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Top Ten Prospects: Oakland Athletics
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Kevin Goldstein
February 6, 2006


Chat Wrap: Kevin Goldstein took your A's questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.

So much for rebuilding. Before the season, the Athletics dealt frontline starters Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder in a pair of money-saving moves. General manager Billy Beane preached the wisdom of building for the future rather than making incremental moves to keep the major league team in contention.

When Oakland started the year with just 17 wins in its first 49 games, the season seemed over for all intents and purposes. But with huge contributions by rookies, the A's went on an improbable 58-24 run that vaulted them atop the American League West at the end of August. They faded in September but served notice that they'll continue to contend even while rebuilding.

Oakland's most prominent first-year player was Huston Street, who made the Opening Day roster after just 26 pro innings. He took over as closer for the injured Octavio Dotel in May and won Baseball America's Rookie of the Year award by saving 23 games with a 1.72 ERA. Other rookies who made substantial contributions were: Joe Blanton, who won 12 games and led the club with a 3.53 ERA; Nick Swisher, who replaced Jermaine Dye in right field and delivered 21 homers and 74 RBIs; and first baseman Dan Johnson, whose arrival in late May coincided with the start of the club's turnaround. Johnson homered 15 times in 375 at-bats.

The graduation of so much talent to Oakland has thinned out the farm system. The A's won't have much of a rookie influx in 2006, with the possible exception of top prospect Daric Barton, who could hit his way into a DH role. Most of the organization's top minor league talent came from the 2005 draft, when Oakland owned five of the first 101 picks.

After following their standard operating procedure by taking polished collegians Cliff Pennington and Travis Buck with their first two choices, the A's took three consecutive high school pitchers, a college senior and then three more prep arms. That's the risky draft demographic that fans of “Moneyball” rush to disdain on Internet message boards, but a direction Oakland felt it needed to take.

In the end, Beane doesn’t care what is written or said about him or the A’s—as long as they continue to compete. “We chuckle at everyone’s perception of what we do and what we don’t do,” Beane said. “It’s somewhat comical.”

While the big league roster was going through turnover, so too was the club's ownership. In March, billionaire John Fisher and managing general partner Lewis Wolff led a group that bought the A's from Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann for $180 million. Despite ties to San Jose, Wolff insists he's committed to keeping the team in Oakland and trying to build a new stadium in the Network Associates Coliseum parking lot.

The new owners rewarded Beane with the first ownership stake for a GM in recent memory. Beane, who received nearly 5 percent of the club, also got a contact extension through 2012. Club president Michael Crowley got a slightly smaller stake in the club and an extension through 2008.

The A's nearly got a new manager as well. Contract talks between Beane and incumbent Ken Macha broke down after the season, and Macha walked away to pursue the same job with his hometown Pirates. When that didn't work out, Macha returned to Oakland nine days later.


1. DARIC BARTON, 1b      Born: August 16, 1985 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 205
Drafted: HS--Huntington Beach, Calif., 2003 (1st round)    Signed by: Dan Ontiveros (Cardinals)

Background: Considered one of the top lefthanded bats in the 2003 draft, Barton fell to the Cardinals with the 28th pick because of his bad body and fringy defensive skills. After signing for $975,000, Barton quickly established himself as the top prospect in the St. Louis system. In his first full season, he led the low Class A Midwest League in on-base percentage and finished fourth in slugging. Looking for a starter to headline their rotation, the Cardinals sent three players to the Athletics for Mark Mulder in December 2004. While Dan Haren won 14 games for Oakland in 2005, Barton was considered the key player in the deal. General manager Billy Beane called Barton the best pure hitter in the minors after acquiring him. The A’s decided the rigors of catching were hindering Barton's development, so they moved him to first base in spring training. He hit just .241 at high Class A Stockton in April but found his groove afterward. He hit .404 in June and earned a promotion to Double-A Midland before his 20th birthday. He went 9-for-16 in his first five games in Double-A and reached base in 50 of his 56 contests there.

Strengths: Hitting comes easy for Barton, who has natural ability to go along with a mature approach. He has a short swing and picture-perfect mechanics, with a fluid load and quick explosion through the zone. His pitch recognition is off the charts. He draws a large number of walks while still being an aggressive hitter, equally comfortable turning on inside fastballs or slicing outside breaking balls the other way. Barton holds his own against lefthanders. He took well to first base in his first year there and shows the potential for improvement. He has good instincts, soft hands and decent range.

Weaknesses: Barton’s power potential is the subject of debate among scouts. He has a tendency to drop the barrel of the bat and slice balls into the gaps. The A’s are convinced he’ll eventually produce 25-30 homers on an annual basis, citing his hitting ability and the scouting axiom that power often is the last tool to develop. Others think he might top out at 15-20 homers, less than ideal production for a first baseman. Questions about his work ethic have dogged Barton in the past. His inability to remain a catcher was due more to lack of effort than lack of ability. He’s a below-average runner, and his conditioning could improve.

The Future: The A’s have no immediate plans to move Barton back behind the plate, where his offensive skills would give him star potential, but they haven't completely ruled it out yet either. While his bat is nearly ready for the big leagues, Barton would need substantial time in the minors if he returned to catching. He’ll begin the year playing first base at Triple-A Sacramento, and could make his major league debut before he turns 21 in August. Oakland almost certainly will have to make a decision as to how to get his bat permanently in the lineup by Opening Day 2007.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Stockton (Hi A) .318 .438 .469 292 60 93 16 2 8 52 62 49 0 1
Midland (AA) .316 .410 .491 212 38 67 20 1 5 37 35 30 1 1


2. JAVIER HERRERA, of       Born: April 9, 1985 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 190
Signed: Venezuela, 2001  Signed by: Julio Franco

Background: Herrera won MVP honors in the short-season Northwest League in 2004, but his encore was delayed when he was suspended after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance before Opening Day. Once he returned, his natural talent took over. He earned a one-week May stint in Triple-A when Sacramento was decimated by injuries.


Strengths:
Herrera’s combination of raw tools outclasses that of any A's farmhand. A true five-tool talent, he can hit for average, flashes plus power and is a well-above-average runner. He took to the Oakland approach in 2005, dramatically improving his walk rate. He’s a good center fielder with a plus arm.

  

Weaknesses:
Herrera is still a work in progress when it comes to translating his tools to performance. He has a tendency to overswing, leading to high strikeout totals. He needs to improve his throwing accuracy and his routes in the outfield, especially on balls hit in front of him.

  

The Future:
The A’s have a rare commodity in Herrera, a potential 30-30 man in center field. His progress will continue one step at a time with an assignment to high Class A in 2006.


2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Kane County (Lo A) .275 .374 .444 360 70 99 18 2 13 62 47 110 26 5
Sacramento (AAA) .417 .533 .750 12 5 5 1 0 1 3 1 1 1 0


3. CLIFF PENNINGTON, ss    Born: June 15, 1984 B-T: B-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 160
Drafted: Texas A&M, 2005 (1st round)   Signed by: Blake Davis

Background: After starring in the Cape Cod League in 2004 and leading Texas A&M is nearly every offensive category in 2005, Pennington became the first Aggie to be taken in the first round since 1999. Signed for $1.475 million, he was thrust into the leadoff spot at low Class A Kane County, where he scored 49 runs in 69 games.


Strengths:
Pennington is a solid hitter who makes contact, occasionally drives the ball and shows a good understanding of the strike zone. He’s an above-average runner and a dangerous basestealer with excellent instincts. He’s a plus defender with good range to both sides and a strong, accurate arm. Like most top A’s draft picks of late, he has outstanding makeup and an infectious enthusiasm for the game.

  

Weaknesses:
Pennington has a small frame and probably never will hit for much home run power, but he still needs to work harder on driving balls instead of just serving them back up the middle. He can get a little out of control in the field, occasionally rushing his throws.

  

The Future:
With Bobby Crosby in Oakland, there's no need to rush Pennington, who will begin the year in high Class A. But he should move quickly regardless and likely will move over to second base and play alongside Crosby when he's ready for the majors.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Kane County (Lo A) .276 .364 .359 290 49 80 15 0 3 29 39 47 25 6


4. TRAVIS BUCK, of        Born: November 18, 1983 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205
Drafted: Arizona State, 2005 (1st round supplemental)   Signed by: Jeremy Schied

Background: Buck entered 2005 ranked as one of the top college hitters available in his draft, but he hit just .246 in his first 15 games. He rebounded to hit .419 afterward, helping Arizona State to the College World Series, but his early slump and disappointing power (six homers) dropped him to the A's with the 36th overall pick. After signing for $950,000, he hit .346 in pro ball.


Strengths:
Buck has a knack for hitting, using a compact, line-drive swing to tag balls to all fields. He makes good adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and understands the value of a walk. He’s a good outfielder with solid range and arm strength. He draws praise for his work ethic.

  

Weaknesses:
Buck hit just three home runs in his debut and needs to get more loft into has swing while incorporating his lower half better. Oakland thinks he can hit 20-25 homers annually once he improves his ability to recognize which pitches he can drive.

  

The Future:
The A’s have a glut of good-hitting corner outfielders in their system, but Buck’s bat was too good to pass up. He’ll begin the year in high Class A.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Vancouver (SS) .361 .439 .556 36 7 13 1 0 2 9 5 8 1 1
Kane County (Lo A) .341 .427 .472 123 17 42 13 0 1 22 19 19 3 1


5. KEVIN MELILLO, 2b        Born: May 14, 1982 B-T: L-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 185
Drafted: South Carolina, 2004 (5th round)    Signed by: Michael Holmes

Background: The A’s became excited about Melillo, a high school teammate of Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, when they were scouting 2004 first-round pick Landon Powell at South Carolina. Melillo helped the Gamecocks to three College World Series. As a pro he has provided the kind of power the injured Powell was supposed to deliver, leading the system with 24 homers in his first full season.


Strengths:
Melillo has a quick, compact swing and surprising power, thanks to natural loft and a high finish. He has a nice feel for working the count and makes consistent hard contact. He’s a good baserunner and can steal bases thanks to excellent reads and jumps.

  

Weaknesses:
Melillo isn't very athletic and his defense continue to lag behind his bat despite his considerable effort at improving. His speed is average at best, his range is limited and his arm is below-average.

  

The Future:
While Melillo likely will begin 2006 in Double-A, Oakland doesn’t expect him to finish the year there. If he keeps hitting, he could be in line for a big league look in 2007.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Kane County (Lo A) .286 .399 .457 280 47 80 18 3 8 36 53 40 10 4
Stockton (Hi A) .400 .471 .800 90 21 36 7 1 9 23 12 18 2 0
Midland (AA) .282 .347 .519 131 33 37 10 0 7 34 14 23 9 2


6. SANTIAGO CASILLA, rhp    Born: May 7, 1980 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 165
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2000   Signed by: Bernardino Rosario/Raymond Abreu

Background: Casilla was known as Jairo Garcia until coming forward in January and admitting his real name and actual birth date; he aged 2 years and 10 months. Casilla rocketed though the system in 2004 after a conversion to the bullpen, beginning the year at Low A Kane County and reaching Oakland by August. He continued to pile up strikeouts in 2005 but was dogged by inconsistency, including two blown saves in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League playoffs.


Strengths:
Casilla’s stuff is closer-worthy. He has an upper-90s fastball with plenty of movement and a plus-plus slider with late break that one scout describes as bordering on illegal. He’s aggressive with both pitches and likes to pitch inside. He also has a solid changeup.

  

Weaknesses:
Command problems still plague Casilla at times. He can get flustered on the mound, beginning to nibble at the corners when struggling to throw strikes.

  

The Future:
While Huston Street is clearly the closer at the big league level for years to come, Casilla could give Oakland a devastating 1-2 punch in the bullpen. First, he’ll have to get into the country, which could be delayed because he’ll need new visa paperwork with his actual name. He’ll return to Triple-A to begin the season, as the A’s want his next callup to the bigs to be his last.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Midland (AA) 0 0 1.08 10 0 0 6 17 9 1 9 30 .153
Sacramento (AAA) 3 6 4.47 44 0 0 20 48 45 6 20 73 .239
Oakland 0 0 3.00 3 0 0 0 3 2 0 1 1 .182


7. CRAIG ITALIANO, rhp      Born: July 22, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS--Flower Mound, Texas, 2005 (2nd round)  Signed by: Blake Davis

Background: Italiano showed more velocity than any pitcher in the 2005 draft, but a bout with shoulder inflammation and questionable mechanics dropped him to the second round. The A's took him, the first of six high school pitchers they took with their next seven picks, and signed him for $725,500.


Strengths:
Italiano’s fastball immediately became the best in Oakland’s system, sitting at 93-95 mph in the Rookie-level Arizona League and touching 96. His heater peaked at 98 in high school. He has refined his slurvy breaking ball into a true slider, which could become a plus pitch.

  

Weaknesses:
Many scouts project Italiano to be a power reliever and had concerns about his long-term health because he short-arms the ball and has a maximum-effort delivery. He rarely has thrown a changeup, and his fastball can be a little too straight at times.

  

The Future:
Italiano will join fellow 2005 draftees Jared Lansford and Vince Mazzaro to create that rarest of happenings in the Oakland system--a low Class A rotation consisting mostly of teenagers. While his future may be in the bullpen, the A's will give him every chance to use his overpowering stuff as a starter.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Athletics (R) 1 2 6.75 8 3 0 0 19 20 0 8 27 .267


8. SHANE KOMINE, rhp    Born: October 18, 1980 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-9 Wt: 175
Drafted: Nebraska, 2002 (9th round)   Signed by: Jim Pransky

Background: A native of Hawaii, Komine helped put Nebraska's baseball program on the map. He led the Cornhuskers to back-to-back College World Series appearances while going undefeated as a senior in 2002. A heavy college workload resulted in back and shoulder woes, and Komine required Tommy John surgery in mid-2004. He returned last year to dominate in the Texas League playoffs and wow scouts in the Arizona Fall League.


Strengths:
Komine has a full arsenal of pitches, starting with a low-90s fastball and a knee-buckling curveball that's his primary out pitch. He also mixes in a slider and changeup. He knows how to set up hitters and has outstanding makeup.

  

Weaknesses:
Size and health are Komine’s biggest obstacles. His listed height of 5-foot-9 may be generous, but he still does a good job of staying on top of his pitches. Whether he has the durability to be a starter remains questionable, though he would make a useful long reliever.

  

The Future:
Komine will start the year in the Triple-A rotation, but should be on the short list for a callup should the opportunity arise in Oakland. His first taste of the big leagues could come in the bullpen.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
AZL Athletics (R) 0 1 9.72 4 4 0 0 8 10 0 7 11 .294
Stockton (Hi A) 0 0 4.15 2 2 0 0 9 10 0 3 11 .294
Midland (AA) 2 1 3.16 5 5 0 0 31 27 5 7 33 .235


9. VINCE MAZZARO, rhp       Born: September 27, 1986 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190
Drafted: HS—Rutherford, N.J., 2005 (3rd round)   Signed by: Jeff Bittiger

Background: After selecting a pair of high school righthanders in the second round of the 2005 draft, the A’s took another in the third with Mazzaro. They paid him a $380,000 bonus to sway him away from pitching at St. John’s. While he signed too late to make his pro debut, he outpitched both second-rounders Craig Italiano and Jared Lansford in instructional league.


Strengths:
Mazarro’s lively, sinking fastball sits at 88-91 mph can touch 94. His corkscrew delivery and high three-quarters arm slot offer plenty of deception. He throws a power curveball with good break. While his makeup was questioned by some in high school, Oakland praises his work ethic.

  

Weaknesses:
Mazzaro throws across his body, which hurts his control and could pose a long-term health risk. Like many young pitchers, he never really has needed a changeup, so it still ranks well behind his sinker and curveball.

  

The Future:
Mazzaro’s performance in instructional league surprised even the A’s, who think he’s ready for full-season ball. He'll make his pro debut as a 19-year-old in low Class A.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play--Signed 2006 Contract


10. KURT SUZUKI, c     Born: October 4, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200
Drafted: Cal State Fullerton, 2004 (2nd round)    Signed by: Randy Johnson

Background: Suzuki capped his Cal State Fullerton career in style, hitting .413-16-87 to earn All-America honors and delivering the championship-winning hit at the 2004 College World Series. He was slated to begin 2005 in low Class A until Landon Powell tore up his left knee in January. Bumped to high Class A, Suzuki delivered a solid performance in his first full pro season.


Strengths:
Suzuki's offensive abilities are above-average for a catcher. He has a short, level swing and makes consistent contact. He works the count well and has occasional power. Defensively, he has an average arm and threw out 37 percent of basestealers last year.

  

Weaknesses:
While his throwing is fine, Suzuki needs work on the rest of his defensive game, such as blocking balls and framing pitches. Though his effort and leadership skills are universally praised, he can be a little too headstrong at times. He'll argue with umpires, which doesn't help his pitchers' cause, and visibly shows frustration with poor play by himself or others.

  

The Future:
Most observers agree Suzuki will reach the majors, but whether it will be as a starter or backup is still a question. Clearly the top catching prospect in the system, he moves up to Double-A this year.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Stockton (Hi A) .277 .378 .440 441 85 122 26 5 12 65 63 61 5 3


Photo Credits:
Barton: Larry Goren
Buck, Herrera, Italiano, Komine, Mazzaro, Melillo, Pennington: Bill Mitchell
Casilla, Suzuki: Steve Moore

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