Top Ten Prospects: Oakland Athletics
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Casey Tefertiller
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. Joe Blanton, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 225.
Background: Acquired with a first-round pick from the Yankees as compensation for Jason Giambi, Blanton is the best prospect from the A’s 2002 “Moneyball” draft. He dominated the low Class A Midwest League last year, winning the strikeout crown despite being promoted in late July. Unlike Oakland’s other 2002 draftees, he also made an easy transition to Double-A.
Strengths: Blanton has the makings of a classic power pitcher. He usually throws 93-94 mph and hits 96 with his fastball, and he has tremendous command of the pitch. MWL managers rated his slider as the league’s best breaking ball, and his curveball also can buckle hitters’ knees.
Weaknesses: Blanton is learning the art of pitching. He sometimes relies on one or two pitches, and he must learn to sequence pitches to keep hitters off balance. His changeup is just beginning to develop. An intense competitor, he’ll overthrow and lose control at times.
The Future: Blanton will return to Double-A Midland to start this season. He made dramatic progress during 2003, and similar improvement could land him in Oakland in 2005.
3. Dan Johnson, 1b
Age: 24. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 225.
Background: Undrafted out of high school and junior college, Johnson became a star at the University of Nebraska. He set school records for homers in a game (three) and season (25) and has continued to mash as a pro. He led the Double-A Texas League in homers, RBIs and total bases (271) last year.
Strengths: Power and patience are the organization’s watchwords, and Johnson has both in abundance. He’s a great fastball hitter with power to all fields and has outstanding plate discipline for a slugger. After making major adjustments to shorten his stroke, he makes consistent, hard contact.
Weaknesses: Johnson is big and slow, limited to first base and DH. Though he has worked hard on his defense, he’s only adequate. Some scouts remain skeptical whether his power will translate to the majors.
The Future: The A’s will send Johnson to Triple-A to see if he can continue producing as he has. If he does, he could be an upgrade for them at first base after they got just 16 homers and a .399 slugging percentage out of the position in 2003.
4. Brad Sullivan, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190.
Background: Sullivan came within 10 whiffs of becoming the first pitcher since the 1970s to successfully defend an NCAA Division I strikeout title, but he wore down late in the spring and slipped out of the top 10 picks. After signing him for $1.36 million, Oakland handled him gingerly.
Strengths: Sullivan’s darting fastball and hard slider are both plus offerings with excellent movement. His curveball also is an out pitch at times. He’s athletic, which allows him to repeat his delivery and field his position well. He has terrific feel for pitching and keeps hitters off balance by varying his arm slot, location and velocity.
Weaknesses: Sullivan also played first and second base for Houston in the NCAA playoffs, and he was exhausted when he joined the A’s. The velocity on his fastball dipped from 91-93 mph to the high 80s, and his slider dropped from 82-85 mph to the high 70s. The hope is that he’ll bounce back after a winter of rest. Oakland has revamped his mechanics to improve his durability.
The Future: If he’s 100 percent, Sullivan should be able to start this season at high Class A and reach the majors before most 2003 draftees. An optimistic ETA would be late 2005.
5. Graham Koonce, 1b
Age: 28. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 225.
Background: Released by the Tigers in 1997, Koonce spent two years in the independent Western League. He signed with the Padres in 1998 and has exploded since the A’s took him in the minor league Rule 5 draft in December 2001. He led the minors in homers and was the Pacific Coast League MVP in 2003, and served as Team USA’s first baseman in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Strengths: Koonce is similar to Dan Johnson in many ways. As he has grown older, he has developed outstanding power. He’s a good fastball hitter who uses the whole field. The A’s particularly adore his knack for drawing walks.
Weaknesses: At 28, age is Koonce’s enemy. He’s slow and relegated to first base or DH. He’s an adequate defender, slightly better than Johnson and adept at digging balls out of the dirt.
The Future: Koonce will compete for a big league job. He’s known for his slow starts, which could send him back to Triple-A. He has the potential to offer a lot more production than Oakland got out of DH Erubiel Durazo and first baseman Scott Hatteberg last year.
6. Nick Swisher, of
Age: 23. B-T: B-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 194.
Background: The A’s made Swisher their No. 1 target in the 2002 draft and were ecstatic to get him 16th overall. His father Steve was a first-rounder in June 1973 and an all-star catcher in 1976. Nick’s transition to pro ball has been erratic. He struggled in his pro debut and again after a promotion to Double-A last year.
Strengths: Swisher works deep counts and can hit once he gets there. Oakland says he has plus power potential from both sides of the plate. He has excellent instincts and an average arm in the outfield, and could be a Gold Glover at first base.
Weaknesses: Swisher has struck out too much as a pro because pitchers have learned he’ll chase offspeed pitches out of the zone. He’s a below-average runner who may lack the speed for center field. Other teams don’t like his power as much as the A’s do. He’s too hard on himself, which has hampered his ability to make adjustments.
The Future: Swisher will return to Double-A. His supporters see him as a player who combines patience, power and defense. His detractors see him as a tweener who doesn’t profile as a standout at any position.
7. Omar Quintanilla, ss
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 185.
Background: Quintanilla was somewhat of a surprise as a supplemental first-round pick, but his strong pro debut was not. He had established a sterling track record at Texas, where he was the Big 12 Conference freshman of the year in 2001 and a key player on a College World Series championship team the following year.
Strengths: Quintanilla has solid all-around tools and knows how to get the most out of them. He’s capable of producing for average and gap power. He has average speed and good baserunning instincts. Defensively, he has excellent hands and makes the routine plays.
Weaknesses: He entered pro ball with tendinitis in his throwing arm, so Quintanilla never showed what he could do at shortstop. He’s thick-bodied and will have to work hard to maintain his quickness, and still may have to move to second base. He often hits in early counts, contradicting the A’s preference for their hitters to take pitches.
The Future: Quintanilla will return to high Class A and try to build on his early success. The A’s say he can stay at shortstop, and he’d still be an above-average offensive player at second base if he moves.
8. Mike Rouse, ss
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 185.
Background: A Big West rival of Bobby Crosby at Cal State Fullerton, Rouse came from Toronto in a November 2002 trade for Cory Lidle. After missing half of 2002 with a broken hamate bone in his right wrist, Rouse returned to Double-A last year and hit with more authority. When Crosby was unavailable, Rouse took over at shortstop and starred for Team USA at the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Strengths: With great hands and exceptional ability to read the ball off the bat, Rouse is a solid defender at shortstop. He has excellent focus, which helped him lead Texas League shortstops with a .967 fielding percentage. He handles the bat well, gets on base and runs OK.
Weaknesses: Rouse doesn’t have the arm or range to make plays in the hole, and he’ll probably wind up at second base. Oakland also wanted him to get stronger over the offseason.
The Future: Rouse is ready for Triple-A and may get time at second base. The A’s envision him as an everyday middle infielder, though he’ll have to fight off Mark Ellis ahead of him and Omar Quintanilla behind him to earn that status in Oakland.
9. Andre Ethier, of
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190.
Background: The A’s drafted Ethier in the 37th round out of Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) Community College in 2001 and signed him out of Arizona State two years later. In between, he earned all-Pacific-10 Conference honors in both years with the Sun Devils and finished his college career with a 23-game hitting streak.
Strengths: Ethier has tremendous hand-eye coordination, the basic ability that can make for a great hitter. Some scouts say he could compare with Shawn Green once he fills out. He has the patience at the plate that Oakland likes. He also has average speed and arm strength, and his instincts allow him to play all three outfield positions. He’s highly motivated.
Weaknesses: Ethier has a tendency to guide the ball with the bat, slightly pulling off rather than attacking it. He made outstanding progress learning to drive pitches in instructional league. He doesn’t cover a lot of ground for a center fielder and might fit best in left.
The Future: Ethier is ticketed for high Class A, and Oakland is eager to see what develops. Some club officials say he has the highest ceiling among their farmhands.
10. Justin Duchscherer, rhp
Age: 26. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 190.
Background: A car crash after the 2001 season led to back problems that ruined Duchscherer’s first year in the system. He bounced back in 2003 to become the Pacific Coast League’s pitcher of the year and wins leader. He was at his best on Sept. 9, shutting out the Angels for seven innings to earn his first win for the A’s.
Strengths: Duchscherer is a poised and crafty control pitcher. He upsets hitters’ timing by changing speeds on his fastball and curveball. His curve is his best pitch, and his changeup is right behind.
Weaknesses: None of Duchscherer’s pitches grades better than average, and his fastball doesn’t even rate that high. He pitches at 85-87 mph and rarely breaks 90. He needs to improve his cutter so he can work inside to righthanders. While his package was devastating against Triple-A hitters, how it translates to the majors remains a big question mark.
The Future: The A’s say Duchscherer could emerge as a successful big league starter after gaining a couple of years of experience at that level. Oakland’s offseason trade for Mark Redman paves the way for Duchscherer to learn in a middle-relief role in 2004.