|Oakland Athletics Top 5|
|1||Brett Anderson||LHP||Dominated A+/AA last year (6.2% BB, 26.3% K, 57+% GB); Ks rose by 4.7% from A+ to AA||20.7||AA|
|2||Trevor Cahill||RHP||Stellar strikeout/ground-ball pitcher; command will determine if he peaks as a No. 1 or No. 3-4||20.6||AA|
|3||Michael Inoa||RHP||"He is a very polished pitcher with three above-average pitches" - Billy Beane told ESPN last July||17.1||R|
|4||Gio Gonzalez||LHP||Reverted to '06 K and BB% in '08 (AAA): 24.4% K, 11.6% BB, 4.23 FIP; was in PCL, though||23.6||MLB|
|5||Aaron Cunningham||LF/CF||Went .329/.400/.532 between AA, AAA; could have troubles breaking into crowded OAK OF||22.5||MLB|
|Honorables: Adrian Cardenas (2B), James Simmons (RHP), Chris Carter (1B), Jemile Weeks (2B), Josh Donaldson (C), Vin Mazzaro (RHP),|
|Corey Brown (CF), Sean Doolittle (1B), and Cliff Pennington (SS).|
|* Our rankings combine a player's ceiling with the odds that he'll reach it and favor recent production|
|** Ages are as of November 1st, 2008|
|*** Level is the highest level the player has reached|
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Billy Beane has done this before.
In years past, the Oakland Athletics general manager has drafted all-stars like Mark Mulder and Barry Zito as well as a multitude of contributing role players.
When the price tag on any one of them rose too high, Beane wouldn't throw inordinate sums of money their way. Instead, he'd either A) let them walk in exchange for draft picks, or B) deal them away in hopes of building his contending ball club back up on the fly.
In 2008, Beane was at it again, dealing fan favorites Dan Haren and Nick Swisher away during the offseason before sending Rich Harden and Joe Blanton away at the trading deadline in exchange for a total of 16 young players.
In 2009, it's those youngsters -- among others -- who could make the A's a contender once again.
Of the 16 players Oakland aquired during the 2008 season for Haren, Swisher, Harden and Blanton, eight found their respective ways to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum by season's end. Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith have already been dealt away for Matt Holliday.
By pairing the young talents the A's have acquired via trade with some strong, deep draft classes, their minor league system is as good as ever. All 14 players listed below are arguably among the top 200 prospects in all of baseball, the majority of which we see as top-100 types.
These 14 prospects aside, the A's roster is already loaded with young talent, ranging from hitters Travis Buck, Kurt Suzuki and Daric Barton to arms such as Sean Gallagher, Joey Devine, Brad Ziegler and Co. When you add the prospects back into the equation -- many of whom should find their way to Oakland this season, such as potential aces Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill -- it becomes evident that the A's have the talent necessary to become legitimate contenders for years to come.
Brett Anderson -- Stockton, Midland, the Bronx, Beijing, Sacramento -- the location didn't matter; if Anderson was there in 2008, he was dominating. A U.S. Olympian and Futures Game participant, Anderson collected ground balls (57+%) and strikeouts (26.3%) between High-A and Double-A at rates most humans breathe. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder saw his strikeout percentage shoot up four points from 2007 while he kept his impressive control rates intact, maintaining an impressive 6.2% walk rate. With David Price in the majors, Anderson is arguably the top pitching prospect in the upper minors -- but he won't be vying for that title for long. Anderson could bring his front-of-the-rotation potential to Oakland by midseason.
Trevor Cahill -- Cahill has no problems letting his intelligence show with his approach on the hill. Cahill, who turned down a scholarship offer to Dartmouth to sign with the A's out of high school, can rack up the strikeouts with the best of them (27.4%). However, Cahill has said keeping the ball on the ground -- which he does at a ridiculous 63% rate -- so he can pitch deep into games is his focus. Cahill, too, competed in the Olympics and Futures Game. Command is what lands him behind Anderson on this list; unlike Anderson, Cahill walked 10.1% of would-be hitters last season. The advancement of Cahill's control will determine if his ceiling is that of a No. 1 or No. 3 starter.
Michael Inoa -- Beane isn't the kind of person to throw millions of dollars around. So when he tossed $4.25 million at a 16-year-old in July, people took notice. Inoa isn't your average teenage pitching prospect -- he's a polished 6-foot-7, 210-pounder who can command three pitches (fastball, curve, changeup), according to Beane. Inoa doesn't have a ceiling; his potential breaks straight through the roof. However, given his age alone, saying Inoa's odds of realizing his potential with any kind of certainty is questionable.
Gio Gonzalez -- This time last year, Gonzalez was heading into the season with a world of expectations, coming off a dominating campaign in which he struck out 30.3% of the batters he faced in Double-A. This year, things are different. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder left a bad taste in the mouths of those who saw him in the big leagues last season, as he had a 15.3% walk rate and allowed nine home runs in 34.0 innings with Oakland. A 34-inning sample, however, should be looked at as that: only 34 innings. Prior to his call-up, Gonzalez had 128 strikeouts and a 4.23 FIP in 123.0 innings in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Gonzalez was likely putting too much pressure on himself with the A's last season; if he can find a comfort level similar to the one he had in Triple-A, Gonzalez could give Oakland a solid, middle-of-the-rotation-type arm.
Aaron Cunningham -- Yes, the Oakland organization has position prospects, too. All Cunningham has done is hit the ball on each of his minor-league assignments. Cunningham has been a model of consistency, posting a wOBA of .360 or above at each minor league level; he's been at .380 or above at each stop from High-A through Triple-A. The righthanded hitter earned a trip to Oakland last season after posting a scorching-hot .469 wOBA in a short Sacramento stint (89 PA). He went .250/.310/.400 with the A's in 87 plate appearances. Cunningham has shown there's little left for him to prove in the minors, but he could have a hard time finding consistent playing time in Oakland in 2009. The A's have nine outfielders on their 40-man roster, including Matt Holliday, Jack Cust, Ryan Sweeney and Travis Buck.
Adrian Cardenas (10/10/87) -- Usually, a stint in the California League does wonders for a hitter's production. For Cardenas, this wasn't the case. The 6-foot, 185-pounder posted a .282 wOBA in a limited Stockton sample (74 PA) after putting up a .353 number in the pitchers' haven that is the Florida State League (293 PA). He then went .324 in 102 Double-A plate appearances to close out the season. Cardenas has a keen eye, as evidenced by his .364 OBP and 9.4% walk rate -- including a 14.7% clip in Double-A. What he hasn't been able to show yet is power; he had a .103 IsoP last year (.047 in Double-A). He's arguably the best second-base prospect in the game, but it doesn't look like he'll become much more than an average big leaguer at this point.
James Simmons (9/29/86) -- Anderson. Cahill. Gonzalez. Inoa. Those are four pretty good reasons to overlook a pitcher like Simmons, but that doesn't mean you should. The No. 26 overall pick in the 2007 draft, Simmons reported directly to Double-A upon signing, posting a 3.38 FIP in 30.2 innings. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder had a 3.41 FIP in 136.0 Double-A innings in 2008. Simmons is a decent strikeout threat (20.2%), but the name of his game is control, as he boasted a meager 5.6% walk rate last season. He projects as a middle-of-the-rotation-type option.
Chris Carter (12/18/86) -- Carter can hit the ball far. Real far. The problem is he doesn't hit it all that often. Seventy-five of the slugger's 131 hits went for extra bases last year (57.2 percent), including 39 home runs in 596 California League plate appearances. Meanwhile, Carter struck out 26.2% of the time while hitting .259. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder does, however, maintain a healthy 12.9% walk rate. Homers. Walks. Strikeouts. He's looking like some kind of a quasi Jack Cust-type hitter, except with a little less in the walk and strikeout departments.
Jemile Weeks (1/26/87) -- The A's have cornered the market on minor league second basemen. The No. 12 overall pick in June's draft, Weeks has little in common with older brother Ricky -- other than that Jemile, too, has an injury history (hip issue, most recently). The younger Weeks had a .379 wOBA in his first 90 plate appearances as a pro with Low-A Kane County. Like Cardenas, Weeks has shown little power (.108 IsoP), but plenty of patience (.422 OBP, 14.4% walk rate). Weeks has the ability to do some damage once he reaches the base paths, as he recorded six steals on eight tries in 19 games. He'd give Oakland a true leadoff-type hitter while providing great defense.
Josh Donaldson (12/8/85) -- Unlike Cardenas, Donaldson made the most of his time in the California League. Struggling to the tune of a .277 wOBA in Low-A Peoria (251 PA), Donaldson took off in Stockton after being acquired in the Rich Harden deal, posting a .405 number (207 PA). The success didn't come out of the blue for Donaldson, who had a .457 wOBA in Low-A in 2007 -- his first pro season. A 6-foot-1, 215-pounder, Donaldson has a decent eye (7.7% BB rate), doesn't go down swinging too often (14.0%) and has solid power (.235 IsoP). His bat plays quite well at catcher, but his below-average arm might force him off the position. He's expected to start the 2009 campaign in Double-A.
Vin Mazzaro (9/27/86) -- Mazzaro wasn't looking like much of a prospect in 2007. That changed last season. Coming off a High-A season in which he had a 10.3% walk rate and 5.03 FIP, Mazzaro found success in the Texas League in 2008. He lowered his walk rate to a solid 6.5% number in Double-A (137.1 IP), and then improved on that number in 33.2 Triple-A innings to close the season (5.6%). Mazzaro isn't much of a strikeout threat -- 18.2 percent between Double-A and Triple-A -- but if he can maintain the level of control he showed last year, he won't need to be. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter.
Corey Brown (11/26/85) -- On the surface, there aren't a whole lot of differences between Brown and Carter. Brown has sent off some towering shots off his own, accounting for 30 home runs between Low-A and High-A last season (564 PA). He also strikes out a ton -- he had a woeful 33.6% strikeout rate in Stockton. A noticeable difference between Brown and Carter rests with their patience. Carter has maintained consistent walk rates as he's advanced through the minors, while Brown has seen his walks drop off significantly. He walked 14.5% of the time in short-season, 11.7% in Low-A and 7.9% in High-A. Make no mistake, though; Brown and his .296 IsoP bring tremendous upside. Questioning whether he'll reach that upside due to low contact rates and dwindling walk totals, however, is an understandable concern.
Sean Doolittle (9/26/86) -- After struggling in his first pro season in 2007, Doolittle was out to prove he could live up to the expectations placed upon him when he was taken No. 41 overall. He did just that in 2008. Sort of. Doolittle followed up his .301 wOBA showing in Low-A with a .389 rate in High-A, walking 12.0 percent of the time to go along with a .255 IsoP number. His performance earned him a promotion to Double-A, where his .308 wOBA raised questions about the validity of his California League success. Doolittle needs to show he can do something in the upper minors in 2009. That mission should likely start back in Double-A. He helped his stock in the Arizona Fall League by showing he can play the outfield.
Cliff Pennington (6/15/84) -- Pennington knows his limitations. He's never going to hit for power (.072 IsoP between Double-A and Triple-A), but he has an eye that will put him on-base and knows how to do some damage once he gets there. A 5-foot-11, 190-pounder, Pennington put up an impressive 18.4% walk rate in Triple-A (294 PA) before finishing out 2008 with a 11.1 percent rate with the A's (117 PA). He added 35 steals on 42 attempts between the majors and minors. Pennington had a solid .366 wOBA in Triple-A, but fell to .292 with his big league debut. If he can bring some of his Sacramento success to Oakland, Pennington could still become a league-average middle infielder. If not, he's a solid utility player, as he play can second, third and short.
Adam Loberstein can be reached at email@example.com.