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OAKLAND – For the past couple of seasons, all talk about the A’s farm system was centered on the considerable skills of shortstop Addison Russell.
That all changed July 4, when news broke of Russell – and another top prospect, outfielder Billy McKinney -- being shipped to the Chicago Cubs as part of a package to land veteran starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
That deal stripped the A’s of their two most highly rated minor leaguers.
As the second half of the season gets underway, it’s worth taking a look at the remaining top names in Oakland’s farm system. The A’s still have talent in the minor leagues, but most of the marquee guys are in the lower ranks.
Should they look to make another move before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, it stands to reason that “selling” teams might target some of those remaining headliners from the A’s system.
Here’s a progress report on where some of these players are in their development:
SS Daniel Robertson - You might not have heard of Robertson, 20, but he was part of the reason the A’s felt comfortable dealing Russell to the Cubs. Robertson is a shortstop who also was part of the 2012 draft class – Oakland took Russell 12th overall and Robertson 34th. He’s hitting .295 with Single-A Stockton and, with 14 homers, is showing glimpses of the power the A’s hope continues to develop. He’s also impressing defensively.
General manager Billy Beane mentioned Robertson’s name in a media conference call after the Russell/McKinney trade, and A’s special assistant Grady Fuson – who spends considerable time evaluating players throughout the system – raves about Robertson’s work ethic.
“I’ve always thought he was (playing) in the shadow of Addison Russell,” Fuson said. “Addison has a little more electricity to his game, but when it’s all said and done, these two players may not be that far apart.”
1B Matt Olson - When the A’s completed the 2012 draft, they envisioned Russell, Robertson and Olson someday playing together in their major league infield. Drafted 47th overall that year, Olson is ranked by Baseball America as the best power hitter in Oakland’s system. He’s hit 28 home runs this season for Stockton, and though such stats must be put into context in the hitter-happy California League, the A’s like the plate discipline that Olson, 20, is showing as well as his footwork and glove at first.
Fuson predicts that Olson might even be a future option at third base depending on the A’s needs at the position as the years tick away.
RHP Michael Ynoa - His progress has been watched closely ever since he was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008 as a 16-year-old mega-prospect. He’s had many injury setbacks, including Tommy John surgery in 2010, but Ynoa is healthy now and working as a reliever with Stockton. He’s touching the upper 90’s with his fastball, and he’s now trying to hone a slider as a replacement for the curve that he’s had trouble commanding. The advantage to coming out of the bullpen is that Ynoa, 22, can potentially thrive with just two pitches. He’s still a project, and his overall command still needs to improve. And although he hasn’t matriculated through the system as quickly as hoped back in 2008, the A’s still like his upside.
[RELATED: Healthy Michael Ynoa reports to camp]
RHP Raul Alcantara – Baseball America ranks him as the A’s best pitching prospect, just ahead of Ynoa, but Alcantara underwent Tommy John surgery in May. Given a typical timeframe for recovery, that likely means the 21-year-old won’t resume pitching in games until midway through next season.
OF Billy Burns – Surely he’s a name A’s fans are curious about after the lighting-quick switch hitter made a splashy impression in spring training. Playing center field and batting leadoff for Double-A Midland, Burns leads the Texas League with 45 stolen bases (he’s been caught just five times). He’s hitting just .258 as he continues to develop his swing from the left side of the plate. The 24-year-old is still a work in progress, but might his speed serve a role off the bench as a September call-up? It’s not out of the question, though with the A’s in the thick of a division race, playing youngsters may not factor heavily into the plans.
3B Renato Nunez – The A’s lone representative in this year’s Futures Game, Nunez, 20, is hitting .281 with 23 homers and 65 RBI for Stockton. Defensively is where he needs to make the most progress. Oakland signed him out of Venezuela in 2010 for a bonus of $2.2 million.
OF/1B Shane Peterson – The 26-year-old Peterson is past the age of being classified as a true “prospect.” Why is he included here? Because if the A’s dip into the minor league ranks for position player depth in September, he’s a good bet to get a call-up. Peterson can play all three outfield positions, and he received his first taste of big league action last season, when he went 1 for 7 in two games with Oakland. Peterson, acquired from St. Louis in the Matt Holliday trade of 2009, is doing his best to turn heads. Last week, he enjoyed a three-homer game and a four-hit game on back-to-back days for Triple-A Sacramento.