OaklandClubhouse.com Mailbag

The postman arrived with a full bag this week. Click here to read the first installment of our weekly mailbag. Don't forget to send your questions in every week.

When will Javier Herrera return to active duty from his opening season suspension and what team is he assigned to? I hope it is the Ports as a minimum, considering the great year he had at low A Vancouver last year.

Carl D., Palo Alto

Why is Javy Herrera starting the year at Kane County, while Richie Robnett is at Stockton? He outperformed him last year, and he is younger.

Simon, Montreal, Canada

Both featured questions this week focus on reigning Northwest League MVP Javier Herrera. Herrera had an outstanding season for the Vancouver Canadians last season, flashing all five of his plus tools. The 20 year-old hit .331 in 63 games with 11 homeruns, 23 stolen bases and a .392 on-base percentage. Herrera's big season came one year after he sustained a very scary injury when he crashed in the outfield wall at full speed chasing a fly ball and lost feeling in his legs temporarily after the crash. The Venezuelan native finished the 2004 season as one of the A's top prospects and the A's were expecting big things for Herrera in 2005.

As most of you know, Herrera's 2005 campaign got off to a terrible start when it was revealed that he had failed a banned substance test two days before the start of the season. Herrera was suspended for 15 games as a first-time offender. In answer to Carl's question, Herrera is roughly half-way through his suspension and should be eligible to return sometime next weekend.

When Herrera returns to the active roster, he should be joining the low-A Kane County Cougars, as he was on the Cougars' roster before the suspension was announced. Both Carl and Simon are right in thinking that Herrera's lay in short-season A last season certainly could have merited him a ticket to a higher league. However, a player's statistics are not always the overriding factor to determine where a player will end up the next season.

Younger players are often moved through the system slower than former college players, especially during their first few years of professional baseball. A good example of this is A's prospect Daric Barton. Barton was drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and he had a very strong first professional season with Rookie League Johnson City. Yet, he was sent to the low-A Midwest League in 2004 rather than high-A, in part because he was only 18. Had Barton been 20 and a former college player, the Cardinals probably would have sent Barton to high-A in order for him to be challenged by higher level pitchers sooner. But since he was so young, the Cardinals didn't want to overwhelm him with advanced pitching at a young age. The A's philosophy with Herrera appears to be very similar. The youngster made great strides in the Northwest League last season, but he is still only 20 and has time to develop. The A's don't want to risk moving him too quickly and hurting his confidence before he has the time to grow into his game.

The other factor in the decision to start Herrera at low-A Kane County has to do with the other prospects in the A's system. The A's high-A and AA clubs are stocked with outfield prospects, most of whom are former college players. Since college players enter their professional careers at a more advanced age than high school draftees or foreign non-drafted free agents, they have to be moved through the system quicker for the A's to be able to gauge their skills more accurately. Robnett, for instance, should be better equipped to handle high-A pitching than Herrera because Robnett faced high level college pitching before coming to the A's and is a little older. The same goes for fellow 2004 draft pick Danny Putnam.

Don't worry about Herrera, however. The A's are still very high on his future and they won't hesitate to move him through the system when he looks like he is ready to take the next step. The A's would love nothing more than to have Herrera and Robnett in the outfield in Oakland by 2007.

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