By Jason Wojciechowski on August 9, 2008 at 1:46 AM
So I have a question: where's the young impact Oakland talent on the offensive side? Every A's fan has heard about Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Henry Rodriguez, Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazzaro, James Simmons, Josh Outman, Fautino De Los Santos, Craig Italiano, Greg Smith and Michel Inoa. Not all of these guys can be fairly labeled "impact", but people are genuinely excited about at least Cahill, Anderson, Rodriguez, Gonzalez, De Los Santos, and Inoa. The other five guys have good chances to be quality major leaguers. That's six exciting pitchers at various levels of the system, and five pretty good guys behind that. And then there's still Dana Eveland, Justin Duchscherer, and Sean Gallagher, who should all range from pretty good to adequate for the next few years. It's a hugely impressive feat for Billy Beane to have built this kind of pitching depth.
But I ask again: where's the offensive talent? Kurt Suzuki is solid at best. Daric Barton is struggling: partly he's not making contact (25% strikeout rate), partly his line-drive rate is down to 20%, and partly he seems to have gotten a little unlucky with the BABIP, as with that line drive percentage, you'd expect a BABIP around .320, but he's actually at .270, which is a pretty large gap. But let's not kid ourselves: Barton had ISO's under .150 at Sacramento in 2006 and 2007. Even John Olerud's career ISO was .170.
Anyway. Ryan Sweeney's all batting average. Carlos Gonzalez has an impressive-looking swing, and his batting average is ok, but his power is mediocre and he's a hacking machine (5% walk rate, 24% strikeout rate). Travis Buck is having the struggles of his life this year, in the majors and at AAA. Eric Patterson doesn't hit for as much power as you'd like out of a guy who will probably have to play a corner outfield spot. Cliff Pennington, despite a Futures Game appearance, has a popgun bat, though good on-base ability. Anthony Recker looks fine, but is he any better than Solid Suzuki? Javi Herrera is still hanging around, but he's not hitting for any power. Adrian Cardenas is also just solid. Jemile Weeks might fit that description also, though his on-base ability is impressive. He should hit for more power than Pennington, but enough to make a real difference?
The only guys A's fans can really get excited about are Sean Doolittle, who's really emerged as a power hitter at AA, and Chris Carter, who's bashed 31 homers in the Cal League. (Matt Sulentic might be on this list as well.) But both of those guys are first basemen (and Carter might just be a DH), and power-hitting first basemen are a dime a dozen, notwithstanding the A's inability to find one ever since Jason Giambi left.
Where's our Jay Bruce? Where's our Evan Longoria? Where's our Geovanny Soto? Our Joey Votto? Longoria and Bruce were very high draft picks, higher than the A's have picked in years (but Bruce was a 12th pick, and does anyone think Jemile Weeks is going to be as valuable as Bruce over the next ten years?), but Soto was an 11th rounder and Votto was 44th overall back in '02.
It's not just rookies that makes me ask where the A's young hitting talent is. The VORP leaderboards are full of young, pre-free agency talent: Hanley, Matt Holliday, Grady Sizemore, Jose Reyes, Chase Utley, Ian Kinsler, Brian McCann, Ryan Braun, David Wright, Justin Morneau, Carlos Quentin, Nate McLouth, Dan Uggla, Joe Mauer, Jhonny Peralta, Nick Markakis, Prince Fielder, Conor Jackson, Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Doumit, Curtis Granderson, Jason Bay, Russell Martin, Soto, JJ Hardy, Ryan Theriot, Matt Kemp, Stephen Drew, Jose Lopez, Mike Aviles, BJ Upton, Corey Hart, James Loney, Howie Kendrick, Fred Lewis, David DeJesus, Mark Reynolds, Ryan Spilborghs, Garrett Atkins, Ryan Howard, Kelly Johnson, Luke Scott, Chris Iannetta, Alex Rios, Mike Fontenot. Not all of these guys are young, but I'm fairly sure that this is the complete list of pre-free agency players who rank in VORP ahead of the A's top VORPer, Jack Cust, who is 109th in baseball. The highest VORP of a player on the A's who actually has a future with the team is Kurt Suzuki, who ranks 155th.
This is, frankly, depressing. It's depressing that even the Giants have youngish player (Fred Lewis) who is hitting better than any A's. It was going to get worse before it got better, because that's the course Billy Beane decided to run, but did it have to get so much worse?