A's Opening Day Roster: Breaking Down The Hitters

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A's Opening Day Roster: Breaking Down The Hitters

This is the followup to the article on the A's opening day pitching staff.

The A's are carrying 14 hitters to start the year. Here is my take on them:

Catchers:

Kurt Suzuki

Pros: Suzuki is a smart player who does well under pressure. He has a balanced line-drive stroke and decent plate discipline. He projects to hit about 10 homers a year. Defensively, he has shown he is good at working with pitchers and calls a good game.

Cons: Suzuki is well-rounded offensively, but he isn't about to excel anywhere. He likely will never hit .300, hit 20 homers, or draw 70 walks in a year, so while he is solid, he would have to show some extraordinary growth to become an upper-echelon offensive catcher. Suzuki struggles to block pitches in the dirt and his receiving skills need some polish, although he is noticeably better now than he was when he broke into the majors.

My take: Suzuki is a decent enough starter, and the Haren trade will actually help his defense because Haren's two-strike splitters in the dirt are almost as disconcerting to a rookie as Tim Wakefield's knuckleballs. You could sure do worse than Suzuki, but at least this year, he may well be the worst starting catcher in the division.

Rob Bowen

Pros: Bowen switch hits and has a bit of power. He is considered an average to above-average defender.

Cons: Bowen isn't a good contact hitter, and he strikes out in almost 30% of his plate appearances, a rate which his power doesn't justify. His arm isn't very good.

My take: I guess Bowen's decent enough as a backup, but it's a shame Jeremy Brown retired, because he was better than Bowen. Ideally, Bowen is a third, organizational catcher who you call up in case of injury. If Landon Powell (also a switch-hitter, but much better all-around) is healthy through May, he should get this job.

Infielders:

Daric Barton, 1B

Pros: Barton is a very selective hitter, consistently walking more than he struck out in the minors. He hit .347/.429/.639 in 84 MLB plate appearances last year, so he adapted to the majors quickly even though he had just turned 22. He is an average defensive first baseman but also has experience at third and catcher. He may have the best plate approach of any rookie in the last five years.

Cons: Barton hasn't shown a ton of power in the minors, putting up ISOs consistently below .200 and just a .145 mark in Sacramento last year. At first base, power is a must, not just in the form of doubles but also in home runs. Many people believe Barton will not develop 25+ HR power, although some do.

My take: Here you have a downside of Sean Casey and an upside of Todd Helton, so all that remains to be seen is where on the spectrum of high-average lefty 1Bs Barton will be. Casey, Lyle Overbay, Mark Grace, Helton, or even Jason Giambi are all possible outcomes. No matter what, he should be good, especially if he hits anything like his callup last year.

Mark Ellis, 2B

Pros: Ellis has good line-drive gap power and a good approach at the plate. He is a consistent hitter who rarely slumps and offers slightly above-average hitting at the keystone. Ellis is possibly the most underrated defensive player in the game today, and has the highest 2B fielding percentage in history.

Cons: Second basemen don't tend to age well, and Ellis is about to turn 31. The downside of consistency is that you're as unlikely to overperform as you are to underperform, so there's little to no chance of a good fluke season.

My take: Ellis is what he is, but the A's are building for 2011. Ellis likely won't be a major contributor by then. The A's would be better off giving the 2B job to Brooks Conrad, who has a bit more potential offensively. Of course, if the A's do well this year, Ellis could prove to still be valuable, so there is a flip side.

Bobby Crosby, SS

Pros: Crosby has everything you'd expect from a former Rookie of the Year, and he is a five tool player who is especially good defensively. He has tremendous pull power on high fastballs.

Cons: Injury problems have hampered Crosby so much it is unclear how good he is now. He hasn't been good and healthy since 2004, and he's been neither since 2005. It is tough to say if the injuries hurt his ability only in the short-term or if he is now something less than he once was. He has really struggled to hit for average the last two years and has looked completely overmatched against most pitches. He shows very little plate discipline, especially on pitches off the plate away.

My take: It's probably time to just cut bait on Crosby, although he had a good spring and Japan series, so he may deserve one last shot. Like Rich Harden, Crosby is a good guy to deal if he gets healthy. Sell high and make him some other trainer's problem.

Jack Hannahan, 3B

Pros: Hannahan is a good line drive hitter with some pop, as evidenced by his mammoth home run in the A's first game of the season. He is also a versatile defender capable of playing anywhere on the infield. He has phenomenal range and reflexes at 3B.

Cons: Hannahan swings from his heels, so he does swing through his share of pitches. An ex-Quad-A guy, he is still a rookie but already in his prime, so he won't get any better than he is now.

My take: If Hannahan's skill set sounds familiar to A's fans, it should. Hannahan is basically a younger, cheaper, and healthier version of Eric Chavez; a good lefty bat with Gold Glove skills at 3B. Ship Chavez out, save tons of money, and run this guy out there for 150 games. He won't disappoint.

Dan Johnson, 1B

Pros: Johnson is a lefty bat who has good power and plate discipline. He is a solid-average defensive first baseman.

Cons: Johnson has struggled to hit for average for the last three years and doesn't have enough secondary offensive skills to make up for a batting average consistently below .240.

My take: Keeping Johnson on the roster is a mistake, as with Mike Sweeney. This isn't because Johnson doesn't have virtues, but it's silly to keep a veteran who can only DH and play 1B, who can't hit lefties, and doesn't do anything better than Barton.

Mike Sweeney, DH/1B

Pros: Sweeney can hit, for both contact and power. He also draws a lot of walks and usually walks more than he strikes out.

Cons: Sweeney is about as fragile as Crosby or Harden, and he's another veteran on a rebuilding team. He can't play 1B anymore.

My take: Nothing against Sweeney, but a fragile veteran platoon DH is about as bad a use of a roster spot as it gets. With Jack Cust and Daric Barton already entrenched at DH and 1B, it makes no sense to have Johnson and Sweeney taking bench spots. The A's would be better served using those spots on more versatile options.

Donnie Murphy, SS/2B

Pros: Murphy can play any infield position well, and he has a wide range of offensive skills, including a surprising .221 ISO in 132 MLB plate appearances last year.

Cons: Murphy seems to have problems showing all of his skills at once, as he seems to either be a low-average, high-power guy or vice versa. Finding a happy medium to his approach would benefit Murphy greatly. His .220 AVG and .290 OBP from the majors last year are tough to stomach.

My take: Murphy is just 25, so he has time to figure out hitting. For now, he's a useful versatile reserve. You use your bench spots on guys like this, not Johnson and Sweeney.

Outfielders:

Emil Brown

Pros: Brown can play both LF and RF decently, and led the Royals in RBI the last three years. He is 28 for 34 in steals the last three years.

Cons: Brown's .257/.300/.347 line from 2006 is completely unacceptable for a corner outfiielder, even in a platoon or bench role. The A's plan for him to start over half the team's games this year, and he needs to hit more like his.286/.354/.456 from 2005-06 to justify that. Brown cannot play center field.

My take: Brown is slightly more useful than Sweeney or Johnson in that he can play LF and RF, but he is another rather superfluous middling veteran bat who plays a premium offensive position. Yeah, if the A's seriously traded Street, Embree, Foulke, Sweeney, Johnson, and Brown, it would disrupt the clubhouse some, but if they're not playing to win this year, does that matter?

Chris Denorfia

Pros: Denorfia has some of every skill that exists. He is a good contact hitter who drives balls to all parts of the park. He has doubles and occasionally home run power. He shows solid plate discipline. He is an average-plus defender in center and plus in the corners. 

Cons: Whereas Denorfia's biggest strength is a lack of weaknesses, his biggest weakness is a lack of strengths. Denorfia doesn't do anything exceptionally, so many people view him as a fourth or fifth outfielder. He missed all of 2007 after Tommy John surgery and must show that he is recovered. 

My take: Denorfia, if recovered, is a good choice for center field. He wont be a star, but he's the type of hitter who can hit anywhere but 3rd, 4th, or 5th and not embarrass himself. He is a poor-man's righty version of Grady Sizemore.

Ryan Sweeney

Pros: Scouts love Sweeney. He has a nice lefty swing, he can play all three outfield positions, he's always been young for his levels, he hits for average, and has solid speed.

Cons: Sweeney has never hit for any power, which kills him if he is going to play left or right. Most people think he's stretched to play center and shouldn't be used regularly there. At 23, the "young for his levels" thing has gone away.

My take: I'm not high on Ryan Sweeney at all. The A's are planning to platoon him and Denorfia in CF, which is a very bad idea as far as I'm concerned. Sweeney is a decent 5th outfielder in that he can play all three positions and isn't completely punchless at the plate, but his lack of power really limits him to the major league bench. If A's fans are looking for him to replace Nick Swisher, they will be sorely disappointed. Sweeney is the one player the A's acquired in the offseason (aside from Kristian Bell) who I don't like at all.

Travis Buck

Pros: Buck is a good contact hitter who was possibly the A's best hitter last year. He is like Denorfia in that he does some of everything, although he can't play center and he hits lefthanded. He also has more upside than Denorfia, especially at the plate.

Cons: Buck never played more than 7 consecutive games last year due to a string of minor injuries, leading to major durability concerns. He needs to develop more power to be an asset in right field, especially if Brown is going to be in left.

My take: Buck has established himself as the right fielder, and I have no problem with that. The development of his power, however, will be crucial to his career.

Jack Cust

Pros: Cust has as much power as anyone in the game. He can hit any pitch way out of any park in the majors. He is the most disciplined hitter in the majors as well. He swung at the fewest percentage of pitches out of the strike zone in the majors last year, leading to a .408 OBP. He could potentially homer 40 times and walk 150 in a full season, as he hit 26 homers and walked 105 times despite being in the minors until mid-May.

Cons: As good as Cust's power and patience are, everything else is abysmal. He is noted for his horrific defense and baserunning (who will ever forget the Stumble-A-Thon in Baltimore in 2003?) although most statistical models show Cust as simply below-average defensively. While Cust projects to 40 HR/150 BB over a full year, his 164 K's last year projects to break the major league record of 199 this year. Cust takes a ton of strikes waiting for his pitch, and also doesn't make reliable contact even when he swings.

My take: Cust is my favorite player and easily the A's best hitter. The A's should get rid of Sweeney and Johnson so Cust doesn't have to play the outfield. Yes, Cust clearly has flaws, but his overall package is very valuable. If he slumps, don't worry, he is a streaky hitter (he started his AAA season last year 0-21 with no walks and 15 K's) and will bounce back.

So there ya go. If and when the A's make moves, I'll give some analysis on them. 

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