Oakland A's MLN: A's ‘07 1st Rounders Shining

The Oakland A's pick in the top-15 during the 2008 draft this June, the team's highest draft position in more than 10 years. Despite the favorable draft position, the A's may be hard pressed to have a more successful first round in 2008 than they did in 2007. It is early in the season, but the A's 2007 first round picks James Simmons, Sean Doolittle and Corey Brown have all been stars thus far.

James Simmons was the A's first pick in 2007. He was taken with the 26th overall selection last season out of UC-Riverside. Simmons was challenged early in his career by being sent directly to Double-A after signing. He pitched mostly in relief last season and posted a 3.94 ERA in 29.2 innings. He then went on to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, again coming out of the bullpen.

This year, Simmons was sent back to Double-A, but he has been pitching out of the starting rotation from the outset of the season. He was limited by a restricted pitch count early in the season after missing time during spring training with a sore forearm. Simmons has gradually been building up his arm strength in every outing. On Wednesday, he had his longest outing – and his best – of the season when he went six innings versus Corpus Christi. The right-hander did not allow a run and he gave-up only four hits while striking out five. On the season, Simmons has given-up only two runs in 17 innings (1.06 ERA) with 15 strike-outs and only two walks. He is holding Texas League batters to a .235 BA and he has yet to allow a homerun.

Sean Doolittle was taken in the supplemental first round with the 39th overall pick out of the University of Virginia. The left-hander was a two-way star in college as a first baseman and a southpaw starting pitcher. The A's liked Doolittle for his bat and sent him to short-season Vancouver to start his career as a first baseman. He appeared in only 13 games with the Canadians, batting .283, before being promoted to Low-A Kane County. Doolittle never really got on-track with the Cougars. He hit only .233 with four homers and a 667 OPS in 55 games. However, Doolittle's season ended on a strong note when he won the MVP of the A's Instructional League season with an impressive power display.

The A's sent Doolittle to High-A Stockton at the start of the 2008 season and he has been one of the best hitters in the California League since Opening Day. Doolittle homered in Stockton's loss on Wednesday, his league-leading seventh homerun in only 20 games. He is fourth in the league in OPS (1113), first in RBIs (21), first in runs scored (20) and second in SLG (.684). Doolittle is second on the Ports with a .316 batting average. In addition to the good work at the plate, Doolittle has shown above-average skills with the glove at first and increased versatility by playing some right-field.

Corey Brown was the A's third first-round selection last season, as he was taken in the supplemental first round with the 59th pick out of Oklahoma State. He was sent to short-season Vancouver after signing, where he would spend his entire pro debut season. The left-handed outfielder was one of the top sluggers in the Northwest League last season, as he blasted 11 homeruns and posted a .545 SLG despite playing his home games at the difficult hitters' park, Nat Bailey Stadium. The only two blemishes on Brown's debut season were his high strike-out totals (77 in 59 games, although he did still post a solid .379 OBP) and a finger injury that ended his season early.

The finger injury didn't linger into spring training for Brown. He was assigned to Low-A Kane County coming out of camp, and since that time, he has been one of the most impressive hitters in the normally pitcher-friendly Midwest League. Through Wednesday, Brown was batting .316 with five homers and a 997 OPS. Although he is still striking out at a high rate (28 in 19 games), Brown is second in the Midwest League in homers, walks and runs scored, sixth in OBP (.404) and seventh in SLG (.592). Brown has also played an athletic centerfield for the 15-4 Kane County Cougars.

Other News and Notes From Around the A's System

-- Wednesday night wasn't the best night for the Stockton pitching staff, as the Ports allowed eight earned runs to the San Jose Giants in a 10-4 loss. However, the overall numbers for the Ports' pitching staff have been very impressive this season. Stockton hurlers have racked up prodigious strike-out totals this season. The Ports' staff has 219 strike-outs this season, 52 strike-outs more than any other staff in the California League. Ports pitchers have walked only 67 on the year. Their team ERA of 3.69 is second in the league to San Jose. On offense, Stockton leads the California League in homers with 24.

-- Midland bounced back from a tough extra-inning loss on Tuesday with a convincing 11-0 win over Corpus Christi on Wednesday. James Simmons earned the win with six shut-out innings and Andrew Shipman notched his first save by pitching the final three innings. The Rockhounds' pitching staff has a league-leading 2.94 ERA and a league-best team 1.29 WHIP. Midland infielder Jesus Guzman has continued to rip through the Texas League. He collected another three hits on Wednesday and drove-in three more runs. He leads the Texas League in numerous offensive categories, including average (.430), OPS (1.131), RBIs (25), runs (16) and hits (37).

-- Kane County dropped a tough 3-1 decision to Great Lakes on Wednesday, but the pitching staff was still impressive. The Cougars lead the Midwest League with a 2.13 ERA. Kane County leads the league in strike-outs with 148 and has the second-fewest number of walks as a staff with 48. Right-hander Craig Italiano leads the Midwest League in strike-outs with 29 in only 19 innings. His 1.89 ERA is 10th best in the league and he is tied for ninth in the league with a 1.00 WHIP.

-- River Cats outfielder Todd Linden is off to a fast start, as well. Linden is batting .361 for Sacramento with a 1068 OPS. The switch-hitter has been especially effective from the left-side of the plate. As a left-handed hitter, he is batting .410 with three homers, 11 RBIs and a 1309 OPS. As a right-handed hitter, Linden is hitting .280 with no homers or RBIs and a 677 OPS.

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