Oakland A's Minor League Depth Chart: 1B/DH

<I>First in a series of articles examining the depth in the Oakland A's farm system at every position</I><br><br> The Oakland A's have had a history of great offensive players at first base and at DH, from Gene Tenace to Mark McGwire to Dave Parker to Harold Baines to Jason Giambi. Who will be the A's next generation of great offensive first basemen/ designated hitters? Oakland has a number of candidates coming through their farm system.

Since slugger Jason Giambi left the Oakland A's following the 2001 season, Oakland has struggled to get traditional power production from their first basemen and designated hitters. While replacements Scott Hatteberg and Erubiel Durazo have contributed greatly to the A's offense, neither has managed to hit more than 25 homeruns or drive in 100 runs. However, that trend is likely to end within the next few seasons, as the A's have a number of first basemen/ designated hitters in their system who project to provide the A's with middle of the order power production. Below is a list of the A's top first base prospects:

1) Daric Barton

It isn't often that a team can have the reigning PCL Most Valuable Player and have him not be the team's best first base prospect. However, it isn't often that a prospect like Daric Barton comes along. Barton, who was acquired in the Mark Mulder trade with St. Louis, may be the most exciting A's hitting prospect since Eric Chavez.

Barton will be making a position change to first from the catching spot this off-season. As a former high school third baseman, Barton's transition to first shouldn't be difficult. The position change will allow him to get to the major leagues faster, as he won't have to be as skilled defensively to play first as he would to play behind the plate. Some may ask why Oakland would want to rush Barton to the major leagues, being that he is only 19 years old. The answer simply is that there haven't been many players in the history of the game who have put up the kind of numbers Barton has at such a young age.

At an early age, Barton has displayed a veteran's ability to both hit with patience and power. At low-A Peoria last season, Barton (who was 18 for much of the season) posted a 954 OPS and got on base at an amazing .445 clip. He will either start the season at A-Stockton or AA-Midland, but he will be watched closely and moved quickly if his hitting continues at this torrid pace. Barton projects to arrive in Oakland sometime during the 2006 season and he could be a star in the league soon after that.

2) Dan Johnson

Coming in second is prospect Dan Johnson. Johnson has done nothing but produce at every professional level since being drafted by Oakland in 2001. Last year, Johnson posted his best season yet, winning the MVP award for the PCL regular and post-season. He was also voted the Oakland A's most outstanding position player. Yet coming into the 2005 season, it appears that he will begin the season back in AAA-Sacramento, as the A's are currently committed to first baseman Scott Hatteberg and designated hitter Erubiel Durazo.

Johnson should get his shot soon, perhaps as soon as some point this season. Like Barton, Johnson combines good plate patience and above average power. The former Nebraska Cornhusker walked 89 times and hit 29 homeruns during the PCL regular season. He followed that performance up by posting a 956 OPS in the Mexican Winter League against mostly veteran pitching.

The left-handed slugger is not particularly skilled defensively, but he will have an entire spring training to work on improving his glove work with the Oakland A's infield teaching guru Ron Washington. Johnson could combine with Barton to make a lethal 1B/DH combination in Oakland as soon as 2006.

3) Brant Colamarino

The 2002 seventh round draft pick split his 2004 season between A-Modesto and AA-Midland. He was an offensive monster at Modesto, posting an OPS over 1000 in 50 games before being promoted to AA. Colamarino struggled initially in Midland, but was hitting much better by the end of the season. He hasn't yet shown the plate discipline that the A's would like to see, but he has displayed good power to all fields. He has also shown good defensive skills around the first base bag.

Colamarino will probably start the season in AA to give him a chance to get his hitting back to his Modesto levels. However, if Dan Johnson does make the major league roster, Colamarino may get an early promotion to AAA.

Others to watch:

Jack Cust: Cust, the erstwhile Arizona Diamondbacks prospect, was signed to a minor league contract this off-season. As recently as 2002, Cust was one of the top hitting prospects in all of baseball. However, he was blocked in Arizona and then failed to catch on with Colorado and Baltimore, in large part because his defensive skills made him a liability. Cust doesn't have the same luster as a prospect as he did in 2002, but he is still only 25 years old and could put himself in the 2006 A's first base/DH picture with a strong showing this spring and at AAA-Sacramento.

Eddie Kim: Kim was the A's fourth round draft pick in 2003 from James Madison University. He had a strong first professional season in Vancouver, but struggled much of the year in low-A Kane County. He is a strongly built left-handed hitter who posted unbelievable power numbers in college. He has yet to show that same power in the pros. Kim will have to have a strong offensive showing in high-A Stockton this season to get himself back in the A's long-term plans at first.

Players in-line for possible position changes to first base:

Danny Putnam: Putnam was a supplemental first round draft pick of the A's in 2004 out of Stanford. He was so advanced as a hitter when he arrived in the pros that the A's moved him from short-season Vancouver to low-A Kane County after only two weeks in Canada. Putnam struggled a bit in Kane County, but has shown a lot of promise during his short professional career. Putnam is currently a left-fielder and not a bad one at that. However, he doesn't have great speed and with Oakland boasting a number of top outfield prospects, Putnam may be better off at first or DH, where his right-handed bat will give him an advantage in a system that has almost entirely left-handed hitting first basemen.

Brian Stavisky: Stavisky was the California League Most Valuable Player last season after his posted a .343 batting average and a 953 OPS. Stavisky spent time in both left-field and at first last season and was not particularly skilled at either position. His professional future will depend on his ability his post strong offensive numbers. Like Putnam, he will probably have a better chance of making the A's as a first baseman or DH then he will as an outfielder.

Landon Powell: Powell was the A's first pick during the 2004 draft. A switch-hitting catcher, Powell tore his meniscus during the off-season, putting his catching career in jeopardy. Although meniscus tears are not as serious as major ligament tears, they can cause accelerated arthritis. Twins catching prospect Joe Mauer had a meniscus tear last season and struggled all season to recover from it fully. If Powell's knee prevents him from catching long-term, he could change to first, where his switch-hitting stroke will be very valuable.

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