A Look Back: 2005/2006 Top A's Prospects

With the recent release of former top prospect Javier Herrera, we thought it would be interesting to look back at the first top-10 Oakland A's prospect ranking list that we put together here at OaklandClubhouse.com. That list appeared on the site after the 2005 season, and Herrera was the number two prospect on the list. Click inside to see who those top-10 prospects were and where they are now.

Statistical Breakdown
Number Of Players Still With Organization: 5
Number Of Players Currently In The Major Leagues: 4
Number Of Players To Have Reached The Major Leagues: 8

1. Daric Barton: Highest Level Reached: Major Leagues
When Barton arrived in Oakland as part of the Mark Mulder trade with St. Louis, the first-baseman immediately became the A's top prospect. Despite that pressure, Barton more than lived up to the advanced billing in 2005, when he hit .317 with a 904 OPS as a 19-year-old with High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. Barton showed maturity well beyond his years at the plate, walking more than he struck out and spraying line-drives around the park. The only questions surrounding Barton at the end of the 2005 season were whether he would develop into an adequate defensive first-baseman and whether he would ever hit for the power expected of a first-baseman.

Barton's 2006 season was a disappointment, but mostly through no fault of his own. He got off to somewhat of a slow start with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, batting .259/.389/.395 through 43 games. Unfortunately for Barton, his season was, for all intents and purposes, ended during his 43rd game when he collided with a base-runner while trying to make a play at first and broke his left elbow. Barton, who had already had surgery on his right elbow earlier in his career, was slow to recover from the broken left elbow and played in only two games with the A's Rookie League team for the rest of that season.

Nevertheless, there was a lot to be excited about regarding Barton going into the 2007 season. Healthy again, he put together a solid campaign as a 21-year-old with the River Cats, batting .293/.389/.438 in 136 games. He drove-in 70 and walked nine times more than he struck-out. After a torrid semi-final series in the PCL playoffs, Barton was promoted to the major leagues for September, and he lit up the league, batting .347 with four homers and a 1068 OPS in 18 games with the A's. Those numbers made him a favorite for the Rookie of the Year award in 2008, but it wasn't to be. Barton struggled almost from the outset with the A's, batting only .226 with a 675 OPS in 140 games. He struck-out a career-high 99 times and managed only 34 extra-base hits. The A's went out and signed two veterans to handle the first base position (Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra) during this past off-season, leaving Barton back in Triple-A to start the year.

Thus far, the 2009 campaign has not been a kind one for Barton, although he is hitting better lately. In 37 games through Wednesday, Barton was batting only .209 with a 635 OPS for the River Cats. He has been showing some signs of life, however. In 17 games in May, Barton is batting .274 with an 803 OPS. He is also batting .324 with runners in scoring position.

At age 23, Barton is far from a hopeless cause at this point. He has shown dramatic improvements defensively and he has plenty of time to regain his 2007 form. A couple of solid months from Barton, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the A's let go of one or two of the veterans they brought in this off-season, giving Barton another shot at the big leagues.

2. Javier Herrera: Highest Level Reached: Triple-A
Of all of the guys on this list, Herrera is probably the biggest disappointment. The five-tool outfielder was supposed to give Oakland its long-time answer in centerfield. Instead, his career has been ruined by a series of injuries to his wrists, shoulders, elbows and legs.

Herrera burst onto the prospect scene in 2004 when he won the Northwest League's MVP trophy with the Vancouver Canadians. He hit for power (12 homers in 263 at-bats), average (.331 BA) and he stole 23 bases, all while flashing a canon for a right arm. Herrera's 2005 season began on a down note, however, when he was among the first group of minor leaguers to be nabbed by the new drug-testing policy. Herrera was suspended for the first 15 games of that season and struggled for the first two or three weeks after he was activated. He turned it around, however, and finished his season with Kane County with a solid .275/.374/.444 line that also included 26 stolen bases. He also played well in a short cameo with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, collecting five hits in 12 at-bats, including a homer. Herrera also starred for the Caracas Leones of the Venezuelan Winter League that off-season.

Herrera was added to the 40-man roster before the start of the 2006 season, but his 2006 season was over before it began. He injured his right elbow and wound-up having Tommy John surgery, which cost him the season. Herrera was sent to High-A Stockton at the start of the 2007 season. After a slow start (which included a hamstring injury), Herrera put together a .274/.337/.448 line with Stockton before he was promoted to Midland, where he hit .254 with a 767 OPS in 20 games before being sidelined for the rest of the year with a bad hamstring tear. The hamstring tear cost him the first few months of the 2008 season and he was forced to DH for much of the 2008 campaign when he returned to the field. He hit .267/.330/.439 in 61 games with Midland.

Seemingly healthy this spring, Herrera was sent back to Midland to start the year, but, once again, injuries struck early and hard. He injured his wrist on Opening Day and wound-up having surgery. While recovering from that surgery, Herrera somehow injured his shoulder, which will now require surgery, as well. He may not play again this season. The A's released Herrera on Wednesday to clear room on the 40-man roster. They could re-sign him if he clears waivers to a minor league deal, but even if they do bring him back, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which he would contribute to the future of the A's organization. He will be 25 next April and he has only played five games above the Double-A level. In addition, he will have injury questions about his legs, shoulder, elbow and wrist.

3. Andre Ethier: Highest Level Reached: Major Leagues
Ethier, the A's second round pick in 2003, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers just after we named him the system's third-best prospect. The Arizona State product was coming off of a breakthrough 2005 campaign, during which he won the Texas League MVP award, when he was dealt to LA for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez.

Ethier's stay in the Dodgers' minor league system was a short one. He appeared in only 25 games with Triple-A Las Vegas before the Dodgers were convinced that he was ready for the show. The smooth-swinging lefty challenged for the Rookie of the Year award in 2006 by batting .308 with an 842 OPS in 126 games for the Dodgers that season. Ethier has posted OPSs of 802 and 885 in subsequent seasons, despite playing his home games at a pitcher's park in Dodger Stadium. Ethier is off to somewhat of a slow start this season (although he'd still be the A's top hitter if he were in Oakland), as he is batting .257 with an 789 OPS in 40 games.

Although the A's thought very highly of Ethier at the time of the trade and although it is likely that Oakland would have never won the American League West in 2006 without Bradley, it is probably fair to say that the A's didn't quite know what they had in Ethier when they decided to deal him. At the time of the trade, he had already undergone a fairly serious back operation (that happened in 2004). In addition, he didn't have the typical walk rate that the A's coveted at the time of the trade. Lastly, many scouts felt he would never develop the kind of homerun power that would make him a valuable corner outfielder. Ethier has overcome all of those question-marks over the past four years. He has been a workhorse (averaging more than 140 games a season), his career OBP in the major leagues is a solid .364, and he has hit 50 homers in 1,520 major league at-bats, including 20 homers in 2008. The A's might have looked like a much different team over the past few years if they still had Ethier. Needless to say, he has more than lived up to his 2005 prospect rating.

4. Dan Meyer: Highest Level Reached: Major Leagues
Meyer will forever be known in Oakland as "the key to the Tim Hudson trade." The left-hander was the top prospect the A's received from Atlanta in that 2004 deal and he was supposed to be the ace of the A's staff for years to come. Unfortunately, Meyer's career with Oakland was marred by a significant shoulder injury that cost him much of the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

Meyer injured his shoulder in the spring of 2005 and tried pitching through it, with disastrous results. He posted ERAs above 5.00 in 2005 and 2006 with Sacramento. Meyer had surgery to remove a major bone chip in his left shoulder in July of 2006 and didn't return to the mound until the following April. He looked like a different pitcher after the surgery, posting a 3.28 ERA in 115.1 innings for the Sacramento River Cats in 2007. Meyer made his A's debut towards the end of that season, but he struggled in six outings, allowing 16 earned runs in 16.1 innings. In 2008, Meyer put together another decent season for Sacramento. His ERA was more than a run higher than it was in 2007 (4.48), but his peripheral stats were almost identical to the previous season, suggesting that he might have run into some bad luck. It wasn't bad luck that plagued Meyer in a late-season stint with Oakland, however. He was pounded to the tune of 23 runs allowed in 27.2 innings.

The 2009 season would have been Meyer's final option year with Oakland, and the team felt it needed to move on. Meyer was designated for assignment and was immediately claimed by the Florida Marlins. The Marlins put Meyer in the bullpen during the spring and he made the team. Since then, he has been one of the most effective relievers in the National League. Through 16.2 innings, Meyer has allowed only nine hits, three earned runs (1.62 ERA) and three walks while striking out 21. He may never be the Mark Mulder clone the A's thought that they were getting in 2004, but Meyer could still put together a long major league career as a reliever. He won't turn 28 until July.

5. Kurt Suzuki: Highest Level Reached: Major Leagues
Suzuki was actually the second catcher taken by the A's in 2004 (Landon Powell went in round one, while Suzuki went in round two), but he is quickly establishing himself as the best player that the A's took in that draft. Suzuki's climb through the A's system was a quick and steady one. An injury to Powell before the 2005 season gave Suzuki a non-roster invitation to spring training before that season, and he caught the eyes of the A's coaching staff with a strong spring. He put together a good offensive year in the 2005 regular season with the Stockton Ports (.277/.378/.440), but questions emerged about his defense.

The next season Suzuki spent the entire year with Double-A Midland, where he once again put together a fine offensive season (.285/.392/.415). He also showed some improvement with his defense. He spent the final three weeks of the regular season as an integral part of the Team USA squad that qualified the US for the 2008 Olympics. In 2007, Suzuki once again advanced a level, starting the year with Triple-A Sacramento. He would hit .280/.351/.365 in 55 games with the River Cats before being promoted to the major leagues midway through the 2007 season.

Suzuki spent the first few weeks of his major league career acting as the back-up to veteran Jason Kendall. Once Kendall was traded to Chicago that July, Suzuki took over the position full-time, and he has caught the vast majority of Oakland's games since that time. He hit .249 with seven homers and a 735 OPS in 68 games during his rookie season. The next season, he entered the year as the unquestioned starting catcher and he hit .279 in his first full major league season. He has been the A's best player in the early going in 2009, batting .305 through the first 34 games of the season.

The most impressive thing about Suzuki is that he began his professional career with the reputation of being an offensive-minded catcher. Now he is widely considered to be one of the best defensive catchers in the American League and that, combined with his solid offensive production for the position, make Suzuki one of the most valuable players in the entire A's organization. He should be in-line for a long and productive career, although the A's may have to be careful with him. In five professional seasons, he has already played 563 games. Giving Suzuki a few more days off over the next few years could extend his career.

6. Jairo Garcia (Santiago Casilla): Highest Level Reached: Major Leagues
At the time these rankings were made, the reliever now known as Santiago Casilla was still being called Jairo Garcia and the A's thought that he was a few years younger than he actually turned out to be. That all came out in the spring of 2006 and it certainly dimmed the prospect hype surrounding Casilla, who – when he was known as Jairo Garcia – was considered one of the elite relief prospects in baseball, having reached the major leagues by (what was then thought to be) age 21.

Despite the age jump and some injury problems over the past few years, Casilla has built himself a nice, if not spectacular, career. In 2007, he threw 50.2 innings for the A's, amassing a 4.44 ERA and striking out 52 batters. Last season, he improved on those numbers, despite missing time with an elbow injury, posting a 3.93 ERA in 50.1 innings (although he struck out fewer batters). Thus far in 2009, he has missed time with a knee injury, but has been effective when he has been healthy, posting a 2.87 ERA in 15.2 innings.

Casilla has never developed the command that he would need to be a team's everyday closer, but he has used his mid-90s fastball and sharp slider to become a pretty reliable set-up man. While the age/name discrepancy was unfortunate at the time, it may have wound-up being a blessing in disguise in some ways. Had Casilla used his real name and age when he was trying out with the A's back in the Dominican Republic, the team probably wouldn't have signed him at all.

7. Richie Robnett: Highest Level Reached: Triple-A
Robnett was a first-round pick by the A's in 2004. He was considered a project prospect, a somewhat unpolished hitter who scouts saw as having nearly unlimited power potential. He showed that power early in his career, posting a .470 SLG in the pitcher-friendly Northwest League in 2004. Robnett was jumped directly to High-A Stockton in 2005, where he put together an uneven season. He hit 20 homers and 30 doubles in 457 at-bats, but had trouble making contact, striking out 151 times. He returned to Stockton the next season, where he cut down on his strike-outs some (73 in 69 games) and hit for decent power (11 homeruns in 267 at-bats). At midseason he was promoted to Double-A Midland and was off to a great start (.357 with a homer in five games) before he broke his hamate bone, which cost him the rest of the season.

In 2007, he got a full season with Midland. He hit for good power (especially for a left-handed hitter in that home park), hitting 18 homers and 39 doubles in 120 games. He also homered off of Luke Hochevar in the Texas League All-Star Game. Robnett was promoted to Sacramento for the final few weeks of the season, but he found little success there, collecting only five hits in 33 at-bats. His effort in 2007 was enough to earn him a spot on the A's 40-man roster heading into the 2008 season, however.

In a lot of ways, the 2008 season was make-or-break for Robnett, and it got off to a horrible start. He had to miss the first six weeks of the season after undergoing stomach surgery in early April. He could never get on track with Sacramento, batting only .236 with three homers in 58 games before being sent back to Midland, where he hit .259 with one homer in 23 games. During the off-season, Robnett was traded to the Chicago Cubs. He was cut off of the Cubs' 40-man roster during the spring, but cleared waivers and remained with the organization. He is off to a slow start this season. In 30 games with Double-A Tennessee, Robnett batted only .184 with two homers and a 556 OPS. He was recently promoted to Triple-A Iowa, as the I-Cubs had some injury issues.

Robnett was never able to harness his immense power into consistent production. He would put on terrific displays during batting practice, only to look lost at the plate once the game began. The strike-outs were a huge problem for Robnett because he didn't walk enough to make up for it (524 strike-outs against 206 walks in 478 career minor league games). Injuries didn't help Robnett, either. Now a non-roster player in an organization so deep in the outfield that PCL superhero Jake Fox can't even get a promotion, Robnett's chances of ever making the big leagues have diminished greatly.

8. Kevin Melillo: Highest Level Reached: Major Leagues
Melillo, a fifth round pick of the A's in 2004, zoomed up the A's prospect charts after a 2005 season that saw him hit .300 with 21 stolen bases, 24 homers and 93 RBIs, outstanding numbers for a second baseman. His one-month stint in Stockton was particularly impressive, as he hit .400 with nine homers in only 22 games.

Melillo came back down to earth a little bit in 2006, although he still had a solid season, batting .279 with a .366 OBP, 12 homers and 73 RBIs in 136 games for Double-A Midland (whose home park can be particularly tough on left-handed power hitters). He got his first crack at Triple-A in 2007 and got off to a strong start before hurting his wrist in late June. Melillo played through the injury for awhile and even got a brief call-up to the big leagues (he walked in his only big league at-bat), but he was essentially swinging one handed for much of the season. He finished with a .262 average and 10 homers in 98 games. Melillo had off-season surgery on the wrist, but he missed much of spring training regaining his strength in that wrist. Melillo joined the River Cats towards the end of April. He hit .260 with five homers in 38 games with the River Cats before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for cash considerations. Melillo spent the remaining part of the season with Triple-A Syracuse, where he hit .257 with nine homers in 68 games.

Melillo was released by Toronto after the season and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. He is currently with Double-A Huntsville, where he is hitting .243 with no homers and a 703 OPS in 34 games. Unfortunately for Melillo, the wrist injury appears to have zapped the power that made him such an intriguing second base prospect. If he can regain that strength, he may get another shot in the bigs, but at 27 years old, he needs to show that power in a hurry.

9. Danny Putnam: Highest Level Reached: Major Leagues
Putnam was the A's supplemental first-round pick in 2004, the same draft that produced Huston Street, Dallas Braden, Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell. At the time he was taken out of Stanford, Putnam was considered one of the most polished hitters in the collegiate ranks. There were concerns, however, that Putnam's size would prevent him from developing the power that is needed to be an everyday corner outfielder in the major leagues. There were also questions about his defense.

In his initial years in the system, Putnam advanced quickly. He split his 2004 debut with short-season Vancouver and Low-A Kane County and then spent the entire 2005 regular season with the High-A Stockton Ports, for whom he drove in 100 runs and posted an 867 OPS. He was promoted to Double-A for the post-season and hit well, helping the Rockhounds win the Texas League crown. The next season would be marred by a knee that limited Putnam to 76 games, most of them coming with Midland. In 2007, he began the year back at Midland, but after a torrid first few weeks, he was promoted straight to the major leagues, where he would spend roughly three weeks. He appeared in 11 games with the A's, hitting .214 with a homer and two RBIs. Putnam was returned to Triple-A Sacramento after his stint with Oakland, but he was hit by a pitch in the hand shortly thereafter, and was ineffective for much of the rest of the season (although he did hit a walk-off homerun in Game 4 of the PCL semi-final series for Sacramento later that year). In 2008, he redeemed himself by batting .276 with an 878 OPS and 15 homers in only 89 games for the River Cats. Injuries (this time a bad case of pneumonia) once again prevented Putnam from putting in a full season, however.

Despite Putnam's work in Sacramento last season, the A's sent him back to Midland to start the 2009 campaign. He hit .301 with seven homers and a 910 OPS in 30 games with the Rockhounds before injuries in the Sacramento outfield afforded Putnam another shot at Triple-A. He is batting .294 in eight games with the River Cats thus far.

When he has been healthy, Putnam has been the player that he was projected to be when he was drafted – a corner outfielder who can hit for average, drive-in a lot of runs, get on-base and hit the occasional homerun. His defense has turned out to be more than adequate in the corner outfield spots, despite the early concerns when he was drafted. Unfortunately for Putnam, his injuries have allowed a number of other outfielders pass him in the A's system over the past few years. Given that he started the year in Double-A, it is apparent that he isn't part of the A's future plans. If he continues to hit as he did with Sacramento last season, however, he is likely to get another chance in the big leagues with another organization, likely as a fourth outfielder.

10. Cliff Pennington: Highest Level Reached: Major Leagues
Pennington was the A's top pick in 2005 and he put together a strong debut season after signing with Oakland, batting .276 with a .364 OBP and 25 stolen bases for the Low-A Kane County Cougars. Scouts and opposing managers raved about Pennington's tough-nosed style of play, his defensive abilities and his toughness at the plate. Leg injuries cost Pennington most of his 2006 season and would cut into his effectiveness in 2007. He recovered to put together a decent 2008 campaign, batting .280 with a .404 OBP and 31 steals in the minor leagues. Pennington made his major league debut with the A's late in the season, appearing in 36 games. He hit .242 with a .339 OBP and four stolen bases. Pennington is currently at Triple-A Sacramento, where he is batting .277 with a .368 OBP and 15 steals in 15 chances.

When Pennington was drafted, it was assumed that he would present the A's with a difficult decision to make in 2007 or 2008 in terms of whether to play him or Bobby Crosby at shortstop. In some ways, Pennington is what the A's expected when he was drafted. He is a scrappy hitter who sees a lot of pitches, gets on-base, steals bases at a high percentage and fields his position well. However, he hasn't developed any of the alley-power that the A's thought he would and he still struggles at times to play within himself.

Injuries prevented Pennington from developing as quickly as scouts thought he would and he wasn't a viable option for the A's for much of 2007 and 2008, despite Crosby's struggles. Even with Pennington's positive performance in 2008 (coupled with Crosby's disastrous 2008 performance), the A's still didn't feel comfortable giving Pennington a shot at the team's starting shortstop job. Oakland signed free agent Orlando Cabrera to play short and despite the fact that a myriad of A's infielders have seen time on the DL this season, Pennington has yet to get the call to the majors (those calls went to Gregorio Petit, Eric Patterson and Adam Kennedy instead). It isn't clear where Pennington stands in the A's overall depth chart these days. He may need another organization to give him a true opportunity in the big leagues.

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