Oakland Clubhouse Mailbag: Hawaii 5-O Edition

In our first mailbag of the new year, we field a pair of questions about two Hawaiian natives. Do the A's have an all-Hawaiian battery in their future? Find out in this edition of Oakland Clubhouse Mailbag. And don't forget to send in your questions to oaklandclubhouse@yahoo.com.

I was in a debate saying Jason Kendall and Adam Melhuse are a great one-two punch at catcher for the A's. With a very good prospect in the farm system, Kurt Suzuki drafted out of Cal State Fullerton. My question is how is he coming along? And does his future look bright? (Meaning will we ever see him in the green and gold?)
John, Monterey, CA

Well, I think it is hard to classify the A's current catching situation as a one-two punch since Jason Kendall plays nearly everyday, but I think, especially from a game-calling perspective, the A's are in good shape for 2006 at the backstop position. The A's are counting on Kendall to perform better at the plate then he did in 2005, and if his September was any indication, he should be closer to the hitter he was in Pittsburgh next year and the A's will then have acceptable production from their catching position.

The main point of your question centered around catching prospect and 2004 draft pick Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki spent his first full professional season with the high-A Stockton Ports of the California League. Suzuki was originally slated to play at low-A Kane County, but was pushed up a level to the Ports when he had a strong showing during major league spring training camp and fellow 2004 draft pick Landon Powell was sidelined with a knee injury.

Suzuki played the entire season at age 21 and held his own offensively. He hit mostly in the .280s until a late-season slump brought his average down to its final total at .277. He also showed good power, posting a .440 slugging percentage and collecting 43 extra-base hits. Perhaps most impressive, especially considering his age, was his discerning eye at the plate. Suzuki collected 63 walks against only 61 strikeouts and posted a .378 on-base percentage. The right-handed hitting Suzuki was especially effective versus left-handed pitching, hitting southpaws at a .317 clip and collecting 17 extra-base hits in 120 at-bats.

Surprisingly, Suzuki struggled for most of the year defensively. He finished tied for third in all of the minor leagues with 15 errors from the catching position and he also struggled with passed balls. Footwork was his main problem, as it caused him to have trouble getting in front of balls and caused problems with his throwing. I say that this was a surprising development because Suzuki was considered a strong defensive catcher in college and had played well behind the plate during spring training.

Suzuki is certainly on a good path towards getting to Oakland in the near future. He should start the 2006 season at AA-Midland and he could be major league-ready by 2007. Whether he is ready for the big leagues that soon will have a lot to do with his defense. Suzuki has the arm strength and athleticism to be a good catcher, so hopefully he'll get the instruction and repetition necessary to improve with his glove. He has been a very durable catcher during his young career thus far, and if that continues, he should have plenty of reps to get better quickly.

So, long answer short, I believe that Suzuki is coming along quite well and has a strong chance to be in the green and gold in the near future. And with Kendall's contract up after the 2007 season, the A's will have an opening for a new catcher soon.

Do you see pitcher Shane Komine as a starter or a reliever down the road?
Matt, Lincoln, NE

As you probably read in our recent profile of Komine, the right-hander is little over a year removed from Tommy John surgery, but is feeling 100%. Because of the surgery, Komine missed the second half of the 2004 season and more than half of the 2005 season. He recovered to have a strong finish with AA-Midland and the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League as a starter in 2005, so hopefully his health problems are in the past.

Komine has the talent to be a back of the rotation starter in the big leagues. He throws with good velocity (mid-90s) and has good secondary pitches that are teamed with a deceptive delivery. However, he has struggled with injuries both in the college and now in the minor leagues. Consequently, his arm may be best suited for the bullpen, where the A's can minimize his wear and tear.

I believe the A's will keep Komine in the starting rotation at least to begin the 2005 season with AAA-Sacramento. Whether he stays in the rotation or is pushed to the bullpen will have a lot to do with his health and with the A's needs at the major league level.

You've got questions? We'd like to answer them. Drop us a line at oaklandclubhouse@yahoo.com. Please include your first name and hometown.

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