Roster Preview: Kane County Cougars

<I>This week, we will be previewing the Opening Day rosters for Kane County, Stockton, Midland and Sacramento. Below is the first in the series.</I><br> In 2004, the Kane County Cougars came within one game of winning the Midwest League Championship. Along the way, they captured the Western Division crown with a 83-56 record. On Monday, the Cougars announced the Opening Day 25-man roster that will look to defend their Western Division championship. Here is an overview of the Cougars' roster:

The Kane County Cougars Roster

Starting Pitching

The Kane County starting staff will be led by last year's first round draft pick Michael Rogers. Rogers starred in college for NC State, striking out more than eight batters per nine innings during his collegiate career. In his final season at NC State, Rogers had a 0.94 WHIP. Rogers struggled a bit during his professional baseball debut at Vancouver, but many felt his arm was tired. Rogers should be well rested and ready to perform at the start of this season.

Nineteen year old Ryan Webb should also be in the Cougars' starting rotation. Webb, the son of former major leaguer Hank Webb, is the youngest player on the Cougars roster. The 6'6'' righty has tremendous control for a young pitcher and could move quickly through the A's system despite his young age.

Steven Sharpe, Ryan Ford, Tomas Cabaniel and Jared Trout will all be in the mix to round out the Cougars' rotation. Trout made 27 starts for Kane County in 2004. Ford, Sharpe and Cabaniel were teammates with short-season Vancouver last season. Ford, a 15th round pick in 2004, is the only lefty in the Cougars' potential starting five. He pitched well for the Canadians last season, making 11 starts and going 4-0 with a 3.44 ERA. Sharpe, a 2004 11th round pick, went 5-3 with a 4.75 ERA last season for the Canadians. Cabaniel was the strikeout leader for Vancouver in 2004. The Venezuelan right-hander also pitched for high-A Modesto last season.

Relief Pitching

The back-end of the Cougars' bullpen will be manned by Scot Drucker and Connor Robertson. Drucker was a late-inning reliever for the Canadians last season, saving six games. He struck out 18 in 21 innings. Drucker was a stalwart reliever for the University of Tennessee before being drafted by the A's in the 13th round of the 2004 draft.

Robertson surprised everyone last season with his outstanding performance for the A's Rookie League team after being drafted in the 31st round. He posted a 0.92 ERA in 29 innings pitched and he limited opposing batters to a .157 BAA. James Heuser, Keith Perez, Robert Semerano, Derek Tharpe, and Clay Tichota will round out the bullpen.

Infielders and Catchers

Second baseman Kevin Melillo anchors a solid infield. The South Carolina alum hit .340 for the Canadians last season after being drafted in the fifth round. Melillo is a top of the order hitter and a solid defender at second. He should turn double-plays with defensive wizard Gregorio Petit, who was his teammate at Vancouver last season. Petit, a product of the A's Dominican Baseball Academy, was regarded at one of the top defensive shortstops in the Northwest League last season. Melillo and Petit should share time in the middle infield with Wes Long and Ryan Ruiz. Long, a 29th round pick last season, was outstanding in the Rookie League last season, hitting .345 with a 929 OPS. He also stole 16 bases. Ruiz didn't hit for a high batting average last season for the Canadians, but he showed good plate discipline and was an excellent collegiate hitter.

The corners of the infield will be manned by Myron Leslie and Kory Wayment at third and Tom Everidge at first. The switch-hitting Leslie is a five-tool prospect with a high ceiling. Wayment will be returning to Kane County for his third season as a member of the Cougars. Everidge, a Sonoma State grad, hit .272 in his professional debut with Vancouver. The powerful righty should bring some punch to the middle of the Cougars' line-up.

The Cougars' catching corps took a hit when the A's 2004 first round draft pick Landon Powell went down with a season-ending knee injury. Before Powell's injury, A's prospect Kurt Suzuki was projected to land in Kane County. However, Suzuki took advantage of Powell's absence and played well enough at major league spring training to earn a promotion to high-A Stockton. Despite missing out on Suzuki, the Cougars will still have talent behind the plate. Raul Padron, a left-handed hitting Venezuelan, starred for the A's Rookie League team last season. The 20-year old catcher should get a bulk of the playing time. He will be backed-up by minor league veteran Travis Chapman, who was signed as a minor league free agent in the off-season.

Outfield

Arguably the team's best prospect, Javier Herrera, highlights the Cougars' outfielding corps. Herrera did it all last season for the Canadians, hitting .331 with 11 homers and 23 stolen bases. He also played solid defense and displayed an outstanding arm. He was named the MVP of the Northwest League and was third on Baseball America's list of the A's top prospects. Herrera's season will start late, however, as he was suspended for 15 days for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

He will be joined in the outfield by Nick Blasi, who was his teammate with the Canadians last season. Blasi, a Wichita State grad, had a solid first year with the Canadians in 2004, hitting .292 with a .382 OPS. Chris Tritle will also get time in the outfield. Tritle was one of the A's top prospects in 2001 after he starred for the A's Rookie League team. However, his progress has stalled since then and he is probably getting his last chance to stick with the A's organization this season.


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