Overview of the Oakland A's Non-Roster Invitees

Every year major league teams invite a group of players not on the 40-man roster to big league spring training camp. This group of players, known as the non-roster invitees, are made up generally of minor league free agent signings, rising prospects, and a smattering of veteran organizational players who aren't on the 40-man roster. This season, the Oakland A's have invited 17 non-roster players to camp. Here is a snapshot of these players and what they might bring to the A's system in 2005.

For the sake of organization, we will divide the non-roster players into three categories: 1) minor league free agent signings, 2) rising prospects, and 3) organizational veterans. A look at these players follows:

Minor League Free Agent Signings

The A's made a significant number of minor league free agent signings this off-season. Some were likely made with the intention of adding depth to the minor league system and some were made with the thought that the player would compete for a spot on the A's 25-man roster this spring. A few of the players have major league experience, but most are career minor leaguers.

1) Hiram Bocachica, IF/OF, 5'11'', 180

Major league veteran Hiram Bocachica signed with the A's in November after spending last season with the Seattle Mariners. Bocachica was a mid-season call-up to Seattle and he won a lot of fans in the Emerald City with his hustling style of play. The former 1994 first round draft choice of the Montreal Expos has tantalized a lot of scouts over the years with his five tool talents. Despite posting strong minor league numbers throughout his career, Bocachica has never had the same kind of production at the major league level. A former shortstop, Bocachica has spent much of the past few seasons playing in the outfield, where he has become an above-average defensive player. However, he can still play infield positions and his shot at making the A's 25-man roster could hinge on his ability to show the Oakland coaches that he can play the infield as well as he plays the outfield.

Bocachica lit up the Arizona desert during spring training last season and he could earn a roster spot with a similar spring this year, especially if Oakland ends up trading outfielder Eric Byrnes for prospects. If that happens, the A's may look to fill Byrnes' roster spot with a utiliyman who can bolster the bench, a role that Bocachica would be well suited for. Bocachica will have competition from Jermaine Clark for that utilityman role. Both players would bring the A's speed and versatility off of the bench, something Oakland hasn't had much off over the past few seasons. Bocachica has had more success at the major league level than Clark has and can hit for more power, so he may have the advantage over Clark entering spring training. Bocachica is right-handed and Clark is left-handed, so choosing between the two could come down to a need for a bat on one side of the plate. There is a decent chance that Oakland will decide to go with 12 pitchers to start the season, which would dramatically decrease Bocachica's chances of making the A's roster out of spring training.

2) Jermaine Clark, IF/OF, 5'10'', 170

The aforementioned Jermaine Clark is joining his fifth organization since being drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1997. Clark, a Vacaville native and University of San Francisco standout, most recently spent the season with the Cincinnati Reds. Clark was in AAA-Louisville for most of the season, although he did appear in 14 games for the Reds. Clark had a good season for Louisville, posting a .284/.386/.422 line and matching his career-high with 10 homeruns. He also stole 24 bases in 33 chances. Despite being a solid minor league player, Clark has a career major league batting average under .200 in 42 games played. He has also yet to hit a major league homerun.

Like Bocachica, Clark can play all of the infield positions except first base and catcher and all three outfield positions. He is a fast runner and, like Bocachica, brings the A's a lot of versatility. If the roster breaks down with 14 position players, he will have a shot at making the roster with a very strong spring. Otherwise, he will start the year in AAA-Sacramento.

3) Jack Cust, OF/1B/DH, 6'1'', 230

Of all of the A's minor league signings this off-season, Jack Cust was probably the most recognizable name on the list for A's fans. Back in 2002, the A's were constantly being linked in trade rumors involving the slugging prospect, who was then with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Back then, most scouts saw Cust as a "can't miss" power prospect whose only weakness was his inability to play any defensive position particularly well. However, Cust has failed to meet those expectations over the past three seasons and has gone from "can't miss" to after-thought in a matter of a few seasons. He struggled in a late-season stint with Colorado in 2002 and was sent to the Baltimore Orioles the next season. Cust appeared in 27 games for the Orioles in 2003 and actually hit well, posting a 878 OPS. The next season Cust wasn't on the Orioles roster, however, as he was squeezed off the roster by major league veterans who had guaranteed contracts. Cust didn't help his cause any by struggling at AAA-Ottawa and he only received one major league at-bat before being released in the off-season by Baltimore.

If there is any team in the league that can appreciate Cust's talents it is the Oakland A's. Cust is a slugger in the classic Jason Giambi mold in that he walks a lot, strikes out a lot and hits a ton of homeruns. Cust will have an up-hill battle making the A's roster because he is left-handed and is blocked at the first base and DH positions by left-handers (Erubiel Durazo and Scott Hatteberg) and isn't good enough defensively to be an everyday left-fielder. He could still make the team with a big spring if the A's decide to carry a hitter in that 14th position player spot rather than a defensive player. His primary competition for that role will be A's prospect Dan Johnson. Despite having played in eight minor league seasons, Cust is still only 26 and he could factor in the A's plans down the road even if he doesn't make the team out of spring training.

4) Evan Fahrner, RHP, 6'2'', 200

Evan Fahrner joins the A's from the Chicago Cubs organization. Fahrner is a middle reliever who has spent time in the Independent Northern League, where he was the top reliever for the Schaumberg Flyers in 2002 and part of 2003. He pitched well for AA-West Tennessee last season, posting a 9.9 K:9 ratio and an ERA of 3.39. However, he walked four batters per nine innings, so control was an issue for him last season. Fahrner, who was originally a 23rd round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000, throws a fastball in the 89-91 range and also features a sharp curveball. With the A's pitching depth in the bullpen, he isn't likely to get a serious look for the 25-man roster. However, he will have a shot at making the AAA-Sacramento roster, a level which he has yet to reach thus far in his career. Fahrner will turn 27 early next month.

5) Shawn Garrett, OF, 6'3'', 220

Outfielder Shawn Garrett comes to Oakland after an outstanding season in the AA and AAA affiliates for the Colorado Rockies. Garrett is a former Pittsburgh and San Diego prospect who has spent seven seasons in the minor leagues. He is an all-hustle player with good defensive skills and the speed to play in centerfield. Garrett is a high-average hitter, although he strikes out a lot (132 times last season). His power numbers translate well for a center fielder and he runs well. Garrett, who is 27 years old, doesn't have much of a chance to make the A's roster, as the A's currently have an overload of players with major league experience who can play in the outfield. He will likely start the season in AAA-Sacramento.

6) Jim Serrano, RHP, 5'10''. 180

Jimmy Serrano had a breakthrough campaign in 2003, making the major leagues for the first time. Before making his major league debut with Kansas City last season, Serrano's biggest claim to fame was being traded along with future National League Rookie of the Year Jason Bay from the Montreal Expos to the New York Mets in 2002. Serrano made 10 appearances for the Royals last season, five of them starts. He went 1-2 with a 4.68 ERA and struck out 25 batters in 33 innings pitched. His best effort came against the Seattle Mariners in August, when he held them to two runs in seven innings pitched. That game was also notable because Serrano lost control of a fastball and hit Ichiro in the head.

Serrano had been a career minor league reliever before last season, when the Royals converted him to the starter role in AA. The New Mexico alum has seven seasons of minor league experience, during which time he has compiled a career 3.05 ERA in 510 innings pitched. He has struck out 10.39 batters per nine innings pitched over that span. The former 18th round pick of the Montreal Expos in 1998 appeared in the Arizona Fall League twice during his time with the Expos. Serrano features a solid change-up go to along with a curveball and a fastball that ranges from 89-92 MPH.

Like Fahrner, Serrano is not likely to make the A's bullpen out of spring training, but he could steal a spot at the back-end of the rotation with an outstanding spring training. Of the pitchers competing for the fifth starter spot, only Seth Etherton has more major league starting experience than Serrano. However, Etherton is signed to a major league contract, so he has the advantage over Serrano in that respect. Most likely, Serrano will begin the year in AAA-Sacramento and serve as insurance against any injuries to members of the major league staff.

7) Bobby Smith, IF, 6'3''. 210

Middle infielder Bobby Smith's career defines the term minor league veteran. The Oakland native and Fremont High grad has spent parts of all but one of his 13 professional baseball seasons in the minor leagues. Smith has had his taste of the big leagues, however, playing in 258 career major league games, all with Tampa Bay. Rangy Smith had an outstanding season for AAA-Charlotte (White Sox) in 2004, posting career highs in homeruns (28) and OPS (851). Smith has been prone to the strike out throughout his career, as evidenced by his total of 117 strike outs last season. He is a smart base-runner who can still steal a base. Smith is a free swinger and has never posted particularly high batting averages or on-base percentages during his career. However, he has above-average power for a middle infielder. With Mark Ellis, Keith Ginter and Marco Scutaro on the 40-man roster, Smith won't have much of a chance to make the A's out of spring training. He will give the A's veteran presence in Sacramento at the middle-infield positions, something they didn't have last season when a rash of injuries to Oakland's infielders forced the A's to call on a number of their reserves in AAA.

8) Billy Sylvester, RHP, 6'5'', 210

Once a top relief prospect in the Atlanta Braves' chain, Billy Sylvester spent the 2004 campaign in the Texas Rangers' chain. Sylvester, who is the all-time leader in saves for AA-Greenville, has been a closer for most of his eight minor league seasons. He has yet to taste the major leagues. Sylvester, like most of the other A's minor league free agent pitching acquisitions, has been a strike out pitcher for his entire career. He has a career average of 9.83 K:9 and he struck out 12 batters per 9 innings for AA-Frisco and AAA-Oklahoma last season. Despite throwing a mid-90s fastball and a biting knuckle-curveball, Sylvester was never really given a chance to make the major leagues with the Atlanta Braves, probably because of control problems that have led to Sylvester walking almost five batters per nine innings during his career. Sylvester will almost assuredly begin the season in the minor leagues, but he could be someone to keep an eye on during the season. If the A's coaching staff can correct his control issues, he could be a sleeper in the bullpen if someone gets hurt. Sylvester is 27, however, so the clock is ticking for him to make a big league squad.

Rising Prospects

1) Daric Barton, C/1B, 5'11'', 205

At age 19, Daric Barton will have the distinction of being the youngest player in the A's major league camp. He will also be one of the most closely watched prospects. Although Barton is at least one year away from being considered for a major league spot, he is arguably the A's best hitting prospect. Having been acquired this off-season in the Mark Mulder trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, Barton will be receiving his first exposure to the A's coaching staff this spring. The lefty slugger posted a .313 batting average and a 956 OPS as an 18 year old for Peoria of the Midwest League last season. It will be interesting to see how he stacks up against the older major league and veteran minor league competition this spring.

2) Omar Quintanilla, 2B/SS, 5'9'', 190

Omar Quintanilla opened a lot of eyes this past season with a strong showing at A-Modesto, AA-Midland and in the Arizona Fall League. The stocky middle infielder has shown a capacity for making consistently solid contact and getting on-base since he arrived in the Oakland chain in 2003. Quintanilla is the A's top middle-infield prospect and he could be competing for a major league job as soon as next season. For now, Quintanilla will likely be spending the spring working with A's infield coach Ron Washington on learning the second base position, as he will be making the switch from short to second this season.

3) Richie Robnett, OF, 5'10'', 200

Richie Robnett, who was one of the A's two first round draft choices last season, will be participating in his first professional baseball spring training. Robnett did not disappoint during his first season in the A's chain. He flashed all five of his tools at short-season A-Vancouver and posted an 841 OPS over 41 games. Robnett was promoted at the end of the Vancouver season to low-A Kane County, where he was a solid contributor for the Cougars during the Midwest League playoffs. Robnett will likely start the season in either Kane County or high-A Stockton.

4) Brian Snyder, 3B, 6'0'', 195

Brian Snyder enters his first major league spring training with the distinction of being the A's best third base prospect. Last season, that distinction belonged to Mark Teahen, who parlayed a good spring and a strong start to the 2004 campaign into being such a highly regarded prospect that he became the centerpiece prospect in the Octavio Dotel-Carlos Beltran deal. With the A's having locked up third baseman Eric Chavez for the next six seasons, Snyder could have a similar scenario unfold for him this season. The right-handed hitter was outstanding for low-A Kane County last season, posting a 905 OPS and hitting 13 homeruns despite missing time due to injury. Although he is still a good two years away from the major leagues, Snyder could be auditioning for all of the teams in Arizona this spring.

5) Huston Street, RHP, 6'0'', 190

Huston Street is the only member of the "rising prospects" category who will be seriously considered for a major league roster spot this spring. Although he is likely to start the season in AAA-Sacramento, Street could force the A's to keep him in their bullpen if he dominates major league hitters in spring training the same way he dominated minor league hitters at A, AA, AAA and in the Arizona Fall League last season. Street will likely make his major league debut at some point during the 2005 season, it is really a matter of whether the June 2004 supplemental first round pick will debut in April or September or somewhere in between.

6) Bradley Sullivan, RHP, 6'0'', 195

Former first round pick Brad Sullivan could be a bit of a reclamation project for the A's coaching staff this spring. Sullivan, who was a highly regarded prospect coming out of the University of Houston, has struggled since arriving in the Oakland chain to regain the velocity and control he had in college. Sullivan had a heavy workload at Houston, the after-effects of which could still be lingering. He struggled with his mechanics most of the season, but some of his velocity seemed to return towards the end of the year, giving hope that Sullivan will be able to regain his old form. Scouts are still high on the potential of this power right-handed pitcher, but at age 23, this will likely be a make or break season for Sullivan. If he doesn't show dramatic improvement this season, he will likely fall out of the A's long-term plans.

7) Kurt Suzuki, C, 6'0'', 200

Catcher Kurt Suzuki was a late addition to the A's non-roster invitee list, taking the place of fellow catcher Landon Powell when Powell suffered an off-season knee injury. Suzuki is coming off of a fabulous final college season and a strong first professional campaign. "Kurt Klutch" is still many years away from the big leagues, but he will likely gain valuable experience working with All-Star catcher Jason Kendall on the nuances of being a big league catcher. Suzuki comes to camp with a reputation for being a high energy player with good defensive skills and an above-average bat. He will likely begin the season at low-A Kane County.

Organizational Non-Roster Players

1) Britt Reams, RHP, 5'10'', 180

Britt Reames will be attending his second major league camp with the Oakland A's, having competed for a roster spot last season, as well. The former Montreal Expo and St. Louis Cardinal spent the entire 2004 season with AAA-Sacramento, serving mostly as a late-inning reliever. Reames was a minor league free agent at the end of the season, but he chose to re-sign with the A's. He will be competing with a score of players for the final bullpen spot.

2)Kirk Saarloos, RHP, 6'0'', 180

Kirk Saarloos is coming off of a strange 2004 campaign that began in the Houston Astros chain and ended with Saarloos on the Oakland A's major league disabled list. In between, Saarloos struggled with an injury but managed to overcome the pain to impress A's coaches in a mid-season appearance with the team as a fill-in starter for the injured Tim Hudson. Saarloos, when healthy, is a control pitcher who uses his off-speed pitches to keep hitters off-balance. He has had success at the major league level both as a starter and a reliever and he brings the A's pitching staff a lot of versatility. He had elbow surgery in August to remove bone spurs, so when he was removed from the 40-man roster in late October, other teams were too worried about his health to sign him. That may work to the A's benefit, as Saarloos could bring important depth to the team as a swingman, if healthy. He has already thrown pitches off the mound with no discomfort, so he should be at full strength to start the spring. Saarloos most likely will begin the year in AAA-Sacramento, but if one of the A's starters or long-man Justin Duchscherer falters, Saarloos might be the first to be called to fill that role.

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