Athletics Prospects 2-10
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 225. Drafted: Southwest Missouri State, 2001 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Jim Pranski.
Background: Rheinecker spent his first two college seasons at Bellville (Ill.) CC, throwing in the high 80s and also playing in the outfield. When he moved to Southwest Missouri State, he developed a quality slider and added velocity as he matured. Projected as an early pick in the 2000 draft, he tore the ACL in his right knee in an outfield collision. He made a full recovery as a senior.
Strengths: As a lefthander with a fastball that touches 91 mph and plus breaking stuff (he throws a curveball to go with his slider), Rheinecker excites the As. Hes refining a cutter that has been effective against righthanders and is an exceptional competitor on the mound.
Weaknesses: Rheinecker has a tendency to leave the ball up in the strike zone, making him too hittable at times. He must improve his changeup. Hes still learning pitch sequences to set up batters. Reducing his pitch counts is another point of emphasis.
The Future: The As believe Rheinecker has the potential to emerge as a frontline big league starter, perhaps as early as 2004. Hell pitch in Triple-A in 2003, working on keeping his fastballs at the knees.
3. Bobby Crosby, ss
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Long Beach State, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Rick Magnante.
Background: Crosby is the son of former As scout and big leaguer Ed Crosby, who signed Jason Giambi and is now with the Diamondbacks. Bobby was the Big West Conference player of the year in 2001 and made an immediate impression by hitting .395 in his 11-game pro debut. He followed with a hot start at high Class A Modesto before moving on to Double-A to complete a solid first full season.
Strengths: Thanks to his background, Crosby has exceptional baseball instincts. Hes consistent on defense, has a strong arm, reads balls well and makes all the plays. He should become a solid offensive performer, hitting for average with decent power.
Weaknesses: Crosby missed most of instructional league in 2001 with a hip flexor, and badly sprained his ankle at the start of the Arizona Fall League season in 2002. At 6-foot-3, he raises questions about whether hell have the range to remain at shortstop.
The Future: Crosby is Oaklands fallback if it loses Miguel Tejada, a free agent after the 2003 season. Crosbys spring-training performance will decide whether he returns to Double-A or heads to Triple-A.
4. Jeremy Brown, c
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Alabama, 2002 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Billy Owens.
Background: Brown spent his first two years at Alabama as a corner infielder before moving behind the plate, where he had played occasionally in youth leagues. After turning down the Red Sox as a 19th-round pick in 2001, he won the 2002 Johnny Bench award as college baseballs best catcher. While his $350,000 bonus was easily the lowest in the top 66 picks, he proved himself offensively and defensively in high Class A after signing.
Strengths: Brown combines catch-and-throw abilities with a talent for hitting. His arm is slightly above-average. He hits for both power and average, with the plate discipline the As covet. He set the Alabama career record for walks.
Weaknesses: Browns short, squat body turned off many scouts and doesnt fit the mold of the more athletic modern big league catcher. But as As general manager Billy Beane said, "Were not selling jeans here." Brown needs to improve his footwork and blocking skills, and he devoted instructional league to making the changes.
The Future: Brown has a chance to jump to Double-A in 2003. If he continues to perform well, hell be on a fast track to the majors.
5. John-Ford Griffin, of
Age: 23. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 215. Drafted: Florida State, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Scott Pleis (Yankees).
Background: After the three-team trade that brought him from the Yankees, Griffin played two games in Double-A before being sidelined by a hand injury for the rest of the season. Hes a prolific hitter, having batted .400 in each of his three seasons at Florida State. Seminoles coach Mike Martin called him the best hitter in the programs history.
Strengths: Griffin generates tremendous bat speed and has the makings of an outstanding hitter. While he has just 13 homers in 151 pro games, the As believe he has longball strength and will increase his power production as he matures.
Weaknesses: Griffin had surgery on his throwing arm after his sophomore year at Florida State and has not regained his arm strength. He has worked diligently, but it remains below-average. He could be limited to left field, moved to first base or even stuck as a DH.
The Future: Griffin will return to Double-A, where he played just 20 games in 2002. He should be among the first players to reach the majors from the 2001 draft.
6. Mike Wood, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 185. Drafted: North Florida, 2001 (10th round). Signed by: John Poloni.
Background: Undrafted out of high school, Wood attended NCAA Division II North Florida as a walk-on. He was a backup infielder as a freshman, moved into the rotation as a sophomore and became the teams closer as a junior. He has made a huge impression since joining the As, using his dominant sinker to get outs at every level.
Strengths: Oakland calls Woods out pitch a "super sinker" and compares it favorably to Tim Hudsons. Hitters repeatedly beat Woods sinker into the ground or swing over the top of it. He pitches off his sinker with a slider, splitter and changeup.
Weaknesses: Velocity remains a concern. Wood reached 91 mph in college but has pitched in the mid-80s as a pro. There are some questions whether his sinker, which is slower than Hudsons, will be effective against major league hitters. His slider also needs work.
The Future: Should Wood improve his velocity and slider, he could become a front-of-the-rotation starter. Because Oakland has plenty of starters and Wood has bullpen experience, his long-term role could be relief. Hell go to spring training with a chance to win a Triple-A job.
7. Joe Valentine, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Jefferson Davis (Ala.) JC, 1999 (26th round). Signed by: George Bradley/Warren Hughes (White Sox).
Background: The White Sox lost Valentine to the Tigers in the 2001 major league Rule 5 draft, then got him back when he showed little command in spring training with Detroit. He led the minors with 36 saves in 2002, then came to Oakland in the Keith Foulke/Billy Koch trade in December. Valentine held opponents to a .173 average and has allowed just 89 hits in 160 innings over the last three seasons.
Strengths: Theres no subtlety with Valentine. Hes a fastball/slider pitcher who can hit 96 mph, and he keeps hitters off-balance by busting heat inside when they appear too comfortable. There are nights when his slider is filthy, and his pitches complement each other well.
Weaknesses: Valentine can be wild and has averaged nearly a walk per two innings as a pro. But because he is so tough to hit, the walks rarely come back to haunt him.
The Future: Few minor league closers turn into major league closers, but the As think Valentine could be an exception. Foulke becomes a free agent after the 2003 season, so Oakland could look to Valentine as soon as 2004. He should make his big league debut at some point in 2003.
8. Marcus McBeth, of
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 185. Drafted: South Carolina, 2001 (4th round). Signed by: Kelly Heath.
Background: McBeth returned kicks for the football team and played center field for the baseball team at South Carolina. He signed late in 2001 and when he arrived in instructional league, the As discovered a separation in his left shoulder. The injury affected his swing, and he has worked to strengthen his shoulder during the past year.
Strengths: McBeth has four standout tools. Hes an outstanding center fielder who could handle the defensive responsibilities in the majors today. His arm grades out as a legitimate 8 on the 2-to-8 scouting scale, and he has exceptional speed. He has shown impressive raw power in college and the pros.
Weaknesses: McBeth has never put up impressive numbers. The shoulder separation may have been part of the problem, but he also had a lackluster 2002. He was the As most improved hitter during instructional league, showing better pitch recognition and plate discipline.
The Future: The As hope McBeth will develop into a leadoff hitter, learning to reach base so he can use his speed. Hell start 2003 in high Class A and could advance to Double-A later in the season.
9. Freddie Bynum, 2b/ss
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Pitt (N.C.) CC, 2000 (2nd round). Signed by: Billy Owens.
Background: Bynum made the transition from a hopeful with tools to a skilled prospect with a breakthrough season in 2002. He made major strides in developing into a leadoff hitter and competent second baseman, then handled shortstop effectively in the Arizona Fall League. It was a nice comeback from a 2001 season ruined by ankle injuries.
Strengths: Bynum has the tools necessary to bat at the top of a lineup. He has excellent speed, hits well to the opposite field and, most important, has improved at getting on base. He owns a fine throwing arm and has proven he can handle second base. His performance at shortstop enhances his versatility.
Weaknesses: Because he came from a small junior college program, Bynum is still raw. He needs more at-bats and experience at higher levels of the minors. If he learned to bunt for hits, he could take greater advantage of his speed. His hands arent the softest, though thats less of a problem at second base than it was at shortstop.
The Future: If everything continues to come together, Bynum can become a quality leadoff hitter and middle infielder in the big leagues. Hell continue his development in Double-A in 2003.
10. Joe Blanton, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Kentucky, 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Rich Sparks.
Background: Blanton made his case as a top draft prospect when he led the Cape Cod League in strikeouts after his sophomore season. He outdueled No. 1 overall pick Bryan Bullington and struck out 16 in a 3-2 win over Ball State last spring. Oakland took him with a pick it received from the Yankees for losing Jason Giambi.
Strengths: Blanton has two power pitches in his fastball, which sits at 94 mph and tops out at 96, and his curveball. His slider and changeup are decent pitches, though they still need work. If he can refine his changeup, he could be a dynamic starter.
Weaknesses: He has a maximum-effort delivery, so the A's are trying to smooth out Blanton's mechanics. That will give him a better chance to repeat his delivery, which in turn will improve his command. He's still raw around the edges and developing a feel for pitching.
The Future: Because of the changes he needs to make, Blanton isnt expected to move as quickly as some of Oakland's other college first-rounders. He'll probably start 2003 in high Class A, where he finished his first pro summer.
Best of the Rest
Chad Harville has been teasing the As with his potential, only to break down on the cusp of earning a big league job. In 2002, he revised his style and started brilliantly, only to again go down with arm problems. If he can stay healthy, Harville could become a bullpen force thanks to his 95 mph four-seam fastball and his sinker.
Utilityman Jason Grabowski is another candidate for the big league team. He can catch and play all the corner infield and outfield spots. He hit .294-12-52 in 73 Triple-A games and missed six weeks with a broken hamate bone.
Oakland hopes its 2002 draft will provide more help soon. Armed with seven picks before the start of the second round, first-year scouting director Eric Kubota focused on collegians with a solid history of performance. The As paid market value for their first four first-rounders (outfielder Nick Swisher, righthanders Joe Blanton and Ben Fritz, shortstop John McCurdy) before seeking bargains with their supplemental picks (catcher Jeremy Brown, third baseman Mark Teahen, righthander Steve Obenchain).
Brown and Blanton made the Top 10, while Blanton, Fritz and Swisher just missed. Fritz, who also could have been drafted as a catcher, is focusing on the mound after being a two-way player at Fresno State. The As love Swishers approach at the plate and his overall instincts.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on 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 Opening Day 2003.
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