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A's future is bright at corner spots

A's future is bright at corner spots

When last we wrote about the Oakland Athletics' Minor League system, just before the 2009 season, we highlighted its young starting pitching prospects, noting that several potential members of the big league staff would normally be starting the year at Triple-A Sacramento, but instead looked like they would be pressed into service due to injuries in the big leagues.


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We were right -- to a degree. Where we were off target was suggesting that pitchers such as left-hander Brett Anderson, right-hander Trevor Cahill and, though we somehow neglected to single him out, sleeper closer Andrew Bailey, needed more time in the Minors.

Our bad.

No other organization in baseball had more than one player receiving any votes in the 2009 Rookie of the Year voting in either league than Oakland, which not only had the American League winner in Bailey, who posted a 1.84 ERA and collected 26 saves (24 of them after he moved into the role full-time around Memorial Day), but also saw 21-year-old Anderson finishing fifth in the voting (11-11, 4.06).

Bailey had split his 2008 season between starting and relief at Double-A Midland, with a 4.32 ERA between the two, but that split came down to a 6.18 ERA to open the season in the rotation and an 0.92 ERA after he moved to the 'pen in mid-June, so maybe that should have been a sign. So, too, could have been a 1.29 ERA in the Arizona Fall League as he continued his relief conversion.

But not even Athletics farm director Keith Lieppman, the 2009 winner of the Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award for distinguished service in player development, could have predicted the degree of Bailey's rookie success.

The impressive work in the big leagues from Bailey, Anderson, Cahill and another starter who made his big league debut with Oakland, Vin Mazzaro, does, however, tip the balance when it comes to where the current depth is in the Athletics system.

"Obviously our strength is young pitching, but it's in the big leagues, where we had that infusion of kids last year," Lieppman said. "But projecting ahead, our depth would be potential offensive production at the corners."

That would come in the form of two of the Minor League's best young hitters, first baseman Chris Carter and third baseman Brett Wallace. Both came to the Athletics via trades, with Carter coming over as one of six prospects acquired from Arizona in the 2008 deal for pitcher Dan Haren, and 2007 first-rounder Wallace arriving this summer from St. Louis in the Matt Holliday deal.

While some had thought that Wallace would eventually move across the diamond to first, the A's got him in hopes that he would stay at third base, and they're optimistic about that remaining the case.

"A lot of people like the way he's continued to play there," Lieppman said of Wallace, who combined to hit .293 with 20 homers and 63 RBIs at three Minor League stops between his two organizations. "So we haven't given up on it. The combination of him at third and Carter at first, you'd get some offensive production."

In his two seasons with the Athletics, all Carter has done is hit 67 homers, drive in 219 runs and rank among the Minor League leaders in nearly every offensive category both years. This year at Double-A Midland, he earned Texas League MVP honors at age 22 while raising his average 60 points.

In fact, when asked where the organization had taken its biggest step forward in 2009, he pointed to all the talent the club had brought in via trades -- Wallace, Carter and infielder Adrian Cardenas being three of the most prominent upper-level prospects acquired for big-name Major Leaguers in the last two years (well, at least those still in the Minors, since Anderson came over in the Haren deal with Carter).

"Every one of our Minor League clubs, everywhere you look, there are guys that [general manager] Billy [Beane] traded for that made a mark on our system," Lieppman said.

But that's not to say that the scouting department only had its eye on players in other organizations. Lieppman has been especially impressed by the influx of talent from the 2009 Draft, which he called "well above average."

Along with the top picks, he also singled out fourth-round pick Max Stassi, who was considered one of the top high school catchers in the country, but whose commitment to UCLA scared off a lot of clubs. The Athletics pursued him, signed him and he made a great impression this past fall with his bat, defense and leadership skills.

"A lot of people didn't think we could get him signed," Lieppman said, "but we did and he was everything he was touted to be."

But when it comes to looking ahead to prospects who could be up there with Bailey and Anderson on the 2010 Rookie of the Year ballots, the talk returns to Carter and Wallace.

"Given our current situation with the youth movement, if the opportunity is there, it might be time to give one of the prospects a shot," Lieppman said. "And they're the two most obvious guys for it, I think."

ORGANIZATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Chris Carter, 1B: Coming off a 2008 campaign where he ranked among the Minor League leaders in nearly every category, it wasn't a stretch to expect the big young slugger to continue his success up the ladder. Originally drafted out of high school by the White Sox in the 15th round of 2005 and traded twice in the 2007-2008 offseason, first to Arizona and then to Oakland, the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder batted just .259, but collected 39 homers and 104 RBIs at Class A Stockton in '08.

Vin Mazzaro, RHP: The 2008 season was a huge breakthrough campaign for the New Jersey native, as the 2005 third-rounder went 12-3 with a 1.90 ERA at Double-A Midland before struggling just a bit in his Triple-A debut at Sacramento. Our prediction that he'd have a big year came true, as he made the Majors and went 4-9 with a 5.32 ERA, no longer qualifying for our prospect list as a full-fledged big league pitcher.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Chris Carter, 1B: Our predictions on Carter came through and then some. With his promotion to Double-A, he kept the power numbers coming, but also raised his average significantly, winning Texas League MVP honors and adding on a brief Triple-A taste of Sacramento as he batted .329 with 28 home runs, 115 RBIs and 43 doubles for a .422 on-base average and .570 slugging percentage. The 22-year-old Carter led the Minors with 179 hits and 310 total bases, was second in RBIs and third with 115 runs scored. It would be tough to find anyone who had a better season across the board.

Anthony Capra, LHP: A fourth-round pick out of Wichita State in 2008, Capra's first full season was one to remember, as he combined between Class A Kane County and Stockton for a 3.20 ERA and finished second in the Minors with 170 strikeouts in 152 innings, allowing just 112 hits while walking 61. His 10.07 strikeouts per nine innings ranked 10th among all full-season starters. He limited Midwest League hitters to a .197 average and was almost as effective in the California League at .223. He's not overpowering, with his plus changeup his best pitch, but he gets the job done.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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