With the A’s minor league teams finished for the season, let’s look at how some of Oakland’s top prospects fared in 2010. I caught up with director of player development Keith Lieppman as he was watching an instructional league game in Phoenix. As usual, he dished some good insight on several players. The following are listed in no particular order, but those with an (*) by their name will be playing in the Arizona Fall League for the Phoenix Desert Dogs …
*OF Michael Taylor: Taylor steadied himself after a wobbly start with Triple-A Sacramento, but it’s telling that the A’s didn’t think he was ready for a September call-up. The question remains when, or if, he’ll hit for more pop. Taylor finished with a respectable .272 average but homered just six times in 464 at-bats. The A’s have worked on his swing mechanics, hoping to unlock more power and help him drive inside pitches when opponents try jamming him. Will he be ready to push for a major league roster spot in spring training? “I think he’s reached the level where he’ll play in the Arizona Fall League, and there should be an opportunity to where he can be in position to contend for a job,” Lieppman said.
*SS Grant Green: The 2009 first-round pick made quite an impression with Single-A Stockton in his first full professional season. He hit .318 with 20 homers and 87 RBIs and finished second in the California League with 174 hits. But Green committed a whopping 37 errors, showing that he has work to do defensively. Lieppman said lots of those came early in the season and that Green, 23, made strides. “He still made some errors (later in the season), but he made them aggressively. I think the biggest thing he learned was how to mentally prepare himself to play defense on every pitch.” He’ll be ticketed for Double-A Midland next season.
*3B Stephen Parker: Many observers feel Green will ultimately wind up at third base, but the A’s may already have their future starter at that position in Parker, 23. A 2009 fifth-round pick out of BYU, Parker hit .296 with 21 homers and 98 RBI with Stockton, and he should join Green to form the left side of Midland’s infield in 2011. Lieppman said Parker reminds him of Wally Joyner at the plate – “a classic left-handed swing and not a lot of excess movement.” Like Green, Parker is a work in progress defensively. But considering the A’s have no sure-fire prospect at third base behind Kevin Kouzmanoff, Parker’s bat may blaze a path to the bigs.
*RHP Travis Banwart: The Wichita State product hasn’t produced a ton of hype, but he’s steadily advanced through the farm system and impressed. After posting a 2.92 ERA in 14 starts with Midland this season, Banwart, 24, went 4-2 with a 4.81 in 15 appearances (11 starts) with Sacramento. Those aren’t mind-blowing numbers, but Banwart was the River Cats’ most consistent starter by season’s end. He brings a fastball in the 92-94 mph range with an effective slider, and his invitation to the AFL shows the A’s think highly of him.
2B Adrian Cardenas: He was the marquee name of the three players the A’s received from Philadelphia in the 2008 Joe Blanton trade (lefty Josh Outman and outfielder Matt Spencer were the others). By now, Cardenas was expected to be knocking on the big league door. But he shuttled between Midland and Sacramento this season, hitting .345 in 51 games at Double-A but just .267 in 58 games at Triple-A. He did enjoy a strong finish with Sacramento. “It’s (taken) a little longer than we hoped because he’s been up and down a couple times,” Lieppman said. Cardenas was pegged as a prime candidate to eventually replace Mark Ellis. But the A’s now have players such as Adam Rosales, Eric Sogard and Steve Tolleson who are capable of playing second as well. Cardenas is still young – he turns 23 on Oct. 10 – but he’ll need to turn heads in spring training to distinguish himself.
2B Jemile Weeks: Weeks was expected to battle with Cardenas to be the A’s second baseman of the future. But the injury frustration continues for the 2008 first-round pick. He was unable to finish the playoffs with Midland due to problems with his left hip and hamstring. Weeks tore his left hip flexor while with low Single-A Kane County in 2008, and he’s struggled to stay on the field since. The A’s hoped to send him to winter ball, but instead he’ll head home to Florida and rehab, with the hope of being full strength by spring training.
SS Josh Horton: Lieppman raves about this 2007 second-round pick. Horton hit .286 with three homers and 51 RBIs at Double-A this season, but he made his biggest improvement with the glove. He’ll turn 25 around the time spring training begins – hardly young for someone who has yet to reach Triple-A. But Lieppman said he had lots of opposing scouts commenting on Horton’s development in 2010. “His first year at Double-A (in 2009), he was tentative defensively,” Lieppman said. “But his maturity kicked in. You looked at him and said he could be a big league player at that position.”
C Max Stassi: Stassi, who didn’t turn 19 until March, impressed the A’s with his maturity in big league spring camp. But his first full pro season – spent with Kane County — was a rough one because of back, shoulder and hamstring injuries. The shoulder injury affected his throwing, but Lieppman said it’s not thought to be a long-term problem. Stassi hit just .229 and struck out 141 times. On the bright side, he hit 13 homers and impressed with his handling of pitchers. If he logs less time in the trainer’s room in 2011, his offensive numbers should improve.
LHP Ian Krol: Another high school pick from the 2009 draft, Krol, 19, enjoyed one of the best seasons of any A’s pitching prospect. He went 10-4 with a 2.80 ERA, spending most of the season at Kane County but making four starts with Stockton. Most impressive, he racked up 111 strikeouts with just 28 walks in 138 1/3 innings. He combines a low-90s fastball with a good curve and changeup. Lieppman said Krol reminds him a bit of Mark Buehrle – a lefty who works at a brisk pace and seeks contact by challenging hitters.
OF Jeremy Barfield: The Texas native racked up the assists with his powerful arm in right field. Sound familiar? His father, Jesse, struck fear into base runners with his right-field arm over a 12-year major league career. Jeremy, 22, hit .272 with 17 homers and 92 RBIs for Single-A Stockton. A 2008 eighth-round pick, Barfield was scheduled to participate in the fall instructional league but wound up having minor knee surgery earlier this month, scrapping those plans.
1B Sean Doolittle: Doolittle, 24, has missed most of the past two seasons with knee problems and recently underwent another surgery, but the A’s are hopeful he could be ready by spring training.