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Almost since the day he joined the Athletics, Ortiz has had a corps of believers who expected him to become something special. He showed remarkable offensive skills at a young age, hitting .330 in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 1996. Then came three years of injuries and moderate production as the A's awaited his maturation. There were lingering questions about whether he could play middle-infield defense or would be forced to third base. His game came together last season. He won the Pacific Coast League MVP and was the best position-player prospect in the Triple-A league. Ortiz has developed into an offensive force. He can hit for unusual average and power for a middle infielder, and if he can translate the numbers at the big league level, it will make him a factor in the lineup. Ortiz made major strides in defining his strike zone and quit swinging at so many pitcher's pitches. "When he stopped being his own worst enemy, he found out how good he was," Sacramento manager Bob Geren said. "He has good balance, good eye-hand coordination, his bat path to the zone is perfect, his swing is short, he's strong. Once he got a feel for the strike zone and started understanding the game, he made remarkable improvement." His glove remains the biggest problem. Ortiz made 32 errors last season, but most were at shortstop before moving to second base. He is far better at second, where he has more time to recover from a mistake. Once he got the call to the majors, Ortiz worked with infield instructor Ron Washington and made great progress in fielding balls hit to his right. His range is only average and he needs more experience at second. He also needs to improve his strike zone discipline and patience at the plate. The A's pulled a surprise in November, trading veteran Randy Velarde to the Rangers and opening a big league job for Ortiz, who otherwise might have been cast in a utility role in 2001. Ortiz will face competition from Frank Menechino and Mark Bellhorn, but if all goes according to plan he will be the A's second baseman of the future, and the future begins now.
Hart spent his youth in Contra Costa County, just north of Oakland. He finished among the NCAA Division I leaders in home runs and RBIs in 1998, then batted .305-19-123 at high Class A Modesto in his first full pro season a year later. He surpassed those numbers in 2000, and fared as well on the road as he did at hitter-friendly Double-A Midland. Hart possesses impressive power and backs it up with big numbers in average. He has developed the ability to use the whole field. What has most impressed the A's is his dramatic improvement on defense, where thousands of ground balls have led to huge advancements in his first-base play. Hart still needs to improve his selectivity at the plate and further refine his stroke. More than anything he just needs experience against higher-level pitching. He's probably limited to playing first, though he's working at third base to increase his versatility. A year at Triple-A at Sacramento will provide Hart the opportunity to test his skills against more advanced pitching. He has the bat to be an everyday first baseman in the major leagues.
After an impressive summer with Team USA in 1998, Ludwick was projected as a first-round pick at the beginning of the 1999 college season. When he failed to show the power most scouts had expected, hitting only 13 homers, Oakland got him in the second round. Once he signed with the A's, his power quickly became apparent. The A's have high expectations for Ludwick. He hit for a high average in college, and they hope he can do the same as a pro without sacrificing power. He has shown outstanding defensive skills, and the A's hope he can become a legitimate center fielder. He has good speed, though not as good as usually exhibited by big league center fielders. He has a strong arm and may be best suited to right field. Ludwick is raw and must refine his swing, use the whole field and define his strike zone. Too often he's fooled by offspeed pitches because he hasn't seen much pro-level pitching. Ludwick is ticketed for Midland, where the park should really boost his power numbers. He could use two full seasons in the upper minors before challenging for an outfield job in Oakland in 2003.
Since the day he signed, Encarnacion has excited the A's. He's a complete package but has shown a pattern of needing two years at each stop before advancing, and he was hampered by injuries through most of 2000. Encarnacion is a five-tool player with an abundance of natural ability. He has proven himself as a legitimate center fielder, though his future is more likely to be in right because he has a strong arm. He also has shown an excellent attitude and great desire. Encarnacion could have used the development time he lost last season. He never has hit for average because he misses hittable pitches and swings at bad ones. He has been slow to make adjustments. His power potential continues to exceed his power production, and he continues to make mistakes of youth in the outfield, missing cutoff men and throwing to the wrong base. Encarnacion has an outside shot at winning Oakland's right-field job in spring training. More likely, Jeremy Giambi and Adam Piatt will platoon while Encarnacion returns to Triple-A.
Miller had a strong 1998 season in the Rockies system, then missed most of 1999 with elbow tendinitis. He was considered a minor part of the four-team trade in which the Athletics dispatched big league righthander Jimmy Haynes to the Brewers. But the A's may be the big winners. Miller throws two-seam and four-seam fastballs, and the latter is capable of reaching 96 mph. He has a big-breaking slider that is tough on righthanders, as well as a hard splitter. He can use all his pitches to get outs. Miller came out of junior college and has just 409 pro innings, so he needs more experience against quality hitters and needs to be more consistent with his pitches. His changeup requires the most work, as he could use something offspeed with his hard stuff. Miller is ticketed for at least a half-season in Triple-A, where he pitched well last season. If the A's need a starter at midseason, he'll be a prime candidate. His collection of tattoos will fit in well in a clubhouse presided over by Jason Giambi.
Berroa immediately impressed the A's with his outstanding defensive skills. He showed he could hit, too, batting .290 in his U.S. debut in the Arizona League and reaching double figures in homers after jumping to Class A Visalia in 2000. Berroa's potential as a shortstop is still his calling card. He has tremendous range, an outstanding arm and an innate sense of how to catch the ball. He also has good pop for a middle infielder, can hit for average and runs well. But Berroa has much to learn. He ranked third in the minors with 54 errors last season, most the result of aggressiveness. He could use patience at the plate as well--his inability to draw a walk stands out in an organization that emphasizes the skill. He needs to prepare better mentally and concentrate on every pitch. With Miguel Tejada settled at shortstop for the immediate future, Oakland has the luxury of being able to develop middle infielders slowly. Berroa probably will spend 2001 in Double-A, but the organization's abundance of infielders could force him to return to the California League.
With no first-round pick in 2000, Oakland came up with a shocker when it selected Bynum. Despite batting .521 and succeeding on all 27 of his steal attempts in junior college, he received little predraft hype. But he showed great tools and was the top prospect in the short-season Northwest League. Bynum's speed and arm are plus tools, and he has excellent hand-eye coordination. He also exhibits a great joy for the game. At instructional league, he played second, short and third, but the A's expect him to emerge as a middle infielder and will keep him at shortstop for now. If he can make consistent contact, he has the on-base and stolen-base ability to bat at the top of a lineup. Bynum has little experience against pro-caliber pitching. He probably won't ever hit for much power, but he can do better than the .256 average he put up in his debut. He is learning how to approach different types of grounders and become consistent in catching the ball cleanly and making the quick transfer to his throwing hand. Bynum will go to one of the A's California League affiliates. As with Angel Berroa, Oakland has no need to rush him.
Harville reached Oakland in 1999 but has been unable to stick in the big leagues. He earned all-Conference USA honors as both a reliever and a starter but has pitched primarily out of the bullpen since joining the A's. He has excelled in that role, leading Pacific Coast League relievers in strikeouts per nine innings (10.83) last season. Harville can launch his fastball at 98 mph, and he complements it with an above-average slider. He has the makeup and confidence needed to become a major league closer. Heat alone is not enough to dominate big league hitters, though, as Harville found out during his brief stint in Oakland. He fires too many of his fastballs up in the strike zone and is trying to master a sinking two-seamer to give him another weapon. He was slow to make either adjustment in 2000. His violent delivery concerns scouts, but he has remained healthy. Harville again will go to spring training competing for a job in the Oakland bullpen, though Jason Isringhausen is the unquestioned closer now. If Harville can make the necessary improvements, he will be a quality reliever.
Ramos may not intimidate folks with his size, but the slender lefty continues to succeed. He led Rice to the 1999 College World Series by going 12-2, 2.51, then signed late and didn't make his pro debut until 2000. He dominated the California League and fared even better when he was bumped up to Double-A for four late-season starts. Ramos is intelligent and knows how to pitch. He understands how to evaluate hitters and pitch to their weaknesses. He lives by changing speeds off his 88 mph fastball, and his changeup makes it seem faster. He throws strikes and keeps the ball in the park by pitching down in the strike zone. His changeup is his lone plus pitch. Ramos has yet to develop a legitimate breaking ball, though he has worked hard to add a curveball. He will need the curve if he's going to continue to survive his lack of velocity. Midland will provide a stern test for Ramos, who will face Double-A hitters in an unforgiving home ballpark. If all goes well, he might be ready for the major leagues in 2002.
Despite winning the California League batting title with a .337 average in 1999, Byrnes was regarded as more of a blue-collar player than a prospect. He changed that in 2000 by adding power on his way to a September callup. Byrnes has hit at every stop in the system, and he has solid power potential. He runs well and continues to impress with his makeup. His intense work ethic has led to constant improvement, and he always exhibits all-out hustle. Despite his speed, Byrnes still needs work to become a good defensive outfielder on the corners. He'll have to hit more home runs if he's to become more than a fourth outfielder at the big league level. Byrnes may have difficulty finding playing time in Oakland. Ben Grieve is the left fielder unless he's traded, and Jeremy Giambi and Adam Piatt likely will platoon in right. All three have higher ceilings than Byrnes, as do Ludwick and Encarnacion. Byrnes probably will begin 2001 in Triple-A while he awaits some kind of opening.
Snow has been a revelation since joining the Athletics organization in 1998. Last season, he led all minor league relievers with an average of 13.05 strikeouts per nine innings. He lives by an exceptional slider, which he mixes with a sinking fastball to keep hitters off balance. Snow came to instructional league after the 2000 season to develop a split-finger pitch, and if he can get the feel for it the splitter could smooth his way to the majors. He has shown the ability to enter a game and throw strikes quickly, a key requirement for a reliever. The A's expect him to be ready for Oakland in 2001 should the need arise. Some in the organization believe he has the potential to grow into a major league closer, but the current plan is to move him into the hard-to-fill set-up role.
A second-round pick in 1998, Laird didn't sign until the following spring as a draft-and-follow. He's athletic and even played center field for Cypress (Calif.) Community College when he wasn't catching during the 1999 season. Once he joined the A's, he made an immediate impression, earning a position on the Northwest League all-star team. He has matured greatly since signing, developing from a kid who wanted to have fun into a serious worker. Injuries sidetracked his progress during 2000, but he still managed to show distinct improvement, particularly with his defense. He still has much development ahead and needs to refine his swing with a wood bat. The A's consider him a solid defensive catcher with legitimate offensive potential. He has shown signs of the ability to work with pitchers and handle a pitching staff.
Acquired from the Devil Rays in a 2000 deadline deal, Belitz was brought to the organization to fill a specific role. The A's have been desperate for a second lefty in the bullpen, and Belitz will have the opportunity to win the job this year. His father Stan played linebacker for the NFL's Miami Dolphins before working as a Secret Service agent. Todd was a high school first baseman who didn't start pitching until college, and he still needs experience. He worked as a starter through his first three seasons in the Devil Rays chain, then was switched to the bullpen in 2000. He was much more effective in his new role after struggling mightily in Double-A the year before. As a reliever, he throws in the low 90s and mixes in a two-seam sinker to get ground balls. He also throws a slider.
A product of Division III Williams (the alma mater of George Steinbrenner and Fay Vincent), Surkont has steadily improved since being drafted. He throws a heavy, low-90s fastball with good sink. He also mixes in a fine breaking ball and an excellent changeup, and his overall command is solid. As with many New England players, he hasn't had the on-field time to match players from other regions and still requires far more experience. He has shown the ability to learn quickly. Surkont needs to develop consistency with the breaking ball and the ability to throw it for strikes when needed. He can at times be dominant, as his 2.72 ERA in the tough Cal League indicates. The A's view him as a potential big league starter. Max Surkont, his grandfather, pitched for five major league teams between 1949 and 1957.
The hard-throwing Vizcaino has touched down in the big leagues for parts of the last two seasons but has yet to find a way to stick. He has great ability and maddening inconsistency. He'll cruise along, then offer up a series of mistake pitches that get hammered. He often leaves the ball too high in the strike zone, and his mid-90s fastball has a tendency to straighten out. Vizcaino has shown the ability to both start and relieve in the minors, though the A's see his future in the bullpen. If he can become more consistent, he could be an imposing force in relief. He's still trying to tighten up his slider, and he has yet to come up with much of an offspeed pitch. Vizcaino is likely to spend 2001 on the bubble, bouncing between Triple-A and the majors as the need arises.
The happy-go-lucky, ever-friendly Salazar is a throwback to many players of the 1960s. He's an undisciplined hitter who swings at many bad pitches, yet still hits for a high average. His approach clashes with the organization's philosophies on pitch selection and walks, but he has succeeded in his own way. Salazar is a loose player. His ebullient personality makes him a favorite of teammates and coaches. He's most competent at second base and can function adequately at shortstop and third. With decent hands and a good arm, he has the tools to become a legitimate middle infielder. After adding him to the 40-man roster, Oakland will keep moving him up the ladder to see if he can produce enough to get to the majors.
Galva first raised eyebrows when he put together an 11-0, 1.00 season in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 1998, and he backed it up with an all-star season in the Arizona League in 1999. Moved to the bullpen last season, Galva continued to make an impression. He’s being groomed as a closer, and he embraced the role with relish. He relies on a fastball-slider combination and can throw strikes with both pitches. He has remarkable resilience and can pitch several days in a row. The A’s will bring him to spring training with the hope they can place him in Double-A, but an overload of pitchers at that level could force his return to the Cal League. His command gives him the chance to develop quickly.
Wild and young, Pena is a lefthander of great potential if he can find the strike zone consistently. He spent the last two years in the California League, leading the league in strikeouts in 2000. He'll move to the Double-A Midland rotation 2001 amid concerns whether he can command his fastball well enough against better hitters in a bandbox of a home ballpark. His fastball has both low-90s velocity and life, and he complements it with an excellent change, which he can throw 25 times a game and keep fooling hitters. Much of his success has come by inducing aggressive young hitters to swing at pitches out of the strike zone, and the A's are concerned that more advanced opponents will be more effective in waiting him out. He's from a pitching family, with his brother Juan having pitched with the Red Sox and another brother expected to be a prize signee in 2001.
After going a combined 19-5 in his last two seasons at Oklahoma State, Adkins sat out in 1998 after turning pro in order to heal a partially torn ligament in his elbow. He came back and made the Cal League midseason all-star team the next year, but had to be shut down in August with elbow and shoulder soreness. A month later Adkins had Tommy John surgery on his elbow. His comeback since then has been remarkable. He returned to mound 10 months later, featuring better stuff than he had before. His low-90s fastball has more sinking action, his slider has improved, and he developed his change while his arm wasn't quite at 100 percent. With three solid pitches, Adkins now has a legitimate shot at starting in a big league rotation. The surgery also seemed to help Adkins mature off the mound. He returned from the injury with a new dedication and has become a devotee of the weight room, putting extra hours into conditioning. He should move up to Double-A this season.
Ireland was a member of three different teams on Nov. 20. He began the day as a member of the Astros, who drafted him in 1995. When Houston cleared space on its 40-man roster by removing Ireland, the Cubs claimed him, then traded him to the A's for arbitration-eligible outfielder Matt Stairs. Ireland is a curveball pitcher whose fastball ranges into the high 80s. Though he doesn't throw hard, he consistently has posted solid numbers in wins, innings and strikeouts. He pitched the first perfect game in Astros organization history at Class A Kissimmee in 1999. Scouts say he has a good feel for pitching. The A's plan to place Ireland in the Triple-A rotation in 2001. They believe he could fill the role of emergency starter at the big league level if necessary.
Lehr took a strange road to the pros. After growing up as a catcher and spending his first three college seasons mostly behind the plate UC Santa Barbara, he transferred to Southern California in 1999, where he went 7-3, 4.29 on the mound and hit .297-4-27 as a DH. The 2000 season was the first time he concentrated solely on pitching, and he responded by winning 13 games, one short of the Cal League leader. While Lehr can crank his fastball up to the low 90s, he usually works in the high 80s with good movement. He complements it with a superlative change, as well as a slider and a forkball. While he doesn't rely on power, he has excellent command of the strike zone and knowledge of pitching that may be a result of his years of catching. Lehr knows how to pitch backward, taking a little off his fastball instead of trying to overpower hitters in tense situations. He also has a calm about him, so he doesn't get rattled at difficult times. He's ready to move to Double-A this season.
When the A's became disenchanted with catching prospect Miguel Olivo, they traded him to the White Sox for Bradford, who joined former Sox farmhands Frank Menechino, Olmedo Saenz and Mario Valdez on the 40-man roster. The submarining Bradford spent time in the majors with Chicago in each of the last three seasons. The White Sox never trusted him enough to keep him around but took a leap of faith by putting him on their 2000 playoff roster. When manager Jerry Manuel brought him in to protect a 4-3 lead in Game One of the Division Series against Seattle, Mike Cameron delivered a game-tying single. It was one of the few low moments in a terrific year for Bradford, who has proven he's too good for the minor leagues. In 131 Triple-A appearances over the last three years, he has a 1.81 ERA. He throws in the high 80s, but his funky delivery makes him nasty on righthanders. His fastball has sinking action but straightens out when he leaves it up in the strike zone. Bradford has a good curveball that helps against lefthanders, and he shows hitters an occasional changeup. He's always around the strike zone. Managers have been reluctant to use him in save situations, but he should be effective as a set-up man.
Lockwood has been positively amazing since coming to the A's, reaching Triple-A in his first full season and compiling a career .318 average. Lockwood has shown the ability to make adjustments at the plate. He has been mostly a singles hitter, and the A's would like to see him spend more time in the weight room to add to his skinny frame and power production. He's above-average defensively at the corner outfield positions, and can move to center in an emergency. His arm strength has improved since signing, and his throwing accuracy is solid. Lockwood is a driven player who's ready to play every day and prepared for each at-bat. Because he lacks the power to play regularly on an outfield corner and the speed to start in center, he'll have to prove himself at every level. He has done that to this point, stalling only in Triple-A, where he'll return this season.
The half-brother of Marlins closer Antonio Alfonseca made his U.S. debut in 2000 under the name Francis Gomez, but he's now known as Francis Alfonseca. Alfonseca’s Arizona League season was cut short by nagging hamstring injuries, but he still played well enough to be ranked the No. 3 prospect in the league. He has exceptional tools, with excellent hands and range on defense and quick hands with the bat. A’s officials compare him to Oakland shortstop Miguel Tejada because of his defensive skills and power potential. In his first game back in the Arizona League after a month on the disabled list, he pinch-hit a game-winning grand slam. Alfonseca can play all three infield positions, and the A’s have been moving him around to increase his versatility. He also has shown he can hit to all fields. He’s aggressive, both in the field and with the bat, and he has shown great desire to play.
After leading NCAA Division I with 34 homers in 1999, Holt projected as an early first-round pick in 2000. But with a mediocre Texas A&M team surrounding him, Holt slipped to 18 homers as a junior and dropped to the third round. He spent most of the summer of 2000 in the amateur Cape Cod League before signing and spending a month in the short-season Northwest League. Holt followed with major strides during instructional league, improving his approach from hard, wild thrusts to consistent line-drive production. He's learning to use his hands and reduce his swing, which should help him keep his power and improve his consistency. Holt needs to improve his right-field defense, but he has a plus arm and unusual speed for his size. He must develop a professional mentality for the long season, rather than carry every failure with him. He's an intense competitor with high expectations for himself. A return to the Cal League in 2001 is probably in order.
After a distinguished career for college powerhouse Stanford, Hochgesang has drawn attention with his power and continual improvement. He has shown the ability to understand the game and make adjustments. His streaks of success have been mixed with serious down periods, however. Hochgesang spent 2000 battling elbow problems, which prompted the A's to shut him down for instructional league. His elbow didn't prevent him from drilling 20 homers in his first full season as a pro. He also showed a fine eye at the plate, fitting in with the organization's philosophy of patience. Hochgesang also made great strides on defense and plays a solid third base. His attitude and personality have made him an organization favorite. He is expected to land at Double-A in 2001.
Traded by Rangers with LHP Ryan Cullen to Athletics for 2B Randy Velarde, Nov. 17, 2000. When the A's decided Jose Ortiz was ready to take over their second-base job in 2001, they traded Randy Velarde to the Rangers for Harang and lefty reliever Ryan Cullen. Harang lit up the Rookie-level Appalachian League in his pro debut, earning pitcher-of-the-year honors after leading the circuit in wins and ranking third in both ERA and strikeouts. He had no difficulty making the leap to the high Class A Florida State League in his first full season. Harang has a fastball that touches 90 mph, and he mixes it with an effective slider. He has shown poise and a feel for pitching, impressing the A's enough that they asked for him in the trade. He'll pitch in either the Cal League or the Texas League this season.
Craig made a quick impression before his pro debut ended early. His jaw was broken when a batter hit him with a wild backswing, so he had his jaw wired shut and took his meals through a straw before he could finally return to limited duty in instructional league. Craig was drafted in the third round by the Padres out of high school in 1998, in part because of his arm strength, but elbow injuries at Southern Cal diminished his throwing ability. By adjusting his arm slot during instructional league, he showed some improvement. He moves well behind the plate, though he will need development in calling games. At the plate, Craig shows good power potential. His next chore will be to refine his strike zone and quit swinging at bad pitches.
The sole remaining first-round pick in the farm system, Enochs' advancement has been derailed by a series of injuries. Ironically, his durability was one of the main reasons Oakland selected him 11th overall in the 1997 draft, the same year they chose Tim Hudson in the sixth round. A 1998 hip injury and recurring bouts of tendinitis have limited Enochs' progress. He still has much work remaining to refine his arm angle and learn to pitch at the professional level. When he's right, he throws a lively 93 mph fastball and a plus curve. He shows excellent mound presence and competitiveness, and his size and strength indicate he has the potential to become a workhorse. But he'll have to rebuild his confidence after three years of struggles. He still has time to invigorate his career and emerge as a top-quality big league starter. He's ticketed for Double-A in 2001, a critical year in his career.
Vaz had a sterling college career, starting as the MVP of the 1996 Junior College World Series. He helped Alabama to the 1997 College World Series as a center fielder/closer. Strictly a left fielder as a pro, Vaz has hit at every level and his bat is his best tool. He sprays line drives from foul pole to foul pole and has decent speed, especially when he keeps his weight down. He hasn't shown the power to play a corner outfield spot, though, and doesn't have the range to play center. He has had injury problems, from a broken foot that kept him out of the lineup in the 1997 CWS to a shoulder injury in the 2000 Pacific Coast League playoffs that necessitated offseason surgery. He hit two home runs to lead Vancouver to the Triple-A World Series crown in 1999 and maintained that momentum with a solid 2000. A's officials are confident Vaz will be healthy by spring training, and he may challenge for a reserve outfield job, with Eric Byrnes as his main competition. Vaz has an advantage as a contact hitter and a lefty bat off the bench, but Byrnes can play all three outfield positions and provides more speed on the bases.