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January 30, 2007

Future Shock

Oakland Athletics Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
None
Very Good Prospects
1. Daric Barton, 1b
2. Travis Buck, lf
Good Prospects
3. Kurt Suzuki, c
4. Javier Herrera, cf
5. Jermaine Mitchell, cf
Average Prospects
6. Matt Sulentic, lf
7. Marcus McBeth, rhp
8. Jason Windsor, rhp
9. Kevin Melillo, 2b
10. Henry Rodriguez, rhp

1. Daric Barton, 1b
DOB: 8/16/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/205
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2003, California HS (Cardinals)
What he did in 2006: .200/.200/.400 at Rookie-level (5 PA); .259/.389/.395 at AAA (180 PA)
The Good: The gifted natural hitter was holding his own as a 20-year-old at Triple-A before breaking a bone in his elbow in a freak collision on a pickoff throw. Both his approach and his pitch recognition are above-average on a major-league level, and he can make contact on pitches of any type in any location.
The Bad: Barton's power ceiling is the subject of much debate. He seems content at times to simply flick his bat out there and flare balls over the infielders' heads when he has the raw strength to hit 20+ home runs annually. His work ethic on aspects of his game other than hitting has come into question at times.
The Irrelevant: In his one year at catcher, Barton had 11 errors and 11 passed balls in just 52 games behind the plate while allowing 53 stolen bases and throwing out just 25% of attempting stealers.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A first baseman who doesn't fit into the mold we expect, yet finishes among the leaders in batting average and on-base percentage annually.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - After a lost 2006, Barton will return to Triple-A, and is still just 21 years old. He'll likely make his big league debut at the end of the year and compete for a full-time job in 2008.

2. Travis Buck, lf
DOB: 11/18/83
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Arizona State
What he did in 2006: .349/.400/.603 at High A (145 PA); .302/.376/.472 at AA (238 PA)
The Good: Doubles machine hit 39 two-baggers in 338 at-bats in his full-season debut, cut short by a hernia. Excellent bat speed and plate coverage has Buck hammering balls into both gaps, and those doubles should become at least average home-run power as his game matures. His work ethic and makeup are outstanding.
The Bad: Like Barton, Buck's power is more projection than reality at this time. He lacks the speed for center and the arm for right, so he needs to find some more home runs to profile as an everyday corner outfielder. He's struggled at times with the A's patient-at-the-plate philosophy, because he can hit so many pitches.
The Irrelevant: In 2003, Buck became the first Pac-10 freshman in history to hit for the cycle, going 5-for-5 against Southern Utah and cranking out a grand slam in his final at-bat.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting corner outfielder.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. The A's see a lot of former Oakland prospect Andre Ethier in Buck, only this one they're going to keep. He'll join Barton at Triple-A.

3. Kurt Suzuki, c
DOB: 10/4/83
Height/Weight: 5-11/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2004, Cal State Fullerton
What he did in 2006: .285/.392/.415 at AA (444 PA)
The Good: The top catching prospect in the system took big steps forward both offensively and behind the plate in 2006. Good contact skills and a patient approach should allow Suzuki to put up some nifty on-base percentages at the big league level. He did an excellent job in cutting down the running game last year, nailing nearly half of opposing base stealers.
The Bad: Suzuki can still get into some bad habits at the plate, getting pull conscious as opposed to focusing on the going-with-the-pitch approach that has served him so well. He's made great strides in his game calling but still needs to work on handling a pitching staff. His power is limited.
The Irrelevant: Lightly recruited out of a small Hawaii high school, Suzuki initially made the Cal State Fullerton roster as a walk-on.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: An everyday big-league catcher who is slightly above-average both offensively and defensively.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - The A's have one year left to deal with Jason Kendall's contract, leaving Suzuki ready to ease into the role in 2008.

4. Javier Herrera, of
DOB: 4/9/85
Height/Weight: 5-10/160
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Venezuela, 2001
What he did in 2006: Did not play - Tommy John surgery.
The Good: This true five-tool player was poised for a breakout campaign before injuring his elbow prior to the season and then missing the entire year recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has above-average hitting skills to go with plus power and speed, as well as good range to both sides in centerfield and an above-average arm.
The Bad: Herrera's conditioning has become an issue, as he put on significant weight while inactive. On the field, he can get out of control at times, both on the basepaths and with an over-aggressive approach at the plate.
The Irrelevant: When batting with the bases loaded in 2005, Herrera went 7-for-14 with three walks, a grand slam and 20 RBIs.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A dynamic power/speed combination in center field.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - After missing all of 2006, Herrera will begin the year in High-A Stockton, and he's gone from somebody on track or ahead of it, to somebody who needs to get moving.

5. Jermaine Mitchell, cf
DOB: 11/2/84
Height/Weight: 6-0/200
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 5th round, 2006, UNC-Greensboro
What he did in 2006: .362/.460/.507 at Short-season (163 PA)
The Good: Little-scouted small-school outfielder looked like a fifth-round steal in his pro debut. Mitchell has plus speed and a quick bat, and the organization sees power potential in his powerfully built compact frame. He's a good centerfielder with a plus arm.
The Bad: The Athletics are working with Mitchell to smooth out his choppy swing and improve his pitch selection. His overall baseball instincts remain a bit raw, but the team loves his work ethic.
The Irrelevant: Mitchell excelled in four sports at Daingerfield High School in Texas. He was All-State in baseball, All-East Texas as a running back and defensive back in football, All-district in basketball and a two-time letter winner in track.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: An everyday big-league outfielder.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - While many players with Mitchell's profile in the Oakland system have made their full-season debut at High A, Mitchell's background has the club feeling that a start at Low-A Kane County would be the best bet for him to begin the year on the right foot.

6. Matt Sulentic, lf
DOB: 10/6/87
Height/Weight: 5-10/170
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2006, Texas HS
What he did in 2006: .354/.409/.479 at Short-season (162 PA); .235/.327/.327 at Low A (113 PA)
The Good: Outstanding high school hitter had a borderline historic season in Dallas' notorious Metroplex League as a senior (he hit .654), but fell to the third round on concerns about projection. Outstanding pro debut made it look like an excellent pick. Sulentic has one of the quickest bats in the system and already earns praise for his pitch recognition. Gap power should grow into average power as he learns how to drive balls with wooden bats. The fact that the A's let him finish his pro debut in a full-season league as an 18-year-old says everything you need to know about his makeup.
The Bad: While it's certainly the right tool to pick if you can have just one, Sulentic's bat will have to be his ticket to the majors. He's a below-average runner, and his arm is poor, which limits him to left field. That means the power has to come.
The Irrelevant: No double-duty aspirations here: Sulentic went 0-5, 8.96 as a pitcher at Hillcrest High School.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting corner outfielder.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Sulentic will begin 2007 back at Kane County, but he has the ability to move up to the California League at some point in the season, before his 20th birthday.

7. Marcus McBeth, rhp
DOB: 8/23/80
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 4th round, 2001, University of South Carolina
What he did in 2006: 0.00 ERA at High A (8.2-1-2-14); 2.48 ERA at AA (54.1-43-20-65); 11.05 ERA at AAA (7.1-7-6-7)
The Good: Converted outfielder showed remarkable feel for his craft in just his second year on the mound, taking to the closer's role like a veteran and reaching Triple-A. Fastball sits at 92-94 mph while slider has become a viable offering with good sink and run. His best pitch is a changeup, which one official calls the best in the system and "like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon - it just stops."
The Bad: Still new to pitching, McBeth is still learning the mental side of the game when it comes to exploiting hitter's weaknesses. His stuff falls just short of closer-worthy, and he turns 27 during the year, so there's no projection there.
The Irrelevant: McBeth's final hitting line in 1010 pro plate appearances is .233/.311/.359 with 236 strikeouts in 881 at-bats.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A late-innings reliever.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - McBeth will begin the year closing at Triple-A Sacramento, but will likely make his big-league debut at some point in the season.

8. Jason Windsor, rhp
DOB: 7/16/82
Height/Weight: 6-2/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2004, Cal State Fullerton
What he did in 2006: 2.97 ERA at AA (33.1-27-10-35); 3.81 ERA at AAA (118-128-32-123); 6.59 ERA at MLB (13.2-21-5-6)
The Good: Shut down in 2005 due to arm soreness, Windsor bounced back in 2006, reeling off 16 straight wins at one point wrapped around a brief MLB stint. Outstanding command allows his below-average fastball (87-89 mph) to play up a bit, but he's used it effectively to set up a plus changeup, his primary out pitch. His curveball has improved to become an average offering.
The Bad: Windsor is anything but overpowering, and could use some kind of offering with directional movement, like a cutter or better slider. He worked slowly and was tentative during his brief big league stint.
The Irrelevant: The 2004 College World Series final was quite a preview for A's fans. Windsor pitched a complete game in the clinching win against Texas, with Kurt Suzuki catching him and Huston Street pitching in a relief role for the Longhorns.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A back-of-the-rotation starter or swingman.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Windsor is likely the odd man out when it comes to an Opening Day rotation job, but he can be seen in many ways as the team's sixth starter - first on the list for a call up when an extra starter is needed.

9. Kevin Melillo, 2b
DOB: 5/14/82
Height/Weight: 6-0/190
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted: 5th round, 2004, University of South Carolina
What he did in 2006: .280/.367/.426 at AA (581 PA)
The Good: Despite what was a disappointing season according to most observers, the offense-oriented second baseman finished with pretty good numbers. Melillo's short swing provides surprising power for his size, and like many Oakland prospects, he understands the value of working the count. His defensive fundamentals are outstanding.
The Bad: Melillo played though some minor knee problems during the year, which may have played a role in his struggles, as his swing mechanics feel apart and he focused too much on his power. While he makes the play on every ball he gets to, he doesn't get to very many because of his below-average range.
The Irrelevant: Melillo went to Lake Brantley High School in Florida, where his double-play partner was Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks. Felipe Lopez and Jason Varitek are also alums.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A lot like Mark Ellis, actually, only without the defensive chops.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Oakland's Triple-A squad in Sacramento is lining up to be an interesting one, and will include Melillo at second base.

10. Henry Rodriguez, rhp
DOB: 2/25/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Venezuela, 2003
What he did in 2006: 7.42 ERA at Rookie-level (43.2-46-50-59)
The Good: The best raw arm in the organization, Rodriguez sat at 92-96 mph in 2006, touched 98, and has been clocked as high as 100 mph in the past. His curveball projects as a plus pitch and he shows excellent feel for a changeup, especially for a pitcher so inexperienced.
The Bad: Raw is the understatement of the century, as Rodriguez has little clue as to what he's doing out there. Complicating matters even more are issues revolving around Rodriguez's maturity and willingness to work with coaches.
The Irrelevant: When the A's finally stretched out his arm at the end of the year, pitching him for a season-high five innings in each of his last three outings, Rodriguez allowed just six hits over those 15 frames, walking eight and striking out 21.
In a Perfect World, He Becomes: A pitcher who misses bats? It's hard to really project anything more.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Crazy High - Rodriguez has one of the most intriguing skill sets in the organization, and despite his struggles, he caught the attention of numerous other teams for his arm strength alone. He's not ready for a full-season either mentally or physically, and will begin the year in spring training before spending the second half of the season in Vancouver.

The Sleeper

After missing all of 2005 recovering from knee surgery, catcher Landon Powell had a disappointing '06 campaign, batting .264/.350/.439 in the High Class-A California League as a 24-year-old and then embarrassing himself in the Arizona Fall League as his weight ballooned to nearly 300 pounds. He's dedicated himself to his conditioning in the off-season and has already dropped 40 pounds. If he's in shape, he's a dangerous player, with power, patience, and very good catch-and-throw skills. Warning: we've seen this before, as Powell got fat as a college junior only to get into shape for his senior year to improve his draft status.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Rich Harden, rhp
2. Huston Street, rhp
3. Daric Barton, 1b
4. Travis Buck, lf
5. Kurt Suzuki, c
6. Javier Herrera, cf
7. Jermaine Mitchell, cf
8. Matt Sulentic, lf
9. Marcus McBeth, rhp
10. Jason Windsor, rhp

Well, that was easy enough. Street has established himself as one of the top closers in the game, while only health has prevented Harden from doing the same as a starter.

The Oakland system is in a weird position, with most of their talent either near-ready or several years away, leaving a one-to-two year gap between the talent that will be in Sacramento and some of the top prospects from the last two drafts.

Next: The Seattle Mariners.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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