched well against for Sacramento in June, but struggled in July, as he tried to pitch through a knee injury that limited him to only three starts. He returned in August, but made only five appearances (two starts and three relief appearances). He finished the season with a 3.29 ERA in 104 innings for the River Cats, but he found himself removed from the A's 40-man roster late in the season.

Unlike Billings, Godfrey doesn't have the raw velocity that most big league right-handers possess. Godfrey's fastball mostly sits in the 88-90 MPH range. He survives on pitching smarts, mixing his deep arsenal of pitches well to keep hitters off balance, and good command. His struggles have come when that command has wavered, according to Emerson.

"Godfrey has to stay consistent with his off speed for strikes," Emerson said. "He pitches well off his fastball and when he throws his off speed down for strikes he is tough."

Godfrey's 2012 season ended in frustration and disappointment, as he found himself off of the A's roster and working through the knee injury. Although he won't start the 2013 season on the A's roster, Godfrey, like Billings, will be one of the pitchers on the A's Triple-A staff who the A's will look to first if they have significant injuries at the major league level. Also like Billings, Godfrey will be a minor league free agent at the end of the 2013 season if he isn't on the 40-man roster at the end of the year.

43. Anthony Aliotti, 1B

Aliotti was Midland's most consistent hitter in 2012.

It's hard to gain notice as a first-baseman if you don't have 20+ homer power. However, with each passing season, Aliotti is making it harder to ignore him despite his lack of traditional power. The East Bay native and graduate of De La Salle High School and St. Mary's College has improved every season in the minor leagues and he put together his best campaign as a pro in 2012. In 123 games for Double-A Midland, Aliotti hit .292/.385/.426 with 10 homers and 76 RBI.

Throughout his minor league career, Aliotti has been behind only 2012 Rockhounds' teammate Conner Crumbliss in the A's organization in terms of his ability to take walks. In 2012, Aliotti drew fewer walks than normal (68 in 455 at-bats as opposed to 80 in 457 at-bats in 2011 and 92 in 478 at-bats in 2010), but he still managed to finish second behind Crumbliss amongst Midland regulars in on-base percentage. Aliotti also led Midland regulars in batting average, OPS, RBI and doubles, while finishing tied for third in homeruns.

Aliotti credited his successful season to a change in his approach. He looked to be more aggressive at the plate, swinging earlier in the count if he got a pitch that he could drive. That "selectively aggressive" approach is one that the A's coaching staff preaches to all of their hitters. To take his game to the next level offensively, however, Aliotti will need to reach the seats with more regularity. He will also need to cut down on his strike-outs. Aliotti struck-out in 24.5% of his at-bats in 2012. The left-hander could also improve against left-handed pitching. He had extreme L/R splits in 2012, posting an 868 OPS against righties and a 627 OPS against lefties.

Unlike most minor league first-baseman, Aliotti is not a defensive liability. In fact, he is one of the best defensive first-basemen in the A's organization. He has excellent hands and moves his feet well around the bag. Aliotti also has a strong throwing arm. In some ways, Aliotti's game right now plays similarly to Daric Barton's.

Although he has earned a promotion to Triple-A based on his 2012 performance with Midland, Aliotti may find himself back in Midland to start the 2013 campaign if the A's add any veteran first base depth via minor league free agency. He will turn 26 during the 2013 season, so Aliotti isn't young for his level. Still, if things break right for Aliotti and he gets a long look in Triple-A in 2013, he could draw some big league interest for the 2014 season.

42. Drew Granier, RHP

Granier led the Midwest League in strike-outs.

As a 32nd-round pick out of a small collegiate baseball program (Louisiana-Monroe), Granier didn't garner much attention after the 2011 draft. He was sent to Rookie Ball after the draft despite being 22, but he pitched his way out of Arizona by posting a 1.57 ERA and striking out 35 in 23 innings. Granier then made the jump to short-season Vermont, where he continued to excel (1.91 ERA) despite struggling with his command. He struck-out 34 in 28.1 innings and he walked 22.

During spring training, Granier pitched his way onto the Low-A Burlington Bees' starting rotation and he quickly established himself as one of the Midwest League's toughest pitchers. He went 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA in five April starts and never looked back. In 162.2 innings for the Bees, Granier posted a 3.21 ERA and he struck-out 167 while walking 53. He led the Midwest League in strike-outs and finished sixth in the league in ERA.

Granier credited his success in the Midwest League to his improved change-up, a pitch he was able to throw when he was behind in the count. The change-up gave Granier a true four-pitch arsenal – fastball, change-up, curveball and slider. By the end of the year, the change-up rivaled his slider as Granier's top secondary offering. Granier doesn't have plus velocity, as his fastball usually tops out at 92 MPH. But he has good fastball command and he mixes his pitches well.

As a late-round pick and a senior sign, Granier will need to continue to prove himself every year to remain on the prospect radar. However, he has endeared himself to the A's minor league coaching staff for his consistency and his reliability. He will tested in the hitter-friendly California League in 2013, but if he passes that test, Granier will continue to move up the ladder at a steady pace.

41. Josh Bowman, RHP

Bowman could be poised for a huge 2013 season.

Despite being the A's 10th-round pick in 2010, Bowman has maintained a relatively low profile since turning pro. That trend could change dramatically in 2013. After a red-hot second half of his 2012 season, Bowman seems poised for a significant breakthrough in 2013.

After spending the entire 2011 season at the Low-A level, Bowman spent all but the final week of the 2012 season with High-A Stockton. Bowman wasn't as high profile of a prospect as his Stockton rotation mates at the start of the season, but he finished the year with the best season of any starter on the Stockton staff. In 146.2 innings with the Ports, Bowman posted a 3.62 ERA with a 127:33 K:BB ratio. He would earn a late season promotion to Double-A and made one start for the Midland Rockhounds in August.

In 2011, Bowman struggled down-the-stretch for the Bees. The 2012 season was a completely different story, as he dominated for the Ports during the second half. His strike-out-to-walk ratio jumped from 2.5:1 to nearly 7:1. He finished the year with 3.91 strike-outs for every walk issued. Bowman also increased his groundball rate and improved his walks-per-nine-innings ratio. His ERA for the second half of the year with Stockton was 2.95.

Bowman has a solid fastball that he locates low in the strike-zone that he throws in the 89-93 MPH range. He also has a curveball and a change-up. But it was the addition of a cut-fastball in 2012 that helped take Bowman's game to another level. Bowman also improved his approach on the mound, pitching more aggressively in the strike-zone, challenging hitters to beat him instead of pitching to avoid contact.

Bowman, who will be 24 throughout the 2013 regular season, should begin the 2013 season where he ended the 2012 campaign: with Double-A Midland. Bowman's 2012 season drew comparisons to the 2011 campaign of Dan Straily, who was the A's breakout performer last season. If Bowman can come close Straily's 2012 production next year, he will zoom up the prospect charts.

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