10 A's Prospects Looking For Redemption

As the Oakland A's open their minor league spring camp, there are a number of prospects who are looking to erase the bad taste of their disappointing 2007 seasons. For some of those prospects, their seasons didn't meet expectations because of injuries and others because of poor performance. We take a look at 10 A's prospects looking for better results in 2008.

These 10 Oakland A's prospects are looking to rebound after disappointing 2007 campaigns.

Jason Windsor

Windsor reached the bigs in 2006.
Windsor entered spring training last season with a chance to win a spot in the A's starting rotation. He was coming off of a sparkling 2006 season during which he won the A's Organizational Pitcher of the Year award after going 17-2 with a 3.63 ERA for Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento. Windsor led A's minor leaguers with 158 strike outs and walked only 42. He also made his major-league debut with Oakland, appearing in four games (three starts). His Oakland time wasn't as successful, as Windsor went 0-1 with a 6.59 ERA in 13.2 innings. Still, big things were expected of Windsor in 2007.

Unfortunately for Windsor, success never materialized thanks to a balky shoulder. Windsor allowed 10 earned runs in 13.1 innings during major league camp and was sent to Triple-A Sacramento to start the year. Things didn't get any better for Windsor at Sacramento, where he slumped to a 5.40 ERA in 10 starts before being shut-down in late May with a sore shoulder. He tried to rehab the shoulder non-surgically before going under the knife in July.

Obstacles To Overcome: The 2007 season was not only disappointing for Windsor because of the injury, but also because he missed out on an opportunity to establish himself as a regular member of the A's injury ravaged starting rotation. He was dropped from the 40-man roster at the end of the season. Windsor now finds himself behind pitchers such as Dallas Braden, Dan Meyer, Greg Smith, Gio Gonzalez and Mike Madsen on the A's depth chart.

Reason For Optimism: Windsor has overcome shoulder troubles before to out-perform expectations. In 2005, he was shut-down for the final six weeks of the season with a tired shoulder only to follow those problems with an outstanding and healthy 2006 season. When healthy, Windsor isn't overpowering, but he knows how to pitch. Despite the shoulder pain, Windsor still averaged six and a half strike-outs-per-nine-innings at Triple-A last season. For his career, he has whiffed eight and a half batters per nine innings while averaging under three walks. He won't turn 26 until July.

Shane Komine

Komine started the Bricktown Showdown for Sacramento.
Like Windsor, Komine was a break-through performer for the A's in 2006. The right-hander completed his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2004 and went 11-8 and walked only 38 in 140 innings for the Sacramento River Cats. He also made his major-league debut, starting two games and allowing five runs in nine innings. He was part of the competition for a major-league spot during Spring Training in 2007, but he allowed four runs in seven innings before being sent back to minor league camp.

Komine spent most of the 2007 season in Triple-A Sacramento, where he had an up-and-down year. He went only 5-12 and his ERA jumped to 4.87. He also allowed 21 homers and struck-out 99 while walking 46. Komine made two relief appearances for the A's in brief stints with the big league club, allowing four runs in seven innings. He wasn't given an extended look at the major-league level, however, despite all of the injuries to A's pitchers.

His home-road splits were staggering. At the more pitcher-friendly Raley Field, Komine had a 2.99 ERA and he struck-out 70 in 75.1 innings. On the road, his ERA jumped to 7.34 with only 29 strike outs in 57.2 innings. He was removed from the A's 40-man roster in the off-season and wasn't invited to major league camp in 2008.

Obstacles To Overcome: Like Windsor, Komine now finds himself behind a number of pitchers on the A's depth chart. In addition, Komine discovered at the end of the 2007 season that he had a torn rotator cuff and labrum in his pitching shoulder. He decided to rehab the injuries rather than fix them surgically and is throwing off of the mound without discomfort. However, pitchers who elect to rehab those injuries often have to undergo the surgeries eventually.

Reason For Optimism: Komine has overcome a lot during his pitching career, including shoulder problems and a broken jaw in college and the elbow injury in the pros, and he has made a strong comeback from all of those injuries. He demonstrated when pitching at home last season that he can still pitch. If he can overcome his demons on the road, Komine could easily rebound to post numbers similar to what he put up in 2006. His post-All Star break ERA in 2007 was a point and a half lower than it was before the break, so he was pitching better at the end of the season. With the A's increased starting pitching depth, this might be the year that the team converts Komine into a reliever, which is likely where he slots best in the major leagues, anyway. The right-hander still has his above-average curveball and a good change-up. If he doesn't latch on with Oakland this season, however, his future could be with another team. He will be a minor-league free agent at the end of the season.

Danny Putnam

Putnam played some center in 2007.
The 2007 season began on an upswing for Putnam, who blitzed through Double-A Midland with a .327 BA and a 1001 OPS in 13 games before being promoted to the major leagues in April. The Stanford grad spent a month with Oakland, appearing in 11 games. He hit .214 and had a three-hit game (including his first major league homer) in his final game with Oakland before being sent to Triple-A Sacramento. Things went downhill in a hurry for Putnam in Sacramento, however. He was hit by a pitch only a few days into his stint with the River Cats. He tried to play through the injury, but was shut-down after about 10 days with a broken hand.

Putnam missed about six weeks with the broken hand and after short rehab stints with the A's Rookie League team and High-A Stockton, he returned to Sacramento in July. The layoff had a detrimental effect on Putnam, however, and he never regained his stroke with Sacramento. He hit only .204 with a 582 OPS in 40 games after returning from the injury and finished his time in Triple-A with a disappointing .216 BA and only one homerun. Putnam hit two homeruns in one game during the PCL Divisional Series, but that was his biggest highlight in an otherwise dismal debut season at Triple-A.

Obstacles To Overcome: Going into this off-season, the A's were relatively thin in outfielders at the Triple-A level. However, since December, the A's have added outfielders Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Sweeney and Jeff Fiorentino. The A's also signed former Giants top prospect Todd Linden to a minor-league free agent deal and added outfielder Richie Robnett to the 40-man roster. Putnam himself lost his 40-man roster spot in January when the A's claimed Fiorentino off of waivers.

Reasons For Optimism: Much of Putnam's struggles last season could be attributed to the broken hand, which led to some bad mechanics with his swing that he was unable to work through during the season. He was swinging better at the end of the season and he has had a whole off-season to get back on-track. Putnam increased his versatility last season by playing centerfield for much of the year. He was given a non-roster invitation to major league camp this spring and will have a chance to show the A's coaches that his struggles last season were a fluke. The former first-round pick could work his way back into the A's plans with a strong start to the season.

Brian Stavisky

Stavisky is looking for a break-through in Triple-A.
Since the start of the 2006 season, Stavisky has been seemingly on the precipice of making the major leagues. The 2004 California League MVP has had little trouble with the Single-A and Double-A levels of the minor leagues. Triple-A, however, has proven to be a little more tricky for Stavisky. In 2006, he began the year in Triple-A with the Sacramento River Cats, but he had difficulty getting into the line-up regularly and was sent back to Double-A after posting a 682 OPS in 109 at-bats. He finished the year strong at Double-A, hitting .316 with an 879 OPS in 85 games for the Rockhounds.

Stavisky returned to Triple-A to start the 2007 season, but a freak injury ruined much of the rest of his season. He suffered fractures in his right-hand when diving back into first base on a pick-off play. Stavisky tried to play through it, but he wound-up having to have surgery, and missed nearly the rest of the season. He returned in mid-August and had a brief rehab stint with High-A Stockton before finishing the final week of the season with Sacramento. Stavisky got a lot of playing time during the playoffs for the River Cats, and finished the season strong, batting .429 during the Championship Series.

Obstacles To Overcome: Like Putnam, Stavisky has had to stand-by and watch the A's acquire a number of outfielders this off-season. Unlike Putnam, Stavisky won't have a chance to show-off his talents in major league camp. In addition, Stavisky is limited defensively to a corner outfield spot or first base. He will be 28 in July and, if he doesn't stick with the A's this season, will be a minor-league free agent at the end of the year.

Reasons For Optimism: When healthy, Stavisky has been one of the best pure hitters in the A's chain since he was drafted out of Notre Dame in 2002. In six seasons, Stavisky has a career .310 BA with a .402 OBP and an 873 OPS. He doesn't have the prototypical homerun power of a corner outfielder, something that has held him back during his career. However, he has above-average plate patience and plate coverage, which has allowed him to hit .285 or higher in every one of his minor leagues seasons except last year. He will never challenge for a Gold Glove, but Stavisky has improved his outfield defense and could carve-out a career as a fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter type in the major leagues if he can get over the Triple-A hurdle.

Matt Sulentic

Sulentic hit better with Vancouver during the second-half of the season.
Going into the 2007 season, the expectations couldn't have been higher for Sulentic. The left-handed hitting outfielder had an auspicious professional debut after being selected in the third round by the A's in 2006. He hit .354 in 38 games with short-season A Vancouver and was promoted to Low-A Kane County despite being only 18 years old. Although he struggled some with the Cougars, most believed that Sulentic would post strong numbers for Kane County in 2007.

The big numbers never came for the Dallas native. He struggled right out of the gate with Kane County and seemed to dig himself into a hole he couldn't hit out of. In 206 at-bats with Kane County, Sulentic managed only a .175 average and a 453 OPS. A lot of his contact went in the air, but he only hit one homerun. The A's sent Sulentic back to Vancouver at the mid-point of the season. Although he was unable to duplicate his 2006 numbers with the Canadians, he did show improvement over his time with Kane County. He hit .261 with four homers and a 750 OPS with Vancouver.

Obstacles To Overcome: Sulentic became very pull-happy when he was with Kane County and appeared increasingly unsure of himself as his struggles continued. In 2006, he showed excellent hitting mechanics with nice extension and an even swing plane through the strike-zone. In 2007, his swing developed an upper-cut and he rarely extended through the hitting-zone, which resulted in a lot of pop-ups and weak fly-outs. Sulentic improved those mechanics somewhat with Vancouver, but he still appeared over-anxious at times, which was reflected in his high strike-out totals with the Canadians (79 in 71 games). On the plus-side, Sulentic did walk 42 times for Vancouver.

Reasons For Optimism: Sulentic will be 20 throughout the 2008 season, so he is young enough that he can call "mulligan" on his 2007 campaign if he hits well in 2008. Keith Lieppman, the A's director of player development, said he was pleased with Sulentic's attitude when he was demoted to Vancouver and Sulentic has appeared willing to listen to his coaches to try to improve. With the poor showing in 2007, the expectations for Sulentic have been diminished somewhat, which may help him relax and return to his 2006 swing mechanics.

Jared Lansford

Lansford made only one start with Stockton.
Lansford generated a lot of buzz in 2006, his first full pro season. The son of former A's third baseman Carney Lansford posted a sterling 2.86 ERA and threw a no-hitter in 18 starts for the Kane County Cougars in 2006. His K/BB ratios were poor and he struggled late in the year when he was promoted to High-A Stockton, but he did a good job keeping the ball on the ground and there was a lot of optimism surrounding Lansford going into 2007.

Unfortunately, the injury bug bit Lansford in 2007. The right-hander was injured on Opening Day for the Stockton Ports and missed the rest of the season with a torn lat muscle that was slow to heal. He began throwing regularly in August and was healthy enough to compete in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball league over the off-season. Lansford had an 0-3 record and a 5.87 ERA in 30.2 innings for the Waikiki Beach Boys during the HWB season. Although the ERA was ugly, Lansford did a good job inducing groundballs (nearly four ground-outs for every fly-out) and he struck-out six batters per nine innings, an improvement over his four and a half strike-outs-per-nine-innings in 2006.

Obstacles To Overcome: Lansford enters the 2008 season in a similar situation to Komine and Windsor. During the off-season, the A's acquired a lot of talented pitchers who could be slotted into the High-A Stockton starting rotation in 2008, including Arnold Leon, Fautino De Los Santos, Brett Anderson, Graham Godfrey and Jamie Richmond. In addition, highly regarded prospects Trevor Cahill, Henry Rodriguez and Jason Fernandez figure to challenge for spots in the Ports' rotation. Some of those pitchers will start the year with Double-A Midland, but Lansford could still have a fight on his hands to be a regular in the Stockton rotation at the start of the year.

Reasons For Optimism: Lansford demonstrated that he was healthy during the HWB season and he should be ready to compete at the start of the 2008 season. He will be 21 throughout the 2008 season, so he is still quite young despite the lost season. When healthy, Lansford has nice life on his fastball, which can hit 94 and sits in the low-90s. He has developed a good change-up since joining the A's organization and he had a solid curveball in high school, although the A's have limited how often he throws that pitch thus far as a pro. His numbers could improve this year as the A's allow him to throw the curveball more.

Ryan Webb

Webb started strong but faded in 2007.
After an uneven 2006 season at High-A Stockton that saw him win the California League Pitcher of the Week award twice but post a 5.28 ERA overall, Webb was sent back to Stockton to start the 2007 campaign. He started the year off well with the Ports. In his first eight starts, Webb posted a 4.02 ERA in the hitter-friendly California League with 45 strike outs and only 13 walks in 49.2 innings. That performance earned Webb a May call-up to Double-A Midland.

Unfortunately for Webb, the jump to Double-A was a tough one. He was lit-up in his five starts for the Rockhounds, allowing 26 earned runs in 25.2 innings before being sent back to High-A. Webb continued to struggle upon his return to Stockton, allowing 31 runs in 33.1 innings before being shut-down for the year with an injury. He finished the 2007 season at a disappointing 4-11 with a 6.54 ERA in 108.2 innings.

Obstacles To Overcome: Based on how he finished the season, it doesn't appear that Webb is ready for the jump to Double-A. However, like Lansford, Webb could find the opportunities scarce in the Stockton rotation if he has to repeat at High-A. Webb has thrown more than 200 innings at High-A, however, so the A's may feel comfortable sending him to Double-A to start the year if he throws well this spring. Webb, who is 6'6'', has had trouble at times maintaining good mechanics on the mound and he will need show that he can consistently be in good form in 2008 to avoid seeing his career stall out in A-ball.

Reasons For Optimism: Although he has been inconsistent, Webb has, at times, been dominating at the High-A level. He doesn't throw with the velocity that the A's expected him to when they drafted him out of high school in 2004, but Webb has good command and a nice array of secondary pitches. With the exception of last year, he has been durable throughout his career. He is a hard-worker and the son of a former major leaguer. At times, he can over-think when he is struggling, but if he can learn to trust his stuff and his throwing motion, he could make a big leap forward in 2008. Webb will be only 22 throughout the season, but he is in his fourth full season of professional ball, so it is time for him to make the jump to Double-A and stick there.

Craig Italiano

Italiano's 2007 season ended abruptly.
Selected in the second round of the 2005 draft out of a Dallas-area high school, Italiano has had to face a number of obstacles since turning pro. The flame-throwing right-hander injured his throwing shoulder after only four starts during his first full pro season in 2006. He would undergo surgery to fix his labrum that off-season. Despite the injury set-back, there was still optimism surrounding Italiano entering the 2007 season, as he had been impressive during his short 2006 stint with Kane County. He struck-out 23 in 18 innings for the Cougars in 2006.

Unfortunately for Italiano, his 2007 season didn't go much better than his 2006 campaign. He began the year back in Arizona at extended spring camp, as he finished his rehab from the shoulder surgery. Italiano rejoined the Cougars in late April. He was roughed up his first few outings, including one outing where he allowed 10 runs in 1.2 innings. However, he appeared to be turning a corner on May 14. Through 2.2 innings, Italiano was cruising along, having allowed only two hits and one walk and having struck-out five when he was hit in the head with a line-drive. That blow fractured his skull and forced him to miss the rest of the season. Italiano recovered in time to throw during the A's Instructional League season, where, according to A's coaches, Italiano was throwing in the high-90s and showing no ill-effects from the head injury.

Obstacles To Overcome: For a second consecutive year, Italiano will be entering Spring Training trying to prove that he is healthy after an injury-marred campaign. His biggest challenge is staying healthy enough to remain on the field for the entire year. He hasn't had a chance to develop much during his first two full years in the pros because of the time that he has missed. That being said, he is still only 21, so he has time.

Reasons For Optimism: Italiano is blessed with one of the best fastballs in the A's system. He can dial-up his heater in the high-90s with regularity and can touch 98. There was some concern when he had his shoulder surgery that he would lose velocity on his fastball, but he was back throwing hard last season. Although his 2007 injury was a scary one, it wasn't an injury to his arm or shoulder. The biggest concern for Italiano after the head injury was how he would react to getting back on the mound, but he pitched with confidence during Instructs against live hitters, so there is optimism that he will be fine psychologically this season. Italiano will likely return to Kane County for a third season and, hopefully, finally have an opportunity to throw 100 innings for the Cougars.

Christian Vitters

Vitters struggled all season.
A lot was expected of Vitters in 2007 after he was selected in the 10th round of the 2006 draft. Many scouts thought that the A's had gotten a steal with the selection of Vitters, who had won the Western Athletic Conference's Player of the Year award in 2006 but saw his draft stock fall when he suffered a broken thumb towards the end of the collegiate regular season. Vitters was limited to only 45 at-bats in 2006 for Vancouver while he finished his recovery from the broken thumb.

In 2007, Vitters was sent to Low-A Kane County, where he was expected to be the Cougars' regular third baseman. Like many of his Cougars' teammates, Vitters got off to a very slow start and he never really got on-track the entire season. He also missed about a month with an injury. Vitters never hit higher than .258 in any full month and finished the year with a .227 BA, five homers and a 640 OPS in only 80 games.

Obstacles To Overcome: As a college draft pick from a good baseball program, Vitters was expected to be a lot more successful during his first full pro season. However, his swing mechanics were out-of-whack for much of the season. He did make a successful transition from shortstop (where he played in college) to third base. Vitters will turn 23 during the 2008 season, which will make him old for his league if he has to repeat at Low-A.

Reasons For Optimism: Vitters has a lot of talent and some of that showed during the A's Instructional League season, where he was named the Most Improved Player in the A's Instructs. Vitters, whose brother Josh was selected in the first round by the Chicago Cubs last season, has good athleticism and was a power hitter in college. He has a strong arm and his range is much better suited for third base than shortstop. If Vitters carries over the improvements he made in Instructs into Spring Training, he could earn a promotion to High-A despite his terrible 2007 campaign. If he does start in Low-A, he could make the jump to High-A quickly with a strong start for Kane County.

Cliff Pennington

Pennington improved in 2007 but has more improving to do.
The good news for Pennington in 2007 was that he was better and healthier than in 2006. The 2006 season was an unmitigated disaster for the 2005 first-round pick. Limited to only 55 games thanks to a variety of hamstring problems, Pennington hit only .239 with a 660 OPS in 2006, mostly for High-A Stockton. He was sent back to Stockton to start the 2007 season and fared better there the second time around, batting .255 with six homers, nine stolen bases and a 747 OPS.

During the California League All-Star break, Pennington was promoted to Double-A Midland, where he spent the rest of the season. In 70 games with Midland, Pennington hit .251 with one homer and a 679 OPS. Collectively, Pennington hit .253 with eight homers, 17 stolen bases and a 714 OPS. He was sent to the Arizona Fall League during the off-season. After a very slow start in the AFL, Pennington rallied to hit .241 with a .410 OBP and a 772 OPS.

Obstacles To Overcome: Although Pennington made some progress in 2007, he also had to watch while fellow infield prospect Gregorio Petit moved ahead of him on the A's depth chart and was added to the 40-man roster. In addition, he saw prospect Justin Sellers gain ground on him during the season, as Sellers joined Pennington in Double-A at the end of the season. Fortunately for Pennington, the A's did not add any top middle infield prospects in their off-season trades, so he still has an opportunity to move up in the A's chain if he plays well in 2008.

Reasons For Optimism: The way Pennington played during the final 10 games of the AFL season is how the A's expected him to play when they made him their top pick in 2005. Pennington was on-base constantly during those final 10 games, reaching 23 times. He scored 11 runs, drove-in seven and stole five bases in five chances. At his best, Pennington is a disruptive top-of-the-order presence, a guy who can get on-base and steal a bag with a high probability of success. In his minor league career (including the AFL), Pennington has stolen 58 bases in 69 chances. He has also always done a good job of walking almost as often as he strikes out, and he had the second-most walks in the AFL despite not having enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Defensively, Pennington has a strong arm and good range, although he tends to rush plays at times. Pennington is not a power hitter, but he sometimes tries to lift the ball out of the park, especially when he is struggling. He was swinging under control at the end of the AFL season and if he can carry over that approach this season, he could finally put together the kind of full-season campaign many were expecting of him when he was drafted.

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