Oakland A's MLN: 10 First Half Heroes

With the first half of the 2006 minor league season completed, it is a good time for us to look back and recognize the players who have really shined so far this season. Inside we list the 10 players who have had the most memorable seasons thus far in the Oakland A's system.

* Note this list is by no means a prospect ranking. Players on this list are being judged for their 2006 performance only and not for their future ceiling as players.

1. Travis Buck, LF
Stats To Date: .325/.393/.541/934 32 2B/4 3B/7 HR/ 45 RBI/ 10 SB/ 2 CS

Comment: There were high expectations surrounding Buck coming off of his solid professional debut season in 2005. When the A's drafted Buck in the supplemental first round last season, they thought they were getting a line-drive hitting machine with the ability to be a middle-of-the-order force. So far, that is exactly what they have been getting from Buck.

Buck has shown a remarkable ability to adjust to new levels without significant effort since turning pro. He has never hit lower than .310 at any level. Although his homerun power is only average at the moment, he leads the minor leagues in extra-base hits, leading one to believe that Buck will eventually add a lot more homerun power. If he stays healthy and productive, the A's may choose to test him at AAA at the end of the season.

2. Jason Windsor, RHP
Stats To Date: 10-1, 3.51 ERA, 84.2 IP, 91 K, 24 BB, 1.29 WHIP

Jason Windsor

Comment: After a disappointing ending to his 2005 season, Windsor has rebounded with an outstanding first half of the 2006 season. He has established himself as the starting pitching prospect closest to a major league call-up. Windsor doesn't have over-powering stuff, but he is aggressive in the strike zone and he has a good swing-and-miss curveball and a great change-up.

Windsor has a solid frame and certainly showed good durability in 2004 when he put the Cal-State Fullerton Titans on his back and led them to the College World Series title. However, he wore down at the end of last season and landed on the disabled list with a sore shoulder in August. The biggest test for Windsor this second half will be staying healthy. If he does that, he could be a September call-up this season.

3. Jeff Baisley, 3B
Stats To Date: .310/.395/.525/902 15 2B/ 1 3B/ 13 HR/ 62 RBI/ 4 SB/ 1 CS

Jeff Baisley

Comment: Baisley was a relative unknown coming into this season. He was drafted in the 12th round last season out of South Florida and had a relatively non-descript professional debut with Vancouver. However, he was voted the Most Valuable Player of the Oakland A's Instructional League this fall and he took that success into the first half of the season. Baisley has been the A's most prolific minor league homerun hitter and RBI-man. A recent slump has dropped his average from the .330s to .310, but he has still been one of the Midwest League's most productive hitters this season.

Baisley is old for the Midwest League (23) and should really be pushed at least to High-A or to AA by the end of the year. However, the A's have a back-log of third basemen at High-A and AA, so they will have to do some maneuvering to promote Baisley. Either way, if Baisley continues to perform as he has in the first half, he'll get a chance at AA by next season.

4. Kurt Suzuki, C
Stats To Date: .304/.409/.458/867 19 2B/ 1 3B/ 6 HR/ 41 RBI/ 39 BB/ 34 K

Kurt Suzuki

Comment: Suzuki proved he was an above-average hitting catcher last season when he was with Stockton, and he has done nothing to disprove that opinion this season. He is rounding into a perfect second-place hitter who has a good-eye, makes consistent line-drive contact and can hit for some power.

Suzuki's defense was his biggest weakness coming into the season, but he has made considerable strides in that area already this year. His throwing was a disaster last season, but he is throwing out runners at a 51% clip this year. He has had only four passed balls and two errors this season, also big improvements from last year. The A's know he can hit, so Suzuki's main focus in the second half of the season should continue to be improving his defense.

5. Jason Ray, RHP
Stats To Date: 6-2, 3.18 ERA, 70.2 IP, 72 K, 40 BB, 1.28 WHIP

Comment: Ray had a rocky first start at High-A Stockton last week, but he was light's-out for Low-A Kane County during the first half of the season. The 21 year-old Ray uses a mid-90s fastball and developing off-speed pitches to over-power hitters. He was converted from a short-reliever to a starting pitcher this season and, despite being only six feet tall, he has not shown any ill-effects from working late into the games.

Ray has struggled at times with his command and he is still developing his secondary pitches. However, there is no question that Ray has one of the most electric arms in the A's system. He isn't a big guy and he was a reliever before this season, so the A's will likely be careful with him during the second half of the season.

6. Vasili Spanos, 3B/1B
Stats To Date: .313/.415/.490/905 22 2B/ 8 HR/ 46 RBI/ 17 HBP/ 31 BB

Vasili Spanos

Comment: Spanos had a tremendous first half of the 2005 season, but then struggled in the second half after a promotion from A-Stockton to AA-Midland. He got another chance at AA this season and has taken advantage of the opportunity thus far. He leads the Rockhounds in homeruns and RBIs and was a Texas League All-Star. Spanos spent much of the first half as the team's DH, but he has seen more time at third as of late with the demotion of Brian Snyder to Stockton.

Like Baisley, Spanos is ready to be tested at a higher level. He is currently blocked in AAA by Scott McClain and Nate Espy (and Daric Barton when he returns from injury), but the A's may have to make room for him on the River Cats roster soon if he continues to perform. Spanos could be an Olmedo Saenz-type bench player for Oakland if given the opportunity.

7. Jason Perry, RF
Stats To Date: .326/.390/.523/913 14 2B/ 3 2B/ 9 HR

Jason Perry

Comment: Perry had an up-and-down 2005 season that resulted in being dropped from the 40-man roster in the off-season. He is making a strong push to be re-added to the 40-man roster with his performance so far this season. Perry got off to a tremendous start at AA-Midland, where he was hitting better than .400 before being promoted to AAA in late May. His first two weeks in AAA were a struggle, but after collecting only six hits in his first 43 at-bats in AAA, he has hit .329 ever since.

Perry's biggest problem as a hitter throughout his career has been his tendency to go out of the strikezone. His walk to strikeout ratio is poor again this season and he will need to show significant improvement in that area to get serious consideration for a call-up to Oakland. However, he has shown very good power when he does hit the ball and an ability to hit for a high average. Perry could become trade bait during the second half of this season if the A's decide he isn't in their long-term plans.

8. Marcus McBeth, RP
Stats To Date: 12 SV, 3.76 ERA, 38.1 IP, 21 H, 16 R, 17 BB, 43 K

Marcus McBeth

Comment: McBeth's season ERA is bloated by a brief seven appearance stint with AAA-Sacramento that saw him allow nine runs in 7.1 innings pitched. Minus that time with Sacramento, McBeth has been nearly unhittable this season. The former outfielder has overpowered hitters with his fastball and devastating change-up. In 31 innings between A and AA this season, McBeth has allowed only 14 hits while striking out 36 batters.

McBeth was a big question-mark when the season began. He made the conversion from centerfield to the pitching mound last season, but this year is his first full season on the mound. McBeth is already 25 years old, so the A's have been aggressive about promoting him up the ranks despite his inexperience on the rubber. He was a bit over-matched in AAA, but he has improved his location at AA and could be primed for another shot at AAA later this season. He could be a sleeper candidate for a middle relief role in Oakland next season if he finishes the year strong.

9. Landon Powell, C
Stats To Date: .278/.362/.487/849 9 2B/ 10 HR/ 34 RBI

Landon Powell

Comment: Powell, like many of the players on this list, came into the 2006 season with a lot to prove. After being selected in the first round of the 2004 draft, he missed all of last season with a serious knee injury. Questions swirled about Powell's ability to catch after the knee injury. He has answered all of those questions, establishing himself as the premier defensive catcher in the California League. He has also hit for good power this season and would likely have more doubles if he was running at 100% top-speed.

Powell, like Baisley and Spanos, is old for his league and needs to be promoted, but he is being blocked at the higher levels. He could skip a level next season if he has a strong finish to the 2006 campaign.

10. Brad Ziegler, RHP
Stats To Date: 6-4, 3.33 ERA, 1 CG, 94.2 IP, 62 K, 24 BB

Brad Ziegler

Comment: Ziegler has been the Rockhounds' team ace since Windsor was promoted to AAA in May. He has been a workhorse, averaging more than 6.1 innings a start. He has also exhibited great control and has been able to be efficient with his pitch count.

Zielger is the kind of guy everyone roots for. The consummate underdog, Ziegler has risen from an Independent League acquisition a pitching prospect in less than two years. He isn't striking out batters at AA as frequently as he did in A-ball, but he is still pitching effectively. He'll need to continue to prove himself at every level, but he should get a chance at AAA by next season with a strong finish to the 2006 campaign.

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