Oakland A's Minor League Notebook: 4/18/05

Ten games into the minor league season, we take a look at the progress of a few of the Oakland A's top prospects. In this edition of <I>A's Minor League Notebook</I>, we give particular focus to the A's corner infield prospects.

A few months back, we wrote a piece about the A's depth at the catching position entitled "Backstop Bonanza". The A's catching depth has thinned a bit since then with the position move of Daric Barton to first and the season-ending injury to Landon Powell. However, there is now a similar bonanza building at first base.

The first base depth begins with Dan Johnson, who has driven in 11 runs in the first 10 games of the season. After dominating PCL pitching last season and holding his own in the difficult Mexican Winter League, Johnson was one of the A's best hitters this spring. He also displayed much better instincts and footwork around the first base bag, eliminating one of the biggest criticisms of his game: his previously poor defense. The River Cats offense has struggled during their recent losing streak, but Johnson continues to be a force in the middle of their line-up.

Midland's Brant Colamarino has been making waves in AA. The Pittsburgh product has been one of the minor league's hottest hitters so far this season. After going 2-4 on Sunday with an RBI triple, Colamarino is hitting a cool .450 on the season. He has scored nine runs, collected seven extra-base hits and has driven in nine runs in only 10 games this season. He has hit safely in all but one game this year. Colamarino has lead the Rockhounds to an 8-2 record, including a six-game winning streak.

Colamarino began last season in fast fashion, as well. The slugging first baseman hit .355 in 50 games for Modesto before being promoted to AA mid-season. The lefty cooled off after his promotion, but seems to have figured out AA pitching over the off-season. Colamarino could push himself into the A's future plans or could become a trade target for another team if he continues to tear up the Texas League.

High-A Stockton has a pair of first basemen who swing heavy lumber, as well. Most A's fans know about Daric Barton, who was one of the A's prize off-season acquisitions. Barton was a catcher during his first two years of minor league baseball, but the A's converted him to first base during spring training, in part to keep the wear and tear of catching from affecting his swing. Barton is one of the youngest players in all of high-A baseball, but he has been holding his own against California League pitching so far this season. Through Sunday, Barton was hitting .297 with six RBIs. He had walked four times against five strike outs.

Barton has thus far been serving strictly as a designated hitter for Stockton, although he will likely get plenty of time at first by season's end. Vasili Spanos has been the man at first for the Ports so far this season. Spanos, who split time between third and first last season for low-A Kane County, started the season off slowly. However, the former Indiana Hoosier has posted three straight multi-hit games to raise his batting average to .256. Spanos has hit at every level he has played at during his career and he was one of the best hitters in the Midwest League last season. He is the only right-handed hitter among the A's top first base prospects.

On the other side of the diamond, the A's minor league third basemen are producing despite the fact that Oakland's top third base prospect has been laid up so far this season. Brian Snyder, who was one of Kane County's best hitters last season and is the A's top third base prospect, is currently at extended spring training rehabbing a rib cage strain. Snyder missed roughly a month last season because of a hip flexor injury. Once he is fully healthy, Snyder will likely join AA-Midland.

Minor league free agent signee Andrew Beattie has been an excellent replacement for Snyder so far this season at Midland. The 27 year-old Beattie was signed this off-season by Oakland after he spent seven seasons in the Cincinnati organization. He opened some eyes this spring when he made two spectacular diving plays at third in a major league spring game. Beattie has been a hot hitter for Midland so far this season. He is tied for the team lead in homeruns with three and he is hitting .312 on the season. He has also driven in nine runs in nine games played.

Up in Sacramento, the third sack has been manned by former major leaguer Bobby Smith and perpetual prospect Adam Morrissey. Morrissey is coming off of a turbulent 2004 season where he started off strong and then faded badly at the end. The Australian-native has a world of talent, but he has yet to fully realize it. Morrissey is off to a hot start this season. Through eight games played, he is hitting .368 and has driven in four runs. Morrissey has also seen time at short this season.

Other Notes:

- Outfielder Andre Ethier is also off to a hot start this season. Ethier pounded his third homerun of the season in Midland's 6-2 victory over Corpus Christie. Ethier's homer was part of a four-run 8th inning that gave the Rockhounds their sixth straight win. Ethier's power surge is a good sign. He has been an excellent hitter since being drafted in 2003; however, he had yet to show much power. Ethier could quickly become an elite prospect if his power production continues throughout the season. He is currently leading the Rockhounds with a .471 batting average.

- Stockton starter Dallas Braden has continued to surprise everyone with his ability to dominate minor league hitters. Braden was a 24th round draft pick last year but he has pitched more like a first rounder. The screwball specialist has struck out 12 batters in 10.1 innings pitched this season while posting a 1.76 ERA in two starts. Braden has increased the velocity of his fastball since being drafted out of Texas Tech, which has helped his screwball become more effective. Braden is fast becoming one of the A's top left-handed pitching prospects.

- Speaking of left-handed pitching prospects, John Rheinecker is off to a hot start this season. Rheinecker pitched eight shut-out innings on Opening Night and has allowed five earned runs in 17 innings pitched. Both he and right-handed starter Seth Etherton are keeping the pressure on the A's fifth starter Kirk Saarloos with their hot starts to the season. Etherton, who narrowly lost out to Saarloos for the fifth starter spot this season, has allowed only two earned runs in 11 innings pitched this season. Both could be candidates to replace Saarloos in the rotation if he continues to struggle.

- On Sunday, Midland was the only A's affiliate to grab a win. Sacramento ended Sunday tied 3-3 after the 7th inning before the game was suspended due to rain. Sacramento and Portland will finish off the game tomorrow. The River Cats will be looking to snap its four-game losing streak. Midland is riding a six-game winning streak after their 6-2 win on Sunday. Reliever Evan Fahrner added two more innings of scoreless relief to earn the save for the Rockhounds. Stockton lost a tight game, 8-7. Starter Jason Windsor squandered a 7-0 lead when his defense collapsed around him in the fourth inning. Jared Burton allowed a run in the bottom of the 8th to get the loss. Kane County also lost a one-run game on a run in the bottom of the 8th, 4-3.

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