A's MLN: April's Best

A number of Oakland A's prospects got their 2005 campaigns off to a good start. We take a look at April's top performers in this edition of Oakland A's Minor League Notebook…

Starting Pitchers

1. Dallas Braden – LHP, Stockton

The Stockton native has been dazzling so far as part of the Ports rotation. In April five starts, Braden posted a 4-0 record with a 3.14 ERA. Perhaps most impressive is Braden's strikeouts per inning ratio, which is nearly two to one with 42 strikeouts in only 28.2 innings pitched. He has also walked only seven batters over that span. Braden uses a screwball to off-set his fastball and slider. The 24th round 2004 draft pick could be looking at a mid-season promotion to AA with a strong May.

2. Steven Bondurant – LHP, Midland

After a strong 2004 at Kane County, Bondurant is beginning his 2005 campaign much the same way he started 2004. Although his strikeouts are down a bit, Bondurant has been hard for Texas League hitters to get a bead on. After a mediocre first start, Bondurant has had three straight solid outings. He has a 3-0 record on the year with a 2.88 ERA and an impressive 1.00 WHIP. The lefty has given up only 19 hits in 25 innings, while striking out 21 and walking six. Bondurant, who graduated with honors from South Carolina in 2003, is a little older than most of his Texas League compatriots and could be moved into the Sacramento rotation mid-season to give him a chance to face more advanced competition.

3. John Rheinecker – LHP, Sacramento

It was only two short seasons ago that Rheinecker was one of the A's best pitching prospects. Two mediocre seasons in Sacramento later, Rheinecker was in danger of being a forgotten man in the A's organization. However, this April Rheinecker has regained much of the success that made him a top prospect in 2002. Rheinecker started the season by pitching an eight inning shut-out. He had a no-decision that night and has generally been a victim of low run-support by the struggling River Cats' offense. Despite the lack of support, Rheinecker has still compiled a 2-0 record and a stellar 1.76 ERA in five starts. His K/BB ratio is not great (15/10), so there is a chance that he could start giving up more runs in the near future. However, he is definitely someone to keep a close eye on.

4. Ryan Webb – RHP, Kane County

Teenager Ryan Webb became the youngest A's pitcher to be drafted in the top 10 rounds of the draft since 2001 when the A's drafted the 18 year old in the fourth round last year. He was impressive in the Arizona Rookie League last season and has continued to impress during his first month in the Midwest League. Webb, who is the youngest player on the Cougars, made three starts and one relief appearance in April and posted a 2.76 ERA in 19 innings pitched. Webb has only a 1-1 record, but he struck out 16 and walked only five in April.

Relief Pitchers

1. Jairo Garcia – RHP, Midland

The entire Midland bullpen has been light's out and Garcia has been a large part of the bullpen's success. The flame-throwing right-hander has done it all for Midland. He has closed out games, worked multiple innings in tie games and has come on to strand inherited runners. Garcia worked 13 April innings, striking out 22 batters and walking seven. He also converted three saves for the Rockhounds.

2. Tim Harikkala – RHP, Sacramento

Harikkala entered spring training with the expectation of making the A's 25-man roster. After failing to win a spot on the team, Harikkala could have gone to Sacramento and sulked. Instead, he has gone to AAA and has shined. The major league veteran allowed only two runs in 16.1 innings pitched (1.10 ERA) in April. He has struck out 16 and walked four while working the most number of innings of any Sacramento reliever. Harikkala has put himself in good position to be recalled to Oakland if anyone in the A's bullpen gets hurt.

3. Alex Santos – RHP, Stockton

Santos shined in April, allowing only eight base-runners in 11.2 innings worked. Santos has teamed with Jeff Muessig to close out games for the Ports this season. He struck out 14 and has walked two while saving four games in the season's first month. He also posted a 0.77 ERA. Santos started May where he left off in April, saving the Ports' 6-3 win over Lancaster on Sunday.

4. Evan Fahrner – RHP, Midland

The off-season minor league free agent signee has been another stalwart in the rock solid Midland bullpen. Fahrner has pitched the most number of innings of any Rockhound reliever (16.1) and he has been very effective in those innings. Fahrner, a former Chicago Cubs farmhand, struck out 21 and has allowed only three earned runs in April.

Outfielders

1. Andre Ethier, Midland

No one A's prospect raised more eyebrows with his play in April than Ethier. The 2003 first round draft choice added power to his already impressive hitting arsenal and the results have been noticeable. Ethier had a .659 slugging percentage with five homeruns, six doubles and a triple in April. He also hit for a high batting average, posting a .378 mark. Ethier was among the Texas League leaders in all of the major offensive categories, including on-base percentage which was a healthy .441.

2. Dustin Majewski, Stockton

The smooth fielding Majewski has been swinging a hot bat in addition to wielding a strong glove in centerfield. Majewski is third on the Ports with a .304 batting average and has been a solid presence in the number two spot for Stockton, posting a team-leading .423 on-base percentage. Majewski also hit an April team-high three homeruns and tacked on six doubles and a triple. The University of Texas alum is widely considered one of the best fielding centerfielders in the California League.

3. Danny Putnam, Stockton

Putnam was the first position player in the A's 2004 draft class to advance past short-season-A ball and Putnam has shown why he was bestowed with that honor with his play this April. Putnam hit .305 in April with a team-leading 18 runs batted in, usually from the fifth spot in the batting order. The Stanford alum started off May on the right foot, as well, hitting his second and third homeruns in the Ports' 6-3 Sunday win.

4. Matt Watson, Sacramento

The River Cats have been disappointing offensively so far this season, but Watson has been a consistently solid contributor near the top of the Sacramento order. Watson hit .298 in April and posted the second-highest on-base percentage (.381) on the team. The corner outfielder smacked seven extra-base hits and stole six bases in seven chances.

Infielders

1. Kevin Melillo – 2B, Kane County

It isn't often that a second baseman leads his team in slugging percentage, but Melillo did just that for Kane County in April. The South Carolina alum posted a .515 slugging percentage in the season's first month and teamed that with a .460 on-base percentage to make himself the Cougars' best all-around hitter in April. Melillo missed time last season with a side strain and has had a history of injuries in his career, but if he can stay healthy, he could be in for an early season promotion.

2. Kurt Suzuki – C, Stockton

Suzuki excited a lot of people within the A's organization with his play during the major league portion of spring training and he hasn't disappointed through the first month of the minor league season. Suzuki hit .301 with an even .400 on-base percentage during April. He even swiped two bases. "Kurt Klutch" is one of the youngest players on the Ports' roster, but he has handled the Stockton pitching staff with aplomb so far this season.

3. Brant Colamarino, 1B, Midland

Colamarino had a red-hot April in 2004, leading to an early season promotion to AA-Midland. The Pittsburgh alum is at it again with yet another hot April in 2005. Colamarino teamed with Ethier to make a formidable middle of the order for the Rockhounds. He posted a .360 batting average with 12 extra-base hits in the month of April. He has yet to show a classic first-baseman's homerun power, but has otherwise been stellar at the plate.

4. Adam Morrissey – INF, Sacramento

Morrissey has had an up and down minor league career, but his fortunes have been looking up so far this season. Morrissey has been one of the few offensive bright spots for Sacramento, hitting .298 with a .403 on-base percentage. The Australian native is second on the team with a .456 slugging percentage. He was playing irregularly to start the season, but his hot bat has made him a regular in the Sacramento line-up lately.


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