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Top Ten Prospects: Oakland Athletics
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Casey Tefertiller
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, 2004.
Now that “Moneyball” has slipped off the best-seller lists, it’s time to see just how the book’s celebrated draft picks will develop for the Athletics.
Perhaps no draft in recent memory has been steeped in more controversy than Oakland’s 2002 effort. The A’s had seven picks before the second round and pulled some surprises, to say the least. In “Moneyball,” author Michael Lewis portrayed the club as having established a superior method of talent evaluation, the key to success for a small-revenue team. The flaw in Lewis’ thinking was that the A’s had changed in 2002, passing from the guidance of former scouting director Grady Fuson to a more unorthodox, statistical-based manner of projection.
Fuson had been sort of a renegade himself during his days in Oakland before he became assistant general manager for the Rangers. He sought polished picks with baseball instincts over raw tools players. He looked for performance over potential, and he valued hitting above all other skills. When Fuson moved on to Texas, the A’s took it a step further. Performance became even more important. The emphasis for hitters became more focused on power and patience. Athleticism and defense became secondary concerns as compared to plate discipline. College players went from being preferred to being the only ones Oakland would consider.
The two players most identified with the “Moneyball” draft are outfielder Nick Swisher and catcher Jeremy Brown. While Lewis wrote glowingly of both players and the A’s are excited about their early progress, other teams said both were overdrafted. The A’s love Swisher’s ability to work counts and project him as a center fielder with 30-homer pop. Others outside the organization don’t think he’ll do either. Brown is an on-base machine who has hit for average and occasional power. Behind the plate, he’s an expert at calling games and working with pitchers. However, his lack of athleticism and mobility make it difficult for him to block pitches or throw out basestealers.
After 2004, the “Moneyball” picks can be fairly evaluated and baseball will have a better view of the A’s innovative approach. How well it works could shape the future of the organization for years to come.
After years of producing quality players, Oakland’s farm system is having to produce another generation to replace the ones who are growing too expensive, and the talent supply is drying up. Homegrown all-stars Jason Giambi, Ramon Hernandez and Miguel Tejada have left in the last three years, and the A’s may not be able to keep Eric Chavez, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito in coming years.
While dynamic righthander Rich Harden reached the majors last summer and Bobby Crosby is ready to step in for Tejada, Oakland has replaced Giambi and Hernandez with retreads Scott Hatteberg and Damian Miller. Beyond righthander Joe Blanton, the system may not have another frontline player. The organization is optimistic about a pair of 2003 first-round picks, righty Brad Sullivan and infielder Omar Quintanilla, and that crop may prove more bountiful than the “Moneyball” group.
Top Prospect: Bobby Crosby, ss
Age: 23 Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 190 Bats: R Throws: R
Background: With some pride, Crosby says, “I’ve never been the best player on any team I’ve played for.” Crosby has the attitude that he always has to improve, and he has done just that at Long Beach State and in pro ball. He’s the son of former big leaguer Ed Crosby, who signed Jason Giambi as an Athletics scout and now works for the Diamondbacks. The Big West Conference player of the year in 2001, he went 25th overall in that June’s draft and earned then-scouting director Grady Fuson’s highest compliment: “This guy’s a baseball player.” Crosby made an immediate impression by hitting .395 in 11 games at high Class A Modesto, then followed up with a solid first full season in 2002. He stunned the A’s by being a much better player in 2003, a tribute to his aptitude and work ethic. He was the Triple-A Pacific Coast League’s rookie of the year and will be a prime contender for the same award in the American League this year. If he hadn’t been promoted in late August, he would have started at shortstop for Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Strengths: Crosby won’t be the run producer that Miguel Tejada was for Oakland, but he’ll be better than most shortstops. He has a solid approach, using the entire field and drawing walks, and should hit for average with 20-homer power. Though he’s not a spectacular defender, he’s a consistent, dependable shortstop who gets the job done. Crosby reads the ball well off the bat, which gives him satisfactory range, and he rarely makes mistakes. His hands are outstanding and his arm is strong. He made significant improvement last year by learning to cut off balls on his side, quickening his ability to make the play. From the day Crosby signed, the A’s have talked about his instincts for the game, and they seem to keep improving. His desire to keep getting better allows him to do so.
Weaknesses: The A’s are more conscious of plate discipline than any organization, and they’d like Crosby to chase fewer pitches out of the strike zone and to improve his two-strike approach. Those adjustments should come with experience. His speed is below-average for a shortstop and he doesn’t have classic range for the position. He has battled nagging injuries during his tenure as a pro and must prove his durability.
The Future: Having Crosby waiting in the wings eased Tejada’s departure as a free agent. He won’t quite fill his predecessor’s shoes, but Oakland still will have a shortstop who’s above-average offensively and defensively. “He’s ready for the big leagues,” Triple-A Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco says. “I think he will be in the class with the other great shortstops.” That may be setting a high standard, but Crosby has lived up to every challenge he has faced.