It was a very successful year for both the Oakland A's and their Triple-A affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats, who both made it to the postseason and saw standout seasons from a number of players.
Back in spring, I made some predictions on how the season would unfold for a of those few key names in the A's system. Unfortunately for me, my predictions didn't see nearly the level of success Oakland had in 2012. Here's a look back on those predictions and how they turned out.
1) Grant Green, Michael Choice and Chris Carter will combine to hit 65 home runs in 2012.
Between these three top prospects, they combined to hit 53 home runs on the year. Perhaps the biggest reason why this projection failed was because of Michael Choice's injury-shortened season that saw him hit just 10 home runs for Double-A Midland after hitting 30 with High-A Stockton in 2011.
Choice struggled in the first half of the season with the Rockhounds, hitting a pedestrian .260/.334/.372 with six home runs. But after playing in the annual Futures Game during the All-Star break, he began to turn his season around at the plate. In 23 games to start the second half, he batted .367/.420/.578 with four long balls and started looking more and more like the player the A's hope him to be. Unfortunately, the talented outfielder ended up breaking his hand and ending his season before he could add to his totals.
Without a doubt, Choice's second half of the season should give him confidence headed into next year. He may regain some of his lost at-bats in winter ball this off-season and should compete for a spot with Triple-A Sacramento this spring.
Green had a solid year at the plate, hitting 15 homers for the River Cats while spending much of the season making adjustments in the box. Green's focus throughout his minor league career – aside from adjusting to new defensive positions constantly – has been working the count and improving his pitch selection. He took some major steps in those areas while working with Sacramento hitting coach Greg Sparks, but still has plenty of room for improvement based on his .338 on-base clip.
Green is likely to be added to the A's 40-man roster this off-season, and, depending on the moves the A's make with their infielders, could compete for a big league roster spot in the spring. If he doesn't make the big league squad this spring, Green will start year with Triple-A Sacramento again in 2013 and will likely make his major league debut with the A's at some point during the summer.
Part of this projection came from thinking Green would hit 20-plus home runs on the season, akin to his 2010 year with Stockton. I thought he would have a better offensive season than 2011 with Midland, where he put up a 750 OPS in the Texas League, considering hitters often fare well in the PCL after making the jump. Green might not have put up the power numbers that I expected, but he did manage 28 doubles while cutting his strikeout rate from 20.3 percent to 13.3 percent.
Should Green make similar strides with the River Cats next season, it will be tough for the A's to keep him in Triple-A. Green might become the latest beneficiary of a mid-season trade of a veteran in front of him.
Chris Carter was the only player who held up his end of this projection. Between Sacramento and Oakland, he managed 28 home runs on the season. He should have no problem finding himself in the middle of the A's lineup on a regular basis next year.
2) Jermaine Mitchell will lead A's minor leaguers in total bases for the second year in a row.
It was a disappointing season for Mitchell, who had just a 731 OPS and just 158 total bases a year after netting 284 to lead the A's system. He finished fourth on the River Cats behind Green (240), Michael Taylor (158) and Brandon Hicks (166). He finished 11th amongst A's minor leaguers.
The speedy outfielder came into the season fresh off major knee surgery to repair a stress fracture. While his season wasn't terrible by normal standards, Mitchell had set the bar high after his 2011 when he amassed a 960 OPS to earn a spot on the 40-man roster. But those expectations might have been his undoing in 2012.
Like the A's at the major league level, the River Cats came into the season with a big group of talented outfielders, usually forcing one out of the lineup each night. Coming off the injury, Mitchell may have had difficulty finding his grove without playing every day. The upcoming season will be very important for Mitchell, who needs to regain form if he hopes to get a chance to crack the big leagues where the A's have put together another strong group of outfielders.
3) The A's won't be recalling nearly as many minor league hitters as 2011.
Well, this certainly didn't go the way I expected. In 2011, it seemed as though no promotions the team made had any lasting impact, sans Jemile Weeks. Considering how veteran-laden the team was coming into the season (that term is relative for the A's), there didn't appear to be much room for minor league call-ups to be given a shot.
The team started the season with three possibilities at first base between Brandon Allen, Daric Barton and Kila Ka'aihue. Kurt Suzuki seemed poised to start another 130 games or so at catcher and the middle of the infield seemed solidified – as did the outfield with Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Jonny Gomes, Seth Smtih and Coco Crisp.
But what foiled this prediction was the A's not getting nearly the production they needed from any of their three options at first base. That made it possible for Brandon Moss and Carter to come in and provide the much-needed spark to an otherwise dormant lineup. And although Suzuki was coming off two declining seasons in a row, he certainly didn't project to hit just .218 and get on-base just 25 percent of the time before getting traded to Washington.
Out of the gate, I also believed Josh Donaldson wasn't long for the major league job and the team would go after a veteran to fill the void at third base. That ended up being true when the team acquired Brandon Inge, but I will admit I thought the team was going to miss Inge greatly after he suffered his shoulder injury. It turned out Donaldson would return from Sacramento and become a major contributor down the stretch.
The A's and their front office hit on nearly every move they made in 2012, making their improbably playoff run possible. They went from hitting 114 home runs in 2011 to 195 this season, an incredible jump of 81. I was very, very wrong in thinking there wouldn't be much room for minor league promotions to make an impact on the lineup.
4) B.A. Vollmuth will hit 20 home runs between Low-A Burlington and High-A Stockton in 2012.
Given his power potential and upside, Vollmuth seemed a safe bet to meet this prediction. However, Vollmuth hit just 14 home runs between the two levels, coming up six short of my forecast. To be fair, the former third-round pick did get promoted to Stockton midway through the season, making half of my prediction correct.
It should also be noted that no one in Burlington's lineup hit much to begin the year while the extended winter weather made hitting conditions far from ideal. Vollmuth's OPS rose significantly in each month before getting promoted to Stockton. There, he put up a 733 OPS and hit seven home runs in 65 games.
Vollmuth made it Stockton in just his second season as a pro, which bodes well for his chances in the major leagues. At 22, he's plenty raw still but has the tools to become an interesting prospect over the next couple of seasons. He's likely going to start the year in Stockton and should benefit from getting to hit in the California League.
5) Michael Taylor will hit 20+ home runs and have an OPS of 900 or better for Triple-A Sacramento.
Taylor didn't quite take the step to become the power hitter I thought he would be when making this prediction, but he did improve his ability to get on base drastically. In 2011, he hit 16 home runs and got on base at a .360 clip to get him to an 816 OPS. This season he hit just 12 homers, but had an outstanding .405 on-base percentage, leading to an improved 846 OPS.
Since coming to the A's with big minor league numbers in his past, Taylor has been constantly adjusting (some say over-thinking) his approach at the plate due to the fact he had not been promoted to the major leagues. But for the second straight season, Taylor has improved his Triple-A numbers, leaving some to believe that he doesn't have much more to prove in the minors.
Given the outfield depth of the A's major league roster, there doesn't appear to be a fit for Taylor with the A's as currently constructed. And if he's proven anything in the majors, it's that he needs more than a few games here and there to get going offensively.
Then there's the issue of power, which remains an awfully important commodity for corner outfielders. Given his build, Taylor would appear to have as much power as anyone, but it doesn't show up nearly as much as scouts would like. That's why Taylor's future remains very much in the air going into 2013.
The A's might be doing him a disservice by keeping him around knowing he's unlikely to get a significant amount of major league at-bats any time soon, especially since Green appears to be close to a promotion.
The best route for the A's and Taylor might be a trade to an organization willing to give him a serious look in the major leagues.