Another year, another loss in the Division Series for the Oakland Athletics.
There are some teams that are better equipped to perform well over the course of 162 games as opposed to a short series, though it's not like the A's didn't have chances to defeat Detroit.
No matter. While the rest of the baseball world focuses on what is sure to be an epic clash between the Tigers and Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, Billy Beane and his staff are busy preparing for 2014.
The good news is there likely won't be a lot of reshuffling for the A's, because virtually all of their top talent is under team control at least through next year. It also doesn't hurt that there are a few players at the upper levels of the minors who are ready to fill a few voids they have.
Overall, the A's don't have a great system. Sonny Gray was their most high-profile prospect to graduate in 2013, but who will be the next great Oakland star to get this franchise over the playoff hump in 2014?
Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Michael Choice, Oakland's first-round pick in the 2010 draft, got a taste of the big leagues in September after a strong season in Triple-A, during which he hit .302/.390/.445 with 29 doubles, 14 home runs and a 115-69 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Admittedly, some of those numbers get skewed because the Pacific Coast League is hitter friendly. Choice is also a victim of circumstance, because the A's have a starting outfield of Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick who are all under contract for 2014.
However, if the A's want to get creative, they could slot Choice in center field. Crisp has a team option for $7.5 million next year and is coming off his best offensive season since 2010—a season in which he had a .779 OPS and set a career high with 22 home runs in 131 games.
The A's could try to capitalize on Crisp's elevated trade value to acquire a valuable big-league ready asset that would be under cost control for a few years. They could then promote Choice to be the starting center fielder.
Choice isn't as good as those offensive numbers at Triple-A would suggest, but he boasts a strong set of tools. He has some length in his swing, with a wide base and long load that could give him problems against velocity, but he makes up for it with big raw power and a solid approach.
His defense is sound, though it won't be as good as Crisp, because he doesn't have that kind of range and would probably be best suited in a corner spot over the long term.
Basically, Choice has a solid-to-average future in the big leagues. Also, considering he will make about $300,000, there is great value in adding him now.
Arnold Leon was flirting with the big leagues this season, but Oakland kept him in the Triple-A rotation, and his stuff wasn't as overpowering as it had been previously. The 25-year-old threw 144 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with 168 hits allowed and a 97-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Of course, given that his future in MLB would be as a reliever, Leon could see an uptick in strikeouts if the A's give him a shot next year where he doesn't have to worry as much about finding a third pitch.
Leon has a lean frame at 6'1", 205 pounds. He doesn't have great size from the right side, so there isn't a lot of plane on his fastball—which can touch the mid 90s as a starter and might hit 96-97 in relief—and hitters are capable of squaring it up. It also doesn't help that the heater comes into the zone straight as an arrow.
His fastball is backed up with a dynamite changeup that could end up as a plus pitch in the big leagues with great, late, downward fade that hitters are going to roll over. He also has a curveball, but it's a fringe offering at best.
While the A's aren't exactly starved for more relievers on the big league team, at some point, someone is going to get hurt, and someone from the minors will have to step up. Leon had a down season starting in 2013, but he could be a key piece out of the bullpen next year.
The final prospect on this list also happens to be Oakland's best prospsect, by a country mile.
Addison Russell also happens to be one of the top prospects in all of baseball, and he has moved up the ladder faster than anyone anticipated when he was drafted with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Russell started slowly in 2013, but he rebounded nicely to hit .275/.377/.508 with 29 doubles, 10 triples, 17 home runs, 21 stolen bases and a 125-61 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a 19-year-old in Double-A.
The scary part is, given that there is still room to fill out his 6'0", 195-pound frame, Russell will likely add more over-the-fence power in the next two or three years. He's got incredible bat speed and will make some of the loudest contact you will ever hear.
There are some concerns about Russell outgrowing shortstop because he is going to get bigger, though people have been wondering about his ability to stay at the position since he was in high school. However, he lost 20 pounds prior to his senior season in order to keep his range without sacrificing any of his offensive production/upside.
Even if Russell, who has above-average range and a plus arm, loses a step in the next few years, he is a good enough athlete to maintain average range. An average defender at shortstop with the potential to hit .280 with 30 home runs at your peak makes you a star.
Given how quickly Russell has moved up the ladder—including a brief three-game trial in Triple-A this season—he is going to be in Oakland very soon.
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