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Rising prospects show fruits of Draft for A's

OAKLAND -- A's manager Bob Melvin has been high on right-hander Jarrod Parker for a long time.

"This is a guy, from the time he was drafted, you look at him and you say, 'Could this guy be a No. 1?'" said Melvin, who was Arizona's manager when the D-backs drafted Parker in 2007. "You certainly don't discount that."

Almost from the moment Parker came to Oakland in the Trevor Cahill trade last winter, he's proved Melvin prophetic. The 23-year-old has pitched well almost every time out since debuting with the A's on April 25, culminating in his near no-hitter on Monday night against the Rangers and their potent lineup.

Parker's success speaks to just how important it is for clubs to develop talent and keep their Minor League systems strong, especially for teams like Oakland, which isn't able to spend as much as teams in bigger markets. And the First-Year Player Draft -- which began on Monday and concluded on Wednesday with Rounds 16-40 -- is another reminder of that.

Luckily for the A's, Parker also symbolizes the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the team's prospects. Through drafting and restocking of the system via several trades, Oakland has several players sitting near the top of the Minor League pyramid, only weeks or months away from contributing -- or, in the case of left-hander Sean Doolittle, just one call away.

Doolittle, the team's compensation-round pick in the 2007 Draft, rocketed up the system this year after changing positions and moving back to the mound. He was called to the big leagues on Monday and promptly recorded three strikeouts over 1 1/3 innings in his debut on Tuesday night.

"Look at the numbers, he probably struck out your grandmother yesterday. Struck mine out," said A's starting pitcher Dallas Braden. "He's striking everybody out. The plan is not lost on him, how to get outs. Now he's just doing it at a ridiculous clip, and he's going to be doing it in the big leagues."

And more players look to be following soon. Two of the players Oakland received in the trade that sent pitcher Gio Gonzalez to Washington last offseason are in Triple-A Sacramento, one step away from the Majors.

Right-hander Brad Peacock -- the Nationals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2011 -- is still figuring things out, sporting a 4.81 ERA. But the 24-year-old's mid-90s fastball and above-average curveball should eventually carry him to Oakland. And catcher Derek Norris, hitting .283, is showing an improved ability to make contact, which Norris has struggled with in the past.

But for all the trade spoils the A's have received, the bread and butter of player development remains the Draft, and the team has several recent picks that are almost ready to make the jump. That list starts with outfielder Grant Green, the team's first-round pick in 2009, who's hitting .282 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs at Sacramento. Green, named MVP of the Futures Game last season, is blocked in Oakland's outfield but should be up at some point in the near future.

Fellow outfielder Michael Choice brings more power to the plate. The 10th overall pick in 2010 was the A's organizational co-Player of the Year last season, and though he's still likely striking out too much for Oakland's liking (56 strikeouts in 209 at-bats for Double-A Midland), Choice has shown an ability to make adjustments in the past.

But one player the organization is particularly excited about is right-handed starter Sonny Gray, the team's 2011 first-rounder.

"Loved him last year," said A's scouting director Eric Kubota. "He was a high-profile college pitcher with big stuff, and a guy that we had a big track record with."

Gray is 1-4 with a 4.19 ERA for Midland, but his dynamic stuff is still there. Should he make as much of an impact in the next couple of years as Parker has made this season, it will be a boon for Oakland's rotation.

With so many recent Draft picks already at the upper levels of the Minors, the lower levels were in need of restocking. That's something the A's managed to accomplish in this year's Draft, selecting high school players with five of their first seven picks. The hope is that the prospects nearly ready for the Majors, coupled with the new infusion of talent that the Draft seems to have supplied, will eventually culminate in a winning big league team.

"We're excited about our last few Drafts, we're excited about the guys we've gotten out there, and we're looking forward to them having an impact at the big league level," Kubota said. "Hopefully in the near future."

Oakland Athletics