The playoffs have begun in the various international winter leagues. We check in on the Venezuelan,…
A's Notes: Roster Changes and Winter Updates
The A's announced on Friday that they had inked three minor league free agents, right-handed pitcher Jason Karnuth, infielder Scott McClain and outfielder Doug Clark. All three players have been invited to spring training as non-roster invitees.
Karnuth comes to the A's via the Detroit Tigers organization, where he had spent the last two seasons. Karnuth, who will be 30 in May, was in the St. Louis organization from 1997-2002. He made a brief appearance in the major leagues with the Cardinals in 2001, and he allowed one run in five innings of work. He wouldn't appear in the big leagues again until last season, when he made three appearances with the Tigers. In total, Karnuth has thrown seven major league innings, allowing two runs on eight hits and four walks. He has one strike out.
Karnuth has more than 800 career minor league innings under his belt. He began his career as a starter, but he has been primarily a reliever since the 2001 season. Last year, Karnuth spent most of the season with the Tigers' AAA Toledo club, making 63 appearances and saving 23 games. Karnuth was 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA. However, he had only 36 strike outs in 67.2 innings of work. He was a teammate of Matt Roney at Toledo, whom the A's added to their 40-man roster earlier in the off-season.
Karnuth has always struggled to get strike outs (he has averaged only 4.80 per nine innings during his minor league career), but he makes up for that deficiency by inducing a lot of groundballs. His best pitch is his slider and although his fastball generally sits in the mid-80s, he gets good movement on it, especially down and in. He is a classic soft-tosser and relies heavily on his defense. However, he does a good job keeping hitters off-balance. He should serve as one of the Sacramento River Cats' middle relievers in 2006.
A's fans might be familiar with Scott McClain from his many exploits in the Cactus League with the Chicago Cubs each of the last two springs. McClain was especially outstanding in the spring of 2004, when he posted a 1237 OPS and almost pushed his way onto the Cubs' roster. After being one of the Cubs' final cuts in 2004, McClain chose to pursue opportunities in Japan. He returned to the Cubs' organization in 2005 and posted a 935 OPS for the AAA-Iowa Cubs. He was recalled to Chicago in late August and appeared in 13 games, earning 14 at-bats and collecting two hits.
McClain has been in professional baseball since 1990, when he was an 18 year-old late-round pick by the Baltimore Orioles. He was in the Orioles' chain until 1996 and has spent time with the New York Mets, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Colorado Rockies chains before landing with the Cubs in 2004. McClain made a brief major league appearance with the Devil Rays in 1998, when he had two hits in 20 at-bats. In 14 minor league seasons, McClain has more than 5,000 at-bats and 230 homeruns. He is a right-handed corner infielder who has hit more than 25 homeruns in six of his minor league seasons, including 30 last year. McClain will likely assume the role that minor league veteran Bobby Smith held with the River Cats in 2005.
Doug Clark is a familiar name to Bay Area A's fans who also follow the San Francisco Giants. Clark was an eight year veteran of the Giants' organization, and he made his major league debut in 2005 with the Giants. The speedy outfielder appeared in eight games for Felipe Alou's squad, scoring two runs. He didn't get a hit in five at-bats. Clark spent most of the 2005 season with the AAA-Fresno Grizzlies, where he hit .316 with 29 stolen bases and 13 homers. He stole a career-high 33 bases in 2004 for the Giants' AA team in Norwich. For his career, the left-handed hitting Clark is a .294 batter with 65 homeruns and 139 stolen bases in 953 games. Clark will likely give the River Cats depth in the outfield, which has lost Jack Cust, Shawn Garrett and utilityman Jermaine Clark.
Jason Perry, who was named by this site as the 19th best prospect in the A's system, was removed from the A's 40-man roster on Friday, lowering the list to 39 players and opening up the possibility that the A's will be making a signing sometime this week. Perry, who was acquired from Toronto for John-Ford Griffin in 2003, is a left-handed power hitter who struggled with his strike outs in 2005. Perry was one of the top power-hitters on the Midland Rockhounds' 2005 championship squad. He hit 22 homers and drove in 77 runs. He also struck out 126 times. Perry is a career .300 minor league hitter in four seasons.
Six Non-Roster Players Invited To Spring Training
The A's also announced on Friday that they have invited six additional non-roster players to the major league spring training camp: pitchers Adam Johnson and Alex Santos, outfielder Danny Putnam and infielders Cliff Pennington, Andrew Beattie and Keith Ginter.
Johnson, the 2000 first round draft choice by the Minnesota Twins, was signed by the A's late in the 2005, and he made four starts for the Sacramento River Cats, going 1-0 with a 6.23 ERA. Johnson was a minor league free agent after the end of the year, but he re-signed with Oakland. The A's will be trying to recapture the promise Johnson had when he was pitching for Cal-State Fullerton. Johnson had been pitching in the Dominican Winter League with the Lions of Escogido, but he returned to the US with an injury to his forearm and won't pitch again this winter season.
Santos was another minor league free agent signee in 2005, and he had a breakthrough year as a closer in the A's system. Santos was signed out of the Independent Leagues, and he racked up 26 saves for three different A's minor league teams during the season. He began the year in Stockton and allowed only one run in 16 innings before being promoted to Midland, where he spent most of the season. In 37 appearances for the Rockhounds, Santos had 17 saves and he struck out 46 in 42.2 innings. He finished the year in Sacramento, where he made three scoreless appearances. The only blight on Santos' season was a steroid suspension in July. The former Miami Hurricane has a good fastball and should be an important part of the River Cats' bullpen in 2006.
Beattie, like Johnson, was a minor league free agent, and he re-signed with the A's after a standout season with the Rockhounds and River Cats. The versatile Beattie had 11 homers and 72 runs batted in over 135 games for Midland and Sacramento. He also hit .294, although he did strike out 122 times. Beattie will be entering his ninth season as a pro.
Ginter had one of the most disappointing seasons of any A's player in 2005, and he was removed from the 40-man roster after the season ended. Ginter was acquired during the Winter League Meetings in 2004 from Milwaukee where he had 19 homers for the Brew-Crew. He was expected to be the A's starting second baseman, but he struggled in spring training and those struggles carried over into the regular season. He appeared in only 51 games with Oakland, hitting .161 with three homers and 25 runs batted in (he had more RBIs – 25 – then he did hits – 22). Ginter was eventually sent down to AAA, where he appeared in 14 games for the River Cats. He is a long-shot to make the A's 25-man roster out of spring training, but the A's will owe him more than $1 million and they could use a back-up third baseman to guard against Eric Chavez's sore right shoulder, so Ginter could earn a bench spot with a strong spring.
The final non-roster invitees are both a few years away from the big leagues, but both are on-track for a big league career. Putnam, a supplemental first round pick in 2004, was the only A's farmhand to collect at least 100 RBI in 2005. The Stanford alum hit .307 with 15 homers and an 867 OPS for the Stockon Ports before making a positive contribution to the Midland Rockhounds' line-up during their playoff run. Putnam won't turn 24 until September 2006 and he will probably spend most of the season in AA. He is a solid line-drive hitter who works the count well.
Pennington was the A's first round choice in 2005 and the A's had him go straight to low-A Kane County, where he received a lot of praise for his work with glove at short and at the plate in the lead-off spot. Pennington is a solid fielder with good range and a strong throwing arm. He is also a lead-off hitter in the traditional "spark-plug" mold. He doesn't have a lot of homerun power, but he works the count well, gets on-base at a good clip and steals a lot of bases. In fact, Pennington swiped 25 bags in only 69 games for the Cougars in 2005. If you combine his efforts from Texas A&M in 2005 with his pro stats, Pennington stole 56 bases in 125 games between college and the pros. He will likely start the year in A-Stockton, where he spent time during the Ports' playoff run in 2005.
Rincon To The Cards?
On Sunday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the St. Louis Cardinals were expected to announce the signing of A's reliever Ricardo Rincon to a free agent contract. If that report is true, it will end Rincon's 3.5 year tenure with the A's. The lefty was acquired for Marshall McDougal during the 2002 season and was an important part of the A's bullpen for the next three seasons as the A's situational lefty. In 2005, Rincon had his worst season with the A's, posting a 4.34 ERA in 67 games. He was mostly used for one or two batters at a time and pitched only 37.1 innings, his lowest total since 2001. With Rincon's departure, Barry Zito, Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis remain as the only members of the A's 20 straight-game winning squad of 2002.
Winter League Update
Freddie Bynum's stay with Escogido has been interrupted with an injury to the cartilage in his right shoulder and he has returned to the US to ensure that the problem isn't related to the problems he had with a blood clot in that right shoulder last off-season. If his health permits, Bynum could return to the Lions, who are managed by A's coach Bob Geren, at the end of the winter season.
In addition to Bynum and Johnson, there are number of other A's players who have donned the Lions' jersey this winter. Outfielder Matt Watson joined the team after Bynum went down with the injury, and he has five hits in 25 at-bats, including a triple. Alex Santos has made three appearances for the Lions and has allowed three runs in 3.1 innings of work. All three of those runs came in his last outing. Mario Ramos, who re-signed with the A's as a minor league free agent this winter, has been pitching well for the Lions. In six appearances, he has allowed five runs in 15 innings. He has allowed only 14 hits and four walks and has struck out 12.
A's relief prospect Jairo Garcia has been one of the stars of the Escogido pitching staff. The young righty has a 0.86 ERA in 21.1 innings of work. He has struck out 18, walked seven and has allowed only 10 hits. Garcia's slider has been particularly impressive this winter. He recently picked up his first save of the season, and he is the only pitcher on the Escogido squad with an ERA under 1.00 (with more than four appearances).
A's middle infielder Marco Scutaro continues to star for the Caracas Lions, for whom he played last season. Scutaro, who will be deciding between playing for his native Venezuela or his parents' native Italy in the World Baseball Classic, is hitting .333 with a 1015 OPS for the Lions. In 25 games, Scutaro has three homers, 15 runs batted in and 19 walks against 13 strike outs.
A's prospect Javier Herrera is a teammate of Scutaro's on the Lions. After a fast start, Herrera has struggled at the plate of late and has not been playing as regularly. His OPS is down to 742 after being in the 800s for most of the winter season. He has ten stolen bases in 11 chances, good for second in the league. A's shortstop prospect Gregorio Petit is also on the team, but he only has one at-bat thus far.
Newly acquired reliever Jason Karnuth is pitching for Naranjeros of Hermosillo, Erubiel Durazo's former club. Karnuth has excelled for Hermosillo this season, posting a 1.80 ERA in 18 appearances. He has allowed only 17 hits and five walks in 20 innings, while striking out 13. He has yet to allow a homerun and he has collected eight saves.
The A's are well-represented on Mochis, with three players who spent time in the A's organization in 2005 on the roster: Evan Fahrner, Marcus Gwyn and Nick Mattioni. Gwyn has appeared in nine games as a reliever, throwing 9.1 innings. He has allowed five runs, but has struck out eight. Mattioni is getting a chance to start, and he has done well. The right-hander has made four starts and has a 2.95 ERA in 21.1 innings. He has struck out 21 and has walked seven. Fahrner has made three starts and one relief appearance, allowing six runs in 9.2 innings of work.
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