|Original Published Date: Jan. 3, 2014|
In looking back to our 2012 Oakland Athletics Top 10 list, only Addison Russell and Renato Nunez remain as trades and promotions have gutted the system. I use gutted loosely as many of the moves have helped the A’s directly with Sonny Gray and Dan Straily playing significant roles in their 2013 playoff run. Other players such as Michael Choice, A.J. Cole, and Grant Green have been used as trade chips to indirectly improve the team. While the system might be down, it’s safe to say that Billy Beane has gotten tremendous value over the past two years.
As we look at this year’s top 10, it’s hard to say any system is down when the first player on your list is Addison Russell. I’ve had a chance to see Russell play numerous times and I’m convinced he will be a star and Oakland fans could be introduced to him as soon as 2014 or 2015 at the latest. He’s an easy overall top 10 prospect in the minor leagues.
After Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney and right hander Bobby Wahl, both from the 2013 draft provide the highest future impact. McKinney can really hit and if the power develops, his ceiling is a first division starter. Wahl is a college pitcher with a nice three pitch mix that could develop into a mid-rotation starter.
First baseman Max Muncy and Matt Olson slugged nearly 50 home runs between them, but both have question marks. For Muncy, is the power real and for Olson, can he hit enough to tap into his plus raw power? Muncy will return to Double-A and Olson will bring his plus raw power to Stockton in 2014.
Two international bonus babies in Michael Ynoa and Raul Alcantara provide big arms but might eventually play better in the pen. While Ynoa still has the talent that prompted the A’s to pay him a $4.25 million dollar signing bonus, injuries have slowed his development. Raul Alcantara has the stuff to pitch at the back of the rotation, but also might be better suited in the pen.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: Role 7
|Ht:6-0 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014-15|
During the 2013 off-season, the Oakland A’s traded Michael Choice to the Texas Rangers. With this move, the A’s have traded away their top selection in the 2007 through 2010 draft. While that’s clearly a trend, I’m guessing it stops with 2011 first round pick, Sonny Gray, but if not, it will definitely stop with 2012 first round choice, Addison Russell. Why? In a nutshell, Addison Russell is going to be a star.
I’ve had a chance to see Russell play a number of times during 2013 and his combination of tools, athleticism and baseball IQ is extremely impressive. The tools start with premium bat speed that he combines with surprising raw power to project both a plus hit-tool and plus future power. The combination allowed him to post an impressive .275/.377/.508 slash line as a 19-year-old in High-A. While his 73% contact rate in Stockton would suggest some swing and miss in his game, most of his contact problems occurred during the first two months of the season. In July and August, the contact rate was a solid 78%, but more importantly, he was walking as much as he was striking out.
When drafted, a lot was made of Russell’s ability to stay at shortstop. While he did commit 25 errors in 2013, the actions and athleticism are excellent. In fact, he made two spectacular plays during the Arizona Fall League that had me shaking my head. With more repetition, there’s no reason that Russell can’t profile as a solid-regular to above-average defender at shortstop.
Russell should start 2014 in Double-A and could get a cup-of-coffee in Oakland later in the summer. If not, his timetable will surely be 2015; assuming he continues to progress at the accelerated pace he has demonstrated since being drafted eleventh overall in the 2012 draft.
Fantasy Impact: Addison Russell is one of the most valuable fantasy assets currently playing in the minor leagues. His ceiling is a 25/25 player with a .280 batting average and .360 on-base percentage playing at a premium position. While he won’t do this immediately upon his promotion to Oakland, it could happen very quickly. Invest!
|2014 Age: 19||Ceiling: Role 5-6
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2016-17|
Selecting in the 24th slot of the 2013 draft, the Oakland Athletics picked high school outfielder Billy McKinney. In his short professional career, McKinney has made Billy Beane and company look brilliant as he posted a .326/.387/.437 slash line in 215 at-bats across the Arizona and New York Penn Leagues.
McKinney is blessed with bat speed and natural bat-to-ball skills. While his swing is currently more of wrist-based swing as he doesn’t use his lower half well, with instruction, he should develop leverage and ultimately average to above-average future power. His contact rate was excellent at 85% and he showed a mature approach at the plate that might prompt the A’s to put him on an accelerated program.
Given his lack of speed and only an average arm, McKinney will have to hit as he’s likely to be a left fielder or a first baseman once he moves to the upper minors. He does have good instincts on the base path and that allowed him to steal eight of nine bases. However, I do not see that translating into double-digit stolen bases, particularly as he matures and fills out.
The A’s will likely start the 19-year-old Texan in Beloit of the Midwest League in 2014 with a mid-season promotion to Stockton not out of the question. His future ceiling will depend on how well he can incorporate his lower half in order to hit for above-average power. If he can, he has the ceiling of a .300 hitter who can hit 20 plus home runs at the highest level. If not, he’s probably an extra bat.
Fantasy Impact: If the power develops, McKinney has the upside to be a .300 hitter with 20 home runs and is a must own fantasy asset. If the power doesn’t develop, he’ll be a fourth outfielder and an after-thought as a fantasy contributor. For now, I’m betting the over.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 210||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Ole Miss right-hander Bobby Wahl dropped to the fifth round of the 2013 draft after his arsenal took a dip during his junior year because of blister problems. While the surface stats looked good, his 78K/44BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97.2 innings gave teams pause. However, based on his early success in 21.2 professional innings, his Sophomore year at Ole Miss might have been a better harbinger of things to come – 99.0 IP, 104K, 32BB, and 2.55 ERA.
Wahl has a three pitch mix that begins with his fastball that sits 91-93 MPH but can touch higher in short burst. Because he gets great momentum on his delivery, the pitch shows a lot of late life and movement. The slider flashes plus as does his change-up. However, he doesn’t throw either pitch consistently for strikes as his mechanics don’t allow him to effectively control his release point.
Wahl has excellent arm speed but it comes at a price of violence in his delivery. That violence is throwing off his timing and ultimately causing his release point to shift. While he showed good control in his first taste of professional ball, maybe his struggles in college were not totally based on having blisters.
The A’s will likely start Wahl in Beloit but he could easily see Stockton before the end of the 2014 season. He has the ceiling of a number three starter but could also be used as a power reliever out of the pen. The arsenal could even tick up if used in short bursts.
Fantasy Impact: Wahl has fantasy value in deeper leagues as he should be able to provide good strikeout totals and better than league average ratios. However, there is no guarantee that he will remain a starter and that will obviously hurt his value.
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 180||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
I’ve been following Raul Alcantara since he signed with the Red Sox in 2009 for $500,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Even as a raw teenager, he showed the ability to harness his fastball and even command his secondary pitches.
After arriving in Oakland as part of the Andrew Bailey trade in late 2011, Alcantara regressed as he struggled to throw strikes during his first exposure to full season ball. However, 2013 was a different story as his secondary stuff took a step-up as did his control. In 156.1 innings across Low-A and High-A, Alcantara struck out 124 while walking only 24. His 1.38 walk per nine was 12th best in the entire minor leagues (100 innings minimum).
Alcantara is primarily a fastball/change-up pitcher but does throw a slider that can get swings and misses. The fastball sits 90-93 MPH with some late tailing action. The change-up is his money pitch as he’s able to throw it with the same release point as his fastball with excellent fading action. I do believe that the slider will improve and that will give him three above average pitches with above average command.
While Alcantara has great control, his pitching mechanics are only average. There is effort in his delivery and he doesn’t get great extension as his stride is short and his landing upright. This type of delivery will help a pitcher with his control as he’ll be able to get on top of his pitches better, but he loses kinetic energy and probably fastball velocity as a result. Plus, the upright landing causes extra stress on the elbow.
The A’s will likely start Alcantara in the Texas League to start the 2014 season. If he continues to progress his slider, he has the ceiling of number three starter. I wish the mechanics were better, but there is clearly upside in the 21-year-old Dominican.
Fantasy Impact: Alcantara should be monitored as he’s an intriguing prospect who will pitch in an excellent park from a fantasy standpoint. He has the ceiling of a number three and could be a useful swing pitcher in a deep fantasy league.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
It was easy to get excited about the $2.4 million dollar investment that the Athletics made in Renato Nunez after he posted a .325/.403/.550 slash line in the Arizona League in 2012. However, as the teenager moved to full season ball in Beloit, things got a little more difficult as the good contact rate and patience he showed in rookie ball, did not carry forward. What did carry forward was the power as he slugged 19 home runs in 128 games.
Nunez has the one skill that you can’t teach – great bat speed. While the swing can get long at times and with that, strikeouts; the swing is also powerful with a nice quiet setup and good extension. While you want to see a contact rate better than 73% and the ability to walk more than once a week, I think he’ll hit enough to get to his potential future power.
Defensively, Nunez profiles as an average at best third baseman with limited range and a whopping 39 errors to boot. While he’s not a burner, he is athletic and the A’s might decide to move him to left field. If that doesn’t work, then he’ll be first base bound. Either way, his bat will have to carry him.
Nunez should get an offensive lift in 2014 as he moves to the California League. I would expect his power to explode in the way that Michael Choice, Max Muncy and others did. That will likely give him additional prospect helium but I’m not sold that he is more than a second division left fielder or first baseman.
Fantasy Impact: Nunez has the bat speed and power potential to profile as a first division starter at either left field or first base. However, he’s likely a second division contributor with a .250/.290/.440 slash line with 20 home runs. That said, he could blow up next year in the California League and that’s your time to sell high and profit on the 20-year-old.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Closer|
|Ht: 6-7 Weight: 210||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
The development process is far from linear. Some players fly through the minor league system and in just a year or two are contributing in the big leagues. However, most players deal with periods of growth followed by setbacks, followed by more setbacks and growth until they are told – “Welcome to the Big Leagues” or “You’ve been released”. Michael Ynoa is a great example of a highly touted Latin signee that five years later posted a 7.71 ERA with 17 walks in 21.0 innings in High-A.
While there have been more downs than ups for the 6-foot-7 Dominican, he is starting to show the talent that prompted the Oakland Athletics to spend $4.25 million dollars on the right hander in 2008. He has an electric arm with a plus fastball that sits 92-94 MPH and can touch higher and his money pitch, a potentially knee-buckingly 12-to-6 curve ball when he can throw it for strikes. While the arsenal is promising, his ability to command is just not there.
Part of the problem is just his mere size. At 6-foot-7, there is a lot to get coordinated in order for Ynoa to repeat his delivery. Throw in his injury history that includes shoulder problems as well as Tommy John reconstructive surgery, and you see the problem – it’s hard to learn how to pitch when you’ve only thrown 115.1 innings in five years.
While Ynoa remains an intriguing prospect, he turned 22-years-old in September and still remains quite raw. The Athletics may decide in 2014 to simply move him to the bullpen and let his fastball play up a grade to try and accelerate his progression. The talent is there and allowing him to unleash the beast for an inning at a time, might be the best course for him.
Fantasy Impact: While many Dynasty League owners have kept Ynoa on their roster, hoping that he will live up to the big signing bonus, it might be time to drop him. Could you wait another couple of months to see if he takes a major step-up? Perhaps, but it’s getting close to making the call.
|2014 Age: 23||Ceiling: Role 4-5
|Ht:6-0 Weight: 190||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
I had a chance to sit in on series with Max Muncy in May and I fell hard for the 6-foot, 190 first baseman. Yeah, I knew that his power output was likely Cali League juiced but he showed great patience and contactability and I thought if he could just develop above-average power, the A’s might have something. A mid-season promotion to Midland and four home runs in 172 at-bats later, and it appears my dreams might not be realized.
Muncy was taken in the fifth round of the 2012 draft out of Baylor and he’s been exactly what his draft dossier stated – an ability to hit with questions around his power. The hit tool is quite impressive as he has a short compact swing and is able to barrel the ball. His contact rate was 81% over 523 at-bats and he walked nearly 17% of the time. That skill set should project him to be a .275 plus hitter, although his BABIP will never get a boost from his legs as he is a below average runner.
The power is the question. Muncy doesn’t have premium bat speed and lacks the raw power and loft in his swing to suggest he will hit more than 10-15 home runs at the highest level. However, that could change if he tweaks his swing to add leverage. Am I wishing here or using logic…a little of both, but I did tell you I fell hard for him…
I would expect the Athletics to start Muncy back in Double-A after an invite to Spring Training. I still believe he’s a prospect as he has the tool that is the hardest to teach – the ability to hit. That said, given the plethora of first base options at the A’s disposal, he could be used as a trade chip to add depth somewhere else within the organization.
Fantasy Impact: Muncy is only ownable in the deepest of Dynasty Leagues. He’s a top 300 prospect for me with the ceiling of a .280 batting average with 20 home runs but is more likely to settle at .280 and 15 home runs while playing an above-average first base.
8. Matt Olson (1B)
Yeah, Matt Olson hit .225 and had a 70% contact rate, but he also hit 23 home runs in the Midwest League as a teenager. Yet, the 6-foot-4, 235 pound man-child gets very little love in prospect circles. I get it, he has 40-grade speed and is likely relegated to first base duties that will put a lot of pressure on his bat. But he also has plus-plus raw power and if he can improve his contact, the A’s might actual have something. Plus, the kid knows the strike zone as he walked 72 times in 481 at-bats.
Olson should move to Stockton in 2014 and could easily hit 30 home runs if stays at the level the entire year. At 20-years-old he’ll also be one of the youngest players in the league.
9. Nolan Sanburn (RHP)
Nolan Sanburn started the year on the disabled list with shoulder tendonitis and was only able to log 30 innings in the second half of the year. There was talk of moving him to the starting rotation but the A’s did not allow him to throw more than two innings in any one outing. He has the stuff of a starter with a fastball that can work in the mid-90’s, a 12-to-6 downer curve that is a real swing and miss pitch, and a change-up that shows promise. It’ll be interesting to see what the A’s do with him in 2014, but if he moves to the starting rotation, there could upside in the 6-foot right-hander.
10. Daniel Robertson (SS)
Taken as the 34th overall pick in the 2012 draft out of Upland High School in California, Daniel Roberston makes good contact and controls the strike zone well. However, his lack of any loud tool puts his ceiling as a second division starter or an extra bat. While he did hit nine home runs at Beloit, his swing path and bat speed suggest average future power. Despite stealing only one out of eight bases, he should put up four to five stolen bases per year. That said, he can hit and that’s the hardest tool to teach, so there is a chance he could find his way to the Major Leagues as a utility player.
2014 Emerging Prospect:
Bijon B.J. Boyd (OF)
B.J. Boyd is a projectable athletic outfielder just two years removed from high school. At 5-10 and 220 pounds, he’s built like the half back he played in high school. While he posted a very good slash line in the New York Penn League of .285/.375/.442, it was partially fueled by .353 BABIP. While Boyd has a long way to go, there is athleticism and plenty to dream on.