May 24, 2011A'S PAGE A'SVIDEO
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first installment of a monthly focus on the A's farm system. The first edition of the Giants' Farm Focus will be published in two weeks.
Normally a team with a stocked farm system, the Oakland Athletics entered the 2011 campaign with the 28th best collection of minor league players, according to the well-respected Baseball America organizational talent rankings.As general manager Billy Beane has a reputation for dealing his best players before they hit free agency in order to restock his farm system and stay competitive without the payroll flexibility most GMs have. However, Beane seems ready to build around his young, talented rotation at the major league level. Where the As are clearly in need of help is on the offensive end, as the teams offseason additions have yet to provide the boost Beane was hoping for.The As dont have hitters at the major league level blocking minor league talent; the only thing that stands in the way of prospects like Chris Carter, Michael Taylor, Grant Green and Jemile Weeks playing in Oakland is the development of these young players at the plate and in the field.What follows is a look at the Oakland As farm system, spotlighting some of the more impressive performances of late, from both the big-name prospects and the players who you may not have heard of yet. Line of the Month: Grant Green in May: .339 AVG, 8 R, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 5 2B, 11 SBCS, 176 KBBGreen, the 13th overall pick in 2009, started 2011 with Double-A Midland after putting up impressive numbers with the Stockton Ports in his first full minor league season. The 6-foot-3-inch, 180 pounder went deep 20 times in 2009, but the right-hander's power has suffered in the Texas League. As Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman isnt concerned.Even though the home run totals are down from last year, he is still on base close to .350 and his approach is solid at the plate, Lieppman said. He is making adjustments to a good league and will continue to get better.While Green has only gone yard twice this season, he is sporting a .282 batting average to go along with a .345 on-base percentage. The 23-year-old shortstop put together a 13-game hit streak from April 25 to May 8 and is hitting .339 in the month of May after posting a .318 average in 548 at bats with the Ports last year. His strikeout and walk numbers arent ideal, but he has lifted his BB to 8.0, up from 6.3 a year ago.Grant has very good instincts with the bat and is capable of using the entire field of play, Lieppman said. He has an approach that allows him to stay inside the ball where he goes well to the opposite field. He also knows how to get the barrel on the ball and drive the ball in the gaps.Greens strong season is on hiatus, however, after he left a game on May 18 with back issues. Lieppman explained that Green started experiencing back spasms last week.He tried to play through the pain but the organization felt he would be better served by taking a week off and going on the DL to rehab and strengthen his back, Lieppman said. The big picture of playing in August and September is more important than forcing him to play hurt now. He should be back in the next 4 or 5 days barring a setback.If Green comes back healthy and continues to post strong numbers in Double-A, Lieppman said theres a chance that the shortstop will be playing in Sacramento later this season, though he starts with a qualifier:It's always difficult to predict where a player will end up, especially with injuries and call-ups," Lieppman said. "The ideal situation would be for him to continue to play well and make adjustments at Double-A with the hope that he ends up at Triple-A by the end of the season. His defense has been a top priority and he continues to make good progress in that area.With less than two full seasons in the minor leagues, Green is not on the fast-track to Oakland. Instead, Lieppman said the organization will take its time with one of their top prospects and bring him to the big leagues when hes ready.The organization would love to have him ready by 2012 but the reality is that the development of a hitter is a process which takes time and the number of at bats and pitches seen by a hitter is important to that development, Lieppman said. Getting the foundation that allows him to compete and make adjustments against the best major league pitchers is goal number one with the idea that he will be able to not just get to the major leagues but be capable of staying there.In the Spotlight: Michael Taylor has only appeared in nine games with the River Cats since starting the season on the shelf with a wrist injury, but hes off to a fast start. After a disappointing full season in Sacramento in 2010 (.272.348.392 and just six home runs), Taylor has been red-hot so far in 2011, hitting .385 with seven RBI and three steals in just 39 at bats. Taylor, a former Stanford star, came to the As from the Phillies organization in 2009 as part of the three-team deal that sent Roy Halladay to Philadelphia. Under the Radar: While Taylor is the outfield prospect everyones heard of, theres another outfielder in Sacramento making noise that many fans may not know much about. His name is Randall Jai Miller and the As signed him as a Minor League free agent last November. Miller signed a letter of intent to play wide receiver and point guard at Stanford but ended up signing with the Marlins, who drafted him in the fourth round in 2003. The 26-year-old Alabama native is hitting .298 with seven home runs and 24 RBI with the River Cats so far. His on-base plus slugging (OPS) is a staggering 1.039 and hes stolen five bases without being caught. Miller was named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week at the end of April and could be considered for a role in Oakland this season if he maintains his numbers and the As offense continues to struggle.Triple-A Update: The Sacramento River Cats are off to a 28-17 start in the Pacific Coast League, good enough for first place in the Pacific - South Division. Other than the aforementioned Jai Miller and Michael Taylor, the Cats are getting solid production from Jemile Weeks the brother of the Brewers Rickie Weeks is hitting .313 and boasts a .401 on-base percentage. Top prospect Chris Carter has appeared in just 14 games after dealing with a thumb injury and is off to a slow start, hitting just .173 with 20 strikeouts in 52 at bats. Double-A Update: The Midland RockHounds are just 18-26 and the only regular hitting above .300 is 26-year-old outfielder Jermaine Mitchell. The fifth-round draft pick in 2006 is hitting .362 with six home runs and 11 triples but is a bit old for Double-A ball. However, he may find himself back in Sacramento after getting just 11 at bats with the River Cats at the end of the 2010 season.Single-A Update: The Stockton Ports, at 24-21, are in third place in the California Leagues North Division and just lost top prospect Max Stassi to season-ending shoulder surgery. A healthier big name in Stockton is Michael Choice. Selected 10th overall by the As in 2010, the 21-year-old Choice is hitting just .242, but already has seven home runs, 28 RBI and 27 walks in less than 200 plate appearances.Health Report: As closer Andrew Bailey, needed more than ever considering the recent outings and controversial comments of interim closer Brian Fuentes, threw a perfect inning for the River Cats on Friday in his first rehab appearance and followed that up with another perfect inning Monday night in Sacramento. The two-time All-Star could be back closing for the As within a weeks time if he avoids any setbacks.
Rael Enteen is a Web Producer with Comcast SportsNet. He will be producing monthly minor league reports on both the Giants and A's. Look for the first Giants edition in two weeks. Follow him on Twitter @RaelEnteenCSN