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Minor League Report: New arrivals

Minor League Report: New arrivals

PHOENIX -- Oakland's four big trades over the winter sent ace Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks for six prospects, outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher to the White Sox for three players, outfielder Mark Kotsay to the Braves for two, and utilityman Marco Scutaro to Toronto for two more.

As of Friday morning, several were still in the big league camp, but A's director of player personnel Keith Lieppman has seen all of the new guys and is clearly impressed.

"You can see why we thought so highly of them," Lieppman said on Friday morning at the club's Papago Park complex. "And you could see it right away."

Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, 21, considered the gem of the Haren deal, has been particularly impressive. Flashing an electric package of all-around skills, he was a darkhorse to break camp with the A's until he suffered a strained hamstring on Wednesday that is expected to shelve him for at least a week and punch his ticket to Triple-A Sacramento to start the season.

Also acquired in the Haren deal were lefty Dana Eveland and righty Greg Smith; both are still competing for the No. 5 spot in Oakland's starting rotation. Outfielder Ryan Sweeney, part of the Swisher deal, is still competing for an outfield job with the A's.

Lefty starter Gio Gonzalez, also part of the Swisher deal, and righty reliever Joey Devine, part of the Kotsay deal, are still up with the big boys, too. Lieppman, however, said they'll start the season at Triple-A, barring an injury to an expected big leaguer.

Outfielder Aaron Cunningham broke his left wrist in the first week of Cactus League games, and his timetable for returning to action was set at about eight weeks. Before camp opened, he was scheduled to open the year at Double-A Midland, but Lieppman said he might have played his way onto the Sacramento roster.

As for the other prospects acquired, lefty Brett Anderson and outfielder Chris Carter (both from Arizona) are expected to open at Single-A Stockton, as are righties Graham Godfrey (from Toronto) and Jamie Richmond (from Atlanta).

Righty Fautino De Los Santos (from Chicago) also was ticketed for Stockton, but he's forced the brass to reconsider.

"He threw the other day and was lights-out -- 95, 96 [mph] with nasty stuff," Lieppman said. "Certainly, the antennae are up, so I wouldn't discount him as far as maybe starting at Double-A [Midland]."

If that ends up being the case, De Los Santos will likely be a Midland teammate of righty Kristian Bell from the Scutaro deal. Lieppman said the organization used free agency and the Rule 5 draft to make Midland "a little older, more experienced club."

On fire: Righty Henry Rodriguez, who spent all of 2007 at Class A Kane County, was the first name Lieppman ticked off when asked to name the most impressive youngsters so far.

"He's really made a big jump," Lieppman said of Rodriguez, who made his first Cactus League start against the Giants on Friday after three dominant relief outings. "Holding runners, controlling his emotions, smoothing out his delivery; I'm real pleased with where he's at."

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Rodriquez likely will open the year at Midland, but Lieppman said, "Winter ball developed him quicker than we thought. The jury's still out on him. I could see him ending up in Sacramento."

Also drawing high praise was Sean Doolittle, a compensation pick in the 2007 First-Year Player draft who Lieppman said "is a big league fielding first baseman right now," adding that he's athletic enough to play in the outfield.

"What we envision him being is kind of a Swisher-type of guy," Lieppman said. "Chris Carter is very similar. He's a pretty amazing specimen; he's got that young Frank Thomas look. Very athletic and big."

Lieppman said both Doolittle and Carter will start the year at Stockton and likely rotate between first base, the outfield and designated hitter.

On the mend: While Cunningham and Carlos Gonzalez are being held out of action, a few top prospects are being worked back into it. Catcher Landon Powell, a first-round pick in 2004, tore the anterior collateral ligament in his left knee last season shortly after being promoted to Sacramento.

"Powell is a big one," Lieppman said. "He caught two innings the other day. Little by little, we'll keep him out there longer, and the hope is to have him up to nine innings by the end of Spring Training. We're looking at trying to start him right back in Sacramento."

Infielder Kevin Melillo, who made a brief cameo with the A's last season but spent the rest of the year at Sacramento, is on his way back from a broken right wrist.

"He hasn't been able to do much," Lieppman said. "We're just trying to get him ready to play. He might be ready to get some at-bats in a few days."

They're No. 1: Shortstop Cliff Pennington, Oakland's top pick in 2005, has seen the early part of his professional career stalled by a variety of injuries, but he's healthy now and ticketed for Midland.

"This is the first time he's been really healthy from the start, and we're looking for a big year from him," Lieppman said. "He spent the offseason out here and did a lot of work, so we're looking forward to seeing him develop into the player we think he can be."

Outfielder Richie Robnett, one of Oakland's two first-round picks in 2004, went 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs in Cactus League action this year before being sent to Minor League camp. He'll start the year at Triple-A.

"He's made some great adjustments," Lieppman said. "He's got a ton of natural power, so we've cut down the effort in his swing, and he's putting more balls in play and cutting down on his strikeouts."

Class of '07: James Simmons, Oakland's top pick last June, was tested very early after signing, and he passed the test with flying colors.

"We've very rarely sent guys right out of the Draft to Double-A, but we sent him there because his command was that good, and he went there and handled it," Lieppman said. "We don't want to rush him, so we're gonna start him again at Double-A, but he looks real good. We're very happy with where he is. The goal is for him to see some Triple-A action at some point this year."

Lieppman said he's also been impressed with both of Oakland's second-round picks: Grant Desme, an outfielder out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who missed all of last summer with a left wrist injury and will open the season at Class A Kane County, and Josh Horton, a shortstop out of North Carolina.

"Of all the guys I've seen, he profiled as the guy in top condition," Lieppman said of Horton. "He'll start in Stockton -- aggressive, great attitude, talented kid."

Joining Horton at Stockton will be Sam Demel, a right-handed pitcher selected in the third round out of Texas Christian, and fifth-rounder Andrew Carignan, a righty reliever out of North Carolina whom Lieppman called a "hard thrower with a nasty sinker. He's got a real good idea of what he's doing out there."

What they're saying: "Everyone talks about all the prospects we got, but we got some big leaguers in those deals. Most of them just haven't actually been to the big leagues yet, but they're big leaguers." --A's manager Bob Geren

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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