Forecasting The Minor League Rosters

So you've decided this is the year. After so many seasons of reading up on Oakland A's prospects, you've determined that this season you are going to make it to Sacramento, Midland, Stockton and Kane County to see for yourself what all of the fuss is about with these players. Since it is never too soon to plan your dream baseball vacation, we thought we'd give you a preview of who you might see with each of the A's full-season affiliates this season.

Standard Disclaimer: Trying to predict where minor league players will open the season is an inexact science, so take these predictions with a grain of salt. That being said, we have based these predictions on both roster considerations and the player's production last season.

Sacramento

So you've decided to begin your vacation a mere stone throw's away from Oakland, just up I-80 in Sacramento. While being treated to one of the nicest ballparks in the Pacific Coast League, Raley Field, you will notice that there are more than a few banners out on the outfield wall. The River Cats have been making winning a habit since coming into existence in 2000. Although they fell short of their third straight PCL title last season, they did make the playoffs again and could be poised to do so this season.

Pitching

On the pitching-side of the ball, the River Cats should be sporting a deep and talented staff. The starting rotation will most likely be highlighted by Dan Meyer and Shane Komine. Joining them (if healthy) will be lefty John Rheinecker, right-hander Chad Gaudin and former Twins first rounder Adam Johnson. In the bullpen, River Cats holdovers Santiago Casilla (formerly Jairo Garcia) and Chris Mabeus will be joined by former Colorado Rockies first round pick Matt Roney.

Five To Watch For:

Dan Meyer: At this time last season, Meyer was being considered for a rotation spot in Oakland. However, after a season lost to injuries, Meyer will be back in Sacramento, looking to re-establish himself as a premier starting pitching prospect. If Meyer gets off to a fast start, he may force the A's to move someone off of the big league roster to make room for him.

Shane Komine: Recovered now from Tommy John surgery, Komine is looking to post one more solid season in the minors before punching his ticket to the big leagues. The hard-throwing right-hander wowed scouts during the Arizona Fall League, and he appears to be back to where he was before his surgery. He will be looking to prove that he has the stamina to be a starting pitcher, although his future might be in the bullpen with Oakland, due to the A's crowded starting rotation.

Chad Gaudin: Gaudin was an unheralded pick-up this off-season, but he could prove to be another Justin Duchscherer. Like Duchscherer, Gaudin was picked up from a team that ran out of room on their 40-man roster. In Gaudin's case, it was the Toronto Blue Jays who filled their 40-man roster and had to move him off of it. The A's swooped in and acquired him for centerfielder Dustin Majewski. Gaudin is on his third organization despite being only 22 years old (he'll turn 23 in March). The right-hander made the major leagues by age 20 and posted a 3.60 ERA during his rookie season in 2003 with Tampa. He struggled in a brief major league appearance with Toronto last year, but was outstanding for the Blue Jays' AAA squad in Syracause, striking out 113 and walking only 35. Gaudin could explode the way that Duchscherer did during his first season at Sacramento, when Duke was named the PCL Pitcher of the Year. Gaudin is our sleeper pick to raise his profile in 2006.

Matt Roney: Roney was another unheralded pick-up this off-season. The big right-hander was signed to a minor league contract and placed on the 40-man roster. Roney was a first round pick out of high school in 1998 by Colorado. He struggled for a few years with injuries and then was taken in the Rule 5 draft by Detroit in 2003. After spending 2003 in the big leagues, Roney shuttled between AA and AAA in 2004 and 2005. He converted from starter to reliever in 2005 with great success, striking out nearly a batter an inning. Although he is now 26, Roney still has first round talent. It will be interesting to see if he can turn that talent into a big season.

Santiago Casilla: No, Casilla isn't another off-season acquisition. He's actually Jairo Garcia and he should be spending at least part of his season in Sacramento for the third straight year. Casilla isn't quite the prospect he was when the world thought he was 22 (instead of 25), but he is coming off of an outstanding winter league performance and he still has wicked stuff. Casilla improved his walk total over the winter and if he can cut down on the walks with the River Cats, he should see some time in Oakland this season.

Hitting

The PCL is a hitter's league, so you can count on some big numbers from some of the River Cats hitters. The offense will most likely be spearheaded by number one prospect Daric Barton, although there is a chance that he'll start in AA. In addition to Barton, you may also want to look out for the main players in the book "Moneyball", as book stars Jeremy Brown, Steve Stanley, Brant Colamarino and Brian Stavisky could all be on this squad.

Three To Watch For:

Daric Barton: No trip through the minor league affiliates can be complete without seeing an organization's top prospect and Barton is the A's number one. He'll be under a lot of pressure to succeed, but he was under that same pressure last season and he sloughed it off to the tune of a .316 batting average in a season split between A and AA. Get to Sacramento early in the year if you want to see Barton play. If he gets off to a fast start, he will probably be heading to the big leagues.

Brant Colamarino: After making AA pitchers look like little leaguers for the first two months of the 2005 season, Colamarino was promoted to AAA, where he had a tougher time getting going. However, that has been Colamarino's modus operandi throughout his minor league career. It has taken him at least half a season to get comfortable in a new level, but when he gets comfortable, he goes crazy (he posted a 971 OPS in AA last year after having only a 771 the year before). Colamarino has real power in his bat and when he is on, he sees a lot of pitches. He is also a good fielder, and he could make some noise this season.

Jeremy Brown: Brown's career has taken on sort of a ‘Groundhog's Day' feel to it, as the catcher has spent the past three seasons at AA-Midland. That streak should end this year, however, as Brown is expected to be the starter for the River Cats behind the plate. Brown had an excellent offensive season in Midland last year, breaking the 20-homer barrier and putting on a show during the Texas League playoffs. At age 26, this season will probably make or break Brown's chances of being a major league player.

Midland

Next stop on your journey is Titletown, USA, or, at least, Titletown 2005. The Midland Rockhounds broke a 30-year drought in 2005, capturing their first Texas League title since 1975. The Rockhounds figure to be a factor in the title hunt once again, as some of the championship team will be returning and there are a number of talented reinforcements on the way from A-Stockton and from the injury list.

Pitching

Last season, the Rockhounds' pitching staff was anchored by an outstanding bullpen. While their bullpen figures to be strong once again, their starting rotation should be a strength. Jason Windsor and Dallas Braden will return to Midland after both being promoted from Stockton to Midland during the middle of last season. Both pitchers provided some quality innings for the Rockhounds before succumbing to arm injuries in August. They will most likely be joined in the rotation by Brad Knox and Brad Ziegler. Knox is a promising right-hander who is coming off of a year that was shortened by injuries. Ziegler was the California League leader in strikeouts in 2005.

Three to Watch For:

Brad Knox: Going into the 2005 season, Knox was one of the A's top pitching prospects. However, a back injury curtailed his 2004 off-season and then he missed the start of the 2005 campaign with arm soreness. He spent 2005 in A-Stockton and he didn't miss a start once arriving from extended spring training. Knox says that he is fully healthy now and he will be looking to recapture the form that allowed him to strikeout 174 and walk only 26 in 154 innings for Kane County in 2004.

Jason Windsor and Dallas Braden: Okay, maybe it isn't fair to lump these two guys together, but there are similar issues to keep an eye on with both players. Both are 2004 draft picks who made quick work of Single-A ball to earn fast promotions to AA. Both struggled with arm injuries at the end of last season, which affected their numbers and their outlook for 2006. Neither pitcher has "plus-plus" stuff, but both guys have shown a consistent ability to get hitters out throughout their careers. If they struggle at AA this season, they will probably slip far down on the A's prospect lists because they don't have overpowering stuff. However, if they continue to prove they can get guys out, they will continue their climb through the system.

Matt Lynch: Lynch was a big part of the 2004 Modesto A's California League Championship team and the 2005 Rockhounds Texas League Championship team. Lynch was a 13-game winner as a starter for Modesto in 2004, but he struggled in the rotation in 2005 for Midland. He was moved to the bullpen mid-season and excelled. He also had a strong showing at the AFL in relief. Lynch is a lefty with good stuff. He could start the season on the River Cats, but with Sacramento's crowded roster, he is more likely to get a second chance at Midland.

Hitters

Midland was led by offensive stalwarts Andre Ethier, Stavisky, Colamarino, Barton and Brown (among others) last season. This year, the Rockhounds figure to have another potent offensive club. Kevin Melillo, who finished his outstanding 2005 campaign with a stop in Midland, should return to anchor the infield. Jason Perry, who led the team in homeruns last year but was dropped from the 40-man roster during the off-season, should also return. Coming up from Stockton could be top prospects Richie Robnett and Kurt Suzuki, as well as Danny Putnam and Vasili Spanos (who spent some time in Midland last year). However, the biggest addition might be third baseman Brian Snyder, who missed all of the 2005 season with leg injuries.

Four to Watch For:

Kevin Melillo: Like with Barton, you might want to get your Rockhounds tickets early in the season if you expect to see Melillo in Midland. If last season is any example, Melillo doesn't like to stay at one level too long (he moved up three in 2005). The South Carolina alum had an outstanding 2005, flashing plus power for an infielder and showing the ability to hit at the top or in the middle of the line-up. Melillo will enter 2006 as the A's top middle infield prospect. Watch to see if he can repeat last year's success and if he has improved his defense after an off-season of hard work.

Kurt Suzuki: Suzuki had a solid offensive season at high-A Stockton last year (especially considering that he was only 21), but he struggled with his defense. The Cal-State Fullerton alum is likely to put up good offensive numbers next season, but he'll need to show he can handle the defensive responsibilities behind the plate. He'll get another spring training with the big league club to work with the coaching staff, so he should improve with the glove.

Richie Robnett: The A's may decide to leave Robnett in Stockton one more year, but there is at least a 60% chance he'll get promoted to Midland. Robnett showed the power the A's expected (50 extra-base hits, including 20 homers, in 478 at-bats), but he also posted prodigious strikeout totals. He is very raw and has some big holes in his swing right now, but he is likely only a couple of adjustments away from putting it all together. If he is in Midland, watch out for how he handles the more advanced pitching and check to see how big his strike zone gets.

Brian Snyder: Snyder, in many ways, is the exact opposite of Robnett. He has all of the polish that you would want from a young hitter, but the A's are still hoping that he'll show more power. Snyder should have been in Midland last season, but missed virtually the entire year. He is back in the best shape of his life and is looking to build on his outstanding 2004 campaign, when he hit .311 and posted a .421 OBP, while hitting 13 homers in 366 at-bats for Kane County. Snyder will be looking to show that he can stay healthy for an entire season and that he can post the power numbers to go along with his outstanding on-base skills.

Stockton

On the next leg of your journey, you'll return to Northern California and head just east of the Bay Area to Stockton. The Ports joined the A's family last season and opened their new beautiful field, Banner Island Ballpark. Stockton made it to the California League playoffs last season by winning the second half division title and they will be looking to make a repeat appearance in the Fall dance this year.

Pitching

The California League is not a friendly place for pitchers, and Banner Island Ballpark is an especially tough place to pitch with its inviting porch in right-field and warm weather. However, it was a hot start by two Stockton pitchers – Braden and Windsor – last season that kept the Ports going through an early season hitting slump. This year, the Ports will likely see some new faces in their rotation up from low-A Kane County, including youngster Ryan Webb and 2004 second round pick Michael Rogers. They may also receive some of the outstanding arms who played for short-season A-Vancouver last year, such as James (Jimmy) Shull and Mike Madsen.

Four to Watch For:

Ryan Webb: Before there was the high school draft class of Jared Lansford, Craig Italiano, Vincent Mazzaro, Kevin Bunch and Scott Deal, there was Webb, who was drafted out of high school in 2004. After impressing in Rookie Ball in 2004, Webb was promoted to low-A Kane County, where he was the youngest player on the team. Although his record was ugly (5-11), he did have some outstanding starts. Webb was named the "Most Improved Player" during the Instructional Leagues in the fall, and he believes that he has found a more consistent throwing motion. The 6'6'' right-hander will need a lot of special attention, as tall pitchers often struggle with consistency in their motions. However, at age 20, Webb has plenty of time to grow into his motion.

Brad Davis: At age 22, Davis was old for his league last year when he was with Vancouver. However, there was no arguing with his numbers. The lefty reliever struck out 44 and walked only nine in 34.2 innings. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, so keep an eye on him to see if he can replicate that kind of success against harder competition.

Jimmy Shull: Taken in the fourth round out of Cal-Poly last year, Shull put up excellent numbers for Vancouver. The righty had a 1.03 WHIP and he struck out 81 in 73.1 innings. A bit of a late-bloomer, Shull played through his senior season at Cal-Poly and, like Davis, was older than many of the players he faced last year. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the hitter-friendly California League.

Mike Madsen: All of things that were said about Davis and Shull can be said about Madsen, as well. The right-hander was taken in the 21st round out of Ohio State. Often over-looked with the Buckeyes, Madsen didn't have a real chance to show his stuff as a starter until his junior season, so he stayed with the Buckeyes for his senior year. Madsen turned 23 in December, but that doesn't mitigate the season he put together for Vancouver last year. As the ace on a stellar staff, Madsen posted a microscopic 0.88 WHIP in 80 innings. He allowed only 56 hits and struck out 68 while walking 14. Madsen has a small build (6'0'', 160) and he doesn't have classic starter stuff, but he is a tough competitor and a very smart pitcher. If he can continue to keep runners off base next season, he'll raise his prospect profile considerably.

Hitters

For the second straight season, Stockton will be home to one of the A's top hitting prospects. Last year, it was Barton. This season, it should be Javier Herrera. The Ports should also have a number of other hitting stars, including the A's top two picks in the 2005 draft – Cliff Pennington and Travis Buck – and the 2005 Kane County MVP Tom Everidge.

Six to Watch For:

Javier Herrera: The Venezuelan youngster had a busy winter helping the Caracas Leones win the Venezuelan and Caribbean crowns, and he seems poised for a big year. A five-tool talent, Herrera is still quite raw, but he did improve his pitch selection last year in Kane County and if his batting eye continues to improve, it will only help him reach his power potential at the plate. He could develop into a legitimate 20-30 prospect next season in the friendly confides of Banner Island Ballpark.

Cliff Pennington: The A's first round pick in 2005 was sent directly to low-A Kane County after signing, and he impressed a lot of people with his ability to work the count at the top of the order. A prototypical lead-off hitter, Pennington has good speed and great base running instincts. He is also exceedingly patient at the plate. Pennington has good range and a strong arm from short, although he was erratic at times last season with the Cougars. He should combine with Herrera to give the Ports a very speedy top of the order.

Travis Buck: After a somewhat disappointing final season with Arizona State, Buck fell to the A's in the supplemental first round. The outfielder didn't sign right away, but he wasted little time getting going once his name dried on the contract. Buck spent two weeks with Vancouver and posted a 995 OPS in nine games before being promoted to Kane County. With the Cougars, Buck hit .331 with a .427 OBP. He only managed one homerun, but he did collect 13 doubles in 123 at-bats. Look for Buck to post bigger homerun numbers in Stockton.

Gregorio Petit: The smooth fielding Petit was thought to be all-glove, no-hit before putting together a nice season at the plate for the Cougars in 2005. Petit also hit well in a brief stint with Caracas during the Venezuelan Winter League, and he is only 21 years old. He was moved from shortstop to second base last season, and he is outstanding with the glove at both positions. If he continues to hit, Petit could have a breakout year with Stockton.

Tom Everidge: Everidge might not get a lot of press, but that isn't his fault. After a slow start last season, Everidge climbed out of his slump to put up excellent numbers for an otherwise mediocre hitting Kane County ballclub. The Sonoma State alum had an 852 OPS and 43 extra-base hits in 365 at-bats. Everidge is a rare right-handed power threat in the A's system, and he could surprise a lot of people with a big year for Stockton.

Myron Leslie: Leslie was one of the Cougars' most consistent hitters in 2005. The Midwest League All-Star hit .275 with an 824 OPS while playing third base for the Cougars. He may get to play third again this season, although he is likely to be moved to a different position at some point, as a weak throwing arm causes him to make a lot of errors. However, he has good hands and decent range, so the A's might move him to second base down the road. For now, Leslie's bat will be what moves him along through the system.

Kane County

The last (but certainly not least) stop on your journey is to beautiful Kane County in Illinois, just south of Chicago. We recommend that you make your plans for June or later, as the weather gets significantly warmer by mid-June. However, you'll want to get your tickets early, as Kane County is one of the toughest tickets in the minor leagues. Regularly drawing crowds in the 12-13,000s (which is almost unheard of for A-ball) at Elfstrom Stadium, the Cougars almost always win and they almost always have teams worth watching.

Pitching

This season could have a decidedly different feel to it in Kane County, as the A's will likely be sending a number of teenagers to done the Cougar green. Five of those youngsters are pitchers and all or most of them should be in Kane County for 2006. Their pitch counts will be closely monitored, and the A's may go with a tandem starting rotation where two starting pitchers are assigned for each start with one going the first few innings and the other relieving him.

Three to Watch For:

Jared Lansford: The son of former A's star Carney Lansford had an outstanding start to his professional career with the Rookie League A's in 2005. Lansford struck out 20 and walked only five in 21.1 innings of work. He also allowed only 16 hits. Lansford is very polished for an 18 year-old and he has excellent stuff. He may not throw as hard as Italiano or Mazzaro, but he has good polish already on his secondary pitches. Lansford is the most likely of the three to move to high-A before the end of the season.

Craig Italiano: Italiano was widely considered to be the hardest throwing high school pitcher coming into the 2005 draft and he reportedly reached 98 on the radar gun on numerous occasions during game action last season. He tends to throw across his body, which has led some to believe that he will eventually move into the bullpen. However, the A's would love to see him develop as a starter in the Rich Harden mold, so look for them to work on his mechanics at Kane County next season.

Vincent Mazzaro: The A's didn't get to see Mazzaro pitch in regular season action, but they did get him signed in time for the Instructional Leagues and they reportedly liked what they saw. Mazzaro has good velocity and he also features a power curveball and a deceptive throwing motion. If Mazzaro is sent to Kane County to start the year, the Cougars fans will be the first to see him pitch live.

Hitting

2005 was not a strong offensive season for the Cougars. The Midwest League is generally tougher on hitters than pitchers, but it was especially tough on Kane County last year. The Cougars will be hoping that an influx of young talent from the 2005 draft and the A's Dominican Academy will help them score more runs.

Three To Watch For:

Ramon Alvarado: Alvarado showed a good combination of power and speed with the Rookie League A's. He also demonstrated a good recognition of the strike zone. There is a chance that the A's will send Alvarado to short-season A Vancouver, as they did with Herrera after he spent a season in Rookie ball. However, Alvarado is a year and a half older than Herrera was at the same level, so the A's are much more likely to let the Venezuelan native take the leap to a full-season team. Alvarado could burst onto the scene with Kane County in 2006.

Justin Sellers: Sellers was drafted out of high school in 2005. He was sent right to short-season Vancouver, skipping Rookie ball entirely. The 19 year old shortstop is an advanced defensive player. He has a slight build (5'10'', 155) and he may never hit with much power. However, he has a mature approach to hitting. In his first season as a professional, Sellers walked 19 times against 24 strike outs, and he had a .369 OBP. Sellers should hit near the top of the Cougars' order. Watch to see how he handles pitchers who are two to three years older than he is.

Jeff Baisley: Baisley, a 12th round pick last season, is another mature hitter. He walked the same number of times that he struck out and he had a respectable .362 OBP last season for Vancouver. Although he hit only .252 and had only a .413 SLG, Baisley's numbers were adversely affected by the huge dimensions in Vancouver's Nat Bailey Stadium. Baisley hit much better on the road and was the MVP of the A's Instructional Leagues. He could have a break-out season in the Midwest League next season.


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