Lake Monsters designated hitter Justin Higley pulled off a rare feat on Sunday – an inside-the-park grand slam. And to make things even better, it came with the game tied in the bottom of the 8th inning and provided Vermont with the margin of victory on Sunday. Higley also doubled, walked and scored 3 runs in the game, and he now has 9 extra-base hits and 15 RBIs in his first 10 games this season. Second baseman Joe Bennie had 3 hits and drove in a run, while first baseman Ryan Huck singled, doubled and drove in a pair. Starter Cristhian Perez allowed 4 runs, 3 earned, over 5 innings of work, while RHP Fernando Cruzado picked up the win despite giving up a run in the 9th.
See Justin Higley’s inside-the-park grand slam for yourself…
First baseman Matt Olson had a huge night in Stockton’s 11-inning victory on Thursday. The A’s third overall pick in 2012 draft collected 5 hits, including a double in the 1st inning, a home run in the 6th to tie the game and another homer in the bottom of the 11th to provide the walk-off win for the Ports. Olson drove in 5 runs and scored 3 times on the night, and his 17 home runs currently lead all California League hitters. Third baseman Renato Nunez tagged his 10th home run, while outfielder Dusty Robinson, designated hitter Ryon Healy and second baseman Chad Pinder had a pair of hits apiece for the Ports. Starter Tim Atherton surrendered 4 runs in the 1st inning on a 2-out grand slam but held Bakersfield scoreless over the next 5 frames, and he ended up allowing 4 runs on 5 hits over 6 innings of work. RHP Michael Ynoa gave up 3 runs on 3 hits in 1 1/3 innings of relief, while RHP Nolan Sanburn tossed a scoreless 9th, 10th and 11th to pick up his 2nd win. In other news, the A’s signed 25-year-old Venezulean minor league free agent RHP Yeiper Castillo and assigned him to Stockton. The former Red Sox, Cubs and Angels prospect has compiled a 3.71 ERA over 152 career minor league games. He’ll join RHP Jake Sanchez, acquired in the Michael Taylor trade, as the two newest members of the Ports pitching staff.
See what Matt Olson had to say after his big night here…
After struggling his first time out, RHP Dan Straily was far more impressive in his second start for Sacramento on Monday, allowing 1 run on just 2 hits while striking out 8 over 7 innings to earn the win. RHP Fernando Nieve tossed a scoreless 8th inning, and RHP Evan Scribner got the final 3 outs in the 9th for his 7th save. With the River Cats down by one in the 6th, shortstop Andy Parrino hit his 1st home run to tie the game, and designated hitter Alden Carrithers singled in outfielder Nick Buss in the 7th to provide the winning run for the River Cats. Meanwhile, catcher Stephen Vogt went 2 for 4 to post his fourth-straight two-hit game for Sacramento.
RHP Seth Streich turned in an impressive start for Stockton, allowing just 3 hits while walking none and striking out 9 over 6 scoreless innings, and he left the game with a 3-run lead. In his first appearance for the Ports, RHP Hunter Adkins came on to give up 2 runs in 1 2/3 innings of relief, and RHP Nolan Sanburn surrendered 2 more runs – the tying run in the 9th and the winning run in the 10th – to take the loss. Designated hitter Renato Nunez singled, walked twice and drove in a run, while second baseman Chad Pinder also singled in a run, and shortstop Daniel Robertson singled and scored twice for the Ports. Meanwhile, Stockton starter Shawn Haviland was promoted to Midland and Hunter Adkins is expected to join RHPs Seth Streich, Josh Bowman, Manny Correa and Tim Atherton as the newest member of Stockton’s starting rotation.
Former top pitching prospect Sonny Gray – who will be the next to make it big?
With the first A’s players set to report to spring training camp in just a couple of weeks, it’s time to present A’s Farm’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List for 2014. We’ve combined half a dozen different A’s prospect lists to come up with a consensus list that reflects a broad base of wisdom where A’s prospects are concerned.
You can find the prospect lists that we used to compile our consensus list at the very end of this piece. Some of the lists we’ve included are from better known sources and some are from lesser known sources, but they’ve all been chosen because they represent intelligent and informed opinions about the A’s system. For the purposes of this list, we’ve looked at the top ten picks from each list and assigned points to each player as follows: 10 points for each first place finish, 9 points for second, 8 for third, all the way on down to 1 point for each tenth place finish.
It’s interesting to note that the A’s 2012 top draft pick, shortstop Addison Russell, was the unanimous choice as the A’s top prospect, and the top five picks on our consensus list – Russell, McKinney, Alcantara, Ynoa and Nunez – were each included on all six lists. Six of the top ten are position players, while only four are pitchers. Half are products of the 2012 draft class. Half will also be 20 years old or younger to start the season, and only two are certain to start out above Class-A (Russell and Muncy, who are both expected to start the year at Midland), with none of the top ten starting out at Triple-A. So without any further ado, let’s take a look at A’s Farm’s Consensus Top 10 Prospect List for 2014…
The unanimous pick as the A’s top prospect, Russell got off to a slow start at Stockton in 2013 as the youngest player in the California League. But the then-19-year-old eventually settled in and put together a solid season both at the plate and in the field. The young shortstop slugged 29 doubles, 10 triples and 17 home runs and committed just 15 errors while playing on some pretty rocky California League fields. Russell’s attitude and his ability to learn and adapt has helped to fuel his fast rise. He’s scheduled to start the season at Double-A Midland but, if he gets off to faster start there than he did last year at Stockton, he could find himself in Sacramento before long. And with A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie set to hit free agency after the 2014 season, Russell could be just a year away from landing in Oakland.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)
The A’s most recent 1st-round draft pick, the team went after McKinney because of his sweet swing. And the Texas native lived up to his reputation at the plate, hitting .326 in 215 at-bats in 2013. Though he might not flash a lot of power, his ability to make contact seems solid. The center fielder looked strong in the outfield as well. And a full season facing slightly more advanced pitchers in the Midwest League should tell us a lot more about how fast McKinney will rise in the future.
Acquired from Boston with Josh Reddick and Miles Head in the Andrew Bailey/Ryan Sweeney deal, with Sonny Gray and Dan Straily now in the majors, Alcantara has emerged as the top pitching prospect in the A’s minor league system. Splitting the season between Stockton and Beloit, the right-hander posted a 3.11 ERA and led all A’s minor league starters with a 1.16 WHIP. Alcantara flashed an impressive changeup and showed solid control – walking just 24 batters over 156 1/3 innings. The A’s might start Alcantara at Midland but, since he just turned 21, they could still take it slow and have him start the season at Stockton.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)
The biggest bonus baby in A’s history, the team reportedly paid Ynoa $4.25 million when they signed him as a flame-throwing teenager out of the Dominican Republic back in 2008. Many injury issues later, Ynoa made it back onto the mound to throw 75 2/3 innings in 2013. The 6’7” right-hander looked impressive at Beloit, posting a 2.14 ERA in 15 starts, but he put up a 7.71 ERA in just 21 innings at Stockton. Ynoa is capable of flashing a mid-90s fastball and possesses tremendous potential, but he still needs to prove that he can command his repertoire and endure a full season on the mound. Ynoa might get the chance to do that at Midland, but he’s more likely to start the season at Stockton.
Another international bonus baby like Ynoa, the A’s reportedly signed Nunez for $2.2 million out of Venezuela in 2010. Nunez turned 19 on opening day last year and celebrated by hitting a 3-run homer. His raw power is what originally attracted the A’s to the young Venezuelan, and he notched 19 homers and 27 doubles for Beloit in 2013. Nunez could improve his plate discipline a bit though – he struck out 136 times while drawing just 28 walks last season. The third baseman also led all A’s minor leaguers with 39 errors in 114 games at the hot corner in 2013. But Nunez should get the chance to show off his bat with Stockton in the hitter-friendly California League in 2014. And as long as he continues to hit, the A’s will find a way to work around his glove.
Drafted by the A’s with their next pick after Russell in 2012, Robertson is currently the second-best shortstop prospect in the A’s system. There was originally some question about his ability to play the position, but Robertson played solely at short last season and showed some ability to stick there. While being able to play short clearly increases his value, with Russell penciled in as the A’s shortstop of the future, Robertson should also start seeing some time at second and third to increase his versatility. The California native hit .277 with 9 home runs and a .353 OBP for Beloit in 2013. He spent part of the year hitting near the top of the lineup and showed some ability to get on base, but it’s hoped that Robertson can also develop a little more pop as his bat matures.
The next pick by the A’s after Russell and Robertson in 2012, Olson’s raw power potential was what most-impressed scouts. And in his first full season in the A’s system in 2013, he blasted 23 homers for Beloit, which was more than any A’s minor leaguer except for fellow first baseman Max Muncy. Olson also put up 32 doubles to go with 72 walks, 148 strikeouts and a .225 batting average. More than half his hits were for extra bases, putting him in that category of players who walks, strikes out and gets extra-base hits more often than he singles. The Georgia native should have the chance to put his power on display for Stockton in the hitter-friendly California league in 2014. And if the 6’4” first baseman can just cut down on the K’s and put a few more balls in play, he could be a big hit in Mudville.
With more college experience than most of the A’s current crop of pitching prospects, the former Ole Miss hurler could be poised to make a quick rise. Drafted last year in the 5th-round, Wahl signed later than most and only ended up getting into 10 games, all but one with Vermont. The right-hander boasts an impressive slider and clearly was able to fool a few of the NY-Penn League hitters he faced, striking out 27 of them in his 20 2/3 innings with the Lake Monsters. Expect to see him start the 2014 season in Beloit, where the typically chilly Midwest League spring temps could help Wahl put hitters there in a deep freeze.
The first pitcher taken by the A’s in the 2012 draft, Sanburn is a hard-throwing right-hander out of the University of Arkansas. And like Wahl, he’s one of the most promising college pitchers among the A’s current crop of pitching prospects. Sanburn didn’t sign quickly after the draft and only ended up making it into 7 games with Vermont in 2012. And injury issues limited him to just 16 games last year. In his 23 appearances since being drafted, Sanburn’s posted a 2.40 ERA while striking out 45 batters in 48 2/3 innings. And with a mid-90s fastball and a solid curve, the Indiana native could move quickly if he can stay healthy and get his work in on the mound.
Muncy led all A’s minor leaguers in home runs, RBIs, total bases and walks in 2013. The Texas native is a better-than-average defender at first base too. And his 88 walks attest to the fact that he may have the best plate discipline of any current A’s hitting prospect. 21 of his 25 home runs came in the hitter-friendly California League, which tends to exaggerate almost everyone’s power numbers, but it was still a solid season for Muncy. He struggled a bit after making the move to Midland but, after a rough first few weeks, he seemed to settle in and start having productive at-bats again. Muncy should start the 2014 season back at Midland, where he’ll be joined in the infield by shortstop Addison Russell. And of all the A’s top hitting prospects besides Russell, Muncy is probably the most advanced at this point.
Likely To Start 2014 With: Midland RockHounds (AA)
After losing the opener of the best-of-three series, the Snappers came back to beat the River Bandits by a score of 4-3 in the second game of the series on Sunday. Second baseman Chris Bostick kicked off the scoring in the 1st inning with a 2-run homer, and the Snappers added another run in the inning after outfielder Brett Vertigan singled in third baseman Renato Nunez. Starter Kyle Finnegan allowed 2 runs in the top of the 2nd, but Bostick singled home another run in the bottom of the 2nd for the Snappers. RHP Deyvi Jimenez surrendered 1 run in the 4th to make it a 1-run game, but Beloit’s bullpen took care of business the rest of the way, with 4 pitchers combining to throw 5 1/3 scoreless innings. LHP Chris Lamb went 1 1/3, while RHP Kris Hall struck out 3 in 1 inning of relief, RHP Nolan Sanburn went 2 innings to pick up the win, and RHP Austin House got the final 3 outs for the save. On another note, Snappers shortstop Daniel Robertson has missed both games of the series with the passing of his father this weekend. The rubber game of the match is scheduled to take place on Monday at Beloit with RHP Derek De Young the scheduled starter for the Snappers.
Quad Cities @ Beloit – 4:30pm PT / 6:30pm CT
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Last week we offered a progress report on the A’s top 12 picks from the 2013 amateur draft. And it seemed like it might be interesting to take a similar look at the A’s top 12 picks from the 2012 amateur draft. Of course, that draft class featured some of the A’s most high-profile prospects like Addison Russell, Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson.
The A’s chose to be aggressive with shortstop Russell’s development this season and assigned him to Stockton, making the 19-year-old the youngest player in the High-A California League. Last year’s top pick for the A’s struggled over the first couple months of the season, but then he began to turn things around in June, and he ended up posting an impressive .344/.440/.609 slash line in July.
The A’s 7th overall pick last season, outfielder B.J. Boyd, started the year with Vermont of the Class-A short-season New York-Penn League, so he didn’t get going until June – but ever since he got going, there’s been no stopping him, and the outfielder’s currently sporting a .321/.406/.506 slash line after a month and a half of play.
The fastest-riser of last year’s draft class has been the A’s 8th overall pick, first baseman Max Muncy, who started the season with Russell at Stockton but made it all the way up to Double-A Midland just a little over a year after first being drafted by Oakland. And Muncy currently tops all A’s minor leaguers in home runs with 21 and RBIs with 83.
A couple of the top pitching picks from last year’s draft, right-handers Seth Streich and Dakota Bacus, have proven to be the two most reliable members of the Beloit Snappers starting rotation this season. Unfortunately, fellow right-hander Cody Kurz, last year’s 10th pick, has spent the season rehabbing from knee surgery and has yet to make an appearance on the mound.
You’ll find the A’s top 12 draft picks from the 2012 draft along with their current statistics through August 5 below. The teams they’ve played for so far this season are noted, with the team they’ve appeared in the most games with listed first and their current team in bold. So let’s take a look at the top picks of the A’s 2012 farm crop…
Starter Bruce Billings had a strong outing for Sacramento on Sunday, allowing 2 runs on just 4 hits while striking out 5 over 7 innings of work and left the game with a 1-run lead. LHP Pedro Figueroa gave up the tying run in the top of the 8th inning, but first baseman Daric Barton homered in the bottom of the 8th to give the River Cats the lead and hand Figueroa his 2nd win. RHP Brian Gordon got the final 3 outs for his 5th save, while Jemile Weeks made his second straight start in center field.
Believe it or not, baseball’s amateur draft is only five weeks away, and hard-core A’s fans will soon have a fresh batch of hot prospects to ponder. With this in mind, it seems like a good time to take a look back at last year’s draft class and see where things stand. And it’d be hard to find anyone better-suited to help us do that than the A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens.
Owens originally joined the A’s organization in 1999, working as an area scout and coaching short-season baseball over the next five years. He was promoted to his current position in 2004, where he’s been able to put his knowledge of the game and its players to much more thorough use. Owens spoke with us earlier this week from an undisclosed location, where he was secretly scouting prospects for the draft. We talked about the A’s draft picks from last year’s first five rounds as well as a couple of top international prospects who are currently making their mark in the A’s system…
The A’s top draft pick in 2012, Russell got off to a blazing start last season. Just 19, the A’s invited him to big league camp this spring and aggressively started him off this year at Stockton in the High-A California League. He got off to a slow start and then had a brief stint on the DL, but he seems to have started heating up a bit over the past week or so.
BILLY OWENS: He had a sensational debut (last season), and we couldn’t be more excited. And seeing him in major league spring training – how he handled himself, the professionalism that he showed, just the constant energy that he plays with everyday – he has a maturity beyond his years. It’s obvious that he’s had tremendous parenting, and he’s got a lot of talent. It’s a pretty advanced assignment going to High-A ball, but we feel he’s going to be up for the challenge. We feel pretty confident that he can go there and handle himself. It’s a long year. We’re going to see how the season goes all the way through the end of the minor league championship season. And we’re pretty confident that he’s going to be able to catch up to the league, stay mature, show his tools, and be an exciting part of our system going forward.
Robertson got off to a great start in the Arizona League last year but then struggled a bit with short-season Vermont in the NY-Penn League. He injured his knee in the instructional league. The ensuing surgery kept him out of competitive action this spring and delayed the start of his season. But he arrived in Beloit last week with a hot bat, blasting a home run in his first game.
BILLY OWENS: His make-up is outstanding. He’s a very coachable kid – talented, mature. He got dinged up a little bit, but he’s gone straight to Low-A (this season). I think his first night, he was a triple short of a cycle, and he got another hit yesterday, and he’s playing a solid shortstop. This kid definitely likes to play baseball and has been well-coached. His skill level is outstanding. He’s a solid shortstop prospect. He can definitely play the position. His hands are solid. He’s got a strong arm. He’s fundamentally sound.
Another one of the A’s top draft picks who got off to a great start in Arizona last year, Olson began the season with Beloit in the Midwest League. His bat remained cold through most of a very cold April in Wisconsin, but he’s begun heating up over the past week, homering in two consecutive games over the past few days.
BILLY OWENS: Matt Olson comes from a baseball family. His father played college ball. His brother plays at Harvard currently. And he’s a baseball rat. He can play first base, and he could even dabble in the outfield if need be. He’s got a short, efficient swing. I think initially he had such a strong debut – he hit a home run in his first at bat last year in Arizona rookie ball – he might have gotten a little too pull-confident and tried to force the issue with power. But we think that Matt Olson’s going to be a very good all-around hitter, be able to use the field line-to-line, and the power will just develop over time. He’s just a natural hitter. We like his hands – his hands are fluid, they’re strong, they’re direct. He had a couple of doubles the other night and hit his first home run. He’s using all the field again and squaring up multiple pitches. He’s got a very good eye – he walked 3 times the other night. I’m seeing the trends, and I’m more excited seeing the all-fields approach and the walks start to pick up versus the power. The power’s going to be there ‘cause this kid’s 6’4”, 230 pounds and just naturally strong. So it should be exciting.
Maxwell appeared to be a dependable hitter in his debut last year and has continued to look like a solid hitter this year at Beloit. He specializes in getting on base, but some have wondered about his ability to stick behind the plate.
BILLY OWENS: His numbers at Birmingham Southern were just ridiculous. They were pretty amazing when you look at the extra-base hits versus the little amount of strikeouts. This kid’s got a tremendous eye, discerning at the plate. His swing path is fluid – it’s very compact, direct to the baseball. He’s strong, he’s going to have power, he’s going to be a high-walk guy. His catching is improving. Just at first glance, he reminds me of ex-Athletic Mickey Tettleton. He can catch, he’s probably going to mix in some first base down the road and get involved every now and then as a designated hitter. But first and foremost, he’s a slugger who’ll be an essential part of the Oakland Athletics organization.
The first pitcher the A’s selected in last year’s draft, Sanburn appears to be a talented young hurler with an arsenal of pitches, but he spent a lot of his college career pitching out of the bullpen. So without a lot of innings under his belt, he still needs to build his stamina as a starter.
BILLY OWENS: We were excited to get Nolan when we got him. With his arm and his variety of pitches, it was a coup where we got him in the draft last year. When he went to rookie ball in short-season (Class-A), he was 96 mph+. His curveball broke off the table, and he’s got a solid changeup. He’s a very athletic kid. Just being predominantly a reliever in college last year, we’re starting to get him prepared him for X amount of innings. We’re kind of taking baby steps initially, but he’s raring to go and ready to unleash that arsenal out there.
Boyd was best known as a big Bay Area high school football prospect when the A’s drafted him last year. He’s loaded with talent and got off to a great start last year, but he’s young and his baseball skills will need a little refinement.
BILLY OWENS: He’s got a dynamic skill set. Last year, he was by far the fastest player in our draft class. And then he went straight out to rookie ball and showed that speed. He’s just explosive. He was an accomplished football player, had multiple Division I offers, but we were able to draft him. And all that carried over to rookie ball last year. That was a fun team that lost the final to the Rangers’ rookie ball squad, but B.J. was a catalyst for that team. He hit a few home runs, he walked, he hit for a high average, he stole bases, he played a good center field. The Midwest League is a great league, we’re proud to be there, but it’s a little bit cold initially, so we held a couple guys back. We’ve got him back there in extended (spring training), but at some point, I think he’ll be ready for the Midwest League this year. And I honestly believe that he’ll make a positive impression once he gets there. Right now he’s chomping at the bit, working hard in extended, shedding a few pounds, and getting ready to hopefully take the Midwest League by storm later on.
Drafted out Baylor, Muncy was the only member of the A’s draft class to start last season in the Class-A Midwest League, and he held his own there. This year, the A’s decided to start him out at High-A Stockton along with Addison Russell, and Muncy has flourished. He already has twice as many home runs in April, 8, as he did all of last year at Burlington, and he currently leads all A’s minor leaguers in round-trippers.
BILLY OWENS: Maxwell Muncy is a guy we’re excited about. Armann Brown, our area scout out there in Texas, pointed Max out early, always liked the make-up. Max came from a good family structure and background. He’s at the field early. He’s there late. He’s watching video. He’s just ready to play everyday, so we’re excited. He’s amongst the minor league home run leaders, and we like his skill set. He can pick it at first base – we like his range there. His swing is the type of swing that’s going to be able to hit advanced level pitching. And first and foremost, this guy’s a baseball rat. I mean, he’s a cage-wrecker. You’ve got to turn the lights off otherwise he’s going to be in that cage 24/7. He’s a fun guy to watch.
The A’s invested heavily in Nunez when they reportedly gave the young Venezuelan $2.2 million to sign back in 2010. He made his American debut in the Arizona Rookie League last year and didn’t disappoint, flashing the bat the A’s had hoped to see. He’s started this season wielding the biggest bat at Beloit, and he even celebrated his 19th birthday on opening night by blasting his first home run.
BILLY OWENS: He’s an exciting kid to watch. Sam Geaney, our international scouting director, and Julio Franco, our chief scout in Venezuela, they identified Renato all the way back to when he was 14 years old. And we were able to track him, follow him, and we were able to secure his services. He went to the Dominican Summer League at 16 years old and was able to get his feet wet and was able to do pretty well there. Last year, in the Arizona Rookie League, I believe he led the league in doubles. He just has that short stroke – it’s a very accurate barrel. He’s pretty advanced to send him at 19 years old to the Midwest League. This kid’s got outstanding make-up, he’s not afraid of anything. I think he’s hit 4 home runs, 5 doubles. He’s having a good start up there in Beloit. And it’ll be fun to watch him this year, because this kid likes to play a lot and his background is excellent and he’s a natural-born hitter.
The A’s originally signed Ynoa for over $4 million as a 16-year old. He’s now a 21-year-old. And thanks to injuries, through last season, he’d thrown less than 40 innings. But Ynoa finally appears to be healthy and is back on the mound for Beloit this season.
BILLY OWENS: It’s definitely fun to see Michael in the box scores. The talent’s always been immense, and now it’s just a matter of him continuing to increase his workload and get out there on the diamond. He’s a fabulous athlete. He’s topped out at 96-97 mph, his breaking ball is getting better everyday, and his command is improving. So seeing him every five days in that box score is an exciting thing, and hopefully he can keep on doing that, because the talent’s there. And hopefully we’re crossing our fingers that he’s passed certain hurdles and he can be out there and enjoy a healthy season.
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AF: Next on our list is a guy who got off to a phenomenal start last year, hitting probably as well as anyone in pro ball in the first half at Stockton, and who you guys very shrewdly targeted in last year’s trade with Boston – and that’s third baseman Miles Head. He came back down to earth a bit at Midland in the second half but still held his own there. Tell me what you think about Miles Head at his point and where you see him playing in the field this year now that you’ve got another third baseman like Jefry Martein the system who’s basically at the same level as him.
FZ: He was a guy that we did sort of tack on to that deal a little late. And one of the things about him, similar to the Brandon Moss story, when we went and looked at him in the 2011 season, he was a guy who got better every month – first in the South Atlantic League and then even in the Carolina League in 2011, where his overall numbers weren’t great. He was getting better there every month. We’re very optimistic about him. He’s one of the best pure hitters in the system. He’s a very aggressive hitter. He wants to put the ball in play, and he makes consistently loud contact. Defensively, we moved him over to third base last year, the position he played as an amateur. Everybody has more value at third base than at first base. But in the long run, he’s going to be a guy who plays both positions. And with Marte in the system, and both of those guys potentially starting the year in Double-A, I think both guys will see time at both spots. That still enables both guys to get plenty of reps at third, but it’s a case where having that flexibility and experience at a couple of different spots doesn’t hurt.
AF: The seventh guy on our list was your second overall draft pick last year, shortstop Daniel Robertson. He got off to a great start in the Arizona League. He had a little tougher time of it in his brief time at Vermont, but obviously everybody still seems to feel very positive about his abilities and what he’s capable of doing in the long run. So tell me what you think about Daniel Robertson at this stage of the game.
FZ: We feel very good about him. You’re right. He played very well in Arizona. He didn’t really have the results to show for it in Vermont, but nobody who was there thought that he was over-matched. And if he had another 10 or 20 games in the season at Vermont, I think he would have brought up his numbers. So we’re not concerned about that small sample that he had there. He’s one of the brightest and most motivated players I think we’ve ever brought into the system, so the intangibles that he brings in make you all the more excited about him. And our guys who really study swings, from (minor league hitting coordinator) Todd Steverson on down, all think he has one of the best and one of the most compact swings of the young guys out there. So that’s exciting when you hear about those kinds of skills that you know translate as you move up the ladder.
AF: Where do you see him playing in the field this year? Do you see him still starting at shortstop, or do you plan on moving him around the infield a bit?
FZ: It really sort of depends on how things shake out on the depth chart. His ability to play probably the most premium position on the field isn’t something you want to give up easily. So I think he’ll probably wind up getting time at both spots on the left side of the infield. But as well as he played short when he got the chance last year, we think it’s worth keeping him there and having him get some reps there.
AF: Eighth on our list is another infielder who hit really well in Arizona last year, and that’s third baseman Renato Nunez. He obviously doesn’t seem to have any problem swinging the bat, but he’s been a little shaky in the field thus far. So tell me what you think of Nunez both offensively and defensively at this point.
FZ: Yeah, you’re right. It was great to see him come over last year and put up the numbers that he did. And it was actually just a little unfortunate that we ran out of time and didn’t get the chance to move him up to Vermont because he was as deserving as Robertson and Olson of getting that late-season promotion. Defensively, it’s a work in progress. He has all the tools. I think it’s just a matter of him getting a few reps. Our defensive coaches, Juan Navarrete and the rest of the group, feel good about his chances to improve at third. You know, people have said this for a long time, you don’t want to read too much into error totals at the low minor league level. I think Derek Jeter’s first full season error total (56 in 126 games) is one of the most constantly thrown around statistics. We’re not concerned about that. He has plenty of time to work on refining his skills.
AF: Ninth on our list is the top pitcher you took in the draft last year, right-hander Nolan Sanburn. He only got in about 18 or 19 innings last year, but a lot of people are very high on him. So with the limited opportunity you’ve had to see him, what do you think about him so far?
FZ: It’s interesting. He doesn’t really fit the profile of the typical college pitcher we’ve drafted. He didn’t throw a ton of innings at Arkansas. He was only there for a year. He was really more of a middle reliever at Arkansas and didn’t get much of an opportunity to become a mainstay on that pitching staff for whatever reason. So what we got was a guy who you felt there was some track record, because he’s a guy who did pitch with a reasonable amount of success, but you also had the upside of a junior college or high school player almost. What we’ve seen so far has been really encouraging. He’s obviously got out stuff. He’s got a plus curveball. For him, he’s going to just have to work on his fastball command and refining a third pitch. But he has the physical build and endurance to be a starter. He’s got two pitches that are a really good foundation. And if he can refine the rest of his arsenal, he could be an impact-type guy.
AF: Tenth on our list is a guy who certainly wasn’t a high draft pick but who a lot of people have been saying good things about – Chris Bostick, who’s been playing both second and short. I think he was drafted in the 44th round and the numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page at you, but there are a lot of folks who seem to have a good feeling about him.
FZ: Chris was one of those guys at the tail end of the draft who we just wanted to see how he progressed over the summer. And he went to the NYCBL, which is probably one of the top ten summer college leagues around. And I’m not sure if he won the batting title, but he was either first or second in the league in hitting. I think he hit like .450. He had more walks than strikeouts. It was really one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in a summer league for a kid who has just graduated from high school and was playing against college sophomores and juniors. So that’s what really got us excited about him. And you’re right, the numbers don’t necessarily pop off the page, but he has that performance history and all the ingredients and tools are there. So he’s definitely a little bit under the radar, but someone we are excited about.
AF: Your third overall draft pick last year, first baseman Matt Olson, is another guy who hit really well in the Arizona League and showed a lot of power there and looked good in a very brief stint with Vermont as well. So how to do you see Matt Olson at this point?
FZ: You know, it isn’t our common practice to take a high school first baseman that high in the draft. If you do that, it’s because you feel really good and excited about the bat. And he was a guy who matched that description. He’s a guy who we think has future plus, or even double-plus, power. He hit some long home runs in Arizona and carried that over into Vermont. So he’s a guy who profiles as an above-average offensive first baseman, which is saying a lot, because that’s a position that demands a lot offensively. But the whole key is that he continues to progress and starts moving towards achieving that power projection.
AF: And the final guy that everyone is always curious to know about is pitcher Michael Ynoa. After lots of time off due to injuries, he’s on the mend and getting back into the swing of things. So where are things at with Michael Ynoa?
FZ: I really think that the way he finished last season has given us a lot of reason for optimism. He went out and pitched outside the Arizona League for the first time. He had a couple of rough outings, but also had a couple of positive outings. And the reports on his stuff were really very encouraging. He was up to 95-96 mph, showing a full arsenal of pitches. And that was something that he carried into the Instructional League – he was one of the best pitchers for us both in terms of stuff and performance. He unfortunately got a late start this spring. He was a little sick in the Dominican and didn’t get over until a week into camp. He threw his first live bullpen session today against hitters over at Phoenix Muni. If everything went well with that, then he should be able to get into a game sometime soon. I think that would be a huge achievement and benchmark for him. He’s a guy who I think we’ve always felt that once he can get over his injuries, with the kind of stuff he has, he can make up for some of the lost time he’s had over the last few years.
AF: One last thing I’m curious to ask you about. When you’re analyzing minor league guys and their numbers, what is the first thing you’re looking at for both hitters and pitchers to try to get a handle on who the guys are who are most likely to be successful at the major league level?
FZ: Well, for a hitter, to be honest, for me, one of the biggest and most important metrics is walks and strikeouts. Guys that have a good ratio – just because those are an indicator of good plate discipline – the guys who, for the most part, swing at strikes and don’t swing at balls. And with the kind of stuff that you face in the big leagues, if you can’t do that, your chances for success drop dramatically. Hey, I’m not going to complain about the guy who hits .300 or has a .600 slugging percentage, but really, that’s the first thing that I look at because having good plate discipline is what really enables a lot of the actual hitting production to translate at a higher level. As far as pitching goes, strikeouts are a big factor. The other thing that really goes along with that is strike percentage. And I say that because sometimes we forget that not all strikeouts are created equal. There’s a big difference between throwing three strikes and just overpowering a guy, and having a 7-8-9 pitch at-bat where you have a full count and the guy fouls off a few pitches and then finally you strike him out. That first type of strikeout is a lot better indicator of skill and performance than the second type – so that’s why looking at strikeouts in conjunction with strike percentage is so important to me. Like I mentioned, once you get to the big leagues, you have to be able to pitch in the strike zone. If you’re striking out players in the minors by getting them to chase, it’s going to be a lot harder to replicate that success at the highest level. So those are the first things that I look at for hitters and pitchers at the minor league level.
AF: I was just reading something that said something pretty similar about walks and strikeouts for hitters. It was basically saying that whatever your hitting profile, once you get to the major leagues, you’re going to be striking out a lot more than you were in the minors. So you better start out with a decent ratio, because it’s going to be going down once you start having to face major league pitchers.
FZ: You know, I think there’s this common perception that that’s not something that you can get better at. I look at Grant Green, who went from Double-A to Triple-A and actually cut his strikeout rates dramatically, and I think that was maybe the single most encouraging thing about Grant’s season last year. And you look at Yoenis Cespedes, and there have been many articles written about his plate discipline through the course of the season from April to September and how he started swinging at more strikes and fewer balls and how, as he continued to do that, his production continued on an upward trajectory. Guys can get better, so I would never want to totally doom somebody to failure. And frankly, on the flip side, just because you have a good walk/strikeout ratio doesn’t guarantee success. But I think it is one of the best statistical predictors of hitters’ success at the big league level.
AF: Right, absolutely. That’s a lot of great information. I really appreciate it.
FZ: No problem. Just imagine how much more informative it would have been if I wasn’t out driving around and was at my computer.
AF: Well, the next time I talk to you, we’ll just have to make sure you’re staring at a computer!
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