2008 MLB Draft: A's Areas Of Need, Part Two

Although the MLB draft is about selecting players who will contribute to the big league club years down the road, an organization often takes into account its overall strengths and weaknesses when making a first-round selection. In this two-part series, we take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Oakland A's system to see what types of players the A's might target in the draft.

In Part One of this two-part series, we looked at the position players in the Oakland A's system and the possible position players Oakland might target early in the draft. In Part Two, we look at the pitchers in the A's system and the possible arms the A's might target in the draft.

Stats Good Through May 20, 2008

Starting Pitching

Since the A's moved to Oakland in 1968, there has always been a constant among the successful A's teams: great starting pitching. From Catfish Hunter to Rich Harden, the Oakland A's have drafted and promoted some of the better starting pitchers of the past 40 years. That is no different today, as the A's find themselves in a surprisingly competitive position seven weeks into the season based on the strength of the AL's second-best starting rotation by ERA.

The good news for Oakland is that their rotation may only get better. In 2007, pitching was an area of relative weakness in the Oakland farm system. However, a few trades, the 2007 draft and the emergence of some of the young pitchers who were in the A's system last season have made starting pitching an area of strength in 2008 for the Oakland farm.

During the off-season, the A's acquired starters Greg Smith, Dana Eveland, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Fautino De Los Santos, Graham Godfrey and Jamie Richmond in trades with the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Braves and Blue Jays. Smith and Eveland have already made it to the big leagues and look like potential fixtures in the A's rotation for the next several years. Gonzalez and Anderson have been inconsistent in the early going, but both young left-handers have shown enough promise that the organization is high on their chances of being top-of-the-rotation starters in the major leagues. The biggest disappointment thus far this season from this group was when De Los Santos was sidelined early in the season with an elbow problem that might require Tommy John surgery, putting his status in doubt moving forward.

On top of the new faces, the A's have also seen a number of their incumbent farmhands start off the season in promising fashion. Right-hander Trevor Cahill, the A's top pick in 2006, has been one of the best pitchers in the California League thus far this season. Cahill has shown a dominating power sinker and improved command, which has allowed him to post a 2.96 ERA and a .190 BAA with 68 strike-outs in 54.2 innings this year. The A's top pick in 2007, right-hander James Simmons, has also started off the season well. Through eight starts, Simmons has a 2.93 ERA in 40 innings as a 21-year-old at Double-A. What has made those numbers even more impressive is that Simmons has been pitching without his best stuff all season. He was recently shut-down with what the team believes is dead-arm in hopes that he will regain his top velocity with some rest. Simmons' fastball command is among the best of any right-hander in the minor leagues, and, assuming he is healthy, he could compete for a job in the big leagues as soon as next season.

Fellow Midland right-hander Vince Mazzaro is also pitching well. Mazzaro, a 2005 third-round pick, has been using a power sinker and an improved mix of off-speed pitches to post a 2.05 ERA in 52.2 innings. Like Simmons, Mazzaro is only 21-years-old and has made a dramatic leap forward with his command in the past year. Another member of the Midland rotation is power right-hander Henry Rodriguez, who has struggled badly at Double-A after a strong showing at big league spring training and a good start to the season with High-A Stockton. Rodriguez has a fastball that can hit the high-90s, but he is still working on his fastball command and his off-speed pitches. Rodriguez just turned 21 in February, so he has plenty of time to refine his game. Another promising right-hander is Andrew Bailey, who led all A's minor leaguers in strike-outs last season. He already has a Midland team-leading 40 strike-outs in 43 innings this year.

2005 second-round pick Craig Italiano has been hampered by injuries the past two seasons, but he is off to a great start this year. In 45 innings for the Low-A Kane County Cougars, the hard-throwing right-hander has a microscopic 0.80 ERA and 57 strike-outs. Italiano is in Low-A to work on commanding his pitches down in the strike-zone and on his off-speed pitches, especially his curveball. However, he should see at least High-A by the end of the year, health-permitting.

2007 fourth-round pick Travis Banwart has been solid this season, as well. He was recently promoted to High-A Stockton from Low-A Kane County after posting a 2.38 ERA and striking out 41 in 41.2 innings for the Cougars. Fellow 2007 pick Scott Hodsdon got off to a poor start for Kane County, but he has allowed only three runs in his last 18.1 innings. Right-hander Jason Fernandez of the Stockton Ports has used an above-average sinking fastball to post a 3.74 ERA in 33.2 innings for Stockton, while right-handers Jamie Richmond (3.42 ERA and five walks in 50 innings) and Scott Mitchinson (1.91 ERA and 44 strike-outs in 42.1 innings) have been impressive for Kane County.

In Triple-A/big league bullpen, the A's have left-handers Dallas Braden and Dan Meyer, both of whom could be back-end of the rotation types for the A's. In addition, veteran starters Joe Blanton, Chad Gaudin, Rich Harden and Justin Duchscherer are all under the A's control through 2009, should Oakland choose to keep them.

Despite that depth, it is likely that the A's will target at least a handful of starting pitchers with their first 10 picks. Pitching prospects are the hardest type of prospects to project, with many "sure-fire" prospects being waylaid by arm injuries or ineffectiveness at a higher level throughout baseball. Oakland has a decent track-record of drafting pitchers, especially from the collegiate ranks, so the A's could look to add to their minor league pitching depth in this draft.

Should Oakland look to use the number 12 pick on a starting pitcher, they should have a number of polished collegiate arms to choose from. Left-hander Brian Matusz of the University of San Diego and Missouri right-hander Aaron Crow are expected to go before the A's pick at 12. However, Eastern Kentucky left-hander Christian Friedrich, Tulane right-hander Shooter Hunt and local favorite, right-hander Tyson Ross out of Cal, could all be on the board when Oakland's name is called. In addition, Fresno State right-hander Tanner Scheppers (who was originally pegged as a probable top-10 pick) could tempt the A's if they feel he can recover completely from a stress facture he suffered in his throwing shoulder this season. Tim Melville, a high school right-hander out of Missouri, could tempt the A's in the first round, although he has had an inconsistent senior season thus far.

The A's have taken some fliers on high school and junior college pitching talent in the second and third rounds recently. This year's draft is relatively thin on top-end high school and junior college pitching talent, but there may be some arms that the A's are willing to take a flier on if they are available in the second or third rounds. Oakland has traditionally picked a lot of players out of Southern California, and high school arms Gerrit Cole, Kyle Lobstein and Aaron Hicks hail from that area and could slide into the second round. Hicks is being considered as a pitcher and as an outfielder and he is a big-time athlete. High schooler Ethan Martin from Georgia is another intriguing arm with arguably first-round talent but a lower profile due to a late introduction to pitching in high school. He has a low- to mid-90s fastball and a good curveball, plus a starter's build at 6'3''. The A's hit in the second round in 2006 with another late-conversion high school pitcher in Cahill.

Other second or third round options could include Ryan Perry out of the University of Arizona whose has had an inconsistent senior season during which he has moved from a starter role to a relief role; Brett Mooneyham, a tall left-hander from Buhach Colony High School in Atwater, CA; and Kyle Long, the son of former Raiders star Howie Long, who is a two-way prospect out of a Virginia high school with a power bat at first, a power left-handed arm on the mound and the size to be a workhorse starting pitcher (6'7'', 280).

Relief Pitchers

Like the starting staff, the A's bullpen has gotten off to a good start this season at the major-league level. An off-season trade with Atlanta netted Oakland power reliever Joey Devine and the team added veteran relief help by signing former All-Star closer Keith Foulke. Devine and Foulke were added to a solid core group of relievers that includes closer Huston Street, veterans Alan Embree and Kiko Calero, and hard-throwing right-handers Santiago Casilla and Andrew Brown. Injuries have been a problem for the A's bullpen this season, as Casilla, Brown, Foulke and Calero have all missed (or will miss) significant time. However, the unit has been able to hold it together thanks to strong work from the healthy pitchers and help from converted starter Chad Gaudin and lefty Dallas Braden, who has been up-and-down between Sacramento and Oakland much of the season.

In the minor leagues, the A's have some additional bullpen depth. On the 40-man roster are Sacramento relievers Jerry Blevins and Jeff Gray. Blevins, a southpaw, has five saves and a 16:4 K:BB ratio in 16.2 innings this season for Sacramento. Gray, a hard-throwing righty, has gotten off to a slow start this season, although he has allowed only one run in his last six innings pitched. Non-roster side-armer Brad Ziegler is off to a good start for Sacramento, posting a 0.44 ERA and saving six games in 15 outings for Sacramento this season. Left-hander Brad Kilby's ERA is a mediocre 4.19, but he has a good track record of success in the A's system and 16 strike-outs in 19.1 innings in his first exposure to Triple-A. Veterans Shane Komine and Kirk Saarloos are also both on the Sacramento staff, and both have big league relief experience should the A's need another bullpen arm.

In Midland, left-handed submariner Jay Marshall has pitched extremely well for the Rockhounds. He spent all of last season with the A's as a Rule 5 pick. Marshall has allowed only three runs in 30.1 innings this season and he has held right-handers to a .225 BAA, a big improvement over his career numbers versus righties. Midland reliever Patrick Currin has a 32 strike-outs in 32.1 innings between A and Double-A this season and he has historically strong strike-out numbers.

In Stockton, Mexican League acquisition Arnold Leon is off to a great start out of the Ports' bullpen. The right-hander has a 1.80 ERA and 17 strike-outs in 20 innings for the Ports in his first season in the US. Left-hander Derrick Gordon, a 2006 draft choice, has used his excellent off-speed pitches to rack-up 25 strike-outs in 21 innings. 2005 second-round pick Jared Lansford has looked good since being converted into a reliever from a starting pitcher. Lansford has a 23:5 K:BB ratio and a 2.04 ERA in 17.2 innings as a reliever this season. Fellow 2005 draft pick Scott Deal has made a similar successful conversion to the bullpen in Kane County. The tall right-hander has a 2.25 ERA and a 23:6 K:BB ratio in 28 innings for the Cougars.

The A's used two first-day draft picks last season on collegiate closers, Sam Demel (third round, Texas Christian University) and Andrew Carignan (fifth round, North Carolina). Both have gotten off to strong starts this season and have the velocity to be late-inning relievers in the big leagues if they can harness their control. Demel has five saves and 26 strike-outs in 18.1 innings for Stockton this season, while Carignan has already made it up to Double-A and he has seven saves and 24 strike-outs in 18.2 innings between A and Double-A.

Although the A's have a lot of depth both in the major leagues and in the minor leagues in their bullpen, Oakland could still target some collegiate relievers in this year's draft. The A's have had a recent track record of success with selecting collegiate closers in Street, Carignan, Currin and Demel, and Devine is another former collegiate closer who has had success for Oakland (he was a draft pick of the Braves in the first round in 2005).

The draft is heavy on solid relief prospects from the collegiate ranks this season. Joshua Fields of Georgia is a senior who was taken by the Braves last season and decided to go back to school rather than sign. He is having a great year and has improved his draft status this season tremendously. Fields is likely to be available when the A's pick at 12, but it would be a surprise to see the A's take a reliever with their first pick. However, Fields' 98 MPH fastball and big breaking ball could be a strong temptation for Oakland if the A's decide to take a player who can reach the big leagues quickly. Andrew Cashner, who took over the closing role at TCU for Demel this season, is another first-round possibility in the relief ranks. Texas Tech's Zach Stewart has a big-time fastball and can locate his breaking ball. He could fall into the second round if teams shy away from taking relievers in the first and supplemental rounds.

The A's took University of Arizona closer Daniel Schlereth in last year's draft, but they were unable to sign him. The lefty throws in the mid-90s and has a good pedigree, as his father is former NFL lineman Mark Schlereth. The A's have never shied away from re-drafting a player if they like him, so if Schlereth is on the board in a spot the A's feel comfortable taking him, look for Oakland to call his name again. Long Beach State's Bryan Shaw is another hard-throwing right-hander who could get some play in the first-day rounds.

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