HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

The River Cats' five first-round picks: infielder Jemile Weeks, outfielder Michael Choice, pitcher Sonny Gray, utility Grant Green and pitcher James Simmons.

Fantastic five: Cats' first-round picks eye Oakland

Published: Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Jul. 21, 2013 - 11:42 am

Five first-round draft picks. One shared goal of breaking through, of receiving "The Call." You think these guys don't keep their cellphones handy?

The A's top selections have one more thing in common: They play for the River Cats, Oakland's Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, with each offering promise – slugger Michael Choice, utility Grant Green, speedy infielder Jemile Weeks and pitchers Sonny Gray and James Simmons.

Oakland is a mere 90 minutes away by car, even faster when taken via Cloud Nine.

"We dream of that call," Choice said.

But the arduous climb. …

Such anxiety, River Cats manager Steve Scarsone says, "has been in the minor leagues forever. It's the nature of the game. You perform and see what happens. You keep on keeping on. For some reason, you're here in Triple A, and there's only one way out: Kick the door down. We're here to help them."

Weeks has been through that door. The A's first-round pick in 2008, 12th overall out of the University of Miami, Weeks had a solid rookie season for Oakland in 2011. Playing second base, he stole 22 bases, batted .303 and led all rookies with eight triples in 97 games. Last season, Weeks batted .221 in 118 games before being sent down to Sacramento.

Weeks labored through a shoulder strain during spring training but has healed nicely. He's batting .365 through the River Cats' first 14 games.

Weeks has returned to shortstop, his natural position, but said he's more than willing to play second, too. No room to be selective.

"I feel good about it, and my actions out there are good," Weeks said of his defense. As for patience, he added, "You have to stay mentally strong. You might question why, when you play well, you don't get an opportunity (with the A's), but there are things I can't control. You have to have a mindset of doing what you can do. I'm here in Triple A, and I'll work hard."

Weeks has his brain picked by his teammates on his A's experience. His patience is appreciated.

"He's a good guy to talk to about all that, including mental toughness," said Choice, a center fielder. "He's the smallest guy here, but he's the fastest and he's the toughest guy here."

Choice is no softy, either. Strong at 6-foot, 215 pounds, the A's first-round selection in 2010, 10th overall out of Texas-Arlington, has prodigious power. He hit 30 home runs for the Stockton Ports in Class A in 2011. Choice played last season for Scarsone in Double-A Midland in his native state of Texas, cooling a bit against better pitching with 10 homers in 91 games. Choice impressed A's manager Bob Melvin in spring training to the point Melvin said, "Every day, I'm being asked about Michael Choice."

Melvin said later of Choice: "The organization is very excited about not only what he can do but also the pace he can be on."

Choice is hitting .288 this spring with four home runs and 16 RBIs.

"It's about adjustments, getting comfortable," Choice said of his first taste of Triple A. "The level is higher, the pitching better. The guys are older. Pitchers know how to pitch and not just throw."

The name on the back of Green's jersey might as well read "Versatility." The A's top pick in 2009, 13th overall out of USC, Green grew up a shortstop. But he's impressed his coaches with his ability to play anywhere. Entering this season, Green appeared in 212 games at shortstop, 77 in center field, 49 in left, 20 at second base and 11 at third.

Green has played mostly second with the River Cats this spring, batting .304 with nine RBIs. The versatility is relatively new, though Green said he'd prefer to master one position.

"Other than last year, when I played five positions, there was just one summer, going into my sophomore year at USC, where I played a couple," Green said. "I've always been a shortstop. All these positions are definitely something new. But when they told me they needed me to play some outfield, you do it to get to help, to get to the big leagues, to get to Oakland as fast as possible. I love the idea of that."

After a productive 2012 with Sacramento (.296, 28 doubles, 15 homers, 75 RBIs in 125 games), Green said he's trying to adjust to the nuances of different positions.

"If I can master one position instead of being good at many, I think it'll be better for me," Green said. "But in the long run, being able to play five or six positions, you never know what teams might need that."

Scarsone, the River Cats manager, was a utility player who logged parts of seven major-league seasons. There's value in versatility, he said.

"It never hurts," Scarsone said.

Simmons and Gray, the right-handed pitchers, said they are still settling in. Simmons was picked 26th overall in 2007 out of UC Riverside as a starter and then converted to relief in Double-A Midland. He joined the River Cats late last season, going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 15 innings. He has a 2.70 ERA this season in 6 2/3 innings.

Gray was taken 18th overall in 2011 out of Vanderbilt, where he led the Commodores to their first College World Series berth. He is 1-1 with a 3.94 ERA. At 23, Gray is the second-youngest player on the River Cats' roster (Choice is three days younger), but insists he doesn't feel his age.

"Very young but mature, and Sonny has great stuff," said Choice. "He's got the stuff to pitch in the big leagues. It's about getting innings and getting your chance."

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

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