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Top Ten Prospects: Oakland Athletics
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Kevin Goldstein
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, 2005.
Background: Despite setting a West Virginia state record with 17 home runs as a senior at Parkersburg High, Swisher wasn’t drafted in 1999. The son of former first-round pick and all-star catcher Steve Swisher, Nick starred at Ohio State, becoming the Big 10 Conference freshman of the year in 2000 and an all-conference pick the next two seasons. The highest June regular phase draft pick in Buckeyes history, Swisher was Oakland’s No. 1 target and went 16th overall in the club’s much publicized “Moneyball” draft in 2002. He made slow and steady progress in his first two years before breaking out at Triple-A Sacramento in 2004, leading the minor leagues in walks and tying Dan Johnson for the organizational lead in home runs. He spent September playing a significant role in Oakland’s playoff push, performing admirably in his big league debut. The accomplishments were made all the more impressive by the postseason discovery that he played the entire season with a fracture and a torn tendon in his left thumb.
Strengths: Swisher is a prime example of what Oakland looks for in a batting prospect. He has a quick, quiet swing that generates plus power from both sides of the plate, and he projects to hit 25-30 home runs annually. His uncanny plate discipline should make him a productive middle-of-the-order hitter, with the ability to both score and drive in 100 runs annually. The A’s believe his .269 average at Sacramento represents the low end of his capabilities. Swisher brings a major league swagger to the field and backs it up with an outstanding work ethic. He’s a true baseball rat who spent many summers traveling with his father during the elder Swisher’s career as a minor league coach and manager. Swisher is sound defensively with good instincts and an average arm. While he has played just six games at first base as a pro, he’s a potential Gold Glove candidate at that position, though Oakland currently has no plans of moving him from the outfield.
Weaknesses: Swisher tends to chase outside pitches, especially from the left side of the plate. At times, he can be too patient, shown by a remarkable 43 walks in 28 June games. He changed his approach in the final two months at Sacramento, hitting 15 home runs in the season’s final 50 games by focusing more on working himself into hitter’s counts, as opposed to simply trying to draw walks. Primarily a center fielder in the minors, he has no better than average speed and will have to play on a corner in the majors. He’s still learning to channel his intensity and can be too hard on himself, leading to extended slumps.
The Future: The A’s saved $14 million by declining Jermaine Dye’s option, all but handing Swisher a starting job in 2005. He had thumb surgery in October and should be 100 percent for spring training. The A’s think Swisher can match Dye’s production immediately. He should be the first of the “Moneyball” picks to contribute at the big league level and is a prime candidate for 2005 Rookie of the Year honors.
Background: In 2003, his first season in the United States, Herrera crashed into the wall during a Rookie-level Arizona League game and temporarily lost all feeling in his legs. Fully recovered in 2004, he was named MVP of the short-season Northwest League, where he was the lone player to reach double figures in both home runs and stolen bases.
Strengths: On pure tools and athletic ability, Herrera has more upside than any player in the system. He grades out at average or above in all five tools. He already has translated his power to game situations and was successful on 23 of 24 steal attempts in the NWL. Defensively, he has the speed to play center field and the arm for right.
Weaknesses: Herrera’s aggressive approach at the plate could use refinement, and he has trouble with good breaking balls. In the outfield, he often must use his plus speed to offset bad jumps. He’s understandably still a little tentative going back on balls toward the wall.
The Future: Javier is ready to showcase his skills at the full-season level. He should spend most or all of 2005 at low Class A Kane County.
Background: Blanton took the system by storm in his first full year in 2003, leading the low Class A Midwest League in strikeouts despite leaving for Double-A by the end of July. Bumped to Triple-A for 2004, Blanton proved to be a bit more hittable, but he impressed the A’s in a brief major league look at the end of September.
Strengths: Blanton has solid stuff and impeccable control. His lively fastball sat at 89-91 mph for much of the year, but he threw 92-94 coming out of the bullpen in Oakland. He throws strikes with his slider and curveball. He has a durable frame and should eat up innings in the major leagues.
Weaknesses: Blanton’s changeup is still developing. He doesn’t have a true out pitch, and Pacific Coast League observers liked his command and tenacity more than his stuff. He’s still learning that he must change speeds and outthink hitters, as he can’t simply overmatch them like he did at the lower levels.
The Future: Based on his September showing, Blanton is ready to pitch in the majors in 2005. He could be a fifth starter or a late-inning reliever for the A’s.
Background: A late bloomer at Nebraska, Johnson has produced consistently as a pro. His 225 RBIs in 2003-04 top all minor leaguers, and he tied for the system lead in homers while winning the regular-season and playoff MVP awards in the Pacific Coast League. He hit .468-2-6 in seven postseason games as Sacramento won its second consecutive championship.
Strengths: Johnson has power to all fields and a solid understanding of the strike zone. He makes surprisingly consistent contact for a power hitter and mashes mistakes. He has worked hard to improve at first, and even put in some time in left field late in the year.
Weaknesses: Johnson hits lefties for average, but just one of his 29 homers in 2004 came against southpaws. He’s lumbering on the basepaths. For all his effort on defense, he’ll never be more than an adequate first baseman.
The Future: It’s hard to imagine the cash-strapped A’s keeping both Scott Hatteberg and arbitration-eligible Erubiel Durazo to fill their first-base and DH slots in 2005. If one departs, Johnson will be first in line to fill the opening.
Background: Street holds the career saves records for Texas, Team USA and the College World Series. After signing for $800,000 on July 15, he was closing games in the Pacific Coast League playoffs by September. One scout who saw him in the Arizona Fall League opined that the A’s would have made the playoffs had they promoted him in September.
Strengths: Street pitches mostly at 89-92 mph, but his fastball has heavy sink and he can dial it up to 94 mph when needed. His slider is more notable for its break than its velocity, but it’s a major league out pitch. The ultimate competitor, Street has off-the-charts makeup. He won’t beat himself with walks.
Weaknesses: Street doesn’t have a classic closer repertoire, leaving some scouts to project him more as a set-up man. He still needs to find a consistent way to retire lefthanders, so the A’s had him working on his changeup in the Arizona Fall League.
The Future: Street could start his first full season as a big league set-up man and could become Oakland’s closer in the very near future.
Background: The Athletics always had faith in Garcia’s stuff, but nagging arm troubles limited his innings and hindered his development. Moved full-time to the bullpen in 2004, he flourished. He shot from low Class A to the majors and led all minor league relievers with 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
Strengths: Garcia’s pitches have drawn comparisons to Eric Gagne’s. His fastball sits in the 93-95 mph range with good movement, and he consistently touches 97. His sharp-breaking slider is another plus pitch, and he has a strong changeup.
Weaknesses: Garcia’s control fell apart after he left the Midwest League, as he failed to react well to getting hit and began aiming the ball. He needs to trust his stuff better while also learning that he can get hitters out with more than just his fastball.
The Future: Like Street, Garcia is in a position to contribute in the majors in 2005. He does need a little more refinement, so he’s more likely than Street to begin the year in Triple-A.
Background: Robnett’s draft stock rose more than most last spring, as he opened scouts’ eyes with a 6-for-11 weekend against Rice’s trio of first-round pitchers. After sitting out 2003 in junior college, he led the Western Athletic Conference in batting (.384), slugging (.699) and stolen bases (21). He received the top bonus ($1.325 million) in Oakland’s draft class, and capped a strong pro debut by batting .321 in the Midwest League playoffs.
Strengths: Robnett offers a tantalizing combination of power and speed. He puts on a show in batting practice, and the ball makes that special sound coming off his bat. Despite his inexperience, he shows a solid understanding of the strike zone. He has a strong build and the speed to play center field.
Weaknesses: Robnett has a tendency to club at the ball, making his swing long and hindering his ability to catch up to good fastballs. He needs to improve his jumps in center, and may profile better in right field, where his arm plays well.
The Future: The A’s were excited about Robnett’s summer and think he could move quickly through the system. He’ll start 2005 at one of their Class A affiliates.
Background: After a successful college career at Texas, Quintanilla has continued to do nothing but hit as a pro. He owns a career .330 average in 171 pro games, and registered a hit in all but two games after an August promotion to Double-A Midland.
Strengths: Quintanilla’s line-drive stroke leads to consistent contact and surprising gap power for his size. He has soft hands and excellent fundamentals in the field, making plays on any ball he can reach. He’s a better baserunner than his average speed might indicate. His instincts accentuate his tools.
Weaknesses: His aggressive hitting style leads to few walks, and Quintanilla has resisted a more patient approach because of the success he’s achieved so far. He may lack the athleticism and arm strength to stay at shortstop, but would profile as a solid second baseman.
The Future: With Bobby Crosby entrenched at shortstop, Quintanilla is Oakland’s second baseman of the future. He’ll stay on the left side of the infield for now and return to Double-A.
Background: Suzuki turned down a scholarship to stay home at Hawaii in order to walk on at Cal State Fullerton so he could face top competition. He capped an All-America .413-16-87 season in 2004 with the game-winning hit in the College World Series. He signed for $550,000 and had a solid pro debut, marred only by an 0-for-13 showing in the Northwest League championship series.
Strengths: Suzuki has a mature approach at the plate, consistently working himself into hitter’s counts and demonstrating gap power. He’s a natural leader on the field and is exceptionally good at blocking balls and framing pitches.
Weaknesses: Suzuki needs to use all fields with his line-drive stroke. He has average power at best, but is still pull-conscious from swinging metal bats. His arm graded as above-average in college but regressed during the summer, which might be due to fatigue.
The Future: Suzuki shared catching duties with Landon Powell at short-season Vancouver, but they’ll be separated in 2005 to give them both plenty of time behind the plate. Two years younger than Powell, Suzuki will begin the year one step below him in low Class A.
Background: When the Mets looked to acquire utilityman Jorge Velandia from Oakland in 2000, the two teams initially couldn’t agree on a player in return. The A’s Latin American scouts raved about Cruz following his monster season in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, so they took him. No player in the system improved his prospect status in 2004 more than Cruz, one of five hitters in the minors to reach 300 total bases.
Strengths: Cruz is a legitimate five-tool talent. He has power to all fields and made strides in his pitch recognition, learning to lay off high fastballs and take pitches the other way. He has a plus arm and is an asset in right field.
Weaknesses: Despite the progress he made in his approach, Cruz still has a tendency to overswing at pitches, trying to hit every ball farther than the last and leaving him slow out of the box.
The Future: The A’s added Cruz to the 40-man roster, certain that they’d lose him in the Rule 5 draft if they didn’t. He’ll open 2005 in Triple-A and could play a significant big league role in 2006.