Crystal Ball: A's MiLB Opening Day Rosters

Predicting Opening Day rosters for minor league affiliates can be a very inexact science. Nonetheless, with less than two weeks to go before the minor leagues open its season, we have some educated guesses as to where certain players in the Oakland A's system will start the year. Inside, we preview each of the A's full season affiliates.

ED Note: These roster previews are only based on our predictions on where the Oakland A's will start certain players. Note that these are incomplete rosters. Stay tuned over the next 10 days for the official announcement of the full rosters for each of the A's full-season affiliates.

Sacramento River Cats: Triple-A

Last Season: The River Cats had a strange season in 2006. Their Opening Day roster was filled mostly with older players; Daric Barton was the only top-five A's prospect on the River Cats' Opening Day roster. Sacramento had an up-and-down season, as injuries both to their own players and to the A's dramatically affected their roster.

Despite strong performances from Scott McClain (PCL MVP), Jason Windsor (13 wins for the River Cats after a May call-up to Sacramento), Hiram Bocachica (1017 OPS) and others, the River Cats missed the playoffs for only the second time since the team arrived in the Capitol City.

Travis Buck should be a big contributor for the River Cats.
2007 Overview: Unlike in 2006, the 2007 River Cats' Opening Day roster should be littered with top prospects. Outfielder Travis Buck, first baseman Daric Barton, catcher Kurt Suzuki and second baseman Kevin Melillo are top-10 A's prospects who all figure to see a lot of playing time in Sacramento this season. In addition, number 12 prospect Jason Windsor will be back in Sacramento. Former A's top prospect Dan Meyer will begin the season at extended spring training, but he should join the River Cats' rotation as soon as his rehabilitation is complete.

The River Cats' pitching staff should be stocked. In addition to Windsor, the starting rotation could include Lenny DiNardo and Brad Halsey, both of whom have a lot of experience in the major leagues, as well as right-hander Shane Komine, who made his major league debut last season for Oakland and who won 11 games for the River Cats last season. Former Texas Rangers first round pick Colby Lewis was recently signed to a minor league contract and he is also expected to be in the River Cats' rotation. Lewis is a hard thrower who won 10 games for the Texas Rangers in 2003, but battled shoulder problems in 2004 and 2005.

There will be a lot of heat at Raley Field this summer and it won't be limited to the warm Sacramento weather. The River Cats' bullpen will be filled with hard throwers. Marcus McBeth, who saved 32 games at three levels last season, figures to be the closer for the River Cats and he throws in the mid-90s. Santiago Casilla has been in Sacramento for parts of each of the past three seasons and he figures to return unless he is traded. Casilla has battled injuries for the past year, but he still throws in the mid- to high-90s.

Connor Robertson was one of the Texas League's top set-up men in 2006.
Relievers Mike Mitchell and David Shafer also boast low to mid-90s heat and both should see time in Sacramento this season, although both could start the year in Double-A Midland. Reliever Connor Robertson may not throw as hard as Mitchell or Shafer, but he is the top strikeout pitcher in the A's system, having struck out 268 batters in only 193 innings during his three year minor league career. Robertson figures to be McBeth's primary set-up man this season in Sacramento, just as he was in Midland in 2006.

As always, the River Cats will have a number of veterans on the roster. Hiram Bocachica will return for his third year in Sacramento. He was the River Cats' top offensive player last season. Charles Thomas, who has played in the major leagues with Atlanta and Oakland, will also begin his third season in Sacramento. In addition, former major league pitchers Kevin Olsen, Mario Ramos, Kazuhito Tadano and Derek Thompson could all land on the River Cats' roster. Off-season acquisitions Donnie Murphy, J.J. Furmaniak and Lou Merloni should all add major league experience to the River Cats infield.

Midland Rockhounds: Double-A

Last Season: The injury bug hit the Rockhounds hard in 2006, as they lost top contributors Travis Buck, Danny Putnam, Richie Robnett and Jed Morris for extended periods of time. In addition, Midland lost Matt Lynch and Steve Stanley early in the season to retirement.

Brian Stavisky was one of the Rockhounds' top offensive performers in '06.
Despite the injuries, the Rockhounds made the playoffs thanks to strong performances from Kevin Melillo, Brian Stavisky, Brant Colamarino, Mark Kiger, Vasili Spanos and Buck (when he was healthy) at the plate and Brad Knox, Brad Ziegler, Ben Fritz and Kevin Olsen in the starting rotation. The strength of the Rockhounds' team in 2006 was their bullpen, however, as Marcus McBeth, Connor Robertson, Jared Burton, Mike Mitchell and Justin Crowder anchored one of the top bullpens in the Texas League.

A year after taking the Texas League championship, the Rockhounds lost in the first round of the playoffs. During the off-season, Midland manager Von Hayes elected to leave the organization, and he will be replaced this season by manager Todd Steverson, who was with Stockton each of the last two seasons.

2007 Overview: The Rockhounds should have a talented team once again in 2007. Their roster will be highlighted by outfielders Robnett and Putnam, who should lead the Rockhounds' offense. Stavisky (879 OPS last season in Midland) and Colamarino (855 OPS) may also return to Midland if the Sacramento roster is too full to accommodate them. In addition, top 10 A's prospect Landon Powell should see the majority of the time behind the plate for the Rockhounds.

Jeff Baisley won the Midwest MVP in 2006.
Myron Leslie, who drove-in 100 runs for High-A Stockton last season, will also likely land in Midland this season. Leslie, a career third baseman, saw significant time in the outfield last season. He has also been working at first base this spring and should add versatility to the Rockhounds' roster as a first baseman/DH/outfielder. Fellow South Florida alum Jeff Baisley may join Leslie in Midland. Baisley was the Midwest League MVP last season for Kane County and the third baseman could skip Stockton completely.

In the middle infield, defensive stalwart Gregorio Petit figures to see a lot of playing time for the Rockhounds. Whether Petit plays primarily at second base or shortstop will likely depend on whether top 2005 pick Cliff Pennington starts in Midland or Stockton. Pennington, a shortstop, missed most of the 2006 season with hamstring injuries and he struggled at the plate when he was on the field. System veterans Lloyd Turner, Luke Appert and Eddie Cornejo could also join the Rockhounds on Opening Day, as could former first round pick Brian Snyder and corner infielder Spanos. First baseman Tommy Everidge, who hit 20 homers last season for Stockton, could be in Midland if Spanos makes the Sacramento roster.

Brad Knox won 12 games for Midland in '06.
On the pitching-side, the Rockhounds could welcome back Knox, who may be squeezed out of a spot in Triple-A by some of the A's off-season acquisitions. Knox could be joined by top prospect Dallas Braden, a left-hander who was the A's Organizational Pitcher of the Year in 2005, but missed most of the 2006 season with a shoulder injury. 2004 second round pick Michael Rogers may be in the Midland rotation, as well. If there is room on the roster, 21 year old Ryan Webb should also join the Rockhounds' rotation.

The Rockhounds should have a top-flight bullpen once again. If Mitchell doesn't land in Sacramento, he figures to be the closer in Midland. If he is in Sacramento, then the Rockhounds' closer could be Steve Sharpe, who saved 19 games last season for Stockton and Kane County. Lefty Brad Kilby may make the jump from Kane County to Midland after a standout campaign last season in Kane County when he posted a 1.63 ERA and saved nine games. Hard thrower Jeff Gray could also be in the Rockhounds bullpen. Left-hander Steve Bondurant should also join the Midland bullpen. He missed most of the 2006 season with a shoulder injury.

Stockton Ports: High-A

Last Season: The Stockton Ports had an up-and-down season in 2006, as like most of the system, they struggled with injuries. However, the Ports managed to squeak out their second straight playoff appearance despite losing Cliff Pennington, James Shull, Javier Herrera, Luke Appert and others to injury and Travis Buck, Marcus McBeth and others to early season promotion.

Luke Appert had a 878 OPS before breaking his ankle.
The Ports struggled on offense for much of the season, but Myron Leslie, Landon Powell and Richie Robnett all put up good numbers. Outfielder Luis Perez came out of nowhere to win the California League batting title and Eddie Cornejo was a big offensive sparkplug when he was sent down from Midland during the second half of the season. On the mound, Mike Mitchell, Steve Sharpe, Jeff Gray, Jason Ray, Trent Peterson and Scot Drucker all had good numbers in the bullpen. The Ports were led in the starting rotation by Ryan Webb, Michael Rogers and Mike Madsen.

2007 Overview: One year after he was expected in Stockton, Herrera should make his Ports debut this year. The five-tool outfielder and number two A's prospect should highlight the Ports offense. He should be joined in the outfield by Chad Boyd, who hit .346 in 257 at-bats for Kane County last season. The speedy Mike Massaro, who missed much of last season with a broken wrist, may also be in the Stockton outfield.

Javier Herrera missed all of last season.
In the infield, first baseman Steve Kleen, who hit .281 in 2006 for Kane County, should be at first and Frank Martinez (11 stolen bases in 2006) could be at third. If Pennington starts the season in Midland, then Justin Sellers should be the shortstop for Stockton. Sellers, like Pennington, is a top defensive player and a top-of-the-order hitter. Second baseman Isaac Omura should also be in Stockton this season after a breakthrough 2006 season in Kane County when the Hawaiian native hit .296 with five homers. Behind the plate for Stockton should be the powerful Anthony Recker, who hit 14 homers last season in Kane County.

The Ports' pitching staff will be youth-infused in 2007. 20 year olds Jared Lansford and Vince Mazzaro figure to be prominent members of the Ports' pitching staff, and they could be joined by Webb if there isn't room for the 21 year old in Midland.

Jared Lansford appeared in three games for Stockton last year.
Trey Shields, who stands 6'6'' tall, should also be in the Stockton rotation, as could the towering-and-talented lefty Ben Jukich, who was drafted by the A's last season and appears to be on an accelerated path through the minor leagues. Lefty Joe Piekarz, who had a 3.26 ERA for Kane County last season, could also join the Ports' rotation.

The Ports' bullpen may include 2006 draftee Scott Moore, who was outstanding in Vancouver and Kane County last season. In addition, lefties Brad Davis, Branden Dewing and Ron Madej should also be on the Ports' staff. Righties Ray, T.J. Franco, John Herrera and Joe Newby could also be in the mix.

Kane County Cougars: Low-A

Last Season: The Cougars were the most successful A's affiliate last season and they made it all the way to the Midwest League finals before losing that series in four games. Kane County was led offensively by Midwest League MVP Jeff Baisley, who drove-in a franchise-record 110 runs.

Outfielder Jose Pineda added 15 homers and 21 stolen bases and Recker chipped in with 14 homers. Second half addition Chad Boyd was a catalyst with a .401 OBP and shortstop Justin Sellers stole 17 bases.

Ben Jukich was a late season ace for Kane County in '06.
On the mound, the Cougars were to be led by a trio of teenaged pitchers: Jared Lansford, Vince Mazzaro and Craig Italiano. Both Lansford and Mazzaro gave the Cougars quality innings (Lansford even threw a no-hitter), but Italiano was shut-down with a shoulder injury one month into the season. Joe Piekarz finished second behind Lansford in ERA in the Cougars' starting rotation.

Kane County received a late season boost from lefty Ben Jukich, who pitched well in the bullpen and in the starting rotation. In the bullpen, the Cougars were led by closers Steve Sharpe and Brad Kilby, as well as right-handers John Herrera and Dan Fyvie.

2007 Overview: Speed and youth should be defining characteristics for the Cougars in 2007. The Kane County outfield will feature five-tool prospects Jermaine Mitchell and Toddric Johnson, both of whom should steal their share of bases in addition to hitting for some power. 2006 third round pick Matt Sulentic will be a featured player in the Cougars' outfield.

Matt Sulentic is a rising star.
The 19 year old hit .354 in Vancouver last season and got a taste of the Midwest League late in the year. He is one of the A's top hitting prospects right now.

In the infield, the Cougars should feature 2006 WAC Player of the Year Christian Vitters, as well as fellow 2006 draft pick Mike Affronti. Slugger Greg Dowling should be the Cougars' primary first baseman, and 2006 Johnny Bench award winner Jake Smith should see a lot of time behind the plate for Kane County.

Early in the season, the Cougars may feature an eight-man starting rotation, so their pitching staff should be starting pitching heavy. Andrew Bailey, who was one of the top starters in the Northwest League last season, should be one of the featured pitchers on the Cougars' staff. He should be joined by hard-throwing right-handers Chad Lee and Italiano, as well as control artist Scott Deal.

2006 top pick Trevor Cahill could also land in Kane County, as well as promising right-hander Henry Rodriguez. Jason Fernandez, Earl Oakes, Inoel Deaza, Pat Currin and James Heuser could also play prominent roles in the Cougars pitching staff.

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