Roster Preview: Sacramento River Cats

Winning is a way of life in Sacramento, and that doesn't figure to change in 2006. The Sacramento River Cats boast a major league caliber starting rotation and should have some offensive firepower to back-up their solid pitching. We detail the River Cats' Opening Day roster inside…

Overview

Since the Vancouver Canadians moved to Sacramento and became the River Cats in 2000, the A's AAA affiliate has been a model of consistency. With the exception of the 2002 campaign, Sacramento has made the playoffs every year. They won back-to-back championships in 2003 and 2004 and had a stellar season in 2005. Manager Tony DeFrancesco leads a veteran coaching staff that has a reputation for being one of the best in the PCL. DeFrancesco is beginning his 13th season as a manager in the A's organization and he was the PCL "Manager of the Year" and The Sporting News "Minor League Manager of the Year" in 2003, a season where the River Cats went 92-52 before winning the championship.

The River Cats have had a history of great pitching. Future Oakland stars Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Joe Blanton, Huston Street and Justin Duchscherer were all River Cats, as were future major league hurlers Aaron Harang, Chad Harville, Mike Wood, Luis Vizcaino and Justin Lehr. That tradition of pitching excellence figures to continue into 2006, as the River Cats will feature a pitching staff that rivals some of major league baseball's lesser staffs.

The Starting Rotation:

The starting rotation will be headed by a mix of pitchers with significant major league experience and promising prospects. Chad Gaudin, Juan Dominguez and Brad Halsey have all spent significant time in a major league rotation and all three could easily be fifth starters on a number of major league ballclubs. (Halsey is beginning the year in Oakland because the A's needed an extra pitcher in the event of a rainout this week, but he is expected to spend most of this season in the River Cats' rotation.)Newly acquired right-hander Kazuhito Tadano has spent time in the starting rotation and in the bullpen during his career, and he may see time in both this season for Sacramento. Tadano has 15 major league appearances under his belt. The other two starters are arguably the two most talented hurlers on the staff, Shane Komine and Dan Meyer.

With the trade of John Rheinecker for Dominguez shortly before Opening Day, the River Cats' rotation went from being lefty dominated to being more even. Dan Meyer will be the team's top lefty. The River Cats will be relying on the former Atlanta Braves farmhand to be healthy and effective this season, something he wasn't in 2005. Meyer entered the 2005 season as one of the A's top prospects, but injuries and inconsistency left him with something to prove in 2006.

Komine spent more than half of the 2005 season on the shelf following Tommy John surgery, but he recovered in time to pitch effectively in AA-Midland during their pennant run and dominate in the Arizona Fall League. Komine has come out of nowhere to be one of the A's best pitching prospects.

Gaudin spent the 2005 season in the Toronto Blue Jays' chain. He struggled during a stint in the majors with the Blue Jays, but pitched well in AAA-Syracuse. He also has major league experience with Tampa Bay. Gaudin has a live arm, but he struggled with his control during the major league portion of spring camp. He is capable of putting up big numbers for the River Cats if he can keep his walk total down.

Dominguez and Halsey were both penciled in as their team's respective fifth starter before the start of spring training. However, both had poor springs and were put on the trading block. Dominguez is a hard thrower with an excellent change-up and some make-up issues. He has spent parts of two seasons in the big leagues. Halsey is a finesse lefty who has major league time with the Yankees and Arizona. Both could serve as emergency starters for the A's if one of their pitchers went down with injury.

Tadano is a new addition to the team and it isn't clear yet whether the A's view him as a reliever or a starter long-term. He has a starter's arsenal of pitches (low-90s fastball, slider, curveball and a super-change that can go as slow as 50 MPH). Tadano has a deceptive delivery, but he is slight of frame (160 pounds), so the A's will likely be wary of wear and tear on his arm.

The Bullpen:

Like the starting rotation, the River Cats' bullpen has a veteran feel to it. The closer will be Santiago Casilla, who has spent parts of the 2004 and 2005 seasons in Sacramento. He was effective as the River Cats' closer last season, but Casilla was prone to the occasional major meltdown. His last meltdown came in the River Cats' final playoff series, when he failed to hold the lead twice when the River Cats had a chance to clinch the series. Casilla is immensely talented and his control appears to be much improved over the last two seasons. If he throws well in the early going, he could be a candidate to replace Jay Witasick in the A's bullpen.

Casilla will be set-up by River Cats veterans Chris Mabeus and Ron Flores. Both Mabeus and Flores have spent significant time in Sacramento during their careers and both have been valuable members of the River Cats' bullpen. Mabeus returns for his third season as a set-up man for Sacramento. He has struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings in each of his last three seasons and has averaged more than 60 innings. Mabeus has struggled in his big league spring training appearances and has yet to break through to the majors. This is probably a "make or break" season for him. Flores did breakthrough to the bigs last season and was impressive in three short stints. He entered camp with a chance to win a job, but that chance dissipated when the A's decided to go with only one lefty in the bullpen. If he pitches well early in the season, Flores will be the first option if the A's want another lefty reliever.

Veterans Jason Karnuth, Victor Moreno and Randy Keisler join Adam Johnson in rounding out the bullpen. Of this group, only Moreno is without major league experience. Keisler, the former Yankee, Padre and Red, will team with Flores to get out lefties. Johnson is a former Twins first round pick who pitched in the starting rotation last season. He begins the year on the DL. Karnuth saw time in the big leagues with St. Louis and Moreno was a Minor League Rule 5 pick last season.

The Position Players:

The River Cats' offense will be highlighted by top prospect Daric Barton and 2005 River Cats' MVP Matt Watson. Barton breezed through two levels last season, hitting better than .310 at both levels and showing incredible plate presence. The A's are hoping that Barton improves his power numbers and his defense at first this season. Oakland has Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher ahead of him at first, but Barton could see a September call-up if the A's feel that he is ready for the test. He has a balky throwing elbow which will likely bother him all season, so that will be closely monitored.

Watson highlights a River Cats' outfield that should produce a lot offensively. Despite spending time in Oakland on four separate occasions in 2005, Watson managed to lead the River Cats in a number of offensive categories and he seems poised to do so again this season. Charles Thomas will be in centerfield for the River Cats. He is attempting to rebound from a horrific 2005 season that saw him lose his job in the A's starting outfield and get demoted to AAA. He will be given every opportunity to show that he can handle being a lead-off hitter by the River Cats this season. He did win the River Cats' "Defensive Player of the Year" award last season. Doug Clark will back-up Thomas in center. Clark was signed as a minor league free agent last season from the Giants organization. He is a solid fielding outfielder with some power and good speed.

The River Cats left-fielder, Brian Stavisky, probably won't compete for any defensive awards, but he could put on a show offensively. The Notre Dame alum has been a steady offensive force during his past two seasons and he is looking to carry that success over into AAA. Stavisky is a line-drive hitter with a good eye and the ability to hit to all fields. Andrew Beattie, who was in big league camp as a non-roster invitee, begins the year on the DL, but he will spend time in the outfield and in the infield once he is healthy. The versatile switch-hitter has a solid glove in both positions and he hit .296 in 113 games for Sacramento last season. Hiram Bocachica should also join the River Cats in early June if he recovers from his third surgery on his broken wrist. He begins the season on the DL, as well.

In the infield, the River Cats will have a lot of experience, as well. Barton will take the majority of the time at first, with minor league free agent signing Nate Espy backing him up when he returns from the DL. Keith Ginter, Mike Rouse, Mark Kiger and Scott McClain will share the duties at second, third and short. Ginter has the only significant major league experience of the four, although McClain spent four years in the Japanese Professional League and hit 30 homers for AAA-Iowa last season. Kiger returns to Sacramento after spending 2005 in Midland. He was last in Sacramento in 2004. Rouse has been a fixture at short in Sacramento for the past three seasons.

The River Cats catching corps will feature one familiar face and two new ones. John Baker returns to Sacramento looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2005 season. He had an outstanding spring training at the plate, and he could position himself as a contender for the A's back-up catcher role in 2007 with a strong season. Jeremy Brown finally arrives in AAA after three seasons in AA. He is coming off of a 20-homer campaign and a stand-out performance in the Texas League playoffs. Raul Casanova was signed this off-season to a minor league deal to give the A's veteran catching depth at AAA. He missed all of major league camp with back problems and will start the season on the DL.

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