In-Season Report: A's Top 25 Prospects (1-5)

Before the start of the season, we brought you our list of the Oakland A's top 25 prospects. Now that the season is more than half over, we'll check in with those 25 prospects to see how they have fared this season. In our first installment, we take a look at prospects 1-5.

Our pre-season top five features two players who have played an integral role in the Oakland A's success during the 2005 season. Two of the other players were acquired by the A's in off-season deals. (To read the entire preseason article, please click here.) Let's take a look at how these players have done thus far this season:

1 - Nick Swisher, OF, Oakland A's

Swisher entered spring training with a major league roster spot sown up. He struggled in spring training and for much of the month of April. His season got even worse when he crashed into the right-field wall at the start of May and dislocated his shoulder. However, the three weeks off seem to have been beneficial for Swisher, as he has been one of the A's best offensive players since his return.

The energetic outfielder is hitting only .254 on the season, but his slugging percentage is an impressive .478 and he is second on the team with 15 homeruns. Since June 1, Swisher is hitting .276 with 12 homers and 30 RBI. He is tied for fourth on the team in runs scored and has made the A's offense tick by providing a power source from the bottom of the line-up. Swisher is not yet getting on base at the rate the A's hoped he would and his defense in the outfield is sometimes erratic, but he has, for the most part, played as well as the A's could have hoped he would. Swisher appears to be well on his way to developing into an above-average everyday player.

2 - Daric Barton, 1B, A-Stockton Ports/AA-Midland Rockhounds

When the A's acquired Barton from the St. Louis organization, he came with the tag of being the "best hitter in the minor leagues". That is a lot for anyone to live up to, let alone a teenager. However, Barton has done plenty to justify that praise with his play this season. After getting off to a slow start caused by a pair of injuries sustained in spring training, Barton righted himself in a big way and the California League pitchers quickly paid the price. In 79 games with the Ports, Barton hit .318 with an astounding .438 OBP. He also posted a respectable .469 SLG by hitting eight homers, two triples and 16 doubles.

After those 79 games, it was clear that Barton had nothing more to prove in A-ball so he was promoted to AA. Upon arriving in Midland, Barton was immediately bestowed the title of "youngest player in the Texas League". Barton kept up just fine with the older competition, hitting a homerun in his first full game at AA. He has now played in 26 AA games and is hitting .292 with 16 RBI and an 876 OPS despite going through a bad slump last week. In both A-ball and AA-ball, Barton has walked more times than he has struck out.

Barton has also made the defensive switch to first base after spending his first two minor league seasons behind the plate. The transition has appeared to go smoothly, although there are rumors that Barton will make another defensive switch (this time to the outfield) during the off-season. Wherever Barton plays in the field, it is clear that his bat will be good enough to more than justify him playing there. He has been everything the A's thought they were getting when they acquired him in the Mark Mulder deal. Barton may not hit a lot of homeruns yet, but he does everything else well at the plate. He appears well on his way to making his major league debut sometime in 2006.

3 - Dan Meyer, SP, AAA-Sacramento

If Barton was the prospect-key to the Mark Mulder trade, Meyer was the prospect-key to the Tim Hudson deal. After a tremendous career in the Atlanta Braves organization, Meyer looked poised to take the A's fifth starter slot coming into spring training. However, his season got off to a rough start when he injured his throwing shoulder but masked the injury in his attempt to make the A's roster. Meyer allowed 17 runs in 19.2 innings during spring training and was sent to AAA to try to regain his top form.

The trip to Sacramento didn't fix what ailed Meyer. He struggled in April as he battled his injured shoulder and then landed on the disabled list for most of May and June. He returned in July and, although he has been moderately better, he still hasn't shown the dominance he displayed with the Braves organization. On the season, Meyer has thrown 68 innings and has allowed an alarming 12 homeruns and 40 earned runs. He has struck out 47, but has struggled with his control, walking 33. Meyer's record (2-6) has reflected his struggles.

Meyer is still a good prospect, as he is a lefty with good stuff and he is only 24 years old. However, it is clear that he'll need a little more seasoning in AAA next season before he gets a chance to show what he can do on the major league level. He still projects out to be a solid two or three starter at the major league level, but if his struggles continue into next season, the A's may decide to move him to the bullpen, where his low-90s fastball and excellent secondary pitches could make him an effective lefty reliever.

4 - Joe Blanton, SP, Oakland A's

After an outstanding 2003 season with Kane County and Midland followed by a mediocre 2004 season at AAA-Sacramento, it was hard to know what to expect from Blanton coming into the 2005 season. He had a solid spring training and brought that effectiveness with him to Oakland into April. Blanton posted an impressive 2.67 ERA in five April starts, but was winless thanks to tepid offensive support from his teammates. He imploded in May and was in danger of losing his rotation spot by producing a 13.25 ERA in five May starts.

Blanton's fortunes turned in June and, since June 1, Blanton is 6-4 with a 2.76 ERA. On the season, Blanton is limiting opposing hitters to a .239 BAA (sixth best in the AL) and is 6-9 with a 4.29 ERA. He has given up too many homeruns (16 in 123.2 innings), but he has limited that damage by keeping down the number of base-runners he allows, as evidenced by his impressive 1.26 WHIP. He has done a particularly good job pitching in tight games and has shown a veteran's presence on the mound. Blanton may not turn into the number one starter that he was projected to be after his standout 2003 minor league campaign, but he clearly holds his own as a solid number three starter in the major leagues.

5 - Javier Herrera, OF, A-Kane County Cougars/AAA-Sacramento River Cats

Like Meyer, Herrera's 2005 season got off to a nightmarish start. However, Herrera's slow start had nothing to do with injury. The talented outfielder tested positive for steroids and was suspended on the eve of the minor league opening day. Herrera was by far the most highly touted prospect in the A's system to be suspended for steroids and the suspension created some question marks that didn't exist after Herrera's standout 2004 season at Vancouver.

When Herrera returned to active play, he appeared tentative and struggled well into May. However, a brief trip to AAA-Sacramento in late May seemed to wake up his bat. Herrera hit .417 in five games for the River Cats, launching a homerun and collecting five hits in 12 at-bats. Upon his return to Kane County, Herrera began to resemble the player who won the Northwest League MVP award last season.

The speedy centerfielder is now hitting .281 with 10 homers and 56 RBI in 76 games for the Cougars. He has also done a better job taking walks this season, drawing 39 base on balls and posting a respectable .375 OBP. Perhaps most impressive has been Herrera's work with his feet. Herrera has stolen a team-leading 22 bases in 27 attempts for the Cougars. He has also played an outstanding centerfield.

The steroid suspension will hang over Herrera for a little while. He'll have to go another full season without testing positive before people will stop wondering if his "five-tools" are being aided artificially. That being said, Herrera is still one of the A's top outfield prospects and he will be given every opportunity to succeed. He is still someone to keep a close eye on over the next few seasons.

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