Backstop Bonanza

Landon Powell could be a future All-Star (AP).

The recent announcement that former A's All-Star MVP catcher Terry Steinbach will be on this year's Hall of Fame ballot serves as a reminder the A's have had a strong tradition of catching talent since their arrival in Oakland in 1968. Off-season acquisition Jason Kendall will continue the A's tradition of strong back-stop play when he debuts with Oakland this season.

The best may be yet to come for the A's behind the plate, however. The A's currently boast a stable of promising catching prospects who all look poised to make an impact in the major leagues. OaklandClubhouse.com takes a look at the talented crop of A's minor league catchers.

Closest to the Major Leagues: John Baker

The former University of California standout had an outstanding 2004 season, catapulting him to the top of the A's minor league catching depth chart. Baker, a 2002 draft pick, hit .280 with 15 HR and 78 RBI in 117 games for Midland (AA). He was then promoted to Sacramento (AAA), where he made a strong contribution in only 14 games played, hitting .347 with 10 RBI over that time.

Baker may not be the most naturally talented catcher in the A's system, but he may the hardest working. He has improved at every level he has competed at and has a well-rounded game. He is improving defensively and holds his own at the plate. Baker could very well slide into the back-up catching role as soon as the second-half of 2005, if the A's decide to deal current back-up Adam Melhuse. As Baker is a left-handed hitter, he could be a good compliment to A's starter Jason Kendall. Barring any last minute trades, Baker will start the season in AAA. The A's will likely keep a close eye on Baker's progress and he could impact any mid-season dealing the A's participate in.

Most Similar to Current A's Starter Jason Kendall: Jeremy Brown

The star of the "Moneyball" draft storyline has had an up and down minor league career thus far. While he has struggled at times, Brown has shown flashes of being the type of hitter GM Billy Beane coveted so much during that 2002 draft. In addition to having an uncanny resemblance to the new A's starter, Brown is a similar to Kendall at the plate. He doesn't have a tremendous amount of homerun power, but Brown does drive the gaps well and he has a very disciplined approach at the plate. Like Kendall, Brown will probably hit in the top two spots of the line-up if he makes the major leagues.

With Kendall on board and Baker ahead of Brown on the depth chart, Brown's path to the major leagues may be blocked with the A's. However, he had a strong Arizona Fall League season and could move up the depth chart with a strong 2005 campaign in Sacramento.

Most Likely to be a Star Behind the Plate: Landon Powell

Powell, a 2004 first round draft choice, has drawn comparisons to another tall, switch-hitting catcher: Jason Varitek. Powell has a strong arm and good receiver skills behind the plate. Like the Red Sox captain, Powell has plus power from both sides of the plate and a good batting eye. Powell signed with the A's late, so he didn't have a chance to show all of his skills in Short-Season A Vancouver. However, he should be on a fast-track with Oakland and will likely start the season in High-A Stockton rather than Low-A Kane County. Powell could be the A's starting catcher as soon as 2007.

Most Likely to be a Star, Period: Daric Barton

The A's most recent acquisition could very well be the best pure hitter in the A's system. He is, at the very least, the best pure hitter under the age of 20. Barton is a left-handed hitting machine. Acquired in the Mark Mulder deal with St. Louis, Barton has drawn favorable comparisons as a hitter to another former St. Louis farmhand, Albert Pujols. In only 144 minor league games played, Barton has hit .305 with 17 HR, 144 RBI and has walked 106 times. He has also compiled an impressive career OPS of 913.

While Barton is a top prospect at the plate, he is still developing behind it. Barton split time between catcher and thirdbase in high school and is still somewhat of a catching novice. He moves well behind the plate, but his throwing has been hampered by right elbow surgery, which he underwent in January 2004. Barton could very well develop into a top-notch defensive catcher, but the A's may not want to wait for his glove to catch-up with his bat. With so many other catching prospects in the Oakland system, the A's may choose to move Barton to first or to the outfield so that he can get to the major leagues quicker. Barton will probably start the season in High-A Stockton, but the A's could decide to move him even quicker and start him in AA-Midland. If Barton continues to hit at the pace he demonstrated in his first two minor league seasons, he could be in Oakland as soon as 2006.

Most Likely to Become a Fan Favorite: Kurt Suzuki

Nicknamed "Kurt Klutch" at Cal-State Fullerton, catcher Kurt Suzuki has been described by many as a sparkplug. Suzuki and current A's farmhand Jason Windsor were widely credited for leading Fullerton to the 2004 College World Series title with their outstanding play in the College World Series. Suzuki, who won the Johnny Bench Award his senior season for being the best collegiate catcher, parlayed his strong 2004 season into being a second-round draft pick.

Suzuki signed early with Oakland and had a strong first season at Short-Season A Vancouver. At six feet, 200 pounds, Suzuki has a traditional catcher build and a traditional catcher game. He has good defensive skills and is purportedly an excellent game-caller. The Hawaii-native has always been a team leader and he has an effervescent personality. Suzuki may not have as high of a ceiling offensively as Powell or Barton, but he could be the most well-rounded catcher in the A's system. His major league ETA is 2007.

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