Oakland A's Top Prospects: 25-21

It's that time of the year when we take stock of the Oakland A's organization and analyze the top prospects. For the next few weeks, every Monday and Wednesday will be "Top Prospect List Day", as we will release our top 50 list in groups of five. Today, in the sixth of the series, we announce prospects 25-21.

25. John Rheinecker, LHP

Rheinecker started seven games for the River Cats in 2006 and went 4-0 with a 1.77 ERA. This was certainly an improvement over very poor showings in 2003 and 2004, but it was by no means the breakout some prospect analysts have called it. First, his K/IP was ho-hum at 24/45. Second, his K/BB was also ho-hum at 24/14. He did average just under seven innings per start and held opponents to 0.94 baserunners per inning, so it's safe to say he's moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see more due to an injury to a finger on his pitching hand that shelved him for the remainder of 2005.

At this point Rheinecker is a 27 year-old (as of May 29, 2006) coming off a lost season. He needs to improve on the promise he showed last spring, particularly his command, if he is going to make a run at a major league bullpen job. It's very possible, even probably given his lofty draft position, that the A's will give him a shot even if his numbers are mediocre, but I won't get excited until I see his walk rate drop.

24. Jeremy Brown, C

Count me as someone who is very excited to see Jeremy Brown play at AAA in 2006. While the organization and those who follow it focused mostly on Kurt Suzuki and the loss of Landon Powell to a knee injury, Brown quietly broke through the Double-A wall he had struggled with in 2003 and 2004. In 115 games at Midland, he amassed 394 ABs and posted a .261/.359/.487 line with 20 homers and 72 RBI. His walk rate dipped and his K rate rose, but that can be accounted for by the swing alterations that allowed him to jump from six homers in 2004 to 20 in 2005. Who wouldn't take that tradeoff?

He will be the starting catcher for the River Cats come April, and it is likely that he will be in Oakland at some point during the 2006 campaign. It may be as a third catcher in September, but it will be the start of what I think will be a solid five-to-ten year run as a major league backup catcher.

23. Alexi Ogando, OF

Ogando has become something of a mystery after missing the entire 2005 season due to "visa issues". His name has been mentioned in connection with the marriage scandal that involved a number of Dominican prospects, but I have not been able to confirm that with an A's source. In fact, mention the name and it's like someone has pulled a painting off a wall in the Louvre. Security walls drop and everything shuts down.

Legal troubles aside, Ogando is a premium tools guy with little to show in the way of skills. He wowed me when I saw him play for Vancouver. He has a long, graceful stride in the outfield and during batting practice fired several cannon shots across the field with his feet planted. Try playing long toss without moving your feet sometime and see how far you can throw a baseball. At the plate he was too skinny to remind me of anyone in the majors, but if I closed my eyes halfway I could see a hint of the famous Vladimir Guerrero comparison.

Don't get too excited about that – he'd have to add about 30-40 pounds to his frame and blow through three full minor league levels in 2006 to get to the same point Vlad was at age 21. Ogando is already 21 and has never appeared in a Single-A game. Here's hoping he gets his chance.

22. Shane Komine, RHP

Shane Komine (AKA "Hawaiian Punchout") reminds me a bit of Tim Hudson and a bit more of Tom Gordon. Gordon is more muscular, but the velocity coming out of a small frame is pretty similar. Komine touches the mid-90s despite his 5'8, 160-pound stature. More importantly, he can pitch. He uses a nasty fastball/curve/change assortment that seems to make hitters afraid. In the games I've seen in person, opposing batters get fidgety after they see his curve for the first time. Whether it is that good (scouts say it is solid but don't rave about it) or they're just surprised that a small guy has such good stuff, I don't know. Regardless, he stays down in the zone with all his pitches and has the ability to work the edges of the plate effectively for 4-6 inning stretches.

Komine was on an impressive career path until 2004, when he struggled as he repeated Double-A. In retrospect, it is clear that his struggles were due to an arm problem that eventually led to Tommy John surgery. He came back strong in 2005, posting good numbers at Stockton and upon his return to Midland. 2006 should see him in Sacramento's rotation, and a strong showing could earn him a bullpen job with Oakland in the near future. I am doubtful that he will remain in a starting role in the majors because I feel his size will limit his ability to pitch effectively deep into games. A relief role would allow him to maximize his velocity and control in short, manageable stints.

21. Vincent Mazzaro, RHP

Taken out of Rutherford High School, Vincent Mazzaro was thought by Baseball America to be the easiest sign of very talented crop of New Jersey prep pitchers. Perhaps he didn't figure the A's would take him, because he wound up holding out until September before signing for a $380,000 bonus. The long layoff kept Mazzaro from making his pro debut this year, so he'll be a bit behind the rest of the organization's 2005 draft class next spring. Hopefully his low-90s fastball and funky slider will be present and accounted for when that time comes.

I'm glad to have Mazzaro in the fold because all reports on his talent are glowing. On the downside, I was troubled by the attitude that seemed present itself during his holdout. I shouldn't be too judgmental though. Contract negotiations rarely bring out the good in people, and nobody's character can be well-represented in a handful of media clippings. If attitude is a problem, I'm confident that the A's will deal with it. Maybe they can stick him with Dan Meyer – a Jersey kid with oodles of makeup – this spring and see if Meyer's demeanor rubs off a bit.

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