Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane has retooled yet again as he waits to see if the A's ever get a new ballpark that will allow him to expand to a two-shoestring budget. What is the upside for Oakland's current collection of ballplayers? Well, with Keith Law filing a report on Yoenis Cespedes, let's pull some numbers out of Mount Everest air and see if the A's could be contenders in a couple years when the club matures.
Catcher: Derek Norris (3.5 WAR)
After hitting .235 at high-A in 2010 and then .210 at Double-A, some of the luster has been lost on Norris' prospect shine. Still, he projects as a power/OBP guy with OK defense thanks to his ability to draw walks -- similar to what Carlos Santana did in 2011 (.239/.351/.457).
First base: Chris Carter (2.5 WAR)
Like Norris, the power is real, but the ability to make enough contact remains an issue. I suppose A's fans can dream of a Carlos Pena comparison, minus the defense. (Pena was about 2.7 WAR in 2011.)
Second base: Jemile Weeks (4.0 WAR)
Third base: B.A. Vollmuth (2.5 WAR)
The team's third-round pick in 2011 out of Southern Miss, Vollmuth is the best third-base prospect in the system. Power potential is his biggest asset.
Shortstop: Cliff Pennington (4.0 WAR)
The A's lack a top shortstop prospect in the system (Grant Green, the team's 2009 first-round pick doesn't have the glove to stick at short and hasn't hit as projected anyway). Pennington had a 4.0 FanGraphs WAR in 2010, thanks to a good defensive rating. That's probably rose-colored view, but we'll give it to him.
Left field: Josh Reddick (3.5 WAR)
The ability is there but plate discipline may undermine his star ability. He did produce 1.9 WAR in a part-time role with the Red Sox in 2011.
Center field: Michael Choice (4.5 WAR)
After swatting 30 home runs in 118 games in Class A, Choice became the club's top position prospect. The 134 strikeouts were a huge issue and not everyone thinks he'll stick in center. But the power and walks at a premium position give him All-Star potential.
Right field: Yoenis Cespedes (5.0 WAR)
If everything comes together ...
Designated hitter: Michael Taylor (2.0)
Pitcher: Jarrod Parker (5.0 WAR)
Pitcher: Sonny Gray (4.5 WAR)
Pitcher: Brandon McCarthy (4.5 WAR)
Pitcher: Brett Anderson (4.0 WAR)
Pitcher: Brad Peacock (3.5 WAR)
We're not willing to project Parker has a six-WAR pitcher -- in 2011, FanGraphs graded only six starters at that level and Baseball-Reference.com graded eight. Gray, the team's 2011 first-rounder out of Vanderbilt, should move quickly and could be in the rotation by season's end. Anderson needs to get healthy and McCarthy needs to stay healthy. Some believe Peacock will eventually end up as a reliever, but the A's have other starting options such as Dallas Braden or Tyson Ross.
Reliever: Tyson Ross (1.5 WAR)
Reliever: Ryan Cook (1.0 WAR)
Reliever: Fautino De Los Santos (0.5 WAR)
Reliever: Andrew Carignan (0.5 WAR)
Reliever: Tom Milone (0.5 WAR)
Your guess is as good as mine with these guys. Ross should be a solid reliever if he doesn't end up in the rotation, and Cook has a big upside if he can harness his upper 90s fastball.
Add it up and you get ... 57.0 Wins Above Replacement!
Compare that to your leading team totals in 2011 (using FanGraphs WAR):
Rangers: 60.9 WAR
Yankees: 59.9 WAR
Red Sox: 59.6 WAR
Phillies: 51.5 WAR
Brewers: 51.5 WAR
So there you go, A's fans. There is some upside here, especially in the rotation. The team obviously needs Choice and Cespedes to deliver on their power potential. Will all of these players end up grading out this high? Of course not. Undoubtedly, you could do this same exercise for all 30 teams and get similar results. But the A's do have some high-upside prospects and young pitching depth. There are worse positions to be in.