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Background: From the time Chavez reported to instructional league after signing in 1996, the A's knew they had a special talent. A High School All-American in both 1995 and '96, Chavez rose quickly and matured markedly during the '98 season, both on and off the field. At three different stops, he hit a combined .327 with 33 homers and 126 RBIs, finishing the season in Oakland after being named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year. "It's just a matter of how good a player he wants to be," said Keith Lieppman, the A's director of player development. "He could settle for a mediocre career, or he could make the extra commitment to becoming something special. It's really up to him." Strengths: Perhaps Chavez' most important asset is his ability to make adjustments. He is an extremely quick learner with the physical gifts to quickly master difficult tasks. He made great strides against lefthanders last season, after struggling against them early in the year. He is a pure hitter, who uses all parts of the field. He has excellent power potential, though the A's expect him to emerge as more of a high-average gap hitter than a slugger. His speed has improved to the point where he is considered an average runner. Weaknesses: Chavez still needs more refinement on defense and must improve his baserunning. On offense, he needs to refine his strike zone and has a tendency to chase too many high fastballs. After a '98 season in which he exceeded every expectation, some concern arose when he experienced what he called "burn out" during the Arizona Fall League and departed early. He was troubled by back and shoulder soreness in Arizona, which the A's are treating with a strengthening program. He also must work on flexibility and agility. The Future: Chavez will come to spring training with the opportunity to win the third-base job. The A's believe his potential is unlimited.
Background: Negotiations with Mulder, the second pick in last June's draft, lasted deep into the fall before he signed a contract that will pay out $3.2 million by December 1999--a record for players signing standard minor league contracts. He signed just in time to catch the final weeks of instructional league. He made his unofficial pro debut in the Arizona Fall League, where he went 0-1, 3.38 ERA. Strengths: Mulder throws a wicked, moving 92-mph fastball, and rarely misses his spots in the strike zone. Both his fastball and change are now considered plus pitches by scouts. The A's were most impressed during the AFL by his mound presence. Weaknesses: Mulder's breaking ball still needs work and development, and he needs to learn to pitch inside more effectively. That will all come with experience. The Future: The A's favor starting Mulder in the California League this spring, then moving him up to Double-A Midland should he quickly merit promotion. Mulder has the right blend of ability and mental tenacity to develop into a top of the rotation starter in a few years.
Background: Many scouts considered DuBose a candidate to be the first pitcher taken in the '97 draft before a blister problem caused his stock to slip. As a sophomore, he led the Southeastern Conference with 174 strikeouts. He threw two complete games in the NCAA Regionals as a junior to help Mississippi State to the College World Series. Strengths: DuBose made great strides during the '98 season, improving his control, his mound presence and just about every other factor of his pitching. Most impressive was the development of his changeup. He also throws a moving fastball in the low 90s and an exceptional curve. Weaknesses: DuBose still needs work to avoid spates of wildness, though his control improved markedly last year. He remains inconsistent with his pitches, making too many mistakes and occasionally hanging curveballs. The Future: DuBose should start the 1999 season at Triple-A. The A's have full expectations that he will mature into a solid big league starter.
Background: A two-time all-Conference USA selection at the University of Memphis, Harville struck out 136 in 102 innings his junior year. At Visalia last season, he worked both as a starter and reliever, then moved exclusively to the bullpen after a promotion to Huntsville. Strengths: Harville throws 98-mph gas and a hard, late-breaking slider in the high 80s. He has only two pitches, but both are considered plus by scouts. In addition, A's officials believe he has the makeup, confidence and control to be a closer. Weaknesses: Every scout has an intense fear of short righthanders, and Harville will have to spend his career defying these preconceptions. He must also develop better consistency with his slider, which tends to flatten out at times and become hittable. The Future: Harville is firmly established in the bullpen, and that is where the A's expect to keep him. He will have a shot at making the Triple-A team this spring.
Background: Enochs was a second-team All-America selection in 1997 at West Virginia. He made a strong pro debut in '97, going 3-0, 2.78 for Modesto, then won his first three starts last season before a hip injury slowed him down. Strengths: With both a plus fastball and a plus curve, Enochs has two outstanding pitches to mix with a satisfactory changeup. He has an excellent mound presence and a competitive nature. He is big, strong and tough, and the A's expect him to emerge as a workhorse. Weaknesses: At times Enoch's mechanics slip and his curve levels off. During the second half of last season, he had a tendency to try to pitch up in the strike zone rather than keeping the ball down. When he tried to pitch through the hip injury, he grew frustrated with his struggles and lost his poise. The Future: Enochs will likely start in Triple-A in 1999, and if health and maturity come together, the A's believe he could be on the fast track to Oakland.
Background: Encarnacion made his first A's Top 10 list--at No. 7--in 1996, before he had played a single game in the United States. He has been a prospect to watch ever since. Strengths: Encarnacion has a classic athletic build, with a long lean body. The A's think he will hit for both power and average, and as he fills out, the power could be significant. Most impressive last season was his great improvement on defense. He played some center field and proved more than satisfactory. He has a plus throwing arm. The A's like his attitude and work ethic. Weaknesses: Breaking balls cause enormous problems, and that can only be resolved through experience facing better pitching. Encarnacion has struck out more than 120 times each of the last three seasons. The Future: The A's will not decide where to place Encarnacion until spring training after they've evaluated his progress this winter in the Domincan League. He could start the season either in Midland or Vancouver.
Background: Hernandez has been a top offensive prospect throughout his five seasons in the A's organization. His 98 RBIs ranked fifth in the Southern League in 1998. Strengths: A pure hitter with outstanding power potential, Hernandez is aggressive and hits to all fields. Most impressive is his ability to drive in runs and hit in the clutch. Defensively, he has a strong arm and the raw tools that could make him an average defensive catcher. Weaknesses: Hernandez has shown little progress on defense. He moves too much behind the plate, and he lets a bad at-bat affect him too much. He also has trouble calling games and working with pitchers. He may eventually need to move to DH or first base. In addition, he has shown a propensity to gain weight. The Future: The A's expect Hernandez to spend the 1999 season at Triple-A trying to develop his defensive skills. That is, unless his big righthanded bat proves too appealing and they call for help at DH.
Background: Vizcaino signed as a skinny 17-year-old with a fastball in the mid-80s. He worked at the A's Dominican complex, and with improved nutrition and weight training he has continued to build his body. He has worked hard to learn English, and has proved extremely coachable and deeply motivated. Strengths: Vizcaino arrived in Arizona last spring with a 94-mph fastball, up about five mph from the previous season. The A's attribute the improvement to conditioning and better mechanics. Vizcaino is poised on the mound and does not panic in difficult situations. Weaknesses: Vizcaino has struggled hard to develop an offspeed pitch, and he has spent the winter working on a circle-change. He has also been troubled by a tendency to struggle during the early innings of his starts before righting himself and gaining his effectiveness. The Future: The A's will start Vizcaino either at Midland or Edmonton and watch how his changeup develops.
Background: Haynes grew up in the East Bay, training with his neighbor Willie McGee, and has many similarities in his game. The A's assigned Haynes to Modesto last spring with the expectation that he would be moved to short-season Southern Oregon midway through the year. Instead, Haynes more than held his own in the Cal League. Strengths: Haynes' game is speed. He's being groomed as a center fielder, leadoff-type player who can get on base. He is blessed with outstanding defensive tools and instincts, and has a plus arm. He has the potential to be a top basestealer. Weaknesses: Haynes has yet to develop discipline at the plate and needs many more games of experience. He has been hampered by injuries during the last two instructional leagues which has hindered his development. During the offseason, he had a small hernia removed which could resolve some of the problems. The Future: Haynes will return to the California League in 1999 to continue to develop such skills as bunting and base running.
Background: Hudson was a two-way star at Auburn, earning a spot on All-America teams as a utility man his senior season after going 15-2, 2.97 off the mound and batting .396-18-95 as a center fielder. He was drafted by the A's as a pitcher. Strengths: Around the A's front office, they call his fastball super sink. Not only does it drop, it darts as well, and he uses the pitch to induce a lot of ground balls. He also throws an excellent changeup, a satisfactory splitter and an occasional slider. Weaknesses: Hudson is so skinny he can hide behind a fungo bat. The A's worry that he may lack stamina to endure the rigors of a full big league season. The slider also needs work and is not yet of major league caliber. The Future: Hudson has an outside shot at a major league bullpen job this spring. If the A's decide to leave him as a starter, he will go to Midland or Vancouver.