Oakland A's Prospect Profile: Ryan Sweeney
Name: Ryan Sweeney
H/W: 6'4''/ 200 LB
Sweeney has been a high-profile prospect since he starred for the Chicago White Sox during major league spring training in 2004 as a 19-year-old. A second-round pick by Chicago in 2003 out of an Iowa high school, Sweeney was put on the fast-track by the White Sox after that spring performance.
Sweeney's first full pro season was spent at High-A Winston-Salem, where he competed against players two to three years to his senior. The lefty outfielder held his own, batting .283 with a .342 OBP. He didn't hit for much power (.379 SLG), but considering his age, it wasn't that much of a concern.
The White Sox continued their aggressive approach to Sweeney's development in 2005, sending him to Double-A as a 20-year-old. Sweeney once again showed good presence at the plate, batting .298 with a .357 OBP. Sweeney hit only one homerun, however, in 429 at-bats. He struggled with a wrist injury for much of that season, which sapped a lot of his power.
There was some thought that Sweeney might repeat at Double-A in 2006, but he earned a promotion to Triple-A with another strong performance in major league spring training. He hit .357 with a three homers and a 1081 OPS in 23 major league spring training games.
Sweeney was sent to Triple-A Charlotte to start the year and he was solid as a 21-year-old. He batted .296 with a career-high 13 homers and an 802 OPS. Sweeney also posted career-highs in slugging percentage (.452), RBIs (70), extra-base hits (46) and hits (133). That performance earned Sweeney a shot at the major-league level for the first time. He had 35 at-bats for the White Sox, collecting eight hits and driving-in five runs.
Sweeney entered major league spring training camp in 2007 with an outside chance to make the major league team. He struggled during the spring, however, and was sent back to Triple-A to start the year. Sweeney earned another crack at the major leagues at the end of April. He appeared in 15 games for the White Sox in April and May. In 45 at-bats, Sweeney collected nine hits, four of which went for extra-bases.
He was sent back to Triple-A at that point, where he spent the rest of the season. He finished the season with disappointing numbers, batting a career-low .270 with 10 homers and a 746 OPS. Sweeney once again battled wrist problems, which hurt his power and caused him to miss time down-the-stretch.
Although Sweeney did not get a September call-up to the big leagues, he was given an opportunity to play in the Arizona Fall League. He got off to a slow start at the AFL as he was still battling wrist soreness, but he got better as the fall league went on. He hit .366 with a homer in his final 10 games at the AFL and finished the league with a .286 BA.
Sweeney has always been a scout's dream. He has a very projectable frame at 6'4'', 215 pounds. Sweeney is an excellent athlete with a beautiful left-handed swing. He has above-average speed, although he hasn't been a base-stealer during his career, and he has a strong throwing arm. Oakland A's Baseball Operations Analyst Farhan Zaidi called Sweeney "one of the best defensive outfielders in the minor leagues" in an interview with OaklandClubhouse.com earlier this month.
Throughout his career, Sweeney has done an excellent job hitting for average. He has a career .289 minor league batting average. Sweeney has good balance at the plate and he does a good job spraying the ball to all fields. He also has strong fundamentals on the base-paths and does a good job taking extra-bases even though he doesn't steal that often.
Where Sweeney has failed to develop as expected is in the power department. Based on his build, most scouts predicted that Sweeney would be a 25+ homerun hitter in the major leagues. However, he has only had one good power season during his career (in 2006) and even then he only hit 13 homeruns. Part of the reason that Sweeney might not have developed power yet is that he has struggled with wrist problems. It is probably no coincidence that Sweeney's best power season came during a year when he was completely healthy. He is also still young and hasn't yet learned when to turn on pitches and swing for the fences.
The A's remain hopeful that Sweeney will continue to develop his power and eventually become the hitter that many scouts predicted that he would develop into. However, they like what they have seen of Sweeney's game, even without the power. He does a lot of the little things well, and the A's feel that he can contribute at the major-league level.
Sweeney has already spent two seasons at Triple-A and probably doesn't have much more to gain by spending another year at that level. He is a corner outfielder by nature, but Sweeney has shown that he can handle centerfield and the A's might try him out there this season, perhaps in a platoon with Chris Denorfia.
Sweeney will be 23 throughout next season, so he still has some development time left to learn to hit with more power. If he doesn't add more power, Sweeney likely has a future as a fourth outfielder in the mold of an Orlando Palmeiro. However, if Sweeney can learn to hit with more authority, he could be a starting outfielder in the mold of Andre Ethier or Trot Nixon.
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