On the Bubble: Matt Watson, Outfielder

<I>Third in the series about A's prospects on the edge of making the 25-man roster</i><br> For the past two seasons, Matt Watson has been one of the top hitting outfielders in AAA. Yet, so far, all that great work has netted him is 15 games at the major league level with the Mets in 2003. With the Oakland A's coming to terms with leftfielder Eric Byrnes on Friday, does Watson have a chance to make the A's roster this spring, or will he head back to AAA to dominate the competition once again?

Matt Watson has taken a long and winding road to the Oakland A's organization. After attending Xavier University, Watson was drafted in the 16th round by the Montreal Expos in the June 1999 draft. Watson immediately impressed the Montreal brass in his rookie professional season, posting a 957 OPS and a .380 BA over 70 games in short-season A. Watson was promoted in 2000 to Juniper (High-A) but he missed all but 40 games that season due to injury. Despite that set-back, the Expos promoted to AA the following season.

Waston would make only one appearance for the Expos' AA squad before he was dealt to the New York Mets' organization as part of a seven-player deal that sent the much-traveled Bruce Chen to Montreal in exchange for reliever Scott Strickland. The lefty outfielder had a fine season for the Mets' AA squad in 2002, as he hit .274 with 10 HR and 67 RBI in 127 games for Binghamton.

Watson was poised to make a big push towards the major leagues in 2003 when the injury bug struck again. However, he battled through a myriad of injuries and rehab assignments before winding up in AAA for the last 74 games of the season. Once he settled in at AAA, Watson proved his mettle, as he hit 11 HR and drove in 55 runs in only 74 games. That play earned him a ticket to Shea Stadium in a late-season call-up appearance with the New York Mets.

The powerfully built lefthanded hitter didn't have a chance to showcase much of his talent during his short time with the Mets. Yet it seemed his was a part of the Mets' long-term plans until he was surprisingly exposed to waivers at the end of the 2003 season. Watson was joined on the Mets' waiver-wire by second baseman Marco Scutaro, another top-hitting prospect in the Mets' system.

It didn't take the Oakland A's long for them to swoop up both players. Watson and Scutaro entered the 2004 A's spring training camp with the expectation that both would spend the season in AAA-Sacramento. However, fate was kind to Scutaro, as an injury to Mark Ellis allowed the second baseman to not only spend the season in Oakland, but to gain a lot of major league playing time. There was no such fortune for Watson, who spent the season in AAA and was passed over for a major league promotion by Nick Swisher when the injury bug hit the A's outfield in late August.

Watson used his time in Sacramento wisely, however, posting a .305 BA with 19 HR and 96 RBI and was one of the RiverCats' top offensive players. He joined RiverCat teammate Dan Johnson in Mexico this off-season in hopes of fine-tuning his game for spring training, but his time in Mexico was marred by illness. However, before the A's acquisition of leftfielder Charles Thomas in the Tim Hudson trade, it seemed that Watson had a golden opportunity to make the A's roster out of spring training as the team's fifth outfielder.

As it stands now, it seems that the A's outfield is too full for Watson to have much of a shot of making the 25-man roster out of spring training. Oakland had flirted with trading last year's starting leftfielder Eric Byrnes, but it appears those trade rumors have died down. If Byrnes stays, he will be one of four outfielders in the A's camp who spent significant portion of last season starting in the major leagues (Byrnes, Thomas, Bobby Kielty, and Mark Kotsay). In addition, Swisher is expected to not only be on the A's 25-man roster on Opening Day, but he is also likely to be the A's starting rightfielder.

So where does that leave Watson? Unfortunately for him, probably back in AAA unless the A's give him a chance with a different team. However, Watson will enter the season on the top of the A's minor league outfield depth chart, so he could be just an injury or a trade away from joining the A's in Oakland during the 2005 season.

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