When the 2011 season ended, the Oakland A’s  found themselves in a dangerous place. They’re major league talent was clearly behind that of their competition and their minor league talent was even more so.
The farm system lacked depth and upside to sustain the A’s and they were forced to (shocker) rebuild. But after trading away three all-star pitchers, they have managed to do just that. The system now has plenty of prospects ready do graduate to the majors within the next year as well as some promising potential in the lower levels.
The first tier is clearly the top three and I think there is a case for all to be the A’s top prospect. The next 4-8 prospects are very close as well and I’m sure we will see various rankings but this is how I see it.
- Jarrod Parker RHP- Acquired in the Cahill trade ; he’s got number 2 starter potential. He’s got four quality pitches, most notably his plus fastball which comfortably sits in the mid to upper nineties. Last year was his first year back from Tommy John surgery so I wouldn’t be surprised if his numbers were better this year. Should start in AAA but could break camp out of spring training. ETA mid 2012
- Michael Choice OF- Huge power. Drafted number 10 overall by the A’s in 2010, Choice hit 30 homers in the Pacific Coast league in his first full season. Yikes. He steadily cut down on his strikeouts as the year progressed but he’ll need to continue that at AA this year. Scouts say he’ll have to move to right field but that his arm is strong enough for it. I love this guy. ETA 2013.
- A. J. Cole RHP- Cole has the highest upside of any pitcher in the A’s system. He was part of the package that came over from the Nats  in the Gio trade  and has true ace potential. He has electric stuff with surprising control striking out nearly 11 batters every nine innings last year. But he hasn’t pitched above A ball yet and is still very young; if he can put up similar numbers this year at AA then this ranking will have been too low. ETA late 2013.
- Sonny Gray RHP- Gray was drafted by the A’s number 18 overall last year, but some think that was a steal. Gray was one of the best pitching prospects in last years loaded draft but he slipped because of concerns about his slight 5’11’’ frame. Despite his small stature, he has an impressive two pitch combo with a mid nineties fastball and the makings of a plus plus curveball. He was sent to AA right out of the gate last year and faired well but his long-term success will depend on whether or not he starts. If he can develop his changeup, then he could be a number 2 starter. If not he’s a late innings reliever. ETA 2013 or late 2012.
- Grant Green OF- Don’t lose faith, friends. Green took a step back last year offensively but he played much better in the second half and handled the transition to center field well. He’s got the athleticism to stay there and I think 2010 was a better indicator than 2011. He’ll be fine. ETA September 2012.
- Brad Peacock RHP- Another piece of the Gio package, Peacock looks like a solid number three starter. Good control and his velocity increased each of the last two years. He could use some AAA seasoning but might not get it. ETA 2012
- Derek Norris C- Great on base skills and good power for catcher but can sometimes be too passive leading to lots of strikeouts and a low batting average. True three outcomes guy (strikeout/walk/home run). I’m not a huge batting average supporter, especially if he gets on base, but last year he hit .210. That won’t cut it. ETA 2013.
- Chris Carter 1B/DH- I refuse to give up on that power. Last year, Carter was dealing with a nagging wrist injury and was up and down between AAA and the majors, never getting consistent at-bats. Plus, he struggles initially whenever he moves up a level. If you give this guy a full season, he’ll hit 25 homers on accident. ETA 2012.
- Raul Alcantara RHP- Live arm with good stuff. A lot of people treated him like a throw-in initially in the Bailey deal , but he has huge upside. He should be fun to watch as he progresses through the minors. Still very young. ETA 2015.
- Tom Milone LHP- Not a lot of upside or stuff from Milone, but he has pin-point control and command. He’s very crafty and “knows how to pitch.” From everything I’ve heard, he has a lot of Dallas Braden in him. Nothing wrong with that. ETA 2012.
- Collin Cowgil OF- Acquired in the Cahill trade, he’s your typical max-effort guy. Solid but unspectacular skills, and can play all outfield positions. Will be at least a solid fourth outfield. ETA 2012
- B. A. Vollmuth 3B- Big strong third baseman with power and will be able to stick at third. The A’s think they got a steal last year when they took him in the third round but they need Vollmuth to pan out because they are very thin at third base throughout the organization. ETA 2014
- Bobby Crocker OF- Also drafted last year (fourth round) and has a good combination of speed, power and athleticism. Still raw and hasn’t played a full year yet but I believe in his tools. ETA 2015.
- Max Stassi C- Good defensive catcher with solid offensive tools. Injuries ended his 2011 campaign but he could rise up the rankings quickly if he gets back on track. ETA 2015.
- Michael Taylor OF- It seems like the A’s have been waiting forever for Taylor to put his generous set of tools together. He’s 26 heading back to triple A but his time is running out. ETA mid 2012.
Other Notables: Renato Nunez and Vicmal De La Cruz are two very promising very young prospects form the Dominican who have an impressive set of tools, but they haven’t played in the states yet so I’m hesitant to rank them highly. Most would have De La Cruz in the A’s top fifteen. Ian Krohl is another name to keep an eye on; crafty lefty with solid stuff but had some twitter issues resulting in his indefinite suspension. And I’m still not ready to give up on Michael Ynoa. He’s coming back from Tommy John and this will be his first year to get some innings under his belt (hopefully).
The system is greatly improved but many of these prospects will graduate to the majors this season. For sustained success the A’s will need to continue to add to the system in order to have a constant influx of young talent because they will not be able to compete with other teams in free agency. Keep in mind, though: the A’s will have 5 draft picks in the first two rounds of the 2012 draft as compensation for losing Willingham and Dejesus and they’ll likely have a high pick in 2013 because the A’s will struggle this year. If they draft properly and sign their picks, their system will be even stronger.
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