Star Performance: A's Minor Catchers Shine

Not since Ramon Hernandez was traded after the 2003 season have the Oakland A's had a home-grown catcher. However, with three catching prospects recently named to their respective league All-Star teams and three other catchers in the system having good seasons, that streak may end in the next year or two. We take a look at the A's top six catching prospects inside…

ALL STATS GOOD THROUGH 6/14

*Note that as of the publication of this article, the PCL All-Star team rosters had not yet been announced

Kurt Suzuki, Midland Rockhounds, Texas League All-Star

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

XBH

2006

MID

TEX

22

.299

.405

.442

224

67

18

1

4

35

33

23



Suzuki proved that he could hit last season when he posted a .277/.378/.440 line for High-A Stockton. He has improved on all of those numbers thus far this season and is one of the best hitting catchers in the Texas League to date. However, the main concern surrounding Suzuki entering this season had little to do with his hitting. Instead, both he and the Oakland A's were looking for the young catcher to improve his defense behind the plate.

Last season, Suzuki struggled with his footwork and mechanics behind home-plate. He among the league leaders in passed balls and errors and had a poor caught-stealing rate. Suzuki spent spring training working hard with the A's big league catchers in major league camp on improving his skills behind the dish. So far this season, the hard work has been paying off.

In 51 games behind the plate, Suzuki has had only two passed balls and two errors. He has the highest fielding percentage of any catcher with more than 40 games caught in the league. Suzuki has also improved his caught-stealing rate tremendously. He leads all catchers with more than 20 attempts in caught-stealing percentage, having nabbed 19 of 36 would-be base-stealers.

At 22, Suzuki is still very young and his blend of athleticism and intelligence make him a very intriguing prospect down the road. The A's don't appear inclined to rush Suzuki to the big league level, but he realistically could be in the big leagues by the middle of next season if he keeps at his current pace. As a hitter, he profiles to be a Jason Kendall-type with more power and less speed, i.e. a guy who makes a lot of contact, can work a walk and is capable of driving in a good amount of runs. If his defense continues to improve, Suzuki could be a special player for the A's.

Landon Powell, Stockton Ports, California League All-Star

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

XBH

2006

STO

CAL

24

.272

.356

.456

158

43

8

0

7

20

32

15



Powell was selected in the same draft as Suzuki and the original plan was for Powell to be ahead of Suzuki due to the fact that Powell is nearly two years older. However, a major knee injury last off-season cost Powell all of the 2005 campaign and he has been playing catch-up ever since. Powell's injury was potentially career-threatening, so it has been impressive to see the switch-hitting catcher in the line-up and playing as effectively as he has been this season.

Powell is a big bodied catcher who, in many ways, is the opposite of Suzuki. He isn't particularly athletic, but he is extremely gifted defensively and he can hit for good power. Powell was hitting near .300 for most of the season before he was injured in a major collision at the plate in mid-May. He missed a few games and has struggled at the plate a bit since his return. However, he is still showing the power the A's thought he had when they picked him and a good eye at the plate.

On defense, he has been nothing short of spectacular this season. The general consensus around the California League is that Powell is heads and shoulders above every other catcher in the league defensively. He is good at blocking the balls, blocks the plate well and has a tremendous throwing arm. His release is so quick and he has such good velocity on his throws that he occasionally catches his middle infielders napping, as they fail to cover the bag in-time to tag out potential base-stealers.

On the season, Powell has an impressive .994 fielding percentage, good for third in the league among catchers who have caught 35 or more games. He does have eight passed balls, but two of those came in one particularly bad inning in early May. Powell is the league leader in caught-stealing percentage, having nabbed 56 percent of all base-stealers (24 out of 45).

Powell still isn't 100 percent healed from his knee injury, as it effects him when he is running the bases. He also is a bit rusty from the right-side of the plate. There will always be a lingering concern over how his surgically-repaired knee will hold up to the rigors of catching everyday. However, he is still showing all of the skills that the A's coveted when they picked him in the first round in 2004. Some pundits projected Powell to be a Jason Varitek-type hitting catcher in the major leagues when he was drafted. Powell may never reach Varitek's batting average level, but he does project to be an above-average defensive catcher who is capable of hitting 15-20 homers a season.

At age 24, he is too old for the California League, but with Suzuki at AA, the A's will probably be reluctant to push Powell up to AA this season and cut into both of their playing times. If Suzuki gets a promotion this season, however, look for Powell to move up, as well. Powell is advanced enough defensively that the A's could consider promoting him to the big leagues from AA, so he could be in Oakland some time late next season or early 2008.

Anthony Recker, Kane County Cougars, Midwest League All-Star

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

XBH

2006

KCC

MID

22

.307

.379

.503

163

50

11

0

7

17

52

18



Recker has been one of the biggest surprises in the Oakland A's system this season. An 18th round pick out of small Alvernia College last year, Recker put up non-descript numbers at short-season A Vancouver last season. However, Oakland saw his five homeruns in a tough league for hitters and felt confident about promoting him to a full season squad in 2006. He hasn't disappointed.

Recker has a long, muscular build similar to that of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. He has shown prodigious power in his brief professional career and he currently sits only behind Jeff Baisley on the team in slugging percentage. His K:BB ratio is a concern and something that will have to be watched closely as he progresses through the A's system. However, he has a great line-drive stroke and the ability to hit to all fields.

On defense, Recker came out of college with a reputation for being good with the glove. He has shown the ability to block balls well behind the plate and he is handling one of the best staffs in the Midwest League. His numbers have been a bit down defensively this season. He has a .973 fielding percentage and nine errors, along with seven passed balls, in 42 games. He has been average at throwing out runners, nabbing 37 percent of all base-stealers this season.

Recker has all of the makings of a good defensive catcher, however. He is big, athletic, strong-armed and has a good understanding of the game, so his numbers will likely improve as he advances in the system. Recker's power is very intriguing and he could be a sleeper prospect to move quickly through the A's system.

Other Catchers In The A's System To Watch

Jeremy Brown: Brown's offensive numbers were much better before he was shuttled back and forth between Sacramento and Oakland twice in four weeks. Brown didn't play in either of his first two stints with Oakland and in both instances, the layoffs appeared to affect his hitting. He is back in Oakland now and will perhaps get a shot at that elusive first major league at-bat this go-around. At the time of his most recent call-up, Brown had a .277/.348/.462 line.

There is no question that Brown will always be a better offensive catcher than a defensive one. However, his bat could make him a valuable commodity on a major league bench. He has always had a good eye and he hit 20 homeruns for AA-Midland last season, proving that he has some pop, as well. Brown has six homers in 119 at-bats this season. He could compete for the A's back-up catcher job next season if Oakland chooses to part with Adam Melhuse.

John Baker: Baker's express path to the big league hit a significant speed-bump last season when he posted a meager 667 OPS in his first season at the AAA level. He was dropped from the 40-man roster this off-season, but a strong spring training and an injury to veteran Raul Casanova allowed Baker to get another shot at AAA. He has taken full advantage of that opportunity and appears to be positioning himself for a chance at the big leagues either in Oakland or with another team next season.

On the year, Baker is hitting .293 with a .375 on-base percentage. He hasn't shown as much power as he did in 2004 for AA-Midland when he hit 15 homers, but the rest of his numbers are solid. Baker has a good .989 fielding percentage and only three passed balls in 35 games.

Jed Morris: Morris is an interesting player. He was taken in the same draft as Baker and Brown and has put up comparable or better offensive numbers every season, but has not been given a chance to move up at a quick rate. He spent 2003-2005 primarily in High-A and is only now getting his first real shot at AA at the age of 26. Morris is taking advantage of that chance, however.

Morris has not had a lot of playing time behind the plate because Suzuki is getting the bulk of the starts as catcher. However, he has shown great versatility, playing 16 games out in right-field for the Rockhounds, who have struggled with injuries all season to their outfielders. Morris has held his own in right, and that versatility could make him an intriguing player down the road. On the season, Morris is hitting .333/.401/.520 in 32 games played.


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