The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, each preseason, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.
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
The Athletics' supplemental first-round pick in 2005 looks for his first full healthy season in 2007 and, he hopes, his Major League debut. The Arizona State product has so impressed the brass that his success made fellow ASU product Andre Ethier available in a trade to the Dodgers.
"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
Drafted in the fourth round in 2002 out of South Carolina, McBeth came through the system as a speedy center fielder. But when his bat couldn't catch up to the rest of his tools, he moved to the mound in 2005. Now, just over a year later, he is one of the top closer prospects in the Minors. He has a killer changeup, complementary pitches in his slider and fastball, and off the charts makeup.
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: McBeth is on the Rookie Career Development path
Others to watch:
|2006 Organizational Record
1B Daric Barton
might have been in Oakland already had he not suffered a leg injury in a collision at first base that limited him to 43 games last year. He batted .259 with two homers and 22 RBIs but is a much better hitter than those limited numbers indicate (.317, 13 homers, 89 RBIs and 36 doubles in 2005) and could be the A's starting first baseman by season's end. He hit .324 in winter ball in the Dominican Republic in a quest to make up for lost time and had his veteran teammates raving about his plate discipline. A first-round pick by St. Louis as a catcher, he was acquired in the deal for pitcher Mark Mulder. "He's a better athlete than he appears like he'd be from a physical standpoint, a very advanced hitter," Owens said. ... RHP Jason Windsor
shared the Minor League lead with 17 wins last year between Midland and Sacramento, striking out 158 batters as he went 13-1 with a 3.81 ERA at Sacramento and posted a 2.97 ERA in six games at Midland. His stuff is Major League average highlighted by a plus changeup. The big workhorse projects at the back of a rotation. ... RHP Shane Komine
, 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds to Windsor's 6-2 and 235, will join him in the rotation after going 11-8 with a 4.05 ERA last season at Sacramento. ... C Kurt Suzuki
is one of the top catching prospects in the Minors and has surpassed Landon Powell
, a first-rounder taken in the same draft (2004), to top the club's depth chart. He hit .285 with seven homers and 55 RBIs at Midland last year.
Video: Barton doubles in a run
Video: Komine rings up a K
|2006 Organizational Leaders
|Complete MiLB statistics
Richie Robnett, OF
A 2004 first-round pick out of Fresno State, he has plus tools across the board, most notably his power potential. A broken hamate bone slowed him last summer, but he hit .266 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs in 69 games at Stockton after slugging 20 home runs in 115 games in '05.
"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
A late-round draft pick in 2003, Mitchell underwent Tommy John surgery late that year and only recently has started showing the stuff that made him so attractive to the organization. He has emerged as a good closer prospect, recording 18 saves and a 2.85 ERA in 33 games at Stockton in 2006. Combining a fastball in the low 90s with a hard slider, he should provide the RockHounds a solid anchor out of the bullpen at the end of games.
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
The Athletics have been waiting for Herrera to be able to return to the field after he suffered an injury that required Tommy John surgery right before the 2006 campaign began. The 2004 Northwest League MVP hit .331 at Vancouver, then moved up to Kane County in 2005 and batted .275 with 14 homers and 27 steals in 99 games, showing his across-the-board tools. Perhaps the best pure athlete in the system with an outstanding arm, he will start the year at Stockton as soon as he is officially cleared to play.
"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
The Athletics' second-round pick in 2005 comes from the good bloodlines of Major Leaguer Carney Lansford and has a brother, Josh, who was a high-round pick by the Cubs last summer. Jared went 11-6 with a 2.86 ERA at Class A Kane County in 2006, pitching 104 innings in his first full season. And, as a converted infielder, he has a nice, fresh arm that is open to the tutoring he will get from Stockton pitching coach Garvin Alston. The rest should be very good history.
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
Mitchell was drafted in the fifth round out of North Carolina-Greensboro last year, something of a steal, and he responded by hitting .362 with three homers, 23 RBIs and 14 steals in 37 games. He was scouted by Neil Avent, his assistant coach at UNCG, so the A's knew a little more than the average scout about this young man's intangibles, athleticism and tools and makeup. An explosive athlete with a good stroke, Oakland felt thrilled to get him when it did.
"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
Taken one pick ahead of Mitchell and one after outfielder Matt Sulentic (see below), Lee missed all of 2005 due to a torn ACL, but he still looked good enough in community college in Kansas to convince the A's to take a chance on him. The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder has a plus fastball and a curveball, and even if the club is going to take it easy with him, given his injury history, he should be in the Cougars' rotation to start the year.
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
Not as highly touted as some of the other upper-level prospects, this 2004 fifth-round pick could be in the bigs this year as he starts out at second base in Sacramento. He hit .280 with 12 homers, 73 RBIs and 31 doubles at Midland in 2006 and is working hard to bring his defense up to Major League caliber. He had his big season in 2005, when he batted .305 with 24 homers, which led the system, to go with 93 RBIs and 32 steals at Advanced Class A.
Larry Cobb, OF/2B
A 27th-round pick last summer out of Charleston (the A's have done well in that state with Cobb, Melillo, McBeth and Powell), he was named team MVP at Vancouver in his pro debut after hitting .292 with 14 RBIs and nine steals. He's a scrappy infielder who could play all over the field. The 5-foot-9 Cobb has good speed and is an exciting player to watch. He should start at Kane County.
Myron Leslie, 3B/OF
Baisley's middle infield partner at South Florida, he was the A's eighth-round pick in 2004. A switch-hitter who batted .273 with 17 homers and 100 RBIs at Stockton last summer, the converted shortstop should move up to Midland this season.
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.