OaklandClubhouse Mailbag # 12

OaklandClubhouse Mailbag # 12

Our mailbag returns with questions about potential September call-ups, prospects who could challenge for a roster spot next spring, rating the performances of the A's rookies and more. Todd Morgan answers the questions weighing on the minds of our readers.

Who else do you think the A's might call up in September once the minor league playoffs are over?
-Glenn, San Francisco

I think Ron Flores is a lock, and I felt the same about a third catcher, which happened on Thursday. The Alberto Castillo call-up gives Ken Macha someone who can spell Jason Kendall and get Adam Melhuse into the lineup more often.

I can also see the A's adding another utility player like Hiram Bocachica or Jermaine Clark. Jack Cust is a possibility for his pop, as is Mike Rouse for his ability to play shortstop in the wake of Bobby Crosby's ankle injury.

Finally, Charles Thomas could get a call to give the team defensive help in the outfield.

Since I've done nothing but give a bunch of "maybes", here are my concrete predictions aside from the three that have already been recalled (Castillo, Juan Cruz and Matt Watson): Ron Flores, Hiram Bocachica and Mike Rouse.

Why was Daric Barton sent to the Arizona Fall League instead of being a MLB call-up? What do you think of the A's Arizona Fall League players?
-Jeff, Fremont

The easy answer to this question: Jairo Garcia. Sure, one is a hitter and one is a pitcher, but the key here is the developmental arc. Bear with me.

Garcia began 2004 in A-ball before making a meteoric rise through the A's farm system. The big league club, desperate for bullpen help, bought into the hype surrounding Jairo and handed him a Major League job. His performance for Oakland was predictably bad. I think we all hoped that he would turn into a green-and-gold version of K-Rod, but 21 year-olds who are capable of dominating big league hitters are exceedingly rare.

The major downside is that the A's probably stunted Jairo's growth with that premature promotion. There he was, dominating at every level and building confidence in his stuff… then all of a sudden he was getting torn up in the big leagues. His command, which was already an area that needed improvement, disappeared. It's clear now that he needed more time in AAA.

Rushing Barton could have a similar effect, and I don't think the A's want any part of that. It's a risk versus reward scenario, and the probability of Barton making a positive impact on the big league standings this year was remote. Remember that he, like Garcia last season, began the year in A-ball. He is on the fast-track due to his skill, but the A's will not rush him for fear of damaging his growth curve.

Do you see any current A's prospects challenging for a spot on the Opening Day roster next year like Huston Street, Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton did this year?
-Greg, Denver

In short, no. To answer this question properly one must consider potential holes on the big league club as well as any particular prospect's polish and talent. Right now, the organization doesn't have any prospects that have already performed well at AAA for a full season. As I already mentioned, pitchers like Street are a rarity, so it falls to the prospect pipeline.

Last year, the River Cats boasted three legitimate prospects that had strong full seasons for them in Blanton, Swisher and Dan Johnson. This year the only two that even come close are Dan Meyer and Jairo Garcia. Meyer has had a very disappointing year and is hurt again, which makes Garcia the most likely candidate. Don't get me wrong though; Garcia has command issues he still needs to iron out and certainly has not mastered AAA. He does, however, fit the profile that this year's rookies fit: He's young, talented and plays a position at which the big league club might have a need.

There are a few long-shots at AA worthy of mention. Andre Ethier, for one, who could play leftfield if the A's don't have Jay Payton next year. Daric Barton is also a possibility, though he'd need to have a monster spring to convince the A's he's ready for the big-time. In both cases it isn't likely that the A's will want to risk development, which means the stars will have to align for either one to skip AAA.

Who do you think the A's best rookie has been this season?
-Jennifer, Merced

I'm going to go with Huston Street. It's easy to say that his performance is less impressive because he's a relief pitcher, but Oakland fans need only look back to last year's bullpen to recognize Street's value. Let's review his numbers: In 65 2/3 innings he has allowed 39 hits, 9 earned runs and 23 walks. He is 18-for-22 in save chances, but two of those blown "chances" came as a setup man – one in the 7th inning, the other when he allowed a single hit after entering the game with a Juan Cruz mess on the bases. And the rest of his numbers are Eck-like: 63 strikeouts, a 1.23 ERA and a .173 opponents' average against. That ranks him among the best closers in baseball.

I don't want to take away from what the other guys have done. Johnson has been a professional hitter ever since his call-up. He has smart ABs almost every time he steps in the batter's box and does an excellent job of recognizing pitches (Eric Chavez could learn a thing or two). I'm not sure what his ceiling is, but right now I think it's the pre-steroids Jason Giambi level of productivity. Figure 20-25 homers, nice on-base percentage and a strong effect on the rest of the lineup through his ability to see lots of pitches and wear the opposing team out.

Joe Blanton has shocked me with his improvement this year. Just shocked me. When I watched his start in Tampa on May 25th (seven earned runs in 1/3 of an inning) I thought he would never be more than a #5 starter. His command was poor, his breaking stuff was too predictable and his fastball too straight. Wow, was I wrong, or what? He has improved a little bit in every start this summer and turned himself into a battler who is able to get outs on willpower alone. He could wind up winning 14-17 games at his peak.

Finally, Nick Swisher has provided spark and power, though I think he doesn't quite measure up to the other three. Still, it is very encouraging that he has improved so much during the season. For one, he seems to be getting better jumps and taking better routes defensively, with fewer of those madman dives that look full of effort but cost the team two extra bases. He also has had more strings of good ABs, though he has not eliminated the bad ones where he over-swings or goes after bad pitches in hitters' counts. The power is there. The patience he displayed in college and in the minors is not. At least not yet.

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