OaklandClubhouse Mailbag #7

The postman has arrived and we are here to answer your questions. This week, Senior Editor Melissa Lockard handles questions about top prospects Daric Barton, Jairo Garcia and Danny Putnam. Remember that you can submit your mailbag questions to oaklandclubhouse@yahoo.com

After a week's hiatus, we begin this edition of the OaklandClubhouse.com Mailbag with two questions from Drew of San Rafael, CA:

What do you see from Daric Barton so far in his first year with the A's organization? How is the move to first base going? Is he the real deal and what is his ETA?

So far, Barton has displayed a number of the qualities that made him such a prize in the mind of the A's front office brass. He uses all sides of the field well, and has great balance at the plate and a very advanced understanding of the strike zone. His on-base percentage has been above .400 for much of the season and he has only struck out 39 times in 64 games – a great number for a 19-year-old.

Barton has not shown tremendous power yet, as he is only slugging at a .390 clip. However, power is generally the last skill to develop for a young player and Barton is at the early stages of his development. He has had to deal with a pair of spring training ailments that slowed his development and he is busy learning a new position. Couple those distractions with the fact that he is one of the youngest players in the California League and I think you'd have to be impressed with what Barton has accomplished this season. He has the makings of a great player.

As for his ETA at the major league level, that is a little hard to determine. If the A's decide to promote Barton to AA during the 2005 season, he could be in the major leagues by September 2006. However, with Barton being so young, it is more likely that the A's will take their time with him, in which case, mid-season 2007 or early 2008 might be a safer bet. Even if Barton waits to make his debut in 2008, he will still be only 22 at the start of that year.

With Jairo Garcia's momentous rise through the minors, despite his recent struggles at AAA Sacramento, do you think it's reasonable to have him in the A's bullpen in 2006 setting up for Huston Street?

It seems very likely that Garcia will be working in some major league bullpen next season, but it remains to be seen whether that bullpen will be the A's bullpen or someone else's. Over the past two seasons, Garcia has done all the A's could have hoped for in terms of his development as a pitcher. He started off the 2004 season as a project and finished it as one of the A's top pitching prospects. After some struggles at the end of the season and during spring training, the A's sent Garcia down to AA to work on his control and to regain the confidence he had lost at the end of last year. He was extremely effective at Midland, earning a promotion to AAA by striking out 30 batters in only 16.2 innings.

After his promotion to Sacramento, Garcia has continued to show impressive strike out totals, but he has allowed a few more hits and runs. His control has improved from the end of last season, but he still has some work to do on working in the strike zone. So far this year, Garcia has walked 16 batters in 31.2 innings between AA and AAA. He has also been victimized for three homeruns, all of which have come when he fell behind in the count.

There is no question that Garcia has major league stuff. He has a tremendous fastball with plus velocity and a slider that has drawn comparisons to Octavio Dotel's (when Dotel is healthy). What remains to be seen is whether he can master the mental aspect of pitching in the major leagues. Garcia is five months older than Street, but he isn't at the same maturity level on the mound as is the precocious Street. The A's have had a number of relief prospects over the years with similar backgrounds and stuff as Garcia. Relief prospects like Jesus Colome, Luis Vizcaino, and Franklyn German were all heralded, hard-throwing prospects in the A's chain. All three were traded, in part because their status as top prospects allowed the A's to get good veteran players for them and in part because all three, like Garcia, struggled with their command.

All of this is a long way of saying that there is a decent chance that Garcia will be traded sometime this season. With the emergence of Huston Street as the clear choice for "closer of the future" (and the present), Garcia is likely to have a future as a set-up man rather than a closer in the A's bullpen. As the A's learned last season, set-up men can be very important; however, if the A's can entice a team to give them "closer value" in return for Garcia, the A's may pull the trigger on a deal. Already Garcia's name has come up in trade discussions for the Colorado Rockies' Joe Kennedy and his name may surface in future talks if the Kennedy deal doesn't go through.

If I was a bettor, I'd put the odds at 60% that Garcia is traded by the end of the year. If he does remain with the A's, look for him to start the 2006 season as a middle reliever for Oakland. If he succeeds in that role, he could be teaming with Kiko Calero in the 7th and 8th innings by the end of the year.

Isn't it time for the A's to promote Danny Putnam to AA? He is too old at 23 for the California League.

Simon, Montreal

Putnam, who was a supplemental first round pick by the Oakland A's last season, is having a very nice season for the Stockton Ports thus far. He leads the team in RBIs with 52 and is slugging .455. He was the first A's position player drafted last season to be promoted past short-season Vancouver, so the A's are certainly not afraid to move Putnam along quickly. Right now, however, Putnam is blocked a bit by a talented corps of outfielders in Midland. Andre Ethier, Brian Stavisky, Jason Perry and Steve Stanley are all having strong seasons for the Rockhounds. Until one of those guys is promoted to AAA, there simply isn't room for Putnam on the Midland roster. It does seem likely that one of those four will find their way to Sacramento over the next month or two and Putnam is the most likely candidate on the Ports roster to be promoted. It should also be noted that Stockton outfielder Dustin Majewski is having a very good season in the Stockton outfield, as well, and could also gain consideration for a promotion to AA.

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