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Monday Morning Minors Musings: Futures Games Edition

After an absolutely brutal loss to the Angels yesterday, it's important to remind ourselves that the future is bright in Green and Gold land. Here's your Monday reminder to look forward to those greener pastures:

The Futures Game

The A's system was well represented at Sunday's annual Futures Game showcase in New York as part of All Star Week.  Pitchers Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill represented the USA team on the pitching staff while Rivercat Cliff Pennington suited up as America's starting 2nd baseman. Henry Rodriguez represented the A's on the World Team pitching staff.

The pitchers were all impressive. Cahill pitched the 2nd inning of the game and collected 2 strikeouts after throwing 13 of his total 17 pitches for strikes. Anderson had a rougher time of it, allowing a hit and a walk in the 3rd inning, but escaped without giving up any runs by picking off both runners trying to steal 2nd and by inducing a flyout. Very Greg Smithian of him! Henry Rodriguez was the talk of the World Staff after striking out the side in the 8th, touching 100mph on the gun (and falling over while doing it) while preserving the 3-run lead for the International guys, who ended up closing it out next inning and earning a 3-0 victory. Pennington went hitless in two at-bats with a strikeout.

In case you haven't noticed, the A's pitching prospects are now officially "for real". The Futures Games is arguably the biggest prospect showcase out there (De Los Santos and Cargon both turned heads there last season) and seeing as how the A's pitchers utterly dominated their top-tier opposition, it's no wonder that Baseball America has proclaimed that, "Oakland's pitching depth is officially the envy of baseball."

Promotions/Draft News

It's finally happened! 1B Sean Doolittle, after butchering Cal League pitching the entire season, was promoted to Midland last week. He's already collected 7 hits (3 doubles) in 17 at-bats and a handful of RBI's. He's a keeper, I would say.

In a corresponding move, CF Corey Brown was promoted to Midland from Kane County. He's collected 6 hits in 18 at-bats, including 1 homer. It's a scary thought to think of how much damage he could do the rest of the year in the hitter-friendly Cal League and at lefty-friendly Banner Island Ballpark!

2008 1st Round Pick Jemile Weeks was signed, sealed and delivered to Kane County last week. Weeks hasn't found his stroke yet as he only has 1 hit in 17 at-bats, however he's still getting on base at a decent rate thanks to a 7 walks versus 3 strikeouts and has 2 stolen bases in 2 chances. Weeks hasn't played in a baseball game since Miami got eliminated from the College World Series, so I'm going to attribute his struggles at the plate to rust and fully expect him to start slashing up Midwest League pitching within a couple of weeks.

Patterson & Donaldson Debut!

INF/OF Eric Patterson and C Josh Donaldson have now been incorporated into the A's system after being acquired in the Rich Harden/Chad Gaudin trade. Patterson was dispatched to the Rivercats where he was been absolutely en fuego. In 4 games Eric has collected 9 hits in 14 at-bats, including 2 doubles and homers in each of the last 3 games! He's collected 8 RBI's in that span and also has a stolen base. You can definitely see the 5-tool potential already. If Eric can find a permanent defensive position or even just prove capable of providing adequate defense at multiple positions while he keeps hitting, he could force his way onto the big league roster as a utility guy.

Many ANers were down on the Donaldson acquisition. Admittedly, his numbers while in the Cubs organization in Low-A Peoria were pretty awful. But he had miserable luck while in that organization (career low .239 BABIP) and had a very solid track record before this season. Beane and Co. obviously had faith in the track record and instead of sending him to Kane County back in the Midwest League where he struggled*, A's management instead sent Donaldson outright to High-A Stockton, where, so far, it seems like he's rediscovered his stroke (7 hits in 17 at-bats with 2 homers and 8 RBIs in 4 games!)  What's more, A's management has indicated that while Donaldson would spend the majority of his time in Stockton behind the plate, he would still get the opportunity to spend a game a week or so at 3rd base (where he played in college at Auburn). This is good news to me as, we all know, the A's are super-thin on quality left-side-of-the-infield prospects and since Donaldson is not really known as a plus defensive catcher, there is a real possibility that he could end up as a 3rd baseman at the upper levels of the system.

*I find it very interesting that A's management has seemed to make a habit of taking chances with certain prospects by pushing them up to the next level of competition even though they struggled at the lower level. While counter-intuitive, the strategy has certainly worked well for Matt Sulentic (who struggled mightily at Low-A Kane County last season but is having a solid season thus far in High-A Stockton) and Vince Mazzaro (who was pedestrian at best last season for Stockton but is dominating the Texas League in Midland this year). Now, the gamble with Donaldson is starting to prove enlightening as well. It's nice to know that A's internal player development evaluators seem to have a firm handle on when to push guys and when to ease up...definitely makes me question the timing of promotions/demotions a little less.

Team Updates

AAA Sacramento River Cats: 57-40, 1st Place, PCL Pacific South Division

I forgot to mention that last week I traveled to Raley Field to get my first up-close look at the Rivercats. It was a terrible game, but the field and ambiance at the game were major-league quality. However, the concessions are major-league-priced, which was very unfortunate. Overall though, it was a good experience. If you're up in the Sacto area, check them out!

The Cats keep on winning, despite player transaction after player transaction. One guy that has really heated up recently is catcher Landon Powell. Over the past 10 games, Powell is hitting .345 with 10 hits, 2 homers, 7 RBI's and a 12-7 walk-to-strikeout ratio. His overall season stats are still unimpressive (.222/.342/.418), however, for a guy probably still recovering from two torn ACL surgeries, he's starting to show some promise. He's now up to 11 homers and 11 doubles on the year, but until he can prove that he can stay on the field and be consistently productive for an entire season, it's hard to believe that the A's would take a chance and call him up to the big leagues to be Suzuki's backup.

AA Midland Rockhounds: 10-12, 3rd Place, Texas League South Division

The Rockhounds now have their pitching staff firing on all-cylinders as they boast one of the most talented staffs front to back in the minor leagues. They've got Cahill, Anderson, Simmons and Mazzaro fronting the rotation and Andrew Carignan anchoring the bullpen. Setting up Carignan has been Andrew Bailey, who was bumped from the starting rotation to make room for the influx of talent from Stockton. I've long thought that Bailey's pitching style is more conducive to  bullpen work and so far the conversion has been a resounding  success. Since being bumped to 'pen on June 28th Bailey has yet to give up an earned run. He's struck out 11 since that time, only walked 3 and only given up 6 hits in over 7 innings pitched. Armed with a fastball that can reach the mid-90's, but only so-so breaking and off-speed stuff, Bailey's ceiling might be somewhat  akin to Andrew Brown. Decent middle reliever at the major league level. However, there's value in a guy that can harness mid-90's heat for short stints and Bailey's a relief prospect to keep tabs on.

A+ Stockton Ports: 10-13, 4th Place, CAL League North Division

Good News: RHP Travis Banwart is back from the DL and pitched 3 innings of shut out ball last night in his first start back from the DL, while Chris "making a believer out of me" Carter belted his 25th homer, swatted his 20th double and collected his 65th, 67th, 68th, 69th, 70th and 71st RBIs in support of Travis en route to an 18-7 Stockton victory last night.  There have been a lot of naysayers about Carter here on AN recently, and I'd just like to say that he's looking like a lot more than just a throw in the Dan Haren trade, as he's on pace for a 30+ homerun, 30+ doubles, 100+ RBI, .900+ OPS season in his age 21 season.

Bad News: Craig Italiano, darling of the Midwest League, is now a miserable 0-2 with a 16.55 ERA in 10 innings for the Ports after his 6-hit, 6-run less-than-1-inning relief performance last evening. I think Craig got H-Roded this year, and might need to be dropped back to the Midwest League to preserve his sanity...

A Kane County Cougars: 8-15, 7th Place, Midwest League West Division

The Cougars have struggled to start off the second half of the season. The offense (never robust to begin with) has been inconsistent and the pitching staff lost ace Craig Italiano to Stockton and Tyson Ross to injury. The good news is, reinforcements have arrived in the form of 2008 4th round draft pick Anthony Capra, who made his professional debut yesterday and 2 innings on shut-out ball, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out 2. Hopefully Capra can come in and lead the staff to a respectable end of the season.

Short Season Vancouver Canadians: 9-17, 4th Place, Northwest League West Division

The Canadians' pitching staff is being clobbered by the opposition. The one bright spot on the staff has been Santa Clara-native Carlos Hernandez. Carlos was one of the last traditional draft-and-follow draftees in the 2006 draft class. He was selected in the 35th round in 2006 and the A's had exclusive rights to sign him throughout the next calendar year. After watching him closely at West Valley Community College last season, the A's signed the little lefty. He pitched a few token innings for the A's Rookie League team and Vancouver last season, but has really taken off so far this year. He's started 5 games and has a 2.36 ERA in 26.2 innings, with a 27-5 K-BB ratio and a 1.09 WHiP. He apparently sports a 86-90mph fastball, a curveball and a very nice changeup. He strikes me as kind of like Dallas Braden: late-round draftee, undersized lefty with a reliance on a changeup. I'm sure the A's would be more than happy to get Braden-esque results out of Hernandez as he moves through the system.


Well that's about it for this week folks. I apologize for the spartan-nature of the update, but I'm still reeling from yesterday's crushing loss to the hated Halos...