2004: Banner Year for the Oakland A's Organization

While the Oakland A's are battling for their third consecutive division title, a number of their minor league affiliates have already shown their playoff mettle with impressive 2004 seasons. Here is a recap of the highlights of the 2004 season for the Oakland A's organization...

To say that the Oakland A's organization had a good season would be an understatement. While the fate of the major league team is still up in the air, the minor league affiliates have finished off a season which saw them bring home five playoff appearances and two league championships. In addition to team glory, members of the A's organization brought home a large stash of individual awards, as well.

In 2004, the A's minor league teams went a combined 400-295 for the season, which translates to a gaudy .576 winning percentage. Including the big league squad, every team in the Oakland A's organization finished the season above the .500 mark. In terms of winning percentage, the A's were the most successful organization in baseball in 2004. Sacramento and Modesto both won their respective league championships, while Kane County finished only one game away from winning their Midwest League title. Both of the A's Single-A affiliates won their first and second half division titles.

Individually, members of the A's organization won a lot of hardware, as well. Three players won their respective league MVP awards: River Cat first baseman Dan Johnson (AAA-PCL), Modesto outfielder Brian Stavisky (A-CAL), and Vancouver outfielder Javier Herrera (A-NWL). Sacramento starter Joe Blanton started the 2004 Futures Game for the USA team and relief phenom Jairo Garcia (who began the season in Kane County and progressed all the way up to a brief appearance in Oakland) finished the Futures Game for the World team. Managers Von Hayes (Modesto) and Dave Joppie (Kane County) also were awarded Manager of the Year for their efforts.

The A's 2004 draft class has also performed well in the early going. Baseball America, while naming Javier Herrera the top prospect in the Northwest League, included three members of the A's 2004 draft class in their list of the top-20 Northwest League prospects (outfielder Richie Robnett and catchers Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell). In addition, 2004 draft pick Huston Street moved through the A's system so quickly that he finished the year as one of the closers for AAA Sacramento during their run for the league championship. He was the first member of the 2004 draft class to make it to AAA. Outfielder Danny Putnam moved from Vancouver to Kane County, where he was an integral part of Kane County's late season push to the league championship series. Jason Windsor, another 2004 draft pick, was also a strong late season contributor to the Kane County Cougars after beginning his professional career in Vancouver.

The A's minor league system provided help to the major league team, as well. Two members of the A's minor league system last season were major parts of the Oakland A's this season. Starter Rich Harden, who spent the first half of the 2003 season in Midland and Sacramento, has been one of the best young pitchers in major league baseball this season. He has posted an 11-5 record with an ERA of 4.00 and has been 8-1 since the All-Star Break. With Barry Zito and Mark Mulder struggling through parts of the season and Tim Hudson spending nearly two months on the DL, Harden has been arguably the A's most consistent pitcher this season. In addition, rookie shortstop Bobby Crosby, who was named the Pacific Coast League Rookie of the Year in 2003, has been a solid performer for the A's all season and is a leading candidate for the American League's Rookie of the Year award. Crosby has crushed 21 homeruns this season and has played steady defense while playing nearly every day for a division-contending team. He currently leads the A's in RBIs for the month of September.

The minor league system also gave the big league club a lot of help when the injury bug bit the big club. Middle infielders Marco Scutaro (who was originally picked up off of waivers in the off-season to be the River Cats' second baseman) and Esteban German (who split his season between AAA-Sacramento and Oakland) have done an excellent job filling in for the injured Mark Ellis. In addition, reliever Justin Lehr threw a number of important innings for the A's mid-season after the A's bullpen suffered a rash of injuries. Sacramento starter Kirk Saarloos gave the A's a boost in the starting rotation when Tim Hudson went on the DL, making five starts. He won two of those starts and was in-line for a third win before Octavio Dotel blew a save against Cleveland. Most recently, outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher has come up from AAA Sacramento to give the A's some quality starts in place of the banged up Jermaine Dye and Scott Hatteberg. Swisher has shown great poise at the plate since joining the team and has already had a game-winning homerun versus Cleveland and two clutch at-bats late in a game against Texas when the A's came from behind to win an important game 7-6.

Finally, as he has done numerous times over the past few years, Billy Beane has used the success of the A's minor league system as leverage to make trades to help the big league squad. In the off-season, Beane sent minor league pitcher Bill Murphy to Florida for the right to negotiate with Mark Redman. Redman was signed by the A's and has won 11 games for the big league squad this year. Then during the season, Beane traded minor league prospects Mark Teahen (a 2002 draft pick) and Mike Wood (Sacramento's top starter) for Octavio Dotel of Houston. While Dotel has struggled at times since joining the A's, the Oakland bullpen has been much improved since Dotel's arrival. Dotel has saved 22 games for Oakland since arriving in that mid-season deal.

Next season, the A's will be counting on the strength of their minor league system once again. The Oakland squad may feature a number of members of the 2004 minor league system, including Swisher, Saarloos, Johnson, Blanton, Garcia, and Lehr. Also look for Sacramento catcher Mike Rose and reliever Chris Mabeus to get a long look for a roster spot next season.

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