Originally published July 1, 2004"> Originally published July 1, 2004">

Minor League Player Spotlight: Nick Swisher

Arguably the A's best position prospect, outfielder Nick Swisher was recalled by the A's to join them for their three game series against Toronto. Swisher, who has had an excellent season at AAA Sacramento, will likely see playing time while Jermaine Dye's sprained thumb heals. Swisher is a first-round pick from the 2002 "Moneyball" draft and has drawn attention since the book came out. Below is a feature on the A's newest player.<br> Originally published July 1, 2004

In early 2001, when the A's traded for Johnny Damon, the idea was to win in 2001. After the 2001 season, and an early postseason exit, Johnny Damon left the A's to join the Red Sox. Although the A's were also able to turn Mark Ellis and Cory Lidle -- both extras in the trade -- into solid major league players, the key remaining piece from the Damon trade may just be the guy the A's picked with the draft pick they were awarded for the loss of Damon.

With the 16th pick in the 2002 draft, from the Boston Red Sox, the A's selected Nick Swisher from Ohio State. The 2002 draft later became known as the infamous "Moneyball" draft known for some major "reaches" like catcher Jeremy Brown (whom the A's took with the other draft pick from the Damon loss). Nick Swisher, however, was thought of by some to actually be a steal at 16. While at the time it was questioned as to whether he was a 1b or a CF, all Billy Beane knew was that Swisher was the man he had to have. Swisher was the exact opposite of the player Beane was. The exact opposite of the type of player Beane hated. Swisher was confident, even cocky, and was bound to be a Beane draft pick.

Ever since the A's drafted Swisher there have been questions regarding his real potential. Beane and the A's saw him as a 30 HR hitting center fielder, others around baseball thought of him as a 15 HR first basemen -- a Scott Hatteberg type. Last season, Swisher's first full season in pro ball, both offensive versions of Nick Swisher shone through.

Swisher started at A Modesto and dominated, hitting 10 HR's in just 189 AB's with an OPS near 1.000. However, Swisher was then promoted to AA Midland where he struggled tremendously. Swisher's OPS fell to just above .700. His average was just a hair over .200 and he lacked power. There was talk of an injury, but questions regarding his potential were raised by his stint in Midland. By the end of last season, the fall-out from the book "Moneyball" was at a peak, and critics of Beane would find anything possible to critique him over. Due to his disappointing performance in AA, Swisher became the most obvious target for criticism of Beane's draft practices. Though Swisher was rated highly by scouts across baseball, in one year he had somehow turned into a dumb pick by a man "traditional" baseball men were eagerly hoping would make a mis-step.

Swisher, though, has perservered admirably through all of the talk. Even though Swisher struggled at AA in 2003, the A's promoted him to AAA for 2004. Swisher has responded just about as well as the A's could have expected. While Swisher's average leaves a bit to be desired (.258), he has been a bright spot on a very promising River Cats team. Swisher's defense in center still causes some concern, although he is a decent centerfielder, even with average gap speed. However, Swisher's true power bat is coming through so far this season. Of Swisher's 58 hits, 30 have gone for extra bases (14 HR's, 16 doubles). His isolated power (slg - avg) is well above average at .258.

But the stat that has caused people around baseball to be in awe of Swisher this season is the rate at which Swisher has been walking. In 70 games, Swisher has 72 walks. In a 162 game season, that would be over 165 walks. To give an idea of how remarkable that stat really is, only one active baseball player has walked over 150 times in a single season. His name is Barry Bonds. Though Swisher has hit for an average that is only, well, average, his on-base percentage sits at a lofty .436.

In June, Nick Swisher hit a miserable .243. But was he really bad? Swisher may have only hit .243, but his OBP for the month was a remarkable .521. And despite the low average, Swisher was still able to slug .544. With Swisher's walk:AB ratio, if he can ever become a .300 hitter, the A's will have a center fielder who gets on base nearly 50% of the time. Until then, Swisher needs to raise his average.

The lack of singles might be a result of Swisher not having yet developed a two-strike approach (something that A's rookie Bobby Crosby also did not have until he had played in the big leagues for a month). Once Swisher gets a better idea of what he's doing at the plate with two strikes (though it's hard to question anyone with an eye like Swisher's), Swisher will get the respect around baseball that he deserves. If Eric Byrnes and Bobby Kielty continue to struggle for the A's, and Swisher can indeed raise his average in the coming months, it is possible that we may be seeing Swisher in Oakland pretty soon.

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