Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 50-46

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 begin the series with a review of prospects 50-46.

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

50. Stephen Parker, 3B

Parker struggled in his first season at the Triple-A level.

The 2012 season was undoubtedly a disappointing one for Parker. The BYU has moved steadily up the A's system since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2009. Parker posted a 900 OPS for High-A Stockton in 2010 and while that number dipped to 786 for Double-A Midland in 2011, there was still a lot to like about Parker's 2011 season, as he hit .286, posted a .373 OBP and finished the season on a hot streak.

Parker began 2012 as the Sacramento River Cats' everyday third baseman, and he got off to a fast start, batting .292 with an 838 OPS in April. However, he hit a rough spot in May and was bypassed for promotion when the A's sent down Josh Donaldson to Triple-A in late May. Parker would share time with Donaldson at third until Donaldson was recalled to Oakland in August. Parker would swing the bat well in June (.306/.359/.528) but he struggled badly in July and August and finished with a pedestrian .256/.327/.390 line in 99 games.

That batting line was by far Parker's worst in his three full seasons as a pro. His power was down from his previous two seasons and, most disturbingly, his K% jumped nearly six percentage points from his 2011 season and his BB% fell more than three percentage points from 2011. Defensively, Parker still struggled with the routine play at times.

A's minor league hitting coordinator Todd Steverson believed that Parker's struggles offensively with Sacramento stemmed from adjusting to a league that favors off-speed pitches over fastballs.

"It is quite an adjustment really if you go from the Texas League to the PCL," Steverson said in mid-July. "The PCL, I wouldn't say that it is the most fastball-oriented league. Meaning by that, there are a lot of guys in this league that are more savvy, kind of crafty pitchers than they are just velocity guys. For that level of it, you have to start to really hunker down on how to understand how to hit more off-speed pitches in hitter's counts.

"When you come from a league where guys use their fastballs a lot and you have to adjust to a lot more off-speed pitches more consistently, it does become a lot of adjusting. That is the rough part because when you get to the big leagues, they are going to put their fastballs on the table."

Parker's poor season couldn't have come at a worse time for him from an organizational depth chart perspective, as Donaldson emerged as a strong candidate to be the A's everyday third baseman with his late season effort for Oakland. However, it is still early to write off Parker's future with the A's completely. Until 2012, Parker had always been one of the A's most professional minor league hitters in terms of approach. He used the whole field well, was selective at the plate and was able to handle left-handed pitching as well as right-handers. He turned 25 in early September and is younger than top prospect Grant Green. While Donaldson and a returning Scott Sizemore give the A's two solid options for third base in 2013, there is no guarantee that either player is a long-term solution for Oakland at the position. If Parker can get back to the approach that worked for him so well in 2010 and 2011, he could re-assert himself as a top prospect, much the same way Donaldson did in 2012.

49. Jose Torres, LHP

Torres had a strong first season in the States.

Torres, who turned 19 in September, was the youngest pitcher to suit up for an A's affiliate in the United States this season. The left-hander more than held his own in his first season in the US. The native of Venezuela finished second amongst AZL A's pitchers with 52 innings pitched and posted a 4.33 ERA, second-best amongst AZL A's starting pitchers.

Torres' K:BB ratio was a mediocre 41:29, but it improved as the season progressed. Over his final eight starts of the season, he walked more than two only twice and he struck-out 31 in 37.2 innings. Torres allowed only two homeruns and posted a 1.40 groundout-to-flyout ratio.

"Jose Torres was crafty. He had a decent fastball," AZL A's pitching coach Jimmy Escalante said. "He wasn't throwing a ton of strikes at that time, so he kind of pitched crafty. We were working so much on his delivery this year – he had a little jump in it. It wasn't smooth and he wasn't getting his foot down on time. It wasn't allowing him to get ahead of hitters, so he fell behind a lot.

"I know that he walked quite a bit, but what was funny about him was that when he walked a guy, it seemed like he'd always get a double-play."

At 6'2'', 165, Torres is still growing into his frame and he will likely continue to add velocity to his high-80s, occasional low-90s fastball as he matures physically. He has already flashed solid fastball command and a good change-up. Torres will continue to develop his breaking ball in 2013. Whether he stays in Arizona for the 2013 season or jumps to short-season Vermont will likely depend on how quickly that breaking ball comes around.

48. Josh Whitaker, OF/1B

A late-season injury dragged down Whitaker's overall numbers.

Whitaker came out of nowhere in 2011 to put his name on the prospect map when he posted a 957 OPS for Low-A Burlington in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. Whitaker's numbers dipped with High-A Stockton in 2012, but he still was one of the Ports' top hitters and a late-season ankle injury dragged down his overall batting line.

The A's 2010 25th-round pick posted a .259/.325/.472 line in 99 games with the Ports in 2012. He got off to a slow start with Stockton as he had to make the adjustment to the California League. At the start of the year, Whitaker's swings-and-misses were way up, as his plate discipline was practically non-existent. However, as he started seeing the ball better and understanding the Cal League strike-zone, Whitaker's numbers improved dramatically. He hit 16 homers in 43 games in June and July and looked poised to post his second straight 800+ OPS season when he injured his ankle in mid-July.

Whitaker played through the ankle injury for the final few weeks of July and the first week of August before finally landing on the DL in early August. He spent most of the month on the DL, returning for the final few days of the season. Despite missing so much time, Whitaker finished second on the Ports and 15th in the league in homeruns with 20. After playing mostly at first base in 2011, Whitaker moved to the outfield in 2012 and flashed a strong throwing arm.

As a low-round pick, Whitaker will always be fighting an uphill battle to be recognized. However, the Georgia native has impressive power and is surprisingly athletic for a player of his build. Whitaker has always been a free swinger, however, and he will need to refine his approach to raise his profile even higher. The A's minor league depth chart in the outfield is crowded at the moment but Whitaker's ability to play first base as well should give him an opportunity to move up to Double-A next season. He will be 24 at the start of the season.

47. Dakota Bacus, RHP

The A's ninth-round pick this season, Bacus dominated for the AZL A's in both a starter and reliever's role. The 6'2'' right-hander allowed only 12 hits in 30 innings while striking out 35 and walking only five. Over his final 18 innings, Bacus allowed only one hit and he walked four while striking out 27. He did not allow a homerun.

Bacus was drafted after one season in NCAA baseball with Indiana State. Before that, he had spent two seasons at Southeastern Community College. Although Bacus is already 21 with college experience, he was kept back in the Arizona Rookie League in part because he only had one season of experience at a four-year school. He proved to be way too good for the Arizona League competition.

Bacus has a solid three-pitch mix: a low-90s fastball that has touched 95 on occasion, a change-up and a slider. He does a good job repeating his delivery and he hides the ball well. Bacus gets a lot of movement on his fastball and he has solid fastball command. The A's like Bacus' approach to pitching. He is aggressive within the strike-zone, often challenging hitters to beat him.

"He was a very aggressive pitcher. Really goes after guys," AZL A's pitching coach Jimmy Escalante said.

"We have that saying that we want warriors on the mound, and that's what he was out there. Every time he went out there, he didn't care when he was out there, how many innings."

Also working in Bacus' favor for his future growth as a pitcher is his ability to induce groundballs. Of all balls put into play against him last season, half of those balls were hit on the ground. There wasn't much solid contact made against Bacus in the AZL, period, as only 25.8% of balls put in play in the air reached the outfield and only 10.6% of balls put in play were line-drives. He struck-out exactly a third of the batters he faced while walking less than five percent.

Bacus split his time between the starting rotation and the bullpen in 2012, but the A's view him as a starter. His innings were limited with the AZL A's after he threw 116.2 innings at Indiana State earlier in the year. That innings total set a school record. Bacus should be a strong candidate to join the starting rotation for the Low-A Beloit Snappers in 2013.

46. Chad Oberacker, CF

Oberacker moved up a level mid-season in 2012.

If things had worked out differently, Oberacker would be part of the St. Louis Cardinals' organization. The outfielder was drafted in the 19th round by the Cardinals in 2010 as a junior with Tennessee Tech. Oberacker intended to sign with St. Louis, but negotiations broke down and he returned to TTU for his senior season. The A's swooped him up in the 25th round in 2011 and he is looking like a solid find for the A's at that spot in the draft.

Oberacker began the 2012 campaign with Low-A Burlington, but after only a few weeks with the Bees, it was clear that he was too good for that level. In 74 at-bats, Oberacker hit .317/.403/.524 with eight walks and eight extra-base hits. He was promoted to High-A Stockton in early May and spent the rest of the year at or near the top of the Ports' line-up. In 454 at-bats with the Ports, Oberacker hit .260/.326/.432 with 13 homers and 25 stolen bases in 28 chances.

Oberacker's season with Stockton was actually better than the overall numbers would suggest. The centerfielder had a 682 OPS in August, which dragged down his overall slash line. Before his late-season slump, Oberacker was the most consistent hitter on the Ports and was one of their better defensive outfielders, as well.

The Pennsylvania native doesn't have one tool that stands out, but he does everything well. Oberacker has above-average speed and decent power for a middle of the diamond player. He is a smart baserunner and has solid fundamentals defensively. Oberacker has a solid approach at the plate, although he could stand to cut down on his strike-outs, especially given his normal role as a leadoff hitter. He struggled against left-handed pitchers last season (with Stockton, a 597 OPS against lefties/824 OPS against righties). In some ways, Oberacker profiles as a poor man's Mark Kotsay.

Like Whitaker, Oberacker will have to continue to prove himself in order to move up in the system given his status as a later round pick and a senior sign. However, he is the kind of player who coaches love to have in the line-up. The A's have a crowded outfield depth chart, but if the A's move any of their Triple-A outfielders before the start of the season, Oberacker should get a chance to move up to Double-A Midland at the start of 2013. He will be 24 throughout the 2013 season.

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