Oakland A's Farm Report: How Are Top Prospects Performing in 2011?
While the big league club is showing flashes of the expectations that were placed on them during the preseason, several members of the team's future are making strides towards reaching the big leagues playing for the A's minor league affiliates.
As early as this season with a September call-up, several top prospects aim to make an impact in a hopeful 2011 pennant race. The others will look to keep the team competitive in 2012 and beyond.
Right now the A's are hovering around .500, and currently are just 3 1/2 games out of first place.
The offseason acquisitions are finally starting to show some consistency, and are making a push to live up to the expectations that were placed on them this season.
Meanwhile, the pitching has been great, and is arguably set for postseason competition behind their Big Three.
This A's roster was built to make a run at the AL West title this season. The roster features six position players eligible for free agency at the end of the season, as well as a few non-tender candidates. This means we will have an entirely different team behind our league-best pitching for 2012.
Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui, Conor Jackson and Mark Ellis will all be free agents.
Kevin Kouzmanoff is likely a non-tender candidate, and Daric Barton is no guarantee to return in 2012 given his season-long slump.
The pitching rotation will feature a pair of free agents in Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden, who has still yet to make his season debut.
While the rotation will return largely intact, let's take a look at how some of the potential heirs to the current MLB positions are performing at the one-third mark of the season in their respective levels of the minor leagues.
Jemile Weeks: Second Base, Sacramento River Cats
If you listen to the A's flagship radio station, Sports Radio 95.7 FM, then you no doubt have heard A's fans calling for Jemile Weeks' promotion to Oakland.
Weeks has been tearing it up in Triple-A for the Sacramento River Cats this season.
Entering June, Weeks is currently hitting .331/.421/.467 with three home runs and 21 RBI. He has added six doubles and four triples to go along with his eight stolen bases (in 11 attempts).
This is Weeks first full season of Triple-A. The A's like to give players a full season in Sacramento to develop before promoting them.
Mark Ellis will be the second baseman for the remainder of this season barring injury. But given his free agent status, his days in Oakland are over at the end of the 2011 season.
The way Weeks has performed so far this season, we should see him this September. And we can assume that the job is his to lose entering spring training next year.
Adrian Cardenas: Second Base/Third Base/Left Field/DH, Sacramento River Cats
It's really hard to figure out which position the A's project Cardenas to play in the Major Leagues.
This season alone Sacramento has started him at left field, third base, and designated hitter. However, he was originally drafted and worked his way up to Triple-A as a second baseman.
Since Weeks is the probable heir to Mark Ellis at second, Cardenas is likely headed to Oakland as a backup outfielder or utility infielder, given his versatility.
What puzzles me, though, is that Cardenas does seem to have a Major League bat. He has hit around .300 at every level of the minor leagues.
This season he has been every bit as hot at the plate as Jemile Weeks has.
Cardenas has a batting line of .337/.403/.440, with a pair of home runs and 20 RBI. He also has 11 doubles and has scored 28 runs.
Cardenas, like Weeks, is practically a shoo-in for a September call-up. If there are any injuries to any of the Athletics regular infielders, you would assume that Cardenas will be the first player from Sacramento to receive a call to The Show.
Scott Sizemore: Third Base, Sacramento River Cats
Recently acquired for pitcher David Purcey, Scott Sizemore is being converted to a third baseman by the Oakland A's.
Sizemore was pegged to become the Tigers' everyday second baseman. He has been a top prospect throughout the minor leagues but has failed to translate that success during his opportunities at the Major League level.
Since coming over from the Tigers, he has lived up to his reputation as far as offensive production. In five games for the River Cats, he has a batting line of .333/.560/.467.
His combined batting line for 2011 at the Triple-A level for both the A's and the Tigers is even more impressive at .409/.523/.602. He has just two home runs, but he does have 15 RBI and nine doubles.
Sizemore could see time in Oakland as soon as the Athletics are satisfied with his defensive progress at third base. His promotion to the majors will be determined by the play of Kevin Kouzmanoff and Andy LaRoche.
Reports that the A's had interest in Sizemore for years, though, indicate that he is likely their first option to man the hot corner until 2010 draft pick Yordy Cabrera is ready to take over in a few years.
The A's still remain a long-shot candidate to trade for a Major League-established third baseman, which will most likely happen during the offseason.
Michael Taylor: Right Field, Sacramento River Cats
Michael Taylor has left his disappointing 2010 season behind him and come out swinging in 2011.
He only has one home run so far this season, but his overall batting line is impressive at .333/.395/.420.
He's only played in 17 games, still recovering from an early injury.
The A's would probably still like to see his power return a little before entertaining a call-up. But he seems back on pace to being in the mix for a starting position with Oakland in 2012.
The A's could call him up in September after the minor league playoffs are over.
The logjam in the outfield currently diminishes any chances of him seeing a call-up before September, and makes it more likely that the A's would leave Taylor in Sacramento to help the River Cats in the Triple-A playoffs rather than bring him up to Oakland to sit on the bench.
Still, it is nice to see him hitting better this season than he did in his first season in the A's system.
Jai Miller: Center Field, Sacramento River Cats
Jai Miller is looking like a solid addition to the A's organization. He was originally selected by the Florida Marlins in fourth round of the 2003 draft.
Oakland picked him up off waivers from Florida in April 2010, before he was claimed by the Kansas City Royals on waivers a couple weeks later. The A's signed him as a minor league free agent this past offseason, bringing him back to their organization.
Still just 26 years old, Miller is currently batting .307/.433/.693 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI for the River Cats. He also has added seven doubles, two triples and six stolen bases.
Miller's power would be a welcome addition to the A's lineup, although it's hard to find a spot for him in the crowded A's outfield this season.
I'm personally interested in seeing how he handles the rest of the season, and if he can be another minor league journeyman that finds a home in Oakland, similar to Jack Cust a few seasons back (don't cringe, I refer to the positives that he brought, not the negatives).
Chris Carter: Left Field/First Base/DH, Sacramento River Cats
While many fans have lost faith in Chris Carter, the A's seem to still believe he will be a monster in the Majors when he finally develops the defensive skills to claim a position.
Carter's season has not really had a chance to get underway yet. He had played in just 14 games before suffering an injury to his thumb.
Prior to his injury he was slumping, hitting just .173 with a pair of homers.
While Carter is hardly a candidate to win a Gold Glove at first base, it is arguably his best position. The season-long slump that has plagued Daric Barton could eventually earn Carter an audition at this position once he returns.
He'll need to raise his batting average and show some flashes of the power that have earned him praise by the Athletics' player development department if he is to see time in the Majors before September, though.
Still, it'd just be nice to see him get his 2011 season going at some point.
Michael Spina: First Base, Midland Rockhounds
Michael Spina, drafted in the eleventh round of the 2009 draft, has shown steady hitting skills so far in his first two full seasons.
Last year he batted .253/.348/.444 with 23 home runs and 88 RBI in 135 games for the Stockton Ports.
This season he is batting .280/.398/.509 with nine home runs and 38 RBI for the Midland Rockhounds, the A's Double-A affiliate.
At his current rate of progression, he should receive a call up to Triple-A before season's end, and he has a realistic shot proving his value to the A's next year in spring training.
As previously stated, the A's like to give a player a full season at Triple-A before bringing them to Oakland, but the thought of a power hitting first baseman has got to be tempting.
Stephen Parker: Third Base, Midland Rockhounds
Stephen Parker is viewed by some within the A's organization as the third baseman of the future.
He's off to a pedestrian start in Double-A this season, batting .250/.333/.399 with six home runs and 33 RBI.
The addition of Scott Sizemore to the organization allows the A's to move Parker along at a slower pace, and give his bat time to develop at Midland before rushing him up to Sacramento and eventually Oakland.
He's at least two full seasons away by the looks of things so far, though.
Jermaine Mitchell: Center Field, Midland Rockhounds
Jermaine Mitchell is having a breakout season in his second go-round with the A's Double-A affiliate this season.
Mitchell actually played at all three levels of the minors last year, seeing most of his action (and success) in high-A ball with the Stockton Ports. He was called up to Midland and played in 37 games before seeing three games with Sacramento in Triple-A.
The way he is playing right now will likely earn him a promotion back to Sacramento very soon.
Mitchell currently has a batting line of .365/.485/.661 with seven home runs and 36 RBI. Perhaps more impressive than his power this season has been his overall extra-base hitting. In addition to the seven homers, he also has ten doubles and 13 triples.
Yes, that's right, I said 13 triples in just the first 49 games of the Double-A season!
He has also swiped 10 bags, but has been caught stealing 7 times as well.
He could definitely be in the picture for the A's next spring training, competing for a starting job with Ryan Sweeney and Jai Miller.
Grant Green: Shortstop, Midland Rockhounds
Considered by many to be the team's top prospect, Grant Green is still a distant solution at shortstop for the Athletics.
He is currently batting .282/.342/.385 with a pair of home runs and 24 RBI for the Rockhounds.
He could see some time at Triple-A this season, but the A's are content with Cliff Pennington at SS for 2011 and presumably 2012, so they won't rush Green's development.
Michael Choice: Center Field, Stockton Ports
If you're an A's fan and live in the Bay Area, it's definitely worth the hour-long car ride to Stockton to see Michael Choice play in person.
The A's 2010 first-round pick, who impressed in his first big league spring training this year, is currently leading the Ports with 11 home runs and 34 RBI.
His batting average could use some improvement, currently at .251. His on-base percentage and slugging percentage are respectable though at .354 and .497, respectively.
Choice is probably at least two seasons away from contributing in Oakland, but he could be a late season call-up in 2012.
If you had a chance to watch him play in spring training, though, you know this kid will be the real deal once he reaches the big leagues.
If you didn't get a chance to see him play in spring training, then I repeat that it is worth the hour drive to Stockton to catch a Ports game and see for yourself.