Jack Cust is finally an A (AP).
The A’s made a flurry of roster moves on Friday in anticipation of the Rule V Draft in early December. Oakland added four minor leaguers to the 40-man roster and signed seven six-year minor league free agents. They have also said goodbye to a number of their own six-year minor league free agents.
Oakland chose to add four members of their minor league system to the team’s 40-man roster, protecting them from being drafted in the Rule V Draft. Catchers John Baker and Jeremy Brown were added along with reliever Chris Mabeus and outfielder Jason Perry. Baker and Brown are expected to play the 2005 season in Sacramento and challenge for playing time in Oakland in 2006. Both catchers were members of the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League. They acquitted themselves well in the prospect-laden league, both compiling averages over .300.
Perry also played for Phoenix this fall. Although he struggled with his batting average, Perry showed excellent power and would have been a good candidate to be drafted in the Rule V Draft. Perry will enter 2005 as one of the A’s top outfield prospects after a monster season in Modesto (A).
Mabeus, who was not protected last year and was drafted and later returned by the Texas Rangers, should compete for a spot in the A’s bullpen during spring training. Mabeus is coming off of a stellar season in relief for Midland (AA) and Sacramento (AAA). Mabeus is spending the off-season playing in Mexico for Hermosillo. The A’s still have three open spots on their 40-man roster.
On Friday, the A’s announced the signings of seven six-year minor league free agents: Jermaine Clark, Hiram Bocachica, Jack Cust, Shawn Garrett, Evan Fahrner, Jimmy Serrano and Billy Sylvester. All of them were invited to spring training.
First baseman/DH Jack Cust is probably the most intriguing name on this list. Cust, who was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ first round pick in 1997, was one of the top prospects in all of baseball in 2002. A slugger with good patience at the plate, Cust was seen as a potential trade target for A’s GM Billy Beane during the 2002 off-season. Cust has struggled since 2002, but will be only 26 on Opening Day and could still develop into a top-notch major league power hitter (think: John Jaha from the left-side). Cust’s signing likely signals the end of the A’s relationship with former PCL MVP Graham Koonce. Koonce and Cust are similar players, but Cust is five years younger than Koonce. Koonce is a six-year minor league free agent. Cust will probably spend the season in AAA-Sacramento. However, if the A’s decide to trade or non-tender DH Erubiel Durazo, Cust may stick on the A’s roster as a DH and left-handed pinch-hitter. Cust hit .235 with 15 doubles, one triple, 17 home runs and 55 RBIs in 102 games for AAA-Ottawa last season.
Jermaine Clark and Hiram Bocachica are familiar names for Bay Area baseball fans. Clark is a former standout from Vacaville (Wood High School) and the University of San Francisco. Clark actually replaced Jermaine Dye as Wood High School’s rightfielder and best player back in the mid-1990s. Clark has spent time in the Seattle, Detroit, Texas, San Diego and, most recently, Cincinnati organizations. He is a utility player who hits from both sides of the plate and can play in the infield and outfield. He also brings good speed to the bench. Clark will be given an opportunity to win a spot on the A’s bench in spring training, but will most likely spend the season in AAA-Sacramento.
Bocachica is a veteran of the Dodgers, Tigers and Mariners organizations. He split the 2004 season between Seattle and AAA-Tacoma. Bocachica is a speedy lefthanded outfielder, who has a career .285 minor league batting average with 200 stolen bases. Bocachica isn’t likely to make the A’s 25-man roster, but he adds veteran depth to the Sacramento RiverCats’ roster.
Garrett is a 26 year-old switch-hitting outfielder who had an excellent season for the Colorado Rockies’ AA and AAA affiliates last season. He batted .307 with 16 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs and 51 RBIs in 103 games in AA before being promoted to AAA and hitting .371 with three home runs and 22 RBIs in 30 games. Garrett has spent time in the San Diego and Pittsburgh organizations. He will help fill out the RiverCats’ outfield, which will be thin with the departures of Mike Edwards and Jon Weber (more on that later) and possible promotions of Nick Swisher, Matt Watson and/or Freddie Bynum.
Oakland also added some AAA pitching depth with three minor league free agent signings. Evan Fahrner is a righthanded reliever who comes to the A’s from the Chicago Cubs’ organization. Fahrner has had an excellent K/9 ratio in his minor league career, but, at 27, was old for AA last season. Nonetheless, he should provide depth in either the RiverCats’ or RockHounds’ bullpens.
Jimmy Serrano spent last season in the Kansas City organization. He had an excellent season for AA Wichita, compiling a 1.96 ERA in eleven starts. However, he struggled in AAA as a reliever. Serrano was promoted to Kansas City late in the season and split time between the Royals’ bullpen and starting rotation. He average 6.89 K in 9 innings over his 32 innings pitched for KC. Serrano made five starts and five relief appearances in the majors. He will be 28 entering next season and will likely be a starter in the Sacramento rotation. Serrano could serve as an emergency starter for Oakland in the same capacity as the now-injured Kirk Saarloos did for the A’s last season.
Billy Sylvester is coming off of an excellent season as a reliever in the Texas Rangers’ organization. A veteran also of the Atlanta Braves’ organization, the 27 year old right-hander had an excellent K/9 ratio last season. He struggled as a starter in AAA, but will likely be kept in the bullpen in the A’s organization.
The A’s have also lost a few familiar faces to other organizations as six-year minor league free agents. Former A’s assistant general manager Paul DePodesta used his familiarity with the A’s organization to sign three former RiverCats: catcher Mike Rose and outfielders Mike Edwards and Jon Weber.
With the expected departure of Damian Miller, many thought the A’s would keep Rose and give him a chance to make the A’s roster as at least a back-up catcher to Adam Melhuse. This non-signing may signal that the A’s are looking for a starting catcher to start over Melhuse rather then making the switch-hitter the primary catcher. Edwards and Weber were both good hitters, but were old for their leagues. Although they were excellent AAA players, neither was expected to have a great shot at making the A’s 25-man roster next season. They may have that opportunity in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers may be losing Steve Finley and Milton Bradley.
The A’s also lost infielder Esteban German and pitcher Shane Bazzell to the Texas Rangers’ organization. German spent parts of the past three seasons with Oakland. A speedy runner with a decent glove, German was also an excellent AAA hitter, regularly posting averages over .300. However, German could never get his bat going in Oakland and with Mark Ellis returning from injury and Marco Scutaro emerging as a solid major league back-up. German had fallen deeper down the A’s infield depth chart.
Shane Bazzell is coming off of a stellar season at AA-Midland. At 25, he was a little old for AA. However, he is left-handed and has shown the ability to pitch in the starting rotation and the bullpen. He wasn’t likely to get a chance to break the A’s starting rotation anytime soon, but Bazzell should have a chance to challenge for a back-end rotation or long-relief slot for Texas by 2006.