"It's better going into 2013 Spring Training when you think about what took place in the Draft and the performance of some of those players after being able to look at them a little more, be around them," A's special advisor Grady Fuson said. "I think everybody feels better about the bottom end of the system and where those guys are going to be graduating to than we actually did a year ago. It was a great coup last year. We had a handful of guys that were young and talented and played well and have passion for the game."
There were 19 of those young and talented rookies used during the season by the American League West champs, to be exact. They became the first group of rookies to reach an unconventional 50-50 season: wins (54) and home runs (56). That win total is a Major League record.
Shortstop Addison Russell, the top A's prospect on MLB.com's list of 20, is going to receive attention as long as he's in Major League camp. But he's not going to be the poster boy of a repeat run up top. Not this year.
Giving an invite to a 19-year-old in his first professional Spring Training could go against some conventional logic, but everything Russell has shown to this point is that he can handle it. What's wrong with a taste?
"A lot of things can go a little wrong and all of a sudden they don't look good, they don't play well," Fuson said. "They're nervous, sometimes you get a little bad rap. But in this kid's case, let's face it. This kid played for three months and hit three different levels of baseball and not one part of the game really stopped him much, and instructional league was another case of just kind of walking through that whole camp -- practicing well, performing well.
"He possibly could be a player on the quick come and he's polished enough and poised enough to go through a big league camp and handle it, get exposed to some other people in the organization that haven't been around."
Right-hander Dan Straily (No. 2), second baseman Grant Green (No. 4) and righty Sonny Gray (No. 6), meanwhile, are all in the mix this season, even if they aren't on the 25-man roster out of camp. Gray could be more of a midseason call-up.
Straily, 24, made it up for seven starts and a 3.89 ERA last year at the big-league level.
"Between [A.J.] Griffin and Straily, one of those guys hopefully sticks on the club, if not both of them," Fuson said.
Green, who has bounced between positions, is a middle infielder by trade, although this will be his first full Spring Training at second. Jed Lowrie, Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks could make it tough for Green to get playing time, but Fuson said he's "going to get every opportunity." Being able to play multiple positions including the outfield, could help the 25-year-old and 2009 first-rounder get some playing time.
Top 20 prospects
The No. 3 prospect in the A's system, 23-year-old outfielder Michael Choice, perhaps could have been in the mix this year, had he not suffered a broken thumb at Double-A Midland, and if the A's outfield situation weren't so crowded in the first place. The 2010 first-rounder should be 100 percent by the time camp opens, and figures to go to Triple-A Sacramento.
Josh Reddick's 2012 season already made the Andrew Bailey trade look great, but the two prospects the A's got in the deal, third baseman Miles Head (No. 9) and right-hander Raul Alcantara (No. 11) could make that deal even sweeter.
Head, 21, is at third base, and might not be in ideal shape, but he can hit: he nearly won the organizational triple crown, topping the farm system in batting average (.333) and RBIs (84) while finishing second in home runs (23).
"He's one of those Barney Rubble guys who certainly doesn't look the part of a Major League player," Fuson said. "But talent-wise, this guy can jump the ball out of any ballpark. He loves to play, he's got the same demeanor every day. He's learning the little technical fundamental things at third base -- footwork, throwing slots. But he's got a knack for slapping leather to a baseball, whether he's at third or first. He's a legit offensive type of guy."
Alcantara, 20, still needs work on his secondary stuff. But with a fastball that tops at 93, he could be a strong Major League starter if he puts it together.
Still on the list is outfielder Michael Taylor at No. 12. Despite being 27 years old, Taylor's had only 56 Major League plate appearances between the last two seasons.
The last prospect and fourth third baseman on the list, Jefrey Marte, came over from the Mets for Collin Cowgill in an offseason trade. Marte, 21, crushed left-handed pitching (.336/.390/.560) last season at Double-A.
Under the Radar
Josh Bowman, a 24-year-old righty and 10th rounder in 2010, spent almost the entire year at High-A Stockton and had a 3.62 ERA and 127 innings in 146 2/3 innings. He got a taste of Midland for one start.
Righty Murphy Smith doesn't have overpowering stuff, but the 25-year-old had a 2.66 ERA in April and a 3.23 ERA in May last season at Midland. Some work on his delivery may help his consistency as a strike thrower.
"I for one have always been a Murphy Smith fan," Fuson said. "He just needs to locate the baseball better to be more efficient."
Sean Murphy, 24, saw his changeup take off in 2012 and had a 1.97 ERA in eight starts at Midland.
Hitter of the Year: Head
Head's value is fully attached to his bat, and he can hit all-around, with discipline to boot. He had a .391 on-base percentage between two stops.
Pitcher of the Year: Gray
As a first-rounder in 2011, Gray has the raw stuff to dominate, and this will be his second season at the upper levels -- if he doesn't get called up.