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The 2006 season was more of the same for Buck, who has been an elite prospect since high school. He was part of a banner class of Washington state prep players in 2002 that included Red Sox lefthander Jon Lester, Pirates farmhand Brent Lillibridge and Giants prospect Travis Ishikawa, among others. Buck fell from top-round consideration in the 2002 draft after a modest senior season, going in the 23rd round to the Mariners, so he went to Arizona State. He had been an infielder but played outfield exclusively his first two seasons with the Sun Devils, then saw time at third base in 2005, when he helped the team reach the College World Series. Since signing with the Athletics as the 36th overall pick that year for $950,000, he has hit .328/.399/.511 with a staggering 53 doubles in 497 pro at-bats. He was leading the minors with 39 two-baggers in 2006 when he went down with an abdominal injury in July that ended his season. He returned briefly in the Arizona Fall League before being sidelined again, and his injury was finally diagnosed properly as a sports hernia. While hitting comes naturally to Buck, he works hard at his craft, with an inner drive to be a great hitter. He has quick hands, strong wrists and outstanding pitch recognition. He has the bat speed to turn on good fastballs, yet trusts his hands enough to wait out breaking balls. The result is that he stays balanced, uses the whole field with a repeatable, low-maintenance swing and lashes line drives from foul line to foul line. As he gets stronger and learns to use his lower half better, many of his doubles should start going over the fence. Oakland conservatively projects Buck to produce Rusty Greer-like numbers with .300 batting averages and 15-20 homers annually. He covers the plate well and isn't afraid to take a walk. A solid athlete, Buck is a good baserunner who's improving as a basestealer. Scouts long have projected home run pop for Buck. One scout projected his power as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale when he was in high school. Yet he hit just 19 homers in three years at Arizona State and has just 10 in 125 pro games. The A's believe Buck's power will emerge as he continues to fill out and gain experience. Their theory is that players such as Buck, Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki--their top three prospects--develop more home run power because they hit the ball hard consistently and control the strike zone. Buck's defense is just OK. His speed plays better on the bases than in the outfield, and his fringy arm fits best in left field. He compensates for his lack of arm strength with good accuracy. Buck should be fully recovered from his sports hernia and at full strength for spring training. It was his presence that made his former Sun Devils teammate, Andre Ethier, expendable in the Milton Bradley trade in December 2005. Buck is a bigger version of Ethier with similar tools but more projected power. While more minor league at-bats wouldn't hurt--he should start the year at Triple-A Sacramento--Buck should be big league-ready midway through the 2007 season.
Acquired from the Cardinals in the Mark Mulder trade in December 2004, Barton established himself as the A's top prospect and played in the Futures Game in 2005. In 2006, however, his progress halted when he broke his left elbow in a first-base collision with Tony Womack in Triple- A. Barton returned to the Rookie-level Arizona League briefly in August, then played full-time in the Dominican League. Oakland general manager Billy Beane called Barton the best hitter in the minors when he traded for him, and he remains the system's best pure hitter. He has a textbook swing, fluid and short with a bit of loft, hinting at future power. His exceptional plate discipline allowed him to control the strike zone at Triple-A as a 20-year-old, and he's advanced enough to know to use the whole field. Barton wasn't tearing up Triple-A before his injury. Even those who believe in Barton's power grade it as average at best, and if he doesn't develop that kind of pop he'll be a less-than-intimidating threat for a first baseman. To keep hitting for average and to make himself an average defender at first base, he'll have to work harder on staying in shape. His thickening lower half could leave him well-below-average as a runner. Frank Thomas' departure as a free agent could create an opportunity for Barton. He probably needs more minor league time, especially considering the former catcher still hasn't played the equivalent of a full season at first base. A big spring training could make it hard to keep his bat out of the Oakland lineup, however.
Suzuki went from walk-on to hero at Cal State Fullerton, leading the Titans to the 2004 College World Series championship as the team's top hitter and emotional core. He built on his "Kurt Klutch" reputation in 2006 with USA Baseball's Olympic qualifying team, hitting .455 with a game-winning homer against Brazil. Team USA manager Davey Johnson called him the team's best player. Never satisfied, Suzuki keeps getting better. He repeats his short swing, geared to produce line drives, and has improved significantly in using the whole field. He draws plenty of walks and is tough to strike out. He's an athletic grinder who went from decent to above-average defensively through hard work and fundamentals, leading Double-A Texas League catchers in fielding percentage (.997) while ranking second in catching basestealers (47 percent). Suzuki doesn't project to hit for much power, though some scouts expect him to hit 10-15 homers a season because he controls the strike zone so well and hits the ball hard. Defense doesn't come naturally to him, but he has shown the ability to work at it with outstanding results. He's a below-average runner, though fine for a catcher. Suzuki's natural leadership ability and work ethic have drawn admiration from Jason Kendall during Suzuki's trips to big league camp. After a year in Triple-A, Suzuki should be ready to replace Kendall when his contract expires after the 2007 season.
Sulentic won the high school triple crown in the Dallas Metroplex last spring, hitting .654-20-59. Area scout Blake Davis talked him up to Oakland's front office for four hours, and the A's took him in the third round and signed him for $395,000. After tearing up the short-season Northwest League, Sulentic finished his pro debut on fumes in the low Class A Midwest League. Few doubt he will hit, and he soon should rival Daric Barton and Travis Buck for the title of best hitter in the system. Sulentic has a pure lefthanded swing and an innate ability to get the barrel on the ball consistently. His strength and bat speed should produce above-average power. His toughness and makeup endeared him to the A's. Projecting a position for Sulentic, who played both middle-infield spots and all over the outfield in high school, already is a challenge. He took a stab at second base in instructional league before Oakland decided to leave him in left field for now. His arm is below-average. He's probably maxed out physically. Though he offers little projection, Sulentic is already very good and looks like a future No. 3 hitter. If he settles in as a left fielder, he could move quickly. He'll likely start 2007 back at low Class A Kane County.
Mitchell spent two years at Texarkana (Texas) Junior College before transferring to UNC Greensboro as a junior. A's area scout Neil Avent, a former UNCG assistant coach, stayed on Mitchell and the A's cross-checked him in the Southern Conference tournament. They popped Mitchell in the fifth round, signed him for $155,000 then watched him sizzle in his pro debut until he broke a bone in his right foot. Only injury slows Mitchell, who's the system's fastest runner with 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. Unlike many speedsters, he's no slap hitter. He has powerful legs and a strong frame. He has the plate discipline to wait on his pitch and the swing plane to drive the ball to all fields. Mitchell's throwing arm is below-average but playable in center. He'll need experience and at-bats to adjust against better breaking balls, to translate his raw power into home runs and to hone his baserunning instincts. Mitchell could be a star if it all comes together, and his toolsy package makes him look like a fiffh-round steal. He should join Larry Cobb and Matt Sulentic in a dynamic Kane County outfield to start 2007.
Considered on the fast track after ranking as the Northwest League's top prospect in 2004, Herrera has hit significant speed bumps the last two seasons. He was suspended for violating baseball's performance enhancing drug policy in 2005, then missed all of 2006 after injuring his elbow in spring training. He had Tommy John surgery and wasn't ready to return for instructional league. Herrera has more athletic ability than anyone in the system. He has above-average power and speed, a sound swing and center-field skills. He had the A's best outfield arm before his surgery and it should bounce back. He started drawing more walks in low Class A two years ago. Herrera has yet to play 100 games in a season and has played just five above low Class A. Many Tommy John surgery alumni--especially hitters--have returned quicker than Herrera, leading to suspicion that he didn't attack his rehabilitation as he should have. When he last played, he struck out 111 times in 372 at-bats in 2005 because he tends to overswing. Herrera may struggle in 2007 if his plan is to work his way back into shape. Even if he's a bit heavier and slower in his return, his power potential allows him to profile as a corner outfielder. He'll head to high Class A Stockton as soon as he's healthy.
Windsor was drafted three times between high school and junior college before leading Cal State Fullerton to back-to-back College World Series trips in 2003-04. He was the CWS outstanding player when the Titans won the national title in 2004. Windsor tied for the minor league victory lead and made his big league debut in 2006. His big heart and durable frame are key ingredients for Windsor, who often pitches off a mid-80s fastball that tops out at 90 mph. It plays up because of his plus changeup, which is the best among the system's starters and has good sink. He throws his curve and slider for strikes as well and isn't afraid to challenge hitters. Windsor must command his fastball better to have success if he's not going to throw harder. Major league hitters torched him during his brief stint with Oakland. Shane Komine has better stuff, but Windsor's bigger frame gives him the better chance at long-term success among the A's upper-level starters. The A's like Windsor's moxie, though scouts from other organizations consider him fringy. Another pitch--perhaps a cutter or splitter--could be the difference between Windsor becoming a back-of-the-rotation starter or a 4-A pitcher. He also could develop into a Justin Duchscherer-style set-up man.
McBeth ranked seventh on this list in 2002--as a center fielder. A former kick returner on South Carolina's football team, he long has been one of the A's top athletes and always had well-above-average arm strength. After he hit .233 in three pro seasons, he moved to the mound in 2005 and ranked fifth in the minors in saves in 2006. Though he's relatively new to pitching, McBeth's athleticism has helped him made rapid strides. His changeup has become a plus pitch in short order and rates as the organization's best. He plays it off a 95-96 mph fastball that jumps out of his hand. His mid-80s slider has become an average pitch, even above-average at times. One A's official said McBeth's best attribute is his competitive fire. McBeth at times will miss up in the strike zone with his changeup and slider. He needs to locate his changeup better against lefthanders. With more mound time, his ability to set hitters up should improve. McBeth will get the opportunity to join the Oakland bullpen in 2007. His power stuff would fit in well between set-up man Justin Duchscherer and closer Huston Street.
The son of former big league righthander Jeff Sellers, Justin committed to play for Cal State Fullerton but signed for a relatively modest $150,000 bonus as a 2005 sixth-rounder. A Marina High (Huntington Beach, Calif.) teammate of Daric Barton in 2003, Sellers was the youngest Kane County player for much of 2006. Oakland has considered making him a switchhitter but hasn't gone ahead with the experiment yet. Sellers has passed fellow 2005 draftee Cliff Pennington as the best defensive infielder in the system. He has a feel for defense, making difficult plays look easy thanks to soft hands, smooth footwork, surprising range and a solid-average, accurate arm. Offensively, he controls the strike zone and has the bat speed to sting balls from gap to gap. His above-average instincts play well defensively and on the bases, where he's a slightly above-average runner. Sellers had more fly outs than any A's farmhand in 2006. He hasn't adjusted his homer-oriented approach despite evidence that homers won't be a big part of his game. They definitely won't be if he doesn't respond to the organization's pleas that he hit the weight room and get stronger. Today's A's value defense more than most clubs. Sellers will need to show more professionalism to reach his ceiling as an everyday shortstop whose bats profiles for the bottom of a lineup. A stronger, more coachable Sellers will earn a spot in high Class A.
With just 19 innings under his belt entering his senior season in high school, Cahill was an unknown quantity leading up to the 2006 draft. His commitment to Dartmouth also complicated matters. He pitched his way into first-round consideration until strep throat resulted in a pair of poor outings in May. Oakland thought it would take a hitter with its top choice (second round), but changed gears when Cahill was available and signed him for $560,000. Cahill offers plenty of projection. At his best, his fastball sits at 92-94 mph and his spike curveball is a plus-plus pitch. His curve is a power breaker that could become a swing-and-miss big league pitch. A former high school shortstop, Cahill has the athletic ability to make quick adjustments and respond to coaching. It wasn't just strep throat that affected Cahill's stuff. His inexperience as a pitcher has led to an inability to hold his stuff, during starts and from outing to outing. The A's are confident Cahill will become more consistent with a professional approach to conditioning, training and preparation. He also needs to come up with a changeup. Cahill may be less refined than other young A's arms, but his combination of size, health, stuff and intelligence makes him the best bet among them. He may start 2007 in extended spring training and play in short-season Vancouver before making his full-season debut the following year.
Scouts outside the A's organization frequently put Robnett at the top of their follow lists because his tools stand out in the system. Those tools got him picked in the first round in 2004 out of Fresno State and earned him a $1.325 million signing bonus. While he has athletic ability and still runs well, Robnett's best tool is his raw power. He's short but stocky and strong, quick to the ball and able to hit balls out of any ballpark. Harnessing his power remains a concern, though, because he lacks pitch recognition and strikes out too much.The rest of his tools don't play up to their grades because he's so raw, even after two full seasons. He has the speed to play center field and his slightly above-average arm would play in right, but he doesn't project as an above-average defender due to inconsistent routes and other fundamentals. A broken hamate bone in 2006 didn't help matters, and he struggled in a brief stint in the Mexican Pacific League. Robnett is headed to Double-A Midland, likely in center field, flanked by prospects Travis Buck, Myron Leslie and Danny Putnam.
A third-team All-American and scouts' darling in college, Pennington seemed poised to break out in 2006. Instead, he had a lost season. After impressing the organization enough in his debut and first instructional league to earn an invitation to big league spring training, he struggled defensively in front of the big league staff. A's officials say the combination of a tweaked knee, lost confidence and jump to high Class A combined to bury Pennington, who got off to an 8-for-78 start in April. He battled leg problems and had hit safely in 14 of 15 games when he tore his left hamstring, effectively sidelining him for the rest of the season. He swung the bat well in instructional league in 2006 but wasn't moving as well as he had previously. A move to second base is possible for Pennington, who has soft hands, a quick transfer and strong arm. He could move to second in 2007 in a return trip to high Class A, teaming with Sellers in the middle infield, but the A's are waiting to see how Pennington looks in spring training before settling on his assignment.
Melillo broke out on his own with a huge 2005 season, smashing an organization-high 24 homers between three levels. In 2006 he focused on the other parts of his game, working diligently to become a better defender. He shocked many in the organization by leading the Texas League with a .990 fielding percentage while making just six errors in 134 games at second base. Always a confident player, Melillo translated that confidence to the defensive side after extensive work with Juan Navarette, the organization's infield rover. He still doesn't profile as an above-average defender at second due to his poor range, though. He turns double plays well enough with a strong arm, a tool that led the organization to give him time at third base in the Arizona Fall League. Melillo's power dipped significantly from his breakout 2005 season, and he's in danger of becoming a tweener. While he has power, he's not a masher, more Aaron Boone than Bret Boone. Without either Boone's defensive prowess, Melillo will have to combine his defensive chops of 2006 with his power of 2005 to supplant Mark Ellis as the A's future second baseman. He's ticketed for Triple-A in 2007.
A 5-foot-8, 135-pound high school pitcher, Komine grew into the pillar of Nebraska's baseball program, leading it from afterthought to back-to-back College World Series trips in 2001- 02. The toll Komine paid in four seasons affected his professional career significantly. He had back and shoulder problems in college (the latter required surgery), and then had Tommy John surgery in 2004. Against all those odds, Komine reached the major leagues in 2006, and while he didn't pitch well, he handled himself well and took positives from the experience. Komine isn't the same pitcher as he was at Nebraska, and in fact, he's not the same pitcher from one start to the next, and that's the problem. At times, he throws a 91-94 mph fastball, and his curveball, slider and changeup all have their moments. His curve is his best secondary offering, and he throws all his pitches for strikes. His stuff fluctuated significantly last year, particularly his velocity on all his pitches. He's never been durable as a pro, surpassing 150 innings once. He loses velocity during games as well, making him better suited for the bullpen, but scouts question whether he can have his best stuff when pitching on back-toback days. If the A's have decided to move him to a relief role, they haven't talked about it, and Komine appears ticketed for a return to the Triple-A rotation in 2007.
The son of former A's third baseman (and American League batting champion) Carney Lansford and brother of Cubs third baseman Josh, Jared had the most success of any of the prep pitchers the A's have drafted the last three years. A relative newcomer to pitching--he once was expected to join his brother as an infielder--Lansford proved a quick study, finishing his first pro season in high Class A. He was hit hard there, so the A's hope he'll make quick adjustments in 2007 in a return to Stockton. Lansford's success in 2006 hinged on his ability to keep the ball down. He works off a sinker that sits at 89-92 mph and touches 94, by far his best pitch. While he has effort in his delivery, it actually helps create deception. His slider is his second pitch, and it needs significant improvement in depth and tilt to be a swing-and-miss pitch at higher levels. His changeup is a distant third offering he doesn't trust, and he could use a split-finger fastball or cutter to give hitters a different look. The A's have hope his athletic ability will allow him to make adjustments and improve his stuff a tick, even though his frame doesn't offer classic projection.
A star at San Diego's Rancho Bernardo High and at Stanford (as well as with Team USA in 2003), Putnam's track record counters his short stature and lack of overwhelming tools. His 2006 season was essentially wasted due to a posterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee, however. A grinder, he played hurt before having surgery, then returned strong in Double-A, hitting .337 with seven homers in his final 104 at-bats. His strengths remain tied to his weaknesses. He's short, but that helps account for his compact stroke. He maximizes his offensive ability with an efficient approach. He swings with a purpose, works counts and doesn't waste at-bats. Putnam is not a natural athlete, so he works hard to stay in shape and possesses plenty of strength in his hands and wrists. He's a below-average runner with just average arm strength, but he runs good routes and is an efficient defender, better suited for left but playable in right. A healthy Putnam would give the A's corner outfield depth to go with Travis Buck, Richie Robnett and Matt Sulentic, and with a strong spring, Putnam could earn his first shot at Triple-A.
Leslie teamed with Jeff Baisley at South Florida for three seasons, playing shortstop while Baisley manned third. Leslie has made slow but steady progress as a pro, and some scouts believe he's about to break out. His overall ceiling resembles that of Bobby Bonilla, as a switch-hitter with power from both sides who doesn't look pretty but can play third base or a corner outfield spot. That's clearly a lofty comparison for Leslie, as Bonilla was in his second big league season at age 24. But Leslie could be an extra outfielder/first baseman who switch-hits with power but may not hit for enough average to be a regular. His long arms sometimes leave him tied up on balls on the inner half, but when he gets extended, the ball jumps off his bat to all fields. Scouts who didn't see him as an amateur have a hard time believing he played shortstop, and third base might be a stretch at his size, but he has the arm strength and perhaps enough athletic ability to stay on an outfield corner. His hands are good enough for third, but his feet leave him poorly positioned to throw at times. Leslie is ready to move to Double-A, likely moving to different positions to accommodate other prospects.
The third high school pitcher the A's picked in the 2005 draft, Mazzaro was ahead of Jared Lansford to open 2006, earning a spot on Kane County's Opening Day roster while Lansford was in extended spring training. But Mazzaro wrapped up his season in mid-August with an ERA north of 5.00 (he reached his innings limit), while Lansford earned a promotion. While Lansford is known as the sinkerballer, Mazzaro has natural sink as well, with similar upper- 80s/low-90s velocity. His best secondary pitch is a changeup that was better in instructional league in 2005 than it was during his first regular season. His curveball has its moments, particularly when he throws it with power and confidence. As the season proved, though, Mazzaro didn't always do that, and the quality of his stuff fluctuated. Showing up on game day was enough against New Jersey high school players, but he learned that beating professionals requires better preparation, conditioning and mental toughness. The A's remain confident he'll learn his lessons and earn a spot in the high Class A rotation for 2007.
The A's picked up Goleski in the major league Rule 5 draft by sending cash to the Devil Rays for the No. 1 overall pick. They also added deceptive sidearmer Jay Marshall from the White Sox with their own choice, and Marshall could make the big league club as a situational lefthander. Oakland considered Goleski a candidate to get platoon at-bats as a corner outfielder before discovering he had aggravated a left wrist injury while taking batting practice two weeks after the season. He had surgery to repair ligament damage and wasn't expected to be ready for the start of spring training. Goleski was expected to go in the first three rounds in the 2003 draft, but his stock slipped after he broke his hand while breaking up a fight on Eastern Michigan's campus. The injury sapped his power and he fell to the Indians in the 24th round. A free swinger with plus raw power, Goleski hit 28 homers in low Class A in 2004. Poor pitch recognition and plate discipline doomed him in 2005, when he dropped to .212 with 17 homers. An extremely hard worker, he spent the offseason breaking down video of his swing and hours in the cage to make improvements in his approach. The biggest adjustment was finding much better balance at the plate. His patience and pitch recognition also improved significantly. An average runner, Goleski has above-average arm strength and takes good routes to balls in right field. To send Goleski and Marshall to the minors in 2007, Oakland first would have to slide them through waivers and then offer them back to their original clubs for half their $50,000 draft price.
Powell has been on the radar since his sophomore year in high school. His high school and college track record are solid, but the same question that always has dogged him--what will his body look like as a pro?--continues to cloud his future. Powell has power from both sides of the plate, a cannon arm (a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale) and hands as soft as butter. He's flexible, receives well and led California League catchers both with a .994 fielding percentage and by throwing out 52 percent of opposing basestealers. Playing every day in high Class A seemed to help Powell stay in shape, but he didn't handle the gap between the regular season (which he finished in Double-A) and the Arizona Fall League well. His weight ballooned again--one scout estimated Powell was as much as 40 pounds over his playing weight--and his well-below-average speed was exacerbated by a complete lack of agility. Several scouts said Powell struggled to get out of his crouch to field bunts. If he stays in shape, Powell could be an all-star. His track record argues against it. He'll head back to Double-A to open 2007.
Weighed down by a stress fracture in his left foot as a junior in 2004, Baisley wasn't drafted and was just a 12th-rounder as a senior in 2005. He was the low Class A Midwest League's MVP as a 23-year-old while leading it in RBIs, runs and total bases. He wasn't promoted because the A's wanted Kane County to win and needed 2003 first-round pick Brian Snyder to get playing time in high Class A. Baisley will jump to Double-A in 2007 to see what he's made of. Scouts agree he's a sound defender at third base with good hands and footwork and an average arm. One of three brothers to play pro ball--older brother Brad was a second- round pick (Phillies) in 1998, while his twin Brian catches in the Yankees system-- Baisley has good instincts and game savvy. His bat is the question. Scouts aren't sure he'll be able to catch up to power stuff in on his hands at higher levels, and some have him pegged as a minor league slugger. The A's will accelerate his timetable in 2007.
A season ago, Italiano ranked ahead of his 2005 draft cohorts and was the top-ranked pitcher in the organization after Santiago Casilla--who was later found to be three years older than previously thought. He was a high school teammate of Twins infielder Paul Kelly at Flower Mound High and was committed to play at Texas Christian before the A's gave him a $725,500 signing bonus. He lasted just four starts in 2006, though, before his maximum-effort delivery and short arm action led to a labrum tear that required surgery. He has the system's best fastball when healthy, a power pitch that hit 98 mph in high school and has hit 96 repeatedly as a pro. His curveball also showed signs of being a plus, power breaking ball. Italiano was not ready to return to the mound by instructional league, and the A's won't know what his stuff looks like post-surgery until he takes the mound in spring training. He should return to low Class A once healthy.
Recker was a star at Division II Alvernia (Pa.), becoming the first player drafted from the school since Wade Miller in 1998. Scouts consider Recker a favorite for his all-out approach and muscle-bound physique. He's perhaps the A's hardest worker and strongest player. Most important, he has tools. He has developed a lower set-up to his swing since college, improving his swing path. He's strong enough to drive the ball out of any park and has plus raw power, though he doesn't project to hit for a particularly high average. Defensively, Recker has an above-average arm and threw out 42 percent of basestealers in low Class A last season. His tools give him the profile for a backup catcher. Recker's biggest issue will be whether he can receive, block balls and handle pitching staffs up well enough to become a regular. Just three Midwest League catchers topped his 14 passed balls, and his 12 errors tied for the league's worst mark. He's headed to high Class A in 2007 to get more polish.
Mitchell didn't sign when the Indians drafted him in 2002 (14th round), returned to school and hadn't made much of a splash with the Athletics since they signed him--until last season. He needed Tommy John surgery late in 2003, and 2006 was his first full, healthy season. He emerged as the closer at Stockton after Marcus McBeth's promotion, then earned his own promotions, first to Triple-A and then more reasonably to Double-A. He also did a nice job in the Arizona Fall League. Mitchell attacks hitters, starting with a fastball that sits in the low 90s with life down in the zone. His most trusted secondary pitch is a solid-average slider, which he also throws hard, at times in the mid-80s. He made progress with his changeup in the AFL, though it's still his third pitch. Mitchell doesn't have a great feel for pitching but generally throws strikes and challenges hitters. Mitchell will start 2007 in the minors--most likely in Double-A--but could earn a big league shot if he pitches like he did in 2006.
The A's decided to give Ray a chance to start in his first full pro season, hoping they might have another Rich Harden on their hands--a short, hard-throwing starter. Instead, they found out Ray is not a starting pitcher. His stuff didn't hold through more than three innings, and the A's will concentrate on honing his work habits, repertoire and approach to that of a reliever. Ray has big stuff, and his high overhand delivery (a leftover of his days as a junior college outfielder) creates natural deception. He has one of the system's hardest fastballs, sitting at 92-94 mph and touching 95. Secondary stuff has been a problem for Ray--he was moved to the rotation to hone it--and in that regard, the move helped him because his curveball improved over the course of the season. He made more strides with it in instructional league. It's still inconsistent, however, and he also gets in trouble when he elevates his fastball, which happened a lot in high Class A. Ray likely will return to high Class A to start 2007, this time in the bullpen, and he could move quickly as long as he throws strikes.
Despite two mediocre seasons, the A's consider Webb in the same group as the trio of high school pitchers they selected high in the 2005 draft and just a shade behind 2006 top pick Trevor Cahill. The A's are modifying their development program for high school pitchers like Webb and realize they have to handle them differently from the college pitchers they're used to drafting. Webb has adjustments to make as he fills out his generous 6-foot-6 frame. He's a sinker/slider pitcher who has good sinking life to his fastball. While his velocity and the quality of his stuff still fluctuates, at times both pitches are above-average, with his 89- 91 mph fastball touching 93 and his slider showing occasional two-plane break. He made more progress with his changeup in 2006 than he had previously. He's much too hittable at this stage, though, for the A's to count on him as a big league starter. While he doesn't give up too many walks, Webb falls behind too often and gets torched in those situations. He'll go back to high Class A to see if he can miss more bats.
Jukich's upside appears to be that of a lefthanded reliever, but with what he has accomplished already, perhaps expectations should be higher. Jukich graduated from a Minnesota high school in 2001 and flunked out of junior college the next year. He was close to joining the Army when one of his former teammates recommended him to Jeremy Jorgensen, the baseball coach at McCook (Neb.) Community College. Jukich made the most of his second chance, building up arm strength and staying eligible to pitch. He transferred after two seasons to Dakota Wesleyan in South Dakota, where he led the NAIA in strikeouts (144) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.7). The first player in school and Great Plains Athletic Conference history to be drafted, he signed for $20,000. Despite his inexperience, Jukich has a natural feel for pitching. He throws strikes with an active upper 80s fastball and a plus breaking ball. It's not a true 12-to-6 curve because of his lower arm angle, but it has depth and he can bury it or throw it for strikes. Jukich needs refinement with his changeup and is older than the typical draftee, but the A's intend to move him quickly. His success at Kane County likely means he's headed for high Class A to start 2007.
Bailey was another strong arm with an atypical background whom the A's added in the 2006. He's a raw Northeasterner who was having a fine college career, racking up impressive strikeout totals, when he had Tommy John surgery in May 2005. The A's were scouting him and might have drafted him in 2005 if they had been able to get him crosschecked prior to the surgery. Bailey returned to the mound in time to build momentum for the 2006 draft and recover his fastball velocity. Signed for $135,000, he has been able to overpower righthanders with his fastball so far. His heater has life, particularly with its arm-side run, and he isn't afraid to pitch inside with it. The pitch sits in the low 90s and touches 93 mph, and he uses it aggressively. His ERA would have ranked second in the Northwest League if he had enough innings to qualify. His curveball and changeup came and went in his pro debut, and maintaining consistency with those pitches--difficult to project because of his less-than-smooth delivery and mechanics--will be the key to whether he can remain in a rotation. Bailey will have a chance to earn a spot in the high Class A rotation out of spring training.
After the Athletics spent years drafting polished college pitchers, followed by projectable high school arms, Lee stands out because he's neither. He was the sixth junior college player drafted in 2006, and he had drawn attention for the 2005 draft before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a rundown drill in fall practice. He came back in April 2005 but didn't return to his top form until spring 2006, when he unleashed a 91-95 mph fastball and an 80-81 mph power curve. He shortened his arm action and threw more strikes with his improved health and mechanics. Lee felt forearm pain and was pitching out of the bullpen late in the spring, so that knocked him down the draft a bit, and the A's were happy to get him in the fourth round. He had less polish than they expected in terms of fundamentals such as holding runners, fielding his position and pitch selection, and he didn't touch 95 in his debut. He'll need time to learn the basics and could end up in the bullpen eventually, yet the A's were happy to get a potential power arm for a relative bargain price of $245,000. Lee will head to low Class A for his first full season.
David Eckstein has won two World Series championships as a starting shortstop, and teams still are trying to find their own models of the scrappy sparkplug. The A's candidate is Cobb, who won MVP honors both at Vancouver and in instructional league in his debut season. He's a bit bigger than Eckstein but earns the comparison because of his ability to grind quality efforts day after day, his one above-average tool (speed, though Cobb is faster than Eckstein) and his defensive versatility. Cobb was at Manatee (Fla.) Junior College before going to College of Charleston for a season, and the A's scouted him along with Jermaine Mitchell in the Southern Conference tournament. They correctly surmised he would sign even if he wasn't picked on the draft's first day and could be a true steal, especially if his experiment at second base takes. Cobb made adjustments with the glove, and the A's will give him reps there during spring training and in the regular season in low Class A. He's a quality defender in center field. Adding infield play to his repertoire would be key for Cobb, who also has the A's dreaming of Chone Figgins due to his versatility, size and speed.