OaklandClubhouse Mailbag: Appert Moving Up?

We open up the mailbag for the first time this season and answer questions about Luke Appert's future, James Shull's absence from a full-season roster and more...

Luke Appert has been ridiculously hot for the Stockton Ports. It is his third year in Stockton. Time for him to move up?
- Steve, Vacaville, CA

To say that Appert is hot at the plate right now would be an understatement. Through Friday night's game action, Appert was hitting .556 with an OPS of 1447 in 36 at-bats for the Ports. He has six extra-base hits and a 6:2 K:BB ratio right now.

Unfortunately for Appert, he is a bit of a man without a position at the moment. Early in his career, he was a second baseman, but he has been used more frequently as a DH or an outfielder recently. That has made it a bit difficult for Appert to be moved up, as the A's are stocked with outfielders and DHs in Double-A Midland.

Still, it is pretty clear that Appert is too good of a hitter for High-A. The 26-year-old had an 878 OPS that included a .439 OBP last season for the Ports in 55 games before he broke his ankle and missed the rest of the season. Had he not gotten hurt last year, there was a good chance that he would have moved up to Midland during the second half of the season when players such as Brian Snyder and Eddie Cornejo were demoted to Stockton and outfielders such as Travis Buck and Richie Robnett were injured for the season.

Unfortunately for Appert, he is currently caught in a numbers game and will have to wait for more roster movement before he gets that chance at Double-A. If he continues to put up numbers like he has thus far this season, however, it will be hard for the A's to keep him in High-A much longer.

What happened to James Shull? I saw him pitch in Vancouver a few years back and he was great.
- Jeff W.

Shull certainly was outstanding for Vancouver in 2005, posting a 2.47 ERA and striking out 81 in 73 innings. He entered the 2006 season as one of the A's most intriguing pitching prospects. Shull got off to a good start with Stockton last season, striking out 16 in his first 11.1 innings.

Unfortunately, those 11.1 innings were the only innings Shull would get last season. During his second start, he injured his elbow and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Shull had a set-back in his recovery this off-season and his timetable for a return at this point is unknown.

Dallas Braden has moved pretty quickly up to Triple-A. What should we expect of him?
- Phil, Stockton, CA

Braden has been one of the best early season stories in the A's system this season. After an outstanding 2005 season where he was awarded the A's Organizational Pitcher of the Year title, Braden missed much of the 2006 season with shoulder trouble. He did get back on the field for the last month of the season, but he looked a little rusty.

Braden was expected to compete in the Arizona Fall League, but another injury prevented him from appearing in the AFL. He recovered in time to pitch in Puerto Rico during the winter league season and he pitched extremely well. Braden appeared to rediscover his velocity on his fastball and the touch on his screwball in Puerto Rico and he has carried it over into the regular season.

The left-hander was dominanting on the road during his first Triple-A start this Thursday. His fastball was clocked consistently in the high-80s/low-90s and his off-speed stuff (including the screwball) was working really well. So far this season in three starts, Braden has 20 strikeouts and four walks in 18 innings.

When Braden was drafted, it was assumed that his future would be in the bullpen because he didn't throw that hard. However, adjustments with his mechanics have allowed him to increase his velocity up into the high-80s/low-90s and with his off-speed stuff, Braden now appears to have enough pitches to stay in the rotation. He isn't a big guy (6'1'', 185), so the A's will have to monitor his work load as he has already had some injury trouble during his career. However, if he stays healthy, Braden could be a very intriguing prospect for the A's rotation in the next year or two.

Should we be concerned by the Cougars' slow start?
- Stacy, Illinois

No doubt when a team gets off to a 1-12 start, there should be some real concern. However, the Cougars have had to deal with some very difficult scheduling due to a number of early season snow-outs. While you can't blame their start entirely on the weather, it certainly hasn't helped.

The Cougars have also been hurt by injuries to some key players. Toddric Johnson missed time early with a shoulder injury, although he is now back on the field. Chad Lee, expected to be one of the Cougars' top pitchers this season, hasn't thrown a pitch yet due to injury. Larry Cobb and Craig Italiano, two players who should be a big part of the Cougars' roster this season, have just arrived with Kane County this week.

Right now, one thing you can say is that it can only get better for Kane County. The Cougars have a lot of talent, too much talent to be this bad. Remember that the Midwest League has a first half and a second half division winner, so even if the Cougars can't climb out of this hole for the first half, they'll have a chance to redeem themselves in the second half.

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