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Pennington Finds Good Fit In Oakland

June 7, 2005
By Casey Tefertiller

By Casey Tefertiller

OAKLAND--The party plans began quickly around the Pennington house. It will be a big Texas shindig with a distinctive flair--all green and gold.

(My family is) fired up. We went on a two-hour shopping spree, and I think we bought every Oakland As hat and shirt in the town of Corpus Christi, Cliff Pennington said after being named as the first-round selection of the As in Tuesdays draft. Were going to have a party tomorrow. Theyve ordered green streamers. Theyre really pumped.

The Athletics used the 21st selection of the first round to acquire the Texas A&M shortstop, a switch-hitter who is expected to become a top-of-the-order hitter. Scouting reports indicate he is a true shortstop with the arm to remain at the position.

It was a most unusual draft day for an organization that has long touted the advantages of college pitchers. The As selected high school pitchers with both their second-round picks and again in the third, tabbing Craig Italiano, Jared Lansford and Vince Mazzaro in succession. Oakland chose Arizona State outfielder Travis Buck with its supplemental first-round pick.

Pennington is an intriguing pick for the As, who recently signed Rookie-of-the-Year shortstop Bobby Crosby to a five-year contract. Pennington said he looked forward to playing in the same organization with Crosby, and he would consider a move to second or third if the need arises. He played third base as a freshman at A&M.

His three years in College Station have been impressive. This season he batted .363 with seven homers and 29 stolen bases, after hitting .340 and .339 the two previous seasons.

We love our first-round pick, scouting director Eric Kubota said. Hes a middle-of-the-diamond player whos a leadoff hitter. Hes performed well at the highest level. We were thrilled to get him there.

As draft day came closer, Pennington grew more aware of the As interest. We talked to them a couple of days before, he said. They told us there was about an 85 percent chance if I was around at 21, they would take me.

When his name was called, Pennington could not have been happier. I am ecstatic. Its going to be awesome to play for a general manager like Billy Beane. I know they like to bring guys up through their system, and Im really excited about that, for sure.

Pennington is a fan of baseball as well as a player. I was a baseball guru growing up, he said. I love every aspect of the game. Its fun. I was always checking statistics and reading everything.

And, he was even an As fan in Corpus Christi. The Bash Brothers, I loved them. You had to love them. Rickey Henderson was my favorite player, with all those stolen bases.

It may not be too many years before Pennington is wearing the same uniform at the Oakland Coliseum.

As ACORNS

Kubota said the unusual selection of three prep pitchers high up was just how the draft fell. The As liked the high school arms remaining in those positions, while the college players were not as enticing. This is a departure for the As who have concentrated on collegians during recent drafts. The last prep pitcher they drafted this high was first-rounder Jeremy Bonderman in 2001. It was more of a situation where the opportunity presented itself, Kubota said. It was time to take advantage of the opportunity. The signability of all these guys was good.

Lansford is the son of former As third baseman Carney Lansford and played for St. Francis High on the San Francisco Peninsula. Despite earlier rumors about problems with signability, Lansford said he plans to sign. Im definitely looking to sign, he said. I told them that if they made it worth it, Id give up that scholarship to Santa Clara. There had also been rumors that Lansford would only sign as an infielder, not a pitcher. However, he dispelled that quickly. They told me that if they signed me, it would be for my right arm. I guess thats what they have planned for me, he said. I love it. Every pitch, youre in the game, competing against some person. Pitching, thats a rush you get from facing every batter. He only began pitching two seasons ago after serving exclusively as an infielder. He said his fastball has been regularly at 92, occasionally hitting 94.

Kubota said he considers Buck one of the premium college hitters in the draft. Power has been a concern for the ASU outfielder, who hit nine home runs last year but has connected on only four this season. I think there are a number of theories, Kubota said of the power drop. Our scout there thinks the coaching staff wanted him to be more of a contact hitter. We think the guy is a very advanced hitter, and the powers there and will come later. Kubota also says the As have not ruled out the possibility that he may be able to play center field as a professional.

Kubota said the As are not overly concerned with the injury risk of Italiano, who has had arm injuries in the past. Kubota said As doctors said that since Italiano has pitched without problem the last two years, there is no reason to be overly concerned. Kubota plans to begin Italiano, the hardest thrower among high school pitchers in this years draft with a 98 mph fastball, as a starter. Some organizations had suggested using him as a reliever to avoid added stress on his arm.

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