The Athletics have been busy this offseason, but not in a good way if you were a fan expecting them to contend in 2012 (then again, why would you really have been expecting that anyway?). The A’s are short on cash and are in desperate need of a new ballpark, so in the meantime they’re trying to get younger and cheaper. Mission accomplished so far. How do these new additions fit into their farm system and how will these players affect your fantasy team down the road and during the 2012 season? Josh Shepardson and I take a look…A’s Top 5 Fantasy Prospects
1. Michael Choice, OF
Josh’s take: Choice is a prototypical slugging outfielder. He has played some centerfield in his minor league career, but profiles as a corner outfielder. His plus power comes with big strikeout totals, but he did make huge strides from his professional debut, 33.5 percent strikeout rate in 121 plate appearances at Low-A last year, to this year, 24.7 percent strikeout rate in High-A . Choice was at his best in the Arizona Fall League sporting a 9:12 walk-to-strikeout rate with six home runs in 66 at-bats. He should begin the year in Double-A with a possible cup of coffee coming in September when rosters expand if he has a big year.
Charlie’s take: I had a chance to see a lot of Choice in the Cal League last summer and I drew some very mixed opinions of him over the course of the season. The first thing one notices when one watches Choice take batting practice is how loud the ball comes off of his bat and then how far the ball travels after the sound subsides. He has terrific raw power and to all fields and he clearly knows how to translate that power into game situations. However, he was exposed early in the season and his stikeout total suffered because of it. Then, after some adjustments to his pre-swing mechanics -- they “quieted down” – his high strikeout rate came down as the season went on. Even with the adjustment in pre-swing mechanics, I still think Choice has too much length in his swing, which is extremely evident against breaking balls. As he faces advanced pitching and moves away from the ultra-hitter-friendly Cal League, that might become and issue.
Ultimately, Choice should be a regular corner outfielder – he is quite athletic for his size and has a good throwing arm – with plenty of power to hit 30-plus home runs annually. The big question is whether he will hit for much AVG or not. My guess is that he becomes more of a .265-.275 hitter, but his plate discipline should make him more valuable in OBP leagues no matter what.
2. Jarrod Parker, SP
Josh’s take: Parker had a stellar showing coming back from Tommy John surgery this year. He still needs to further refine his control, and as he regains trust in his secondary offerings, namely his plus slider, his strikeout rate should benefit. He already made his major league debut in September for the Diamondbacks, but it wouldn't be surprising to see his new club, the A's, start him in Triple-A to continue his development. If everything comes together, Parker should be a desirable fantasy pitcher that racks up healthy strikeout totals and limits home run damage with a groundball slant in batted balls.
Charlie’s take: One of the last things to come back after TJS is control and command. With that in mind, I am very confident that Parker will make the adjustments and find the consistency he once had in his breaking stuff that made him such a highly regarded prospect. Parker is an extremely hard worker and he was already back to throwing in the mid-90s once he returned from surgery. He has a higher ceiling that the player he was traded for, Trevor Cahill, and he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher currently in the A’s system. That includes Brett Anderson. While there is certainly some risk involved, Parker could still become a soft ace with the floor of a solid third starter.
3. Brad Peacock, SP
Josh’s take: Peacock used his fastball and spike curve combination to turn Double-A and Triple-A batters into strikeout victims. His breakout began, to a certain extent, in 2010 at the High-A level where he displayed strikeout skills, 10.28 K/9, with excellent control, 2.18 BB/9. He ramped things up to another level in 2011, and was rewarded with two starts, and one relief appearance for the Nationals. I expect him to have a shot at one of the vacant rotation openings right out of the gate, but even if he opens the year in Triple-A, expect an early promotion. If Peacock further refines his change-up, he could make a big rookie splash in 2012. Even if it takes him some time to iron the kinks out, the future looks bright for this young arm.
4. Derek Norris, C
Josh’s take: Rarely does a batter that hits .210 in Double-A retain much of their prospect luster. Norris is that rare batter that does thanks to his excellent strike-zone command, 18.2 percent walk rate, plus power, 20 home runs in 423 plate appearances, and his scarce position eligibility, catcher. His batting average was undone this year by a high strikeout rate, 27.7 percent. That rate fell to 15.9 percent in 88 Arizona Fall League plate appearances. Seeing that rate land somewhere in between both marks would do wonders for his batting average, and with it, his long term fantasy value.
Charlie’s take: Check out my full scouting report on Norris for The Outside Corner here.
5. Sonny Gray, SP
Josh’s take: What a pro debut! Drafted 18th overall in this year's amateur draft, the Vanderbilt product signed quickly enough to make one Rookie Level Arizona League start and five Double-A starts that spanned 20 innings. Gray gave up no runs in his first 16.1 inning at the Double-A level, and just one earned run in total (0.45 ERA). He struck out a healthy 8.1 K/9, and induced a ton of worm burners. Gray's best two pitches are a low-to-mid-90s fastball that can touch 97 mph on occasion when he needs a little something extra, and a plus-plus curveball. His third pitch is a change-up that gets mixed reviews. He began his college career as a reliever, but was moved to the rotation after his freshman year. If his change-up never develops as the A's hope, he should be at worst, a late inning reliever with a two-pitch power fastball/curve combo.
Charlie’s take: Coming out of the draft, I saw Gray as a future closer. Despite being transitioned to a starting role in college, and dominating in that role, I think he lacks the crucial third pitch needed to keep big-league hitters off balance. While he looked dominant in his pro debut, we have to look at those numbers in the context of 22 innings. When he reaches The Show, hitters will undoubtedly adjust after facing him a few times. 2012 will tell us a lot about what to expect of Grey going forward. If he continues to dominate hitters in a starting role, his pure stuff might be good enough to make him a number two starter if he can refine a third pitch. At worst, as Josh stated, his pure stuff is good enough to make him a closer capable of racking up saves, maybe even as soon as next season.
A’s Top 5 for 2012
1. Brad Peacock, SP: See analysis above. He has a very good shot at a rotation spot out of spring training.
2. Jarrod Parker, SP: Finds himself behind Peacock on the 2012 list because we believe he is a bit behind Peacock on the development curve. Higher upside, but may need more time at Triple-A to refine his repotuare.
3. Chris Carter, 1B
Josh’s take: After consecutive poor showings in small samples in the majors, Carter is losing prospect luster. At his best, he looks like a first base/designated hitter that offers plus power and walk rates that would offset high strikeout totals and a poor batting average. At his worst, he looks like a classic Quad-A player that's good enough to succeed against Triple-A pitching, but fails to make the adjustment against major league pitchers. He has over 200 games experience at the Triple-A level, and 2012 represents a sink or swim opportunity on a young A's team that has little hope of making a playoff run.
Charlie’s take: Now 25, Carter’s big swing has proven to be a big problem at the upper levels. In parts of three seasons at Triple-A, Carter has posted a line of .264/.361/.529 and his limited time in the majors (124 plate appearances) has resulted in an ugly line of .167/.226/.254 with a putrid 33.1 percent strikeout rate. There is enough power in Carter’s game for 30-plus home runs, but he’ll have to get on base much more often to even get the chance at accomplishing that. Given the A’s lack of money and options, however, he might get an extended look at 1B/DH duties. Upside: .250/30 HR. Downside: Back to Triple-A.
4. Michael Taylor, OF
Josh’s take: Time is rapidly running out for this athletic outfielder to translate his tools into useable skills. Taylor was one of the prospects used by the Phillies to acquire Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays. He never played for the Blue Jays organization, and was flipped to the A's in return for Brett Wallace. After flashing all the skills at the Double-A level you'd hope to see from a fantasy outfielder while with the Phillies in 2009, he has failed to duplicate that success with his current employer. Taylor will probably open the season in Triple-A, but if the light goes on, and he's able to tap into the skills he once put on display with his previous organization, he could offer modest home run and stolen base contributions with a decent batting average.
Charlie’s take: As Josh wrote, Taylor is more or less a busted prospect at this point. He still flashes the skills that made him the 29th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America in 2010, but his performance has been anything bust consistent since. Taylor has still shown the patience to draw walks and get good pitches to hit, so there is at least some upside for a 15/15 season.
I actually petitioned to have Collin Cowgill ranked here instead mostly because I though that Cowgill had the clearer path to playing time and 30 stolen base potential. However, when we compared the two on the basis of upside, Taylor simply had more.
5. Tom Milone, SP
Josh’s take: Certain players are able to quell concerns about a lack of velocity by succeeding in the face of every challenge they face. Milone might just be one of those rare cases. His fastball velocity resides in the mid-to-upper-80s (87.8 mph average velocity on his four-seam fastball, 79.9 mph average velocity on his two-seam fastball in 26 innings in the majors). What he lacks in fastball velocity, he has made up for by adding and subtracting velocity, cut, and sink to those pitches, and complimenting them with a variety of secondary pitches (slider, curveball and change-up). He also has remarkable control of his pitches, as he walk less than a batter per-nine innings in Triple-A this past season (0.97 BB/9). Milone doesn't have much room for error locating his pitches at the big league level, and is unlikely to match his strikeout rates from the high minors regardless of how well he sequences and locates his pitches.Charlie’s take: Given the lack of depth in Oakland’s rotation, Milone has a shot at getting a lot of innings in Oakland this season. While the skills aren’t there to expect great numbers, he’s just the type of lefty that could get by with some help from the ballpark, defense and our good ole friend/enemy BABIP in Oakland and post a 3.75 ERA.