OC Mailbag: Getting To Know New Players

In this week's edition of OC Mailbag, we tackle questions about some of the Oakland A's new players and the power potential of Daric Barton...

Thanks for such a great and informative site. What can you tell us about Wes Bankston, Chris Denorfia and Jose Garcia, who were all acquired this past year and perhaps are under the radar due to injuries or struggles? Thanks.
- Brian, Elk Grove

Thanks Brian! We will be going a bit more in-depth on Bankston and Denorfia in our spring training position battles series, which will start next week. However, here is a brief overview of all three players.

Bankston was picked up on waivers by the A's this off-season and is on the team's 40-man roster. He is a reclamation project of sorts, in some ways similar to Jason Stokes, a first baseman the A's picked up from the Florida Marlins last season. Like Stokes, Bankston was once one of the top prospects in his organization (in Bankston's case, Tampa Bay). Unlike Stokes, Bankston has been relatively healthy throughout his career. Where his career has faced impediments, however, has been in the field, as the Rays chose to move Bankston all over the field in an attempt to find a place for him at the major-league level. He began his career as an outfielder, was shifted to first base in his third season, then to third base in his fifth season, and back to first last year. Those positional shifts have, at times, seemed to disrupt Bankston, especially the move to third base, which, by all accounts, was a disaster.

Bankston's best season came in 2004 in the Low-A South Atlantic League, where he hit 23 homers and drove-in 101 runs. In 2007, he struggled badly at the plate at Triple-A Durham, setting career-lows in BA (.238) and OBP (.282). The A's believe he is closer to the hitter who batted .297 with Durham in 2006 than the 2007 version. At his best, Bankston is a hitter with good plate coverage, a decent eye and power to all fields. The A's are hopeful that that is the hitter who emerges this spring in camp. He was a high school football player and still has that solid build. Bankston is likely to start the season with Triple-A Sacramento, and if he plays well and the A's trade Dan Johnson, he could be called on to be a back-up first baseman/right-handed pinch-hitter for the A's this season. He just turned 24 this November, so despite having six minor league seasons under his belt, he is still relatively young.

Denorfia will enter spring training as the favorite to see the majority of time in centerfield for the A's this season. He missed all of last season after suffering an elbow injury during spring training that required Tommy John surgery, and he was acquired by Oakland from Cincinnati while he was recovering from the injury. It has been almost a year since his surgery and his rehab is going well. He has begun swinging and should be on-course for full participation this spring.

Denorfia has been an under-the-radar prospect for much of his career. He got off to an uneven start to his professional career, and had to repeat both at High-A and Double-A after struggling during his first stints at those levels. He emerged as a solid prospect in 2005 when he hit .317 between Double-A and Triple-A and had a brief call-up to the major leagues. Denorfia played in 49 games with the Reds in 2006 as a 25-year-old and hit .283 with a .356 OBP and a 724 OPS.

Denorfia is the kind of player who does a lot of little things well, but doesn't have one stand-out tool. He is a guy who generally hits for average, can take a walk, doesn't strike-out a lot, has decent speed and can cover a good amount of ground in centerfield. He projects as a poor-man's Mark Kotsay (circa 2004), and he should have a future with the A's as a fourth outfielder even if Carlos Gonzalez and either Javier Herrera, Ryan Sweeney or Richie Robnett secure starting spots alongside Travis Buck with the A's next season.

Like Denorfia, Garcia is recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he had last May after experiencing elbow soreness during Spring Training. His recovery has been a gradual one, as he is not expected to be throwing at full strength this spring. Garcia was originally acquired by the A's on a waiver claim from the Florida Marlins early in the off-season. He was waived by Oakland later in the winter, but cleared waivers and was re-signed to a minor league deal. The Dominican right-hander was a top pitching prospect in the Marlins' organization before injuring his elbow. In two minor league seasons, Garcia struck out 205 batters and walked only 52 in 199 innings. He made five relief appearances with Florida in 2006, allowing six runs in 11 innings.

Garcia has been a starter throughout his minor league career, but at 5'11'', 170 LB, he may be better suited for relief. When healthy, Garcia throws his fastball in the 88-91 MPH range and can reach 93 on occasion. He has an excellent change-up and a good curveball. Garcia has struggled at times against left-handed hitters, but he throws strikes and mixes his pitches well, an impressive combination for a pitcher of his age (just turned 23). He will likely be brought along slowly this season and may start the year in extended spring training as he continues his recovery. However, he could be a factor for the A's in a relief role in 2009.

Will we see the Daric Barton of September last year who hit eight homers in the month or the Daric Barton who hit only nine homers in five months from April to August last year?
- Bill, Moraga, CA

That is the million dollar question, isn't it? Unfortunately, the best answer is probably that we'll see something in-between (a cop-out answer, for sure, but hear us out). Throughout his young career, Barton has been a streaky hitter in the minor leagues. When he is locked in, he's as good a hitter as you'll see. When he is struggling, he generally isn't hitting the ball on the line much and finds himself flying out a lot or grounding out to second. The Barton who starred in the playoffs for the River Cats and debuted with the A's in September was the red-hot Barton. However, Barton hit only .236 in August with a 713 OPS, so you can see how quickly his streaks can turn around. Fortunately for Barton, he always has a good eye at the plate, something that allows him to contribute offensively even if he is struggling.

The biggest difference in Barton's hot streak in September from previous hot streaks during his minor league career was that he had a lot of homerun power to go along with the outstanding batting average and on-base percentage. That shows that he is capable of hitting for power when he is locked in, something that should be encouraging to those who were worried that he didn't have the swing to hit for power. Now he just needs to show that he can hit for power over the course of an entire season. Barton may become more consistent as he gains experience and improves his conditioning (something that may have contributed to his struggles in the hot month of August). Being in the major leagues with the film and weight equipment that major league players are surrounded with could aid Barton in becoming a more consistent performer.

Does Todd Linden have a shot of making the team out of Spring Training?
- Paul, San Francisco

Linden will be one of the most interesting stories in camp for local reporters because of his connection to the team across the Bay. The long-time top San Francisco Giants prospect signed with the A's as a minor league free agent this off-season. He was considered a big part of the Giants future for some time, but was never given a regular stint with San Francisco and generally struggled during his time in the majors. Linden had a strong showing with the Giants in 2006, posting a 811 OPS in 77 at-bats. He struggled out of the gate in 2007, however, posting an anemic 450 OPS for the Giants in 55 at-bats. Linden was cut by San Francisco and claimed by the Florida Marlins. He played better for Florida, hitting .271 with a 711 OPS in 85 at-bats.

Linden has nothing to prove at the minor-league level. He hasn't had an OPS in the minor leagues under 815 since 2003. The switch-hitter has a solid swing from both sides of the plate and some line-drive power. He doesn't really have the foot speed for centerfield, but he can handle both corner outfield positions. His development was mishandled by San Francisco, as he was rushed to Triple-A and the big leagues and then never really given a chance to start regularly in the major leagues.

Linden will be 28 in June, and his days as a top prospect are over. However, he could still have value as a fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter, especially on the A's, who have a lefty-heavy line-up. Linden will have plenty of competition for a spot on the A's bench this spring from Ryan Sweeney and Jeff Fiorentino. However, if the A's decide to start Carlos Gonzalez in Triple-A and if Oakland doesn't sign any additional veteran outfielders, Linden could earn a job on the 25-man roster this spring.

Have questions of your own? E-mail them to our staff.

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