Oakland A's Minor League Depth Chart: 2B/SS

<I>This is the second in a series of articles examining the depth of the Oakland A's farm system at every position</I><br><br> Over the past few seasons, the Oakland A's have had a number of strong middle infield prospects. Some have found success at the major league level and some have failed to meet expectations. With last year's top middle infield prospect Bobby Crosby now at the major league level, how do the A's minor league middle infielders stack up this season?

Unlike last season, the A's don't have any middle infield prospects who are expected to fight for a major league starting spot in 2005. However, Oakland still has some talent rising through the system. The A's middle infield depth may not be at the same level it was in 2002 when Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, Esteban German, Adam Morrissey, and Freddie Bynum were all considered strong prospects, but there is talent in the A's system at the double-play positions. And with Crosby set to man the shortstop position for the next six seasons and Ellis and new acquisition Keith Ginter poised to handle the second base spot this year, the A's aren't looking for any immediate impact prospects at short or second right now. Here is a look at the Oakland A's top middle infield prospects:

1) Omar Quintanilla (2B/SS)

When Quintanilla was drafted by Oakland in the first round in 2003, many thought that the A's were reaching to take him so high. Many thought he was too small and not powerful enough to justify such a high pick. Quintanilla quieted some of those critics with a strong first professional season split between Vancouver and Modesto in 2003.

Quintanilla followed up that performance with an outstanding first full season in the A's system, posting an 850 OPS over 108 games for Modesto and a 940 OPS over 23 games for Midland. He then starred in the Arizona Fall League, finishing near the top of the league in batting average and impressing scouts with his ability to make consistent solid contact.

Despite all of these accolades, many still question Quintanilla's long-term potential. Scouts point to his height (5'9'') and weight (195) as signs that he will eventually be too immobile to man a middle infield position defensively. However, Quintanilla is built similarly to the Cleveland Indians' Ronnie Belliard, and Belliard has proven that size doesn't matter at second base if you can hit.

Other scouts have had worries about Quintanilla's defense, as he made a number of errors at the shortstop position. Most of those errors, however, came on throws across the diamond and some scouts believe that many of his throwing problems will be fixed by moving him to second where his throws will be shorter. Quintanilla has good hands and decent range, so he projects to be at least average defensively at second.

Long-term, Quintanilla has a chance to be an excellent top of the order hitter for the A's, perhaps as soon as 2006. Although he doesn't walk a tremendous amount, he does control the strike zone well and rarely strikes out. His approach at the plate is similar to that of current A's leadoff hitter Mark Kotsay. He'll likely never be a homerun hitter, but he has good gap power and could be someone who hits 35-40 doubles a season at the top of the order.

2) Mike Rouse (SS/2B)

Mike Rouse was acquired in the Corey Lidle trade after the 2002 season. Rouse had a solid 2003 season for AA-Midland, hitting .300 and posting a .392 OBP. He earned a lot of praise from A's infield coach Ron Washington during spring training last season for his defensive abilities. Unfortunately for Rouse, he got injured at the end of spring training and those injuries carried over into the regular season, perhaps costing Rouse a chance to make his major league debut when the A's had a rash of infield injuries mid-season.

Rouse still managed to get 99 games in at AAA-Sacramento last season. Although he didn't have quite the same success offensively that he did in Midland the season before, Rouse still posted respectable numbers at the plate. He had a solid 50/63 BB:K ratio and he showed an improved power stroke, hitting a career-high 10 homeruns in only 323 at-bats.

Rouse doesn't project to be a major league star, but he could have a similar career to that of current A's second baseman Mark Ellis. There will always be room on major league rosters for strong defensive middle infielders and with Rouse's ability to get on base, he should, at the very least, be a solid fourth infielder for the A's or another big league team sometime over the next few seasons.

3) Kevin Melillo (2B)

Like Omar Quintanilla, Kevin Melillo has never had the faith of the scouts behind him. Many were surprised to see Melillo drafted as high as the fifth round coming out of South Carolina this past season. Melillo has always been considered a good defensive player and a tough competitor. However, he was coming off of a mediocre final college season at the plate that was hindered by a wrist injury. Despite the questions about his bat, the A's took a chance on him with a fifth round pick, and based on his first professional season at Vancouver, it may be lucky that they did.

Melillo signed with the A's in early July and started hitting almost at the moment of his arrival in Canada. The hard-nosed second baseman was a force at the top of the Canadians' batting order, hitting .340 with a .422 OBP. Melillo drove in 21 runners and crossed the plate 22 times in only 22 games played. He also showed surprising gap power, hitting 11 doubles, two triples and two homeruns in only 94 at-bats.

The former Gamecock will still have to prove next season that his effort at the plate in Vancouver was no fluke. If he can continue to hit well, Melillo should be an intriguing prospect for Oakland because of his defensive prowess.

Others To Watch

Luke Appert: The former two-time Big Ten Player of the Year had a solid second professional season in 2004 after a disappointing debut with Vancouver in 2003. Appert hit 44 extra-base hits for Kane County in 2004 and walked 17 times more then he struck out (80 to 63). He was old for low-A ball in 2004 (24 for half of the season), but if he picks up his pace through the system, he could be an intriguing power option at second down the road.

Gregorio Petit: Petit is mentioned here not because of his bat (he hasn't posted an OPS higher than 670 in two professional seasons), but because he has tremendous defensive skills at shortstop. The major leagues have historically been filled with no hit-good field shortstops and Petit is the A's best prospect in that category.

Adam Morrissey: Adam Morrissey was once one of the A's brightest prospects, but his chances to make an impact at the major league level are quickly diminishing. The Australian native was a big prospect when he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs as a 20 year-old. However, he has been wildly inconsistent ever since his arrival in the Oakland system. His 2004 season was a microcosm of his Oakland system career thus far. Through the first two months of the season, Morrissey was near the top of the PCL leader board in several offensive categories, including batting average. However, after being passed up for a big league promotion when Eric Chavez went down with an injury in June, Morrissey struggled the rest of the season. His batting average dropped from a high near .360 to his final total of .291. He needs a strong spring and a good campaign in Sacramento this season or he'll be in danger of dropping out of the A's depth chart entirely.

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