5 Prospects Who Could Push the Oakland A's into the Playoffs in September
As the MLB season gets ready to head into the home stretch, teams look at this point of the year as a chance to see some of the younger players from the minor leagues get some big-league experience. It works well for the team, which does not lose time on a player's arbitration clock, and for the players themselves, who have an opportunity to impress or stick around into the following season.
For the A's, the September call-ups may turn out to be largely ceremonial in the midst of a full-fledged playoff chase. This is even more of a possibility after the trade for shortstop Stephen Drew and the impressive debut of Brett Anderson. That said, there are still opportunities for A's prospects to contribute in 2012. Not just for themselves, but for this Cinderella team that continues to hunt for an improbable trip to the postseason.
Some of these players have had time with the club and will certainly get opportunities again. Others have not, but still intrigue me based on the circumstances that have recently unfolded. Most notably, the suspension of Bartolo Colon. Although I am not expecting the A's to thrust anyone from Sacramento into a starting spot, there are some players who do have a chance to make an imprint on the final month of the season.
Michael Taylor, OF
Before some of you scoff (and I'm sure there were a few A's fans that did), hear me out: Taylor has only played 17 games in the major leagues. That's it. Taylor's experience is all of 56 plate appearances and 51 at-bats. So it can be said that Taylor's sample size is much too small to make a determination for a player of his immense potential.
A best-case scenario for the A's is that like Chris Carter, the light will switch on and Taylor will be closer to the .292/.411/.467 slash line hitter (with a nifty .868 OPS) given more at-bats than the player who has struck out 10 times in 21 at-bats while with Oakland so far this season. Taylor, for his struggles, still represents something the A's lack overall in their lineup: right-handed power.
So ultimately, the best-case scenario for Taylor could be he provides insurance for Jonny Gomes or (Heaven forbid) another Yoenis Cespedes injury. Like Carter, Taylor is still a highly-touted prospect and at age 26, it is time to show or go. He will definitely be among those called up by Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin.
Tyson Ross, SP
The rangy, 6'6" Tyson Ross will certainly be the first in this group to impact the A's fortunes. Thanks to Bartolo Colon's suspension, Ross will make the key Thursday start in the huge three-game series against Tampa Bay this weekend. After struggling with command and watching his ERA balloon to 6.35 after 12 starts with the A's, Ross was sent to Sacramento on June 17.
Ross has been solid for Sacramento though, posting a 2.74 ERA with the Triple-A club and has managed a respectable 28 walks in 75.2 innings. Ross was actually solid with the A's in 2011 until injuries forced him to the disabled list, tallying a 3-3 record with a 2.75 ERA in 36 total innings. That is the player the A's hope to get short term as the schedule and the race to the playoffs heats up.
Of the five on this list, Ross actually stands to benefit the least in my opinion. If he pitches well, the A's still have a surplus of starting pitching (Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin, Brandon McCarthy), and he is competing against pitchers that are more highly touted than he is right now. That said, there is no better place to make your mark than on the bump. If Ross can do what Milone did against the Twins and shut the Rays lineup down, it would go a long way toward giving him something meaningful in September.
Brad Peacock, SP
Next on the list is minor league starting pitcher Brad Peacock. Acquired in the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to Washington, many experts assumed Peacock would actually be the first of the A's young arms to be called up. That was especially the case when Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey struggled to begin 2012.
Instead, it wound up being fellow prospect Jarrod Parker who came to Oakland, as well as the unheralded, but successful A.J. Griffin. Meanwhile, Peacock has struggled in Triple-A, posting a 5.61 ERA and allowing 137 hits and 60 walks in just 128.1 innings. That said, there are some silver linings to his year.
First and foremost, Peacock has struck out 133 hitters in those 128.1 innings. In addition, he is pitching well when it matters most, going 5-1 in his last six decisions. My feeling would be Peacock could be used as an arm in long relief and/or a situational reliever for the A's at best. But when he is on, his fastball (around 94 mph) is a perfect setup for a plus pitch you do not see in baseball all that often: the knuckle curve. I do expect Peacock to be called up, but only on an "as needed" basis.
Grant Green, INF
Our penultimate player is one who many knowledgeable A's fans have been curious to see in Oakland much of the year. His name is Grant Green. And for many, the question is not if he will be with the A's, but why isn't he already?
Taken 13th overall in the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Green was penciled in as the A's shortstop of the future. And while his offense has not been an issue (.302 hitter on all minor league levels), his defense has given some in the organization pause. So much so that at one point in the year, Green actually played five different positions (SS, CF, 2B, LF, 3B) on five different days.
Most attribute that to Oakland trying to get him in a position to come up to the big club and contribute right away. Whatever the rationale, it has not affected his hitting. Green's slash line of .295/.339/.451 would be light years better than anything the A's have run out in the middle infield this year. That includes recent acquisition Stephen Drew.
That said, Green would not be thrust into playing right away smack in the middle of a playoff race. However, it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could pinch hit and/or platoon at either shortstop or second base. The demotion of Jemile Weeks (who is certain to return as one of the September call-ups) makes this possibility all the more intriguing.
Ultimately though, the hope is that a taste of the big show could benefit one of the top prospects in the organization. Truthfully, he could not do any worse than the SS/2B combo the A's have been running out much of the year. And I am inclined to think he will get a chance to prove it.
Dan Straily, SP
A pretty obvious choice for this list, Dan Straily is my top prospect for the A's to push the club into the playoffs heading into September. Straily had two very solid starts and a stinker against the Angels but overall his ERA of 3.18 is stable. I fully expect him to slide into the spot Tyson Ross takes for his spot start in Tampa and go from there.
As I said before, Straily could very well hold the key to the A's postseason. I say that because even with Bartolo Colon gone, Brett Anderson looks ready to contribute and A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker have been mostly consistent. Brandon McCarthy has had a couple of hiccups, but I see no reason for him not to at least bounce back to a level of innings-eater down the stretch.
That leaves Tom Milone and Straily. Milone gave the A's a very encouraging effort Wednesday against the Twins, allowing only a single run (in spite of four A's errors) in eight very efficient innings. In other words, the pitching seems ready for a final push. But it will need to be balanced out. Straily's arm can be more than a fill-in. I truly believe he can be the difference to Oakland not just getting in, but making a real run toward playoff success in October. Now, it appears he may have to be.
There are some guys who will be coming up from Sacramento who are not, in the truest sense, prospects, but may still have some marginal impact in September. Those players include reserve outfielder Colin Cowgill, journeyman reliever Jim Miller (who has pitched well for the A's) and infielder Brandon Hicks. All three have spent time with Oakland in 2012 and each has contributed.
Ultimately though, this list is great because at the time of this writing, the A's are not just a nice story. They are a legitimate contender in the American League. This season is about opportunity. It can be seized by no fewer than eight teams legitimately.
The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers have the same issue: questionable starting pitching. They are the only two teams who seem assured of spots in the postseason, though the end of 2011 proved that you are not in until Game 162 (at least).
No team symbolizes that idea of anything can happen like the Oakland A's. This was a team many had losing upward of 100 games. They have started castoffs (Luke Hughes), castaways (Brandon Inge), rookies, veterans and through it all, they have somehow continued to win in the midst of a wild race.
But like most teams this time of year, the A's can definitely use reinforcements. Some positions are more glaring than others. And there is still no guarantee that the players on this list will provide the spark they are capable of. That said, with August winding down, only the most illogical fan could look at this team and not appreciate the ride it has taken the East Bay on this summer. The best part is, there is no reason to think it can't stretch into the fall.