Oakland A's spring training postcard (cont.)
Prospects to Watch
Chris Carter and Michael Taylor
Carter, 23 and acquired in 2007 from the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade, and Taylor, 24 and picked up over the winter in a swap for fellow minor leaguer Brett Wallace that was part of the Roy Halladay deal, are ranked by Baseball America as the game's 28th and 29th best prospects, respectively. Neither has spent a day in the majors, but both, says Beane, could provide a boost to the A's offense this season -- perhaps sooner, rather than later. "Even conservatively speaking, I think we'd be surprised if they weren't at some point up here," the GM says. "It could be at the end of spring."
Both are physically imposing: Carter is 6'4", Taylor is 6'6". While Carter, who will likely play first base, possesses more raw power -- he hit 28 home runs last year in the minors, and 39 the year before -- Taylor is perhaps more versatile. The A's expect him to be an above-average defensive outfielder, and even though he hit 20 home runs in the Phillies organization in '09, he also displayed a plate discipline possessed by few players of his considerable size. He struck out 70 times in 116 games, and hit .320 with a .395 OBP.
Taylor also, says Beane, "puts about as good a first impression on you as you can imagine. I got off the phone with him when we traded for him, and I said, listen, this kid on the phone was about as impressive a young man as you'd want." Taylor is 19 units, or about one academic quarter, shy of graduating from Stanford with a degree in Political Science -- he focused on American government and U.S.-Middle East relations -- and intends to complete his degree, his studies for which were interrupted when he was drafted after his junior season, in short order. Of his chances of making the A's this season, he says, "You're talking to a guy who has not seen one major league pitch, so it would be a little presumptuous of me to sit here and say, yes, I'm going to provide something at the major league level. But I'm trying to get better, so that whatever skill set I have shines."
New Face, New Place
Kouzmanoff, 28 years old and now with his third team after the A's acquired him from the Padres in a trade centered on spare outfielder Scott Hairston, should fit well into Oakland's defensive renaissance. "He had three errors all last season, which is remarkable," says Geren of his new third baseman. "I've seen two errors on one play. I've seen three in one game." But he should also contribute some much-needed, everyday power. He averaged nearly 20 homers in his three seasons in San Diego, and his 18 last year were more than anyone on the A's roster mustered except for Jack Cust. Says Geren, "He has real good numbers hitting with guys in scoring position" -- a .303 average and an .838 OPS in '09 -- "and he's the kind of guy who is going to drive in runs. I don't know where he's going to hit yet, but he's going to be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter, which we need."
Speaking of possible sources of power, few players have ever had as much power potential as the 6'4" McPherson, a 2nd round pick of the Angels in 2001 who was Baseball America's 12th-best prospect in the game in 2005, and who has two 40-plus home run seasons on his minor league curriculum vitae. That C.V., though, also features three major surgeries, one on his hip and two on his back, the second of which was necessitated after he felt a twinge the day after he signed a contract with the Giants last spring. McPherson explains: "The cadaver bone they put in [during his Jan. 2007 spinal fusion procedure] overgrew and the nerve grew into it. So they had to go in, shave down that bone, free up the nerve, clean up some scar tissue, and take out the hardware from my first surgery."
The result of all that is that McPherson is 29 years old now and has played in just 128 big league games. He's in A's camp on a minor league deal, as a non-roster invitee and is under no illusions about his standing. McPherson knows that the window for him to start a long big league career has almost closed. "Hopefully if I play well and stay healthy," he says, "some day there will be a need for me." If there's one place where his services might be needed, it's in Oakland, which has eyed him for at least two years, and which in 2007 gave a chance to a then 28-year-old slugger: Cust, who, like McPherson, had yet to find a big league home. Cust has hit 84 home runs in his three seasons as an A. "Jack's issue was he never got the chance," says Beane. "Dallas's issue is that he's never been able to stay healthy when opportunities presented themselves. If he has health, it's hard to find that kind of corner power." McPherson is as deep a sleeper as deep sleepers get, but he shouldn't be overlooked.
The television in Beane's office is usually tuned to Fox Soccer Channel, and Beane, who along with several members of his staff attended the World Cup in Germany in 2006, is borderline fanatical about the beautiful game. He particularly admires Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, whom he views as a kindred spirit as far as his approach to the business of sports. He highly recommends David Goldblatt's sweeping 2008 history of soccer, The Ball is Round. "I don't read a lot of sports books," Beane says, "but this is one of the best books I've ever read. It's about 900 pages, but it's phenomenal. That's your reading assignment.".... Geren proudly showed off a digital photo of his rescue dog, Hank. As in, Hank Geren.... Dallas Braden should be the club's No. 4 starter, even though he still feels numbness -- similar to "pins and needles" -- in his left foot from a botched procedure to drain a cyst late last summer, which severed a nerve and prematurely ended a promising season in which he went 8-9 with a 3.89 ERA. "If I can stand, I can pitch," says Braden. Braden, a loquacious 26-year-old, visited Amsterdam during the off-season. He spent hours in the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, and hopes to travel to Europe again next winter. "It's a little early to plan, but I think Germany, because after gathering all the information I did at the Anne Frank House I want to gain an understanding of everything that occurred over there, and enlighten myself," he says. "Plus, I hear they have some good beer."
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