Down on the farm

I caught up with Keith Lieppman, the A’s director of player development, and picked his brain about many of the organization’s top prospects. Some are knocking on the big league door, others still have a long road ahead, and some just want to get healthy. Here’s a progress report on some of the top names …

Chris Carter, 1B: You might have noticed in Triple-A Sacramento’s box scores that Carter, the A’s No. 1 prospect, is getting time in right field. Rest assured the A’s still see Carter as a first baseman, but they want him to continue to play left and right field to expand his versatility. Carter, 23, hit his 10th homer last night, but he’s batting .242 with 52 strikeouts in 43 games. Lieppman pointed out that Carter has lost some protection in the lineup with Jack Cust getting called up and Michael Taylor sidelined with a calf injury. “Right now he’s getting a dose of the Triple-A cutter. That’s the pitch of preference there, and probably more so in the big leagues,” Lieppman said. Carter is likely to get promoted at some point this season, but don’t expect it to happen soon. “You get to the big leagues either by dominating the league you play in, and he hasn’t done that yet, or a situation where there’s an injury or opportunity,” Lieppman added. “At this stage, I’m not sure there’s an opportunity to play first base every day.”

Michael Taylor, OF: Ranked by Baseball America as the A’s No. 2 prospect, Taylor, 24, is still sidelined by a calf injury suffered earlier this month. He’s been able to do little except rest, and the A’s won’t rush him back. Calf injuries can take a long time to heal, as we saw when Mark Ellis was sidelined for two months last season. “In most cases you have to let it heal completely and be conservative, or you’re going to be dealing with it the rest of the year,” Lieppman said. This figures to delay Taylor’s ticket to Oakland. He had just 30 games of Triple-A experience coming into this season, and like Carter, he needs the seasoning.

Jemile Weeks, 2B: As you can see, the A’s injury woes aren’t relegated to the majors. Weeks, 23, was playing well for Double-A Midland before re-injuring his left hip flexor while trying to beat out a grounder. A similar injury sidelined Weeks for the end of the 2008 season and the early part of 2009. Lieppman described this injury as a partial tear in the hip flexor, and the A’s are hopeful of getting him back by mid-June. After Weeks was drafted in ’08, there was talk that center field might be his future position, but the A’s like him as a second baseman and he was showing improvement defensively until this latest setback.

Grant Green, SS: Green, 22, — the A’s first-round pick last June — received lots of individual instruction from the big league staff during spring training. He’s hitting .267 with two homers and nine doubles in 45 games with Single-A Stockton. After Green signed in August, the A’s shut him down following his long collegiate season, so he appeared in just five minor league games in 2009. More than anything, the A’s want him to adapt to playing everyday in his first full pro season. “He’s showing some gap-to-gap power,” Lieppman said. “Defensively, he’s caught the ball pretty well. He’s got a few errors at this stage, but he’s made some nice adjustments.”

Max Stassi, C: After he impressed everyone this spring with his maturity in major league camp, there’s a tendency to assume Stassi, 19, will shoot rapidly through the farm system. Young catchers have a lot to digest, however. Stassi is playing regularly for low Single-A Kane County (Ill.), a big jump considering he was in high school at this time last year. He has six homers in 38 games but is hitting .240 with 55 strikeouts. Importantly, Stassi gets high marks for his handling of pitchers. Lieppman keeps a long-range view in mind regarding Stassi. “I looked at numbers for how long (some of the top big league catchers) spent in the minor leagues. Most of them spent three to four years in the minor leagues. He’s (19). You’re looking at 21, 22, when you want to have him ready.”

Corey Wimberly, IF/OF: Wimberly was acquired from Colorado before the 2009 season, and two things stood out about him that spring: 1) His breathtaking speed, and 2) The standing back-flips he did as part of his pre-game routine. But now he’s turning heads with his play for Triple-A Sacramento. Wimberly is hitting .287 and leads the Pacific Coast League with 19 stolen bases. At age 26, he’s hardly a can’t-miss prospect, but Oakland’s roster includes another speedster – Rajai Davis – who was a late bloomer. Wimberly can play the middle infield and outfield, and his versatility prompts Lieppman to call him “the Chone Figgins of the minor leagues.” But the A’s aren’t hurting for utility players at the big league level, so Wimberly’s first call-up doesn’t appear in the near future.

Michael Ynoa, RHP: It’s been a strange season so far for the highly touted prospect from the Dominican Republic. After being slowed by an oblique injury, Ynoa needed to have his wisdom teeth pulled and suffered complications from that. But he’s back on the mound now, and Lieppman anticipates Ynoa, 18, will be in the rotation when the A’s Phoenix-based rookie league team begins play June 22. Ynoa was sidelined by an elbow injury for much of 2009, and he has yet to appear in a regular-season professional game since signing in July 2008.

James Simmons, RHP/Sean Doolittle, 1B: We lump these two together because both were high picks in the 2007 draft and both are sidelined indefinitely with injuries. Simmons is home recovering from a shoulder ailment that limited him to 22 starts last season. He’s gotten several different medical opinions and won’t report this season until there’s a clear diagnosis on his shoulder. “There’s something he feels in his shoulder that doesn’t seem able to heal through physical therapy,” Lieppman said. … Doolittle, who shows good potential at both first base and the outfield, has recovered slowly from October knee surgery. He’s just coming off physical therapy and is trying to work his way back to the diamond.

Joe Stiglich