Mailbag: The Impact Of Herrera's Injury

With Opening Day just around the corner, the OaklandClubhouse Mailbag is back. Todd Morgan addresses questions about the impact of Javier Herrera's injury on the depth of the system, the best fastball in the A's system, the reasons behind the Juan Cruz trade and the value of Nick Swisher for the A's.

What does Javier Herrera's injury to do the depth of the A's minor league system? Does it ruin his chances as a prospect? -Frank P.

It hurts. It won't affect the big league club this year, but in terms of minor league talent the A's didn't have a lot of depth to begin with. They do have a few outfielders playing at Single- and Double-A who are considered legitimate prospects, such as Richie Robnett, Travis Buck and Danny Putnam. Unfortunately Herrera was the best of them, and having the organization's second-best prospect (possibly the best prospect, depending on how concerned they are about Daric Barton's makeup issues) on the shelf for an entire season is a significant blow.

As for his development, Herrera was slated to begin the year in high Class-A Stockton, so he was still a few years away even without the injury. He turns 21 on April 9th, which means he'll play at Stockton next year as a 22 year-old. That's definitely at the high end of the desired age range for high Class-A, so if he struggles it will definitely hurt his standing as a prospect. Before the injury I would have given mid- to late-2008 as a reasonable ETA. With the injury I think the best the A's can hope for is opening day, 2009, with a September debut more likely. That said, if his arm heals the way most Tommy John arms heal, he'll be back to blue chip status as soon as his rehab ends.

Who has the best fastball in the A's minor league system? -Jeff R.

Two names pop into my head here: Santiago Casilla and Craig Italiano. Casilla works regularly in the mid-90s, with frequent bumps to 97 or 98. Italiano does the same thing, but has been able to hold that velocity through a seven inning start. Casilla rarely pitches more than two innings so it's easier for him to go full throttle with each pitch.

The nod goes to Italiano. Others worth mentioning are 2005 draftees Jason Ray (92-95), Vincent Mazzaro (92-95), Jared Lansford (91-94) and Scott Deal (91-94). And don't rule out a jump into the mid-90s by 2004 fourth-rounder Ryan Webb. Webb has a big, lanky frame (6'6, 190) and celebrated his 20th birthday in February; it wouldn't surprise me if his velocity, which is currently 88-91, increases a few miles an hour as he fills out.

I was confused about the Juan Cruz trade. Why do the A's need another lefty starter with Meyer and Rheinecker around? How does Halsey fit into the team's plans? -Kelly H.

I don't think the plan is to use Halsey as a starter should he wind up in Oakland. My belief is that the A's are looking at Halsey as a lefty relief option in case Joe Kennedy can't do the job or, even more likely, if/when Kennedy leaves next year. I think they tired of Cruz's command problems and felt that having a guy like Halsey, who is left-handed, can get major league hitters out and doesn't have a history of melting down under pressure, was better for them long-term. In short, they gave up on Cruz ever performing up to his abilities in an A's uniform. And, to give them some credit for compassion, they probably wanted to give Cruz a chance to succeed away from the pressure of being one of the players acquired in that awful Tim Hudson deal.

I just wonder why the fellow that is near the top in HRs and RBI receives such little publicity. It seems some of the others that have accomplished less are always talked about and also make more money. -Gene H.

You'll have to forgive me, but I'm not exactly sure which player you're referring to, Gene. I'm going to assume you're talking about the A's, since this is the Oakland Clubhouse site. I will also assume that you are not talking about Eric Chavez, who doesn't get a lot of press nationally but will make a healthy $9 million this season. I also doubt you meant Mark Kotsay, who hit 15 homers to go along with 82 RBI, but who will also make $7 million in 2006.

Of the remaining players on the 2006 roster, here are the leaders in homeruns and RBI:

Nick Swisher: 21 HR, 74 RBI
Dan Johnson: 15, 58
Jay Payton: 18, 63 (12, 42 with Oakland)
Bobby Crosby: 9, 38 in an injury-riddled year (22/64 in 2004)

That leaves me to choose between Nick Swisher and Bobby Crosby, and since Crosby is getting a good deal of press this spring (ESPN's Peter Gammons and Harold Reynolds have both given him love as an MVP candidate) I'm going to assume you're talking about Nick Swisher. Sadly, though, after all that analysis of your question, I'm left without any good answer for you. Swisher is the cream of the 2002 draft crop, having been taken 16th overall. He made his way through the A's system quickly and put up impressive numbers as a rookie, while improving noticeably on defense as 2005 wore on.

Perhaps Swisher is simply overshadowed by bigger stories: Eric Chavez's slow-start syndrome, the impending free agency of Barry Zito, injury questions surrounding Bobby Crosby and Rich Harden, the signing of Frank Thomas and his subsequent feud with White Sox GM Kenny Williams and/or the surly reputation of Milton Bradley. Rest assured, Nick doesn't care all that much, and he'll tell you so all day long if you give him the chance. I've never met a more talkative player, and I'd pencil him in for another 25 homers this season, along with a return to the level of plate discipline he showed as a minor leaguer. If that happens, he'll ride a .400 on-base percentage to a great deal more media exposure come 2007.

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