Prospect Mailbag: Moving On Up?

Would Dominguez be next in line for A's rotation?

In this week's Prospect Mailbag, Todd Morgan answers a nervous fan's question about candidates to replace Esteban Loaiza in the rotation; an inquiry about the progress of Richie Robnett; and a question about how Justin Sellers matches-up with Cliff Pennington...

With Esteban Loaiza's struggles, I've been thinking about the Sacramento rotation.
Who is the most likely from the Chad Gaudin-Shane Komine-Juan Dominguez-Dan Meyer group to get a call if Loaiza can't improve?

-Jeff, Sacramento

Tough call. Right now I don't think Komine is ready for a big league start. In fact, I think he's ticketed for the bullpen where he can pump his velocity up for short stints a la Tom Gordon. Meyer is struggling and nowhere near a call-up, which leaves Gaudin and Dominguez. I'll state right away that I'm a big Dominguez fan and would rather he get the call, but let's look at it objectively.

First, Esteban Loaiza is in the first year of a three-year, $21 million contract, which means he will get every chance to iron out his problems and get on track. Second, even if the A's do shelve Loaiza for a start or two, they may decide to move Kirk Saarloos into the rotation and bring someone up to fill a bullpen spot. If that happens, Jairo, err, Santiago Casilla is in the mix for the call.

If the A's want to keep Saarloos in the ‘pen, Dominguez will probably be the guy. He has 17 career starts in the Majors, as opposed to Gaudin's 10, and has worked primarily as a starter in his career. Gaudin has shifted back and forth from starting to relief, and last year hitters blew him up in the first season in which most of his big league work came as a starter. The fact that the A's are using Gaudin as a starter in Sacramento is a bit puzzling because he profiles as a reliever and has had much more success at higher levels coming out of the bullpen. He is a two-pitch (fastball, slider) pitcher who, so far, has been unable to develop a changeup, so maybe they're allowing him to work on that third pitch.

Dominguez already has three pitches and, at this point, could go either the rotation or relief route. So I'll say Juan Dominguez, but with a plethora of caveats.

I saw that Richie Robnett is back in Stockton for a second year. What are the A's looking from him in Stockton before he moves up to AA?

-Kevin, Fremont

For a college guy, Robnett is still pretty raw. He turned his performance up a notch during the second half of 2005 (14 homers in 60 games), so my guess is that the A's want him to build on that improvement and polish aspects of his game that most college draftees would have under control at his age and stage of development.

For example, he needs work on his outfield routes, especially in center, and he needs to make contact more at the plate. Also, like all other A's minor leaguers, the A's want him to work on his control of the strike zone. I believe that if he shows even slight improvement at Stockton – lower K rate, a few more walks and better reads and routes on fly balls – he'll be in Midland by mid-year, and possibly as early as June.

Justin Sellers is off to a fast start for Kane County. What is his ceiling? Is he someone who can challenge Cliff Pennington's status as the A's top SS prospect?

-Phil, Pasadena

Sellers is a guy who has a tremendous work ethic and baseball instincts, but whose size will betray him through the end of his career. He's a bit smaller than Pennington, doesn't have any room to get bigger and has never shown the pop that Pennington has shown.

Their on-base skills are similar, with a slight nod to Pennington's eye and ability to hit for average. That's really true of most evaluation points – Pennington has a slight edge across the board. Sellers is a tick slower and isn't the basestealing threat that Pennington is, has a bit less range on defense (though his range is a definite strength), and doesn't switch hit.

I'd say Sellers's ceiling is probably as a reserve in the Marco Scutaro vein, whereas Pennington could be Chuck Knoblauch (.290/.380/.400) without the mental breakdowns on defense.

Have questions about Oakland A's prospects? Email them to oaklandclubhouse@yahoo.com. Be sure to include your first name and your home city.

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