A's still building toward a serious run

A's still building toward a serious run

Before the 2008 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big-league team's Minor League system. Now it's time to recap and analyze all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent Draft class.

See what the Tampa Bay Rays did this year? That could be Oakland really, really soon.

How the A's got to this point, having one of the deepest systems in baseball, might not thrill all folks by the Bay, but take solace in the fact that when Oakland did trade away its big-league talent, it got talent back by the bucket-load. And it's spread throughout the system, joining with the talent that was already there to help every full-season affiliate finish over .500 for the season.

Sacramento won its second straight Pacific Coast League title, then went on to win the one-game Triple-A championship, the Bricktown Showdown, for the second consecutive year. Stockton took the California League crown, despite losing many players to promotion during the season. Midland, the beneficiary of those promotions, finished 12 games over .500 in the second half. Of course, Stockton got some reinforcements from Kane County, which made the Midwest League playoffs with a strong first half. And all of this happened down on the farm while a steady stream of intriguing, if slightly unproven, young players made contributions at the big-league level.

So fear not, A's fans. Even though the team faded at the end of the 2008 season, be prepared for wave after wave of young talent to reach the big club in the coming years. That should get the A's back to the top of the AL West in short order, setting up perhaps some future postseason battles with that other young team by the "Bay," the Rays.

Organizational Players of the Year

MLB.com Preseason Picks

Chris Carter, 1B: In our season preview, we said Carter would take advantage of the California League and hit close to .300 with 30-plus homers and over 100 RBIs, perhaps flirting with the Minor League home run title. With the exception of the average, it's safe to say, "Nailed it!" He did hit just .259, but his 39 homers tied for second in all of the Minors, and he did drive in 104 runs to lead the Cal League.
Carter crushes two playoff homers

Trevor Cahill, RHP: The combination of added strength and a knuckle-curve was enough for us to tab Cahill. Pitching across two levels, he went on to lead the organization's full-season pitchers in ERA (2.61) while finishing second in strikeouts and tied for second in wins. Sounds like a Pitcher of the Year to us.
Cahill fans a dozen Quakes


•  Monday, Oct. 6: Washington Nationals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 7: Seattle Mariners
•  Wednesday, Oct. 8: San Diego Padres
•  Thursday, Oct. 9: Pittsburgh Pirates
•  Friday, Oct. 10: Baltimore Orioles
•  Monday, Oct. 13: Atlanta Braves
•  Tuesday, Oct. 14: San Francisco Giants
•  Wednesday, Oct. 15: Cincinnati Reds
•  Thursday, Oct. 16: Colorado Rockies
•  Friday, Oct. 17: Detroit Tigers
•  Monday, Oct. 20: Kansas City Royals
•  Tuesday, Oct. 21: Oakland Athletics
•  Wednesday, Oct. 22: Texas Rangers
•  Thursday, Oct. 23: Cleveland Indians
•  Friday, Oct. 24: Arizona Diamondbacks
•  Monday, Oct. 27: Florida Marlins
•  Tuesday, Oct. 28: Toronto Blue Jays
•  Wednesday, Oct. 29: St. Louis Cardinals
•  Thursday, Oct. 30: Houston Astros
•  Friday, Oct. 31: Minnesota Twins
•  Monday, Nov. 3: New York Yankees
•  Tuesday, Nov. 4: New York Mets
•  Wednesday, Nov. 5: Los Angeles Angels
•  Thursday, Nov. 6: Chicago White Sox
•  Friday, Nov. 7: Milwaukee Brewers
•  Monday, Nov. 10: Chicago Cubs
•  Tuesday, Nov. 11: Boston Red Sox
•  Wednesday, Nov. 12: LA Dodgers
•  Thursday, Nov. 13: Tampa Bay Rays
•  Friday, Nov. 14: Philadelphia Phillies

MLB.com Postseason Selections

Boy, we're good: a perfect two-for-two with our predictions as Carter and Cahill are excellent postseason choices. Sure, it'd be nice for Carter to cut down on his strikeouts a little (156), but he also drew 77 walks, so there's no huge concern with the 21-year-old. Cahill made the jump to Double-A at age 20 like it was nothing, and at least one scout felt he was the best pitcher, in terms of stuff and command, on the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.

Climbed the Ladder

Brett Anderson, LHP: In his first season in the A's organization, the 20-year-old southpaw began the year in the California League, got promoted to Double-A, went to the Futures Game, pitched in the Olympics and finished by moving up to Triple-A to help Sacramento win the PCL crown. Can you say fast track?
Anderson notches 12th strikeout

Jerry Blevins, LHP: He was an "Under the Radar" guy heading into the season, though his 2007 season probably helped put him on it. Then he jumped through it, hitting the big leagues for good, it seems, after posting a 2.78 ERA and 10 saves for Sacramento. The lefty had a 3.11 ERA in 36 games for the A's and, at the very least, has a career as a lefty specialist after holding hitters to a .193 batting average in the bigs.
Blevins' bases-loaded K in the bigs

Trevor Cahill, RHP: See predictions.

Chris Carter, 1B: See predictions.

Aaron Cunningham, OF: It looks like the center fielder might be done traveling after getting traded twice in a short period of time a year ago. In his first season with the A's, he began the year in Double-A Midland, earning a promotion after hitting .317 with 12 homers and 12 steals in 87 games. He didn't stay long in Triple-A, hitting .382 in 20 games before getting the call to the bigs at the end of August at age 22. He hit .250 over 22 games, but after hitting .329 with 17 homers and 15 steals in 107 Minor League games in 2008, he may not need any more seasoning down on the farm.
Cunningham's go-ahead blast for A's

Joey Devine, RHP: When the Braves took Devine in the first round of the 2005 Draft, the idea was that the reliever would be quick to the big leagues and establish himself as a bullpen force. It took a little while longer, plus a change in scenery, but it started to come together in a big way in 2008. He spent just four games in the Minors and posted a minuscule 0.59 ERA in 42 games for Oakland. Big-league hitters managed just a .150 average against him, the kind of domination the Braves hoped to get when they drafted him.
Devine's final out with Oakland

Sean Doolittle, 1B: The hope was that Doolittle would eventually start showing some more power from his smooth left-handed swing, but it's doubtful most thought it would come this quickly. Granted, he did slow down after his promotion, but getting to Double-A in your first full season is a pretty good accomplishment. And if someone had said the University of Virginia product would hit .286 with 22 homers and 91 RBIs while finishing the season in Midland, it's safe to say no one would have complained.
Doolittle goes deep for Stockton

Greg Smith, LHP: It seemed pretty evident that Smith was about ready to contribute at the big-league level, but who knew it'd be for pretty much the entire season (after one start for Sacramento). And that 7-16 record in 32 big-league starts is very misleading. The lefty finished with a decent 4.16 ERA and kept big-league hitters to a .243 average. He'll have to cut down on the 87 walks, but it was definitely a promising rookie campaign.
Smith picks up complete-game win

Brad Ziegler, RHP: A year ago, Ziegler wasn't on Oakland's 40-man roster and couldn't get a sniff in the Rule 5 Draft. Think teams are regretting that call now? After posting a 0.37 ERA and eight saves in Triple-A, the submariner got the call to the bigs and promptly set a rookie record for consecutive scoreless innings to start a career. When the year was over, he had 11 saves, a 1.06 ERA and a lot of decision-makers feeling sheepish.
Learn more about Ziegler

Kept Their Footing

Corey Brown, OF: In another organization, Brown could well have been in the "Climbing" category, but the bar is set pretty high in this system. The supplemental first-round pick from 2007 did get promoted midseason and showed power at both levels, finishing with 30 homers and a .510 SLG. He also struck out 168 times, something that will have to improve as he moves up.
Brown's All-Star RBI

Carlos Gonzalez, OF: Gonzalez did climb to the big leagues and stuck around long enough to pick up just over 300 at-bats. But after handling himself well at the outset, he hit just .176 in August and worked his way back down to Triple-A. To his credit, he actually seemed to get the message and finished the season by hitting .406 in Sacramento's march to the PCL and Bricktown Showdown titles. He should get another crack at the bigs in 2009 at the ripe old age of 23.
Gonzalez discusses Triple-A return
Gonzalez crushes grand slam

Gio Gonzalez, LHP: It's not that he was bad. In many ways, a 4.24 ERA for a 22-year-old in his first taste of Triple-A isn't too shabby at all. Neither was his 128 Ks in 123 Minor League innings nor the fact he made his big-league debut at such a young age. But as good as his pure stuff was -- and it always has been -- he struggled with his command, particularly during his stint with Oakland. Obviously, there's still time for him to harness his stuff and mature as a pitcher, but there might be more pressure on him next year to start turning that promise into more consistent performances.
Gonzalez tosses one-hitter

Henry Rodriguez, RHP: It's been an interesting ride for the 21-year-old right-hander in 2008. After just three starts with Stockton in the California League, he got moved up to Double-A. He made nine starts and went 1-6 with an 8.82 ERA, prompting a return back down to Stockton. He started 10 more games in June and July with so-so results before moving to the bullpen in August, where he allowed just one hit while striking out eight in six scoreless innings. Then he tacked on five more effective relief outings back up in Double-A, though it was more a matter of protecting his valuable young arm than a permanent switch to the 'pen.
Rodriguez blows away another batter

James Simmons, RHP: There's so much exciting talent in the A's system that sometimes Simmons goes overlooked. Then you remember he spent his first full season of pro ball up in Double-A and made the Texas League All-Star team while finishing third in the hitting-friendly league with a 3.51 ERA and second in Ks with 120 (vs. just 32 innings). He was a touch too hittable (.282), but there's not much else to complain about the Cal-Riverside product.
Simmons strikes out 11

Slipped a Rung

Fautino De Los Santos, RHP: The A's were very excited to see what De Los Santos would do in his first season in the A's system after coming in the Nick Swisher trade. Unfortunately, the 22-year-old only made five starts for Stockton, posting a 5.87 ERA while striking out 27 in 23 innings. Then he got shut down with elbow soreness, which led to Tommy John surgery. He's obviously young enough to come back full strength and have a huge career, but this obviously puts things on hold for a long while.

On the Radar

Adrian Cardenas, 2B/SS: Others might know him more as a supplemental first-round pick of the Phillies in 2007, but he's relatively new to the A's, having come by way of the Joe Blanton trade. Cardenas handled the trade well and ended up more than holding his own in Double-A down the stretch at age 20. Primarily a second baseman since joining the Phillies, the A's had Cardenas playing a lot more shortstop, giving him added versatility as he gets close to knocking on the door.

Andrew Carignan, RHP: Slightly undersized college closers (5-foot-11 in this case) taken in the fifth round are often expected to be decent relievers down the road, but it's safe to assume that this University of North Carolina product exceeded expectations in his first full season. Carignan began the year in Stockton, but spent the vast majority of it as Midland's closer. Combined, he saved 28 games, posted a 2.01 ERA and held hitters to a paltry .188 average. A's fans could see him join Devine, Blevins and Ziegler in Oakland at some point in 2009.
Carignan records the save

Jesus Guzman, 2B/3B: This was Guzman's first season with the A's organization and after the year he had, one has to wonder if the Mariners gave up on him a little too quickly. Yes, he spent two years in Double-A (2005-06) before going back to Class A Advanced ball in 2007. And yes, the monster year he had there could partially be attributed to playing in High Desert. But he showed that maybe he's just a late bloomer by putting up monster numbers with Double-A Midland this year (.364, .529 OBP, .867 SLG). He struggled during a brief callup to Sacramento, and it remains to be seen if he's anything more than a veteran Minor Leaguer, but considering he won't turn 25 until June, there's still time for the A's to find out.
Guzman delivers walk-off double

Vince Mazzaro, RHP: Coming off a 6-10, 5.33 ERA season in 2007, few could have predicted that Mazzaro would turn in one of the best seasons in the organization this year. Pitching at age 21 in Double-A for most of the year, the right-hander went 12-3 with a 1.90 ERA in 137 1/3 innings for Midland. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A where he struggled a bit (though he righted himself in the PCL postseason), but he still ended up leading the organization in wins while finishing second in ERA and third in strikeouts.
Mazzaro mows down 10th batter

2008 Draft Recap

1. Jemile Weeks, 2B: The A's surprised some by taking Weeks, the younger brother of Milwaukee Brewer Rickie, at No. 12 overall. One of the few advanced college leadoff types in the top of last June's Draft class, Weeks hit .297 in 19 games for Kane County, showing good speed and leadoff skills before a hip flexor shut him down at the end of July. He's expected to be ready for Spring Training.
Spotlight on Weeks

2. Tyson Ross, RHP: The Cal product slid a tiny bit into the second round at draft time, and the A's sent him to work in Kane County, where he appeared in six games -- four starts -- posting a 4.66 ERA and .219 average against in 19 1/3 innings. He then moved up and made two starts for Stockton in the Cal League playoffs, allowing just one run in 10 innings as the Ports took home the title.
Ross records second strikeout

3. Petey Paramore, C: The ASU standout also went to Kane County after a brief debut in the Arizona League. Known more for his strong defensive abilities, Paramore hit .225 in 31 games for the Cougars. He did, however, make some adjustments at the plate late in the year and finished strong, hitting over .300 in the season's final two weeks. If he can continue to develop as a switch-hitter, that plus his glove work should help him reach Oakland in the future.
Paramore clubs roundtripper

Others of Note: SS Jason Christian (fifth round) hit .294, mostly with Class A Short-Season Vancouver, to go along with 13 steals in 14 attempts over 68 total games. ... Pepperdine RHP Brett Hunter (seventh round) was a first-round potential starter when the season started, but he missed most of the 2008 season with arm trouble. He returned late and the A's took a shot on him in the seventh round, convincing him to sign with a $1.1 million offer. He did get into a smattering of games before the summer was over. ... OF Rashun Dixon (10th round) hit .263 in the rookie-level Arizona League, but he slugged .525 thanks to 10 triples (tied for the league lead) and eight homers. ... OF David Thomas (14th round) hit .300 in 220 total at-bats, almost all with Vancouver in the Northwest League. He also had a .396 OBP. ... SS Nino Leyja (15th round) hit .315 with 10 steals in 43 AZL games. ... RHP Michael Hart (19th round) pitched as a starter and reliever for Vancouver and finished with a 2.52 ERA as well as 40 Ks in 35 2/3 innings. ... RHP Ken Smalley (24th round) went 5-1 with a 3.07 ERA for Vancouver, striking out 34 in 29 1/3 innings and holding hitters to a .190 average.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.