There are a few words that have summed up the Oakland system for the last few years: balance, depth and success. That does not look to change much for 2007.
The organization has built a nice stockpile of talent, through the draft (who could forget the "Moneyball" theory?), international signings and savvy scouting and development.
The Athletics are deep at catcher, deep in the infield, solid on the mound and very, very deep in the outfield. That last category seems to be the system's biggest strength heading into the season, thanks to a few tremendous draft classes that netted a pair of players, Matt Sulentic and Jermaine Mitchell, this past year who already may rank among the top prospects in the system. Both are bound for Class A Kane County to start the season.
In fact, the top prospect at each of the system's full-season clubs is an outfielder.
As far as on-field success goes, there are those who'd argue that it doesn't mean much, but there are just as many who'd counter that learning to win breeds a winning attitude. And if that's the case, then the fact that four of the A's six affiliates finished on the winning side of the coin in 2006 -- two made it to the postseason and a third, Triple-A Sacramento, just missed a fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs -- bodes well for 2007.
Climbing the Ladder
Travis Buck, OF
"We thought Travis was comparable to Ethier and could have a chance to put up those numbers with maybe more power," said Billy Owens, the Athletics' director of player personnel.
A shoulder injury stalled him midway through 2006 and his comeback in the Arizona Fall League was interrupted by a hernia. When Buck's '06 campaign came to an end, he was leading the Minors in doubles and hitting well over .300 between Stockton and Midland with seven homers and 48 RBIs in 84 games. The club thinks those doubles will translate into homers in the not-too-distant future.
Marcus McBeth, RHP
McBeth led the system with 32 saves last year, posting a 2.48 ERA mostly at Double-A Midland, and likely will start this season in the back end of the Sacramento bullpen. "When he played center field, he evoked Andruw Jones comparisons defensively," said Owens, "but his best tool was always his arm, so we decided to see if he could make the transition."
Video: Barton doubles in a run
Video: Komine rings up a K
Richie Robnett, OF
"He's a great athlete with power potential, but now he's morphed into enormous power potential," Owens said. "In the Arizona Fall League, he was making loud sounds, firecrackers off the bat. His body is unbelievable. Now we just have to somehow find a way to shrink his strikeout numbers a little bit and have him make a tad bit more contact and that power will blossom."
Mike Mitchell, RHP
Others to watch: C Landon Powell, the club's other first-round pick in 2004, is a switch-hitter with power and a plus arm, but he needs to watch his weight to maintain flexibility behind the plate and use those tools. He hit .266 with 16 homers and 51 RBIs at Stockton last year after missing all of 2005. ... 3B Jeff Baisley, the 2006 Midwest League MVP at Kane County, is expected to skip past Advanced Class A Stockton and join the RockHounds this season. He hit .298 with 22 homers and 110 RBIs for the Cougars after being drafted out of South Florida in the 12th round in 2005. ... OF Danny Putnam was the A's 2004 supplemental first-round pick out of Stanford. He lost much of '06 to a knee injury but hopes to join fellow first-rounders Robnett and Powell in a comeback at Midland.
Class A Advanced Stockton
Javier Herrera, OF
"He's a multifaceted five-tool player, for sure, who evokes comparisons to Magglio Ordonez," Owens noted. "We expect big things from him this year and are looking for him to come back healthy and ready to go. He's an elite talent who is off the prospect radar per se, but the talent is brimming and he'll definitely be a force in '07."
Jared Lansford, RHP
Others to watch: SS Justin Sellers, a 2005 sixth-rounder, hit .241 with five homers, 46 RBIs and 17 steals at Kane County last year and is an excellent defensive infielder. ... RHP Vin Mazzaro was a third-round pick in 2005 who posted a 5.05 ERA at Kane County. He throws a plus sinker and a slider and is an intriguing work-in-progress.
Class A Kane County
Jermaine Mitchell, CF
"He has first- or second-round tools," Owens said. "A center fielder with power potential and a five-tool candidate? The sky is the limit for this kid."
Chad Lee, RHP
Others to watch: OF Matt Sulentic is right up there with Mitchell when it comes to the rarefied air of prospect status, and the two together at Kane County makes that team an early "must-see" on any prospect lover's travel list. The third-rounder out of high school in Texas may be too small to project for serious power in the pros, but he was a legitimate crusher in high school. He hit .354 with 22 RBIs at Vancouver in his debut in a good older pitchers' league, more than holding his own. The organization loves him and thinks he'll probably hit his way out of Kane County before long. ... RHP Craig Italiano was a 2005 second-round pick out of high school in Texas, but arm trouble all but wiped out 2006 for him. When healthy, he throws a 98 mph fastball and a plus curve and the A's hope he's at Kane County, throwing in the rotation as soon as he's cleared to go.
Under the Radar
Kevin Melillo, 2B
Larry Cobb, OF/2B
Myron Leslie, 3B/OF
2006 Draft Recap
RHP Trevor Cahill (second round), the A's first pick in the draft, turned down an offer to attend Dartmouth to sign with Oakland. He joins McBeth and Connor Robertson as hitters-turned-pitchers and posted a 3.00 ERA in four games in the Arizona League. He'll likely spend the spring in extended camp and join Vancouver in June. ... OF Matt Sulentic (third round), his 5-foot-10, 170-pound stature notwithstanding, won the Triple Crown in the Dallas area, hitting .676-19-58 as a senior. ... OF Jermaine Mitchell (fifth round) was a two-way player in junior college before moving over to UNCG and was clocked at 3.9 from the left side of the plate to first base. ... RHP Andrew Bailey (sixth round) seemed to be coming back nicely from 2005 Tommy John surgery as he flashed a mid-90s fastball last summer, limiting Northwest League batters to a .187 average. ... LHP Ben Jukich (13th round) throws a curveball as his out pitch, which was enough to lead the NAIA with 144 strikeouts. At 24, he could move fast after finishing the year in Kane County.
Organizational Player of the Year -- OF Jermaine Mitchell
With so many talented hitters in this organization, it's a tough call to make, but the multi-tooled college product will have a chance to rack up the numbers at Kane County and move quickly. He could turn out to be one of the steals of the 2006 draft.
Organizational Pitcher of the Year -- RHP Jared Lansford
He comes from good bloodlines and will start the season in something of a comfort zone as he returns to Advanced Class A Stockton, where he finished 2006. Sure, the California League is a tough place for young pitchers to post good numbers, but look for Lansford to build on his successful '06 campaign with another stellar summer.
"[Pitching coordinator] Ron Romanick gave him the ABCs, but the thing that's weird is how devastating his changeup is. A lot of converted guys are arm-strength guys, which he is, but his changeup is swing-and-miss. It's amazing for a converted guy. A plethora of those guys have been successful over the years, but he picked up that changeup right away, without a doubt. Unless someone told you, you'd never guess he was an outfielder so recently." -- Owens on McBeth.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.