Oakland A's Top Prospects: 5-1

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 tenth of the series, we announce top-five prospects.

5. Kurt Suzuki, C

All in all, Suzuki's 2005 campaign was pretty solid. Playing at Class-A Stockton, the former Cal-State Fullerton backstop hit .277/.378/.440 with 12 homers, 26 doubles and five triples. But while his offensive results were solid, his defensive abilities dropped off a bit. He committed 15 errors behind the plate, struggling with his footwork for long stretches and allowing 19 passed balls for the year. On a positive note, he did seem to improve toward the end of the season and has always had a reputation as a good defensive catcher. It's something to watch, but I doubt the A's are overly concerned after watching him throw out all four baserunners who tried to steal on him during spring training.

2006 will be a big year for Suzuki, as he makes the transition to Double-A. His plate discipline is one of his greatest assets, as is evidenced by his 63/61 BB/K ratio at Stockton. Anytime a hitter walks more than he strikes out while posting good power numbers, scouts will take notice. If Suzuki continues to control the strike zone he should be fine. He'll play at 22 next year, so even a down 2006 won't hurt his prospect status too much. Still, a solid season will cement him as the A's catcher of the very near future.

4. Dan Meyer, LHP

Meyer lost most of 2005 to a shoulder injury that occurred sometime between the end of 2004 and the middle of March. He allegedly hid the injury from the A's staff during spring training. Whether he did or not, I don't know, but I admire him for trying to fight through it in order to make his first Opening Day roster. On the other hand, it was not a wise decision because it cost him an entire year of development. He did make 17 starts and two relief appearances, but it was clear that something was not right with him. Rather than polishing his already major league-caliber stuff, he spent 2005 pitching tentatively and wondering if his shoulder pain was serious or would eventually get better on its own.

Since the end of the year there has not been much information forthcoming about Meyer's health. If he enters 2006 without any pain in his shoulder, I expect him to spend a few weeks shaking off the rust. After that he should be ready to compete for a spot in the A's rotation. The question is obviously his health. The A's won't let him set foot on a pitcher's mound unless tests reveal that his shoulder is structurally sound, so we should know by late February which way his season is headed.

3. Andre Ethier, OF (NOTE: TRADED TO LA DODGERS)

Ethier's breakout performance in 2005 turned him into the second-most advanced hitting prospect in the A's organization, behind Daric Barton. Most A's fans are aware of what he did, but to recap, he hit .319/.385/.497 in Double-A, with 30 doubles, three triples and 18 homers. He got into four games at Sacramento (4-for15, one double), then tore up the AFL, hitting .366/.495/.598.

Defensively, he does not have a lot of arm, but he makes good reads and is improving his routes on fly balls. He is probably best-suited to left field, and I've made the comparison to Garret Anderson before. I still like that comparison as a best-case scenario for Ethier. He has a similar build to Anderson and exhibits good overall athleticism without standing out in any one respect. His power has always lagged behind his physical size, but he shows flashes and could gain consistency as he gets comfortable at the big league level.

Triple-A will be a good test in 2006. If he hits, Ethier will find himself in Oakland before the season wraps in October. If he tears the cover off the ball he might be there by the All-Star break. If he struggles, at worst he will enter spring training 2007 with a chance to secure a starting job in Oakland's outfield. Not too bad for a guy who entered 2005 as only the 16th-best prospect in the organization according to Baseball America.

2. Javier Herrera, OF

The outlook for Herrera looks pretty rosey right now. At age 20, Herrera performed well at Low Class-A Kane County, hitting .275/.374/.444 with 18 doubles, two triples and 13 homers. On top of that, Herrera stole 26 bases in 31 attempts, which is not only an indication of his speed, but also a sign that the A's are shifting toward a focus on speed to go along with their focus on defense. I don't think we will ever see the A's with a lineup full of burners, but if they have two, three or even four players who can steal successfully 75 percent of the time or better, we might see 100-120 team steals in the near future. Herrera could very well be one of them, but I digress.

2005 didn't start so well for Herrera. He was suspended fifteen games on April 5th when he tested positive for a banned substance, then got off to a slow start when his suspension ended. Things turned out fine in the end, with Herrera's numbers living up to his 2004 performance in Vancouver that earned him a spot on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list (#68).

Defensively, Herrera covers a lot of ground (just ask the wall he ran through in Arizona) and has an absolute hose attached to his right shoulder. He is listed at 5'10'', 160, but I'd say he's added about ten pounds to that at the very least. He reminds me a bit of Raul Mondesi, with a quick release in the field and quick, explosive power at the plate. I have not seen him run enough routes to get a feel for his skill in that department, but I'm told he is average with plenty of room to get better.

I'm excited to see Herrera in Stockton this year and plan to get out there as much as possible just to watch his game develop. The tools are undeniable but his skills are raw and need work. If he is willing to put in the work I see him manning right field in Oakland as soon as 2008.

1. Daric Barton, 1B

I'm not sure I can add anything to the canon that has been written on Barton. As a hitting prospect, he is everything the A's covet. He has an advanced idea of the strike zone that rivals anyone currently on the Oakland roster. He makes excellent contact and walks more than he strikes out. He also hits for power, though how that power will translate at higher levels is open for debate. He hit only five homeruns in 212 Double-A ABs in 2005, but, then again, he didn't turn 20 until the middle of August. Moreover, he hit .316/.410/.491 over that stretch, which is incredible considering age-relative-to-league factors.

Clearly the power is there, but Barton needs to turn a few of his line drives that one-hop the wall into drives that clear the wall. Scouts call it "loft" and talk about batters "gaining leverage" on their swings, though it doesn't seem like any two scouts agree on how leverage and loft are achieved. Some say it's as simple as dipping the back knee at the moment of impact. Others say it's a combination of factors that dovetail when a player gets comfortable enough against tough pitching to adjust for power without sacrificing contact. For Barton that will take time, but he has the skill and the instincts to figure it out.

Defensively, there isn't much to say. Barton was inadequate as a catcher, and I feel that any talk about sticking him back behind the plate is a pipe dream. I also don't see him as a viable outfield (read: left field) candidate due to his lack of mobility. His best bet is first base, and with some work he should be passable there, though it is most likely that his name will have the letters 'D' and 'H' next to it on lineup cards throughout his career. I'd love to see him turn into one of Ron Washington's triumphs, but so far I don't see it.

Barton will wind up in Sacramento at some point during the 2006 season. Given his nearly seamless transition to Double-A last year, it isn't a stretch to think he'll earn a promotion before the All-Star break. At worst, we will see him in Oakland on Opening Day of 2007. At best, he will make an impact on the 2006 pennant race after a late-season call up.


Oakland Clubhouse Top Stories