Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Oakland A's Dominican Summer League Preview

With the acquisition of several teenaged farmhands hailing from Venezuela, Columbia and Panama, the Athletics have once more bolstered their ranks at the Santo Domingo academy with inking of Santiago Rodriguez (RHP), Gerardo Vilchez (RHP), Jorge Martinez (6'0", 160 pounds, LHP/1B) and Jean Carlos Ruiz Torres (6'2", 170 pounds, RHP) as additional assets accompanying Ruber Aquino, Enmanuel Sullivan, Jesus Monserratt and Gean Rigby as organizational rookies set to debut after Miggy Mercedes, JC Rodriguez, Jhonny Rodriguez and Robert Mullen were welcomed just prior to the 2013 campaign. The additions usurp the absences of Jesus Zambrano and Victor Veliz, who have since ascended forth towards the AZL Papago facility following outstanding efforts previously while playing under the Caribbean affiliate, with Zambrano amassing a 3.16 FIP between his 14 outings (61 1/3 IP) as the youngest player in the organization by 51 weeks (Born 8/23/1996, Iolana Akau 8/31/1995). Zambrano equally produced a 48:12 K/BB as a 16 year old (18.8% K%/4.7% BB%) while permitting a mere 4 HRs (0.59 HR/9) to entrench himself within the 2014 AZL rotation. Joining shall be Victor Veliz after a sensational third campaign while participating amongst fellow Caribbean Oakland prospects, bursting through with a 2.91 FIP through his 71 frames with a 46:18 K/BB and a lone dinger allowed for the now 20 year old southpaw. Jesus Lopez, Oakland's $950,000 switch hitting second base acquisition hailing from Nicaraugua, shall debut domestically within Arizona as well, diminishing the buzz surrounding the DSL crop for the impending season. However, the ballclub still wields Carlos Hiciano, Juan Mendoza, Ivan Andueza, Robert Mullen, Eric Mariñez, and Luis Barrera as premier international farmhands represented in the Dominican this June. While not honed in upon by traditional MiLB outlets, the DSL is still a prominent league where numerous potential for the A's shall be housed through their summer crusade upon the island with recent successes such as Yairo Muñoz and Santiago Chavez and boasts a significant bounty of prospects Oakland fans ought to acquaint themselves with for upcoming years. 

Headlining the attendees, Carlos Hiciano arrives as another July 2nd asset snatched by the Athletics to complement Jesus Lopez as the center field and shortstop prospect inked for $750,000 and revered for his sensational athleticism, garnering 70 grades for his speed while possessing a tremendous amount of arm strength, plus bat speed, and line drive tendencies that are projected to develop gradually into dingers as the 6'2", 175 pound 17 year old Dominican physically matures. Easily the most anticipated prospect for the A's present within the academy, Hiciano ought to star for the DSL bunch while grappling with the adversity that will accompany his initial foray into the professional ranks. Amongst this cast of DSLers however, Hiciano is undoubtedly the centerpiece for the Athletics, with the potentiality to emerge as a top 20 organizational prospect for the green and gold. 

Despite the absences of Jean Carlo Rodriguez and Miggy Mercedes with their departures to Arizona to compete within the AZL circuit, the teenage contingent still is heavily represented positionally between the thunderous might of Luis Barrera and the blooming potential of Jhonny Rodriguez who each rightfully demonstrated their raw capabilities throughout to Dominican schedule during the 2013 campaign. Luis Barrera, the hefty 6'1", 195 pound 18 year old surged forth to lead the ballclub in HRs (4) while finishing forth to Eric Mariñez and the afforementioned duo of Jean Carlo and Jhonny Rodriguez with a cumulative XBH (13) within a truncated professional debut for Barrera, who was absent for the entirety of August with a hand fracture. Still, within his 149 plate appearance sample size, the then 17 year old firmly established himself as one of the premier short season power oriented farmhands for Oakland, amassing a .198 ISO in the often oppressive DSL confines as the righty corner outfield and potential first base prospect strung together a .190/.302/.389 slash line with a 12.1% BB% (18:22 BB/K) and an additional 107 wRC+. The lackluster average was attributable to a sour .196 BABIP that wasn't the slightest bit indicative of Barrera's potentiality as the highest grossing amateur signee of the 2012 period ($450,000) and DPL alumni promises to establish himself as an offensive juggernaut and assured AZL participant for the 2015 campaign once completed with this upcoming assigmment. 

While significantly less developed than Barrera, Jhonny Rodriguez additionally inked for a six figure sum ($300,000) out of the Dominican Republic and was bestowed with the honors as the youngest positional individual within the organization (Born 7/20/1196) and proceeded to partake with his initial DSL campaign as a 16 year old, primarily manning all outfield posts while acquiring a lone and perculiar outing at second base. While severely inept for durations throughout the season, Rodriguez still was able to compile admirable stretches to offset his predictable struggles, hitting .313/.329/.450 during his final month through August (82 PAs) to boost his cumulative statistical marks to a 92 wRC+, .247/.283/.363 slash, .116 ISO and .301 BABIP despite only walking in a mere 11 instances through his 267 PA organizational opening debut. Regardless, Rodriguez still demonstrated his offensive worth despite the subpar discipline with a squad best 15 doubles and short season leading seven triples that reinforces his potential approaching his sophomore stint all prior to his 18th birthday. 

Complementing the positional headliners upon the ballclub are returning assets that drove the Caribbean bunch through their most recent attempt, including the rather stunning retainment of Rodolfo Penalo after a phenomenal breakthrough crusade during his fourth try within the island academy, producing a .311/.422/.404 slash, .415 wOBA, 151 wRC+, and 13.6% BB% (25:21 BB/K) and an organizational leading 29 stolen bases (39 attempts) despite only playing in 51 contests for the DSL Athletics. The 5'7", 130 switch hitting 2B/CF leadoff specialist is one of the most unique individuals under contract for Oakland, and seemingly established himself as an AZL applicant for the 2014 campaign. However, possibly due to injury, Penalo shall not debut instantly with Phoenix for the time being, although could ascend towards Papago at some instance during this calendar year. Joining Rodolfo, another intriguing prospect that has been restricted to the Dominican has been Sandber Pimentel, the consistent corner outfield asset that slotted second behind Penalo upon the DSL wRC+ leaderboard (129) while accumulating a .255/.353/.422 slash line, .377 wOBA and .167 ISO for the stout 6'3", 220 pound 18 year old after showcasing an outstanding amount of improvement comparatively to his initial attempt in regards to his power rate, smacking 10 XBH (2 HR) within his 119 PAs with a respectable 12.6% BB% (15:22 BB/K) that was actually worse than his 18.5% BB% rate during his 2012 go-around. Still, despite maintaining his discipline while bolstering that with a revitalized approach and definitive physical maturation at the plate, 19th round draftee from the 2012 Draft, Robert Martinez, had graduated towards Arizona in favor of Pimentel, who seemingly shall have to grapple once more with competition he is blatantly superior to. With another stellar trot through the DSL, Oakland will be unable to deny the sibling of the former Texas farmhand, Guillermo Pimentel, entry to the stateside rookie league facility. 

Rounding out the offensive contingent, Robert Mullen, Barry Hernandez, Andys Silva, Eric Mariñez, and Raymond Rivas shall undoubtedly be stalwart contributors for the bunch through the 2014 campaign, with none above the age of 20. Mitchell Martes, Javier Godard and Miguel Guzman additionally reacclimate to the competition as now practical veterans to the facility, with each unfortunately struggling through their previous attempts. For Robert Mullen however, the 6'0" Panaminian backstop who shall usurp starting duties following the triumphant departure of Santiago Chavez, the soon-to-be 18 year old's sophomore campaign could very well propel him to the forefront of international prospects within the Athletics organization, after his sterling defensive exploits coupled with plus contributions at the plate for a newly acquainted teenager find him in a similar position to the now notable Santiago Chavez, who has graduated the DSL academy and found himself assigned directly to Midland to momentarily serve as a cog for the ailing Ryan Lipkin after sustaining a knee injury and has since been rewarded for his brilliant performance with a permanent post within Wisconsin. Mullen, the Panaminian brotherin of Jean Carlo Rodriguez, shined with his .267/.340/.367 slash and 115 wRC+ while bursting through August with a feverish 13-39 stretch with 5 XBH to close his campaign after finally settling into a groove. Now on the verge of a breakthrough, Mullen is assuredly a pivotal asset to the ballclub now having been bestowed with catching duties the the entirety of 2014 while occasionally divvying opportunities with Miguel Guzman, Barry Hernandez, and newly inked Jesus Monserratt. Eric Yoel Mariñez, the switch hitting DPL bred middle infield plug lassoed in for $95,000 by Oakland, additionally flashed promising performances for the Dominican cast to finish with a .246/.293/.351 mark (12:53 BB/K) while bashing 12 doubles and three triples to make him one of the more prominent offensive threats throughout the academy. While originally being pronounced as the switch hitting asset, Yoelie Mariñez floundered against lefties while batting right handed, going 3-43 with 18 strikeouts and a lone walk while batting .305/.354/.430 versus righties as a left-hander thus possibly prompting the organization to shift him should the trend be prolonged. Luis "Barry" Hernandez, nicknamed after Barry Bonds for his awe inspiring batting practice shows while participating with the Columbian national squad, and Andys Silva each impressed with their discipline capabilities through their initial stint for Oakland, with each amassing BB% rates north of 13.0% that didn't necessarily salvage their overall statistical measures thanks to BABIP percentages each below .270. Andys Silva, the Venezuelan middle infield asset, was far superior against southpaws during his debut romp last summer and features primarily as a defensive and utility specialist with line drive capabilities at the plate. Raymond Rivas, another Venezuelan infielder, possesses greater physical potential than Silva, standing 6'1", 185 pounds compared to Silva's modest 5'11", 160 pound frame and equally weilds an entirely different approach, rather opting for a swing first mentality as opposed to Andys' patience with beneficial results as Rivas amassed a .323 BABIP to rank fourth upon the entire club despite his horrendous eight cumulative walks drawn through his 194 plate appearances. Miguel Guzman and Mitchell Martes, both humongous teenage farmhands (6'2", 210 and 6'5", 215) have each struggled thus far offensively for the DSL bunch, with Martes featuring as an intriguing asset hailing from the Netherlands after inking for $50,000 from Aruba to coincide with Shawn Duinkerk as another Aruban pressence for Oakland. 

Alongside these shall be debuting rookie acquisitions such as Yhoelnys Gonzalez, Jesus Monserratt and Gean Rigby, with Rigby and Momserratt being the first individuals signed by Oakland to have been born in 1997. Yhoelnys, inked on July 25th, was the corresponding transaction following the splash of Carlos Hiciano and Jesus Lopez for a cumulative $1.7M. Yhoelnys, the 6'1", 170 pound center field prospect deviously participated in Miami showcases with his travel ballclub out of Venezuela and has recieved acclaim for his smooth swing mechanics and athleticism. Gean Rigby, another center field asset and the second Nicaraguan addition following Jesus Lopez, bolsters a potent outfield cast as a 6'1", 180 pound developing offensive weapon with current gap power for the teenager having just recently turned 17. Another 17 year old, the Venezeulan backstop of Jesus Monserratt complements a solid catching contingent and shall shadow Guzman, Hernandez and Mullen behind the plate as he gradually garners professional experience within the academy. 

Upon the mound, losses of the remarkable sensation of Jesus Zambrano and outstandingly consistent southpaw, Victor Veliz, still don't squander the potential upon the ballclub with sophomores Ivan Andueza and Juan Mendoza figuring to anchor the rotation after once more following admirable initial stints within the starting bunch for the Venezuelan lefty in Andueza and the Dominican All-Star representative in Mendoza. Andueza, formally a teenage injury replacement option upon the VWL Lara squad, is hardly an imposing pressence upon the mound as he conjures comparisons to another diminutive Venezuelan arm in Ronnie Herrera; despite Andueza actually being older than the Snappers rotation staple (2/7/1995). Andueza, standing at 5'11", 175 pounds, neutralized opposing offenses with a 2.93 FIP amassed between his 67 IP with a 49:23 BB/K (17.2% K%/7.7% BB%) to coincide with a lone HR permitted and a 1.39 GB/FB produced thanks in part to a plus changeup. It was a stellar performance that firmly places the lefty in consideration for Arizona duties even prior to the opening of the Papago schedule for 2014 should he dominate initially, attempting to become the first mid-season promotion from the DSL academy since Gregory Paulino. Juan Mendoza surprisingly enough even exceeded the southpaw's output himself: 

"Want an international sleeper that's even more so hidden than Ronald Herrera or Jesus Zambrano? Look no further. Mendoza, also born in 1996, was 17 throughout the previous DSL campaign in what was his debut professional season as well. In the process of his debut, he received a DSL All-Star game berth alongside Jean Carlo Rodriguez and featured as one of the more reliable producers of a developing Dominican bunch. As he accumlulated his 71 2/3 IP, he would amass one of the most outstanding groundball rates of any rookie league Oakland prospect while walking 21 (7.1% BB%) and allowing a minuscule two dingers to compensate for a less than desirable 42 strikeouts (14.1% K%). The numbers translate to a 3.44 FIP, and a even more pristine 1.88 ERA for the Venezeulan. Unlike his fellow countrymen, Zambrano and Herrera, Mendoza has a greater physical potential (6'2", 175 pounds) and has optimistism revolving amongst his projection. But despite that recent success, the organization seems skewed towards retaining Mendoza in the Dominican for another campaign, with a probable AZL promotion in July/August. He'll turn 18 on April 15th"

Accompanying the rotation assets are intriguing potential riddlied pieces such as Jesus Rivas, a recently converted arm from his previous outfield post in an attempt to reciprocate Jensi Peralta's conversion success after the righty went 13 2/3 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 7 K as the squad's closer through 2013. Anderson Mata, inked alongside Jose Torres as another Venezuelan lefty, shall attempt to finally congeal and ascend to Arizona while the former Miami farmhand Kevin Ferrera (27 2/3 IP, 12 H, 3 ER, 12 BB, 36 K) attempts to duplicate his previous dominance. Yonalis Delgadillo and Elihoref Suniaga return following absences while Wilfredo Magallanes, Jose Trejo, and Argenis Blanco, and the Puerto Rican Philip Ortiz return after debut campaigns during 2013. Yordy Alejo, Angel Duno and Reynaldo Hoyos reacclimate as DSL juniors present at the facility while Emerson Nelo and Jhenderson Hurtado attempt to debut alongside Ruber Aquino, Enmanuel Sullivan, Jorge Martinez, Santiago Rodriguez, Gerardo Vilchez and Jean Carlo Ruiz Torres despite being present but unable to contend through the 2013 calendar year. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Oakland A's Extended Spring Training Update

With the opening of campaigns throughout the country between Beloit, Midland, Sacramento and Stockton, most have forgotten that the remaining outcasts yet to be assigned towards any full season affiliate have been participating within a regimen amongst their fellow Papago counterparts versus opposing organizations down in Arizona, having yet to see their March schedule shift until the Vermont and AZL campaigns get underway in June. Still tethered to Phoenix are such notable farmhands as Jesus Zambrano, Justin Higley, Chris Kohler, Dustin Driver, Yario Muñoz, Jesus Lopez, and Jose Torres who were retained due to inexperience, youth, inconsistency or just sheer inability to cram them onto an available roster as this bunch of misfits contends for injury replacement duties prior to Lake Monster roster configurations in the approaching month. Joining me to update on this seldom addressed sector of the farm system is 26th round acquisition from the 2013 Draft, Kyle Wheeler, the catcher hailing from Mississippi and a previous interviewee for this very blog who provided some intriguing insight on the Arizona proceedings thus far: 

CK: Hey there Kyle. As a catcher, how have the guys upon the mound looked thus far? Anybody in particular that's stood out through the first month? 

KW: I've been beyond impressed with Jesus Zambrano. The kid is 17 years old and can dominate players at this level already. The stuff he has is quite impressive. Next I would have to say Blake McMullen, he has came in and shown up to play every outing. Great command of all three pitches and the movement he has developed on his two seam and change up makes him even more special!... Blake's last two outings consisted of 8 IP has only allowed one hit while only walking one batter in 14 innings. He's an old country boy from the south, similarly to [Drew] Granier, and he's got that attitude that he will beat you even if you beat him nine out of ten times... He's gonna be damn sure he gets you that last time that counts. 

AJ Burke and Jon Massad equally have came in doing great jobs as well! Both guys have come in and dominated the bottom of the strike zone. And of course Dustin Driver... What a difference from the AZL to this Spring! He commands his fastball from 93-96.... Key word he is *commanding*. He has gained a lot of confidence in all his pitches and looks like a completely different pitcher. 

Chris Kohler has been on the DL with a sore shoulder. Shockingly Cody Kurz has been better and better every outing, but not sold on the control he's having yet. Kurz and I have developed a good catcher-pitcher relationship and every time I've caught him he's done well, just hoping he can adjust to other catchers. Jose Torres has been ok, spotty at times with command but when he has it he's lethal. And Jensi Peralta is the same as Torres. More trouble with command than Torres though. But a big improvement from last season in the AZL. 

CK: What about on the offensive side? Again, anybody in particular that has been noticeable? 

KW: Man, there's no individual that is out hitting one another... We have all swung the bats well! If I had to separate two people it would be Dayton Alexander and Brett Vertigan. Those guys have a chip on their shoulder and have shown it. Vertigan with easily five or six triples and two HRs in extended. And clutch with runners in scoring position. And Dayton just competes... Hard day in and day out like it's his last game to play. Most impressive offensively since spring started though would be Seongmin Kim. He has gone with a new approach and crushes balls now. 

CK: A couple guys in particular that interest me are AJ Kubala and Justin Higley. Kubala came in as a high schooler and struck out in over half of his plate appearances through his AZL debut in 2013 and Justin Higley was pretty well deserving of Beloit this season. What have been your impressions on them thus far? 

KW: AJ [Kubala] is a hard nosed worker who puts in more work than anyone in their free time. He's made several adjustments and is a lot shorter to the ball which will eliminate the strikeouts. I expect a big season from him wherever it is that he will be playing. He's young with a lot of upside in him, it's just putting it all together consistently that will make him the true player that he is capable of being... Higley has had a good spring. I hate he didn't break camp because he's a great player, but Boogie [Powell] and [Bijon] Boyd both were in front of him. 

CK: What about the man in question... Yourself. How has the spring been treating you out in Arizona? 

KW: [Laughs] I've improved tremendously since camp has started! Went from throwing 2.1's to 1.8's [Home to second] and Gabriel Ortiz has helped me a lot. It's definitely starting to show! I came in a little slow on the hitting side, late on a lot of fastballs, but have worked with our hitting coaches and more on time and ready to hit now. To me, it's all about being patient and buying into what your trying to learn from your coaches and it has benefited me a tremendous amount.

CK: How has the facial hair situation been too? I hope you keep growing it to Derek Norris lengths like we promised...

KW: [Laughs] Oh man, Dusty Brown gives me crap about it everyday but still growing it out! Got another five months before I even think about cutting it. 

CK: Dusty Brown is just a crotchety old man

KW: That is the truest statement about Dusty!

CK: Hope everything else goes well out in Papago, Wheelie. And get out to Stockton ASAP

KW: Hope to get there sooner than later!

Noted, Blake McMullen is a 6'1", 205 righty hailing from the NAIA institution of the University of Sciences and Arts of Oklahoma who accumulated 24 2/3 frames within the AZL during his 2013 campaign following his 29th round acquisition and amassed a 20:14 K/BB while permitting a lone dinger. Seemingly demonstrating his offseason improvement through this spring stretch, McMullen additionally flashed reasons for optimism during his initial professional stint with a 1.29 GB/FB ratio. While not spoken of as highly, Jensi Peralta enters as an intriguing farmhand following the 22 year old Venezuelan's conversion towards the mound following a lackluster offensive stretch for Oakland between the Dominican academy and the AZL, now entering his third campaign since his shift after a mere frame pitched during 2012 and 18 IP accumulated through 2013 with an erratic 19:13 K/BB with no HRs and a 1.33 GB/FB. The sample size is misiscule for Peralta, but his probable Vermont assignment makes him an interesting and underrated relieving prospect to monitor. AJ Burke and Jon Massad each participated in AZL exclusive attempts as well, with Burke having his campaign abruptly hindered by an injury as the 31st (Burke) and 25th (Massad) round pickups each completed successful debuts with Massad amassing a 24:5 K/BB within his 30 IP (3 HR/2.19 GB:FB) and AJ Burke went 29 H, 18 ER (1 HR), 6 BB, 18 K in his 20 2/3 IP. Cody Kurz, the 8th round asset plucked from Oxnard College in the 7th round during 2012, featured as a hulking former linebacker recruit that was essentially selected as a potential exclusive option, struggling nightly to command while partaking against collegiate competion. That inconsistency transitioned forth into the professional ranks after walking 29 in his 21 2/3 IP while punching out a mere nine before succumbing to an injury that squandered the entirety of his 2013, thus entering this campaign as a perculiar and fascinating bullpen option to watch. Positionally, Seongmin Kim arrives as one of Oakland's most high profile Pacific Rim assets as the most hefty international acquisition between the 2011 and 2012 signing periods after inking for $510,000 before the Korean backstop partook in a debut campaign within the Australian academy before being flown domestically to the southwest. Kim has been stunted however attributable to physical roadbumps, only amassing 55 plate appearances thus far within the AZL. Eligible for Vermont, the 21 year old receives unanimous acclaim for his offensive capabilities and reportedly has improved vastly defensively with his reactions behind the plate, establishing this 2014 as a potential breakthrough campaign for Seongmin. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Raul Alcantara done for 2014

Announced this evening, Oakland's #1 overall pitching farmhand in Raul Alcantara shall undergo Tommy John surgery after receiving a MRI in Arizona following a DL assignment for the ever ominous "elbow soreness". For Alcantara, the 21 year old Dominican Andrew Bailey trade acquisition, it signifies a devastating blow to the organization after his offseason 40 man amnesty to avoid Rule 5 suitors from nabbing him and breakthrough 2013 campaign between Stockton and Beloit in which Alcantara amassed a 2.91 FIP within Wisconsin (77 1/3 IP) and a 4.21 marker with the Ports (79 IP) after an abysmal 2012 attempt with Burlington as a 19 year old. Hailed as possessing the best developing changeup in the organization, while bolstering that with a plus fastball, the 6'3" righty dispatched any opposing competition consistently through 2013 while walking a mere 24 batters amongst 649 faced (3.7% BB%) to earn honors as the most precision precise pitcher within the Oakland organization. And aside from a 3 HR contest versus Rancho Cucamonga, Raul was exquisite with limiting hard hit and home run contact, accumulating a 1.72 GB/FB ratio between the two affiliates. 

Having sufficiently convinced the organization of his standing, Alcantara was bestowed with a Midland assignment five months past his 21st birthday following his first initial MLB spring camp and would impress with an eight inning effort (8 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K) en route to a victory. In his second outing, the strikeout percentages rebounded for the 180 pounder, going 6 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K to secure the Texas League pitcher of the week honor prior his most recent performance. Unfortunately, Alcantara would encounter his first roadbump of his Rockhound tenure as the youngster went 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 2 K against San Antonio and threw only 49 of his 84 pitches for strikes. It was the first contest since June 23rd, Alcantara's California League debut, in which he walked more than he struck out and his first 3+ BB effort after only walking three or more twice throughout 2013. It would be revealed that Alcantara was suffering from discomfort though, contributing to his struggles, and was promptly placed upon the disabled list and shipped to Arizona where it has been discovered that he shall have to take part in reconstructive UCL surgery should he ever wish the pitch again. Raul ought to be eligible by May 2015 at the earliest, but could be absent for all of the 2015 season as well depending upon his recuperation. He'll likely be assigned to Midland once more when prepared. 

For Oakland, already witnessing the other top pitching prospects in Michael Ynoa and Bobby Wahl land upon the DL a month into the season, it serves as a brutal loss to an organization already ailing