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A Minor League Make-over in May?

"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." Robert Oppenheimer, Trinity test, 1945.

I prefer Oppenhiemer's variation to the direct translation for a couple reasons. For one thing, I prefer the rhythm that comes with the extra foot when including "become". More importantly, I like the sense of deliberate action that comes with becoming death. It implies a conscious choice to reek havoc and lay watse.

Which is what I'm about to do with this minor league report.

I come bearing bad news, friends. Carlos Gonzalez tweaked his hamstring, went on the DL, got healthy, came back, played a couple games, sprained his ankle and went back on the DL. Fautino De Los Santos got roughed up a couple times and ended up on the DL with a sore pitching elbow. Gio Gonzalez has been roughed up his last two starts although he's supposed to be healthy. Three of the brightest prospects the A's acquired this offseason are trying to become honorary members of the 2007 Oakland Athletics baseball club.

Sure, injuries happen but my vexitude goes beyond a few gimps in the bush leagues. What, "vexitude" isn't a real word? It should be. Other then CarGon and Aaron Cunningham (who just came off the DL a few days ago and is currently in AA Midland) the A's don't have a legitimate positional prospect in the upper minors. Let me explain how I came to that conclusion. In my mind, a legit prospect is someone everyone wants and everybody knows that acquiring said prospect will require paying a steep price. CarGon and Cunningham are prime examples of this philosophy, it cost the A's Dan Haren to acquire them.

Look at the AAA and AA rosters, you can't find the positional talent to even begin discussing a similiar deal. As of May 4th, the 2 most productive (and healthy) bats in Sacramento's line-up are Kevin Melillo (906 OPS) and Landon Powell (908 OPS). Both have managed fewer than 70 PA cue to slow starts while recovering from 2007 injuries. Fact of the matter is these two are going to need virtually all of the 2008 season to re-establish themselves as potential big league players. More damning is that even if these 2 manage to maintain their current level of offensive production they are on the wrong side of the age curve. Both players are 25 but Melillo turns 26 in a week and a few days while Powell will be the same age before he plays a game in 2009.

Don't get me wrong, these aren't guys you boot out of your organization for snits and giggles but at the same time they won't be drawing a lot of interest from rival teams if you put anything other than a .99 tag on them. Melillo only has a future in Oakland if the A's decide to move/let Mark Ellis go after the 2008 season. If Ellis stays, Melillo is destined to rot in AAA unless he gets traded elsewhere. Hey, even scrap medal can get traded but only if you're willing to accept a low return. That's not something you need to consider when you're talking about a legit prospect.

Place yourself in a non-Oakland GM's shoes. Billy is trying to deal a 26 year old rookie (either Powell or Melillo, take your pick) with good but not great numbers in AAA, maybe a cup o' coffee in the Show and an injury history that stretches over a few years. Are you going to want to build a major deal around one of these guys?

I doubt it.

Look at the rest of the River Cats' line-up. Putnam and Baisley are in the exact same situation as Melillo and Powell only they're held in even less regard in the scouting community. Conrad, Rogowski, Blasi and Gaetti are all roster fodder. Fiorentino is hurt, who knows what we've got there. Bankston and Petit are young enough to draw interest but Bankston hasn't hit much ( not good for a 1B prospect) while Petit is profiling more and more as a back-up middle infielder. Scouts say he's the best defensive infielder the A's have in the minors but he's committed 9 errors in 29 games, that's enough to make a person go "huh". He's shown some doubles power (11 through May 4th) but he doesn't hit home runs, he doesn't steal bases and he doesn't draw walks. He's hitting .305 but for a contact hitter he strikes out a bit much with 26 K in 118 AB.

I can see Powell and Petit contributing in Oakland next year but most likely it will be as back-ups. Melillo will get a shot at 2B if Ellis leaves but only because he's already standing in line. Where are the guys who stand to make an impact in Oakland? Sure doesn't look like there's anyone other then Cunningham when you look at Midland.

The most productive hitter in Midland's line-up is still 23 year old Jesus Guzman, a minor league FA pick-up this last pffseason who's hitting382/423/588. I still advise caution when looking at the guy, he spent 2 of the last 3 years NOT hitting like this for the Mariners organization. You'd think I'd be happy with Cliff Pennington, who's hitting .280 with a .400 OBP, 25 BB to 19 K and a perfect 11 for 11 on SB attempts... but I'm not. He has a .320 slugging thanks to 3 doubles and a triple among his 35 hits. When a soon to be 24 year old minor leaguer starts making Juan Pierre look like a power threat I get suspicious. I'm not asking for 20 HR pop but c'mon already! A couple more line drives into the gap are good for the soul. Justin Sellers is still a young'un but he's hitting even less then Pennington. The rest of the Midland line-up is composed of guys who are too old and not putting up enough production to merit discussion.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, Javier Herrera is still on the DL.

Now, it hasn't been all doom-&-gloom. Sac's got a solid bullpen centered around Brad Ziegler and Jerry Blevins. SP Andrew Bailey showed some improvment his last time out for Midland while Vincent Mazzaro struck out 11 and walked only 1 in 6.2 IP in his last start for the RockHounds. James Simmons has finally worked his way up to the 100 pitch count yet has held opponents to 24 hits and 4 walks while striking out 28 in 31 IP. If Simmons keeps pitching like this he'll be part of the make-over I mentioned in the title.

See, Stockton's roster brings a smile to my face. The rotation is headlined by Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, but keep an eye on fellow SP Jason Fernandez. Mexican League sensation Arnold Leon has pitched very well thus far but is headed back to Mexico at the end of the month to fulfill his contractual obligations south of the border. Jared Lansford has been moved to the bullpen (supposedly a permenant move) and I have a hunch he'll be closing once he gets used to working out of the pen.

As much as I like the arms, Stockton has some bats that actually show promise. Chris Carter is officially over his early season slump and has now hit 10 HR. Sean Doolittle continues to rake with a 345/411/637 line. Josh Horton's heating up while Matt Sulentic continues to put his rough 2007 season behind him to the tune of 322/412/506.

Kane County's line-up features Corey Brown and a cast of faceless extras although Shane Keough might make me change the title in a few weeks. The stength of the Cougars' roster is the pitching staff, with Scott Moore in the bullpen putting up numbers that makes one wonder if perhaps Mr. Moore is an ex-boyfriend of Billy Beane's daughter. The guy deserves a promotion but keeps getting passed over. Travis Banwart, Scott Mitchinson and Craig Italiano anchor the rotation. Italiano has 41 K's in 29 IP but after pithcing just 35 innings over the last 2 seasons I suspect the 21 year old Texan is going to spend most of the year in Kane County's big ballpark.

But Italiano and the lil' Miss. Beane-biting Moore are the only two high performers who shouldn't be filling out change of address forms soon. Sac's rotation features Gio, a couple re-treads in Saarloos and DiNardo, a slowly fading away Dan Meyer and minor league journeyman Danny Borrell. Brad Knox, for those who are interested, has been moved to the bullpen. None of those guys are going to keep James Simmons in Midland once he's ready for the next challenge. Simmons' promotion would trigger the AA call-up of either Cahill or Anderson, take your pick. (Don't stress over the decision, the guy you don't pick will be Texas bound soon enough.) Whichever Stockton SP gets tapped will be replaced by someone from Kane County, my guess is Scott Mitchinson... mainly because he's almost 2 years older then the other canidates and needs to be pushed to see what he can do.

Offensively, Midland 1st baseman Tommy Everidge doesn't have the numbers or the mojo to dissuade the A's from calling up one of Stockton's clobbering 1B, my guess is it's Doolittle but that's mainly because of his superiour defense. Kane County's Brown continues to rake or strike out with little in between. I can see the A's bumping him to the Cal League once they open up a roster spot by promoting Doolittle to Texas. Carter would move to 1B full time while Brown, Mitchell and Sulentic would form a potentially loaded outfield.

It's time to start cutting the dead weight in the minor league system and promoting those who actually have a future in the organization. The trade market is going to start heating up and there will be teams calling about Blanton, Street and maybe even Gaudin. It would behoove Beane to know as much as he can about his own farm system before he goes shopping.