Oakland Athletics: Top 10 Prospects

1. Travis Buck, of
2. Daric Barton, 1b
3. Kurt Suzuki, c
4. Matt Sulentic, of
5. Jermaine Mitchell, of
6. Javier Herrera, of
7. Jason Windsor, rhp
8. Marcus McBeth, rhp
9. Justin Sellers, ss
10. Trevor Cahill, rhp
Best Hitter for Average Daric Barton
Best Power Hitter Richie Robnett
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Daric Barton
Fastest Baserunner Jermaine Mitchell
Best Athlete Javier Herrera
Best Fastball Craig Italiano
Best Curveball Ben Jukich
Best Slider Santiago Casilla
Best Changeup Marcus McBeth
Best Control Scott Deal
Best Defensive Catcher Kurt Suzuki
Best Defensive Infielder Justin Sellers
Best Infield Arm Cliff Pennington
Best Defensive Outfielder Javier Herrera
Best Outfield Arm Javier Herrera
Catcher Kurt Suzuki
First Base Nick Swisher
Second Base Mark Ellis
Third Base Eric Chavez
Shortstop Bobby Crosby
Left Field Matt Sulentic
Center Field Milton Bradley
Right Field Travis Buck
Designated Hitter Daric Barton
No. 1 Starter Rich Harden
No. 2 Starter Dan Haren
No. 3 Starter Joe Blanton
No. 4 Starter Kirk Saarloos
No. 5 Starter Jason Windsor
Closer Huston Street
Year Player, Position 2006
1997 Miguel Tejada, ss Orioles
1998 Ben Grieve, of Out of baseball
1999 Eric Chavez, 3b Athletics
2000 Mark Mulder, lhp Cardinals
2001 Jose Ortiz, 2b Lancaster (Atlantic)
2002 Carlos Pena, 1b Red Sox
2003 Rich Harden, rhp Athletics
2004 Bobby Crosby, ss Athletics
2005 Nick Swisher, of Athletics
2006 Daric Barton, 1b Athletics
Year Player, Position 2006
1997 Chris Enochs, rhp Out of baseball
1998 Mark Mulder, lhp Cardinals
1999 Barry Zito, lhp Athletics
2000 Freddie Bynum, ss (2nd round) Cubs
2001 Bobby Crosby, ss Athletics
2002 Nick Swisher, of Athletics
2003 Brad Sullivan, rhp Athletics
2004 Landon Powell, c Athletics
2005 Cliff Pennington, ss Athletics
2006 Trevor Cahill, rhp (2nd round) Athletics
Mark Mulder, 1998 $3,200,000
Nick Swisher, 2002 $1,780,000
Barry Zito, 1999 $1,625,000
Cliff Pennington, 2005 $1,475,000
Joe Blanton, 2002 $1,400,000
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Oakland Athletics

The Athletics haven’t moved to their new home in Fremont, Calif., a bedroom community roughly 20 miles south of their current base in Oakland. The ink hasn’t even dried on the blueprint for the club’s plan to build a small, technology-driven ballpark, Cisco Field, by 2010 or 2011.

And yet the A’s make significant changes every year, winning with different players and different styles. The biggest shift in the last year has been parting ways with manager Ken Macha–twice, in fact, rehiring him after letting his contract expire in 2005 but firing him after 2006.

In four seasons, Macha piloted a pair of American League West winners, never won fewer than 88 games and took the A’s past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1990. But even as Oakland was sweeping the Twins in an AL Division Series–a prelude to getting swept by the Tigers in the AL Championship Series–it plainly wasn’t Macha’s team.

It also won’t belong to Bob Geren, his replacement as manager. More than any general manager, Billy Beane has put his stamp on his franchise. Beane became GM after the 1997 season, and 1998 remains Oakland’s only losing year with him in charge. While the winning has been constant, how the A’s have won has changed substantially. The 2006 model was a defensive wonder, featuring six-time Gold Glove Award winner Eric Chavez, impenetrable second baseman Mark Ellis and three outfielders capable of playing center field. Oakland also hit just 175 home runs and had a modest .340 on-base percentage.

By contrast, the first of Beane’s teams to reach the postseason mashed 239 homers and had a .360 OBP. That 2000 club drew 100 more walks, had nearly 200 more strikeouts and played a very different style of baseball than the 2006 edition. Beane’s A’s have little to do with doing things by the book–“Moneyball” or any other–and everything to do with finding players who can help them win at a price they can afford.

Oakland can’t pull that off over the long haul without a productive farm system, and that’s why the next few years will be crucial. The big league lineup had four homegrown regulars–Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher–and more appear to be on the way. The A’s ability to draft and trade for position players remains impressive. Their top three prospects–outfielder Travis Buck, first baseman Daric Barton and catcher Kurt Suzuki–all have had success in Double-A, and all three could be big league starters by 2008. For that to happen, Barton (shoulder) and Buck (sports hernia) have to bounce back from ailments that derailed them in 2006, but neither injury is considered a long-term problem.

The A’s success has led to lower picks in the first round of the draft. They once drafted Mark Mulder and Barry Zito with top 10 choices in 1998 and 1999, but they haven’t selected that high since. As a result, it has been harder to find quality arms. While Beane has remade the big league rotation, the farm system has little premium pitching to offer. To that end, the A’s have gone for undervalued high school arms in the last two drafts, and have hopes for the likes of Jared Lansford, Craig Italiano, Vin Mazarro and their top pick in 2006, second-rounder Trevor Cahill.