On the Bubble: Huston Street, Relief Pitcher

<I>This is the fourth in a series of articles about Oakland A's prospects competing for a spot on the 25-man roster this spring.</I><br> For A's prospect reliever Huston Street, the question isn't if he will make the major leagues, it is when. As recently as late November, it seemed that the answer was Opening Day 2005. However, with the acquisitions of relievers Kiko Calero and Juan Cruz, is Street still slated to punch his big league ticket this April or will he have to wait a little longer?

There is only one word to describe Huston Street's rise through the Oakland A's system during the 2004 season: meteoric. While most of his 2004 draft class counterparts were plying their trade in short-season A or rookie ball, Street was closing playoff games for AAA-Sacramento. And this off-season, when most of his 2004 draft class counterparts were home resting after their first professional baseball experience, Street was blowing away baseball's top prospects on the championship team of the Arizona Fall League. So while the Oakland A's were recovering from a disappointing season lost in failed 8th and 9th innings, it wasn't hard to see why they were yearning for this brash young closer from Texas to be called up to the big leagues in 2005.

Street began the 2004 season as the much-beloved closer of the highly regarded University of Texas baseball team. After winning the College World Series championship in 2003, Texas fell in the finals to Cal-State Fullerton in 2004. Despite being hobbled by a leg injury during part of the season, Street still managed to contribute greatly to the Longhorns' success. He posted a 6-1 record with 12 saves and a 1.58 ERA in his final collegiate season.

When he was selected by Oakland in supplemental first round of the June draft, he was immediately put on the fast track towards the big leagues. Rather than starting in short-season Vancouver, the A's put Street in low-A Kane County, where he faced mostly more seasoned competition. After nine strong appearances, Street had shown the A's enough for them to move him up to the next level, AA-Midland. Street had similar success against AA hitters, holding them to less then one baserunner an inning. Ten appearances in AA later and Street was on his way to AAA-Sacramento to reinforce the RiverCats' bullpen for the PCL championship run.

Once he arrived in Sacramento, Street helped anchor a bullpen that led the RiverCats to their second consecutive PCL title. He followed up that performance with an outstanding Arizona Fall League performance and another championship ring. After appearing on three championship teams (and a gold medal winning USA Baseball team in the Pan-Am Games in 2003) in two years, many believe that the 21-year old is battled tested enough to take on the bright lights of the major leagues.

Street features a low-90s fastball with good sink, a major league slider and a developing change-up. He also carries a veteran's demeanor on the mound and has reminded some of former A's closer Dennis Eckersley with his fearless approach to finishing off games. That being said, Street is still very young and the A's would ideally like to see him get at least a few months of AAA under his belt before thrusting him into the late-innings of a major league game.

Before General Manager Billy Beane added Calero and Cruz to the bullpen mix, it appeared that Oakland was going to have to push Street into the major league bullpen ready or not because they really didn't have any better major league options. However, with the two flame-throwing set-up men in the mix, rushing Street to the big leagues is no longer a necessity. Street should still get a long look at spring training (he is a non-roster invitee to big league camp), but unless he blows everyone away, Street will likely begin the season in AAA as the closer for the RiverCats.

It shouldn't be long before Street dons the green and gold for good, however. Oakland set-up man Chad Bradford and closer Octavio Dotel are in the last year of their contracts and conventional wisdom is that at least one of them will be gone next season to make way for Street or fellow RiverCat relief phenom Jairo Garcia. And with Street's track record for dominating the competition, it wouldn't be a surprise to anyone if he makes an appearance in Oakland as soon as mid-season 2005. Until then, he'll continue to work on developing his change-up and refining his approach to left-handed hitters while he racks up saves for Sacramento. And if his recent history is any indication, he'll likely be pitching for a championship at the end of the season for some team.

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