Powell Moving In The Right Direction

On Thursday, the Oakland A's promoted their top pick from the 2004 draft, Landon Powell, to Triple-A Sacramento. It is Powell's first taste of Triple-A baseball. The former South Carolina catcher has made a quick ascent through the A's system after missing all of the 2005 season with injury. We spoke with A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman about Powell's progress.

When Landon Powell was taken with the 24th overall pick by the Oakland A's in 2004, most scouts believed that he would move quickly through the minor leagues. Powell was a polished catcher coming out of college, with power from both sides of the plate and a good reputation on defense.

Unfortunately, those plans were put on hold in 2005 when Powell injured his knee during off-season workouts. He missed the entire 2005 season and when he returned, he found himself behind Kurt Suzuki, a second round pick in 2004, on the A's minor league catching depth chart.

Powell began the 2006 season in High-A Stockton and put together a good comeback season. He proved that his knee was healthy enough to be an everyday catcher and he continued to impress defensively. Offensively, Powell showed good power, blasting 15 homers in only 326 at-bats for the Ports. He was promoted to Double-A Midland for the final month of the 2006 season, appearing in 14 games for the Rockhounds.

Although Powell was able to answer some questions about the durability of his knee in 2006, he was still dogged by concerns about his weight as he entered the 2007 season. He reportedly gained weight during the 2006 season and, by the time he reached the Arizona Fall League in October, Powell appeared to some scouts to be worn down physically.

The A's challenged Powell to up his fitness in the off-season and he answered that challenge in full. According to A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, Powell lost approximately 40 pounds in the off-season. As a reward for his hard work, the A's invited Powell to major league spring training camp.

Lieppman has been impressed with Powell's dedication to his fitness and believes that the lost weight has been a big factor in the impressive season that Powell has had thus far.

"He's really gotten in good shape. I think that was the number one thing was that he really committed himself last off-season to come into camp this year in shape and ready to go," Lieppman said.

"It was a major accomplishment for him [to get in shape]. Keeping the weight off and keeping him flexible has given him a better chance to perform. I think that what you've seen is that when he has gotten in shape, he has been able to handle the weight-bearing on his knee much better. I think the conditioning aspect has really helped him."

Powell's hard work in the off-season has translated into All-Star numbers for the first-half of the season. Before his promotion to Triple-A Sacramento on Thursday, Powell hit .292 with 11 homers and an 893 OPS in 60 games for the Midland Rockhounds. Those numbers included a blistering June, when he hit .425 with eight homers and 26 RBI. He also was the Texas League leader in caught-stealing and fielding percentage behind the plate and he earned a starting nod in the Texas League All-Star game.

Lieppman has seen Powell grow as a hitter this season.

"He's always been outstanding as a receiver and a thrower, but he's also started to get some confidence swinging the bat. He started a little slow offensively, but he really picked it up and he's started to shorten his swing from both sides," Lieppman said.

"From what I've seen, he's really learned to use the whole field. Earlier he had a tendency to try to pull everything. Now he has been able to either pull or go opposite field from both sides of the plate."

Powell leaves Midland, where he got the majority of the playing time behind the plate, to a more crowded catching situation in Sacramento. Minor league veterans J.D. Closser and Jeremy Brown are already on the Sacramento roster. Lieppman knows that Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco will have to work a balancing act to get all three adequate playing time.

"Jeremy Brown and J.D. Closser both are good catchers. With a promotion, you intend to give [Powell] the majority of the playing time, but it is just a difficult place right now. We've gone from having hardly anyone [available in the A's system] to getting healthy again, so it is hard to plan out playing time for everybody. We are going to try to split it up and make sure that Landon gets some experience," Lieppman said.

Lieppman also indicated that Powell would either play in the Arizona Fall League or in a winter ball league this off-season, which could make-up for any lost playing time Powell may encounter in Sacramento.

"By the time January and February roll around, Landon will have gotten plenty of opportunities [to play against advanced competition]," Lieppman said.

This will be the second consecutive year that Powell has had an in-season promotion to a higher level. Lieppman believes that that type of progression is ideal to the gradual development of a player like Powell.

"Incrementally, you like to bring them along so that they get those experiences [the year before] so that next year when spring training comes around, they will have had all of these experiences and will have seen some of the best pitchers in the league," Lieppman said.

"That is really what it is all about, being able to adjust to the more sophisticated pitchers and being able to have a better idea of how to handle yourself in those situations. The next step for [Powell] is learning how to deal with more veteran-type pitcher. Powell's got to continue to improve on his game-calling and all of that."

Earlier in June, the A's promoted Suzuki to the major leagues to be the back-up catcher to Jason Kendall. There had been some talk that Suzuki would be sent down to Sacramento when the A's announced that Mike Piazza was delaying his rehab so that he could build up his arm strength to do some catching. However, with Powell being promoted to Triple-A, it no longer seems likely that Suzuki will be sent down, as the A's are interested in keeping the upward development of both catchers on-track as much as possible.

"The plan, I believe, when Suzuki was sent up there, was that it would give us a chance to set-up our catching throughout the system so that we can have Suzuki [in Oakland], Landon in Triple-A and [Anthony] Recker, who is having a really good season himself, move to Midland. That puts us in a nice development position where guys can get some playing time and you have three really good catchers in position [to continue to develop]," Lieppman said.

With Suzuki already in the big leagues and Powell and Recker in the midst of All-Star seasons, the A's are suddenly flush with top-flight catching talent. When asked if the current crop of minor league catchers was the best the A's had had in awhile, Lieppman agreed.

"It really is. We've come and gone with the Danny Ardoins and [A.J.] Hinches [former top catching prospects] and there were times when we had Brownie [Jeremy Brown] and [John] Baker up-and-coming. So we've had moments [when the A's have had good catching depth in the system], but now maybe this next wave will be some front-line guys who maybe we can get to the big leagues and have stay there."

For Powell, the promotion to Triple-A gets him one step closer to where many of those scouts saw him on that draft day in 2004 – behind the plate in the major leagues.

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