A's Crystal Ball: Five Predictions For 2008

With the Oakland A's minor league camp set to open next week when pitchers and catchers report, we thought it would be fun to take a look into our crystal ball and make five predictions for what might happen during the 2008 minor league season.

Prediction: The A's system record will be higher than .500 in 2008

For most of the last decade, the Oakland A's have been among the best organizations in baseball in terms of racking up wins at both the major- and minor-league levels. The 2007 season was a down year for the A's in terms of wins not only in the bigs, but in the minors, as well. The A's Triple-A affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats, was very good, winning the PCL and Triple-A titles, but none of the A's other affiliates managed winning records or made the playoffs. In 2006, the A's minor league affiliates put together a 367-326 regular season record. Last year, A's affiliates posted a 340-351 regular season record.

Winning at the minor-league level isn't the main objective for organizations, but the A's have always taken pride in putting together competitive clubs at all levels. By acquiring multiple prospects in all four trades the team made this off-season, the A's have added a big infusion of talent to their system. In addition, the A's have received high early marks for their 2007 draft class. Expect the entire system to rebound in 2008, not only in terms of the ranking of the individual prospects, but the results on the field. Look for the A's system to return to a winning record and to field more than one playoff squad in 2008.

Prediction: An A's prospect will reach the 30-homer mark in 2008

The A's haven't had a minor leaguer break the 30-homer barrier in some time. Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson came close in 2004, but both finished just short. The A's have several players who could challenge that number in 2008. First baseman Chris Carter, acquired from the Chicago White Sox this off-season, may have the best chance of hitting 30 or more. He hit 25 in the South Atlantic League last season and he will be in an even better league for hitters in 2008 in the California League. The player Carter will be replacing in Stockton, Tom Everidge, is another player who could reach 30 homers. He hit 26 in 2007 despite getting off to a slow start to the season and will be in the Texas League, where right-handed hitters have put up good homer totals historically.

Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will be another power hitter to watch. If he spends the entire season in Triple-A, he could reach that total in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Two of the A's 2007 draft picks, Corey Brown and Danny Hamblin, showed above-average power last season. They each hit 11 homeruns in less than half a season in the pitcher-friendly Northwest League. Their chances of reaching 30 homers will be hurt if they spend the entire season in the Midwest League, but if either earns an early promotion to High-A, the homer totals could be impressive. Outfielder Richie Robnett has been a threat to hit 30 homers since he was drafted. He hasn't yet, but this could be the year he puts it all together.

Prediction: Multiple A's pitching prospects will strike out more than 150 batters

Over the past two seasons, the A's have had exactly one prospect strike out 150 or more players. In 2006, Jason Windsor whiffed 158 batters. Last season, Andrew Bailey led A's minor league hurlers with exactly 150 strike outs. A healthy Bailey has a good chance of exceeding that total in 2008, as he missed the first month of the season last year after straining an oblique during Spring Training. Bailey isn't the only strike out artist in the A's chain, however. Gio Gonzalez, acquired from the White Sox in the Swisher trade, led all minor leaguers with 185 strike outs in 2007. Whether he exceeds 150 strike outs will have a lot to do with how long he stays in Triple-A. Fellow former White Sox prospect Fautino De Los Santos had 153 strike outs in 122.1 innings in 2007. Brett Anderson – acquired in the Dan Haren trade – struck out 125 in 120 innings last season, totals that would likely have been even better had he not been involved in a car accident in late July.

Fireballer Henry Rodriguez was limited to 100 innings (actually 99.2) by the A's last season, but he should be allowed to throw more in 2008. He had 106 strike outs last season. His teammate in Kane County, Trevor Cahill, could also challenge the 150 K-mark. Cahill had 117 strike outs in 105 innings last season. Windsor missed much of last season with a shoulder injury. If he returns to full health, Windsor could reach 150 K's once again.

Prediction: The Stockton Ports will have at least two pitchers with 10 wins or more

The Stockton Ports' pitching staff in 2007 was below average, posting a 5.27 team ERA. Vince Mazzaro led the staff with nine wins, but he also had 12 losses. The pitching should be much better for the Ports in 2008. The starting rotation should include top pitching prospects Cahill and Rodriguez and might include De Los Santos, Anderson and Mexican League acquisition Arnold Leon, as well. In addition, Jared Lansford, who won 11 games in 2006 for Kane County, should be healthy and back with Stockton in 2008 after missing most of 2007 with a shoulder injury. Other talented arms such as Jamie Richmond, Graham Godfrey, Jason Fernandez, Mazzaro, Scott Deal, James Heuser and Ryan Webb could spent the season with Stockton, as well.

Another reason the Ports' starters could have good win totals is that the Stockton bullpen should be improved in 2008, as well. The A's selected two collegiate closers in the 2007 draft who could play big roles in the Ports' 2008 bullpen: Sam Demel and Andrew Carignan. Scott Moore was an All-Star with Kane County in 2007 and he should be at High-A. Lefty Nick Walters was also impressive out of the Kane County bullpen in 2007 and should be in-line for a promotion to High-A in 2008. Kristian Bell, acquired in the Marco Scutaro trade, has an above-average fastball and could be in the Ports' bullpen, as well.

Prediction: One of the A's farmhands will have at least 40 stolen bases

The A's certainly haven't been known for their team speed over the past few years. At times, the A's have had minor leaguers who could run (Esteban German was a prolific base-stealer when he was in the A's chain), but, for the most part, Oakland hasn't had too many players who even reach double-digit stolen base totals. The A's added some significant speed in the 2007 draft, however. Despite only playing short-season schedules, 2007 draft picks Adam Klein and Michael Richard led the A's minor leaguers with 33 and 25 stolen bases, respectively. Given a full-season schedule, both players could challenge the 40-stolen base total, especially since both players also have good on-base skills.

Another fleet-footed player with good on-base skills is outfielder Jermaine Mitchell. Mitchell swiped 24 bases for Low-A Kane County in 122 games last season. He is one of the fastest players in the A's system and could be given more chances to run in 2008. Shortstop Cliff Pennington and outfielder Javier Herrera have both been limited with their running over the past two years because of leg injuries. If they are healthy and getting on-base at a good clip, both could be major stolen base threats. Pennington stole nine bases in nine chances in only 23 games at the AFL this off-season. Shortstop Gregorio Petit stole 22 bases the last time he played for a team managed by Todd Steverson (Stockton in 2006). Petit should be playing for Steverson again in 2008, this time for Steverson's Triple-A River Cats, and he could see plenty of running chances.

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