A group weblog for Oakland A's fans

Thursday, June 10, 2004

40 Runs in 3 Games

The A's swept the Reds, getting at least 10 runs in all 3 games. I am going to try to curb my enthusiasm. Just like when the A's were struggling, and I was saying they are better than they are playing, I gotta say now, getting to the playoffs is still going to be a battle. Huddy said last year down the stretch, "we always make the playoffs but it is always tight". So we can enjoy the A's sweep of the first-place-but-obviously-pretender Reds, and continue to pummel the NL, cause that's what we do.

Ken Korach, who does a great job broadcasting for the A's noted last night on the radio, "sometimes when a team is hot, you'll have 5 or 6 guys who are hot, but right now the whole A's lineup is hot." And he went on to note what all the players were in their last 30-50 ABs, and they all ARE hot. Just like last year when Mulder went down and the A's got really good all of a sudden, it appears that Chavvy's injury has sparked a sense of urgency with the team. Are those events related or is it a coincedence? Are the A's able to get BETTER when a star goes down? I guess I'd like to think that pro ballplayers give 100% all the time, they've seen it all before and nothing fazes them, that they constantly perform optimally. But maybe not.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

First place!

It took a good long while, but the A's have climbed back into a tie with Anaheim for the division lead at 33-24. The A's have won 7 of 8 on their current homestand, including a second consecutive clubbing of Cincinnati, 10-6, tonight. Zito wasn't as sharp has he's been in his last several starts, but he finally got a W to show for his efforts as the run support came pouring in for the first time in what seemed like an eternity for our patron pitcher. Jung Bong (insert pun here) was not effective at all, and he got precious little help from his defense, as 3B Tim Hummel committed a costly two-out error in the first (leading to 5 unearned runs) and the Reds botched three plays at the plate that maybe should all have been outs. Still, the A's will take it. The bullpen was actually pretty effective tonight, particularly Jim Mecir and Arthur Rhodes, who pitched out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the 8th (inherited from Chris Hammond), allowing only a single run to preserve the lead for the A's.

But they had to wait until the wee hours of the morning to get to the top of the division, as Milwaukee and Anaheim were scoreless into the 17th inning before the Brewers finally pulled it out on an RBI double by Scott Podsednik. Wow--I wish I could have seen that game. At any rate, the Angels have now dropped four in a row, and the momentum is clearly shifting in the West. (Warning: irrational exuberance ahead.) The A's hitters have found their stroke, and the club has always feasted on NL opponents, going a major-league best 77-47 in interleague games. That includes a 14-0 mark against the NL Central (um, not counting the 1990 World Series). Coupled with the emotional high from a sparkling draft effort, the team looks like it could sprint to the All-Star Break neck-and-neck with Anaheim, maybe even with a cushion. By that time, Eric Chavez could be back and maybe Billy Beane will have pulled the trigger on one of his patented "F***in' A!" trades.

Let the good times roll.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

More draft stuff

The draft finished today. I won't go into the players the A's selected on the second day, since only extreme luck would cause any of those guys to ever amount to anything. (As a "gee whiz" kind of note, they drafted prep first baseman Drew Saberhagen, son of Bret, in the 38th round. Last year they took Eric Macha, son of Ken, in the 33rd round. The younger Macha played in the Arizona Rookie League last year and now works as an engineer for IBM.) But I have been doing extensive research, and I have a little bit more to say about Oakland's selections from the first couple of rounds.

First of all, let me reiterate that the A's had a tremendous draft. Hats off to Billy Beane, David Forst, Erik Kubota and the entire scouting team. Not only did they get the guys that only the stathead teams wanted, but they also took a whole slew of prospects who were highly regarded by both traditional scouting and performance-based metrics. You can't ask for more than that. Everything I've read from the numerous draft sources I've visited has said that the A's had the best draft of any team in MLB.

Speaking of performance-based metrics, Craig Burley over at Hardball Times has devised a system for adjusting college statistics based upon strength of schedule and park factors, which vary much more wildly in the NCAA than at the major-league level. (His method may be based on a system devised by Boyd Nation.) You can check out the full results if you like, but here is the quick recap for A's draft picks. Among hitters, Kurt Suzuki (C-Fullerton) was #4 overall, Richie Robnett (OF-Fresno St) #10, Landon Powell (C-South Carolina) #11, and Danny Putnam (OF-Stanford) #16. Among pitchers, Jason Windsor (RHP-Fullerton) was #2, trailing only Jered Weaver, and Michael Rogers (RHP-NC State) was #7. (Keep in mind that these lists comprise all NCAA players, not just draft-eligible ones. For instance, the top hitter in the NCAA this year was Stanford 2B Jed Lowrie, who is only a sophomore. He'll be somebody to watch in the 2005 draft.)

This is good stuff. There's little reason to believe that this crop of five guys, plus Huston Street (RHP-Texas), won't produce at least a few impact players. In fact, Baseball America rated all six of them among the top 90 prospects in the draft. No other organization could say the same. Granted, the A's had picked 6 times before the second round came to an end, but even so it is impressive that they landed not only guys that they had pegged as top prospects, but that were high on other scouts' lists as well. Rogers might be the exception; Kubota mentioned him as a sleeper candidate, and maybe other teams were scared off because of his height.

Some of the A's later draft picks also appear high on this list. Derek Tharpe (LHP-Tennessee) is #41 among pitchers; Ryan Ford (LHP-Eastern Michigan) #59; Jarod McAuliff (RHP-Oklahoma) is #96; Scott Drucker (RHP-Tennessee) is #135. Street didn't make it very high onto the list since he only pitched 50 innings, but his rate stats are better than anybody in the country except for Jered Weaver, and you have to like that. Among hitters, Myron Leslie (3B-South Florida) was #79.

The A's do their homework when it comes to assessing a player's signability before they pick him, so I would expect that their top guys will sign quickly. Powell, Street and Putnam all expressed a desire to start playing soon. Kubota also said he thought Powell might be the most major-league ready of this crop, and that Street was also close to big-league ready. So that suggests that Powell will start a level higher than Suzuki if they do, in fact, split up the catching tandem. Perhaps the best news of all was that the A's were still considering whether they wanted Street to convert to starting, although he'll start out as a reliever. Street's outstanding command, his intensity and competitive makeup, and the heavy sink on all of his pitches were all mentioned as possible reasons he might flourish as a starter.

Monday, June 07, 2004

A's and the Reds

I got back from Taiwan last night. It is a great country, I liked everyone I met, and I went to 2 games there. I am going to write something some time in depth, but now all I can think of is how excited I am about the A's. I come back, find out Chavvy broke his wrist, but the A's are only 1.5 games out, and tonight they play the Reds. What a classy matchup. Sounds like a great WS. It has already happened twice in my lifetime, in '72 and '90, a repeat is cool.

Griffey might hit his 500th against the A's in the next 3 nights at the Net. I suppose I shouldn't be rooting for such a thing, but I am. I wouldn't mind seeing the A's win like 12-4 and see Griffey with 2 bombs. And coming up is the Cubs at Wrigley. Also this year I am going to see the Red Sox at Pac Bell Park. I am not the biggest fan of interleague play, but some of these matchups look great.

2004 A's Draft recap

Going into the draft, the consensus among GMs and scouting directors was that the 2004 draft class was the weakest in recent memory. In particular, the college hitter crop was abysmal, and the number of impact players at the top was very small. There were only 8 or 10 guys that would be sure-fire first rounders in other years: Long Beach State RHP Jered Weaver, Florida State SS Stephen Drew, Rice's triumvirate of RHPs Jeff Niemann, Philip Humber, and Wayne Townsend, Old Dominion RHP Justin Verlander, Vanderbilt LHP Jeremy Sowers, California HS SS Matt Bush, Texas HS RHP Homer Bailey, and Georgia HS SS Chris Nelson were usually mentioned in this group, sometimes with a few other minor additions/deletions.

Of course, this overall weakness affects the A's much less than it does other teams. First, the A's typically have loads of late 1st/sandwich/2nd round picks, not high 1st-rounders. So they are not likely to be hurt by the lack of a Mark Prior or a B.J. Upton in the draft, since they wouldn't be in a position to get that caliber of player anyway. Second, the A's focus on a different kind of player from other teams: polished, skilled college players instead of tools goofs with no understanding of the strike zone or flame-throwing pitchers who couldn't find home plate with a map and a GPS tracker.

This year the A's picked 26th in every round, and in addition they had the following compensation picks from the loss of Class A free agents Keith Foulke and Miguel Tejada:

1R. #24 overall (from Red Sox for Foulke)
SW. #36 overall (for Foulke)
SW. #40 overall (for Tejada)
2R. #49 overall (from Orioles for Tejada)

Without further ado...

#24. Landon Powell, C, South Carolina. Comparisons to Jeremy Brown will abound, but Powell is a highly-regarded college catcher who slimmed down prior to the 2004 campaign. Honestly, I was a little surprised by this pick, because I thought that the best college catcher available was Cal State Fullerton's Kurt Suzuki. Then again, what do I know? Powell did hit .356/.440/.674 with 19 HR playing in a very tough conference and an extremely tough park for hitters. His defensive skills, particularly arm strength, have been touted for quite some time, so he'll probably be fine staying behind the plate.

#26. Richie Robnett, OF, Fresno State. A terrific pick, in my opinion. I thought that the A's would probably go for Danny Putnam with this pick (much as I thought that they would get Suzuki at #24). But Robnett is a very similar player who also happens to have the one tool that Putnam lacks: speed. Robnett runs a 6.6 60-yard dash and scouts say that he gets excellent jumps on fly balls. He's a projected center fielder in the majors, whereas Putnam is definitely a corner guy. I'm surprised he lasted this long.

#36. Danny Putnam, OF, Stanford. Bonus! Despite passing on Putnam ten picks earlier, they were able to grab him anyway in the sandwich round. Putnam is most frequently compared to Brian Giles: like Giles, he's not very tall, but he can absolutely hit. He has a very solid understanding of the strike zone, and has power to all fields. He had a very successful career at Stanford, even gaining a little bit of national recognition with a succession of game-winning home runs during Stanford's run to the College World Series final last year.

#40. Huston Street, RHP, Texas. This pick was doubly surprising, since a) I thought Street would be tapped by some other team in the first round, and b) Forst said yesterday that even though the A's liked Street, they would have to weigh that against the fact that relievers are not as valuable as hitters or pitchers. (See my post from earlier today.) That said, Street is one of the most major-league ready players in the draft; it wouldn't surprise me to see him in Oakland when rosters expand in September, or possibly even earlier. He's well-regarded not just for his pitching but for his "makeup" and intensity, and holds the all-time saves records not only for Texas, but also for the Big 12, for Team USA, and for the College World Series. Street also apparently plays an oustanding defensive third base (!), even though he hasn't played third this year. He doesn't really hit, so he can't be a regular third baseman in the majors, but it would be kind of cool to be able to use him situationally... imagine pinch-hitting for a middle infielder, sliding Chavez over to short, and putting this guy in at third. Cool, huh?

#49. Michael Rogers, RHP, North Carolina State. I don't really know anything about Rogers. The scouting report seems to indicate that he's a fastball-curveball pitcher, with a serviceable change. He's also only 6'1", which may mean that he's a first-round talent who fell to the 2nd round because of his height, or that he's a signability pick. Here's hoping for the former.

#67. Kurt Suzuki, C, Cal State Fullerton. Double bonus! I was hoping all along that they'd get Suzuki with their first pick, but they got him 43 slots later. Suzuki, a native of Hawaii, had tremendous numbers this year with Fullerton (.438/.535/.726 with 13 HR, playing a very tough schedule). Baseball America also rated him the #3 defensive player among the college ranks in this year's draft class, and #1 in strike-zone judgment. He and Powell (#3 arm strength, #5 power hitter) might be the two best catchers in this year's entire draft; Oklahoma's Jason Jaramillo is the only other contender for that honor, and he doesn't really hit nearly as well. It'll be interesting to see where the A's start these guys out, since you have to figure they won't want them sharing catching duties on the same minor-league team. Of course, there's only so far up they can be pushed before they reach the Jeremy Brown/John Baker catching logjam in Midland. More on this later.

#97. Jason Windsor, RHP, Cal State Fullerton. Suzuki's batterymate also fell into the A's laps in the third round. Windsor shared Big West Pitcher of the Year honors with Long Beach State ace Jered Weaver this year. He looks like a typical A's pick: decent fastball, great changeup, okay breaking stuff, excellent command and pitching know-how.

#127. Ryan Webb, RHP, Clearwater Central Catholic (FL). Sound the alarms--the A's drafted a high-school pitcher! Not only that, he's very tall (6'6") and *gasp* "projectable"! In all seriousness, the likelihood of anybody drafted in the 4th round or later having an impact in the majors is quite low, even with the A's low-risk philosophy. I don't really know anything about Webb specifically, but what I do know is even if he never pans out, he'll be a much less costly mistake than Colt Griffin or some other first-round bonus baby.

I think I'll stop here, since there's almost no chance I have anything to say about the guys drafted after this. If you're curious, the entirety of their first day can be found on MLB's web site.

My overall reactions are extremely positive. I doubt there will be a best-selling book about the A's 2004 draft class, but I'm excited about them. These guys can play (especially the top 6 or 7 picks); I think they'll be wonderful additions to the minor league system almost immediately, and eventually several of them will turn into good major league regulars. It's especially convenient that the team nabbed two pitchers, two catchers and two outfielders with their six picks in the first two rounds. Even though you never really draft based upon need, the A's managed to balance out their farm system, which was already chock-full of solid infielders.

If there is a downside, it's that the best and most major-league-ready player in the draft, Weaver, fell to the Angels at #12 and they snapped him up. San Diego, which had talked about drafting him #1 overall, backed off due to signability concerns (Weaver will be represented by Scott Boras, and rumors have been flying around that he would demand Mark Prior money); but it appears Arte Moreno is determined to spend whatever it takes to make his team successful. Given all that, I guess I'll cheer for Long Beach State to go to the College World Series, and then for a long and acrimonious negotiation period with Anaheim. :) Maybe that'll keep the A's from having to face him this fall with the pennant on the line.

Weekend recap

On Saturday, I went to the Stanford-Long Beach State NCAA Regional game at Stanford's Sunken Diamond (which, by the way, is a beautiful place to take in a game). Stanford had their work cut out for them, knowing they would be facing RHP Jered Weaver, who is the top pitcher in college baseball this season. (2004 line: 15-1, 1.65, with 201 K's and only 19 BB's in 136.1 innings. Wow.) Although Weaver didn't strike me as particularly dominating, he certainly got the job done, allowing only one earned run on five hits and a walk in 8 innings, striking out 8, as the Dirtbags beat the Cardinal. A's shortstop Bobby Crosby came by during the game (after the A's had wrapped up their 4-0 shutout of Toronto, behind a vintage Tim Hudson performance) and gave interviews. I bet he was happy with the result, since he is an alumnus of Long Beach State (drafted in the first round by the A's in 2001).

Billy Beane was also in attendance at the game, and when a GM goes to see a college baseball game two days before the amateur draft, you know it's not just to check out an entertaining NCAA contest. He was there on business. Presumably he wasn't scouting Weaver, who would obviously be out of the A's range (both in terms of draft position and signability). But Stanford junior OF Danny Putnam is the A's kind of player (he's short, but all he does is hit, hit, hit); in addition, SS Troy Tulowitski (who homered twice) and RHP/DH Jason Vargas were being talked about as possible late first-round/sandwich round selections... and of course, the A's have four picks in that range, and have a well-documented draft fetish for polished college players.

Even though I was disappointed in the outcome of the game, it was quite a pleasant day. I got to see some top college teams in action, and watch the #1 draft prospect in the nation. I didn't see Beane or Crosby personally, but I was told that they were there.

On Sunday, the A's had their "SABR Day" prior to the afternoon tilt with the Blue Jays. Team broadcaster Ken Korach, Assistant GM David Forst, and ESPN columnist Rob Neyer were on hand to answer fans' questions. There were a lot more people in attendance at this event than I was expecting, so I didn't get to ask a question personally, but several of the things I wanted to know about were asked by other people. In no particular order:

1) Yes, Neyer's column will be subscriber-only starting next week. He was very against the idea (and is not getting any more money out of it) but it was out of his hands.

2) The A's do believe that Jim Mecir is a good pitcher. And the rest of their bullpen is not really performing (except, of course, for Duchscherer) either, but these guys have track records and Forst is confident that they will turn it around.

3) Forst also believes that the A's can win the division with the personnel they currently have (although, obviously, the return of Chavez will be a boost). The Angels have been playing over their heads, and the A's have been underperforming both on offense and in the bullpen, and the Halos are still only 2.5 games up. That said, the 2004 A's are also still a work in progress, and nobody will be shocked if/when Billy pulls the trigger on a mid-season trade to get the team the parts it needs to rip off its usual second-half tear.

4) Despite the recent near-immediate arrival of college closers drafted in 2003 (Rice's David Aardsma with the Giants, Houston's Ryan Wagner with Cincinnati, and Fullerton's Chad Cordero with Montreal), the A's do not plan to go looking for immediate bullpen help in Monday's draft. The one closer universally acknowledged to be closest to major-league ready is Texas's Huston Street, who had a number of clutch saves in 2002's College World Series and has been as dominant as ever this year. Forst said that he believes Street is an excellent pitcher, but that has to be balanced against the fact that a good reliever is simply not worth as much as an every day player or a starting pitcher.

After the Q&A session, we all headed over to section 224 to watch the game, which was a treat as well. The A's topped Toronto 8-3 behind a four-run first inning outburst against Jason Kershner, outstanding middle relief work as usual by Justin Duchscherer, and some insurance runs in the 7th and 8th against the likes of Vinny Chulk and Kerry Ligtenberg. The A's have an incredible record in regular season games I've attended. I'm pretty sure they've only lost once in the 20-30 games I've been to since I moved out here in late summer of 2001. Anyway, it was a pleasant game to watch (although, coming on the heels of an extremely sunny Saturday afternoon at Sunken Diamond, I'm afraid I got a little sunburned), and the company--lots of other knowledgeable baseball fans--was thoroughly enjoyable as well.

A's Draft report forthcoming.

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