OaklandClubhouse 2008 Mid-Season Awards

With half of the minor league season gone, it is time for us to look back and acknowledge the players who shined during the first part of the season. In the second of a two-part series, we hand out the awards for the top position players in the Oakland A's system, based on their first-half performances.

OUTFIELDERS:

Matt Sulentic:

After a precocious start to his professional career in 2006, Sulentic almost fell off of the prospect map with a disastrous 2007 season that saw him hit .175 in 56 games with Low-A Kane County and .261 with a 750 OPS in 71 games with short-season Vancouver. Despite his struggles at those lower levels, the A's took a chance and promoted Sulentic to High-A Stockton to start the year. The move proved to be a success, as the 20-year-old outfielder has regained the stroke that led to him earning the Dallas area Triple Crown as a senior in high school.

In 66 games before the All-Star break, Sulentic batted .299 with an 836 OPS for the Ports. He hit six homers, 16 doubles and two triples and sported a .373 OBP. Sulentic also displayed improved range and a stronger throwing arm in the outfield. His homer total is already higher in 2008 than his entire 2007 campaign. The Ports coaching staff has been careful with Sulentic this season, batting him mostly at the bottom of the order to keep the pressure off. That approach has worked, and, more often than not, Sulentic has served as a sparkplug for the top of the Ports' batting order. At 20, Sulentic is still young, so he is likely to spend the rest of this season with the Ports. If he continues to hit like he did in the first half, Sulentic will finish this season as one of the best prospect turnaround stories in minor league baseball.

Corey Brown:

The A's 2007 supplemental first round pick got his pro career off to a good start when he hit 11 homeruns in only 59 games in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Northwest League last season. Brown's season ended on a down note, however, when he suffered a hand injury that ended his campaign a few weeks early. He arrived at spring training healthy, and he has been a force for the Low-A Kane County Cougars since the start of the season. Brown has done a little bit of everything for the Cougars, showing impressive power, flashing a strong glove in the outfield and stealing his share of bases. He has also struck-out a lot, but his strong walk totals have minimized the impact of those strike-outs.

During the first half of the season, Brown hit .258 with 10 homers, 31 RBIs and an 820 OPS. Given that the Midwest League average OPS sits under 700, Brown's offensive production has been impressive. He earned a starting spot in the Midwest League All-Star game and picked-up two RBIs in the contest. Brown has carried that performance into the second half of the season. He is batting .341 with three homers and an 1107 OPS in 10 games since the break.

Brown is a five-tool talent who is establishing himself as one of the A's best outfield prospects. He figures to see some time with High-A Stockton this season, likely when the A's move up someone like Sean Doolittle. Brown's homer totals in the hitter-friendly California League could dwarf what he has done with Kane County thus far this season.

Jon Zeringue:

A 2004 second round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Zeringue was released by the D-Backs last season after batting only .143 in 24 games for Double-A Mobile. After heading to the independent leagues and playing for the Wally Backman-managed South Georgia Peaches, Zeringue was signed by the A's and assigned to High-A Stockton. He hit well for the Ports, batting .279 with 13 homers and a 910 OPS in 56 games, but at age 24, he was old for his league. Zeringue re-signed with the A's during the off-season, but it was no guarantee that he would make it through spring training with Oakland. Seven homeruns during the spring and a few injuries to other A's outfield prospects gave Zeringue a spot on the Double-A Midland Rockhounds, and he has taken full advantage of the opportunity.

In 72 games prior to the All-Star break, Zeringue batted .283 with 12 homers, 47 RBIs and an 864 OPS. He earned a spot on the Texas League All-Star team and went 4-5 with three runs scored in the game. The A's have a lot of depth in the outfield at Triple-A, so Zeringue may finish the year at Double-A. However, if he continues to hit Texas League pitching at this rate, he should have plenty of suitors for his services this off-season.

Danny Putnam:

Putnam, like Sulentic, had something to prove coming into the 2008 season. The 2007 campaign started off well for the A's 2004 supplemental first round pick, but a broken hand in May all but ruined Putnam's 2007 season. After batting .327 in 13 games for Double-A Midland at the start of the year, Putnam was promoted to the major leagues, where he hit .214 with a homer in 28 at-bats. He was sent to Triple-A Sacramento in late May, but was hit by a pitch soon after the demotion and missed more than a month. He never got on-track with the River Cats the rest of the season, batting only .216 in 51 games. Putnam was dropped from the A's 40-man roster during the off-season and went unclaimed, returning to Oakland as a non-roster player.

Putnam began the 2008 season at Double-A, but he was quickly promoted to Triple-A Sacramento when injuries struck the River Cats outfield. He has looked like a different hitter than the one who struggled last season, batting .271 with an 838 OPS and nine homeruns in 49 at-bats for Sacramento. Putnam has been slowed recently by a bout with pneumonia, but he has otherwise been a consistent performer for the River Cats. Perhaps most impressive is Putnam's .298 average and 848 OPS against left-handed pitchers. Another few months with this level of production could earn Putnam a September look with the A's or it could make him an attractive trade candidate for other teams at the deadline.

INFIELDERS:

Sean Doolittle:

Doolittle was the A's second pick in 2007 after a standout career as a first baseman and pitcher with the University of Virginia. He had a so-so debut season with short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County (.243 BA with a 688 OPS), but he followed that up with an MVP performance at the A's fall Instructional League.

Doolittle was sent to High-A Stockton at the start of the season and he has been outstanding since the start of the year. In 73 games for the Ports before the All-Star break, Doolittle hit .322 with a 985 OPS. The biggest question surrounding Doolittle before the season was whether he would hit for power in the pros. Thus far, he has answered that question to the tune of 22 doubles, two triples and 16 homers in only 283 pre-All-Star break at-bats. His strike-out totals have been high, but Doolittle walked 41 times before the break and has kept his OBP at or above .400 for most of the season.

Already skilled with the glove at first base coming into the season, Doolittle has also seen time in the outfield and has handled that position, as well. He was a starter for the California League All-Star team in the Cal League-Carolina League All-Star match-up. Doolittle ranked second in the Cal League in OPS and third in homers before the break. He figures to see some time in Double-A before the year is done.

Jesus Guzman:

Guzman was an unheralded minor league free agent signing this off-season by Oakland. A former Seattle Mariners prospect, Guzman saw his progress with the M's stall out at the Double-A level. Seattle sent him back to High-A last season, where he hit .301 with 25 homers and 112 RBIs as a 22-23 year old with High Desert. After a solid spring with Oakland, Guzman was sent to Double-A Midland, where he got off to a terrific start. His average hovered around .400 for the first month of the year and he hit .359 with 13 homers and 69 RBIs in 72 games for the Rockhounds during the first half of the season.

Guzman earned a starting spot on in the Texas League All-Star game, but he was promoted to Triple-A before the game to fill-in at third in Sacramento for an injured Jeff Baisley. The versatile Guzman can play all over the infield, so he figures to remain in Sacramento even when Baisley returns to play third base. Guzman is an offensive-minded infielder, so he'll need to continue to post big numbers at the plate to draw consideration for a spot in the big leagues. However, despite being a seven-year minor league free agent this past off-season, he just turned 24, so Guzman has time still to establish himself as a big league player.

Chris Carter:

Carter was one of six players acquired during the off-season for Dan Haren. The 21-year-old first baseman brought with him some much needed power, a rare commodity in the A's chain over the past few years. Oakland sent Carter to the hitter-friendly California League at the start of the year and many were predicting huge power numbers from Carter. He hasn't disappointed. Although Carter has been extremely streaky for the Ports this season, his overall numbers have been solid. Despite batting only .242 during the first half of the season, Carter used 48 walks to post a solid .364 OBP. He led the Cal League with 20 homers during the first half and he compiled an impressive 902 OPS.

Carter is still a work-in-progress at first base, where he has struggled at times on routine plays. He has seen more time in the outfield of late, where he has looked smoother. The outfield may be Carter's eventual home, as the A's have some organizational depth at first base. Either way, the bat has been as advertised thus far this season. If Carter stays in the Cal League all year, he could challenge the 40-homer plateau. Either way, he looks to have a good shot to reach 30 homers on the season.

Jeff Baisley:

Baisley made the jump from Low-A to Double-A last season and had a strong first half of the year for Midland before being derailed by a knee injury during the second half of the season. The knee injury lingered throughout the rest of his season and into the Arizona Fall League, dragging down his numbers in the process.

Despite his drop-off in production after the injury last year, Baisley was promoted to Triple-A at the start of the 2008 season. After missing the first week of the year with a leg injury, Baisley took over as the River Cats' everyday third baseman and he did a solid job in his first taste of Triple-A baseball. In 62 games, Baisley hit .289 with eight homers, 40 RBIs and an 866 OPS. He also flashed good leather at the hot corner. Unfortunately for Baisley, his 2008 second half is beginning in much the same fashion as his 2007 second half: on the DL. Baisley is currently sidelined with a stress fracture in his left foot that will cost him at least a month and likely six weeks. If he is able to get back on the field quickly, he could be in-line for a September audition with Oakland.

Cliff Pennington:

Pennington has been a source of disappointment for A's fans over the past two seasons, as a torn hamstring severely effected his performance in 2006 and 2007. The A's 2005 top pick entered the 2008 season knowing that it was a make-or-break campaign for him, in many respects, as he will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this off-season. Pennington has responded with a solid first half of the season.

He began the year where he ended the 2007 season – in Double-A Midland. Pennington didn't hit for much power for the Rockhounds during the first half of this season, but he did a solid job getting on-base (.379 OBP in 50 games). Once he was on-base, Pennington maximized his opportunities, stealing 20 bases in 21 chances and scoring 42 runs. In early June, Pennington was promoted to Triple-A Sacramento for the first time. In 26 games for the River Cats, he has shown a little more power than he did in Double-A (.383 SLG) and he has continued to get on-base and score runs (.271 BA/.388 OBP and 21 runs scored in 28 games). Pennington has played both short and second base this season. He was recently named to the US roster of the All-Star Futures game and he is in the running for a spot on Team USA's squad for this year's Olympics in Beijing. If Pennington continues to play well with Sacramento this year, he will likely be added to the A's 40-man roster this off-season and given a chance to compete with Gregorio Petit for a spot on the A's bench (or in the starting line-up, should Bobby Crosby be moved).

Josh Horton:

Horton, the A's third round pick last season, made a solid first impression as a pro in 2007 by posting a .419 OBP in 52 games for short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County. He was promoted to High-A Stockton at the start of the 2008 season and he has continued to be a solid top-of-the-order presence for the Ports. Horton's batting average has hovered around .300 all season and his OBP hasn't dipped below .380. For the first half of the year, he hit .302 with a .390 OBP and 39 runs scored in 69 games.

Many scouts questioned whether Horton would be able to stay at shortstop in the pros, but thus far he has handled the position well. He hasn't hit for much power (zero homers and 11 total extra-base hits in the first half) or run much, but he has done everything else well. With Justin Sellers, Pennington and Petit ahead of him, Horton will likely spend the rest of the season in High-A, but he should be in-line for a promotion to Double-A next season and a possible spot in the Arizona Fall League this October.

CATCHER:

Anthony Recker:

At the midway point of last season, Recker was arguably the MVP of the Oakland A's minor league system. The powerful catcher was a starter on the Cal League All-Star team after batting .319 with 13 homers and a 1010 OPS in 56 games for the Ports. He was promoted to Double-A Midland for the second half of the season, but he struggled with the Rockhounds, hitting only .204 with four homers in 58 games. After a non-roster invitation to major league spring training, Recker headed back to Midland at the start of 2008. He got off to a slow start in April, but heated up in May and finished the first half of the season with a solid .286 average with six homers, 41 RBIs and an 810 OPS. That effort earned him an All-Star starting berth for the second consecutive year.

Recker was especially effective against left-handed pitching during the first half. The right-handed batter hit .404 with two homers and a 1139 OPS versus southpaws. He also did well in night games, batting .300 in 58 evening contests. Recker has improved his defense behind home-plate and he offers above-average power for a catcher. The withering Texas heat can wear down many a Texas League backstop, but if Recker continues to post decent offensive numbers, he will be in-line for a promotion to Triple-A as soon as there is an opening in Sacramento.

UTILITY:

Larry Cobb:

Cobb had a season to forget in 2007. After impressing during his 2006 pro debut campaign, Cobb struggled with Low-A Kane County, batting only .211 in 80 games. He also missed significant time with a scary and painful groin injury. Cobb worked hard in the off-season to put all of that behind him. He began the year in High-A Stockton, but was sent back to Kane County after the first week or so of the season. Since arriving back with the Cougars, Cobb has done nothing but produce at the plate. The utilityman led the Cougars during the first half of the season with a .325 average. He posted an 852 OPS and was a participant in the Midwest League All-Star game.

Cobb's production at the plate is even more valuable when one considers his versatility in the field. An outfielder in college and during his first year as a pro, Cobb has played a significant amount of second base, as well as third base, leftfield, centerfield, rightfield and DH this season. He has also hit everywhere in the line-up from the top to the bottom. He should get another crack at Stockton sometime this year.


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