Comeback Kids

The Oakland A's minor league system made great improvements in 2008 thanks to the addition of new talent and the improvements of some of the team's incumbent prospects. However, there were some prospects who had more forgettable 2008 seasons. Inside, we profile 10 prospects who will be looking to redeem themselves in 2009, and make a push towards the big leagues.

Jermaine Mitchell: Mitchell came into the 2008 season as one of the A's top outfield prospects, but the Texas native never got into a good grove with the High-A Stockton Ports. He showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season, but he finished the year with only a .244 average and a 715 OPS in 114 games. Mitchell is a five-tool talent and, at times, looks like the best player on the field, but he also has a tendency to disappear. With fellow outfielders Corey Brown, Matt Sulentic and Matt Spencer all having strong seasons with Stockton last season, Mitchell will need to have a strong spring and a fast start to the 2009 regular season to get his name back near the top of the outfield prospect depth chart.

Henry Rodriguez: It may be odd to see Rodriguez on this list given that, in many ways, the 2008 season was his national coming-out party. Rodriguez wowed scouts on two very public stages – major league spring training and the Futures Game – but his regular season performance was disappointing overall. He walked the world, especially in Double-A, where he issued 44 free passes in 41 innings. Overall, he had 84 walks in 116 innings. The 147 strike-outs over that span is a strong indication of Rodriguez's talents, but he isn't going to get far if he can't throw the ball over the plate. He was moved from the rotation to the bullpen this past season, which, in theory, should help his control problems some. The A's have lost patience quickly in the past with hard-throwing relievers who have control problems (see Vizcaino, Luis and German, Franklyn), so it wouldn't be a shock to see Rodriguez traded if he doesn't show improvements with his command early in the season.

Josh Horton: A second-round pick in 2007, Horton came into the 2008 season as one of the A's infield prospects to watch. His season got off to a good start, as he hit .302 with a .390 OBP before the All-Star break with Stockton. His game fell off considerably after the break, however, as he hit only .244 with a .286 OBP. Horton picked up his game during the post-season, but it was still a disappointing overall campaign for a player who was so highly touted coming out of North Carolina. He finished the year with a .346 OBP and a 678 OPS in the hitter-friendly California League. Whether Horton has a chance to redeem himself at a higher level or will be forced to repeat at Stockton likely has as much to do with which infielders the A's carry at the major-league level as any other factor. If Oakland carries either Cliff Pennington or Gregorio Petit on the big league roster, there will likely be room for Justin Sellers at Triple-A, opening a spot for Horton in Midland. However, if Sellers has to start the year in Midland, the A's will probably send Horton back to Stockton to ensure that he has a chance to play everyday.

Richie Robnett: The 2008 season was supposed to be a breakthrough campaign for the A's 2004 first-round pick, but it wound-up as a disappointment. Robnett, who was added to the A's 40-man roster for the first time last season, was sidelined for the first few months of the year after undergoing surgery on his stomach at the end of spring training. He reported to Triple-A Sacramento, but he struggled to find his stroke with Sacramento. In 58 games, he hit only three homeruns and posted a 658 OPS. He also struck-out 61 times in 208 at-bats. Robnett was demoted to Double-A Midland for the final month of the season and he hit better with the Rockhounds, but still not as well as expected, posting a .259/.385/.365 line. As with Mitchell, Robnett has the talent to look like a star at times, but he needs to find consistency. He will need a strong spring and a fast start to the year not only to put his name back on the A's top outfield prospect list, but also to protect his tenuous spot on the A's 40-man roster.

Landon Powell: It was hard to know what to expect from Powell at the start of the 2008 season. The switch-hitting catcher was coming off of another ACL tear and it wasn't clear if he was going to be able to catch full-time or not. Powell reported to big league camp in better condition than the team expected and he opened the season on an active roster, a big victory considering the severity of his injury. Powell was eased into the starting line-up early in the season, but by mid-May, he was the Sacramento River Cats' everyday catcher. Powell showed good power in his 88 games with the River Cats, blasting 15 homeruns in 300 at-bats. He also did a good job of getting on-base, walking 63 times and posting a .360 OBP. However, he wasn't able to get the hits to fall in consistently and he finished with a career-low .230 batting average. Still, despite the low batting average, Powell was set to make his major league debut in September until soreness in his knee shut him down in August. He had a clean-up procedure on the knee and the A's expect him to be 100 percent at the start of big league camp. Powell will be 27 at the start of the 2009 season, so he likely needs this to be the year that he debuts in the big leagues. Most importantly, Powell needs a full, healthy season to show the A's that he can be an asset on their major league roster for the next several years.

Javier Herrera: Herrera hasn't been healthy since the 2004 season and he is quickly running out of time to prove that he is a major-league caliber outfielder. The five-tool talent missed the second half of the 2007 season and the first half of the 2008 campaign with chronically sore hamstrings. He joined the Double-A Midland Rockhounds midseason. In 61 games with the Rockhounds, he hit .267 with nine homers and a 769 OPS. Herrera finished the year strong and was seemingly playing without pain during the final month of the season. He competed with Caracas of the Venezuelan Winter League in November and December and he hit .286 in 19 games. Herrera has been on the A's 40-man roster since 2005, but he was given an extra option year for 2009 because of all of his injuries. This will be the make-or-break year for Herrera in the A's system, as he is expected to see his first extended time in Triple-A and will need to have played himself into the A's long-term plans by the end of the year, or he will likely be in another organization in 2010.

Anthony Recker: After batting only .204 in half of a season with Midland in 2007, Recker made dramatic improvements with the Rockhounds in 2008, hitting .274 with a 783 OPS in 117 games. He was a work-horse for the Rockhounds, playing nearly everyday despite the Texas heat, and he developed a good rapport with the talented Midland pitching staff by the end of the season. Recker is on this list not so much because of his performance in 2008, but because he clearly needs a big season in 2009 to keep his place near the top of the A's minor league catching depth chart. With Kurt Suzuki firmly established at the major league level and Landon Powell and the newly signed Joel Galarraga penciled in at Triple-A, Recker has an uphill climb through the higher levels of the A's system. In addition, 2008 A's acquisition Josh Donaldson is coming off of a big second-half with High-A Stockton and will likely see a lot of playing time in Double-A in 2009. Recker was a non-roster invitee to big league spring training in 2008, but he wasn't included on the 2009 list (Galarraga was instead), so he'll need a big season to get the A's big league staff to notice him. Cutting down on his strike-outs (140 in 430 at-bats) couldn't hurt.

Mike Madsen: Madsen had a strong 2007 campaign, breezing through High-A and Double-A and being named to the Futures Game roster. He struggled at the end of the year with Triple-A Sacramento, but big things were still expected of Madsen in 2008. Unfortunately, the right-hander never got an opportunity to show his stuff. He made only two starts with Midland before being shut-down with elbow pain. He attempted a comeback a few months later, but was sidelined after only one inning at Rookie Ball. The A's minor league pitching depth is among the best in baseball and Madsen lost considerable ground to prospects such as Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Vince Mazzaro and James Simmons last season. The 26-year-old will need to pitch like he did with Midland in 2007 when he had a 2.76 ERA in 65.1 innings to get his name back in the list with the Andersons, Cahills, Mazzaros and Simmonses of the organization.

Alexander Valdez: Valdez was a sleeper pick to breakthrough as a top prospect at the start of last season. He had a strong second half of the 2007 season with Low-A Kane County and then topped that with an impressive showing during the A's Instructional League camp. Unfortunately, passport issues kept Valdez out of the country for the first four months of the season. He finally joined the A's in the US in August and he spent the month with the Stockton Ports. His rust was evident, as he hit only .169 with no homers in 21 games. Valdez once again impressed during the A's Instructional League, giving rise to the hope that he will be able to put up a big season in 2009. The switch-hitter will be 24 throughout the season, so he needs to start moving up through the chain in a hurry.

Jamie Richmond: Richmond was acquired along with Joey Devine in a trade with the Atlanta Braves involving Mark Kotsay. The Toronto native came to the A's with a reputation for being a workhorse and for having impeccable control. He lived up to his billing in both of those aspects in 2008, when he pitched a team-high 163.1 innings and walked only 27 in the process. However, Richmond was surprisingly hittable despite being in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. He allowed 175 hits and managed only 98 strike-outs. He struggled especially in June and July, posting ERAs above six in both months. Richmond finished the year with a 4.79 ERA. This was the right-hander's second year at the Low-A level. He will be 23 at the start of the 2009 season and he needs to establish himself in High-A to make himself standout in a crowded minor league pitching depth chart for Oakland. Develop a pitch that induces more swings-and-misses would help that cause considerably.


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