Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/18/14
The emergence of Addison Russell gives the organization a potential corner-stone talent to eventually build around. The last two drafts have also added some depth into a system that has been slowly depleted over time.   #1 Addison Russell (SS) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 18 244 79 10 7 23 48 16 .364 .428 .590 .456 Russell exploded in his first taste of pro ball after being selected 11th overall by the A’s during the 2012 amateur draft. He played at three levels where he combined to hit .369 and posted a 1.027 OPS in 55 games. Russell, 19, has above-average bat speed, a good eye at the plate and professional coaching helped him become more consistent with his swing. A contact I spoke with said the young hitter had an amazing debut. “He torched the baseball offensively at every level… controlling the zone while hitting rockets all over the diamond. His swing is short, compact and powerful,” he said. Along with surprising pop, Russell also has above-average speed although he’s still learning the nuances of running the bases. In the field, he shows a strong arm, good range and improving actions. That same contact said of the middle infielder’s glove, “His defense rivals his offense. [He's a] very consistent and athletic fielder. He’s capable of making the routine and spectacular play… with exceptional range and reliability.” Russell also earns high marks for his make-up, according to another talent evaluator I spoke with recently. “He plays at a very high level of intensity… It comes out every day.” When asked what Russell needs to work on during the coming year the second talent evaluator I spoke with said the prospect needs to control the strike zone better and learn to be a little more patient. “He has a chance to be an upper-level hitter with power,” he said, likening him to a young Barry Larkin. “There is nothing this kid doesn’t do.” After finishing the year in low-A ball, the Florida native will return there to open the 2013 season but it would not be shocking to see him push himself to high-A in the second half of the season.   #2 Sonny Gray (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 22 27 27 152.0 158 8 5.86 3.43 4.38 3.83 On first blush it might be easy to say Gray’s 2012 season was disappointing because his numbers were modest at the double-A level. However, the right-hander was playing in just his first full pro season after being selected out of Vanderbilt University with the 18th overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft. Gray, 23, was also challenged with a new delivery in the first half of ’12 before he was allowed to revert to his traditional mechanics. Gray is a little under-sized from a traditional standpoint but a talent evaluator I spoke with doesn’t expect him to become a reliever as some have suggested as a future role for the prospect. “He’s a starting pitcher. He’ll eventually succeed in that role at the top level,” he said. “Sometimes people get too enamoured with height on pitchers. Successful pitchers come in all shapes, height and sizes. 2013 is a potential breakout year for Sonny.” Despite his sub-6’0” height, Gray manages to stay on top of his fastball and gets a good downward plane on his offerings.  Gray generates low-to-mid-90s velocity on his fastball and has a curveball with plus potential. Another contact I spoke with said he needs to improve his location and efficiency but raved about his heater and breaking ball. “This kid definitely has weapons,” he said. “His fastball and curveball are off the charts.” His changeup has the potential to be average. He should open 2013 in triple-A and could be one of the first pitchers recalled in the event of an injury.   #3 Dan Straily (P) Age G GS IP K/9 BB/9 GB% ERA FIP WAR 23 7 7 39.1 7.32 3.66 30.0 % 3.89 6.48 -0.5 Straily exceeded all expectations in 2012 when he dominated both double-A and triple-A before making seven big league starts for Oakland. The right-hander is not overpowering but he can get his fastball up into the 91-93 mph range. He has two very good secondary pitches in a slider and changeup, while an inconsistent curveball rounds out his four-pitch repertoire. His ability to command his pitches with solid command, as well as an understanding of how to change speeds and move the ball around, makes him a valuable big league pitcher. Straily, 24, has come a long way since being selected in the 24th round of the 2009 amateur draft and was no where to be found on the A’s Top 15 prospects list prior to 2012. He’ll open 2013 as a favorite to win a starting rotation spot on the big league club but he’ll have to fight off fellow 2012 surprise contributor A.J. Griffin.   #4 Michael Choice (OF) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 22 402 103 15 10 33 88 5 .287 .356 .423 .349 The 10th overall selection from the 2010 amateur draft, Choice is yet another former first round pick who is close to contributing to the big league ball club. The power outfielder’s best tool is his raw power. A notoriously slow starter, the Texas native struggled a bit in the first half of the year before catching fire. A broken hand quickly extinguished the flame and ended his season in July. Choice doesn’t hit breaking balls overly well and strikes out a lot so he might end up hitting in the .240-.260 range in the majors. A talent evaluator I spoke with also said the prospect has an unorthodox swing that can at times cause disruptions in his timing. However, he’s sees a lot that he likes in the young hitter. “There may not be a quicker or more powerful bat in the minor leagues… His power potential is off the charts.” Choice is an efficient base runner but not overly fleet-of-foot. He’s spent time in center field in the minors but will very likely shift to left field in the majors — especially in spacious Oakland Coliseum — due to his average range and fringe-average arm. A second contact I spoke with about Choice said he offers more than just power. “Michael is a very good defensive outfielder that is reliable… He does a lot of things well and plays extremely hard. Although, ultimately, we are looking forward to the day that Michael allows his Louisville Slugger to do damage at the top level.” With the emergence of both Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick, as well as the off-season trade (steal) of Chris Young, Oakland’s outfield depth is solid. Choice will spend the bulk of 2013 in triple-A unless an injury creates an opening for the young hitter.   #5 Renato Nunez (3B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 18 186 52 18 4 17 32 4 .325 .403 .550 .427 Nunez, who turns 19 around opening day, was one of Oakland’s surprising big-dollar signees from 2010 with a bonus of more than $2 million. He’s spent his first two pro seasons in rookie ball and came over to North America, from the Dominican Summer League, prior to 2012. The teenager hit .325 last year while also showing good power in the Arizona League. A contact I spoke with said Nunez has “a short, repeatable swing to hit the baseball with authority. His doubles and extra base hits will eventually turn into blasts.”The Venezuela native is aggressive at the plate but has shown a willingness to take a walk. A second talent evaluator I spoke with said Nunez got rid of his ‘baby fat’ last season and showed better athleticism. He called the young hitter naturally gifted at the plate. “He made tremendous strides in his overall game,” he commented. Nunez has the potential to be a solid third baseman thanks to his strong arm and average range. He needs to improve his actions and consistency to help cut down on youthful errors. The contact I spoke with said the defense improved by leaps and bounds, calling him a smart, hard-working kid. It’s possible that Nunez will impress enough in spring training to earn a full-season assignment but the organization may want to hold him back in extended spring training to help him focus on the fundamentals of the game.   #6 Grant Green (SS/OF) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 24 639 172 30 17 43 94 14 .292 .340 .449 .348 A strong first full season in the California League in 2010 may have set some unfair expectations of this former first round draft pick. Green hit for impressive power that season  – including 39 doubles and 20 homers — but his true strengths come from a well-rounded game that includes more gap power than over-the-fence pop. He’s a solid base runner but his speed tool is just average. A contact I spoke with referred to Green as the most consistent hitter in the A’s minor league system over the past three seasons. A second contact I spoke to referred to the prospect as a natural born hitter. “I believe wholeheartedly that he will have better numbers in the majors than the minor leagues,” he said. “I’ve compared Grant’s bat numerous times over the years to Michael Young’s. That’s high praise for anyone.” Originally drafted as a shortstop, the California native played five different positions in 2012 at the triple-A level — shortstop, second base, third base, left field and center field. I was told recently that Green, 25, will still see time at different positions but his main focus in 2013 will be at second base. He has average arm strength for a second baseman and shows solid range and good actions around the bag. Green has a shot at opening 2013 on the big league roster as a utility man, although the addition of recently-acquired Jed Lowrie could hurt his chances. Further struggles by second base incumbent Jemile Weeks could also give Green a hefty foot in the door.   #7 Miles Head (1B/3B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 21 530 160 32 23 39 132 3 .331 .389 .573 .416 The late 2011 trade of former closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney to Boston brought 2012 breakout star outfielder Josh Reddick and two prospects, including Head, to Oakland. The young infielder was not a top prospect in the Sox system but he continued his emergence last season in the A’s system. He ...
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