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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!

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Stephen Strasburg playing alongside A’s prospects at Arizona Fall League

If you need a baseball fix (outside of the playoffs) during October or November, the Arizona Fall League is a pretty nice option. It’s a developmental league featuring some of the major leagues’ best young prospects, and runs from Oct. 13-Nov. 6. Games are held at spring training ballparks all over the Phoenix area, and single-game tickets cost no more than $6. Check out rosters here.

The A’s have seven players suiting up for the Phoenix Desert Dogs — second baseman Jemile Weeks; outfielders Corey Brown and Grant Desme; and pitchers James Simmons, Sam Demel, Mickey Storey and Justin Friend. Also playing for the Desert Dogs — pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2009 draft and probably the most hyped draft pick ever. AFL games typically don’t draw much of a crowd, but I’m guessing more fans will show up to see Strasburg.

–A brief update that didn’t make my A’s season wrap-up story: Pitching prospect Michael Ynoa has been doing well in throwing sessions during instructional league in Phoenix, but he won’t throw in any games there. Another right-hander, Fautino De Los Santos, has had complications in his comeback from ligament replacement surgery on his elbow. The A’s were having him undergo more tests this week …

–I’ll be updating the blog throughout the winter, so check back often!!

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A’s minor league recap: Cardenas moved to third; Weeks stays hot

Here’s a brief look at what happened down on the farm Thursday for the A’s affiliates:

SACRAMENTO (Triple-A)

Tacoma (Mariners) 6, RiverCats 4: Story l Boxscore

Relievers Henry Rodriguez and Jay Marshall gave up five runs in the final two innings as the RiverCats failed to protect a 4-1 lead. Rodriguez walked two batters and surrendered a game-tying, three-run homer to Brad Nelson. Marshall permitted the go-ahead runs in the ninth inning.

James Simmons was in line for the win after working five innings and allowing just four hits and one run. Jerry Blevins then added two scoreless innings with four strikeouts before Sacramento’s troubles began.

Travis Buck homered and drove in two runs as his rehab seems to be going well. Danny Putnam had a two-run homer, his third in 111 at-bats for the Cats.

MIDLAND (Double-A)

Corpus Christi 5, RockHounds 1: Story l Boxscore

Adrian Cardenas, who has played mostly at second base and some at shortstop this season, has spent the last two games at third base for the RockHounds, who suffered their second straight setback. Cardenas, who booted an eighth-inning grounder Thursday night, would seem to have a much clearer path to Oakland as a third baseman. Especially with Jemile Weeks playing second base at Stockton and seemingly Oakland-bound within a couple of years. The A’s obviously figure on finding room in their lineup one day soon for both Cardenas and Weeks.

Tommy Everidge had played third for Midland for most of the year, but he was promoted to Sacramento. Alex Valdez, who arrived from Stockton, is also a third baseman.

Bobby Cramer struck out seven in 4 2/3 innings, but took the loss after allowing two runs. Matt Spencer and Archie Gilbert had two of the Hounds’ five hits, and Cardenas had the other.

Jose Valverde, the Astros’ closer who’s on a rehab assignment, pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning for Corpus Christi.

STOCKTON (High Single-A)

Modesto (Rockies) 8, Ports 2: Story l Boxscore

The Ports lost their eighth in a row as they were swept in Modesto. On the bright side, Jemile Weeks continued his torrid pace, going 3-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 13 games.

Weeks, who has hit in every game since joining Stockton from extended spring training on May 27, is now batting .370.

Christian Vitters had a pair of hits and scored twice for the Ports.

KANE COUNTY (Low Single-A)

Wisconsin 7, Cougars 3: Story l Boxscore

The Cougars scored three times in the first on a two-run single by Steve Kleen and an RBI double by Grant Desme, but Wisconsin countered with four runs in the bottom of the first off Shawn Haviland on its way to victory.

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A’s minor league recap: A lost day on the farm

A rough day for the A’s minor leaguers as all three teams in action suffered losses, including one on a walkoff homer.

Here’s a brief look at what happened down on the farm Wednesday for the A’s affiliates:

SACRAMENTO (Triple-A)

The RiverCats had an off day on Wednesday and send James Simmons to the mound Thursday night as they begin a four-game series against Tacoma (Mariners).

Sacramento got hot-hitting Tommy Everidge from Double-A Midland to replace Daric Barton, who was promoted to the A’s. Everidge, who hit .306 with eight homers and 53 RBI for Midland, went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in his RiverCats’ debut Tuesday night.

Travis Buck is 2-for-5 with a pair of RBI and two strikeouts while on rehab assignment the past two games for the Cats.

MIDLAND (Double-A)

Corpus Christi 8, RockHounds 1: Story l Boxscore

The RockHounds couldn’t handle Hooks’ lefty Polin Trinidad, who pitched seven innings of one-hit ball and retired the last 20 batters he faced in picking up his second straight win over Midland. Trinidad’s batterymate was former Castro Valley High and Stanford star Jason Castro, who made his Double-A debut by going 1-for-4. Castro was the Astros’ No. 1 pick last June, the 10th overall selection.

Jason Fernandez (6-5) took the loss for the ‘Hounds. He allowed just one earned run in 4 2/3 innings.

Josh Horton had two of Midland’s three hits, including his third homer of the season, and is hitting .303. Chris Carter had the only other Midland hit.

STOCKTON (High Single-A)

Modesto (Rockies) 8, Ports 2: Story l Boxscore

The Ports’ June Swoon continued as Modesto handed Stockton its ninth consecutive defeat, which dropped the Ports to 1-10 this month.

Scott Hodsdon was hit hard by the Nuts, giving up 11 hits and seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. Hodsdon fell to 2-6 and his ERA dropped to 6.64. In contrast, Modesto’s Christian Friedrich, the Rockies’ No. 1 pick last year, pitching seven strong innings to pick up the win.

Catcher Yusuf Carter was named the Ports’ lone California League All-Star representative earlier in the week.

Jemile Weeks went 1-for-3 while hitting in the third spot and is now batting .340.

KANE COUNTY (Low Single-A)

Wisconsin 7, Cougars 4: Story l Boxscore

Wisconsin’s Brock Kjeldgaard hit a three-run, walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth to snap the Cougars’ three-game winning streak.

Grant Desme (2nd round, ’07) homered for the second straight game and now has 11. Desme is hitting .350 with five homers and 15 RBI in his last 10 games.

Catcher Petey Paramore, last year’s third-round pick, went 3-for-4 with his second homer of the season and is hitting .290.

Anthony Capra had a decent start, allowing just three hits and two runs in five innings. However, he did walk five.

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Weeks sighting and more

The A’s top pick in last year’s draft finally is on the stat sheet at Single-A Stockton. Jemile Weeks made his debut for the Ports in Stockton’s 10-5 over Bakersfield. It wasn’t a great night for the second baseman, as he collected just one hit in six at-bats. But his lone hit did drive in two runs to give the Ports a nice start to a seven-game road trip, their longest of the season.

More encouraging news out of Stockton. Tyson Ross, the Cal product who followed Weeks on the A’s draft list last season, retired the final 11 of the final 12 he faced. His overall line needs to be better, but he continues to work on being more effecient and getting his pitch-count up. The A’s are being careful with him.

Last for Stockton: A very good night for Frank Martinez. The shortstop doubled twice and had three RBI.

Elsewhere:

TRIPLE-A SACRAMENTO

— “Vin Mazzaro, white courtesy telephone. Vin Mazzaro, white courtesy telephone.” You half expect a public address announcement to go out, given how this kid is pitching lately. Mazzaro lowered his ERA to 2.38 in his third straight outstanding outing. By the way, talked with A’s assistant general manager Davd Forst this week, and Mazzaro would have to be called up right around the June 15-20 period to avoid becoming a Super2 guy and becoming eligible for arbitration an extra year earlier.

— Another promising pitching prospect did his thing in the second game of a doubleheader. Nice to see that James Simmons is gaining some consistency.

DOUBLE-A MIDLAND

— Highlight of the night was Graham Godfrey. Dynamite stuff while fanning 11 in  a 9-4 win over Northwest Arkansas. Godfrey has 28 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings during May.

— Adrian Cardenas, who recently was sent back to down from Triple-A Sacramento, continues to smoke Double-A pitching. He’ll get another opportunity in Triple-A at some point.

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A’s minor league recap: Simmons shines in Sacramento

Here’s a brief look at what happened down on the farm Friday for the A’s affiliates:

SACRAMENTO (Triple-A)

RiverCats 8, Albuquerque (Dodgers) 1: Story l Boxscore

Former 2007 1st-round pick James Simmons turned in his most impressive start of the season. He had a one-hit shutout after six innings and finished with a three-hitter in a season-high seven innings. Simmons allowed just one run and one walk and struck out three.

Daric Barton went 2-for-4 to stretch his hitting streak to nine games. Thanks to a .298 average in May, Barton’s now batting a season-high .211. Eric Patterson went 5-for-5 and is now hitting .314. Patterson has been starting in center field lately for the Cats.

When the A’s decide they need to bring up a lefty specialist in the bullpen, one possibility is former San Jose State pitcher Brad Kilby, a Sacramento area native who was Oakland’s 29th round pick in 2005. He’s probably behind both Jerry Blevins and Jay Marshall in the A’s pecking order at Sacramento. To be sure, a call-up to the majors would be a dream come true for the 26-year-old, whose career nearly ended last Halloween when he was hit in the head by a line drive during winter ball.

Speaking of relievers, Albuquerque’s Nick DeBarr, a former Amador Valley High standout, gave up two runs in two innings Friday. The Isotopes’ bullpen includes two former East Bay Athletic League pitchers in DeBarr and Livermore’s Erick Threets.

MIDLAND (Double-A)

San Antonio (Padres) 9, RockHounds 3: Story l Boxscore

Bad fielding was apparently contagious in the A’s organization Friday as the RockHounds did Oakland one better (worse?) by committing five errors _ all in the first three innings, including a pair by shortstop Josh Horton.

Midland remains in first place by 1/2 game over Corpus Christi (Astros).

Corey Brown went 1-for-4 with an RBI double, but struck out three times. Brown has struck out five times in the past two nights.

Chris Carter went 0-for-3 and saw his average dip to .268. The big first baseman has gone a season high six games without an RBI.

STOCKTON (High Single-A)

Ports 10, High Desert (Mariners) 3: Story l Boxscore

David Thomas and Frank Martinez each had two RBI as the Ports have now won three of four and five of their last seven. Still, Stockton had four errors to continue the organization’s theme of the night.

Shortstop Michael Richard had two hits and stole his team-leading sixth base.

KANE COUNTY (Low Single-A)

Cougars 3, Burlington (Royals) 2: Story l Boxscore

Shawn Haviland continued to impress for the first-place Cougars (22-12). Last year’s 33rd-round pick improved to 3-1 with five innings of two-run ball, featuring five strikeouts. Haviland’s ERA stands at 2.48.

Jeremy Barfield went 2-for-3 with an RBI and is now hitting .354.

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Weekend Wrap

A busy weekend down on the farm. Here’s a quick review while hoping (futily, probably) for the day that we similar promotions to the one taking place in Las Vegas today. A 10:30 a.m. start to accomodate local school children on field trips. Brilliant. Wouldn’t you just love to see major leaguers forced out of bed before 8 a.m. for a game just once in a season?

TRIPLE-A SACRAMENTO

The River Cats entered Monday’s morning meeting having lost the first three of four-game series at Las Vegas and had dropped six straight to teams in Nevada (Reno won three in a row earlier in the week). Among the lowlights:

James Simmons surrendered six runs in 3 2/3 innings in a loss Sunday. At this point, the A’s would be smart just to leave Simmons in the minors all season. Why use up a year of service time for a team that doesn’t appear headed anywhere. And given that Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill look like they’ve arrived prematurely, no need to rush Simmons. Besides, the righty has had his issues.

— Reliever Brad Kilby walked four straight hitters in the 10th inning Saturday, resulting in an 8-7 Sacramento loss. Not to sound like my late grandfather, but in my opinion that shouldn’t happen at any level of professional sports. Gio Gonzalez wasn’t much better in that one, either.

— Joel Galarraga had three RBI and helped stake Sacramento to a 9-0 lead on Friday, but the River Cats still couldn’t win. The starting pitcher who allowed a good portion of the lead to get away? Dana Eveland. Frankly, I would just as soon not see him in an A’s uniform again. Who’s with me?

Anyway, the common theme, here, obviously, is that help for the A’s sorry starting pitching isn’t 90 minutes up Interstate 80.

DOUBLE-A MIDLAND

— A very forgettable weekend as well. The Rockhounds lost three times to Corpus Christi by a combined score of 23-6.

— First baseman Chris Carter increased his RBI total to 28, tops on the team and second in the Texas League. First baseman Tommy Everidge collected RBI No. 26. Both have got to be en route to a promotion at some point this season.

SINGLE-A STOCKTON

— The Ports (9-22) extended their winning streak to a season-high three before losing the finale of a three-game series to Rancho Cucamonga. Cal product Tyson Ross, the A’s second pick last season, allowed two runs and three hits in only two innings and walked the first three he faced. He has not an auspicious beginning to his professional career.

— Outfielder Matthew Spencer is bucking for a promotion. Spencer homered in victories Friday and Saturday and has gone deep 10 times. The rest of his numbers are pretty good, too.

Yusef Carter is hitting .333 in his first exposure to High-A and had the game-winning single Saturday.

LOW-A KANE COUNTY

— First baseman Steve Kleen is hitting .303 and his 33 hits trail only Dusty Coleman’s 34 on the Cougars. Both Kleen and Coleman are in the top 10.

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On the farm

Today, we’re going to start something new on this blog.  We’ll be filing periodic minor-league updates that go beyond the daily updates that the minor-league teams provide. I’ve got calls out to Keith Lieppman and Billy Owens, both of whom are in the know regarding the A’s best prospects. No return calls yet, but as soon as I get some, I’ll update.

In the meantime, through the minor-league season’s first 10 days here’s what stands out.

TRIPLE-A SACRAMENTO

— Vince Mazzaro, who lasted just eight total innings in his first two starts, went six while allowing a run on Monday and lowered his ERA to 1.93. Mazzaro, as everyone probably knows, is likely to be the first one tapped if the A’s need another starter.

— James Simmons, another highly rated prospect, had his best start of the year Tuesday in a 4-2 win at Portland. His overall stats so far aren’t overly impressive, but it’s early.

Daric Barton has been awful. And now he may be out a while. He didn’t play last night after being hit by a pitch on Monday. What’s happened to this guy? Remember when he was touted as a potential Albert Pujols?

DOUBLE-A MIDLAND

— The Rockhounds have lost two straight after closing their first 10-game stretch at 7-3.

— SS Adrian Cardenas, whom the A’s acquired from Philadelphia last season in the Joe Blanton deal, was hitting .360 through Tuesday and had hit safely in all but two games. He also was tied for the Texas League lead in hits.

— Chris Carter, whose 39 home runs at Single-A Stockton last season led the A’s organization, has gone deep only once so far, but his 14 RBI were tied for the league lead. I saw this guy last year. He’s a beast.

SINGLE-A STOCKTON

— Bad start for Cal product Tyson Ross, who struggled with arm issues last seaon. Ross lost his first two starts, and his 1.67 WHIP (baserunners per inning) is a red flag. Then again, the team behind him isn’t very good. The Ports are 1-12.

LOW-A KANE COUNTY

— First baseman Steve Kleen is hitting .385 out of the gate and also has eight RBI, contributing mightily to the Cougars’ 7-3 start.

— Kleen isn’t the only one tatooing the ball. SS Dusty Coleman (.342), and outfielder David Thomas (.317) all have been key contributors to Kane County’s .275 average as a team.

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A’s minor league recap: Stockton falls to 0-8

Here’s a brief look at what happened down on the farm for the A’s affiliates Thursday:

SACRAMENTO (Triple-A)

Cliff Pennington’s hustle allowed the RiverCats to escape with a 7-6 10-inning win over Portland (Padres). The shortstop beat out a potential inning-ending double play grounder that allowed the winning run to score. Pennington’s scrappiness also showed earlier in the game as he drew three walks and scored twice. He has a .414 on-base percentage through eight games.
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A’s minor league recap: Cunningham injures shoulder

Here’s a brief look at what happened down on the farm for the A’s affiliates Saturday and Sunday:

SACRAMENTO (Triple-A)

The bad news from Sacramento isn’t that the River Cats dropped three of four to Tacoma (Mariners) following Sunday’s 6-3 defeat, it was the loss of outfielder Aaron Cunningham, who is out with a separated right shoulder.

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