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Things looking up down on A's farm
Top draftee Russell, Oakland-bound Straily, Doolittle shine
11/28/2012 10:30 AM ET
Addison Russell, a first-round pick in June, reached Class A by August.
Addison Russell, a first-round pick in June, reached Class A by August. (Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com)
This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

The A's affiliates enjoyed varying degrees of success in 2012. Triple-A Sacramento won a Pacific Coast League-high 86 games but made a first-round exit in the postseason; Class A Burlington was jettisoned from the semis in the Midwest; and the Rookie-level Arizona League A's made it to -- but lost in -- the league's one-game Final.

Oakland's other affiliates paled in comparison. Double-A Midland, Class A Advanced Stockton and short-season Vermont all finished 10 or more games below .500, with the Ports among the year's bigger surprises. The Cal League club went 56-84 just one season removed from a 75-65 record and a Championship Series appearance.

But at least one player from each of Oakland's farm teams (discounting the Dominican Summer League squad) is represented on our list.

Athletics Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Max Stassi, Stockton (84 games): In his four seasons as a pro, Stassi has eclipsed 100 games just once, but when he is healthy, he sure is productive. One year removed from shoulder surgery, Oakland's 12th-ranked prospect hit a career-high 15 home runs while slightly shrinking his strikeout total.

"He's had so many injuries the last two years and was injured for a time but overcame it this year," said Keith Lieppman, the A's player development director. "He's improved his catching years. [Offensively], his pitch recognition is one of higher issues he wants to continue to improve on. Occasionally, he chases pitches out of the zone."



First base -- Anthony Aliotti, Midland (123 games): For a fourth straight year, Aliotti, a 15th-round draftee in 2009, conquered a different Minor League level. This season at Double-A, the southpaw swinger posted career bests in average (.292) and extra-base hits (40), including 10 longballs.

"It was a breakthrough summer for him," Lieppman said. "He's somebody like Mark Teahen, who we had a few years ago, an opposite-field hitter who was learning to pull the ball. It's especially [important] playing a corner position -- he's always been a great defender -- and we're starting to see power."

Second base -- Josh Horton, Midland (121 games), Sacramento (three games): Somewhat stalled in the organization since Oakland made him its second-round pick in 2007, Horton produced offensively (.280 average and nine homers) while also making improvements defensively. On the latter front: He began '12 playing third base and shortstop (his collegiate position) before starting 29 of his final 33 games for the RockHounds at second, where he made just five fielding miscues.

"He's real versatile, fits a great utility role like [Major Leaguers Adam] Rosales and [Eric] Sogard and [Cliff] Pennington, guys that play numerous positions and are solid defenders," Lieppman said. "We're still waiting on his bat to continue to play through."

Third base -- Miles Head, Stockton (67 games), Midland (57 games): Acquired in an offseason trade, this right-handed slugger produced right away, leading his new organization in hits (160), total bases (277), doubles (32), home runs (23) and RBIs (84). The campaign bumped him up to No. 8 among A's prospects.

"To start in Stockton the way he did," Lieppman said, "he was probably the best player in the [Cal] League as a 20-year-old. By the end of the season, he had made adjustments and had good sense of a new level."

Head, who injured his shoulder during Arizona Fall League action last month, also impressed on defense. The Red Sox organization had employed him at first base.

Was Oakland's brass surprised by Head's immediate impact coming over from Boston's organization?

"Everybody liked [his] bat," Lieppman said. "We didn't have any idea how good he was going to be. We knew he was an instinctual hitter. That was the talk around the office -- that we found a guy who could really hit, [had] good hands, could profile at third base. He is part of the excitement of that trade because [Boston] gave up on him."

Shortstop -- Addison Russell, Arizona League (26 games), Vermont (13 games), Burlington (16 games): Speaking of immediate impact, Russell proved why the A's drafted him 11th overall in June. Across three levels, he posted .369/.432/.594 marks while stealing 16 bases in 18 attempts.

"Of the 18-year-olds in our system, he is the best in [terms of] athleticism and aggressiveness and not missing a beat at any [new] level," said Lieppman, the same week in October that he saw his third-ranked prospect hit a 407-plus-foot homer in the instructional league. "Typically as guys move up, they hit seventh, eighth or ninth in the lineup to get used to it. By the third or fourth day [with a new club], he was in the third hole, right in a lead hitting spot, so you know he's pretty good. You watch him play and you don't want to hold him back. We'll keep pushing him."

Outfielders

Michael Taylor, Sacramento (120 games), Oakland (six games): What did Taylor prove in 2012? That it is actually possible for a 6-foot-5, 255-pound man to fly under the radar. Taylor, the A's trade bounty in 2009, posted an .846 OPS and stole 18 bags in 21 attempts in his third straight season playing full time for the River Cats. He is still the organization's No. 14 prospect.

"It's too bad because he had an awesome year, just got lost in the shuffle as [Brandon] Moss had a big year, [Yoenis] Cespedes, the way [Josh] Reddick played. There just wasn't an opportunity for him," Lieppman said. "He got blocked, but this kid should be in the big leagues. He's a victim of circumstance."

Chad Oberacker, Burlington (16 games), Stockton (107 games): Leading the A's Minor League system in steals isn't as difficult as doing so in other organizations (like the Reds, for example), but Oberacker's 30 swipes in 2012 was nothing to sneeze at. Add that to his 53 extra-base hits, including 15 homers, and you have an intriguing prospect -- even if he was a 25th-round draftee in 2011.

"He got it going right away with his combo of speed and power," Lieppman said. "We haven't had that for a while. He's sort of Reddick-like -- a slim guy that can run and is able to hit for power."

B.J. Boyd, Arizona League (39 games): Like Russell, Boyd went from high school ballplayer to June signee to quick study in the pros. Boyd, a talented prep football player in Northern California, posted a .301/.401/.434 slash line in his first pro experience while also collecting 16 thefts in 20 attempts on the basepaths. He turned 19 in July and is years from realizing his potential.

"He's a tools-oriented player with speed and still learning," Lieppman said. "He's raw at this point."

Utility man -- Grant Green, Sacramento (125 games): Once a full-time shortstop, Green played 10-plus games at five different positions this season -- second base (19), third base (11), shortstop (19), left field (49), center field (30). Why has Oakland moved its 2009 first-round draftee around so much? They're trying to find a spot for his bat: In his first Triple-A try, Green batted .296, hit 15 homers and collected 75 RBIs.

The fifth-ranked prospect did more damage in the Arizona Fall League, where he mainly played second base.

"With the void at that position, even though Pennington kind of took over that slot [in the playoffs], we thought that may present the best opportunity for Grant to win that position next year," Lieppman said. "His bat carries him -- he's one of those natural, instinctual hitters. And now that he can play second, short, third and the outfield -- with his bat -- he has a ticket to the big leagues."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Dan Straily, Midland (14 games), Sacramento (11 games), Oakland (seven games): Straily recorded his first sub-3.00 ERA in the Minors (2.78), struck out a Minor League-leading 190 batters in 152 innings and held Triple-A batters to an astonishingly low .172 batting average. Oh, and he was a 24th-round draftee in 2009 who had never pitched above Class A Advanced Stockton entering '12.

"It was a little bit of a surprise," Lieppman said of Straily, who earned two MiLBY nominations with his breakout campaign. "But there are things about his game we liked -- we had a lot of interest in him [from other clubs] in the offseason -- and it was just a matter of his mental game and understanding things. He's the real deal."

Right-handed starting pitcher* -- Drew Granier, Burlington (28 games): Sure, A.J. Griffin was, as his ancestors might have said, grand on the mound, but he spent much of his season in the Majors. Granier, meanwhile, toiled in the Minors and was just as impressive. His 11-10 record doesn't scream success, but his 3.21 ERA and 167-53 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 162 2/3 innings do. Win-loss records are tricky, as evidenced by his final 10 starts of the season: The 32nd-round pick in 2011 fashioned a 2.89 ERA over that span, but went just 1-5.

"He has an outstanding breaking ball, and he's a big competitor," Lieppman said. "By a lot of people, he's underrated. We felt he should have been named to Midwest League All-Star team."

*It was a down year for left-handed starting pitchers in the A's system, so MiLB.com picked a second righty.

Relief pitcher -- Sean Doolittle, Stockton (six games), Midland (eight games), Sacramento (two games), Oakland (44 games): There were many A's farmhands who made more relief appearances than Doolittle. In fact, most of them did. But none of them were as inexperienced. This hitter-turned-hurler just needed 25 Minor League innings before leaving for the Majors. His 0.72 ERA, .096 opponents' batting average and 48-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio explain that clearly enough.

"A year ago, he was in instructional league, learning how to hold runners on. His velocity had gone up and down. We didn't know what we were going to have. Then all of sudden, he's closing games against the Yankees," Lieppman said. "He was able to do something that nobody could have ever imagined. It's unthinkable. We had hoped he could learn a secondary pitch and with another year [of development] might be ready for the big leagues."

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to MLB.com and writes the Prospective Blog. Follow him on Twitter at AndrewMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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