OAKLAND has more good young players than any ball club in either league. It is a young team on the upgrade and needs only the honing of experience and leadership. The latter should be forcibly provided by manager Hank Bauer, the tough ex-Marine. With the exception of catcher Jim Pagliaroni, a 31 yr. old part time performer, not one of the A’s is thirty. The team got younger in the expansion draft when Seattle took Diego Segui, 30, and Jack Aker, 28. The starters are a solid four: Jim “Catfish” Hunter, John “Blue Moon” Odom, Chuck Dobson, and Jim Nash. Bauer can assemble a capable relief corps from Ed Sprague, Lew Krausse, Ken Sanders, Paul Lindblad, and Tony Pierce. The A’s boast a brilliant infield in Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, John Donaldson and Danny Cater. The outfield is strong and young. Mike Hershberger is 29, Rick Monday is 23, and Reggie Jackson but 22. The latter pair are on the threshold of becoming super-stars. This could be the year that the A’s put it all together. They are in the weaker division of the expanded league and are favored to beat out Minnesota.
MINNESOTA’s season, for all practical purposes, ended on the night of July 9 in the Astrodome when slugger Harmon Killebrew collapsed with a ruptured hamstring while playing first for the AL All-Stars. Rich Reese, his replacement, played capably but the Killer’s big bat was missed. The Twins were also plagued with trouble at shortstop, which was played by six different players. Owner Calvin Griffith fired Cal Ermer as manager and replaced him with Billy Martin. More importantly, Griffith got himself a shortstop by trading Jim Merritt to Cincinnati for Leo Cardenas. The Twins are known as a hitting team and had two players in the Top 10 batters: RF Tony Oliva (.292), and 3B Cesar Tovar (.281). Killebrew will be back on first base, with Tovar playing 3B or LF.
CALIFORNIA are counting heavily on two rookies from their El Paso farm. Jim Spencer, a left-handed first baseman, and Jarvis Tatum, a rabbit switch-hitting OF. Rick Reichardt, the $200,000 bonus outfielder, batted .264 and hit 26 HR. He has star quality. Minnie Rojas, California’s relief ace, came down with a sore arm last season. In the event Rojas doesn’t come around, the Halos picked up Hoyt Wilhelm selected in the expansion draft by Kansas City. Manager Bill Rigney is counting on young pitchers George Brunet, Rickey Clark, Clyde Wright, and Andy Messersmith (who worked primarily in relief last year but finished strong in the rotation during September) to perform in the starting rotation. The Angels have potential but their young hurlers will have to come through to keep them in the running.
CHICAGO’s “Hitless Wonders” were the 1906 White Sox, and today’s edition is in the tradition. The Sox were shutout a league-leading 27 games. The inability to bat, or to win, resulted in the dismissal of Eddie Stanky as manager and Al Lopez was brought out of retirement. He was taken ill, and Les Moss took over as the interim pilot. The gilt-edged pitching staff broke down under the pressure of having to pitch a shutout or a one-run game in order to have a chance to win. On Aug. 22, 1968, ace southpaw Tommy John was lost with a shoulder separation resulting from an altercation with Tigers 2B Dick McAuliffe. The White Sox’ leading hitter was Tommy Davis, but the club took a chance by exposing him in the expansion draft and the Seattle Pilots took the 30 year old LF who doesn’t fit in with the White Sox plans for a running club. As in the past, Chicago will go only as high as their pitchers can take them. Joe Horlen, John, and Gary Peters figure to be the starters with Wilbur Wood and Bob Locker heading up the bullpen.
SEATTLE celebrates baseball in the Pacific Northwest for the first time. GM Marvin Milkes may have drafted a club which will assert itself immediately but not stand up over the long haul. Of his first 15 picks, he chose 10 men over 27 years old. Joe Schultz, the manager, has never managed in the major leagues. Seattle may have a good pitching staff, and in fact, its bullpen will be as good or better than those of existing clubs. Milkes took Oakland’s best pair of firemen, Diego Segui and Jack Aker. For starters, he has RHP Gary Bell from Boston, and ex-Yankees Steve Barber and Jim Bouton. Mike Marshall, a 25 yr-old righty out of the Tigers system registered a 15-9 mark with Toledo in the International League. The infield is long on experience and age. Former Angel Don Mincher will be at first, Ray Oyler at SS, and ex-Twin Rich Rollins at third. Second base will be decided in the spring between Chico Salmon and Tommy Harper, both ex-Indians. Harper is also a CF candidate, flanked by Tommy Davis and Jim Gosger.
KANSAS CITY has its second go-around in the AL and this time things should go better. GM Cedic Talles did not go for many “name” players in the expansion draft. Of his 30 selections, only 3 players were over 30 : IF Jerry Adair of Boston, P Moe Drabowsky of Baltimore, and Hoyt Wilhelm who was traded to California for catchers Dennis Paepke and Ed Kirkpatrick. Baltimore righty Roger Nelson was the first selection by the Royals who also grabbed prize prospect LHP Jim Rooker out of the Yankee system. The pitching stockpile continued with the selections of Tiger prospect Dick Drago and ex-Oriole Wally Bunker, who at 23 has four years of experience which includes a shutout of the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series. The infield looks like Mike Fiore, Adair or Billy Harris from Cleveland, Jackie Hernandez, the ex-Twin at SS, and either Joe Foy from the Red Sox or Paul Schaal, ex-Angel, on third. None of the 6 outfielders have major league experience, but the best may be rookie Pat Kelly who hit .306 and stole 38 bases at Denver in the PCL.