10 First Half Heroes In The A's System

With the first half of the 2007 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 10 players who are having 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 2007 performance only and not for their future ceiling as players. Numbers through June 25, 2007.

1. Daric Barton, 1B
Stats To Date: .330/.420/.494/914 25 2B/2 3B/5 HR/44 RBI/ 1 SB/ 3 CS

Comment: More than a few people were concerned when Barton got off to a slow start this season. However, after batting only .221 in April, Barton has raised his game in May (.273 BA/869 OPS) and in June (.512 BA/1.281 OPS). His numbers for the first half of the season are very similar to the numbers that Travis Buck put up during the first half of the 2006 season. Of course, Buck put up those numbers in Single-A and Double-A, while Barton has been producing against more advanced pitching in Triple-A.

After missing most of last season due to injury and putting up only mediocre numbers during the time he was on the field in 2006, Barton saw his stock as a prospect dip a bit in the off-season. He is clearly back on-track thanks to a strong first half and should be pushing for a big league call-up as soon as the Major League All-Star break. His defense at first is still a work-in-progress (although he isn't far behind where Dan Johnson was defensively when he was promoted), but he doesn't have much more to learn as a hitter. He already uses the whole field well, has good pitch recognition and he can drive the ball into the gaps when he wants to. His doubles haven't yet become homeruns, but that seems like only a matter of time. And he's still only 21 years old.

2. Mike Madsen, RHP
Stats To Date: 6-4, 3.02 ERA, 89.1 IP, 89 K, 35 BB, 1.20 WHIP

Comment: After an outstanding professional debut in 2005 with Vancouver, the A's had high expectations for Madsen in 2006, starting him in High-A Stockton. He struggled to miss bats both at Stockton and during a brief stint in Double-A Midland and finished the 2006 season at 6-11 with a 7.34 ERA. The A's had Madsen repeat at Stockton to start this year, but promoted him to Midland after only four starts with Stockton, during which he had a 3.75 ERA. Since his arrival in Midland, Madsen has been outstanding. He has a 2.76 ERA in 11 starts for the Rockhounds, including one complete game. He is striking out more than a batter an inning and has allowed only two homeruns. Madsen was recently selected as the A's representative for the Futures Game at SBC Park during Major League Baseball's All-Star week.

There have always been questions about Madsen's size. He is only 6'0'' and he has drawn comparisons to Tim Hudson with his stature. However, Madsen made 26 starts in 2006 without breaking down and he has pitched fairly deep into games this season, averaging six innings a start. Madsen's velocity has been better this season. He generally sits at around 90 MPH with his fastball and can occasionally ramp that up to 92-93. The biggest improvement in his game, however, has been the command of that fastball, which he is using lower in the strike zone than he was last season. That better placement has allowed him to miss more bats, as well as generate a lot of groundballs. Madsen will be 25 at the end of the year, so the A's aren't likely to be shy about moving him up to Triple-A by the end of the season if he continues to dominate at Double-A.

3. Landon Powell, C
Stats To Date: .292/.391/.502/893 9 2B/2 3B/11 HR/39 RBI/1 SB/0 CS

Comment: Like Barton, Powell got off to a slow start to the season before busting out in June. He recently had a 20-game hitting streak come to an end. That streak helped raise his average nearly 60 points. His power has been on display in June, as he has hit eight of his 11 homers, as well as three doubles and two triples. Powell's 1318 OPS in June is the best the A's system. Defensively, Powell continues to be one of the best catchers in the minor leagues. He was named to the Texas League All-Star team in early June before his bat was really hot, in large part because he commands so much respect around the league for his defense. Powell is the Texas League's leading catcher in fielding percentage and he has allowed only two passed balls all season. He also leads the league in caught-stealing percentage with a 55 percent caught-stealing rate.

Based on his outstanding defense alone, Powell was likely to have a major league career regardless of how well he hit, provided he stayed healthy. That he is hitting at an All-Star level now makes him one of the elite catching prospects in all of baseball. Powell has shown no ill-effects from the serious knee injury that cost him the entire 2005 season. That injury allowed Kurt Suzuki the chance to move ahead of Powell in the A's minor league catching depth chart. However, if Powell continues to play as he has thus far this season, he will challenge Suzuki in the near future for playing time in Oakland.

4. Anthony Recker, C
Stats To Date: .312/.396/.584/980 17 2B/2 3B/13 HR/47 RBI/29 BB/54 K

Comment: Recker opened some eyes last season when he had an 822 OPS for the Kane County Cougars in his first full pro season. This year he has raised his status from sleeper to legitimate prospect with a blistering first half of the season. Recker leads all A's minor leaguers with 13 homers. Recker was promoted from High-A Stockton to Double-A Midland during the California League All-Star break. Before being promoted, Recker had a 1010 OPS for the Ports.

Recker has put a lot of time into improving his defense, but it is still a work in progress. He has the size and agility to be a good defensive catcher, so the A's will give him time to improve behind the plate. However, the team may decide to move him to first base down the road if they feel he is being blocked at catcher by Powell and Suzuki. Recker has the power to play at first if he has to make that move. In a system dominated by left-handed hitters, Recker is one of the A's top right-handed minor league power threats. He figures to finish the year in Double-A Midland.

5. Donnie Murphy, IF
Stats To Date: .340/.410/.537/947 16 2B/2 3B/3 HR/17 RBI/16 BB/40 K

Comment: Murphy has missed time with injury and spent two weeks in the big leagues, but when he has been on the field for the Sacramento River Cats, he has been one of their most valuable players. The utility infielder is among the Pacific Coast League leaders in batting average and on-base percentage. He has played all over the field for Sacramento, but has spent the majority of his time at shortstop, where he has excelled with the glove.

Although Murphy has spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues (2004, 2005 and 2007), he is still a young player. He won't turn 25 until next March. He is still a bit of a free swinger and the A's would likely prefer to see his K:BB ratio closer to 1:1. However, he has a good, versatile glove, some pop and some speed. Murphy was given a cup of coffee at the major league level earlier this season, but he was only given four at-bats. With the A's injury troubles, he figures to get another look in Oakland sometime this season. Next year, he could challenge Marco Scutaro for the A's utility infield spot.

6. James Heuser, LHP
Stats To Date: 6-2, 2.90 ERA, 80.2 IP, 84 K, 26 BB, 1.12 WHIP

Comment: The Kane County Cougars had a pretty disastrous first half of the season as a team, but Heuser was one very big bright spot. The left-hander has been one of the top starters in the Midwest League all season. He is averaging more than a strikeout an inning and has kept the hits against to a minimum. He has also been very consistent this season: he has posted ERAs of 2.89, 3.11 and 2.59 in April, May and June, respectively. Over his last 10 starts, he is 6-1 with a 2.90 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 62 innings.

Heuser has decent velocity for a lefty. He regularly adds and subtracts off of a fastball that can reach 92 when he wants it to, but often sits in the high-80s. Heuser changes speeds well and has a good slider and a developing change-up. He works quickly and hides the ball well from hitters. Heuser in 2006, all for short-season Vancouver. Heuser was a junior college draft pick back in 2003 and the A's were bringing him along slowly even before his elbow injury. He is old for his league (23), but tall lefties usually have a longer learning curve than most pitchers, so the A's will likely move-up him with caution. He could be a nice surprise for the A's if he continues to pitch with the confidence he is showing right now.

7. Jason Perry, OF
Stats To Date: .271/.385/.493/877 13 2B/0 3B/11 HR/2 SB/0 CS

Comment: After spending all of spring training with the Sacramento spring team, Perry was demoted right before Opening Day to Double-A Midland. Despite that disappointment, Perry hit well at Midland, posting a 928 OPS in 21 games for the Rockhounds, putting himself in position to be promoted to Sacramento when there was an opening. Since Perry arrived in Sacramento, he has been swinging the bat well. Until a recent five game slump has brought down his average down to .279, he had been hitting above .300 at Triple-A. He has brought stability to a River Cats' outfield that has seen numerous changes throughout the season.

Perry got off to a hot start last season, making this list in 2006. However, he slumped in the second half and finished the year with a 799 OPS overall and a 694 OPS in Sacramento. Perry has improved his plate discipline somewhat this season and is showing the homerun power he displayed earlier in his minor league career. He is one of the A's better defensive outfielders, as well. Perry has fallen under the radar a bit since being removed from the A's 40-man roster before the 2006 season. However, the River Cats' coaching staff is high on Perry and if he can avoid that second-half drop-off that hurt him last season, he might get a chance with the A's in September.

8. Patrick Currin, RP
Stats To Date: 8 SV, 2.06 ERA, 43.2 IP, 25 H, 12 R, 16 BB, 51 K

Comment: Currin has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, as he has emerged from relative obscurity to become a legitimate late-inning relief prospect. The 2006 draft pick has been nearly unhittable this season since his promotion from Low-A Kane County to High-A Stockton. In 29.1 innings for the Ports, Currin has allowed only 14 hits and five earned runs. He has struck out 34 and has converted all eight of his save opportunities. He was a late addition to the California League All-Star team and threw 1.1 perfect innings in the Cal-Carolina League All-Star match-up.

Currin isn't a hard thrower, but he uses a three-quarters arm slot to generate a lot of movement on his pitches. He relies on his movement and on changing speeds to make hitters miss. He has a closer's mentality and likes to pitch in pressure situations. Currin was a senior draft pick and is already 23 years old, so the A's will likely continue to move him up the ladder if there are openings.

9. J.J. Furmaniak, IF
Stats To Date: .281/.371/.472/843 13 2B/1 3B/12 HR/39 RBI/17 SB/5 CS

Comment: Furmaniak, a minor league veteran, has helped to keep the River Cats afloat while injuries have ravaged their roster. He has played in 69 games for the team, missing time only when he was called up for three days with the big league club. After a down year in the Pittsburgh chain in 2006, Furmaniak has regained the stroke thi season that made him a top prospect with San Diego back in 2004. He has also provided speed on the basepaths and versatility, playing all over the infield and in left when needed.

Furmaniak was added to the 40-man roster when the A's brought him up to Oakland earlier this month. As long as he stays on the 40-man roster, he will be a good candidate for a call-up to Oakland if injuries strike the big league team because of his versatility.

10. Luke Appert, UT
Stats To Date: .324/.460/.463/923 14 2B/1 3B/6 HR/52 RBI/0 SB/0 CS

Comment: Appert's 2006 season was ruined when he broke his ankle in a collision at first base while playing for the High-A Stockton Ports. He was sent back to Stockton for a third consecutive season at the start of 2007. At 26 years old and with a career .383 OBP coming into this season, Appert had proven himself to be too good of a hitter for High-A. However, a crowded system forced Appert to start there again. Once the season began, he proved emphatically that he was too good for the California League, batting .352 with a ridiculous .486 OBP in 46 games for the Ports. He finally got his promotion to Double-A in mid-May. He hasn't had the same level of success since arriving in Midland, but he is holding his own. Through 24 games for the Rockhounds, Appert is hitting .268 with a .408 OBP and a 1:1 K:BB ratio.

Appert, who will be 27 in July, may have one of the best batting eyes of any hitter in the minor leagues. Unfortunately, he has only average power and his ankle injury has robbed him of any chance of being a stolen-base threat. He entered the organization as a second baseman, but he has since been moved into the outfield. Appert is a solid team player and someone who has never really been given the chance at the higher levels that his career statistics suggest that he should have had. He might be a long-shot to make the major leagues at this point, although with his on-base skills, if he sticks around long enough, he might get a break late in his career, a la Doug Clark and Scott McClain.

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