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10. Max Stassi, C
|Stassi improved at the plate with the Ports.|
The first thing major league teams look for in a catcher is his ability to handle the pitching staff and keep balls in front of him behind the plate. If a catcher can hit, it is a pleasant bonus. It is for those reasons that Stassi has the chance to be a very valuable player in the major leagues. Already a standout defensive player, Stassi is starting to show promise at the plate, as well.
The 2012 season was a "take two" for Stassi with the High-A Stockton Ports. He was slated to spend the 2011 season with the Ports, but he developed soreness in his right shoulder at the end of spring training. He began the year as the Ports' DH with the hope that rehab would correct the shoulder issue, but when it became apparent that the shoulder wasn't improving with rehab, he had surgery in early May.
The surgery cost Stassi the majority of the 2011 season and he was still on a limited throwing program during the fall Instructional League camp. By spring 2012, his shoulder strength was improved, however. For the most part, Stassi was able to play without restrictions from the shoulder. Unfortunately, he wouldn't have a completely healthy season. Stassi missed three weeks in April/early May with a lower leg injury and then missed the final three weeks of the season with a strained oblique.
In between those injuries, Stassi had a productive season. Although limited to only 66 games behind the plate (he was the DH 18 times), Stassi played well defensively. He threw out only 24% of attempted base-stealers, but his throwing improved as the season went on and the strength returned to his throwing shoulder. Offensively, Stassi posted a .268/.331/.468 line with 15 homers in 314 at-bats.
Stassi's offensive numbers were a big improvement over his last full season with Low-A Kane County in 2010. That year, he hit only .229/.310/.380 with 141 strike-outs in 110 games (411 at-bats). Strike-outs were still an issue for Stassi in 2012 (he struck-out 83 times), but his K-rate went from 30.3% to 23.1%. His walk rate dipped some, but that was likely a result of looking for pitches to hit early in the count rather than looking for walks and getting himself into bad hitter's counts.
To make up for some of the at-bats he lost due to injury, Stassi was sent to the Arizona Fall League. He started off hot at the plate, but faded late in the season to finish with a .271/.314/.396 line. Still, the AFL at-bats got him to close to 400 for the year, and should put him in a good position to play a full season in 2013, health-permitting.
Stassi made a strong impression on the coaching staff of his AFL team, the Phoenix Desert Dogs. A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman spoke with the Desert Dogs' coaching staff about Stassi:
"They think for a young guy, he's one of the most mature players, especially behind the plate, that they've seen in awhile," Lieppman said. "As we knew, he takes care of the pitching staff and has a good sense of the overall game."
Despite all of the time Stassi has missed due to injury, he has still managed to stay young for his level. He was 21 throughout the 2012 season and won't turn 22 until early March. He has benefited from past spring trainings in A's big league camp and has all of the tools to be an above-average defensive catcher in the major leagues.
Offensively, Stassi has above-average power for a backstop. He still needs to continue to work on his pitch recognition and on trying to get into more hitter's counts. He probably won't hit for high average as a big leaguer, but if he can slug .430 or better, the A's will be happy given Stassi's defensive skills.
Stassi is likely to start the 2013 campaign with Double-A Midland, where he will probably split time with fellow prospect Beau Taylor. Stassi has been a catcher exclusively since turning pro, but the A's may give him some time at first base this season to increase his versatility and get his bat in the line-up with Taylor's more frequently. The A's like rookie catcher Derek Norris, but Stassi could be challenging Norris for playing time as soon as mid-season 2014.
9. Daniel Robertson, 3B
|Robertson has an advanced approach for his age.|
Robertson was the A's second overall pick in the 2012 draft (34th overall). The Southern California native was a standout infielder in high school and was considered one of the more polished high school bats in the draft. Robertson signed with the A's soon after draft day and he lived up to those pre-draft expectations in his first pro season.
After signing, the Upland, California, native was sent to the A's Arizona Rookie League team. He would get 101 at-bats with the AZL A's and was a force to be reckoned with in that line-up. He hit .297/.405/.554 with 16 walks against 15 strike-outs before earning a promotion to short-season Vermont. Robertson's numbers fell off precipitously with the Lake Monsters (.181/.238/.234 in 94 at-bats), but the Vermont coaching staff felt that his at-bats were much better than those numbers would reflect.
Vermont manager Rick Magnante had some impressive comps for the young third baseman.
"I would liken him to a somewhere between a [Will] Middlebrooks and David Wright type of player," Magnante said during the season.
Vermont hitting coach Casey Myers raved about the way Robertson carried himself while with the Lake Monsters.
"We talk about ball players, he's another prime example of a ballplayer who is good in the field," Myers said during the season. "He's got a good swing and as a young kid, he handles himself well at this level."
A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson believes Robertson just needs more experience for him to replicate the success he had in the Arizona League at the higher levels.
"His approach is very refined and he has a nice approach for a younger 18-year-old. It's just a matter of him getting more at-bats," Steverson said during the season.
"Just because his batting average isn't .300, doesn't mean that he isn't taking quality at-bats. I think that is what some people need to realize. You can stare at the numbers, but there is no number that will show you how quality those at-bats were."
Robertson has a smooth right-handed swing and is able to cover both sides of the plate. He uses the whole field and has pop in his bat that should develop into double-digit homerun power as he matures. He runs well and has a good understanding of the fundamentals of the game. Defensively, Robertson spent time in high school at both shortstop and third base, but the A's envision him as a third baseman long-term. They like his arm strength and his ability to make quick reads on hard-hit balls.
Robertson won't turn 19 until the week before the start of the 2013 season. However, given his baseball IQ and his advanced approach at the plate, Robertson is likely to spend the majority of the 2013 season at the full-season Low-A level with the Beloit Snappers.
8. Miles Head, 3B
|Head dominated the California League.|
The A's deal with the Boston Red Sox before the 2012 season may be the gift that keeps on giving for Oakland for several years. Not only do the A's have five more years of control over 2012 Gold Glove winner Josh Reddick, but they also have Head and right-hander Raul Alcantara making their way up the organizational ladder. While Alcantara may be several years away from being big league ready, Head could be in the conversation for a big league spot as soon as next year.
Head, who turned 21 during the 2012 season, dominated the California League despite being one of the youngest position players in the league. The third baseman hit .382/.433/.715 in a standout first-half with the Stockton Ports that saw him in a position to win that league's Triple Crown if he had stayed with Stockton the entire season. He didn't get an opportunity to chase that honor, however, as the A's moved Head up to Double-A after the Cal League All-Star Game.
Playing against competition often three to four years older than him, Head got off to a slow start with the Midland Rockhounds. However, despite missing time with a concussion thanks to beaning, Head finished his time with Midland on an up note. His overall numbers with Midland were .272/.338/.404 and his combined totals for the season were .333/.391/.577 in 480 at-bats. He was the organization's minor league player of the year.
The A's had hoped that Head would be able to continue to develop against higher level competition this fall at the Arizona Fall League, but he separated his shoulder during a check-swing in his first game and missed the rest of the AFL season. The shoulder injury isn't expected to impact Head beyond this off-season.
Head doesn't have the classic build of a corner infielder or a classic swing. But according to A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson, Head does an excellent job of making solid contact on hittable pitches.
"He isn't a cookie cutter-type hitter, where you can say, ‘hit like Miles.' You aren't going to emulate him, if you were on the other side, in terms of his stance or anything," Steverson said. "But if you were to emulate one thing, it would be the fact that he has been able to square up strikes and swing at strikes.
"If you consistently swing at strikes over the course of the year, and he's a talented young man, you are going to get your fair share of hits."
Head is an aggressive hitter. He walked only 39 times in 124 games. His strike-out rate jumped to a gaudy 32.2% with Midland as he was adjusting to the new level of pitching, but it was 18.8% while he was with Stockton. Head may be a player who needs a month or two in a league to get comfortable. He had a similar 2011 season in the Red Sox's chain when he dominated at the Low-A level but struggled initially after the jump to High-A.
The Red Sox saw Head as a first baseman and had him play there almost exclusively. The A's believe Head can be a third baseman, although the jury is still out after he spent the 2012 season at the hot corner. The A's like Head's hands and his arm strength, but he struggled at times to make reads on balls hit at him. Head's value as a player will be much higher if he can stick at third base, however, so the A's are likely to keep him there until a time comes that he has demonstrated that he definitively can't play the position.
Head has hit more than 20 homeruns in each of his past two seasons and he profiles as a hitter who can hit for average and for power. He will turn 22 during the 2013 season, and he is likely to start at the Double-A level. If history repeats itself for a third straight season, Head should earn a spot with Triple-A Sacramento before the end of the year.
7. Brad Peacock, RHP
|Peacock struggled with mechanics early in the season.|
Peacock's first season as part of the A's organization was a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. The good: Peacock finished his season pitching well, he struck-out more than a batter per inning, and he won 12 games. The bad: he walked 66 batters and allowed 16 homers in 134.2 innings pitched. The ugly: he had a 6.01 ERA and was struck on his pitching elbow with a line-drive in his second-to-last outing of the season. He would allow seven runs in 1.2 innings in the outing following the injury.
Despite the mixed bag results, the A's were happy with Peacock's progression at the end of the season.
"I feel good about Brad," A's Assistant GM David Forst said at the end of the season. "You look at Brad's numbers over the course of the season and they're not pretty. A six-ERA isn't probably what anybody had in mind. But he did find a way to win 12 games. He did still strike-out more than a batter an inning and really other than his last start after coming back from the elbow injury, finished up on a positive note.
"I think as an organization we are happy with the way that Brad was going towards the end of the year."
Peacock was one of four prospects the A's received from the Washington Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez deal. The right-hander was coming off of a breakthrough 2011 campaign that saw him go 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA and 177:47 K:BB in 146.2 innings at the Double-A and Triple-A levels and then go on to make his major league debut in September. Many thought Peacock would play a significant role for the A's in 2012. While two of the other prospects acquired in that deal did play major roles for Oakland (Tom Milone and Derek Norris), Peacock remained in Triple-A all season.
Peacock's season isn't as bad as it looks on the surface. His FIP was actually 4.26 and his peripherals with Triple-A Sacramento were almost identical to the ones he posted in nine starts with Triple-A Syracuse in 2011. In fact, Peacock's K/9 and BB/9 rates were slightly better with Sacramento. The one area that Peacock was significantly worse in between Sacramento and Syracuse was BABIP (it was .248 with Syracuse and .340 with Sacramento), a reflection of the more hitter-friendly nature of the Pacific Coast League and, perhaps, of a porous Sacramento defense.
Peacock did have to make several adjustments during the season and those around the team noted that his stuff looked considerably better during the second half of the season than it did in the first half. The A's attempted to make some mechanical adjustments with Peacock early in the year and he struggled to incorporate those changes.
"Peacock had more command issues and wasn't able to locate as well as he wanted to," A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said during the season. "In his defense, we tried to do a lot of mechanical changes with him. He was focused on making adjustments with his delivery and that may have taken him away from what he was trying to do on the field. Once he got beyond the mechanical part, he's been free and easy."
Peacock's bread-and-butter pitches are his fastball that sits in the 92-95 MPH range and his knuckle-curveball that he throws in the mid-70s. His change-up was a work-in-progress when he came to the A's and he made improvements with the pitch as the season wore on. Peacock also experimented with a cut-fastball.
While Peacock was struggling in Sacramento, fellow A's pitching prospects Jarrod Parker, Milone and A.J. Griffin were establishing themselves as part of Oakland's starting rotation. In addition, Dan Straily emerged as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and it was Straily who got the call late in the season when the A's needed additional reinforcements for their rotation.
Oakland's rotation will be crowded at the start of the season (if everyone is healthy, Straily may start the year in Triple-A while Parker, Milone, Griffin, Brett Anderson and Bartolo Colon make up the rotation). However, there is an old saying that a team is only as deep as its latest injury. If Peacock can pick up where he left off before being struck on the elbow, he has a strong chance of playing a role for Oakland in 2013.
6. Grant Green, 2B/OF
|Where will Green settle in defensively?|
It has been a strange last two seasons for Green. The A's top pick in 2009 was moved from the only position he had ever played (shortstop) midway through the 2011 season. The move to centerfield was supposed to speed Green's path to the big leagues, but when the A's acquired several big league outfielders before the 2012 season, that path became obscured.
Green spent much of the first half of 2012 in the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats' outfield. However, in mid-June, the A's started giving Green looks back in the infield. At first, he mostly saw time at third and at short. However, by the end of the year, he was getting the majority of his playing time at second base. Before the 2012 season, Green had virtually no experience at second or third. During the off-season, Green participated in his third straight Arizona Fall League, and he was a second baseman exclusively during that season.
Through all of that, Green maintained a positive outlook and continued to work hard in the cages and on the field. He posted solid numbers at the plate in his first season at the Triple-A level, putting up a .296/.338/.458 line in 524 at-bats. Almost all of those numbers were an improvement over his 2011 campaign with Double-A Midland, when he hit .291/.343/.408 in 530 at-bats. Green hit six more homeruns with Sacramento and became more of a contact hitter. With the Rockhounds, he struck-out 119 times for a 20.3% K-rate. With Sacramento, he cut that number down to 75 (a 13.3% K-rate).
Talent evaluators have always raved about Green's natural hitting ability, but some were worried after his 2011 season that he wasn't developing enough power. While Green is far from a pure power threat, he improved his ability to drive pitches out of the park in 2012. He has always been an aggressive hitter, but Green was able to get himself into more hitter's counts in 2012, setting up more favorable results.
Green has a smooth and easy swing and he has always been able to hit for average wherever he has played. He uses the whole field well and generates plenty of line-drives. Green has yet to fill out his frame and some added muscle could increase his ability to hit for power. He has average speed and doesn't project to be much of a base-stealing threat.
Defensively, Green and the A's are still looking for the perfect fit. The organization was encouraged with what they saw from Green at second base during his time with the River Cats, but he struggled at the position at times during the fall league. At 6'3'', Green is taller than most second basemen and it will take him some time to figure out the different angles and footwork that comes with playing on the right-side of the infield.
It isn't often that a top prospect is asked to become, in essence, a utility player, but that is the path that Green has been on since midway through the 2011 season. He is now able to play every position on the diamond, except first base and catcher. Long-term, it would be better for his career if Green were able to emerge as a solid defensive player at one of those positions and stay there. However, in the short-term, this versatility may work to Green's advantage in terms of making the A's 25-man roster in 2013. He was added to the A's 40-man roster in November and will likely compete for at least a bench role with the A's this spring.