Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 25-21

It's that time of the year when we take stock of the Oakland A's organization and analyze the top prospects. For the next few weeks, every Tuesday and Thursday will be "Top Prospect List Day," as we will release our top-50 prospect list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with prospects 25-21.

25. Matt Sulentic, OF:
Sulentic played much better for Vancouver.
Sulentic's 2007 season qualified as one of the bigger disappointments in the A's system. He raised expectations in 2006 when he hit .356 with an 888 OPS in 38 games with short-season Vancouver as an 18-year-old and held his own in Low-A Kane County at the end of the season. Sulentic began the 2007 season back in Kane County and there was some thought before the season started that he could be moved up to High-A Stockton if he got off to a good start with the Cougars.

Unfortunately for Sulentic, he got off to a very slow start along with the rest of the Cougars and was never able to pull himself out of it. He hit only .175 with a 453 OPS in 206 at-bats with Kane County before being sent back to short-season Vancouver, where he spent the rest of the season. Sulentic improved dramatically with Vancouver, although he still didn't reach the heights that he did with the Canadians in 2006. He hit .261 with a decent .362 OBP and a 750 OPS in 276 at-bats for Vancouver.

Sulentic showed maturity as a 19-year-old. He didn't get too down on himself when he was struggling and he took his demotion to Vancouver as an opportunity for a fresh start.

"He handled going back to Vancouver very well. He had gotten into a rut where things just weren't really happening for him in Kane County. The Midwest League is a pretty tough league, and even though it is considered a Low-A league, the pitching there is just really good. He just wasn't able to get over that hump. He would get to that .200 level or a little bit over, but he was just wasn't able to get going from there," Keith Lieppman, the Oakland A's Director of Player Development, told OaklandClubhouse.com in October.

"He went back to Vancouver and he hit pretty well there. He has hit well in the Instructional League, as well. He may have to go back to Kane County and hopefully he can move at some point during the year to Stockton and then things can really take off for him."

Despite the disappointing numbers, Sulentic still could have a bright future ahead of him. He played the entire season at age 19. Even if he has to repeat at Kane County to start the season, Sulentic will still be younger than most of the players in the Midwest League. He doesn't have a great glove, so Sulentic's advancement will depend entirely on his ability to hit.

Sulentic doesn't have a typical build for an outfielder. He is only 5'10'', 170, although it is a muscular 170. His foot speed is average, as is his throwing arm, so he will likely be limited to a corner outfield spot during his career. On the basepaths, Sulentic is aggressive, to a fault at times, but his base-running should improve as he plays more professional baseball.

Sulentic has a smooth swing from the left-side that maintains an even plane when he is swinging well. Like many A's hitters, Sulentic is naturally selective at the plate. He didn't walk a lot with Kane County, but he walked 42 times in 71 games with Vancouver. He had very unlucky BABIP numbers early in the season with Kane County, and that may have resulted in Sulentic pressing to hit the ball out of the park since he wasn't having much luck with balls put in play. He was popping out a lot with the Cougars, something that improved when he got to Vancouver. If he can get back to his natural line-drive swing, he has the potential to compete for batting titles.

24. Craig Italiano, P:
Italiano suffered a scary injury in late May.
Italiano joined Sulentic in the ranks of disappointments in 2007, but it wasn't for his performance. The lanky right-hander had the misfortune of being seriously injured for the second consecutive season and he missed most of the year. In 2006, Italiano missed the final four months of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. He worked hard to get back on the field and was making his sixth appearance with Low-A Kane County in 2007 when he took a vicious line-drive off of his forehead and sustained skull fractures. At the time Italiano sustained his injury, he was in the middle of arguably his best outing of the season. He had struck out five in only 2.2 innings when he was hit by the line drive. He would miss the rest of the season.

Italiano was able to get back on the field by the time the A's Instructional League began in October. The A's worked him back into the mix slowly, but he did pitch in four Instructional League games and pitched well.

"We took our time with him. Obviously, it is a little sensitive with him because of the line-drive. He did great," Ron Romanick, Oakland A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator, told OaklandClubhouse.com after the end of the Instructional League.

"He worked on some things and he's such a quick learner. No ill effects and I think in his last two outings, he didn't give up anything. He left on a positive note."

Despite the two lost seasons, Italiano still has two major positives going for him: his youth and his pure stuff. The big concern with Italiano coming off of his 2006 shoulder surgery was whether he would regain his velocity. That velocity had returned to its mid-to-upper-90s range before he had the head injury and his arm was feeling good. Italiano's head injury, while scary, was a fluke occurrence, so assuming that he can overcome the psychological issues associated with an injury like that (and he appears well on his way with his performance during the Instructional League), there should be no lingering effects from the head injury.

Italiano didn't turn 21 until late-July, so he still has plenty of time to develop. He has a plus fastball, a good slider and a developing change-up. Control has been an issue for Italiano at times during his brief pro career, so he will have to improve on that moving forward. The A's will likely keep Italiano in the rotation for now. However, if he stalls as a starter, they could move him to the bullpen, where his fastball-slider combination could make him an elite late-inning reliever. Italiano will likely make his third trip to Kane County at the start of the 2008, and hopefully for him, the third time will be the charm.

23. Travis Banwart, P:
Banwart was the Wichita State ace in 2007.
A fourth round selection in this year's draft out of Wichita State, Banwart had a solid professional debut. Many pre-draft pundits had Banwart going in the third round, so he was considered a minor steal when he fell to the A's near the end of the fourth round. He joined the Oakland A's organization as a polished collegiate pitcher, so the A's didn't hesitate to challenge him by starting him out in a full-season league. He made 12 appearances for Low-A Kane County (six starts and six relief appearances) and had a 2.60 ERA in 45 innings.

Banwart displayed outstanding command in his first pro season. He walked only 10 in those 45 innings and struck out 41. Combining his numbers from Wichita State and Kane County, Banwart had a 152:43 K:BB ratio in 155.2 innings for the entire 2007 season. He was equally impressive in the starting rotation as he was in relief for Kane County, posting a 2.51 ERA as a reliever and a 2.64 ERA as a starter. He walked only four in 30.2 innings as a starter. In his last four starts for Kane County, Banwart allowed only six runs in 23 innings.

Banwart has a solid four-pitch arsenal. His fastball sits in the high-80s, low-90s and can hit 93 if he is rearing back for something extra. He has an above-average change-up and a slow 12-6 curveball that keeps hitters off-balance. Banwart also has a solid slider. He is aggressive within the strike zone and isn't afraid to challenge hitters inside, even left-handers.

The Kansas native pitched a number of big games for Wichita State during his collegiate career. He has a reputation for being a bulldog on the mound. He has a starter's build at 6'3'', 205 pounds and he maintains his velocity deep into games. Banwart may not have the fastball to be a number one starter in the major leagues, but with his fastball control and array of secondary pitches, he has a chance to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation, innings-eater starter a la Joe Blanton. The A's may have him start next season in Kane County, but he should get a look in High-A Stockton before the end of the year if he is pitching well.

22. Gregorio Petit, IF:
Petit jumped all the way to Triple-A in 2007.
After a relatively disappointing performance with High-A Stockton in 2006, Petit took a big step forward in 2007, posting All-Star numbers during the first half of the season with Double-A Midland and spending the second half of the season with Triple-A Sacramento. The Venezuelan native admitted to OaklandClubhouse.com during the season that he pressed in 2006 in an effort to play well enough to be added to the 40-man roster. He wasn't added to the roster last season, and he vowed that he would play without pressure in 2007. That change of mentality paid-off royally for Petit, who was added to the A's 40-man roster earlier in the week.

The athletic shortstop played a lot of second base in 2006 when he was sharing the middle infield with Cliff Pennington in Stockton. In 2007, he had the shortstop position to himself and played nearly all of the season at his natural spot. Petit, as usual, was outstanding defensively. The Caracas native grew up admiring Omar Vizquel and he is a shortstop in the Vizquel mold. Petit is only 5'10'', 160, but he is still able to range deep into the shortstop hole to make the play thanks to his quick feet and strong throwing arm. He has soft hands and is good at charging the ball and playing it on the short-hop. He also handles the double-play turn very well. Petit used to make a lot of mistakes when he rushed plays, but he has done a good job slowing himself down and making the smart play. Although he didn't play there much in 2007, Petit demonstrated in 2006 that he could play well at second base in addition to shortstop.

On offense, Petit made positive progress in 2007, although he still has room to improve. He hit well for average, posting a .306 BA with Midland in 66 games and .277 with Sacramento in 67 despite getting off to a very slow start with the River Cats. He is an aggressive batter, however, and he could make himself a more useful offensive player if he walked more. Petit has more pop than one would expect for a player of his size, but he tends let his swing get too long when he is trying to hit for power. When Petit is at his best, he is hitting the ball to the opposite field or up-the-middle. Petit has above-average speed. He only stole 10 bases this season, but he is capable of swiping 20-30 a season. Petit has natural leadership skills and is a good field general.

Petit will be attending his first major league spring training this year if he remains on the A's 40-man roster for the rest of the off-season. He will have an outside shot of replacing Marco Scutaro on the A's 25-man roster this season, although he could probably use at least another half season at Triple-A. He turns 23 this December, so he has time to develop at Triple-A. If he doesn't improve his plate discipline, Petit will likely be looking at a major league role similar to that of Scutaro, as a super utility infielder. However, if he can get on-base at a better rate, Petit has a shot of being a starting shortstop in the major leagues.

21. Anthony Recker, C:
Recker was a California League All-Star.
Recker had a mixed season in 2007. He was an elite performer at the start of the season, posting a 1010 OPS in 56 games with High-A Stockton and making the California League All-Star team. However, he struggled at Double-A Midland after a mid-season promotion, posting an anemic 593 OPS in 58 games with the Rockhounds. Despite his late season struggles with the Rockhounds, Recker finished the season with career-high totals in homeruns (17) and RBIs (67).

With the Ports, Recker was nearly unstoppable offensively. He hit for average, power and did a good job of getting on-base. Recker had a solid April, posting an 824 OPS, but it was in May that he really got going. He had a 928 OPS and 12 extra-base hits in 82 at-bats. Recker carried that into June, when he was the California League's hottest hitter. He homered seven times in 64 at-bats and hit .344 with a 1229 OPS.

Recker also got on-base a .432 clip in June. Immediately after the California/Carolina League All-Star game, Recker was promoted to Double-A Midland. He struggled from the outset with Midland, collecting only five hits in his first 30 at-bats. Recker admitted that he was pressing early with Midland, trying to take advantage of the opportunity created through the promotion. He got better as the season wore on. Recker never managed a decent batting average with Midland, but he did post a respectable .417 SLG for the month of August and he homered three times in his final 16 at-bats of the season.

The A's originally intended to have Recker hone his skills even further this fall at the Arizona Fall League. Unfortunately, he broke his hamate bone during the final days of the season and had to miss the AFL. Despite that set-back, Recker will enter next season as one of the A's top catching prospects. He has very good power for a catcher and projects as a 20+ homerun hitter over a 162 game schedule. Recker has a long swing with a bit of an uppercut at the end. He can be vulnerable on high, inside fastballs, but if a pitcher doesn't tie up his hands, Recker can be very dangerous. He is an aggressive hitter and will accumulate his fair share of strike outs. Recker is a pull hitter, although he has the power to hit the ball out the other way.

Defensively, Recker is still a work-in-progress. He has a good catcher's build at 6'2'' and a solid 230. Although Recker has a good working relationship with his pitchers, he is still learning the nuances of footwork and blocking balls behind the plate. His throwing arm is average and could improve with better footwork. Recker gets high marks for his work ethic and he has made improvements with his defense over the last two years. If he doesn't develop defensively even more next season, the A's could try Recker at first base, as he has the power and the size to be a first baseman.

Recker will likely get another crack at Double-A to start next season. With Jeremy Brown in his final year under the A's control and Landon Powell coming back from injury, Recker has an opportunity to move up to the top spot in the A's minor league catching depth chart with a solid 2008 campaign. Oakland has Kurt Suzuki set in the starting spot at the major league level, but the A's should have competition for the back-up spot in 2009 as Rob Bowen reaches his arbitration years. Recker could be ready to compete for a spot in the big leagues at that point.

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