Oakland Athletics Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Casey Tefertiller
1. Jose Ortiz, 2b
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 177. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994. Signed by: Santiago Villalona.
Background: Almost since the day he joined the Athletics, Ortiz has had a corps of believers who expected him to become something special. He showed remarkable offensive skills at a young age, hitting 200 at-bats in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 1996. Then came three years of injuries and moderate production as the As awaited his maturation. There were lingering questions about whether he could play middle-infield defense or would be forced to third base. His game came together last season. He won the Pacific Coast Leagues MVP and was the best position-player prospect in the Triple-A league.
Strengths: Ortiz has developed into an offensive force. He can hit for unusual average and power for a middle infielder, and if he can translate the numbers at the big league level, it will make him a factor in the lineup. Ortiz made major strides in defining his strike zone and quit swinging at so many pitchers pitches. "When he stopped being his own worst enemy, he found out how good he was," Sacramento manager Bob Geren said. "He has good balance, good eye-hand coordination, his bat path to the zone is perfect, his swing is short, hes strong. Once he got a feel for the strike zone and started understanding the game, he made remarkable improvement."
Weaknesses: His glove remains the biggest problem. Ortiz made 32 errors last season, but most were at shortstop before moving to second base. He is far better at second, where he has more time to recover from a mistake. Once he got the call to the majors, Ortiz worked with infield instructor Ron Washington and made great progress in fielding balls hit to his right. His range is only average and he needs more experience at second. He also needs to improve his strike zone discipline and patience at the plate.
The Future: The As pulled a surprise in November, trading veteran Randy Velarde to Texas and opening a big league job for Ortiz, who otherwise might have been cast in a utility role in 2001. Ortiz will face competition from Frank Menechino and Mark Bellhorn, but if all goes according to plan he will be the As second baseman of the future, and the future begins now.
2. Jason Hart, 1b
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Southwest Missouri State, 1998 (5th round). Signed by: Jim Pransky.
Background: Hart spent his youth in Contra Costa County, just north of Oakland. He finished among the NCAA Division I leaders in home runs and RBIs in 1998, then batted .305-19-123 at high Class A Modesto in his first full pro season a year later. He surpassed those numbers in 2000, and fared as well on the road as he did at hitter-friendly Double-A Midland.
Strengths: Hart possesses impressive power and backs it up with big numbers in average. He has developed the ability to use the whole field. What has most impressed the As is his dramatic improvement on defense, where thousands of ground balls have led to huge advancements in his first-base play.
Weaknesses: Hart still needs to improve his selectivity at the plate and further refine his stroke. More than anything he just needs experience against higher-level pitching. Hes probably limited to playing first base, though hes working at third base to increase his versatility.
The Future: A year at Triple-A at Sacramento will provide Hart the opportunity to test his skills against more advanced pitching. He has the bat to be an everyday first baseman in the major leagues.
3. Ryan Ludwick, of
Age: 22. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: UNLV, 1999 (2nd round). Signed by: Rick Magnante.
Background: After an impressive 1998 summer with Team USA, Ludwick was projected as a first-round pick at the beginning of the 1999 college season. When he failed to show the power most scouts had expected, hitting only 13 homers, Oakland got him in the second round. Once he signed with the As, his power quickly became apparent.
Strengths: The As have high expectations for Ludwick. He hit for a high average in college, and they hope he can do the same as a pro without sacrificing power. He has shown outstanding defensive skills, and the As are watching to see if he can become a legitimate center fielder. He has good speed, though not as good as usually exhibited by big league center fielders. He has a strong arm and may be best suited to right field.
Weaknesses: Ludwick is raw and he must refine his swing, use the whole field and define his strike zone. He too often is fooled by offspeed pitches because he hasnt seen much pro-level pitching.
The Future: Ludwick is ticketed for Midland, where the park should really boost his power numbers. He could use two full seasons in the upper minors before challenging for an outfield job in Oakland in 2003.
4. Mario Encarnacion, of
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994. Signed by: Santiago Villalona.
Background: Since the day he signed, Encarnacion has excited the As. Hes a complete package but has shown a pattern of needing two years at each stop before advancing, and he was hampered by injuries through most of 2000.
Strengths: Encarnacion is a five-tool player with an abundance of natural ability. He has shown himself to be a legitimate center fielder, though his future is more likely to be in right because he has a strong arm. He also has shown an excellent attitude and great desire.
Weaknesses: Encarnacion could have used the development time he lost last season. He never has hit for average because he misses hittable pitches and swings at bad ones. Encarnacion has been slow to make adjustments. His power potential continues to exceed his power production. He continues to make mistakes of youth in the outfield, missing cutoff men and throwing to the wrong base.
The Future: Encarnacion has an outside shot at winning Oaklands right-field job in spring training. More likely, Jeremy Giambi and Adam Piatt will platoon while Encarnacion returns to Triple-A.
5. Justin Miller, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Los Angeles Harbor JC, 1997 (5th round). Signed by: Bo Hughes (Rockies).
Background: Miller had a strong 1998 season in the Rockies system, then missed most of 1999 with elbow tendinitis. He was a minor part of a four-team trade in which the Athletics dispatched big league righthander Jimmy Haynes to the Brewers. Vinny Castilla went to Tampa Bay and Jeff Cirillo to Colorado in that deal, but Oakland may be the big winner.
Strengths: Miller throws two-seam and four-seam fastballs, and the latter is capable of reaching 96 mph. He has a big-breaking slider that is tough on righthanders, as well as a hard splitter. He can use all his pitches to get outs.
Weaknesses: Miller came out of junior college and has just 409 pro innings, so he needs more experience against quality hitters and needs to be more consistent with his pitches. His changeup requires the most work, as he could use something offspeed with his hard stuff.
The Future: Miller is ticketed for at least a half-season in Triple-A, where he pitched very well last season. If the As need a starter at midseason, hell be a prime candidate. His collection of tattoos will fit in well in an Oakland clubhouse presided over by Jason Giambi.
6. Angel Berroa, ss
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997. Signed by: Santiago Villalona.
Background: Berroa immediately impressed the As with his outstanding defensive skills. He showed he could hit, too, batting .290 in his U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 1999 and reaching double figures in homers after jumping to Class A Visalia in 2000.
Strengths: Berroas potential as a shortstop is still his calling card. He has tremendous range, an outstanding arm and an innate sense of how to catch the ball. He also has good pop for a middle infielder, can hit for average and runs well.
Weaknesses: Berroa has much to learn. He ranked third in the minors with 54 errors last season, most the result of overaggressiveness. He could use patience at the plate as well, as his inability to draw a walk stands out in an organization that emphasizes that skill. He also needs to prepare better mentally and concentrate on every pitch.
The Future: With Miguel Tejada settled at shortstop for the immediate future, Oakland has the luxury of being able to develop middle infielders slowly. Berroa probably will spend 2001 in Double-A, but the organizations abundance of infielders could force him to return to the California League.
7. Freddie Bynum, ss
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Pitt County (N.C.) CC, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Billy Owens.
Background: With no first-round pick in 2000, Oakland came up with something of a shocker when it selected Bynum. Despite batting .521 and succeeding on all 27 of his steal attempts in junior college, he received little predraft hype. But he showed great tools and was the top prospect in the short-season Northwest League.
Strengths: Bynums speed and arm are plus tools, and he has excellent hand-eye coordination. He also exhibits a great joy for the game. At instructional league, he played second, short and third, but the As expect hell emerge as a middle infielder and will keep him at shortstop for the immediate future. If he can make consistent contact, he has the on-base and stolen-base ability to bat at the top of a lineup.
Weaknesses: Bynum has little experience against pro-caliber pitching. He probably wont ever hit for much power, but he can do better than the .256 average he put up in his debut. He is learning how to approach different types of grounders and become consistent in catching the ball cleanly and making the quick transfer to his throwing hand.
The Future: Bynum will go to one of the As two California League affiliates. As with Berroa, Oakland has no need to rush him.
8. Chad Harville, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Memphis, 1997 (2nd round). Signed by: John Poloni.
Background: Harville reached Oakland in 1999 but has been unable to stick in the big leagues. He earned all-Conference USA honors as both a reliever and a starter, but has pitched primarily out of the bullpen since joining the As. He has excelled in that role, leading Pacific Coast League relievers in strikeouts per nine innings (10.83) last season.
Strengths: Harville can launch his fastball at 98 mph, and he complements it with an above-average slider. He also has the makeup and confidence needed to become a major league closer.
Weaknesses: Heat alone is not enough to dominate big league hitters, as Harville found out during his brief stint in Oakland. He fires too many of his fastballs up in the strike zone and is trying to master a sinking two-seamer to give him another weapon. He was slow to make either adjustment in 2000. His violent delivery concerns scouts, but he has remained healthy.
The Future: Harville again will go to spring training competing for a job in the Oakland bullpen, though Jason Isringhausen is the unquestioned closer at this moment. If Harville can make the necessary improvements, he can be a quality reliever.
9. Mario Ramos, lhp
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 165. Drafted: Rice, 1999 (6th round). Signed by: Steve Bowden.
Background: Ramos may not intimidate folks with his size, but the slender lefty continues to succeed. He led Rice to the 1999 College World Series by going 12-2, 2.51, then signed late and didnt make his pro debut until 2000. He dominated the California League and fared even better when he was bumped up to Double-A for four late-season starts.
Strengths: Ramos is intelligent and knows how to pitch. He understands how to evaluate hitters and pitch to their weaknesses. He lives by changing speeds off his 88 mph fastball, and his changeup makes it seem faster. He throws strikes and keeps the ball in the park by pitching down in the strike zone.
Weaknesses: His changeup is his lone plus pitch. Ramos has yet to develop a legitimate breaking ball, though he has worked hard to add a curveball. He almost certainly will need the curve if hes going to continue to survive his lack of velocity.
The Future: Midland will provide a stern test for Ramos, who will face Double-A hitters in an unforgiving home ballpark. If all goes well, he might be ready for the major leagues at some point in 2002.
10. Eric Byrnes, of
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: UCLA, 1998 (8th round). Signed by: Rick Magnante.
Background: Despite winning the California League batting title with a .337 average in 1999, Byrnes was regarded as more of a blue-collar player than a prospect. He changed that in 2000 by adding power en route to a September callup.
Strengths: Byrnes has hit at every stop in the system, and he has solid power potential. He runs well and continues to impress with his makeup. His intense work ethic has led to constant improvement, and he always exhibits all-out hustle.
Weaknesses: Despite his speed, Byrnes still needs work to become a good defensive outfielder on the corners. Hell have to hit more home runshe has just 32 in 354 pro gamesif hes to become more than a fourth outfielder at the big league level.
The Future: Byrnes may have difficulty finding playing time in Oakland. Ben Grieve is the left fielder unless hes traded, and Jeremy Giambi and Piatt likely will platoon in right. All three have higher ceilings than Byrnes, as do Ludwick and Encarnacion. Byrnes probably will begin 2001 in Triple-A while he awaits some kind of opening.
Rest of the Best:
11. Bert Snow, rhp
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