OaklandClubhouse 2008 Mid-Season Awards: Ps

OaklandClubhouse 2008 Mid-Season Awards: Ps

With half of the minor league season gone, it is time for us to look back and acknowledge the players who shined during the first part of the season. In the first of a two-part series, we hand out the awards for the top-five starters and top-six relievers in the Oakland A's system, based on their first-half performances.

STARTING PITCHERS

Craig Italiano, Kane County Cougars:

After two major injuries curtailed his 2006 and 2007 seasons, Italiano has been healthy in 2008 and dominant. The A's 2005 second round pick breezed through the first half of the season to the tune of a 7-0 record and a 1.09 ERA. Italiano struck-out 76 in 66 innings and allowed only two homeruns. He was so good in May that he didn't allow an earned run in 31 innings. In 14 starts this season, he hasn't allowed more than three runs in any one outing. That effort earned him a start in the Midwest League All-Star game.

The only blemish on his otherwise perfect stat-line this season has been his walk totals, which have climbed as Italiano has worked on mixing in more of his off-speed pitches and on locating his fastball. His velocity – clocked in the mid-90s – has been encouraging given the shoulder surgery that he underwent in 2006, and he hasn't shown any ill effects from the line-drive that hit him in the head last season.

Through Monday, Italiano had thrown 70 innings. Before the season started, the A's brass indicated that they would limit Italiano to roughly 100 innings, as he threw only 30 innings in 2006 and 2007 combined. Given those innings restrictions, Italiano may not pitch during the final few weeks of the season. Nevertheless, assuming he is healthy next season, Italiano's effort in 2008 should be a springboard for him to move up the A's system more rapidly in 2009. Despite being three years removed from his draft day, Italiano will only turn 22 in July, so the future is bright for the hard-throwing right-hander.

Trevor Cahill, Stockton Ports:

Cahill, the A's 2006 top pick, dominated the hitter-friendly California League during the first half of the 2008 season. The 20-year-old posted a 2.78 ERA and struck-out an incredible 103 batters in only 87.1 innings for the Stockton Ports during the first half of the year. Cahill had two poor outings of 14 appearances for the Ports, during which he allowed 13 runs in 10 innings. In his other 12 outings, Cahill gave-up only 14 runs in 77.1 innings. He struck-out at least eight batters in half of his outings and allowed one run or less in nine outings. Cahill was particularly dominating away from the Ports' home park, posting a 0.89 ERA in 50.1 road innings.

At the end of the first half, Cahill was promoted to Double-A Midland. On Friday, he made his debut for the Rockhounds, tossing six solid innings (one run on two hits with six strike-outs and three walks) and earning his first win in the Texas League. Through Sunday, Cahill's 109 strike-outs led all pitchers in minor league baseball. He was a candidate to start the California League-Carolina League All-Star game before he was promoted to Double-A.

Unlike Italiano, Cahill doesn't light-up the radar gun, but he can reach 93 MPH when he needs a little extra on his fastball. More than velocity, Cahill relies on the downward movement on his fastball and an array of off-speed pitches to keep hitters off-balance and swinging and missing. Cahill just turned 20 in March, so he is still growing into his 6'3'' frame, which means he may add velocity over the next year or so. Even if he doesn't add any MPH to his fastball, Cahill figures to fare well as he moves through the system given that he is a heavily groundball-oriented pitcher who can get a strike-out when he needs it. The A's won't rush Cahill, but if he continues to dominate, he could see Triple-A by the end of the year. More likely than not, however, Cahill will spend the rest of the season in Double-A.

Vince Mazzaro, Midland Rockhounds:

Mazzaro began the season as the youngest pitcher on the Rockhounds' staff, but he has been the team's ace from the first week of the season on. After an up-and-down season at High-A Stockton in 2007, Mazzaro has been incredibly consistent in 2008 for Double-A Midland. His ERA has never been higher than 3.18 at any point this season. He has yet to post an ERA above 2.79 in any month this year and he has gone at least five innings in every outing. Through 15 starts, Mazzaro is 7-3 with a 2.36 ERA in 91.1 innings. He has been named to the Texas League All-Star team and could earn the start, as his ERA leads the Texas League.

Like Cahill, Mazzaro's best pitch is a sinking fastball that causes hitters to pound the ball into the ground. Mazzaro, who won't turn 22 until late September, has seen a jump in his velocity to the 92-94 MPH range this season. He has shown improved command in 2008, walking no more than four batters in any outing and walking two or less in all but three outings. Mazzaro has also allowed only three homeruns after giving up 13 in 2007. Sixty-one percent of his pitches have been strikes thus far this season.

The biggest criticism of Mazzaro thus far this season has been his strike-out totals, as he has only K'd 65 in 91.1 innings (a 6.39 K/9). However, since May 1, Mazzaro has struck-out 54 in 62.1 innings (7.8 K/9), and his overall K/BB ratio is a solid 2.6/1. Mazzaro has spent each season of his pro career at one level, but he may be ready for his first in-season promotion in 2008.

Brett Anderson, Stockton Ports:

As one of the top prospects involved in the Dan Haren deal last December, Anderson entered the 2008 season surrounded by high expectations. With the exception of a brief rocky period brought on by a sprained left thumb, Anderson has met or exceeded all of those expectations during the first half of the season. In 14 appearances this year for the Stockton Ports, Anderson has struck-out 80 and walked only 18. His 4.14 ERA falls to 2.73 when you remove the two starts before he was placed on the disabled list with the thumb problem. He allowed no runs in six of 14 outings and three runs or less in all but four (including those two pre-DL starts). Since returning from the DL on May 31, Anderson has allowed only six runs in 29.2 innings with four walks and 35 strike-outs.

Anderson, who is exactly one month older than Cahill, joined Cahill in Midland on Monday. He leaves the Ports tied for second in the Cal League with nine wins. He was also second (tied) in the league in strike-outs and in K/9 (9.54). His K/BB of 4.4/1 was tops on the Ports' pitching staff.

The 20-year-old Anderson should make his Double-A debut towards the end of this week and he could get a taste of Triple-A by the end of the season if he posts similar numbers in the Texas League that he did with Stockton.

Scott Mitchinson, Kane County:

The 23-year-old Australian is off to an excellent start to his career in the Oakland A's organization. The right-hander, who was acquired in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft by the A's this off-season, finished the first half of the season with a 1.60 ERA in 11 starts, good for third (tied) in the Midwest League. Mitchinson was named to the Midwest League All-Star team, although he didn't pitch in the game, as he was working through some elbow discomfort.

Mitchinson's control has been impeccable this year. He has struck-out 65 while walking only 10 in 67.1 innings. His 8.69 K/9 is sixth-best in the Midwest League and his 6.5/1 K/BB is best on the Kane County starting staff. Mitchinson has demonstrated good control throughout his pro career, but he has been slowed by injuries. The elbow problem that sidelined him for 10 days appears to have disappeared, and if he is healthy, look for Mitchinson to head to High-A Stockton soon to fill the void recently left by Cahill and Anderson.

RELIEF PITCHERS

Andrew Carignan, Stockton/Midland:

Carignan, a fifth round pick by the A's in 2007, set a number of saves records while in college at the University of North Carolina. He has continued to find success in the ninth inning in the pros. Carignan began the 2008 season in High-A Stockton, where he posted a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings and collected four saves before being promoted to Double-A Midland in late April. Since arriving in Midland, Carignan has found similar success, saving 10 games and posting a 1.77 ERA in 20.1 innings for the Rockhounds.

Like many late-inning relievers, Carignan features a power arsenal with a mid- to high-90s fastball. Strike-outs have been easy to come by for Carignan (38 in 30.1 combined innings this season) and he has limited opposing California and Texas League batters to a combined .183 batting average. He has been wild at times, however, walking 26 overall and 21 in 20.1 innings at Double-A through Sunday. The walks haven't hurt him thus far this season, but that total will need to come down before the A's feel comfortable moving him up to Triple-A.

Sam Demel, Stockton Ports:

Demel, a third round pick by Oakland last season, began the year sharing the ninth inning with Carignan in Stockton, and he took over the full-time closer role when Carignan was promoted to Double-A. Demel, like Carignan, features a power game from the mound. He has 52 strike-outs in only 35.2 innings this season and nine saves. His ERA is a solid 2.52 and he has held opposing batters to a .187 average.

The right-hander leads all California League relievers with a 13.12 K/9 and he is seventh among Cal League relievers in batting average against. Like Carignan, Demel has struggled at times with his command, walking 20 batters. However, he has allowed only one homerun all season. In his most recent outing, Demel struck-out six batters in 2.2 innings. He is likely to see time at Double-A at some point this season.

Jerry Blevins, Sacramento River Cats:

Blevins has been going about proving that his break-through 2007 season that saw him go from A-ball to the majors was no fluke. The tall left-hander has been one of the PCL's most successful closers thus far this season. In 25 games for Sacramento, Blevins has posted a 2.45 ERA with 30 strike-outs and only four walks in 29.1 innings. He has nine saves, good for fifth (tied) in the PCL.

Blevins allowed four runs in his second outing of the season, but since that time, he has given-up only four earned runs in 28.1 innings (1.27 ERA). He also hasn't walked a batter since May 17th. In 17 appearances in the ninth inning, Blevins has allowed two earned runs in 16.1 innings. Sixty-seven percent of his pitches have been strikes and he has allowed only two of 10 inherited runners to score. The left-hander made his major league debut last season and is on the A's 40-man roster. Oakland's bullpen is deep at the major league level, but Blevins should see time in the A's bullpen at some point in 2008.

Jared Lansford, Stockton Ports:

Lansford, like his fellow 2005 draft classmates Italiano and Mazzaro, put together a solid first half of the season. Unlike Italiano and Mazzaro, however, Lansford's best work has come out of the bullpen rather than the starting rotation. Lansford began the year as a starter, but after allowing eight runs in eight innings over two starts, he was moved into the bullpen, where he has shined. In 38.1 innings as a reliever, Lansford has a 2.35 ERA with 47 strike-outs and only 11 walks. He has stranded 12 of 14 inherited runners and collected three saves in four chances.

Lansford has been very difficult to hit since he began pitching out of the bullpen. He has allowed opposing batters to hit only .204 off of him (28 hits in 38.1 innings). Like Mazzaro and Cahill, Lansford uses a good sinking fastball to induce a lot of groundballs. If he continues to shine in the Stockton bullpen, the 21-year-old could see Double-A by the end of the year.

Arnold Leon, Stockton Ports:

When he was acquired out of the Mexican League this winter, Leon became arguably the first significant investment by the A's in the international market. The 19-year-old right-hander drew the A's attention in 2007 by pitching light's-out in the competitive Mexican summer and winter leagues. He was given a non-roster invitation to the A's major league spring training and was then sent to the hitter-friendly California League to make his US debut. Leon didn't wilt under the pressure of either assignment, impressing the A's brass this spring and pitching very well out of the bullpen in Stockton during the first half of the regular season.

Despite being the youngest player on the Ports, Leon pitched like a veteran in his 20 relief appearances. He posted a 2.86 ERA and allowed only 25 hits and one homerun in 28.1 innings. He converted both of his save opportunities and struck-out 28 while walking only nine. Leon has returned to Mexico, where he will compete for Saltillo for the rest of the season. Next year when he is under the A's control for the entire season, Leon may move into the starting rotation. However, he has demonstrated this year that he can handle the bullpen if that is where the A's decide to leave him.

Brad Ziegler, Sacramento River Cats/Oakland A's:

Ziegler made the transition from starter to reliever in 2007, going 12-3 with a 2.41 ERA in 78.1 innings. He also made the switch from throwing over-hand to a submarine motion last year. His 2007 campaign earned Ziegler his first non-roster invitation to major league spring training and an opportunity at the back-end of the River Cats' bullpen. He took advantage of the opportunities, making a good impression on the A's coaching staff this spring and posting a 0.37 ERA with eight saves in 24.1 innings for the River Cats. That performance with Sacramento earned Ziegler a chance in the big leagues, where he has thrown 11.1 scoreless innings since a promotion in early June.

When the A's asked Ziegler to switch from an overhand throwing motion to a submarine motion, they were hoping that he would develop into a groundball-inducing machine. He has done exactly that. In 11.1 major league innings, Ziegler has already induced four ground-ball double-plays. Ziegler has put himself in position to be part of the A's bullpen for the long-term with his performance thus far in 2008.

Jay Marshall, Midland/Sacramento:

After spending the entire 2007 season on the Oakland A's 25-man roster, Marshall could have sulked this season when he was designated off of the A's 40-man roster and then assigned all the way down at Double-A. However, rather than be discouraged, Marshall came out and dominated at the Double-A level, allowing only three earned runs in 32.1 innings for the Rockhounds. He was then promoted to Triple-A Sacramento, where he allowed only one run in 10.2 innings before allowing seven runs in one-third of an inning on Saturday.

Marshall, like Ziegler, is a submariner, but unlike Ziegler, Marshall throws from the left-side. Marshall has dominated lefties this season, allowing only nine hits in 54 at-bats versus southpaws. Righties have hit him much harder, reinforcing the notation that he is best suited in the role as a situational left-handed reliever. Mike Myers, Javier Lopez and Ricardo Rincon are just a few situational lefties who have made long major league careers out of dominating southpaws of late. The A's don't have a true lefty specialist on their major league roster at the moment, and could turn to Marshall late in the season should they feel the need to have someone in that role.

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