Catcher is perhaps the A's deepest infield position, with no less than 5 catchers that are on the big club's radar.
1) Mike Rose (AAA) – Rose is currently hitting .296/.428/.401 as the starting catcher for the Sacramento Rivercats. At 27, Rose is a bit old for a prospect, and his lack of power is a bit of a concern, but Rose could find a spot on a major league roster as a switch-hitting backup catcher, or as a bridge from Damien Miller/Adam Melhuse to one of the A's younger, more promising catching prospects.
2) John Baker (AA) – Baker's splitting time with Jeremy Brown, a much-more ballyhooed A's catcher, but has significantly outperformed Brown to this point. Baker's hitting .320/.379/.505 at AA Midland, and has been adequate with the glove behind the plate. He's also only 23 and left-handed; he doesn't walk much, and his K/BB ratio is average, but he has plenty of pop, and has room to develop.
3) Jeremy Brown (AA) – Brown hit well in his first stint in the minors at Visalia in 2002, hitting .310/.446/.545 with a 1.11 K/BB ratio in only 187 at-bats. His performance level has declined at Midland since he arrived in 2003, with Brown hitting .275/.390/.391 in 2003 with a 0.93 K/BB ratio before his season was cut short by injury, and a slow start in 2004: .225/.316/.358 with a still-declining K/BB ratio of 1.58. Brown's also two years older than Baker at 25. He still has time to turn things around, though, and the front office is high on him.
4) John Suomi (A) – Suomi has been killing the ball this season, hitting .319/.368/.505 in a pretty severe pitchers' park in Modesto. Suomi's only 23, and should be followed as he moves up to stiffer competition in AA.
5) David Castillo (A) – Castillo is another intriguing catching prospect in the low minors. Castillo is hitting .295/.424/.491 in Kane County, which is another pitchers' park, and is walking at a decent clip: 35 walks in 48 games. It will be interesting to see how Castillo, 22, progresses.
There are 2 major-league ready first-basemen in the A's system, but not much past AAA.
1) Dan Johnson (AAA) – Johnson has steadily progressed through the A's minor league system, and has actually improved as the competition has stiffened. He hit .283/.359/.494 in low A Vancouver, .293/.377/.500 in high A Modesto, and .290/.372/.504 in AA Midland from 2001-2003, while also drawing significantly more walks. Moved up to AAA Sacramento for the 2004 season, Johnson has again improved, hitting .302/.416/.529 while posting the best K/BB ratio of his career, 39 walks with only 19 strikeouts. Johnson has also bombed 10 home runs while displaying a decent glove at first base. Although the A's currently have a 1B/DH logjam at the major league level, that is set to change as soon as 2004, with Eric Karros not likely to be retained, and Erubiel Durazo in line for a significant salary increase. Johnson may be the A's starting first baseman/DH in 2004 or 2005.
2) Graham Koonce (AAA) – Koonce walks a ton, hits home runs, and gets on base. But he's also 29 and still in AAA. He put up a .274/.444/.487 line in Midland (AA) in 2002, and a .245/.294/.385 line in Sacramento in 2003, while walking 133 and 98 times, respectively, and also hitting a combined 58 homeruns. Koonce is hitting for a better average this year, but the walks and on-base percentage are down (.277/.377/.480). The power is still there, but by all accounts, Koonce is a subpar fielder, and has been surpassed by Johnson as the A's top 1B prospect.
3) Brant Colamarino (AA) – Colamarino was a disappointment in his first two seasons with the A's, hitting .259 in 2002 and 2003 in A ball with OBPs around .340. He also posted a K/BB ratio of nearly 2-to-1. In 2004, however, Colamarino has been hot, hitting .355/.441 and posting an excellent K/BB ratio of 0.82 while slamming 11 home runs, after hitting only 25 combined home runs in 2002 and 2003. He was recently promoted to AA Midland, and has 3 hits and 1 home run in 2 games there so far. AA will tell whether Colamarino has assimilated the A's hitting philosophy, or merely started the 2004 season on a hot streak.
Second Base/Third Base/Shortstop
There are not a ton of solid middle infield and third base prospects, so I have listed the top 5 combined at these three positions, with 3 of them being third basemen.
1) Mark Teahen (AA)(traded to Kansas City) – Teahen is perhaps the organization's best infield prospect. Mark's hitting .330/.413/.541 in Midland in 2004, after a solid 2002-2003 in Modesto. But his low A numbers did not predict what Teahen is doing to AA pitching; another example of players blossoming as they get familiar with the A's organizational hitting philosophy. He's 22 and was one of the A's seven first-round picks in the 2002 Moneyball draft. Too bad that he's stuck behind Eric Chavez for the next 6 years, but he should make for a nice trading chip for Billy Beane in the near future barring a position change.
2) Adam Morrissey (AAA) – Morrissey's able to play anywhere from third to second, and was acquired by the A's in 2001 after he put up a line of .309/.429/.524 for the Cubs' single A affiliate. Morrissey did well in the first half of 2002 at Modesto, hitting .291/.383/.418, but struggled in AA Midland in 2002 and 2003. Morrissey did show some improvement from 2002 to 2003, and perhaps that's why the A's moved him up to AAA Sacramento for the 2004 season. Adam has responded well, hitting .318/.381/.466 while making starts at second, third, and short. Morrissey's also still relatively young (23).
3) Brian Snyder (A) – Snyder hit a disappointing .253/.409/.315 in low A Vancouver after being selected in the first round by the A's in 2003, but the high on-base percentage was a sign of good things to come, as Snyder had excellent plate discipline in college. Snyder's average and power have returned this year in Kane County, where he's hit .306/.415/.470 so far. Snyder may be facing a position change from third base if he is to stay with the A's long-term.
4) Omar Quintanilla (A) – Another 2003 first-round pick, Quintanilla was a steal for the A's in the supplemental portion of the first round. He tore the cover off the ball in Vancouver, hitting .341/.401/.442 before being called up to Modesto for the end of the season, where he put up an equally impressive line of .417/.462/.667 in 36 at-bats. So far in 2004, Quintanilla has tailed off a bit in Modesto, hitting only .265/.330/.415. Omar can play short or second, and is the one of the A's best middle-infield prospects.
5) Esteban German (AAA) – German is quickly becoming too old to be still termed a "prospect." At 26, he's displayed none of the power from the end of the 2001 season in Sacramento, where he hit .373/.460/.507 in about a third of a season, and earned a brief call-up to the majors in 2002 before Mark Ellis became the regular second baseman. Since 2001, German has posted remarkably similar lines in Sacramento, showing an ability to get on base, speed, and no power whatsoever: .275/.390/.341 in 2002, .306/.383/.403 in 2003, and .331/.379/.441 thus far in 2004. He can still turn it around, but he doesn't really have the upside of the A's other infield prospects.
The A's have drafted outfielders pretty consistently for the past few years, and while some of their prospects are close to making an impact, there are no sure-fire major league stars in the group.
1) Nick Swisher (AAA) – Swisher was the A's prize draft pick in 2002. He was OK in 2002 in the California league, hitting .240/.341/.399 after being promoted from Vancouver, and had an excellent half of a season in Modesto in 2003 (.296/.427/.550) before being promoted to AA Midland in the second half of the year, where he tailed off considerably (.230/.330/.380). As a personal favorite of Billy Beane, Nick was promoted to AAA Sacramento for 2004, where he's still not hitting for much average (.266), but has displayed solid plate discipline (31 walks versus 37 strikeouts in 43 games), an ability to get on base (.388 OBP), and some decent power (.481 SLG, 7 homeruns, and 12 doubles). Swisher could be in the A's lineup in 2004 if Jermaine Dye is not re-signed.
2) Mike Edwards (AAA) – Edwards has been in the minors forever, but has been hitting the snot out of the ball forever. In 2001, he hit .366/.464/.690 in Mahoning Valley, and then finished the year in Akron hitting .333/.403/.613. In 2002, he hit .307/.381/.439 in Chattanooga before being called up to AAA Louisville, where he hit .404/.460/632. In 2003, with Sacramento, Edwards hit .298/.390/.466 while playing solid outfield defense. Edwards is again getting on base (.403 OBP) and hitting for average (.324) this year while providing a little pop. Edwards is a bit old for AAA, and to still be considered a real prospect, but he's basically a AAAA outfielder that can help the big club now, if needed.
3) Matt Watson (AAA) – Watson's been around the Mets' minor league system for a few years now, even though he's only 25. His best numbers were put up in odd-numbered years: .380/.439 in 1999, .330/.413 in 2001, and .295/.354 in 2003. He's been miserable in even-numbered years so far (.175/.271 in 2000 and .279/.338 in 2002), but Matt's been killing the ball in Sacramento this year, just like everyone else on the team. His .294/.368/.471 line is impressive, but he's not young enough to put him in the upper echelon of A's outfield prospects.
4) Matt Allegra (AA) – Allegra's young (22), and has a load of potential. He has yet to realize that potential, though. His best season was in 2002, when he hit .281/.356/.486. He seems to have been bogged down a bit by the A's organizational philosophy, since has been striking out a ton (487 combined strikeouts in 2001-2003) and not walking much (only 131 combined walks). Allegra is intriguing, because he can hit for power and play some defense. He has hit .452/.514/.742 in limited action this year at Midland.
5) Freddie Bynum (AA) – Bynum has been one of those slow and steady progressors. It has usually taken him a full year at one level before he's ready for a jump up in competition. At 24, he's a bit old for AA, and he probably doesn't have enough power to be a real major league contributor, but if he keeps hitting at or near the .302/.367/.407 clip he's hitting at this year, he may get a chance in AAA.
6) Nelson Cruz (A) – Cruz displayed excellent power at Modesto in 2003, slugging 20 home runs and 26 doubles. But Cruz hit only .238 with an OBP of .283, and struck out 128 times with only 29 walks. This year, Cruz's plate discipline is still poor, but improved. He's hitting .315/.378/.514 with a few less home runs, but more doubles, and a few less strikeouts, but more walks. He's another player to keep an eye on; if he can continue to improve his plate discipline under the A's hitting tutelage, his power could make him a useful outfielder.
7) Andre Ethier (A) – Ethier's an interesting player, almost the opposite of Cruz, because he has excellent plate discipline, but almost no power to speak of. Andre's put up solid, but not spectacular numbers at every stop along the way. He's worth watching to see if he can add some power, which is sometimes the last thing to materialize, and improve on his .284/.357/.418 line of late in Modesto.
Organization Review: Top A's Position Players
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