Oakland A's Top-50 Prospects: 45-41

It's that time of the year when we take stock of the Oakland A's organization and analyze the top prospects. For the next few weeks, every Tuesday and Thursday will be "Top Prospect List Day," as we will profile our top-50 prospect list in groups of five. Today, we continue the series with a review of prospects 45-41.

45. Brad Kilby

Kilby hides the ball well.
Kilby's steady climb through the A's system continued in 2008, as the left-hander spent the entire season with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats after spending the 2007 season with High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland and 2006 with Low-A Kane County. As he has done since being drafted out of San Jose State in 2005, Kilby was effective using his deceptive delivery as a set-up man in the River Cats' bullpen. In 51 appearances for the River Cats, Kilby posted a 7-2 record and a 3.47 ERA with two saves and 66 strike-outs in 70 innings.

The Elk Grove, California, native isn't flashy but he has been consistently difficult to hit throughout his career. Kilby's fastball rarely registers above 90 MPH, but he often induces awkward swings by batters thanks to his three-quarters, herky-jerky delivery that allows him to hide the ball very well. In 2008, he held opposing batters to a .202 average. Against lefties, the southpaw did especially well, limiting them to a .183 average.

Playing at the Triple-A level for the first time, Kilby did allow a few more homeruns (1.16 per nine innings in 2008 after averaging less than 0.80 per nine innings prior to this season) and his strike-out rate fell slightly (8.49 per nine innings), while his walk totals climbed a bit (3.34 per nine innings). Still, his numbers overall were solid.

Kilby's best pitch is his fastball, but his slider against left-handers has improved over the years. Although Kilby has been effective against righties during his career, he has had more success against lefties and he profiles best as a lefty specialist in the major leagues. Kilby will turn 26 just before the start of next spring training.

Conditioning has been a problem for Kilby at times during his career, but he was in better shape throughout the 2008 season than he has been in the past. He was looking to stay in shape this off-season by competing for the Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League, but he was struck in the head with a line-drive early in the DWL season and he returned to the US last week for evaluation. It isn't clear whether he will return to the Dominican this winter. Kilby is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December and he is a strong candidate to be selected by a team looking for bullpen help if the A's don't put him on their 40-man roster. If he is healthy, Kilby is likely to make his major league debut at some point in 2009.

44. Cliff Pennington

Pennington hit nearly .300 with the River Cats.
The A's top pick in 2005 was in danger of being stuck with the "bust" label about halfway through the 2007 Arizona Fall League season. After a disappointing 2006 season and a mediocre 2007 campaign, Pennington found himself batting only .094 through the first three weeks of the league play, not the kind of numbers one would expect from a first round draft pick. He recovered, however, and went 11 for 26 with 11 walks with five stolen bases the rest of the way.

Pennington seemed to carry the momentum of that strong AFL finish into the 2008 season. He began the year back with Double-A Midland, where he had finished the 2007 season. In 50 games with the Rockhounds, Pennington posted a .260 average with a .379 OBP and 20 stolen bases in 21 chances. Those numbers earned Pennington a promotion to Triple-A, where he brought his game up to a new level. In 65 games with the River Cats, the switch-hitter hit .297 with a .426 OBP and 11 stolen bases.

In mid-August, Pennington finally got an opportunity at the big league level. He got off to a slow start with the A's, collecting only five hits in his first 31 at-bats. However, he picked it up over 68 at-bats in September, hitting .279 with a .390 OBP and a 1:1 K:BB ratio. He also scored 10 runs and stole three bases. All told, he finished with a .242 average and a .339 OBP in 99 at-bats during his late-season audition.

Pennington isn't likely to be a superstar in the big leagues, but he is the kind of player who can be an important piece of a championship team. He won't hit for power, but he handles the bat extremely well, doesn't strike-out much, has a great eye, runs the bases well and he can play solid defense up the middle in the infield.

"He's got the ability to grind some at-bats out and to take quality at-bats consistently," Sacramento manager Todd Steverson said during the season.

"He's not going to beat any outfield walls down, but he is one of those guys who can take a walk for you or get that single or he can bunt or hit-and-run or he can drive a ball in the gap here and there. Really, if the nucleus around him is the right type of nucleus, he becomes a very valuable player."

A natural shortstop, Pennington saw time at third, short and second during his time with Oakland. He has good hands and range as a shortstop, but he has a tendency to rush the longer throws. As a second baseman, Pennington has well above-average range and he was quick at the pivot on double-plays, turning 17 in 16 games at second.

With Mark Ellis re-signed and Bobby Crosby still with the team, the A's aren't likely to turn to Pennington as a starter next season. However, he should compete this spring for a bench spot with Oakland.

43. Robin Rosario

Before there was Michael Inoa, there was Robin Rosario, who was the A's reigning international bonus baby before Inoa inked his deal. The Dominican outfielder signed a then-team record $350,000 bonus with Oakland in February. Because he signed over the winter as opposed to July 2nd, Rosario was able to participate in the Dominican Summer League, logging 42 games with the A's Dominican Summer League 2 team.

The Santo Domingo native, who will turn 18 in late November, fared well in his first taste of affiliated professional baseball. In 128 at-bats, he hit .281 with a .348 OBP and a 762 OBP. Rosario was the fourth-youngest player on the A's DSL 2 team and he was the team's second-best offensive player.

Rosario is currently wiry at 6-foot-one, 175 pounds. He has plus, plus speed, something that was evident by his six triples. The right-hander also has a cannon throwing arm. He is very raw and is still learning how to play the game. Rosario didn't show much power this season, but the A's feel that he will begin to hit with more authority as he fills out his frame. He has the speed to stick in center and become a stolen base threat down the road.

In the A's system, Latin American prospects often spend two seasons in the DSL before heading to the States. However, Rosario played well enough this season that the A's might send him to the Arizona Rookie League next year.

42. Landon Powell

Powell had a third knee surgery this season.
For the second time since being drafted in the first round in 2004, Powell entered a season coming off of an ACL tear. The first tear came before the 2005 season; the second one came in July 2007. Powell rehabbed his knee back into shape in both cases, making it back on the field for Opening Day in both 2006 and 2008.

After being brought along slowly in spring training, Powell shared time with Justin Knoedler as the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats' catcher in April, playing in only 14 games. However, by May, he was seeing the bulk of the playing time. It took Powell a little bit of time to get his bat going, as he was hitting under .200 at the end of May (although he had seven homers). However, by June he started to get his swing back and in July, he hit .310 with five homers, 20 walks and a 982 OPS in 22 games.

At the end of July, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Powell would be a September call-up for Oakland. However, Powell's troublesome knee began to act up in August. He struggled through 10 games before shutting it down for the year. Powell had a procedure to clean up the knee and he missed the rest of the year. Powell was walking without crutches soon after the surgery and is reportedly moving around well nearly three months later. He is expected to be 100 percent at the start of spring training.

Powell has been on the cusp of a major league job for the past two seasons, only to see his knee problems rob him of the opportunity. He is most effective when he is playing at a weight around 240-250, but when his knee is bothering him, he has had difficulty keeping himself in optimal shape. Given the wear-and-tear on his knee, Powell may be a long-shot to be an everyday catcher at this point in his career.

The A's might not need him to be an everyday catcher, however. Powell is still a strong defensive back-stop and he is a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate. Kurt Suzuki, the A's current starting catcher, appeared in 148 games last season and seemed to wear down at the end of the year. Powell might be an ideal back-up for Suzuki, starting 50 or so games a year and being used as a pinch-hitter late in games when the A's need a power bat. Current back-up catcher Rob Bowen hit only .176 in 91 at-bats, so with a good spring, Powell could earn that job as early as the start of next spring.

41. Travis Banwart

Banwart was slowed by a sore right arm with Stockton.
The A's fourth round pick in 2007 was considered to be one of the most polished collegiate pitchers in that draft. Banwart had a solid professional debut with Low-A Kane County in 2007, posting a 2.60 ERA with 41 strike-outs in 45 innings. Despite those numbers, Banwart was sent back to Kane County to start the 2008 season.

He continued his domination of the Midwest League in 2008, posting almost identical numbers as he did in 2007 (2.38 ERA with 41 strike-outs in 41.2 innings). In mid-May, Banwart was promoted to High-A Stockton. Unfortunately, his season began to go off-course with the Ports. After three starts in May, Banwart was sidelined with a sore right shoulder and he missed the entire month of June. He was brought back slowly in July, throwing limited innings in his starts (only 20.2 innings in six starts). The A's allowed him to stretch out a bit more in August (25.1 innings over five starts). He was sidelined again with what was officially termed a tired arm at the end of August and he missed the playoffs.

Banwart was never quite 100 percent with Stockton and it showed in the numbers. His ERA was 4.45 – okay for the hitter-friendly California League, but higher than one would expect from Banwart. Banwart's control was uneven with the Ports. He struck-out 54 in 58.2 innings, but he walked 32 and allowed seven homers.

When healthy, Banwart has all of the makings of a big league starter. He has a starter's frame at 6'4'', 210 pounds and command of four pitches – a curveball, fastball (89-92 MPH), change-up and slider. He is a fierce competitor and is capable of working both sides of the plate. Health is going to be key for Banwart, who is capable of moving up two levels in a season if his arm is 100 percent next year.

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