I was in Sacramento this past weekend to watch the Sacramento River Cats (A's) play the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners). It was an interesting experience, to say the least.
I would be remiss if I didn't dedicate part of this report to a discussion of Manny Ramirez. While I was sitting in the press box waiting for a game to begin, Ramirez asked for and received his release from Oakland.
Manny Ramirez was a high school hitting phenom out of George Washington High School in New York. He was drafted by Cleveland as their first-round selection at No. 13 overall in 1991.
Ramirez started his career with the Rookie League Burlington club where he hit .326 over 259 plate-appearances. It was just an indication of what was to come.
It didn't take Ramirez long to prove his skill as a lethal right-handed hitter. He made the big club at age 21 in 1993. He helped set the Indians on fire in that era as well as earning a reputation as a middle-of-the-order, power-hitting game changer.
Then it happened. Ramirez's life changed, and the fortunes of Cleveland's baseball future changed along with it.
Ramirez left via "free" agency to join the Red Sox, an American League rival and a franchise that agreed to pay him more than $13 million/year, a tad more than the $4.24 million Cleveland paid him in 2000. Jim Thome left Cleveland after the 2002 season and the franchise has never been the same. Albert Belle really stated the parade out of Cleveland in 1996 when the White Sox showed him the money. In reality, the departures of Ramirez and Thome were the final blows to a franchise that had sold out their new stadium during late-90s pennant runs.
It was in Boston that Manny Ramirez became Manny. And now, today, he really is just plain - very plain - Manny.
While in Sacramento, Ramirez refused to talk to any member of the media, including his own home team radio announcer. I was not offended when I was refused an opportunity to speak with him. What I would like to tell Manny Ramirez is the time to worry is when nobody from the media wants to talk to him, not when they do. That time is approaching.
In Sacramento, I saw a Manny Ramirez that flailed at curve balls outside the strike zone. I saw a Manny Ramirez that didn't see a fastball. Pitchers were not fearful of Manny. They knew he would get himself out. Not one ball was hit hard in the time I watched both batting practice and the game. It was the same thing I saw in spring training.
Ironically, it is the Indians that could probably most use Ramirez at this stage of his career. Of course, he's Manny Ramirez once again, not Manny.
However, the Tribe doesn't have a right-handed hitter that can hit his weight. Manny might be able to do that, and he might be able to sell some tickets. I don't know how many, but at least some. There are people who want to see what he looks like. The "new" Manny Ramirez. And I won't describe that on this site.
Now, on to viable players I saw in Sacramento playing for the River Cats:
There are a few players I think we will see in Oakland either this year or in the near future and some have fantasy value. I want to share my thoughts on a few of those players:
Grant Green - A former first-round selection, Green is a very versatile guy. In the four games I saw in Sacramento, Green started in left field, third base, shortstop and center field. If it doesn't confuse Green, then it shouldn't confuse you and me.
But it does confuse Green. He spoke with me and indicated he was very happy to get the playing time at a number of positions. Further, he is right when he says it increases his opportunities with the club. But he also doesn't know what the club has in store for him. What's his future? Where do they think he will play so he can have a chance to succeed?
Green was drafted as a shortstop. His defense left a bit to be desired so the club shifted him to the outfield, implying to him that his future was in left or center.
I saw Green play both in the Arizona Fall League and in spring training. He played the outfield. He scuffled a bit in Arizona under the high sky, but he was learning.
Green has always showed he can hit. He doesn't have huge power, although he could hit up to about 15-16 homers in Sacramento this season. Green hits line drives and subsequently, should hit for a good average. He also runs the bases well and is a good athlete. But where will he play?
The A's really need athletic outfielders. He can play center field, but he isn't good enough to start. At best, I see him as a good utility player able to come off the bench and play any one of four or five positions. And that's why I think he's playing the infield now. I believe he's being groomed as a utility guy and as a possible trade piece to a team in need of a right-handed hitter. Oakland has too much money and emotional investment in Green to neglect him as an option.
Adam Rosales may be one of the best athletes on the River Cats team. I have no idea why he and Eric Sogard are switching assignments between Sacramento and Oakland. Both are good utility players, and I think Rosales may be the better hitter of the two. Neither will hit for a high average, but both will provide good infield defense. And in the Oakland way, both can probably play the outfield. Rosales played there in one game I saw and he was acceptable.
Rosales has a bit of pop in his bat. He makes good contact and can drive the ball to the gaps. However, he doesn't always hit the ball on the line. He often pops it up.
Rogales was drafted by the Reds in 2005 and is now 29 years old.
Triple-A clubs often have seasoned veterans as roster fillers or yo-yo's that can be sent back and forth to the big club when a need arises. Rosales is perfect in that role.
He has value only in an AL-only leagues where the infield positions run dry late.
Sogard is only 26 and is just really beginning his career. He was a second-round draft choice in 2007.
Much like Rogales, Sogard has only limited fantasy value. Because of a weak bat with marginal power at best, I see him as a utility player going forward. The A's brass likes Sogard a great deal. They see him as a possible middle-infield utility player. I see him as a below average player at best - probably in the same role as Oakland projects.
Stephen Parker was drafted in the fifth round in 2009 as a corner infielder capable of playing both first and third. I'm not confident he will hit with enough power to claim a role at either position. In addition, his defense is marginal.
Parker has advanced in the A's system because he has hit for average. Until this season. He his hovering around the .258 mark at Sacramento and he has just four homers and 13 extra-base hits in 208 plate appearances. He has had seasons where he hit .320, .286, etc. He did hit 21 homers at High-A Stockton in 2010, but that appears to have been an outlier.
While the A's will continue to give him opportunities to play, I don't think he'll make it beyond Triple-A unless A) he steps up his offense or B) the A's third-base woes continue. He could compete with Sogard for a utility role.
Wes Timmons has been around since 2002 as a utility player that can do everything but pitch and catch. He is among the seemingly countless Oakland players they mix and match at various positions looking to catch lightning in a bottle.
I view Timmons as an emergency player that could make the big club if all else fails. He has no power. His average this year at Sacramento is down to .222. He seems destined to be a Quad-A type player.
Of all the portable, versatile, interchangeable infield-outfield parts I saw at Sacramento, Brandon Hicks is by far, the most talented of the lot.
Hicks was drafted by Atlanta with their third-round selection in 2007. Now 26, Hicks is showing he can play the game.
I like everything about him. I like his quick hands through the ball, his leadership ability, his maturity and the way he can take pitches to all parts of the field. He doesn't have the greatest contact rate, having struck out 71 times already this season in only 260 plate-appearances, but that shouldn't deny him an opportunity to play in the big leagues, where striking out seems to be more and more acceptable.
Unlike Reno or Tucson where the balls fly in the Pacific Coast League, Sacramento is a difficult place to hit the ball out of the park. Hicks has 10 home runs so far. He has some pop in his bat. Further, Hicks is very solid defensively, showing an ability to play both second and shortstop in the games I watched.
From a fantasy standpoint, if Hicks every gets the chance to play in the major leagues again, (he played a total of 23 games for Atlanta combined in 2010 and 2011) I think he would hit. I'd like to see him get the chance. I think he might be just below the average shortstop in fantasy, but he might surprise. Watch the roster moves and see if he pops up. He might be worth a flyer.
In the four games I saw, Anthony Recker caught as much as Derek Norris. They each caught two games. Recker also played left field one game.
Recker didn't show much defensively. I'm not sure he will be able to maintain a role as a backup catcher the way he receives pitches.
Offensively, Recker doesn't show much of a bat. He's a .240 hitter now after having a very difficult time adjusting at the plate following being sent down from Oakland earlier this month. Recker has two home runs for Sacramento in 55 plate-appearances, so he does have a bit of pop. I don't see much fantasy value in him, however, he's 28 and he may not have much opportunity going forward.
The A's gave up Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam to get Derek Norris, A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, and Brad Peacock. It was a trade predicated upon strengthening the organizational depth with projectable prospects. Norris projects to be a starting catcher.
The subject of one of my previous player profile articles a couple seasons ago, Norris is built like a catcher.
I like everything about this guy. He hits with authority (eight homers and 14 doubles at Triple-A so far) and he hits for a healthy average. In 232 plate-appearances, Norris has a solid .273 batting average. He also has a bit of speed that will prevent him from being a base-clogging catcher.
Norris is a rare offensive/defensive catcher. He won't hurt his club at either part of the game. While he may not make the All-Star team, Norris will provide effective and efficient play day in and day out. He's a grinder.
Defensively, he is showing good footwork, good game management and a very strong and accurate throwing arm from behind the plate.
Norris could probably be better than a .250 big league hitter. He will have a tough time hitting the ball out of the park in Oakland, but he'll also play in some friendlier parks like Houston and Texas.
I believe Norris has good fantasy value as an average to better than average hitter/catcher as soon as late 2012 or 2013.
Michael Taylor was drafted the Phillies in 2007. He was sent to Toronto for Roy Halladay in a deal that included Kyle Drabek and Travis D'Arnaud going to the Blue Jays. Taylor was then dealt to Oakland for Brett Wallace. Now, do you have all that?
Taylor has been a puzzle.
He went to Stanford, played baseball and was drafted in the fifth round by the Phillies in 2007. He is now 26 years old. I haven't seen much, if any, progress in his game.
I've watched lots of Michael Taylor and Chris Carter. Those two guys were to provide power for years to come to a rather feeble Oakland lineup. It just hasn't happened for either of them.
I remember a scout friend of me telling me how frustrated the A's were that neither Taylor nor Carter has taken to hitting instruction. That could be. I'm not sure.
Taylor still shows signs of life as a prospect. He is a much better hitter now than I have seen in the past. So far this season, he is hitting .319 with four homers at Sacramento. With his size and strength, he should be showing much more consistent power. He does hit to all fields, something he learned while playing at Stanford. His 19 doubles and 31 RBI to date indicate promise as a good, solid gap hitter.
When I watched him at Sacramento, I saw much better plate discipline and much more consistent contact being made. I think he's making progress as a dangerous hitter with more patience at the plate.
Defensively, Taylor does not take the best routes, gets bad reads off the bat and is slow to the ball. His arm strength is average.
If Taylor gets to play in Oakland, I don't think he will be anything other than an average player. It will be difficult for him to supplant Josh Reddick in right field. I don't know where else he can play. Perhaps in left. I see a trade. I think Taylor and Chris Carter are excellent trade chips in a game that has a need for right-handed hitting outfielders and first basemen.
Chris Carter is a clone to Michael Taylor. Taylor is the better hitter of the two. Both suffer from a lack of mechanical consistency. Both have underachieved.
Carter is a combination first baseman/outfielder with more true power potential than Taylor. Taylor has the better batting average. Combined they might be a solid player.
Carter's major problem is making contact, although that aspect of his game is improving. He swings and misses regularly and has trouble hitting breaking balls and high velocity fastballs up in the zone. So far this season, he has 11 homers and 50 RBI. He has cut down on his strikeouts and increased his bases on balls. Both are good signs.
Oakland has had a trial period at first base for a few years. Daric Barton is the most recent underachiever. Brandon Moss is the latest achiever. How long Moss will last is anyone's guess. But Carter hasn't really had a sustained chance to show what he can do on the biggest stage.
At age 25, Chris Carter has little to prove in Triple-A. He has been playing at that level since part of 2009. The A's owe it to themselves and to Carter to see if there is a market for him.
I like Carter better than Barton, for sure. Do I think he has a chance to play at the highest level? Maybe all he needs is that chance. Maybe he's just Brandon Allen or Kila Ka'aihue. Or maybe he's David Cooper. That would be helpful.
One of the biggest disappointments for me this past weekend was watching Brad Peacock pitch.
I had seen plenty of him in the Arizona Fall League. I thought he had a solid arm with some real mechanical and command issues. What I saw in Sacramento was a guy that didn't know where his pitches were going. He fell behind in counts and had to get too much of the plate to catch up. I was not impressed.
Does Peacock have the arm strength and stamina to hold up over long, hot seasons in the summer? I'm not sure. At 6-fee-1, he is only 175 pounds. He isn't overpowering.
His numbers this season? He is 6-3 with a 5.67 ERA and a 1.590 WHIP. It is the WHIP that bothers me the most. That's the statistic I look at first with pitchers. It is also the most telling to me of command and control. Peacock has walked 27 while striking out 69 in 66.2 innings pitched. The strikeouts are very respectable. But he has given up 79 hits in those innings. Too many. He's way too hittable. Especially when he falls behind in the count.
I don't know what his status is with Oakland. I do know they have lots of interchangeable pitchers in their organization because of the deal they made with Washington, I believe Peacock will get his chance. I'm not sure I'm going to be a buyer in fantasy. In fact, until I see better control and command, better secondary pitches and better mound savvy, I'll be happy to let the other guy take him. I may eat my words, but for now, he's not on my top prospect list.
Tyson Ross is a pitcher the A's have sent back and forth to Sacramento. He did not pitch in the series I saw. I have seen him many times in spring training, and I believe he has a good arm and a solid chance to succeed.
Next week: Seattle Mariners prospects at Tacoma
*I like seeing guys like Brandon Moss get a chance. He's been around since 2002 (Boston) and he's now 28. If he's ever going to do it, now is the time.
*Is the pitching that much better or is the hitting that much worse?
*I'm really happy Ryan Braun is having such a fine year. I've been in his corner all along.
*Aramis Ramirez is starting to heat up a bit.
*I think we can say that Melky Cabrera is for real.
*Justin Grimm's leap to the Rangers was based upon a "lights out" performance at Double-A Frisco. He stepped up and showed he knew how to pitch. Hope it continues for him.
*Leonys Martin was injured at Round Rock or he may have been up to Texas sooner. He hit .344 with some power in the Pacific Coast League. He's still learning how to steal bases.
*Jeanmar Gomez has hit the wall. But he wasn't helped in his last start by terrible infield defense-especially by Asdrubal Cabrera.
*Tell me now if you ever thought R.A. Dickey would almost throw two no-hitters and have the chance to start the All Star Game. No, you didn't.
*Bust of the Week: Brendan Ryan. You're killing me man.
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff and on MLB.com in the voices section. I'll be at the Mariners-Diamondbacks and Cubs-Diamondbacks games this week at Chase Field. I invite you to follow me then.