Athletics Top 10 Prospects
By Casey Tefertiller
Tejada, Zito and Chavez all were purely homegrown, while Hinske was acquired from the Cubs and traded to the Blue Jays. Their accolades show how the As have managed to make the playoffs for three straight years despite a limited payroll: identifying and developing talent, using the farm system both to stock the major league team and to deal for additional help.
General manager Billy Beane, BAs Major League Executive of the Year, has served as the architect of the plan and overseen its progression. Even with the departures of scouting director Grady Fuson to the Rangers and adviser J.P. Ricciardi to the Blue Jays, the As havent been slowed, thanks to the continuing efforts of farm director Keith Lieppman.
After the 2002 season, Oakland lost manager Art Howe to the Mets and replaced him with bench coach Ken Macha. Beane considered an offer from the Red Sox before deciding to remain with his heart in Oakland.
A series of trades weakened the farm system after the 2001 season, when Beane acquired players who would help win the AL West. The system bounced back in 2002 as the cumulative record of Oaklands minor league affiliates topped .500 for the seventh time in eight years. Second baseman Mark Ellis and starting pitcher Aaron Harang also emerged to make significant contributions to the As.
First-year scouting director Eric Kubota had seven selections before the second round of the 2002 draft with compensation picks for losing free agents. He continued the Fuson-fused concept of valuing baseball instincts over raw tools, and helped to restock the lower levels of the system.
The organizations strength is pitching, with top prospects Rich Harden and John Rheinecker considered potential front-of-the-rotation performers. The two significant weaknesses were catchers and center fielders, and Oakland addressed both in the draft. The As still are lacking in middle-of-the-order hitters.
Amid all the changes, Oakland has managed to stay on the course by developing from within. The formula remains a success.
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Central Arizona JC, 2000 D/F (17th round). Signed by: John Kuehl.
Background: The hard-throwing Harden emerged as a top prospect in 2002, making the leap from high Class A Visalia to Double-A Midland with hardly a struggle. He dominated after the promotion, and it was all the more impressive because he was 20 and in his first full season as a pro. Harden grew up in Victoria, B.C., and played mostly outfield in summer-league competition. He did pitch enough to catch the attention of the Mariners, who drafted him in the 38th round in 1999. He opted instead for Central Arizona Junior College because he didnt believe he was ready for pro ball. Athletics scout John Kuehl kept his eye on Harden and persuaded Oakland to call his name in the 17th round in 2000 as a draft-and-follow. Harden returned to Central Arizona and led all juco pitchers in strikeouts as a sophomore before signing in May. He tied for the short-season Northwest League lead in strikeouts in his pro debut, but he had a problemhis curveball was below pro standards. So Harden and the As agreed scrapped it in favor of a slider. The results came almost instantly.
Strengths: With a fastball that hits 95 mph and a deceptive changeup, Harden has two outstanding pitches as the foundation of his arsenal. He also throws the slider and a splitter, which can be above-average at times. While the slider isnt an exceptional pitch, it provides an effective balance to the fastball and changeup, keeping hitters off-balance. He has added a two-seam fastball, a mid-80s sinker that gives hitters something else to worry about. Harden has a calm demeanor on the mound and is rarely flustered with runners on base. He has shown the ability to work out of jams.
Weaknesses: Hardens pitch counts are too high. He has yet to learn to retire batters early in the count to allow him to go deeper into games. He sometimes reaches his pitch limit in the fifth or sixth inning. While his slider has shown dramatic improvement, it still needs more consistency.
The Future: Hardens combination of power and deception is intriguing. He has the potential to become a legitimate No. 1 starter. Harden is ticketed to begin 2003 at Triple-A Sacramento and could contribute in the majors by seasons end.
Click here for prospects 2-10.
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