Top Ten Most Improved Prospects in 2004

Every season a handful of prospects make their move from the middle of a team's minor league depth chart to the top of the heap with a surprisingly strong campaign. Here's a look at ten players within the A's organization who emerged as top prospects in 2004.

1 - Jairo Garcia - RHRP

Garcia was just another Low A prospect from the Dominican Leagues about whom people knew little and thought even less going into the 2004 season. Now that the season is over, Garcia is seen as a future anchor of the A's bullpen. In 2003, Garcia struggled a bit with injuries and wasn't strictly a reliever. Opening the 2004 season in the 'pen, Garcia took off. At times in 2004, he was thought of as baseball's best relief prospect but after a bit of a let down in Oakland followed by control struggles after being sent back down to Sacramento, talks of being the best relief prospect have cooled off -- but that may only be because of an A's 2004 first round pick, Huston Street, who is getting professional experience and is blowing away minor league hitters at all levels.

2 - Javier Herrera, OF

Herrera was a lot like Garcia entering 2004, a slightly known Low A prospect from the A's Dominican program. Now, he's the A's 5-tool uber prospect. Herrera spent time in 2003 in Rookie ball and was pretty decent considering his age -- his numbers, though, were a little down because he struggled after coming back from a horrific neck injury which he incurred when he ran into an outfield wall trying to catch a ball. Herrera currently may sit as the only potential superstar in the A's system, quite the leap from his status as an unknown (other than information regarding his injury) young prospect before the season.

3 - Nick Swisher, OF

Swisher opened eyes in 2004 after a Jekyll and Hyde season in 2003. Swisher went from future star to current bust in a matter of months in 2003 after a terrible end to a once promising season. After that dismal second half of 2003, few experts remembered what Swisher was actually capable of and were taken by surprise with Swisher's excellent 2004 season. Swisher has gone from fringe prospect in the minds of many experts to a potential 2005 A's starter and possible Rookie of the Year candidate in just one season's time.

4 - Brad Knox, RHSP

Knox was somewhat well-known amongst prospect followers entering 2004 because he's from the same junior college as Rich Harden. Knox, though, had only a few starts worth of innings at Vancouver last season and despite posting excellent numbers, there were still questions about whether Knox was a legitimate prospect. At 22, Knox wasn't handed a major challenge being sent to Low A Kane County, but he responded with numbers that were good enough to earn him co-pitcher of the year honors. He has moved his way near the top of the A's depth chart of minor league starting pitchers.

5 - Nelson Cruz, OF

Cruz had spent a few seasons in the A's organization floating around while making little progress. But in 2004, Cruz was able to play at three different levels seemingly without missing a beat. Cruz did hit almost 20 HR in 2003 for Kane County, but his average was under .250. In 2004, Cruz his well over .300 with 70 XBH's in 535 AB's. Cruz is now seen as a potential major league regular.

6 - John Baker, C

Baker had a 2003 campaign that was very similar to Nick Swisher's, but it went unnoticed by critics of the A's minor league system. Baker was raking in 2003 at Kane County before being promoted to Midland to replace an injured Jeremy Brown. In Midland, Baker posted an OPS under .600 in 150 AB for Midland. Baker was back at Midland to start 2004 and had an incredibly consistent season hitting .280 with 15 HR. He then saw another in-season promotion, this time to Sacramento, but unlike last year, Baker took advantage of the promotion and hit .408 in 49 AB for the RiverCats. He is now seen as a potential starting catcher for the A's as soon as 2006.

7 - Dan Johnson, 1B

Johnson had already been seen as one of the A's top prospects, but there were questions as to whether Johnson would be able to hit consistently at the AAA level. Johnson answered that question by improving for the third straight season, even winning PCL MVP honors in 2004. Johnson has decent power potential, but he needs to field the ball better -- Johnson will be looking for his 4th straight improved year to again prove doubters wrong.

8 - Omar Quintanilla, SS

Quintanilla had a very good debut season in 2003 but still faced the dreaded critics' label of being a "fringe" prospect. It didn't help that he started slow for A Modesto ithis season. He rebounded, however, and hit over .350 over the last couple months of the season (which was split between Modesto and Midland). Currently raking the ball in the Arizona Fall League, Quintanilla, like most A's prospects, continues to prove doubters wrong. Quintanilla needs to move to second base to have a future in Oakland, and whether he stays at short or switches to second, he'll have to improve his defense.

9 - Brian Snyder, 3B

Snyder had a terrible 2003 season at Vancouver after being drafted. Struggles are expected, but Snyder played beyond bad in 2003 after the A's made him a first round pick. Snyder hit .253 with 7 XBH's in 145 AB's. Snyder picked up his power quite a bit in 2004 at Kane County with 34 XBH in 366 AB. He still hasn't posted the power numbers he should as a first round pick, but he has the potential to learn how to pull the ball more. If he does that, Snyder could see another serious power increase in 2005.

10 - Huston Street, RHRP

It's hard to include someone who wasn't with the A's in 2003 on a list like this, but it would be even harder to leave Street off. Street pitched at three levels for the A's in 2004 -- Kane County, Midland, and Sacramento, pitching better at each level. By the end of Street's season, he was closing for the PCL champion RiverCats. He is currently baffling hitters in the Arizona Fall League. Street, in the span of one year, has gone from closer on a top college team to potentially being part of the A's bullpen in 2005.

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