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After the Athletics acquired Barton from the Cardinals in the Mark Mulder deal in December 2004, he quickly established himself as the organization's top prospect while moving from catcher to first base. But his path was derailed just two months into the 2006 season at Triple-A Sacramento, when an infield collision with Tony Womack left Barton with a broken left elbow. He returned briefly in the Rookie-level Arizona League in August before reporting to the Dominican League, where his elbow flared up again and he left after just 14 at-bats. Finally healthy again in 2007, Barton had a streaky year in Triple-A. He was on fire in June, when he batted .454 with 17 extra-base hits. He hit .550 with four homers in the first round of the Pacific Coast League playoffs before getting his first major league callup in September. Oakland general manager Billy Beane called Barton the best hitter in the minors when the Athletics acquired him, and he's easily the system's top pure hitter. He has a sweet, fluid stroke and repeats it well. He has incorporated more and more loft as he has moved up the ladder, giving him more power. He has outstanding bat control, and his quick hands allow him to punish pitches all over the strike zone. Barton uses the whole field and has little difficulty shortening his swing to fire line drives into the left-center gap. His biggest strength, and obviously something the Athletics value highly, is his strike-zone discipline. He works deep counts and consistently makes hard contact. He has exceptional hand-eye coordination that has allowed him to amass more walks than strikeouts every year since his pro debut in 2003. Scouts aren't sold on Barton's power, though several point to how similar he is to James Loney, who also didn't show much pop in the minors. The difference is that Loney has a bigger body than Barton. During his catching days, the main knock on Barton was his lack of athleticism and his slow feet. Now that he's at first base, the questions remain the same. He has worked hard on his footwork around the bag and his reactions at first base, but he's still a slightly below-average defender with a tick below average arm strength. He also doesn't run well at all and his heavy lower half isn't an asset. His work ethic was brought into question by scouts who saw him at Sacramento, as he seemed to just be cruising until he got called up. Barton's lack of raw power and defensive concerns could limit his overall ceiling. Unless he improves defensively, he won't be suited for anything but DH duty. Barring a resurgence from Dan Johnson, however, Barton should be Oakland's first baseman in 2008.
With limited experience and a commitment to Dartmouth clouding his availability prior to his high school senior season, Cahill was somewhat of an unknown commodity early in 2006. But he pitched his way into first-round consideration until he was slowed by a bout with strep throat. Oakland was glad to take him with its top pick (second round) and sign him for $560,000. He opened 2007 in extended spring training and struggled early after reporting to low Class A Kane County, but he was one of the Midwest League's top pitchers in August, going 5-0, 0.74 with 44 strikeouts and just 20 hits allowed in 37 innings. Extremely mature for his age, Cahill showed good mound presence and poise as a 19-year-old in the MWL. He has good downward life and natural sink on his 88-92 mph fastball, but his upper-70s curveball rates as his best pitch. Hitters have a tough time picking up the rotation on it out of his hand, and he'll use it in any count. His changeup took a major step forward. He's a good athlete with a simple, compact delivery that he repeats well. As good as his curveball is, Cahill is reluctant to throw it in the strike zone, preferring to bury it. He needs to have consistent confidence in both his curve and changeup in order to reach his potential. He also could use another breaking ball to vary his looks--possibly a slider to give him another weapon against lefthanders. Cahill has the size, strength, makeup and stuff to project as a No. 2 or 3 starter down the road and draws comparisons to former A's righthander Mike Moore. He'll begin his first full season at high Class A Stockton in 2008.
Simmons emerged as a top prospect when he posted a 1.18 ERA in the Cape Cod League in 2006, then solidified his status by going 11-3, 2.40 at UC Riverside last spring. The A's drafted him 25th overall and signed him for $1.192 million, then sent him to Double-A Midland and used him primarily in relief because he had worked 124 innings in college. He also went to the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 2.89 ERA and helped the Phoenix Desert Dogs win their fourth consecutive league title. Simmons consistently worked at 93-94 mph in relief in the AFL, but as a starter he's a strike-thrower who pitches from 88-92. His two-seam fastball worked well against lefthanders in his pro debut. His command is exquisite, grading as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His changeup is his best pitch, ranking as tops in the system, and he also throws a slider and curveball. He's a good athlete who fields his position well and maintains his velocity into the late innings. The major question with Simmons is his lack of a true breaking ball. He gets around on his slider often, which reduces its bite and limits his ability to throw it for strikes. His curveball is too soft and loopy at times, and he didn't use it much in the AFL. If Simmons can develop a consistent breaking ball, he profiles as a solid No. 3 starter. If not, he'll be a quality bullpen arm. He'll return to Double-A, this time in a starting role.
Signed out of Venezuela in 2003, Rodriguez didn't make his pro debut until 2005 because of a nagging groin injury. The injury continued to bother him in his U.S. debut in 2006, the highlight of which was a combined no-hitter with Trevor Cahill in the Rookie-level Arizona League. That outing seemed to turn him around, as his confidence soared and he has been much more effective ever since. Rodriguez owns the best fastball in the system, consistently working at 92-96 mph. His heater has outstanding late life in the zone, riding in on righthanders and down and away from lefties. He has hit 100 mph, though he has bought into the philosophy that command is more important that lighting up radar guns. His changeup shows signs of being a plus pitch. He shows little concern for throwing inside and is aggressive on the mound. He's athletic, repeats his delivery and fields his position well. Rodriguez has tinkered with both a curveball and slider, but he still lacks a consistent breaking ball. He settled on a slider last year, which fits his repertoire much better, but it's still well-below-average. Though he has toned down his emotions on the mound, he still needs to mature. He can fall out of his mechanics easily, leading to erratic command of all three pitches at times. The lack of a breaking ball has some scouts targeting Rodriguez as a future reliever, but the A's will remain patient. If his slider comes around, he has the makings of a middle-of-the-rotation starter. If not, he'll be a power reliever. He'll be challenged to keep the ball down and throw consistent strikes in high Class A this season.
The A's nearly drafted Bailey in 2005 before he was shut down with an elbow injury and needed Tommy John surgery. When he returned and showed his normal low-90s fastball the next spring, Oakland popped him in the sixth round and signed him for $135,000. In his first full pro season, he averaged 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings and made a one-game cameo in Triple-A. Strong and physical, Bailey goes right after hitters with his 90-93 mph fastball, topping out at 95. He's shown the ability to cut it, sink it or run it when he wants, with 60 command on the 20-80 scouting scale. He also features a power spike curveball that he'll throw in any count. Nearly three years removed from surgery, he has worked hard to improve his durability and to maintain his velocity and the sharpness of his curveball late into games. Bailey's changeup still needs major improvement so he'll have a useful weapon against lefthanders. He slows down his arm speed too much when he throws the changeup, and he had trouble commanding it in 2007. His delivery isn't ideal, as he still throws somewhat across his body and struggles with finding his release point at times. Bailey will work on developing his changeup in Double-A. If he can't, he'll be destined for the bullpen. But if he can, he'll profile as a durable innings-eater.
Football programs recruited Brown as a wide receiver out of high school, but he opted to play baseball at Oklahoma State. One of the best college athletes available in the 2007 draft, he went 59th overall and signed for $544,500. His younger brother Dylan, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, should be a top prospect for the 2009 draft. Power, speed and athleticism are Brown's biggest assets. He possesses plus bat speed with natural loft and leverage that produces plus-plus raw juice. His football mentality makes all his tools play up a level, and while he has the range to play center field, he might profile better in right with above-average arm strength. Brown can get overly aggressive at times and go into pull mode. He has a history of not making consistent contact with wood bats. He hurt his hand late in his pro debut and it cost him the majority of instructional league, though he's healthy now. Brown will see time at all three outfield spots in low Class A in 2008. He's at least two years away but has the potential to be a 20-20 player in the majors.
Though Powell has been on the prospect radar since his sophomore year of high school and has a solid history of performing at the prep level, college and the pros, scouts always have questioned his body and his ability to stay at catcher. He reported to spring training having shed 30 pounds and in the best shape of his career last year, but he tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee in July, and required surgery on the knee for the second time in three years. Powell stands out with his bat and his catch-and-throw ability. He has a line-drive approach with above-average power. A switch-hitter, he's adept at using the whole field and has good plate discipline. Before he went down with the knee injury, he threw out 54 percent of runners while flashing consistent 1.85-second pop times in Double-A. His soft hands make him an ideal receiver, and his plus arm strength makes up for any deficiencies in his lower half. Powell's knee is a huge concern relating to his ability to remain a catcher. He first had knee surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus during spring training in 2005. His weight and conditioning fluctuate wildly, and the A's kept on him to work out a dietary plan during this latest rehab. He's a liability on the basepaths, though he did steal the first base of his career last year. Few scouts believe Powell can reach his full potential because of his injury history and his weight. If he can't catch, his value will take a huge hit. That said, he was one of the top catchers in the minors prior to his latest surgery.
After spending two years at Texarkana (Texas) JC, Mitchell transferred to UNC Greensboro as a junior and the A's signed him for $155,000 as a fifth-round pick. He broke a bone in his right foot during his pro debut, but returned last year to turn in a solid season in low Class A. The fastest runner in the system, Mitchell has 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. He uses a level stroke and controls the strike zone well. He has good pop for a speedster. Defensively, he covers a lot of ground in center field. Mitchell gets too aggressive and sells out his approach for power at times, leading to a longer swing and more strikeouts. Pitch recognition, especially with quality breaking balls, is an area of concern. He's still raw with his reads and jumps on the bases and in center field. His arm strength is below-average and his throws need to be more accurate. Though his athleticism is his bread and butter, he could lose that edge if he doesn't keep himself in better shape. Mitchell's performance needs to catch up to his natural ability. He's already 23 yet will open 2008 in high Class A. He has upside as an everyday center fielder but could wind up as a fourth outfielder.
Herrera was highly touted after ranking as the short-season Northwest League's top prospect in 2004, but was suspended for two weeks in 2005 for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, then missed all of 2006 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Herrera didn't return until spring training last year and hamstring problems limited him to just 82 games. When he's healthy, Herrera's tools still rank among the best in the system. He's a five-tool player with exceptional bat speed, power, speed, defense and arm strength. His strong wrists help his righthanded stroke produce hard contact to all fields. Herrera's work ethic first came into question when he wasn't fully committed to his rehab from Tommy John surgery. Scouts are critical about his lackadaisical demeanor on the field, as he appears to do what he wants to do and not what's expected of him. His hamstring issues have reduced his speed and limited his range in center field. He never had a lot of plate discipline, and it regressed last season. Herrera might be destined for a corner spot if he can't keep his legs healthy, in which case he'd have to show more power. He's still just 22 and relatively raw from all the missed time, and he'll try to put in a full season in Double-A this year.
A standout two-way player in high school, Doolittle was a 39th-round pick of the Braves in 2004, when he was New Jersey's player of the year. He continued to star both ways at Virginia, where he was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year as a sophomore. The A's drafted him for his bat, taking him 41st overall last June and signing him for $742,500. Doolittle has a sound approach with a smooth, economical swing, making consistent line-drive contact to all fields. His strike-zone judgment is also a plus. He's an above-average defender with smooth actions and soft hands at first base. Doolittle hit 11 home runs during his freshman year, but showed little power the following two years at Virginia or during his pro debut. His swing lacks loft and leverage, and strength was another issue as he significantly wore down over the course of the year. He still needs to incorporate more of his lower half in his swing. He's more athletic than Daric Barton, but he's also a below-average runner. The A's bumped Doolittle to low Class A after just two weeks at short-season Vancouver, and he struggled at times. He'll likely repeat the Midwest League to start 2008.
Blevins was steadily climbing through the Cubs system when they packaged him with catcher Rob Bowen and shipped him to Oakland for catcher Jason Kendall in July. While he made just five appearances above high Class A when he was traded, Blevins shot through the A's system, whiffed 20 in nine postseason innings for Sacramento and finished the season in the big leagues. A tall lefthander whose fastball tops out in the mid-90s, Blevins creates good deception and downward angle, taking advantage of his 6-foot-6 frame. His changeup has good depth and is his second-best pitch, giving him a weapon against righthanders. His sweepy curveball showed flashes of being an average offering, but still needs work. The A's admittedly rushed Blevins after the trade to help their depleted bullpen. He'll have a shot to win a relief job in spring training, but probably will begin the season back in Triple-A.
Desme was zooming up draft boards in the spring until he broke a bone in his wrist late in the college season. He still went in the second round, where he signed for $432,000. He played shortstop in high school and during his freshman year of college at San Diego State before transferring to Cal Poly, where he moved to the outfield. Desme's best tool is plus raw power. He hit 23 homers and 29 doubles in two seasons for the Mustangs, has tremendous bat speed and gets good leverage in his swing. Desme is one of the better athletes in the system, but doesn't run well enough to play center field. He's destined for either corner, and his arm strength should be enough for right. Desme wore down in his pro debut, and things got worse when his wrist flared up. He also sustained a nagging shoulder injury and missed the bulk of instructional league. The missed time likely means Desme begins 2008 in low Class A, but he could move quickly if he's healthy.
Left unprotected in the 2006 Rule 5 draft because of questions about his bat, clubs apparently missed out on Petit a year ago. Signed out of Venezuela in 2001, Petit's offense finally blossomed in 2007, as he moved up to Triple-A as well as the top of the A's depth chart at shortstop. Defense has never been an issue for Petit, whom managers rated as the best defensive shortstop and best infield arm in the Double-A Texas League. He has plus range to both sides, outstanding first-step quickness and gets good reads off the bat. He has soft hands and makes all the throws with plus arm strength. Petit still needs to work on some of the little things offensively--he doesn't bunt particularly well or work deep counts to draw walks. He's a contact hitter who puts the ball in play. He's more of a line-drive singles hitter who can shorten his stroke and go the other way. He likely profiles as a utility player in the long run, with the ability to play either middle infield spot. Added to the 40-man roster in November, he'll start 2008 as the everyday shortstop in Triple-A.
A high school teammate of Daric Barton, Sellers is the son of former big league righthander Jeff Sellers. He opted to sign with Oakland for $150,000, bypassing a commitment to play at Cal State Fullerton. Sellers is a natural defender at shortstop, with soft hands and above-average range. His arm strength isn't great, but it's enough to get the job done and plays up because of his ability to read balls off the bat and get a quick first step. Sellers has exceptional instincts that translate in the field as well as on the bases. Offense is the question. Sellers led the organization in fly outs in 2006 and he still hits too many balls in the air. He drops his back shoulder and pulls off pitches, minimizing his ability to drive balls. He needs to stay to the middle of the field and work to his strengths and not try to sell out for power, mostly because there simply isn't much power there. He went 9-for-16 to finish his Hawaii Winter Baseball stint on a roll, batting .281 there overall. Sellers profiles as a solid-average defender who'll hit at the bottom of a lineup. While he improved some areas of his approach, he needs more maturity and added strength when he reports to Double-A this spring.
Robnett's name surfaces frequently during trade talks, as other clubs obviously value his wide base of skills. The Dodgers were unsuccessful in signing Robnett out of high school as a 32nd-rounder in 2002, and he increased his stock at Fresno State, going in the first round to the A's for $1.325 million two years later. Robnett's best tool is his huge raw power. He's not tall, but stocky and strong, and his quick hands and powerful forearms produce enough juice to leave any ballpark. He's a good athlete who runs well, but will be limited to a corner outfield spot because of suspect routes and poor reads and jumps. He has above-average arm strength, and right field is the best fit. He still swings and misses too much, for a variety of reasons--lack of pitch recognition, lack of patience and a poor two-strike approach are key contributors. After being added to the 40-man roster, Robnett will head to big league camp this spring with an outside chance to make the club, but Triple-A seems a more likely destination.
After winning the high school triple crown in the Dallas Metroplex during his senior year, Sulentic went to the A's in the third round in 2006 and signed for $395,000. He was an immediate success story in his pro debut, hitting .354/.409/.479 in the Northwest League and ranking as the circuit's No. 3 prospect. Sulentic was promoted to low Class A for a bite-sized stint at the end of 2006, and his numbers served as a warning of what was to come. Sulentic simply had trouble making consistent contact and driving balls in 2007. He'd spin off pitches trying to go too much with a pull-oriented approach, and he'd cut off his swing through the zone at times, not showing the full extension he had in his debut. While his performance improved somewhat after he was sent down to Vancouver, his strikeout rate remained high. Sulentic did show some improvements defensively, however, and he profiles as a corner outfielder. The A's thought it would be tough for Sulentic to duplicate his 2006 success and have tried to slow things down for him developmentally. They rave about the way Sulentic handled failure, however, and he worked hard through adversity. He'll head back to low Class A in 2008.
After a breakout year offensively in 2005 and a year of defensive improvements in 2006, Melillo made the next step to becoming a more complete player last season. The A's moved him over to third base in Triple-A in August to deepen his versatility defensively, and he proved an adequate defender on the corner. He's not an everyday third baseman by any stretch--his range and footwork were graded as below-average by several scouts--but getting the experience could hasten his path as a lefthanded utility bat with some power. But he hasn't shown the same pop he had in 2005 for the last two seasons, and that's a concern. Melillo isn't going to take Mark Ellis' job anytime soon, but he provides a decent insurance policy for now as he continues to build his defensive resume. Big leaguer Donnie Murphy offers a similar package with less power but more defensively ability and versatility, limiting Melillo's big league chances for 2008. He'll be back in Triple-A to start the year.
Mazzaro was the third high school pitcher the A's took in the 2005 draft, and he's always been ahead of his peers. Jared Lansford has the best sinker of the trio, but Mazarro has good natural sink to his fastball as well. It's a heavy, 90-92 mph fastball that can touch 95 with late explosion through the zone. His best secondary option remains his changeup, but he struggled to command it as he rushed through the lower half of his delivery often leaving it up in the zone, and high Class A hitters pounced on his mistakes. His power breaking ball is below-average, though it shows flashes of at least being an average pitch with some definition. Mazarro needs to add something to his power arsenal to keep hitters off-balance. Right now, everything is hard without much differential in his velocity. He'll move to Double-A for 2008 and profiles better for the bullpen now until he shows consistent command of the breaking ball or a feel for changing speeds.
Demel was a big deal as a prep star at Spring (Texas) High, where he set a school record with 15 wins in a season and broke Josh Beckett's single-season strikeout record with 188 whiffs. He added to his resume for the Horned Frogs, setting a career mark for saves (20), and he had a lot of success as a starter as well. Because of his small frame, most scouts projected him as power reliever. That's the role the A's used him in after signing him for $238,500 as a third-rounder last June. Demel is all effort in his delivery but produces power stuff. His 92-94 mph fastball touched 96 during his pro debut and has very good armside run. Demel's slider rates as the best in the system, with good depth and late bite. His changeup has splitter-like downward tumble, giving him a weapon to attack lefties. Despite his violent delivery, Demel carries no medical baggage. He can rely on his slider and changeup too much, especially when he's in trouble. Demel is one of the most advanced pitchers the A's got in the 2007 draft, but his struggles in high Class A could earn him a ticket back there this season. He could move quickly if he has some success.
Meyer was considered a key part of the 2004 deal that sent Tim Hudson to Atlanta, but continued shoulder problems prevented him from making an immediate impact in the system. He struggled in back-to-back years in Triple-A while trying to pitch through the injury before the A's shut him down in late May of 2006. Meyer had surgery to remove a small piece of bone from his left shoulder, and he returned somewhat to form in 2007. His velocity came back to 91-92 mph and his slider again showed flashes of being a plus pitch. His breaking ball will flatten out at times, but the further he's gotten away from surgery, the more the bite and depth have returned. He's also trying to regain the feel on his changeup, which was solid-average at its best in the past. Meyer has a chance to make the big league rotation out of spring training, and will see time in the majors one way or another in 2008 if he remains healthy.
As a 23-year-old in the Midwest League, Baisley was named to the midseason all-star team and won league MVP honors. After skipping high Class A in 2007, Baisley performed well enough to make the initial Futures Game roster, but was eventually replaced because of a knee injury. The injury cost him a month and he finished up in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time. A solid defender with good hands, footwork and arm strength on the corner, Baisley doesn't excel in any department, and scouts have questioned his bat speed and power ability in the past. He hit for decent pop in Double-A, and in a system devoid of righthanded power bats, Baisley will keep getting chances to prove himself. He's a below-average runner, and after a poor performance in the AFL, coupled with the lost development time, Baisley likely returns to Double-A in 2008.
The A's were obviously focused on taking college arms that could move quickly in the 2007 draft, taking pitchers in three of the first five rounds. They nabbed Carignan in the fifth round for $126,900. Carignan's great-grandfather, Augustine "Lefty" Dugas, was an outfielder in the big leagues from 1930-34. Carignan racked up 33 saves in his last two seasons to help North Carolina reach back-to-back College World Series finals, using his 92-94 mph fastball, two slurvy breaking balls and changeup. Carignan gets good velocity on his fastball, but it lacks true natural life. But he's shown the ability to cut it, run it or elevate effectively in the zone at times. He commands the fastball to both sides of the plate and is seemingly always working ahead in counts. Carignan throws two different types of breaking balls, though neither one has much definition at this point. His changeup is below-average, and it's easy to pick up because of how much his arm speed decreases. He was effective in his pro debut but needs to develop a breaking ball to induce ground balls on a consistent basis. He'll likely move to high Class A for his first full season.
Kilby has quietly moved up the organizational ladder with more strikeouts than innings pitched in every pro season, which mirrors what he did as an amateur at San Jose State. The stocky lefthander creates excellent deception in his easily repeatable delivery and has outstanding moxie. His fastball sits anywhere from 87-91, but he has good sink and can pitch to all four quadrants of the strike zone. Kilby's breaking ball still needs some minor tinkering, but it has good depth and bite at times. He can rush somewhat with his delivery out of the stretch with runners on base, causing him to over-rotate and lose command. Kilby finished off the season in the Arizona Fall League, where he didn't miss a lot of bats and gave up a ton of fly balls, but he has the stuff to be a solid relief lefty if he can develop a true secondary pitch to attack righthanders effectively.
Scouts loved Pennington in college, when he was a third-team All-American in 2005, but his overall tools have yet to translate in pro ball. He seemed ready to break out in 2006 after spending half a year in the Midwest League and earning an invite to big league spring training, but he struggled defensively, slightly injured his right knee and lost confidence that apparently has yet to return. A torn hamstring cost him a good chunk of 2006, but a completely healthy Pennington struggled again in 2007. Like Justin Sellers, Pennington tries to hit for power too much, and the result is a lot of fly ball outs. He drops his back shoulder and was constantly in pull-mode last year. He was atrocious from the right side, hitting .174 in 149 at-bats counting the Arizona Fall League. While several front-office executives still think he can play shortstop, others are not happy with his defense, questioning his overall effort to get better. One positive is Pennington's plus arm and the advanced strike-zone discipline he showed in the AFL, but he's got a lot to prove and is in danger of falling off the map. He'll likely be in Double-A for all of 2008.
Banwart was a three-year member of Wichita State's rotation and developed an outstanding feel for pitching in that time. However, he doesn't have the big arm that characterizes past Shockers stars who have reached the big leagues, such as Darren Dreifort, Braden Looper and Mike Pelfrey. Banwart is one of the most intelligent pitchers in the organization, twice making the honor roll in college, and upped his stock as an all-star performer in the Cape Cod League in 2006. He signed for $155,250 as a fourth-rounder last June. His plus changeup is his best pitch, and he commands all four pitches in the strike zone. His fastball comes in at 88-91 mph and he also throws a curveball and slider, but his 60 command on the 20-to-80 scouting scale helps everything play up a notch. He's big, strong and durable and profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues. Banwart was very effective in his pro debut, though he had trouble getting consistent ground balls. He might be better off scrapping one of his breaking balls in the long term and focusing on improving his slider to give him a weapon with two-plane break. He'll likely move up to the high Class A rotation in 2008.
Horton has a wide base of tools, but his reputation for being a winner pushed him into the second round of the draft in 2007 and the A's signed him for $380,250. His track record speaks for itself. Horton played on back-to-back College World Series teams, was a second-team All-American as a sophomore and won the Atlantic Coast Conference batting title with a .395 mark. Horton has an unorthodox approach but has a knack for hitting and benefits greatly from his ability to control the strike zone. There isn't much power, but Horton uses his quick hands to square up balls on the barrel and uses the whole field consistently. He struggled in the Cape Cod League in 2006 but showed the ability to make adjustments with wood bats in his pro debut. He's an average runner and has a chance to stay at shortstop, though his range will never be anything more than average. Horton has solid-average arm strength, but he doesn't get on top of the ball at times, throwing off his accuracy. He had some soreness in his left hand that limited him during instructional league but will likely move straight to high Class A to begin 2008.
Not many clubs other than the Phillies and Mets were on Recker, a standout prep catcher from Allentown, Pa., who went on to star at Division II Alvernia. A's area scout Jeff Bittiger liked the athleticism, power and chiseled physique of Recker, and convinced the club to pop him in the 18th round. Recker is arguably the strongest player in the organization and has plus-plus raw power. He started to develop more opposite-field pop last year in high Class A, but then struggled with the bat in his first exposure to Double- A pitching. Well-disciplined for a power hitter, Recker will work deep counts and showed the ability to shorten his swing last year, but he still has a ways to go to stay to the center of the diamond consistently. His arm strength is above-average, but he carried his offensive woes with him to the field in Double-A, where he threw out just 18 percent of runners. Recker also needs to continue to work on his game-calling skills, blocking balls and receiving to effectively control the running game. He lost development time and an AFL assignment due to a broken hamate bone that sidelined him late in the season. If the bat doesn't come along at the upper levels, Recker profiles as a big league backup. But his defense took a hit last year and he'll go back to Double-A in 2008.
A draft-eligible sophomore who signed for $200,000 as a 34th-rounder in 2006, Godfrey was a junior college all-American in 2005 at Wallace State (Ala.) Community College, where he fashioned a 41-inning scoreless streak as a freshman. After transferring to College of Charleston, he helped the Cougars win the first NCAA regional tournament in the mid-major program's history. The A's got him from Toronto in the Marco Scutaro trade in the fall. Godfrey throws a firm 90-92 mph sinker that touches 94, and he made strides commanding the pitch during the season by staying tall on the back side of his delivery and getting the ball out over his front leg. Prior to that, the pitch tended to run to his arm side, up and out of the zone. Godfrey didn't have much of a changeup when he became a pro, but it morphed into his second pitch with his improved delivery. Likewise, he's developed a slider where previously he had a curveball. The pitch showed improved tilt and velocity, up to 84, over the course of the season. A poised and serious pitcher, Godfrey will need to continue to improve his secondary offerings to stick as a starter. He'll make his A's debut in high Class A this year.
Signed as a draft and follow in 2003, Hernandez climbed to the top of the White Sox farm system even though he lacks both size and a plus fastball. He compensates by being the rare crafty righthander, throwing a variety of breaking balls for strikes in any count. He challenges hitters to beat him and would rather walk a hitter than give in to him with a fastball when behind in the count. He put himself on the radar with a strong season in the Carolina League in 2006, striking out nearly 11 per nine innings and compiling a 1.93 ERA. Often compared to Matt Guerrier for his command and control rather than pure stuff, Hernandez is also an innings-eater with an above-average curveball. Hernandez boosted his stock further after not allowing an earned run in 11 innings in the Arizona Fall League, and the A's swiped him in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft. He must remain on the active 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the White Sox for $25,000. While his managers in the minor leagues were never afraid to use him as a closer, Hernandez profiles best as a middle reliever or set-up man.
Italiano held a lot of promise when the A's signed him away from Texas Christian for $725,500 in 2005, but the last two years have essentially been lost seasons for the righthander. Italiano lasted just four starts in 2006 before his shoulder broke down and needed labrum surgery. In 2007, he lasted six starts before being struck in the head with a line drive by Mariners' shortstop Carlos Triunfel and spent three days in a Chicago hospital with a skull fracture. He has pitched just 54 innings as a pro in three seasons. Italiano has one of the best fastballs in the system when healthy, topping out at 98 mph, and his curveball has shown signs of being a second plus pitch. But he's a max-effort righthander with a short arm action who's lost a ton of development time. Italiano was back pitching again during instructional league, but there is some concern in the organization about him getting past the mental residue of being hit by the line drive. He should be ready to return to low Class A when camp breaks in late March.
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