The A's were obviously aided tremendously by the maturation of four young rookies in 2005. Some could even argue that Dan Johnson and Huston Street could've even been team MVP for the season.
So, who is the A's prospect most likely to take that next step? The roster for 2006 looks a lot more set in stone than it was after the Hudson and Mulder deals last offseason. It isn't as simple to say, "Well, Ethier is tearing the cover off the ball in the AFL, he'll make the team for 2006." It also depends on what happens with free agency and possible trades, but there really seems to be only a few positions open right now for a rookie to jump in.
With that being said, let's look at some of the hitting candidates:
- Daric Barton: Some were calling for Barton to join the team late this last year. But Barton stayed in Midland after showing himself able to destroy Single-A pitching. One thing always remains constant with Barton and that's his excellent batting eye. He had a .410 batting average in Midland after sporting a .438 OBP at Stockton in Single-A. His batting average also remained consistent in the jump, going from .318 at Single-A to .316 in Double-A. He's also continued with that great eye in the Arizone Fall League (AFL). He currently has a .423 OBP and has a remarkable 10 walks in 12 games. The problem with Barton, if there is one, is that the A's don't really know where to play him. He was at first base for much of the season, was tried in the outfield and even DH.
- Andre Ethier: Ethier had a breakthrough season. He remains on fire in the AFL and is sporting an 1.161 OPS right now. He's whacking doubles and just driving in runs. The knock on Ethier was that he wasn't hitting home runs. Well, he hit 18 last year in Midland, third on the team behind Jason Perry and Jeremy Brown. Ethier is a good defensive outfielder, but with the A's outfield likely set for 2006 (with Payton, Kotsay and Swisher and possibly a free agent or trade), expect to see Ethier in Sacramento this year.
- Jeremy Brown: Why would I ever list Jeremy Brown here, you ask? Simple, Brown plays at a position where the A's are deep, but they need some immediate help on the major league level. Jason Kendall broke the franchise record for games played by a catcher last year, and he will probably have a similar workload in 2006. But the A's will likely need a backup. Billy Beane could go the veteran route and sign someone to a one-year deal until Suzuki or Powell or even Brown or Baker shows they are ready to be an every day MLB catcher. But he also might use Brown in the role that most think Jeremy Brown is suited for, and that's a backup catcher at the major league level. Don't count on it though. I expect Beane will sign someone to a year contract to take the 20 or so games that Kendall doesn't catch. I suspect Brown will be at Sacramento this year.
- Javier Herrera: Herrera is not your typical Athletic. If there was ever a knock against him, it was that his plate discipline was questionable. He had another knock against him come in 2005.Herrera was suspended for steroid use for fifteen games this past season. It probably won't affect his standing with the team. Interestingly, he got a quick taste of Triple-A with the River Cats in May and hit .417 with a .533 OBP in his five-game stint. The bottom line is that Herrera will probably spend a lot of time with Jeremy Brown in Sacramento this year.
- Dan Meyer: I talked about Meyer in an earlier post, so I won't rehash that here. Needless to say, if Meyer is finally healthy and returns to form, he could be a big part of the A's 2006 season.
- John Rheinecker: The story of Rheinecker is a shame. He just finally had found his stride. He had a WHIP under 1.00 and was 4-0 with a 1.77 ERA in Sacramento last season before he went down with an injury. Chances are, if Rheinecker had remained healthy, Joe Kennedy and/or Kirk Saarloos might've been relegated to pen duty. Rheinecker's also two years older than Meyer, so if he's healthy, I expect we might see him in the pen this year. Especially if Rincon isn't back in the fold.
- Dallas Braden: Braden came out of nowhere last year and was even a surprise to the A's front office. He dominated Single-A Stockton before receiving the call to Midland. His K/BB rate dropped significantly in that jump (6:1 to basically 2:1), so expect to see Braden back in either Midland or up with Sacramento this year. I'm betting on Midland to start and if he does well, he could get the quick call-up to Triple-A.
- Ron Flores: I've been wanting Flores to be a part of the A's pen for almost a year now. Flores has done all he can at Sacramento and was with the A's at the end of the season. He performed very well with the A's in very limited duty, with an ERA of 1.04. He also struck out six and didn't walk anyone. Flores and Rheinecker will battle for the Rincon role in spring training. That is, if Rheinecker doesn't somehow work his way into the A's rotation.
- Jairo Garcia: Garcia is typical of a guy with an electric arm and I can't help but think of Bobby Jenks when talking about Garcia. Granted, Garcia doesn't hit 100 MPH regularly, but you have to think that he'll figure it out sooner or later. Garcia's stuff is overpowering for Double-A hitters, but he suddenly became hittable to Triple-A hitters. He nearly gave up a hit an inning last year in Triple-A. Although his strikeout/walk rate was almost 4:1. In my opinion, Garcia will either be a part of the A's pen this year or be dealt in a package this offseason.
- Shane Komine: Komine is pitching very well in the AFL. He's a part of the 2002 draft class and he had Tommy John surgery. So it could explain why he's just gotten better and better. He started in Stockton and had an ERA of 4.15. He then went to Midland where his ERA dropped to 3.16. He's now sporting a 1.32 ERA and has struck out 13 and walked only one in the AFL. Check out this prognosis by CalLeaguers.com on Komine. It's very interesting and he sounds to me like he can go from 93 on a fastball to 74 on his curve to 78 on his changeup. That seems like ML stuff to me.
As for the hitters, I still think the hitters are all likely targeted for Triple-A at this juncture with the possible exception of Brown. This is basically because the only spot I see open right now is DH and backup catcher (unless Beane makes a huge mistake in bringing Hatteberg back). I do think Barton and Ethier have a chance to be with the A's, but I think the A's will want to give these two a chance to show their stuff in Triple-A first.
I added a poll on the main page for you to vote which player is most likely to be in Oakland on opening day 2006.