Mid-Season Scouting Report: Cliff Pennington

Cliff Pennington, the Oakland A's 2005 top draft choice, has had a rough season in 2006. He began the year in a terrible slump and then, just as he got hot at the plate, Pennington was felled by a bad hamstring. But is all lost for the talented shortstop? Paul A. Rathert has a scouting report on Pennington.

Physique: Cliff Pennington is a wiry 5'11", 160 lbs. He may not put too much more weight on his thin frame, but as a middle infielder, bulk isn't as important as being durable, flexible and being able to cover a lot of ground. Pennington may top out at around 175-180 lbs. Pennington's size shouldn't be a detriment as he is a gazelle in the field and has good speed, but power probably won't be part of his resume.

He is built similarly to former Oakland A's shortstop Walt Weiss and has a similar skill-set to the 1988 Rookie of the Year. Pennington has missed a big chunk of games due to a bad hamstring this season. As his legs are a big part of his game, keeping his hamstrings healthy throughout his career will be very important.

Defense: Pennington has been criticized as being "too energetic" on defense, but this is something he has worked on this season when healthy. He had a habit of rushing everything and not being able to let the game flow for him, but he has learned to trust his abilities and his hands this season and he has remained a solid defensive shortstop.

Pennington has the skills to be an excellent defensive shortstop. He has a plus arm and completes throws from deep in the hole and from different angles without losing accuracy or velocity. He has above-average to plus range moving both to the five-five hole and up the middle and is very nimble. He reacts quickly to grounders and is fluid turning double plays. He will rush plays from time to time, but has mostly grown into a fluid defender. Missing so much time this season has hurt his development, but he has good natural baseball instincts.

Offense: This has been Pennington's biggest struggle in 2006. After having a good, but not great performance in Kane County last season, Pennington has had trouble repeating the performance in the Cal League. His right-handed swing appears to be more of a power swing even though he makes less consistent contact. From the left side he usually hits line drives up the middle and will occasionally put a ball out of the park. He is a contact hitter with good plate discipline and is a good baserunner despite not being the fastest runner. He runs on good counts and rarely gets caught. He is quick out of the box and could develop into a good drag bunter down the road.

Pennington started the season in a horrible slump, batting only .103 in 78 April at-bats. He appeared to press as the slump got worse, and his poor hitting extended into May, as he hit only .231. Pennington was just turning things around in June, batting .340, but he battled injuries throughout the month and has missed all of July. Despite his struggles with his batting average, Pennington did maintain a decent BB:K ratio (24:35). He is sitting on a nine-game hitting streak and was 14 for his last 37 before going on the DL.

As his pitch recognition improves, he will be more comfortable and confident in driving the ball. Confidence is a big part of his game, so if he comes off of the DL hot, he should have a good finish to his season. He could hit well enough to be a solid leadoff hitter in the future, although he may be better suited as an eighth or ninth place hitter in the AL who is in the line-up to get on-base for the top of the order.

Overview: Pennington is a very intense, competitive player and puts too much on himself at times. Once he is accustomed to riding out the highs and lows of the game, he should be able to reach his potential. Pennington's poor performance at the plate has to be a big concern for the A's, who took him with their top pick in 2005.

Still, by virtue of the fact that he was a high draft pick and does have some advanced baseball skills (especially on defense), the A's could push him to AA next season despite his poor performance in High-A based on their faith in his skills alone. Oakland took this approach with Nick Swisher in 2004, pushing him to AAA despite his struggles in AA in 2003. That gamble paid off with Swisher. Could it work with Pennington?

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