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Top Ten Prospects: Oakland Athletics
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Kevin Goldstein
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
So much for rebuilding. Before the season, the Athletics dealt frontline starters Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder in a pair of money-saving moves. General manager Billy Beane preached the wisdom of building for the future rather than making incremental moves to keep the major league team in contention.
When Oakland started the year with just 17 wins in its first 49 games, the season seemed over for all intents and purposes. But with huge contributions by rookies, the A's went on an improbable 58-24 run that vaulted them atop the American League West at the end of August. They faded in September but served notice that they'll continue to contend even while rebuilding.
Oakland's most prominent first-year player was Huston Street, who made the Opening Day roster after just 26 pro innings. He took over as closer for the injured Octavio Dotel in May and won Baseball America's Rookie of the Year award by saving 23 games with a 1.72 ERA. Other rookies who made substantial contributions were: Joe Blanton, who won 12 games and led the club with a 3.53 ERA; Nick Swisher, who replaced Jermaine Dye in right field and delivered 21 homers and 74 RBIs; and first baseman Dan Johnson, whose arrival in late May coincided with the start of the club's turnaround. Johnson homered 15 times in 375 at-bats.
The graduation of so much talent to Oakland has thinned out the farm system. The A's won't have much of a rookie influx in 2006, with the possible exception of top prospect Daric Barton, who could hit his way into a DH role. Most of the organization's top minor league talent came from the 2005 draft, when Oakland owned five of the first 101 picks.
After following their standard operating procedure by taking polished collegians Cliff Pennington and Travis Buck with their first two choices, the A's took three consecutive high school pitchers, a college senior and then three more prep arms. That's the risky draft demographic that fans of “Moneyball” rush to disdain on Internet message boards, but a direction Oakland felt it needed to take.
In the end, Beane doesn’t care what is written or said about him or the A’s—as long as they continue to compete. “We chuckle at everyone’s perception of what we do and what we don’t do,” Beane said. “It’s somewhat comical.”
While the big league roster was going through turnover, so too was the club's ownership. In March, billionaire John Fisher and managing general partner Lewis Wolff led a group that bought the A's from Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann for $180 million. Despite ties to San Jose, Wolff insists he's committed to keeping the team in Oakland and trying to build a new stadium in the Network Associates Coliseum parking lot.
The new owners rewarded Beane with the first ownership stake for a GM in recent memory. Beane, who received nearly 5 percent of the club, also got a contact extension through 2012. Club president Michael Crowley got a slightly smaller stake in the club and an extension through 2008.
The A's nearly got a new manager as well. Contract talks between Beane
and incumbent Ken Macha broke down after the season, and Macha walked
away to pursue the same job with his hometown Pirates. When that didn't
work out, Macha returned to Oakland nine days later.
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