Name: Landon Powell
How Acquired: Selected in the first round of the 2004 draft by the Oakland Athletics
The A's selected Powell with their first pick in the 2004 draft. The switch-hitting catcher was coming off of a stellar career with the University of South Carolina, where he had been one of the nation's top catchers. During his senior season with USC, Powell hit .328 with 19 homers and a 1035 OPS in 69 games.
After signing with the A's, Powell reported to short-season Vancouver, where he had a rough time getting on-track and admitted later that he was worn down from a long college season. He hit .237 with a 725 OPS in 38 games for the Canadians. Powell didn't have a chance to redeem himself right away, as just weeks before the start of the 2005 spring training, Powell tore his ACL during a conditioning drill. That injury kept him off of the field for the entire season and put into question his future as an everyday catcher.
Powell worked hard to prove that he could still be an everyday catcher after the injury and was on the field on Opening Day in 2006 with High-A Stockton. After a bit of a slow start, Powell emerged as one of the Ports' top players that season and he hit .264 with a .350 OBP and 15 homers in 90 games. He was promoted to Double-A Midland for the final month of the season, and he hit .268 in his first taste of Double-A baseball. Most importantly, Powell appeared in a career-high 102 games and emerged from the season no worse for wear.
In 2007, Powell began the year back with Double-A Midland. After once again fighting off a slow start, Powell began an onslaught on Texas League pitching that brought his average up to .292 with an 893 OPS and 11 homers in only 60 games with the Rockhounds. Powell was then promoted to Triple-A Sacramento, where he hit three homers in his first four games at that level. Unfortunately, those four games would be the only ones that Powell would play for the rest of the year. He re-injured his bad knee taking an awkward step after a swing, re-tearing his ACL.
After two ACL injuries, it seemed questionable that Powell would be able to make it all the way back as an everyday catcher. The A's protected Powell on the 40-man roster despite the injury and he rehabbed vigorously in the off-season before the 2008 campaign. By the time spring training rolled around, Powell was ahead of schedule on his rehab and a surprise member of the Opening Day roster for the Sacramento River Cats (it had been expected that he would miss at least the first few weeks of the season).
Early in the year, Powell was used cautiously by Sacramento, rarely catching on back-to-back days. However, by May he was the River Cats' everyday catcher. He would appear in 88 games with Sacramento and finished with 15 homers and a .360 OBP. His average was only .230, but he did post a .404 OBP after the All-Star break. Powell appeared destined to play in Oakland as a September call-up last season, but injuries once again interrupted those plans. Powell began experiencing soreness in his bad knee in early August. After struggling through 10 games in August, he was shut-down so that he could have surgery to clean up some debris in that knee. Powell has reported to major league spring training camp healthy and is participating with the team.
Without the knee problems, we would most likely be talking about Powell as the incumbent A's starting catcher this season rather than a potential back-up. Powell's missed 2005 season allowed fellow 2004 draft pick Kurt Suzuki to move ahead of Powell on the A's depth chart, and Suzuki has never looked back. The two are very different catchers. Suzuki is a top-of-the-order type hitter who generally hits for high average with average power and above-average speed for a catcher. After beginning his career as a defensive liability, Suzuki has developed into a solid defensive catcher and has proven that he extremely durable, having played in 100 games or more every season since turning pro.
Powell is a very different hitter from Suzuki. Powell is a switch-hitter and is essentially a "three-true-outcomes" type of a player (a "three-true-outcomes" player is one who is thought either to homer, walk or strike-out in most at-bats). Powell has always had an advanced feel for the strike-zone and above-average power from both sides of the plate. His OBP is more than 100 points better than his career batting average in the minor leagues.
Defensively, Powell has always been considered an elite receiver, and that hasn't changed despite the repeated knee injuries. He has a strong throwing arm and surprisingly good footwork for a man of his size and injury history. Powell, like Suzuki, has been on the receiving end of a lot of praise from his pitchers.
The biggest question with Powell since he turned pro has been his durability. There were questions about his body even before he hurt his knee. He is unquestionably one of the biggest catchers in the game, standing at 6'3'' and weighing somewhere between 230-270, depending on the year. The A's have stayed on Powell to keep his weight near the 230-end of the spectrum and the thinking is that the less he weighs, the healthier his knee will be. At this point, it is unlikely that Powell will have the knees to be a 100-game plus a year catcher in the big leagues, but with Suzuki already in the majors, the A's could afford to use Powell in more of a complimentary role.
Chances of Making the Team
There is no question that Powell would have made his major league debut last September had he stayed healthy and no question that the team thinks very highly of him despite the injury problems. However, their confidence in Powell wasn't enough to keep them from bringing back incumbent back-up Rob Bowen on a major league deal. Bowen will be Powell's biggest competition for that spot playing behind Suzuki. In some ways, they are similar players, with both being tall catchers and switch-hitters. Powell has more upside with his bat, while Bowen has the major league experience and the experience working with the A's pitching staff.
Joel Galarraga, an international free agent signing of the A's this past winter, was supposed to be in camp and challenging for a back-up spot on the A's roster, as well. However, he has been delayed in Mexico with visa issues, opening the door for Powell establish himself before Galarraga arrives. Anthony Recker, who was the Midland Rockhounds' everyday catcher last season, is also in big league camp, although he is at least a year away from being major league ready. Prospect Josh Donaldson, the A's top prospect at the position, is also in camp, but he is expected to start the year at Double-A.
Given Powell's injury history, the A's may be hard pressed simply to turn over the back-up spot to Powell at the start of season, as it would leave only Powell and Suzuki as catchers on the A's 40-man roster. In this respect, it may be to Powell's advantage if Galarraga plays well in spring training because if the A's are confident that Galarraga can play in the big leagues in the event of an injury to Powell or Suzuki, then the A's might be willing to risk having Powell on the team's Opening Day roster over Bowen. Generally speaking, however, major league teams look to veteran types for their number two catcher spot, so Powell will have to be really impressive in camp to move ahead of Bowen, more than likely.
Last spring, Powell was at major league camp, but he was restricted from catching a lot of bullpens and working with the pitchers directly because he was finishing the rehab of his knee. This spring, Powell should get a lot of reps with the A's big league staff. If he is able to develop a good rapport with the A's pitchers this spring, it should help his cause in getting to the big leagues during the season — health-permitting, of course.
On The Bubble: Landon Powell, C
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