With the trade deadline looming, the A's need to get rid of their veteran hitters and start getting a good look at the young players who will shape the franchise in years to come.
One player who the A's need to look at is Cliff Pennington, the shortstop for Oakland's Triple-A affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats.
Pennington isn't really a flashy player, but he's the sort of underrated contributor that helps teams win.
Pennington didn't embarrass himself in a short trial in Oakland last year, hitting .242/.339/.293.
Pennington's got an interesting combination of speed, plate discipline, and defensive ability.
He's a fair contact hitter. Pennington is hitting .272 in Triple-A this year, but he hit .297 there last year and projects as a .260-.280 MLB hitter in his prime. That's nothing special, but it's competent for a shorstop, and the fact that Pennington is a switch-hitter helps.
His average plays up because Pennington has excellent plate discipline. Note the solid OBP last year despite the low batting average. Pennington had a .426 Triple-A OBP last year and is at .351 this season.
Pennington has very good speed and and excellent idea of how to use it, going 27-for-30 in steals.
He's a solid defensive shortstop with on of the best infield arms in Triple-A. Pennington also has plenty of experience at second and third, and could play good defense there if asked.
Pennington's one major problem is his power output. He's boosted his Isolated Power up to .104 this year, and did slug .452 in June (for what it's worth in a small sample), but he doesn't project to be a .400 slugging percentage guy in the majors.
Overall, Pennington projects as a .270/.360/.360 hitter with 30-40 steals (in an everyday role) and good defense. He won't be an All-Star, but he should be a tough out, a plus baserunner/basestealer, and defensive asset.
Adding more strength to the "Bring Up Pennington" argument is the lackluster play of current A's shortstop Orlando Cabrera, whose .278/.318/.366 line is certainly no better than what one would expect Pennington to provide.
Cabrera is also in a rapid defensive decline and offers only average baserunning and basestealing at this point in his career.
On top of that, there's the matter that the 34-year-old Cabrera has far less upside than the 25-year-old Pennington. He's also more expensive, and his contract is up at the end of the year anyway.
It's time for the A's to give Pennington a chance to show he can be the team's everyday option in 2010 at shortstop. If he performs well, Oakland can refrain from spending big money on a shortstop in the offseason. If Pennington struggles, the A's will need to look elsewhere.
The time to evaluate the young players is now, and Pennington should lead the charge.