4

Updates on some top Oakland A’s prospects

With two weeks left until spring training begins, it’s a good time for an update on some of the A’s top prospects. As I did last year, I stuck to those who were active over the offseason – either playing winter ball somewhere or participating in the Arizona Fall League or the A’s instructional league program. I sought out the team’s director of player personnel, Billy Owens, who spends much of his winter evaluating the A’s top young players. Owens offered a few of his thoughts (only after he got done scouting super prospect Bryce Harper in a junior college game. Owens has no offseason, I tell you).

Baseball America recently ranked the A’s top 10 prospects, which you can read about. The players below are listed in no particular order. I put an (*) next to those who will be in major league spring camp. You’ll notice a common thread: Most of these guys are crossing their fingers for better health in 2010 …

–*Jemile Weeks, 2B: The A’s believe Weeks can be a speedy table-setter batting from the first or second spots in the lineup. But his development with the glove probably will determine how quickly he makes the big leagues. Weeks, 23, has logged lots of hours with A’s roving infield instructor Juan Navarrete. A hip-flexor injury delayed the start of his 2009 campaign. “Defensively he made strides (during the Arizona Fall League),” Owens said. “He worked on his pivots at second base and being more aggressive. He’s going to be a catalyst down the road at the top of the order, in the same mold as Ray Durham.”

–*Corey Brown, OF: Knee and shoulder injuries sidetracked his 2009 season at Double-A, but the A’s saw the player Brown can be during the Arizona Fall League. He hit .333 with six homers and 28 RBI in 105 at-bats. A sandwich pick between the first and second rounds in 2007, Brown is a center fielder but can play all three outfield spots well. The A’s love his power and defense, but as Owens says, “His kryptonite can be strikeouts.” Brown, 24, combined for 168 strikeouts in 2008 at two levels of Single-A ball, but he also hit 30 homers that season, so A’s fans may have to take the good with the bad. Brown was extended a non-roster invitation to spring training after fellow outfielder Grant Desme retired.

Michael Ynoa, RHP: Ynoa, now 18, was supposed to make his professional debut last season, but the A’s shut him down due to elbow soreness. His fastball topped out at 94 mph during the Dominican Republic instructional League this winter. Ynoa’s English is improving rapidly, Owens said, and he’ll report for the start of minor league spring training March 7. After participating in extended spring training in April, Ynoa will join either the A’s rookie league team in Phoenix or the short-season Single-A Vancouver squad, assuming all goes well. The A’s are taking it slow with Ynoa, given a $4.25 million signing bonus in 2008.

–*Fautino De Los Santos, RHP: He’s the forgotten man in the Nick Swisher trade. The A’s obtained De Los Santos from the White Sox along with Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney in January 2008. But he missed most of 2009 following elbow ligament replacement surgery. De Los Santos, who turns 24 this month, made seven appearances in rookie ball toward the end of the season, but Owens said he was closer to full strength in November and December. “He didn’t truly dial it up until the Dominican instructional league. The results were very positive. He had a dynamite arm. It came back in full force.”

James Simmons, RHP: Simmons’ rise through the system has been slow considering he began his pro career at Double-A in 2007. A minor shoulder problem set him back last season, when he went 7-7 with a 5.72 ERA at Triple-A. He posted a 1-4 mark and 4.50 ERA in six starts during the Arizona Fall League. “He’s a kid that’s got exquisite fastball command,” Owens said. “His change-up is solid, major league average or above. He’s just been working on that third offering — a breaking pitch, whether it’s a breaking ball, slider or cutter.” Simmons was a non-roster invitee to big league camp each of the last two years, but not this spring.

–*Grant Green, SS: The A’s will get a close-up look at their 2009 first-round pick during spring training. He appeared in five games with Single-A Stockton after signing last summer, then took part in the A’s instructional league after the season. Owens compares Green to the Texas Rangers’ Michael Young, a hitter who can “go gap-to-gap with authority.” The question marks may come on defense, where some think Green might project more as a third baseman.

–*Max Stassi, C: Just eight months after graduating from Yuba City High School, Stassi will report to major league spring camp. It’s likely the A’s just want to give him a taste of big league life. But there’s serious hype around Stassi, whose $1.5 million signing bonus was a record for a fourth-round pick. His father, Jim, was his high school coach, and Owens said it’s obvious Stassi comes from a baseball family. “He’s a student of the game. He has an amazing maturity level for a teenager, from what he showed in instructional league. He was born to catch.”

NOTE: Chris Carter played winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League, but his stint was very short due to illness, so I didn’t include him. Besides, you’ll be reading plenty about Carter come spring training!

3

A’s exec Owens on Padres’ GM list?

Heard an interesting tidbit that I thought I’d pass along, as we watch the Phillies and Yankees march toward the World Series …

You might have seen today’s stories that the San Diego Padres are close to naming Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer as their next general manager. David Forst, the A’s assistant GM, was mentioned as a potential candidate for the Padres’ job two weeks ago, and the A’s quickly released a statement shooting down that possibility. But it appears another member of Oakland’s front office is (or at least was) under some degree of consideration.

It’s my understanding that Billy Owens, the A’s director of player personnel, was on San Diego’s radar. Realize that this hasn’t been confirmed by anybody from the A’s or Padres. But I talked to both Owens and A’s GM Billy Beane today, and neither one came out and denied it either.

“It’s one of those things, (the Padres) are handling everything privately down there, so I’ll just stay out of it,” Owens said, declining to say whether he had been interviewed.

Beane also was mum on the issue, but said Owens has the potential to continue advancing up the front-office ranks. A Padres spokesperson said the team wasn’t discussing GM candidates publicly.

It’s probably a moot point anyway, as Hoyer appears to be the Padres’ guy. MLB.com, ESPN.com, the San Diego Union-Tribune and North County Times all ran stories on the topic Wednesday. But it’s something to keep an eye on for future front office openings around the majors. Forst is considered one of the top young executives in the game, and his name gets mentioned whenever there’s a GM position available (Forst enjoys living in the Bay Area and has always expressed his happiness with the A’s).

Perhaps Owens, 38, is beginning to attract interest as well. He just completed his 11th season with the A’s and sixth as director of player personnel. He scouts everywhere – majors, minors, amateur and internationally – and his input has been key as the A’s have decided which prospects to target in their many trades of recent years.

I expect to hear Hoyer announced as the Padres’ GM in the near future, but keep Owens’ name filed away …

0

Talking Vinny

No doubt, you’ve read or heard the big news by now. With Vin Mazzaro’s promotion in mind, here’s a recap of some of the points director of player personnel Billy Owens made about him when we talked a recently.

On Mazzaro’s progress: “He’s definitely taken a strong step forward in the past 18 months. He has an exceptional arm, and can top out at 96 or 97 mph, and his ball has natural sink. Last year, and really most of this year, he’s gotten to the point where he’s trusted his fastball and sinker a lot more, and he’s pitched more comfortably at 93 or 94 (mph).

On his offspeed stuff: “His soft game has gotten a lot better. His overall command has gotten a lot better. His ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was very strong last year, and the rest of his ratios have been where they need to be, and it has stayed that way. … ”

Personally. I’m a tad surprised that Mazzaro is coming up now. I would say it’s reminiscent of the day in June of 1999 when the A’s recalled Tim Hudson. But that A’s eam was going places, and this team clearly isn’t. It also starts his service time clicking early, and likely means that he’ll be eligible for arbitration one winter early.

I asked assistant general manager David Forst about that very thing last week. His response: “Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world that always allows you the luxury” of bringing up a player at the most idealistic time for a franchise. There may be other teams out there with the options to do that, but right now, we don’t have it.”

Incidentally, Melissa Lockard of scout.com has a very good piece discussing Mazzaro’s promotion.

0

The Midland Mashers

Not so long ago, any numbers generated by somebody at Double-A Midland had to be taken with a skeptical eye. Adam Piatt, of all people, earned Minor League Player of the Year honors playing there.

Continue Reading