|Grant Green has a solid bat. Can he find a home at second base?(AP Images)|
Prior to the start of the season, we'll highlight a few players in each team's minor-league system to let you know which players you should be paying attention to throughout the year. These aren't meant to be comprehensive top-prospect lists, but should provide a look at some key players within each team's organization.
Just as the masses were starting to question Billy Beane's fitness as general manager -- even those willing and ready to believe in the Moneyball philosophy -- his Athletics showed they're not dead yet. Oakland completed a magical run to the American League West title, in large part thanks to big-time acquisition Yoenis Cespedes. Prior to 2012, much of Beane's offseason work was spent acquiring young talent to stock in the minors. If Oakland is going to remain competitive in the strong AL West, they'll need those minor leaguers to turn into some major league talent.
2013 Impact Player
Straily rocketed through the A's system in 2012. After spending 2011 at High-A, Straily tore through Double-A and Triple-A in his first 25 starts of 2012. Between the two levels, Straily allowed just a 2.78 ERA and struck out an absurd 190 batters over 152 innings. Straily is a classic case of the late bloomer. As Baseball Americanotes, he was cut by his high school team, received just one offer to play Division 1 college baseball and fell to the 24th round of the draft in 2009.
But it's not as if Straily is now succeeding on minimal stuff. His 91.3 MPH average fastball velocity in the majors last year was more than adequate among right-handed starters, and his slider played like a plus pitch in his 39 major league innings. Even though he allowed 11 home runs in his seven major league starts last season, but he still managed a 3.89 ERA. If he could do that again in 2013, the Athletics would be more than happy. He'll have to keep the ball in the yard to do so, but he seems to have the stuff and pitchability to make it happen.
Russell has everything you look for in a top prospect. He plays a premium position (shortstop). He hits for power. He hits for average. He flashes speed. At just 19 years old, it'll be a while before we see Addison Russell in the majors, but the Athletics' first-round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft (11th overall) has the makings of a future star. Russell's stock fell a bit prior to his senior season -- he bulked up in an effort to increase his power, but he added too much bulk. Baseball America says "scouts started comparing him to Juan Uribe," and although Uribe has had a nice MLB career, given Uribe's current shape, the comparison was not meant as a compliment.
But he slashed enough weight to regain shortstop range and speed while maintaining a decent amount of power -- he is, as they say, in the best shape of his life. The 6-foot, 185 pound right-hander signed his draft contract early enough to get 55 games in last season, advancing as far as Low-A. Between three levels, Russell hit a tremendous .369/.432/.594 with seven home runs, 10 doubles and nine triples. If he continues to slaughter minor league pitching like that, we'll see him in northern California sooner rather than later.
Has Grant Green finally found a position? The Athletics' first pick in the 2009 draft has started at least 11 games at five different positions in the minor leagues: third base, left field, center field, second base, and shortstop. Once it became apparent shortstop, his original position, wasn't going to work at the highest level, it's been a long trip around the diamond. For now, perhaps pushed by Jemile Weeks's struggles, Green has settled at second base.
At 25 years old this year, it's getting near crunch time for Green. If he doesn't open the season with the Athletics, he could serve as the 26th man, the first player called up from Triple-A if the A's suffer injury or ineffectiveness to their middle infield. The bat should play -- he's hit .302/.348/.361 in the minors and .296/.338/.458 in Triple-A. The question is if he can provide enough value as a two-way player -- with the glove and the bat -- to force his way onto the roster at some point this season.
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