By Josh Boyd
January 14, 2002
Everyone was waiting to see how A’s general manager Billy Beane would respond this offseason as key pieces of his organization fled. In addition to losing perennial MVP candidate Jason Giambi, closer Jason Isringhausen and leadoff hitter Johnny Damon to free agency, Beane’s braintrust has suffered a blow. He lost director of player personnel J.P. Ricciardi to the Blue Jays and scouting director Grady Fuson to the Rangers.
Instead of mourning his losses, Beane is moving forward. Using the minor league depth accumulated by Fuson’s drafts, Beane has acquired a closer in Billy Koch, an outfielder in David Justice and now a quality first baseman to fill Giambi’s shoes in Carlos Pena.
He has dealt seven of the organization’s top 15 prospects, including righthanders Justin Miller and Tyler Yates, lefthander Mario Ramos, third baseman Eric Hinske, first baseman Jason Hart, outfielder Ryan Ludwick and catcher Gerald Laird.
Before acquiring Pena, the A’s would have entered spring training with a smorgasbord of inexperienced first basemen including Scott Hatteberg, Mario Valdez, Adam Piatt, Olmedo Saenz and Hart.
Pena is unproven too, but most scouts agree he’s ready to step into the big leagues right now. He has a sweet stroke and the foundation of plate discipline the A’s look for. There were mixed results on his outfield play in the Dominican, but he’s a flexible, athletic player capable of providing above-average defense at first base. Now the A’s head into spring training with the Rookie of the Year frontrunner instead of a looming question mark.
Much of the Rangers’ returns from this deal hinge on the left arm of Ramos. Standing 5-foot-11, he’s not overpowering. But he works with three average to above-average major league pitches including an 88-mph fastball, a plus curveball and a changeup.
The one thing that Fuson and the Rangers believe separates Ramos from the dozens of Tom Glavine-esque southpaws is his command. He shows an advanced feel for attacking hitters and making adjustments, and some scouts have even compared him to a lefthanded Greg Maddux.
Hart, 24, feasted on Double-A Texas League pitching in 2000, but took a step back last year. He has tremendous power potential, but he has to prove he can hit Triple-A pitching before he’s anointed as Rafael Palmeiro’s successor in a couple of years.
Like Hart, Ludwick has enjoyed two productive seasons in hitter’s parks, hitting 29 home runs at Class A Modesto in 2000 and 25 last year in Midland. The 23-year-old will join outfield prospects Kevin Mench and Jason Romano in Triple-A Oklahoma this year.
Fuson gave Laird $1 million to sign as a draft-and-follow in 1999. He’s a solid catching prospect, but like fellow Ranger Scott Heard, Laird’s bat needs to improve.