A number of Oakland A's prospects got their 2005 campaigns off to a good start. We take a look at…
OaklandClubhouse.com Mailbag #3
Jim, Fremont, CA
After a rough close to his otherwise stellar 2004 season and a mediocre stint in the Dominican Winter League this off-season, A's relief prospect Jairo Garcia is back to doing what he does best: blow hitters away. Garcia was sent to AA-Midland with two missions – improve his control and improve his composure on the mound. So far, he looks to be on his way to improving in both areas.
Despite throwing only 10.2 innings this season, Garcia is sixth among all Texas League pitchers (including starters with double the number of innings) with 16 strikeouts. He leads the league with a K/9 ratio of over 14. The flame-throwing righty has converted all three of his save opportunities and recently worked three shut-out innings in an extra-inning contest. Garcia has held opposing batters to a .162 batting average and has walked only six batters (three of which came during his first two outings).
Garcia reminds many observers of current A's closer Octavio Dotel with the way that he combines a high-90s fastball with a wicked slider. Although Huston Street has gotten a jump-start on Garcia at the major league level, Garcia could still well be the A's closer of the future. At the very least, the A's hope that he and Street will make a deadly late-inning combination, perhaps as soon as 2006.
Billy Beane seems to be enamored with players like Bobby Kielty, Eric Byrnes, and Scott Hatteberg, but these guys would be role players on a championship team, not middle-of-the-lineup guys like they are in Oakland. Considering the team's lack of run production, isn't it time to give a chance to prospects like Dan Johnson and perhaps Andre Ethier? They have nothing to lose.
Simon, Montreal, Canada
Ah, the frustrations of watching a team post a collective 651 OPS and hit only 16 homeruns through 22 games played. There is no doubt that the A's have been incredibly difficult to watch on offense this season. But as Adam Miller pointed out in his first "Inside the Stats" column last Thursday, almost all of the A's hitters are performing well below their established major league norms. It is easy to look at Ethier's .400 batting average or Johnson's 2004 season and dream about what numbers like those would look like in the A's currently anemic batting order. But you can never really tell how those numbers will translate in the major leagues. Remember that Bobby Kielty and Eric Byrnes are only a few years removed from being high-performing minor league players themselves. And despite Kielty and Byrnes' struggles, they have had success at the major league level during their careers. You also have to take into account the fact that Oakland is counting on Bobby Crosby and Nick Swisher to take over the chore of protecting Eric Chavez in the A's line-up as soon as the have had enough major league experience to fell comfortable hitting fourth or fifth on a regular basis.
Right now, it is just too early for Oakland to cast away their established major league veterans for a full collection of minor league call-ups. It also wouldn't be fair to many of the A's prospects to call them up at this point. Johnson may be close to being major league ready, but Ethier is only 20 games removed from high-A. He'll need to show that he can keep up his early season pace for at least half a year before he would even be considered for AAA, let alone the major leagues.
That being said, the A's have never been shy about advancing their best prospects if their play warrants the promotion. That's why Huston Street is the first 2004 draft pick to play at the major league level and that is also why Mark Mulder and Barry Zito arrived in the major leagues with very little minor league experience. If one of the A's prospects has a tremendous first half of the season, he very well could find himself in Oakland after the All-Star break. And if the A's are out of contention at that point, there could be more than a few prospects called up in August as some of the veterans are traded away.
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