Poll Results: Top A's Minor League Relievers

Our final poll category, the 2004 top relief pitchers in the Oakland minor league organization, finds the readers and the staff in complete agreement. Some discussion on the selections:

1) Jairo Garcia (458 votes)

We've been following the progress of Jairo (pronounced HIGH-row) Garcia for awhile here, and his 2004 season was one of the best minor league seasons in all of 2004. After 4 years of being used primarily as a starter in the low levels of the A's system, with mixed results, Garcia was converted to low-A Kane County's closer at the start of the 2004 season. From there, Jairo began a meteoric rise through the Oakland organization. A 0.30 ERA and 49/6 K/BB ratio in 30.0 innings for the Cougars earned him a promotion to AA Midland. At Midland, Jairo had some control problems (15 walks in 18.0 innings), but still dominated the competition (10 hits, 3 runs, 32 strikeouts). Garcia earned another promotion at the end of July, this time to AAA Sacramento; with the RiverCats, he still showed plenty of indicators that his stuff was still overmatching hitters. Although the walks remained an issue (9 walks in 13.2 IP), he still struck out 21 batters in his limited action, and his hit rate remained exceedingly low (6.59 H/9 IP).

Garcia was promoted to Oakland in early August, and did not appear to be ready for the major leagues. But you can't fault the A's, with their injury-depleted and underperforming bullpen, for taking a shot on Jairo's ability to handle some low-leverage innings at the major league level before being eased into some more important work. It was a low risk experiment that did not pan out, but should do nothing to diminish his future potential.

Jairo was nearly unhittable at the minor league level in 2004. In 61.2 minor league innings, he struck out 102 batters while allowing only 36 hits, 10 runs, and 1 homeruns. His control (a concern in previous seasons) was still an issue (30 walks), but hitters had a very difficult time making contact with his pitches and getting on base without his help. Garcia's BAA was .161, his OBP against was .275, and the 30 walks he allowed comprised approximately 1/3 of that OBP.

As for Jairo's future, it's easy to forget that he'll only be 22 in 2005 after having spent 5 years in the Oakland organization. He's currently pitching in the Dominican League, where the stuff (13 Ks in 13.2 IP) and control problems (11 walks) still surface. With Arthur Rhodes being traded to the Pirates, there may be an opportunity for Garcia to compete for a spot in the Oakland bullpen if he can work out his mechanical problems. At worst, he'll begin 2005 in AAA Sacramento, with a possible promotion to Oakland in mid- to late-2005 on the horizon.

2) Chris Mabeus (289 votes)

After a 2003 season split between high-A Modesto and AA Midland where he pitched 62 innings with a 2.76 ERA, a 70/15 K/BB ratio, and only 2 homeruns allowed, Chris Mabeus was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 2003 Rule 5 draft. With the Rangers unable to find a spot for him on their major league roster, Mabeus was returned to the A's, where he responded with perhaps the best season of his minor league career.

Chris began the season as the Midland Rockhounds' closer, notching 11 saves and posting a sub-2.00 ERA in 22.2 IP. Oh, and he struck out 27 batters while walking exactly two. That earned him a promotion to Sacramento at the end of May, where he began in middle relief before eventually helping to close games. In 51 innings with the RiverCats, Mabeus's ERA was 3.00, with 61 strikeouts against only 12 walks.

Mabeus does not throw with exceptional velocity, but he has exhibited excellent command of his sinking fastball and his slider. Chris has struck out 158 batters while walking only 29 since the start of the 2003 season. He's also shown an ability to keep the ball in the park; he's allowed only 11 homeruns in 280 minor league innings (0.35 HR/9), although 6 of those came in his 2004 stint in Sacramento. That's a jump to 1.06 HR/9 in Sacramento, as opposed to a ridiculously low rate of 0.20 HR/9 in his previous 229 minor league innings. The PCL is a hitters' league, but that trend bears watching.

In 2005, Mabeus may contend for a major league bullpen spot in spring training, depending on the A's roster moves from now until March, but it's more likely that he'll return to Sacramento to start the season, with an eye on a mid-season call up to the Oakland bullpen. At 25, he appears almost ready to contribute in a middle relief role on the major league level.

3) Huston Street (193 votes)

Huston Street was drafted 40th in 2004 on the basis of a storied college career at Texas where he was named the College World Series MVP as a freshman, and he was another prospect who rose quickly through the Oakland system in 2004. After a relatively light workload in 2004 at Texas (he pitched only 57 innings), Oakland elected to start the seasoned Street at low-A Kane County instead of in short-season Vancouver with the majority of the draftees. Street worked his way methodically through the A's organization, with a 1.69 ERA, 14 strikeouts, and 5 walks in 10.2 IP with the Cougars getting him promoted to AA-Midland. It was more of the same for the Rockhounds, with Huston throwing 13.1 innings in the Texas League with a 1.35 ERA, 14 strikeouts, and only 3 walks. That earned him a jump up to Sacramento when Midland's season ended, where he pitched 2 scoreless innings.

The A's sent Huston to the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League, where he completely dominated the competition, and was a key component of the Desert Dogs' run to the AFL championship. The numbers: 18.1 innings pitched, a microscopic 0.98 ERA, 19 strikeouts, 2 walks, and only 11 hits allowed. Unfortunately, Street also allowed his first professional homerun, but considering that it was the only homerun he allowed in 43.1 innings in 2004, it's not a huge deal.

Scouts noted that Huston increased his velocity 4-5 mph (to 94 MPH) towards the end of the season, which is closer to where it was earlier in his college career. Although they won't say it definitively, the A's may be looking to Street to fill the void created by the "loss" of Arthur Rhodes. He has an excellent chance to break spring training with Oakland, and if he does end up starting the season at AAA Sacramento, it's expected that he'll find his way to the major leagues in short order.

Questions or comments? Contact Adam Miller at oaklandclubhouse@yahoo.com.

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