Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Your Oakland A of the Day – Ariel Prieto

It's not hard to find hundreds of casual, bandwagon A's fans who've sworn off the team for good because one of their favorite players was recently traded.

These people are morons with short memories.

While the plan may blow up in GM Billy Beane's Moneyball mug, at least there is a plan – restock the farm system with high-risk/high-yield minor leaguers at the expense of some established talent that wasn't going to take the A's to playoffs, anyway.

Back in 1995, the A's had no plan.

Y'see, three years prior, they were an aging outfit hanging on to their (ultimately underachieving) Bash Brothers days. They were a very good – not great – team in an insanely competitive division. The A's caught a few breaks and milked Mark McGwire, Dennis Eckersley and an excellent bullpen to the 1992 AL West title.

That off-season, management forked out top dollar to retain McGwire and OF Ruben Sierra, then watched in horror as injuries, age and incompetence plunged the squad to 94 losses in 1993. The A's were still old, the farm system had failed them (wither Todd Van Poppel?) and by 1995 they were reduced to trotting out trash like Mike Harkey and Craig Paquette on a nightly basis.

With all that build-up – and, believe me, it was a LOT worse than what I've explained above – I still can't understand why the A's made Ariel Prieto the fifth overall selection of the 1995 Amateur Draft.

Prieto defected from Cuba in the spring of 1994. At the time, Rene Arocha – who'd defected a few years earlier – had become a serviceable arm with the St. Louis Cardinals. According to the Baseball Cube website, Prieto signed with Palm Springs in the independent Western League for what was ostensibly a glorified audition heading into the '95 draft. His stats were, admittedly, eye-popping:

W-L: 4-0 ERA: 0.97 IP: 37 K: 48 WHIP: 0.81

Now, it's easy to b*tch in hindsight, so you'll have to trust me when I say I was b*tching back then. Here was a 25-year-old with God knows how many innings on his arm, dominating at a level that was somewhere between Single-A and Double-A. (My hometown of Long Beach had a team in the Western League and I caught a few games…this was bad, bad baseball, kids.)

Even if we ignore the very real possibility that Prieto wasn't born anywhere near the vicinity of 1969, why would a terrible team like the A's want a supposedly Major League-ready pitcher just so he could throw for terrible teams for the foreseeable future?

There were strong indications at the time that the A's had targeted the University of Tennessee's Todd Helton for their first pick in the draft that year. Understandable, since then-first baseman Mark McGwire had missed virtually all of 1993-94 with a foot injury that was feared to be career-ending (six years later, it turned out it was). Instead, the A's, with the fifth overall pick, chose Prieto.

(Just for grins, check out the whole first round that year. Oh, and be sure to read the ridiculous quote comparing Darin Erstad to Kirk Gibson. Save for their scowls, the two were nothing alike. Erstad's legendary fluke 2000 season was accomplished by Gibson SIX times in the 1980s.)

Prieto made his Major League debut less than a month after being drafted, with two innings of mop-up relief vs. the Angels. His first start came five days later versus the Toronto Blue Jays. In what would be something of a microcosm for his entire career, Prieto was dominant in the small sample size of the first three innings. He didn't give up a hit and only one ball (barely) reached the outfield.

In the fourth inning – the second time around the Toronto order – Prieto was roughed up for two runs, two hits, two walks and a wild pitch. A two-run home run in the sixth by Joe Carter chased Prieto from the game.

Prieto had his moments in 1995, but would finish the year with two wins in eight decisions, an ERA close to 5.00 and just five more strikeouts than walks.

The A's put Prieto on the Opening Day roster in 1996, but he made just nine starts before being demoted to the minors. Prieto would yo-yo back and forth to the bigs for the remainder of his career. For whatever reason, he'd dominate Triple-A lineups and then completely fall apart whenever he was brought back up. After shoulder and elbow injuries cost him most of 1998 and all of 1999, Oakland finally cut bait on Prieto, releasing him prior to the start of Spring Training in 2001.

And, how awesome was it to be fan for the two years when Prieto and Van Poppel were on the A's at the same time?

Answer: not very.


JPinAZ said...

Ariel Prieto?

What about the Brett Favre tribute post?

Anonymous said...

Wait, whaaa...? Brett Favre retired?! How've I missed this? Did ESPN at least send a reporter to Green Bay to cover the press conference?

That Bootleg Guy said...

Someone just tell me when it's safe to watch PTI again. Two days and about 20 total minutes devoted to the grizzled ghost who's already ruined Aaron Rodgers' career before it ever got started.