OaklandClubhouse Mailbag #5

There has been a lot of movement throughout the Oakland A's organization over the past two weeks due to injuries. Our readers have written in this week to ask a number of questions about promotions throughout the A's system. We field those questions, as well as a few others in this week's OaklandClubhouse.com mailbag.

A few weeks ago, there was an article on the site about John Baker working through a vision problem that had hampered him during April. How is he doing since fixing the vision problem?

Kevin, San Francisco

Whether it was going back to his old contacts or simply breaking out of an early-season slump, Baker has been on a tear since May 1. In a little more than two weeks of work, Baker has driven in 15 runs and raised his batting average from .140 to .228. He has yet to hit a homerun, but Baker does have nine doubles and a triple in 114 at-bats this season. With Jason Kendall playing nearly every day and Adam Melhuse being a solid back-up catcher, the A's aren't likely to recall any catchers until September, barring injuries. If Baker keeps up his May hitting, he could very well be that September call-up.

Why was Francis Gomez called up from Class-A Stockton to fill in for Adam Morrissey at AAA-Sacramento instead of someone like Omar Quintanilla at AA-Midland?

Marty, Concord

It seems simplistic, but sometimes minor league promotions have more to do with convenience than performance. When Adam Morrissey was designated for assignment and Jermaine Clark was recalled to Oakland, the River Cats needed an infielder. Rather than send up someone from far-away Texas to fill a temporary roster spot, the A's grabbed a player from the Stockton roster to aid the River Cats since Stockton is physically closer to Sacramento. In addition, the A's didn't want to interrupt the development of a prospect like Omar Quintanilla of Midland by having him try to adjust to AAA pitching, only to have to re-adjust to AA pitching a week or so later. Gomez was a safe choice for the A's because he spent most of last season at AA-Midland and had a cup of coffee at Sacramento in 2004. He is also a strong defensive player, so he wasn't likely to be overwhelmed by AAA level of play. As it turns out, Gomez only started three games with Sacramento, but acquitted himself well. He collected six hits in 12 at-bats and scored five runs.

Dallas Braden is putting up impressive numbers at Stockton. Since the California league is not pitcher-friendly, and he is only 21, does that make him a legitimate prospect? If so, why wasn't he drafted higher?

Chris, Ottawa, Canada

Braden actually received a promotion at the beginning of this week and made his AA-Midland debut on Tuesday. The Texas Tech alum continued his run of success by posting 6.2 innings of shut-out baseball for Midland on Tuesday. Doubts about the quality of Braden's stuff coming out of college caused him to slip to the 24th round in the draft. After being drafted, Braden added about five MPH on his fastball, raising it from a below average 80-83 to a decent 85-87. He also began throwing a screwball that reportedly eats up right-handers. He has also improved his other secondary pitches, developing a decent slider and a change-up.

All of these improvements have led to a perfect 7-0 record and a minor league-leading 69 strikeouts in only 50.1 innings pitched. Braden is a Tom Glavine-style lefty. He relies on pin-point control and keeping hitters off-balance to succeed. Some scouts have pegged Braden as a future reliever because they feel that his screwball will be easy for major league hitters to figure out after seeing it a few times. However, Braden has been throwing only a handful of screwballs per game this season (generally no more than seven or eight a game), so it seems that his other pitches have been good enough to dominate the opposition, making it less likely that the screwball will be exposed.

Double-A will be a good test for Braden. Last year, Steven Bondurant – another finesse lefty – was outstanding at low-A Kane County but struggled at AA-Midland. Braden's status as a legitimate top prospect will depend on how he performs in AA. If he can continue to miss bats and throw strikes, Braden will be a legitimate starting pitching prospect.

When do you think the A's will start promoting players who are having a good season, i.e., Braden, Putnam, Suzuki, Ethier, Quintanilla?

Simon, Montreal, Canada

As mentioned above, Braden was already promoted to AA. However, the other players mentioned are still with their original organizations. While a player's performance has a lot to do with the decision to promote him, there are other factors involved in the decision. For instance, Braden's promotion was in small part because Brad Knox was finished with his stint at extended spring training and the A's wanted to start his season at High-A Stockton. At the same time, Midland lost a few of their pitchers to promotion to AAA-Sacramento. Consequently, the timing was perfect for the red-hot Braden to be promoted to Midland to free up a spot for Knox.

Reliever Jairo Garcia also benefited from some injuries and roster shuffling to gain a much deserved promotion to AAA. Who will get the next promotion will likely be determined by similar circumstances. For instance, if Dan Johnson is promoted to the major leagues, Midland stand-outs such as Andre Ethier, Jason Perry and Brant Colamarino would be candidates to fill that open roster spot. Kurt Suzuki will likely spend most of the season in Stockton, as Suzuki is only 21 years old and the A's don't want to rush him unnecessarily. Omar Quintanilla was very impressive in spring training and, after a slow start, has been hitting well at AA-Midland lately. It appears that the A's would like to see him spend at least a few months at AA (he was only in AA for 23 games last year) before being considered for a promotion.

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