Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 25-21

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, 25-21.

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

25. Andrew Carignan, RHP

Carignan's release point is hard for hitters to pick up.

Since injuring the flexor tendon in his elbow during the spring of 2009, Carignan has had to overcome a lot of obstacles on his way to the big leagues. The hard-throwing right-hander was on the verge of his major league debut during the spring of 2009 when he was injured. He rehabbed the injury, but it cost him most of the 2009 season. In 2010, he was still not 100% healthy and, when he was on the mound, he had to rebuild his mechanics, which got out of whack while he was on the shelf.

The 2011 season was a breakthrough for Carignan. He missed the first few months of the season recovering from a stress fracture in his foot. However, with his arm finally healthy and his mechanics back on track, the right-hander dominated at three minor league levels once the foot healed and reached the big leagues by the end of the year. He made the A's 2012 Opening Day roster after a solid spring that saw Carignan make seven appearances without walking a batter.

Once the regular season began, however, Carignan started to struggle with his command in big league games. He took the loss in the A's Game One extra-inning defeat in Japan and walked five in four April appearances for the A's. Three of those walks came in a one-inning outing against the Angels. Carignan was sent back to Triple-A after that appearance.

Once back with Sacramento, he found his rhythm quickly. In 13.1 innings spread over two stints with the River Cats (he had a short recall to Oakland in early May), Carignan walked only one while striking out 21. At the end of May, Carignan returned to Oakland and he appeared to be finally getting comfortable pitching in the big leagues. Unfortunately, the injury bug bit him again on June 5, as Carignan had to leave his appearance against the Texas Rangers with elbow pain. He would undergo Tommy John surgery not long after that appearance and would miss the rest of the year.

Carignan's rehab has progressed normally thus far and he should be throwing on a limited basis during spring training. If there aren't any major set-backs, he could return to the mound in a regular season game sometime in May. The A's designated Carignan off of the 40-man roster this off-season, but he shouldn't have a problem getting back on the roster if he is healthy and throwing like he did in 2011 and with Sacramento in 2012.

When healthy, Carignan presents all sorts of problems for hitters because of his deceptive delivery. He hides the ball extremely well, making his mid-90s fastball and sharp breaking ball even more difficult for batters to pick up. He will likely never be known for his command, but he gets so many swings-and-misses that as long as his walk rate isn't through the roof, he is effective. In 2008, he walked 44 in 62.2 innings for High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland, but he struck-out 84, allowed only 41 hits and four homeruns and posted a 2.01 ERA. In 2011, Carignan had 12 walks in 39 minor league innings, but he struck-out 46 and allowed just 25 hits and two homeruns.

The A's have a deep bullpen, but they have always liked what Carignan brings when he is healthy. If he can make a full recovery from Tommy John, he should get another shot with Oakland in 2013 or 2014.

24. Conner Crumbliss, OF/2B

Crumbliss offers versatility defensively.

In a system that places a high value on hitters who work the count and take consistently quality at-bats, Crumbliss stands out. The 5'8'' utilityman doesn't intimidate pitchers when he steps in the box, but he often has them cursing after the game. Crumbliss sees more pitches that nearly anyone in minor league baseball and he often parlays those efforts into a trip to first base. Since being drafted in 2009, Crumbliss has drawn more walks than any hitter in the minor leagues.

In 2012, Crumbliss was particularly adept at earning walks. He led all of minor league baseball with 120 free passes. There wasn't one other player in the minor leagues who reached triple digits in that category. His on-base percentage in his first year at the Double-A level was .414, good for second in the Texas League.

While Crumbliss' top tool is his ability to reach base safely, it isn't his only skill. He has above-average speed and good baseball instincts and has stolen 24 bases in each of the past three seasons. Crumbliss has also added a little more power to his game each year he has played professionally. In 2012, he reached double-digits for the first time in homeruns when he hit 10 with Midland, and his .391 SLG and 805 OPS were both career-highs for Crumbliss in a full-season league.

Defensively, Crumbliss offers some versatility. He can play all three outfield positions, and he spent most of the 2012 season in the outfield. However, his natural position is second base. His arm isn't strong enough to play shortstop or third base, however, which limits his role as a utility player somewhat.

Crumbliss doesn't have the pure speed to be an everyday centerfielder or the power to be an everyday corner outfielder, so his best shot to be an everyday major leaguer is probably at second base. The A's haven't played Crumbliss at second base as much lately, however. Ultimately, Crumbliss profiles best in the big leagues as a bench player – someone who can come in late in games and give his team a quality at-bat and a good runner on the bases.

The A's have a bit of a crowd in both their infield and outfield at the Triple-A level right now, but if a few things break Crumbliss' way, he should start the year with Sacramento. Crumbliss will turn 26 next April.

23. Jermaine Mitchell, OF

Mitchell will be with Philadelphia this spring.

Mitchell was added to the A's 40-man roster last off-season after he hit .332/.430/.530 in 130 games at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. The centerfielder reached double-digits in doubles, triples, homeruns and stolen bases and he walked 93 times. He shared the organization's Minor League Player of the Year award with Michael Choice in 2011.

Mitchell's 2011 campaign ended on a down note, however, when he underwent knee surgery and it was discovered that the damage was greater than was previously anticipated. Mitchell would have micro-fracture surgery. That surgery put him on a somewhat limited schedule during spring training and took him out of the running for a spot on the A's Opening Day roster. It would also impact him throughout the 2012 regular season with Triple-A Sacramento.

Although Mitchell avoided the disabled list in 2012, he was given plenty of off-days throughout the year to keep the wear and tear off of his knee. He would finish with 108 games played, the fewest games played by Mitchell in a full season in his minor league career.

Whether it was the scheduled days off or lingering discomfort with the knee, Mitchell never looked 100% comfortable in 2012. He finished with a .252/.345/.386 line for Sacramento. Mitchell managed double-digits in doubles, triples and stolen bases, but fell short in the homerun category (six). His K:BB ratio also fell from 112:93 in 2011 to 104:54 in 2012.

The A's had a lot of outfield depth at the major league and Triple-A levels in 2012, so Mitchell never received a call-up. He was designated for assignment in late November and has signed a minor league free agent deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Mitchell will have an invitation to the Phillies' big league spring training camp.

Mitchell's minor league career has been filled with ups and downs, but no one has doubted his talents. When he is healthy and swinging the bat well, he is a dynamic force in the box. Mitchell has a good sense of the strike-zone, the ability to use all fields, gap power and above-average speed. Defensively, he covers a lot of ground in centerfield and has an average throwing arm.

The Texas native turned 28 in November, so his window of opportunity to establish himself as a big leaguer is nearing an end. He would appear to be entering a good situation in Philadelphia, as the Phillies are currently thin in the outfield (although that could change by the end of spring training). If Mitchell's knee is back to 100%, he should be given a long look this spring and a start like he had in 2011 could earn him a look with the Phillies in 2013.

22. Bruce Maxwell, C

Maxwell has an excellent eye at the plate.

Maxwell was the A's second-round pick in 2012 and their fourth pick overall (Oakland had one first-round pick and two supplemental first-round selections). The catcher hailed from a small baseball program (Birmingham Southern College), but his collegiate numbers were hard to ignore. The left-handed hitter blasted homeruns (15) more frequently than he struck-out (12) and he walked 59 times.

Although Maxwell was far from a household name heading into the draft, he had drawn notice from scouts for his plate discipline and power potential. Former scout and current Perfect Game analyst Frankie Piliere thought the A's did well to be able grab Maxwell in the second round.

"[T]here were a lot of teams on this guy pretty high thinking that he was going to be a plate-discipline type power bat at the next level despite him facing pretty low-level competition," Piliere said right after the draft. "There were a lot of teams on him. There were scouting directors in to see him late. I think the A's might have gotten a steal there because a lot of teams were thinking of picking him right around that range."

After signing, Maxwell got his feet wet in the Arizona Rookie League. In six games in the AZL, Maxwell had 11 hits and five walks in 21 at-bats. He also doubled four times. The A's then sent Maxwell to the New York-Penn League, where he spent the rest of the season with the Vermont Lake Monsters. The road was a little rougher with the Lake Monsters, as Maxwell posted a .254/.329/.316 line in 228 at-bats. He had only 14 extra-base hits with Vermont and none of them left the park.

Despite his lack of power in his first taste of pro ball, Maxwell still profiles as a power hitter down-the-road. A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson liked what he saw from Maxwell in terms of his plate discipline and approach to his at-bats and believes the homeruns will come in time.

"It's not a concern for me at all. The tool is there," Steverson said. "If you swing at strikes, with the strength and ability that he has, the homeruns will come. If you start trying to hit homeruns, you'll probably start seeing a donut hole or two or three.

"Just having a solid approach and the good pitch recognition that he has now, should allow him in the pro game to hit more homeruns. All in all, as with most organizations, we want guys to learn to be a hitter first. If someone hits homeruns, that's great. But the game is tailored around good, solid hitters who consistently have quality at-bats."

Maxwell is relatively new to catching, having been moved from first base to catcher after his freshman year of college. He has worked hard to improve at the position and the A's have liked what they have seen from him in terms of his athleticism behind the plate, his arm strength and his ability to work with pitchers. He is still working on his footwork and on some of the nuances of the position.

"We think he has the physical necessities to be a catcher," A's Director of Scouting Eric Kubota said after the draft. "He can really throw and he's got enough athleticism. We think with professional instruction, he's got a chance to be a very good catcher."

Although Maxwell was a high-round collegiate draft pick, he is likely to start his first full professional season at the Low-A level with the Beloit Snappers. He is still adjusting to the high level of competition after playing at a smaller collegiate program and playing at the Low-A level will also allow Maxwell to continue to grow defensively. He will be 22 throughout the 2013 season.

21. David Freitas, C

Freitas was acquired for Suzuki.

In 2012, incumbent A's starting catcher Kurt Suzuki lost his job to rookie Derek Norris. Norris showed promise during his rookie campaign but still left plenty of room for improvement. If those improvements don't start to show in 2013, Norris could be pushed for playing time by Freitas, a catcher with a very similar background to Norris.

Norris was the Washington Nationals' fourth-round pick out of high school in 2007. Freitas was also drafted by Washington, but in the 15th-round out of the University of Hawaii in 2010. Like Norris, once Freitas signed with the Nationals, he made a steady path up the Nats' organizational ladder. Also like Norris, Freitas began his professional career with short-season Vermont (which was a Washington affiliate and is now the A's short-season squad). Freitas gained notice by posting an 857 OPS with the Lake Monsters and putting up a 47:34 K:BB ratio in 62 games.

Freitas would move up to Low-A Hagerstown in 2011 and he continued to show patience at the plate, as well as some power. He walked 82 times (against 87 strike-outs) and posted a .288/.409/.450 line with 13 homers in 123 games. He was a Sally League mid-season All-Star that year.

In 2012, Freitas was bumped up a level to High-A Potomac of the Carolina League. Although his numbers dipped from his Low-A levels (.271/.374/.407; it should be noted that the Carolina League is a pitcher's league), Freitas still drew the attention of A's scouts. When the A's engaged in trade discussions with the Nationals for Suzuki, Oakland requested Freitas in return. They then pushed Freitas up to Double-A, where he finished the season on a strong note. In 20 games for Midland, Freitas hit .333/.392/.524.

While Freitas hasn't yet shown as much power as Norris did during his minor league career, Freitas has demonstrated the same ability to get on-base and Freitas has also hit for higher average throughout his career. Freitas has an excellent feel for the strike-zone and good bat control. In 98 games in 2012, he struck-out only 67 times (with 45 walks).

A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson got to spend time working with Freitas during the A's fall Instructional League.

"In terms of his offense, he has some pop in his bat. He knows how to use the whole field," Steverson said. "It's a matter of him being able to put it all together also in terms of his effort level and approach."

Behind the plate, Freitas has the tools to be a solid defensive catcher. He has a strong arm and solid footwork. He has a big frame (6'3'', 230 pounds), however, and if he gets bigger, he could lose mobility behind the plate. Freitas was a pitcher and a first baseman in high school, so he is relatively new to the position.

Freitas will turn 24 just before the start of the 2013 regular season. He will be in a good position to move up to Triple-A despite only playing a short time at Double-A because the A's don't have a lot of experienced catchers in the higher levels of their organization. With Norris and Josh Donaldson graduated to the big leagues and Anthony Recker traded, the A's are without the three catchers who have seen the most time behind the plate for Sacramento the past two years. They have signed veteran Luke Montz (ironically another former Nationals' farmhand) to a minor league free agent contract and have selected veteran Steven Hill in the minor league Rule 5 draft. However, both Montz and Hill are more offensive-minded catchers who have played a lot of first base, so there could be room for Freitas in Sacramento if he has a good spring.

With Max Stassi and Beau Taylor likely to get the bulk of the at-bats at catcher for Midland in 2013, it would make sense for the A's to look to try to have Freitas on the River Cats' roster, getting at-bats at that level.

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