The emergence of Addison Russell gives the organization a potential corner-stone talent to eventually build around. The last two drafts have also added some depth into a system that has been slowly depleted over time.
Russell exploded in his first taste of pro ball after being selected 11th overall by the A’s during the 2012 amateur draft. He played at three levels where he combined to hit .369 and posted a 1.027 OPS in 55 games. Russell, 19, has above-average bat speed, a good eye at the plate and professional coaching helped him become more consistent with his swing. A contact I spoke with said the young hitter had an amazing debut. “He torched the baseball offensively at every level… controlling the zone while hitting rockets all over the diamond. His swing is short, compact and powerful,” he said.
Along with surprising pop, Russell also has above-average speed although he’s still learning the nuances of running the bases. In the field, he shows a strong arm, good range and improving actions. That same contact said of the middle infielder’s glove, “His defense rivals his offense. [He’s a] very consistent and athletic fielder. He’s capable of making the routine and spectacular play… with exceptional range and reliability.” Russell also earns high marks for his make-up, according to another talent evaluator I spoke with recently. “He plays at a very high level of intensity… It comes out every day.”
When asked what Russell needs to work on during the coming year the second talent evaluator I spoke with said the prospect needs to control the strike zone better and learn to be a little more patient. “He has a chance to be an upper-level hitter with power,” he said, likening him to a young Barry Larkin. “There is nothing this kid doesn’t do.” After finishing the year in low-A ball, the Florida native will return there to open the 2013 season but it would not be shocking to see him push himself to high-A in the second half of the season.
On first blush it might be easy to say Gray’s 2012 season was disappointing because his numbers were modest at the double-A level. However, the right-hander was playing in just his first full pro season after being selected out of Vanderbilt University with the 18th overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft. Gray, 23, was also challenged with a new delivery in the first half of ’12 before he was allowed to revert to his traditional mechanics.
Gray is a little under-sized from a traditional standpoint but a talent evaluator I spoke with doesn’t expect him to become a reliever as some have suggested as a future role for the prospect. “He’s a starting pitcher. He’ll eventually succeed in that role at the top level,” he said. “Sometimes people get too enamoured with height on pitchers. Successful pitchers come in all shapes, height and sizes. 2013 is a potential breakout year for Sonny.” Despite his sub-6’0” height, Gray manages to stay on top of his fastball and gets a good downward plane on his offerings.
Gray generates low-to-mid-90s velocity on his fastball and has a curveball with plus potential. Another contact I spoke with said he needs to improve his location and efficiency but raved about his heater and breaking ball. “This kid definitely has weapons,” he said. “His fastball and curveball are off the charts.” His changeup has the potential to be average. He should open 2013 in triple-A and could be one of the first pitchers recalled in the event of an injury.
Straily exceeded all expectations in 2012 when he dominated both double-A and triple-A before making seven big league starts for Oakland. The right-hander is not overpowering but he can get his fastball up into the 91-93 mph range. He has two very good secondary pitches in a slider and changeup, while an inconsistent curveball rounds out his four-pitch repertoire. His ability to command his pitches with solid command, as well as an understanding of how to change speeds and move the ball around, makes him a valuable big league pitcher.
Straily, 24, has come a long way since being selected in the 24th round of the 2009 amateur draft and was no where to be found on the A’s Top 15 prospects list prior to 2012. He’ll open 2013 as a favorite to win a starting rotation spot on the big league club but he’ll have to fight off fellow 2012 surprise contributor A.J. Griffin.
The 10th overall selection from the 2010 amateur draft, Choice is yet another former first round pick who is close to contributing to the big league ball club. The power outfielder’s best tool is his raw power. A notoriously slow starter, the Texas native struggled a bit in the first half of the year before catching fire. A broken hand quickly extinguished the flame and ended his season in July.
Choice doesn’t hit breaking balls overly well and strikes out a lot so he might end up hitting in the .240-.260 range in the majors. A talent evaluator I spoke with also said the prospect has an unorthodox swing that can at times cause disruptions in his timing. However, he’s sees a lot that he likes in the young hitter. “There may not be a quicker or more powerful bat in the minor leagues… His power potential is off the charts.”
Choice is an efficient base runner but not overly fleet-of-foot. He’s spent time in center field in the minors but will very likely shift to left field in the majors — especially in spacious Oakland Coliseum — due to his average range and fringe-average arm. A second contact I spoke with about Choice said he offers more than just power. “Michael is a very good defensive outfielder that is reliable… He does a lot of things well and plays extremely hard. Although, ultimately, we are looking forward to the day that Michael allows his Louisville Slugger to do damage at the top level.”
With the emergence of both Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick, as well as the off-season trade (steal) of Chris Young, Oakland’s outfield depth is solid. Choice will spend the bulk of 2013 in triple-A unless an injury creates an opening for the young hitter.
Nunez, who turns 19 around opening day, was one of Oakland’s surprising big-dollar signees from 2010 with a bonus of more than $2 million. He’s spent his first two pro seasons in rookie ball and came over to North America, from the Dominican Summer League, prior to 2012.
The teenager hit .325 last year while also showing good power in the Arizona League. A contact I spoke with said Nunez has “a short, repeatable swing to hit the baseball with authority. His doubles and extra base hits will eventually turn into blasts.”The Venezuela native is aggressive at the plate but has shown a willingness to take a walk. A second talent evaluator I spoke with said Nunez got rid of his ‘baby fat’ last season and showed better athleticism. He called the young hitter naturally gifted at the plate. “He made tremendous strides in his overall game,” he commented.
Nunez has the potential to be a solid third baseman thanks to his strong arm and average range. He needs to improve his actions and consistency to help cut down on youthful errors. The contact I spoke with said the defense improved by leaps and bounds, calling him a smart, hard-working kid. It’s possible that Nunez will impress enough in spring training to earn a full-season assignment but the organization may want to hold him back in extended spring training to help him focus on the fundamentals of the game.
A strong first full season in the California League in 2010 may have set some unfair expectations of this former first round draft pick. Green hit for impressive power that season
— including 39 doubles and 20 homers — but his true strengths come from a well-rounded game that includes more gap power than over-the-fence pop. He’s a solid base runner but his speed tool is just average.
A contact I spoke with referred to Green as the most consistent hitter in the A’s minor league system over the past three seasons. A second contact I spoke to referred to the prospect as a natural born hitter. “I believe wholeheartedly that he will have better numbers in the majors than the minor leagues,” he said. “I’ve compared Grant’s bat numerous times over the years to Michael Young’s. That’s high praise for anyone.”
Originally drafted as a shortstop, the California native played five different positions in 2012 at the triple-A level — shortstop, second base, third base, left field and center field. I was told recently that Green, 25, will still see time at different positions but his main focus in 2013 will be at second base. He has average arm strength for a second baseman and shows solid range and good actions around the bag.
Green has a shot at opening 2013 on the big league roster as a utility man, although the addition of recently-acquired Jed Lowrie could hurt his chances. Further struggles by second base incumbent Jemile Weeks could also give Green a hefty foot in the door.
The late 2011 trade of former closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney to Boston brought 2012 breakout star outfielder Josh Reddick and two prospects, including Head, to Oakland. The young infielder was not a top prospect in the Sox system but he continued his emergence last season in the A’s system. He has above-average power potential and his quick, compact swing helps him hit for a solid average. Head played at both high-A and double-A in 2012, absolutely dominating the California League. “The numbers he put up in one half in the Cal League were crazy,” a contact stated. “There is tremendous upside with this kid.”
While in the Red Sox system, the natural third baseman was moved to first base permanently in 2011. He was shifted back to the hot corner as soon as he joined the A’s system despite his lack of athleticism and limited range. The contact I spoke with said there are no guarantees that Head will stick at third base, but said that he deserves a shot. “He’s so young to just walk away from it because his body doesn’t look the part… This guy has a knack with his hands and has a little arm strength.”
Head injured his shoulder in the Arizona Fall League and appeared in just one game, but the contact I spoke with said the prospect was cleared for regular activity in spring training and should have no issues opening the year on time. He’ll likely return to double-A at the beginning of 2013 but could see triple-A before the year is out. Head could be ready to push for a starting gig at third base for the A’s in 2014.
Considered an advanced high school bat, Robertson reaffirmed that assessment by playing at two levels in 2012 — in the Arizona rookie league and the more advanced New York Penn League. The right-handed hitter has plus bat speed but has yet to develop loft to his swing so the majority of his hard-hit balls end up in the gaps, rather than over the fence. The development of his power could be important depending on where he ends up defensively.
A natural shortstop, it remains to be seen if Robertson has the range to stick at the position in the upper levels of pro ball. During his debut, he spent time at shortstop and third base, where he struggled with the new position. His strong arm plays at either position but he’s definitely not going to push fellow prospect Addison Russell off shortstop.
A contact I spoke with said Robertson was drafted with the idea of playing third base but could continue to see time at both positions. “He has the physical ability to play shortstop and did a very solid job of it when he played there last summer,” the talent evaluator said. “I’m sure he will get the opportunity to play both as his pro career progresses.” A strong spring could help push Robertson to low-A ball, otherwise the A’s may want to get him some extra defensive reps.
After spending much of his college career at Arkansas in the bullpen, Sanburn was immediately placed in the starting rotation in pro ball and showed potential in seven starts. A contact I spoke with said he was drafted with the plan to develop him as a starter. “He has three or four pitches that have a chance to be above-average and we think those weapons may allow him to develop as a front-line starter,” the talent evaluator said.
The right-hander’s starts never exceeded three innings and he needs to learn to become more efficient and channel his aggressive nature. In short stints, the 21-year-old can hit the upper 90s with his heater. He also has a potentially-plus curveball but lacks a reliable third pitch at this point, although his changeup shows average potential and he’s also working on a cutter.
Sanburn has a shot at opening 2013 in high-A ball, unless the organization wants him to work on expanding his repertoire in a less hostile environment. He has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter or, if he reverts to his bullpen roots, he could develop into a high-leverage reliever that could reach the majors in short order.
Like 2012 draft pick Daniel Robertson, Olson was considered a strong hitting prep prospect that could move swiftly through the minors. He has a quick left-handed bat that offers above-average power potential and the ability to hit for average.
A contact I spoke with underscored Olson’s advanced approach. “He knows how to use the field and hit a ball where it’s pitched… He has a chance to develop into a very good hitter for average,” he explained. “At the same time, we think Matt has a chance to continue to get stronger as he matures and we think he’ll develop power to go along with his hitting ability.” Olson has below-average speed on the base paths.
The infield prospect, soon to be 19, was a two-way player for his Georgia high school and was committed to Vanderbilt University in that role. He has a chance to be a strong defender at first base so his arm strength would be mostly wasted at the position. Olson has a very good shot at moving up to low-A ball in 2013.
A multi-sport start in high school, Boyd entered pro ball with some rough edges despite hitting more than .300 in 39 rookie ball games. He also walked 23 times and the ability to get on-base at a high level could be an important component of his game if it continues as he moves up the organizational ladder. He has some left-handed pop despite his modest frame and will have to avoid letting it cloud his head and take him away from his strengths.
Boyd’s best tool is perhaps his above-average speed and he stole 16 bases in 20 attempts during his debut. A contact I spoke with stated, “He is very athletic and can really run. He has a rare combination of speed and strength, which could be very exciting as he develops.” In the field, Boyd covers a lot of ground in center field but he’s still working to improve his routes and his arm strength is below average so a move to left field could be in the cards. He will likely open 2013 in extended spring training before an assignment to the New York Penn League in June.
Signed way back in 2003, the organization is finally seeing a return on its time and investment in Figueroa. The hard-throwing left-hander was shifted into a full-time relief role in 2012 — after missing parts of 2010 and ’11 due to Tommy John surgery — and made his MLB debut. Figueroa, 27, still struggles with both his command and control and they’ll probably never be more than average thanks in part to his whippy arm action. His repertoire includes a mid-to-high-90s fastball, above-average slider and a decent changeup.
With two very good left-handed relievers head of him on the depth chart in Sean Doolittle and Jeremy Blevins — as well as Japanese veteran Hideki Okajima, Figueroa will likely open 2013 back in triple-A. His ability to serve as a long-man out of the ‘pen or as a spot starter, though, could help him see significant time at the big league level in the coming year. The injury to closer Grant Balfour also thins the waters for the first month of the season.
Bostick, 20, has potential as a hitter and does a little bit of everything. He doesn’t hit for much home run power but he has gap strength and will use the whole field. A contact I spoke with said Bostick is a mature player with good focus at the plate. “He has a solid swing this is conducive to using the entire field and making hard contact,” he said. “Chris’ ability reminds me of ex-big leaguer Junior Spivey. His skill set and athleticism are similar. Chris is a hard-working kid that displays passion for the game.”
The native of New York state could stand to be less aggressive at the plate. He also has solid speed and could steal double-digit bases at the MLB level. Defensively, Bostick has spent time at both shortstop and second base as a pro, although he’s likely to see more time at the keystone as he moves up the ladder. If his development stalls at all, he could offer value off the bench as a utility player. He should open the year in full-season ball.
Another contact I spoke with sees success in the prospect’s future. “We really like Chris’ potential… With young players like these kids, their developments are all based on gaining experience and continuing to improve as the competition continues to improve,” he said.
Vollmuth entered pro ball with the reputation of being a bat-first prospect but he hasn’t hit quite as well as expected. With that said, he reached high-A ball in his first full pro season and didn’t embarrass himself along the way. He hits for some power and has more in the tank, but he needs to do a better job of making consistent contact. He also struggles with breaking balls and struck out more than 150 times in 144 A-ball games.
A contact I spoke with said Vollmuth displayed glimpses of his potential in 2012. “He definitely possesses one of the purest fundamental swings in the entire organization… with a pretty [swing] path through the zone with power potential,” he said. “Vollmuth needs to gain some consistency and work to have strong at-bats day to day. 2013 will be a good year to see if he can take his game to the next level.”
Vollmuth, 23, shows promise at the hot corner and has a strong arm but he’s still working on his foot work and the nuances of the position. He could also end up at first base or as a utility player off the bench that offers versatility and some left-handed pop. He could return to high-A ball to begin 2013 and see double-A by the end of the year.
Ynoa, 21, has pitched just 40 innings in five years since signing for more than $4 million. The right-hander made 14 appearances in 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery the previous year. I asked a contact about how well Ynoa has bounced back from the injury and was told that his stuff is looking good, although it’s not quite back to pre-surgery levels. With that said, his fastball is still working in the low-90s and can touch the mid-90s. He also flashes and above-average curveball but needs to see his changeup improve significantly.
Assuming he’s healthy, Ynoa will open 2013 in low-A ball and the organization hopes he can break the 100-inning barrier — although it’s a big ask. The Dominican Republic native was added to the 40-man roster during the off-season and it started the clock ticking with his options, although his situation could certainly earn him a rare fourth option down the line.