Prospect Mailbag: Barton's ETA

In this week's Prospect Mailbag, we address questions on Daric Barton, Brian Snyder, Vasili Spanos and Tim Rall. We also field a fantasy baseball question about one of the A's past top prospects.

Can you please tell me the timeframe of Barton's call-up? Will it be late this year? What are the percentages that he will make the club next out of spring training? Or will he just be a call-up next year, if at all? What position will he be at? 1B? Just trying to get a feel, percentage wise, of his chances this year or next year. Thank you.

All indications are that the A's are grooming Daric Barton to be a big league regular at the start of the 2007 season. Oakland hasn't been shy about moving Barton aggressively through the system since he arrived last spring, promoting him from high-A to AA last year and then starting him in AAA this season. Barton is the youngest position player that the A's have had in AAA since Eric Chavez and the A's are generally cautious about rushing young players (see the progression of Javier Herrera, for example), so that tells you a little something about what the A's think of Barton's maturity as a hitter.

That being said, I think it is unlikely that Barton will be in the big leagues before late August/September of this season. He is still learning to handle advanced level pitching. He was outstanding in April, hitting .329 with seven extra-base hits and a 19:12 BB/K ratio. However, Barton is currently in a May swoon that has seen him hit only .196 in 56 May at-bats (through May 16), although he does have five extra-base hits and is maintaining a better than 1:1 BB/K. Slumps are to be expected, especially for a young hitter. Barton started off slowly in Stockton last season and made his adjustments in time to have an outstanding campaign. He is likely to make the necessary adjustments again at AAA to work his way out of this current slump. Part of his progression as a player will come from learning from these struggles.

It isn't his bat, however, that the team is most concerned about this season. Barton will need to improve his glove-work around first base to secure his spot on the A's 25-man roster. Last season was Barton's first professional season at first base, and, like many young players, he has a lot of growing to do defensively. The A's see him ideally as a first baseman and not as a designated hitter, and with their renewed emphasis on defense, Oakland won't tolerate a first baseman who can't make the expected plays regularly. He has a balky elbow and the A's don't want to risk the wear and tear on that elbow by putting him back behind the plate.

This is all a long way of saying that Barton is on a good track towards the major leagues, but that he has some more growing to do as a player before he gets the call, meaning that he probably won't get a mid-season call-up. The A's brought up their last two top position prospects, Bobby Crosby and Nick Swisher, in late August to have them around for the pennant race and to make them available for a post-season roster, if necessary. If the A's are fighting for a playoff spot, look for Barton to receive similar treatment in late August. If the A's are out of the race, Barton will probably join the team in September once the Sacramento River Cats season is completed.

Any comments on Brian Snyder and Vasili Spanos. Snyder was off to a slow start but seems to me moving up some..... Spanos has showed early power as well. Do either of them have a shot at moving up to AAA this season?

Brian Snyder is having one of the strangest seasons I can remember in awhile. He began the season in a horrible slump, as he went only two for his first 23 and he struck out 10 times. Then he went 13-32 with two homers and 11 RBI over his next nine games. Since that time, Snyder has fallen into another hitting slump, collecting only four hits in his last 44 at-bats. He still has been in the line-up every day, however, because of his ability to get on base. Snyder recently had consecutive three-walk games and has walked 26 times in 32 games this season. He has a .354 on-base percentage despite having a .186 batting average (through May 16). Snyder's glove has also kept him in the line-up. He has committed only two errors in 62 chances this season.

Vasili Spanos has been one of the Rockhounds most steady offensive forces this season. The versatile corner infielder has spent much of his time this season as the team's DH, but he has also played at first and at third. With Jason Perry now at AAA, Spanos is the team leader in slugging percentage, doubles and homeruns at .538, 12 and six, respectively (through May 16). He has shown good patience at the plate, drawing 21 walks against 27 strikeouts and he is hitting a solid .286. He is the only current Rockhound with an on-base percentage better than .400 (.420). Spanos is a good fielding first baseman and third baseman, but he is stuck behind Snyder at third and the slick-fielding Brant Colamarino at first. Spanos has adjusted well to the designated hitter role, however.

If I were to guess which of these two players had a better chance at reaching AAA this season, I would choose Spanos. For one, Spanos is having a better season at this point. Secondly, he spent some time in AA last season and doesn't need as much AA seasoning as Snyder, who was out all of last year with leg injuries. However, both players are blocked from advancement right now by Scott McClain, Mark Kiger and Keith Ginter, all of whom can play third base for the River Cats. With Barton at first for Sacramento, there aren't many at-bats for first basemen, either. If McClain, Kiger, Ginter or Barton are promoted or otherwise removed from the River Cats' roster, then Spanos and Snyder would be candidates to replace them (although if Barton is promoted, Colamarino is the likely candidate to take his spot on the roster). Both players will likely be in AAA next season, however.

I am a casual A's fan who happens to have Bobby Crosby on his fantasy team. Is this a good thing? I know that Peter Gammons pick Bobby for his pre-season AL MVP. So far, not so good. Any reassuring words to pass along?

I thought it was a curious selection from the start for the ESPN prognosticators to choose Bobby Crosby as an MVP candidate. Crosby made nice advancements as a hitter in 2005 (when he was healthy), but it is a big leap for a player to jump from an 802 OPS (as Crosby's was in 2005) to an MVP-caliber OPS. If anyone on the A's was a pre-season candidate for MVP, it was Eric Chavez, who has seemed on the verge of that sort of accomplishment for years.

I believe that much of the hype surrounding Crosby coming into this year was due to the staggering splits that the A's had as a team with Crosby in the line-up as opposed to with him on the shelf last year. While Crosby was certainly an integral part of the A's amazing mid-season turn-around, I believe the importance of those splits have been over played. There were other players who were hurt last year who came back around the same time that Crosby did and contributed to the A's turn-around. There was also Jay Payton's incredible hot streak, the inevitable post-April improvement of Chavez and Barry Zito, the improvements of Dan Haren and Joe Blanton, the promotion of Dan Johnson, etc., all of which played a large part in the A's resurgence in 2005.

If you picked up Crosby looking for MVP numbers, you'll probably end up disappointed. However, I do think that he will help your fantasy team in the near future if you hold onto him. June, for whatever reason, has been Crosby's best month in both of his major league seasons and he appears to be swinging the bat better as we inch towards the end of May. His May OPS is already 200 points higher then his April OPS, and he is on pace to hit 20+ homers despite the early season struggles.

Health will always be an issue with Crosby, but if he stays on the field, he is likely to give you 20+ homers and 70+ RBIs, with the potential to give you even more than that. Considering there probably aren't too many shortstops available in your league still with 20-homer potential, I'd recommend you stay with him.

What is the scouting report on Tim Rall? What does he throw and how is his quality of pitching compared to MLB standards? Does he have a shot at being called up in September?

Tim Rall is the kind of player you root for, the consummate underdog. Undrafted out of Division II St. Andrews Presbyterian College, Rall worked his way into affiliated baseball with an outstanding performance in the independent leagues. Signed by the Mariners in 2003, Rall was one of the Seattle organization's most reliable minor league lefty set-up men in 2004 and 2005. He spent most of the last two seasons at AA-San Antonio, where the A's got to see his stuff up close. He pitched extremely well against the talented and mostly left-handed line-up of the A's AA affiliate in Midland in 2005.

After the 2005 campaign, the A's figured if they couldn't beat Rall, they'd have him join the organization. The A's snatched him in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft and sent him to Midland to start the 2006 season. Rall was outstanding in Midland to start the season, allowing only two earned runs in 14.1 innings. He struck out 11, walked five and saved two games. He was especially tough versus lefties, limiting them to a .167 batting average. Rall's performance earned him a promotion to AAA-Sacramento in late April. He allowed two runs in 4.1 innings for the River Cats before going on the disabled list.

Rall is a sinkerball pitcher who has always had impressive strikeout totals at all levels he has played at. He is especially effective at inducing groundballs from left-handed batters, an important trait for a potential career as a lefty specialist. He has struggled with his control at times in the past, but he has done a good job throwing strikes so far this season.

It is hard to say whether Rall will get a September call-up this season. First, he needs to get healthy and prove that he can pitch with the same authority at AAA that he has at AA for the past two plus seasons. Then, he'll need a little luck, as the A's have Ron Flores and Randy Keisler ahead of Rall on the depth chart this season. However, he could position himself to battle Flores and Keisler for the second lefty role next season with a strong 2006 campaign.

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