More than 500 readers logged on to cast their votes on who the best A’s minor league players were in 2004. Today, we will announce the readers’ picks for best outfielders and tomorrow we will announce the OaklandClubhouse.com staff’s picks for top outfielders. Over the next ten days, we will announce the winners in the best infielder, best starting pitcher and best reliever categories.
As much success as the A’s organization has had in developing top-notch players at the infield and starting pitching spots, the A’s have had that many struggles producing quality outfield prospects over the past eight years. Since left-fielder Ben Grieve won the American League Rookie of the Year in 1998, the A’s have mostly struck out with their outfield prospects. However, the A’s have a crop of minor league outfielders climbing the ranks of the organizational ladder who could make a strong impact on the A’s soon. Our readers picked three outfielders who are among the best of this new wave of outfield prospects.
Without further adieu, the Best A’s Minor League Outfielders for 2004 as voted on by the readers are:
*Note: readers were allowed to vote for three players in each category
1. Nick Swisher – 407 votes
Nick Swisher was our readers’ overwhelming choice for top A’s minor league outfielder for 2004. The switch-hitting outfielder from Ohio State spent most of the season in AAA-Sacramento as the RiverCats’ starting centerfielder. He had a standout season for Sacramento, posting a 943 OPS. Swisher mashed 29 homeruns and had 60 XBH in only 443 at-bats for the RiverCats. He also posted an impressive .406 OBP, drawing 103 walks. Swisher did strikeout 106 times, but when he made contact, it was usually productive, as he drove in 92 runs in only 125 games played. Although he will likely play a corner outfield position in the major leagues, Swisher handled centerfield well in the PCL.
Swisher was promoted to the major leagues in September and had a number of big hits in his late-season call-up. Swisher won over a lot of fans with his toughness in the field and that toughness was exemplified further when Swisher announced after the end of the season that he had played all of the 2004 season with a broken thumb. He had reconstructive surgery in October and should be back healthy before spring training. Swisher projects to make the A’s 25-man roster in 2005 and challenge for a starting position.
2. Nelson Cruz – 284 votes
Nelson Cruz was one of the A’s most pleasant surprises in 2004. A former farmhand in the New York Mets’ organization, Cruz had spent two relatively unproductive seasons in the lower ranks of the A’s organization before coming into the 2004 season. However, the 24-year old outfielder zoomed through A-Modesto and AA-Midland with extremely impressive performances in both locations. Cruz posted a 989 and a 919 OPS in Modesto and Midland, respectively. He hit a combined 25 homeruns for both clubs and drove in 97 runs. Cruz also posted .343 and .313 batting averages. He had a short stint with Sacramento at the end of the year, and he will likely spend the 2005 season as a RiverCat.
A five-tool outfielder, Cruz will enter the 2005 season near the top of the A’s minor league depth chart for outfielders. He is competing in the Dominican Winter League this off-season and with a strong showing there and a strong start to his 2005 season in Sacramento, Cruz could get a mid-season look in Oakland, especially if the A’s are still looking for a right-handed power bat. Cruz will be 25 next season and was added to the A’s 40-man roster after the end of the season.
3. Jason Perry – 214 votes
Jason Perry’s season started off slowly, but after an early season demotion to A-Modesto, Perry posted monster numbers for the Lil’ A’s. Perry started the season in AA-Midland, but struggled with a .198 batting average. Sent back to Modesto, Perry responded with a .338 batting average, 24 homers and 80 RBIs in only 83 games played. Those numbers translated to a mind-boggling 1117 OPS for Modesto.
Perry, who was acquired from Toronto for Corey Lidle, was a little too old for A ball last season. However, he still has time to be an effective major league player if he can show that he can compete against a higher level of competition next season. He competed in the Arizona Fall League this off-season and produced mixed results. Perry struggled at times to make contact against the prospect-laden AFL pitching staffs, but he did show good power. He was impressive enough to convince the A’s to protect him in the Rule V Draft by adding him to the 40-man roster. Perry will likely start the season in AA-Midland, but if he starts strong, he could be in-line for a mid-season promotion to AAA-Sacramento.