Crystal Ball: A look at 1B/DH in 2005

The Oakland A's have a pleasant problem going into next season: four capable 1B/DHs for two slots. With Scott Hatteberg virtually guaranteed one of the slots, Adam Miller takes a look at the other three candidates to determine who might prevail in the fight for the last spot.

Prior to the 2004 season, the A's signed first basemen Eric Karros to create what was supposed to be a three-headed monster at first base/designated hitter, with the right-handed Karros giving first basemen Scott Hatteberg and designated hitter Erubiel Durazo days off against left-handed pitchers. Karros, who hit .316/.389/.515 against lefties from 2001-2003, never did what the A's had hoped in 2004, reaching career lows across the board in every hitting category. Eric only hit .210/.265/.339 against his strength (lefty-handed pitching) and a paltry .194/.243/.311 for the season, in limited playing time.

Why bring this situation up, you ask? Because the A's are facing a difficult decision in 2005 for the same positions, first base and designated hitter. Incumbent first baseman Scott Hatteberg is in the midst of a career year, hitting .304/.389/.459 with a respectable OPS of .735 against left-handers. Hatteberg is also signed for the 2005 season for just under $2.5 million. For the sake of this discussion, I'm going to assume that Hatteberg's roster spot as the A's starting first baseman is set in stone for 2005.

The interesting question comes at designated hitter. Erubiel Durazo, who agreed to a one-year, $2.1 million deal just before last year's non-tendered deadline, is due for a hefty pay increase now that he is finally fulfilling the vast hitting promise that he showed in the minor leagues (which whetted Oakland's appetite for acquiring him). In arbitration, he could be awarded upwards of $6 million. A contract extension would be perhaps for slightly less money.

Two players in the high minors appear to be ready for major league duty: Dan Johnson and Graham Koonce. Koonce is older (29 in baseball years) than Johnson (25), and both are left-handed power hitters that are limited defensively, although both Koonce and Johnson seem to be better than Durazo with the glove. It is unlikely that the A's would carry three left-handed 1B/DHs on the roster next year, so let's look at the three candidates for the designated hitter spot:

Erubiel Durazo, L/L, 6'3", 240.

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

XBH

ISOP

BB/K

1999

EL PASO

TEX AA

25

.403

.597

.695

226

91

18

3

14

44

37

35

.292

1.19

1999

TUCSON

PCL AAA

25

.407

.525

.720

118

48

7

0

10

14

18

17

.313

0.78

1999

ARZ

MLB

25

.329

.422

.594

155

51

4

2

11

26

43

17

.265

0.61

2000

ARZ

ROOKIE

26

.600

.800

1.200

5

3

0

0

1

1

0

1

.600

-

2000

TUCSON

PCL AAA

26

.419

.558

.767

43

18

6

0

3

6

7

9

.348

0.86

2000

ARZ

MLB

26

.265

.373

.444

196

52

11

0

8

34

43

19

.179

0.79

2001

TUCSON

PCL AAA

27

.273

.364

.545

11

3

0

0

1

1

3

1

.272

0.33

2001

ARZ

MLB

27

.269

.372

.537

175

47

11

0

12

28

49

23

.268

0.57

2002

EL PASO

TEX AA

28

.500

.611

1.143

14

7

3

0

2

4

1

5

.643

4.00

2002

TUCSON

PCL AAA

28

.318

.348

.636

22

7

2

1

1

0

2

4

.318

0.00

2002

ARZ

MLB

28

.261

.395

.550

222

58

12

2

16

49

60

30

.289

0.82

2003

OAK

MLB

29

.259

.374

.430

537

139

29

0

21

100

105

50

.171

0.95

2004

OAK

MLB

30

.321

.391

.529

399

128

26

0

19

40

83

45

.208

0.48



Wow. That's the word that comes to mind when you look at what Durazo did before getting to the majors. How about a .403/.563/.722 career minor league line in 439 ABs, the large majority of those at-bats coming in AAA? I would say that a 1.285 OPS and an isolated power of .322 should earn you a quick promotion to the majors. With eye-popping numbers like that, it's easy to see why the "Holy Grail" was so coveted by the A's for so many years. It may have been easy to dismiss Durazo as a disappointment in the major leagues after his 2003 season, where his power was significantly down, but most people fail to realize that 2003 was his first full season in the major leagues. In 2004, Durazo has perhaps been the A's best hitter. His walk rate is down, but his rate stats are up across the board. After earning Mexican League Rookie of the Year honors in 1997 and its MVP award in 1998 prior to being signed by the Diamondbacks, it looks like Durazo may have finally realized that potential.

Durazo has a fantastic batting eye and plus power. He is subpar in the field, to say the least, but with Hatteberg in the fold, there is no need for Durazo to do anything but hit. Durazo crushes right-handed pitching (.337/.413/.567 in 2004) and is respectable against lefties (.282/.336/.436). Although Durazo is a bit old to be enjoying a career year, he may have 2-3 more years left at a prime production level.

Continue to Part Two

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