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!