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American League West Notebook

April 8, 2005

Anaheim Angels

What The System Has Produced Lately: The Angels wouldn’t have won the 2002 World Series without Francisco Rodriguez, and they’ll make him the closer this year after allowing Todd Percival to leave as a free agent. Kevin Gregg gave the bullpen an unexpected boost last year, just as versatile Robb Quinlan surprisingly hit .344 while filling in for Troy Glaus at third base. Anaheim let Glaus depart to give third base to Dallas McPherson, who led the minors in slugging (.670) and total bases (349) last year. The club would be wise to find a way to get first baseman Casey Kotchman into the lineup, but the .342 career hitter in the minors appears hopelessly blocked.

Best-Stocked Position: Shortstop. Erick Aybar has hit at least .308 in each of his three pro seasons, including a career-high .330 with 51 steals in high Class A last year. Brandon Wood, a 2003 first-rounder, also is an offensive-minded shortstop, though his game is built more around power than speed. Alberto Callaspo and Rookie-level Pioneer League MVP Sean Rodriguez have shuttled between shortstop and second base, and probably will wind up at the latter position because of the club’s shortstop depth. The Angels added another shortstop when they acquired Maicer Izturis, coming off a career-best .338 year in Triple-A, from the Nationals in the Jose Guillen trade during the offseason.

Best Teenage Prospect: The Angels hedged their bets in the 2004 draft after taking still-unsigned Jered Weaver in the first round. They used several late-round picks on talented players considered difficult to sign, and landed several of them, most prominently 18th-rounder Mark Trumbo (19). Most teams were on Trumbo as a pitcher, but the Angels announced he would become a full-time third baseman after signing him for $1.425 million.

Prepare For Takeoff: Sean Rodriguez is just 19 but he has played two years of pro ball and has an advanced knowledge of the game, thanks to growing up as the son of a Marlins minor league hitting instructor. Rodriguez is a productive offensive player who can play several positions, offering a combination of power, speed and patience.

Time Is Running Out For: Five years after Anaheim drafted Chris Bootcheck in the first round, he has made four big league appearances with a 0-1, 9.58 record to show for them. His stuff rarely has been as crisp as it was in his Auburn heyday. This year might be his last to impress the Angels’ brass.

Oakland Athletics

What The System Has Produced Lately: Shortstop Bobby Crosby was the 2004 American League rookie of the year, and outfielder Nick Swisher is the odds-on favorite to succeed him this season. Righthander Rich Harden was the Athletics’ most dominant starter last year, enabling general manager Billy Beane to reshape the club by trading Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder during the offseason. He also has used a number of prospects in trades to get players such as Octavio Dotel (third baseman Mark Teahen, righty Mike Wood), Keith Ginter (outfielder Nelson Cruz, righty Justin Lehr) and Mark Redman (lefty Bill Murphy, righty Mike Neu). With Hudson and Mulder gone, Oakland is counting on Joe Blanton to make the rotation. Righthanders Huston Street (a supplemental first-round pick just last year) and Jairo Garcia could fit into the bullpen mix, and Street could close games in the near future.

Best-Stocked Position: If Daric Barton had a realistic chance to stay behind the plate, the answer would be catcher, where the A’s also have 2004 draft picks Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell, plus John Baker. But Barton’s long-term position is probably the outfield, so that gets the nod. The organization’s top three prospects are Swisher, Barton and center fielder Javier Herrera, the short-season Northwest League MVP last year. The A’s also are high on 2004 first-rounders Richie Robnett and Danny Putnam, as well as Andre Ethier.

Best Teenage Prospect: Oakland focuses primarily on signing college players but has two blue-chip teenagers in Barton (19) and Herrera (19). After acquiring Barton in the Mulder deal, Beane called him the best pure hitter in the minors. Herrera is more athletic and well-rounded, a legitimate five-tool player with 30-30 potential.

Prepare For Takeoff: Robnett sat out 2003 in junior college, then went from an unknown to the 26th overall pick in the draft last year. Despite his inexperience, he has a good idea of how to use his considerable tools as well as the patience at the plate that the A’s covet.

Time Is Running Out For: Lefthander John Rheinecker ranked right behind Harden on our Oakland prospect list entering 2003, but now he’s at a crossroads after two mediocre seasons. The A’s no longer look to him as a rotation candidate, and his lack of a pitch that would dominate lefties lessens the likelihood he’d be effective in relief. Don’t be surprised if he’s included in one of Beane’s many trades.

Seattle Mariners

What The System Has Produced Lately: Travis Blackley and Clint Nageotte flopped in their big league debuts last year, but the Mariners still found several pitchers who could contribute. Bobby Madritsch was a revelation, going 6-3, 3.27, while Scott Atchison (baseball’s first 49th-rounder to reach the majors), J.J. Putz and independent league refugee George Sherrill plugged holes in the bullpen. Shortstop Jose Lopez and third basemen Greg Dobbs and Justin Leone started for Seattle over the final two months. The previous year, utilityman Willie Bloomquist and righthander Julio Mateo established themselves as supporting players. Righthander Felix Hernandez is bucking for a big league promotion before he turns 19. Lefty Matt Thornton, righty Cha Seung Baek and outfielder Jamal Strong could be role players for the M’s in 2005.

Best-Stocked Position: The organization that lost Alex Rodriguez to free agency and traded Carlos Guillen has more shortstops on the way. Seattle added to its depth at the position by picking up Michael Morse from the White Sox via trade; signing its top 2004 draft pick, third-rounder Matt Tuiasosopo, for $2.29 million; and signing Cuban defector Yuniesky Betancourt to a $3.65 million contract. Before acquiring that trio, the Mariners already had Lopez, 2003 first-rounder Adam Jones, slick-fielding Asdrubal Cabrera and Oswaldo Navarro.

Best Teenage Prospect: No teenage pitcher has dominated the minors like Hernandez since Dwight Gooden. His fastball and curveball are devastating pitches, and his slider may be even better—though Seattle won’t let him throw it in an attempt to reduce the risk of injury. The Mariners would prefer to send him to Triple-A Tacoma this year, but he may be too good to stay there for long.

Prepare For Takeoff: Cabrera gets lost in Seattle’s shortstop shuffle, but he could skip a level for the second straight season. Even if he doesn’t open the year at high Class A Inland Empire, he’s definitely ready for full-season ball and should start to get more exposure.

Time Is Running Out For: There’s little doubt outfielder Chris Snelling can hit, with a career .320 minor league average. But he hasn’t been able to stay healthy, a trend that has continued this spring with a torn meniscus in his left knee. That injury, as well hand, thumb, wrist and ankle ailments have cost Snelling several chances to win a big league role, and he may not get many more.

Texas Rangers

What The System Has Produced Lately: First baseman Mark Teixeira is on his way to becoming one of the game’s most feared sluggers. Laynce Nix has taken over the center-field job, though he faded in 2004 and still has to prove he can hit lefthanders. Erasmo Ramirez has filled a lefty role in the bullpen, while righthander R.A. Dickey has been a versatile swingman. Righty Juan Dominguez has shown promise but hasn’t been able to nail down a rotation spot. Several of the Rangers’ most prominent young players have been developed primarily by other organizations, including righties Frank Francisco and Chris Young and catcher Gerald Laird.

Best-Stocked Position: It’s no secret the Rangers need pitching, and their system has several righthanded starting candidates. The most obvious is hard-throwing Thomas Diamond, who they were pleased was still available with the 10th overall pick last June. After pitching surprisingly well in Triple-A and the majors last year, Young is being counted on to stick in the big league rotation. John Hudgins and Dominguez also could help in the near future, while Josh Rupe, Edison Volquez and Eric Hurley have higher ceilings but are further away.

Best Teenage Prospect: John Danks (19), the ninth overall pick in 2003, is the only lefthander of note in the system. His signature pitch is a big-breaking curveball, and he has a solid fastball that should be a plus pitch in the future. He already has advanced to high Class A, though he may return there to open this season.

Prepare For Takeoff: Outfielder Vincent Sinisi dropped out of the first round in 2003 because of signability, and Texas landed him for $2.07 million in the second round. Considered one of the best pure hitters in that draft, he hasn’t been able to show much as a pro because he signed late in 2003 and broke his left forearm in 2004. He might not need much more than a full season in the minors before he’s pushing for a job in Texas.

Time Is Running Out For: The Rangers stunned other clubs by taking shortstop Drew Meyer with the 10th overall pick in 2002, and he has done little to justify that lofty selection. Meyer has hit just .266-8-96 as a pro, negating the value of his athleticism and arm strength. He’s not going to beat out Michael Young, Joaquin Arias or Ian Kinsler at shortstop, and needs to show more with the bat to become a utilityman.

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