Breakout Candidate: Gregorio Petit, 2B/SS

Throughout spring training, will profile a handful of Oakland A's minor leaguers who seem poised to make a jump from the ranks of the relatively obscure to the well-known. In the first of our series, we take a look at a slick fielding middle infielder who appears on the verge of becoming one of the A's top infield prospects.


Going into the 2005 season, Gregorio Petit profiled as a middle infielder in the throw-back mold of the 1980s, when shortstops and second basemen were expected to field their position first and worry about hitting second. The Venezuelan youngster spent a year in the Oakland A's Dominican Academy before arriving in Arizona as part of the A's Rookie League team in 2003. He played 32 games for the Arizona A's, not hitting much (.265/.323/.316), but impressing with his glove and his athleticism. Petit was promoted to short-season Vancouver in 2004, where he caught the eye of a number of scouts for his outstanding arm and range from the shortstop position. Petit was tabbed as having the "best infield arm" in the A's system by Baseball America following his 2004 campaign.

Entering the 2005 season, Petit had turned some heads with his fielding, but his bat was still lagging far behind. After posting a .254/.315/.354 line with Vancouver, Petit was starting to get the "all-field/no-hit" tag put on him. However, he turned that around with a strong campaign at the plate for the Kane County Cougars in 2005.

Petit's 2005 season began similarly to his previous two campaigns. He hit only .257 in April with three walks versus 13 strikeouts. Petit did smack three homeruns, but overall he was struggling with his plate discipline and chasing a lot of pitches out of the strike zone. Then in early May Petit was felled by a sprained finger and he missed roughly five weeks of game action. However, the time off seemed to give him a different perspective on hitting and that perspective allowed him to take off at the plate when he returned on June 13.

In 30 June at-bats, Petit hit .367. He followed that performance up with his best overall month. In July, Petit hit .303 with two homers and 10 RBI in 76 at-bats. Perhaps most impressive was Petit's patience. The normally free-swinging Petit walked 13 times in July and struck out only nine times. This positive trend continued for the rest of the season, as Petit walked eight times and struck out only 11 times in August and September.

As Petit's plate discipline improved, so did his power. In August, Petit had his best power month, hitting three homeruns, two triples and two doubles in 86 at-bats. He also swiped four bases without being caught in August. All told, Petit posted a .289/.349/.446 line for the Coguars in 2005. His .446 slugging percentage with third best on the Cougars.

Perhaps most impressive about Petit's second-half improvement was that he made these strides while adjusting to a new primary position. Although Petit had spent time at second and third in previous seasons, he played exclusively at shortstop for Vancouver in 2004. Petit led the Northwest League in putouts in 2004 and appeared on his way to moving through the A's chain as a shortstop. However, in June the A's drafted shortstop Cliff Pennington in the first round, and he was quick to sign with the team. Pennington was a polished collegiate player, so the A's sent him straight to Kane County. Pennington's arrival in mid-June meant that Petit would have to move over to second base, despite his success as a shortstop.

Petit made the move a successful one, however. While Pennington opened some eyes for his excellent glove work at short, Petit more than held his own at second, giving the Cougars a formidable middle infield. Petit played 43 games at second for the Cougars and made only four errors for a solid .980 fielding percentage. He teamed with Pennington to turn 26 double-plays, some of the spectacular variety.

Petit continued the momentum from the tail-end of his 2005 season into the Winter Leagues, where he shined with the bat in a brief appearance with the eventual Venezuelan and Caribbean League Champion Caracas Leones. Petit collected eight hits in 26 at-bats and walked three times against four strikeouts. He also homered and drove in five runs. At age 21, he and fellow A's farmhand Javier Herrera were two of the youngest players on the Leones' roster.

Outlook for 2006

Although Petit could easily slide back to shortstop, chances are that he will stay at second base alongside Pennington at high-A Stockton. Petit could position himself behind Kevin Melillo as the A's second-best second base prospect with another strong season with the bat and the glove. Petit is a smart player who seems to learn something new about the game each year. He has improved every season that he has been with the A's organization, and he will be working to make even more strides at the plate this year.

Petit has always been a free-swinger, but his final two months with Kane County showed a more patient approach at the plate. He'll never have the patience of a Mark Ellis, but Petit is a good contact hitter who is capable of fouling off a lot of pitches before he gets one he wants to hit. His glove is above-average and the fact that he can play both at short and at second makes him a valuable commodity. Although he is listed at 5'10'', 160, Petit appears to have filled out some over the past year and he should continue to add more power as he fills out his wiry frame. He had a .446 slugging percentage last season for Kane County, and that number should only improve as he plays in the more hitter-friendly California League. He just turned 21 in December, so Petit will be one of the younger members of the Stockton Ports' squad in 2006.

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