Prospect Profile: John Baker

There is a saying in baseball that good hitting catchers are hard to find. There is also a saying that good lefthanded hitting catchers are almost as rare as an authentic Honus Wagner tobacco baseball card. Both of these axioms are reasons why A's catching prospect John Baker is developing into a very valuable asset.

John Baker, Career Statistics

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

XBH

2002

VAN

NWST

21

.235

.389

.304

115

27

5

0

1

22

37

6

2003

KNCTY

MID

22

.309

.414

.457

304

94

23

2

6

47

77

31

2003

MID

TEX

22

.240

.316

.280

150

36

3

0

1

14

46

4

2004

MID

TEX

23

.280

.355

.477

440

123

32

5

15

37

95

52

2004

SAC

PCL

23

.347

.429

.408

49

17

3

0

0

6

23

3



John Baker was a relatively anonymous member of the "Moneyball" draft of 2002. Taken in the fourth round out of the University of California, Baker was viewed as a good hitting catcher with an excellent eye and not much power. Baker, who is an East Bay product and De La Salle alum, had a solid college career for Cal. In his senior season, Baker hit .383 with a .516 OBP and an excellent 1093 OPS. He hit 12 doubles but only five homeruns, so when he entered the A's system, Baker didn't project to be a big homerun hitter. However, he had all of the other trademarks of the "Moneyball" draft, a good eye and a low public profile.

Baker began his professional career in Vancouver in 2002. He struggled with his batting average, but he displayed that trademark patience, compiling a .389 OBP despite a .235 BA. He showed the A's brass enough in that short Northwest League stint to be promoted to Low-A Kane County in 2003. Baker's stock in the organization rose with a strong stint with the Cougars. Baker hit .309 with a stellar .414 OBP. The Walnut Creek resident also showed developing power, hitting six homeruns in a little over 300 at-bats.

Baker was promoted to Midland two-thirds of the way through the 2003 season when fellow "Moneyball" draftee Jeremy Brown went down with a hand injury. Baker struggled with the bat in Midland in 40 games played, managing only a 596 OPS. However, he was given a second crack at the Texas League in 2004 and he didn't let that opportunity pass him by.

Baker took advantage of a sluggish start to the 2004 season by Jeremy Brown to grab playing time behind the plate for the RockHounds. Baker had a solid campaign in Midland, hitting .280. His walk total was down, but the development he showed in the power category was extremely impressive. Baker hit a career-high 52 extra-base hits in only 117 games played, including 15 homeruns. He also drove in 78 runs as he became a genuine middle-of-the-lineup force for Midland.

Towards the end of the season, Baker was promoted once again, this time to AAA Sacramento. He had a limited amount of playing time upon his arrival in the River City, but he performed well in those limited opportunities. He hit .347 with an OBP of .429. He didn't hit any homeruns for the RiverCats, but he only had 49 at-bats. Baker headed to Arizona for the Arizona Fall League after the PCL playoffs. He has had a mixed AFL season, showing good patience but little power. However, he has caught a career-high number of games this season, so he very well may be worn down at this point in the season.

While Baker has a small chance to be on the A's 25-man roster in 2005, he is much more likely to arrive in the big leagues in 2006. He will be 24 at the start of next season, putting him right at the start of his peak year curve. If he continues to show a developing power stroke, Baker will be a very valuable commodity for the A's, as a catcher who sees a lot of pitches and hits for power. He could project to a Jason Varitek-style hitter from the left-side.

Baker is an average defensive catcher and has some experience at first base, adding to his versatility. He has a good catcher build and is athletic. He will likely have to improve with the glove and with handling the running game to become the A's primary catcher; however, Ramon Hernandez was a below-average defensive catcher before he arrived in Oakland and worked with their coaching staff, so there is a definite opportunity for Baker to develop into a solid backstop.

Baker and Jeremy Brown have been closely linked on the A's catching depth chart since they began sharing playing time in Midland. While the duo will have competition from 2004 draftees Landon Powell and Kurt Suzuki down the road, both Baker and Brown have a golden opportunity to be the A's catching tandem in 2006. With Baker hitting from the left-side and Brown from the right-side, they could make an excellent tag-team in the major leagues.


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