Oakland Athletics 2012 Spring Training Preview: Outfielders

Nathaniel JueSenior Writer IIMarch 12, 2012

Oakland Athletics 2012 Spring Training Preview: Outfielders

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    Aaaah, the fresh aromas of spring: the scents of pine tar, eye black and manicured outfield grass.

    It’s that time of year again: yes, spring training. Pitchers are loosening up their arms, infielders are pickling basepaths and hitters are back in the swing of things. It’s a brand-new start to baseball. Spring is a period that symbolizes the blossoming of new growth—and baseball is no different.

    No team exudes the essence of springtime more than the Oakland Athletics, an organization that has almost completely re-harvested its roster this past winter. Out with last year’s crop: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey are all shipped away. In with a fresh seeds like Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes.

    As the A’s cultivate their young, budding roster, there are many questions regarding the 2012 season? Which players will bear fruit? Which ones will wilt? Which produce will be re-sold this summer?

    The Athletics made 12 cuts to their roster over the weekend. They are now down to 46 active players in camp, according to CSNBayArea.com. Here we’ll analyze the team’s outfielders who are currently on the A’s roster.

Yoenis Cespedes

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    Perhaps the Athletics’ most exciting move this past offseason was the out-of-nowhere acquisition of hot free agent Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. For a team that had spent the entire month of December cleaning its inventory of talented players, the signing of Cespedes was surprising—almost shocking.

    What on earth would a team that was seemingly intentionally tanking its roster want with Cespedes? Furthermore, what in God’s name would Cespedes—who had other suitors—want anything to do with the woebegone Athletics?

    Who knows, really, why Cespedes opted to sign with Oakland? Maybe he just loves green and gold colors. Maybe his favorite animal is an elephant. Maybe simply doesn’t care about winning. It doesn’t matter to A’s fans. The excitement and curiosity following Cespedes are like nothing Oakland has felt for a singular player in some time. How will he fare this season? Will he start the year with Oakland? What the heck is all the hype about? What would make Oakland of all teams outbid everyone else in baseball at a tune of four years, $36 million?

    One thing’s for sure, the A’s have become relevant in spring training—if only because of the fanfare regarding this Cuban superstar. So far, in his short playing time this spring, Cespedes has been impressive. In his first game as an MLB professional, Cespedes knocked out two hits, including a solo home run, against the Cincinnati Reds last Saturday.

    Questions remain, however, as to whether he’ll be up to full speed in time for Opening Day. After all, facing major league pitching for only a couple of weeks does not make one a bona fide big leaguer just yet. Will he be able to demonstrate in a small sample size that he’s ready to become the everyday player the A’s hope he’ll be?

    And if so, where will he play?

    Cespedes is a natural center fielder—or at least that’s the position he’s accustomed to playing during his days in Cuba. Problem is, the A’s already have a legitimate center fielder in Coco Crisp, who happens to be a 10-year MLB veteran and a pretty darn good outfielder in his own right.

    Spring training will be the audition for Cespedes to show that he can hit major league pitching. Because if he’s able to produce middle-of-the-order numbers, then Cespedes will be the one patrolling center field this season.

    2012 outlook: Barring a perfect spring training, Cespedes should see start his season in Triple-A Sacramento. But only for a short period. Because Oakland starts the MLB season a little bit earlier than normal, due to an Opening Day series in Japan on March 28th and 29th, Cespedes will need a bit more grooming than everyone else at camp. However, because the A’s are paying him more money than a normal rookie, he’ll likely see action with Oakland before the end of April. He’ll finish the season with adequate numbers, but not good enough for Rookie of the Year consideration.

Collin Cowgill

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    Collin Cowgill was picked up in the trade that sent starter Trevor Cahill to the Arizona Diamondbacks last December. Because Cahill was considered to be the ace of the A’s staff the past two seasons, there is some pressure for Cowgill to demonstrate that Oakland received a good return on its investment.

    And yet, there are no expectations for Cowgill to be a starting outfielder for the Athletics this season. After getting his feet wet last season, playing in 36 games with the D-backs, Cowgill will likely find himself as the fourth outfielder with the A’s in 2012. It’s assumed that Cowgill will provide some relief at all three outfield positions, with the probability that he’ll platoon against left-handed pitching.

    The 25-year-old Cowgill has big league potential, however, after proving last year that he can simply rake the ball. Last season, Cowgill batted .354 in the Pacific Coast League, with 95 runs scored in 98 games. He also stole 33 bases in 33 attempts.

    Clearly, the A’s like what they see in Cowgill as a prospect. And with Yoenis Cespedes possibly polishing up in Triple-A to start the season, Cowgill will likely be a candidate to start in left field.

    2012 outlook: Due to the crowded outfield, Cowgill will also spend some time in Sacramento. When, not if, he receives playing time with Oakland, he’ll be positioned as a platoon corner outfielder—unless he continues his unworldly Triple-A hitting, in which case he’ll be on the big league roster the entire season.

Coco Crisp

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    What a difference a year makes. In 2011, Coco Crisp was a member of an Oakland Athletics squad that featured a slew of veteran acquisitions, including David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham. Those three players and Crisp all became free agents last offseason, and Crisp is the only one who returned to Oakland.

    Now he is the lone veteran of a burgeoning ballclub—in particular an outfield that is more green in experience than it is gold in achievement. Crisp, by himself, has played in more games in the outfield than all of the other players on the A’s roster combined (save for Manny Ramirez.)

    By bringing Crisp back, Oakland went against the grain. Instead of allowing all of their talented players leave, or trading them away, the A’s made sure there was one recognizable player in the outfield. Further, Oakland retained their most all-around player from a season ago.

    Last season, Crisp demonstrated his versatility and value to the A’s, leading the team in runs scored (69) and hits (140) in 136 games played. He also tied for the American League lead with 49 stolen bases.

    Certainly having Crisp back in the clubhouse and the lineup is a comfortable feeling for a young A’s team that ranked 12th in the AL in runs scored. With Crisp likely slated in the number-two hole behind leadoff sparkplug Jemile Weeks, Oakland looks to have one of the more dynamic, if not fastest afoot, one-two punch in the league.

    The only question this spring training offers is whether or not Crisp’s center field position will be usurped by new acquisition Yoenis Cespedes. Crisp is a solid defender, and as a 10-year veteran, it’d make sense to keep him there unless he broke both ankles or, according to Crisp, unless Cespedes is a center field demigod. However, it’s safe to say that had Crisp known that he’d have to compete for his natural position, he’d have signed elsewhere this past offseason, as he had a number of potential suitors.

    This bit of drama only makes the A’s that much more curious to watch this spring. Who’d have thought that Oakland’s center field battle would have been so intriguing?

    2012 outlook: As with every season, any veteran with over five years of MLB experience will be on the trading block by the end of June, offered to some playoff-caliber team for a slew of minor league prospects. So, it won’t matter too much whether Cespedes or Crisp will start the season in center field—Cespedes will be the one patrolling center after Crisp is dealt at the trading deadline.

Jeff Fiorentino

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    Not much to report on Jeff Fiorentino, a non-roster invitee this spring. Best-case scenario is that he finds himself on Oakland’s 40-man roster and is designated for assignment in Triple-A Sacramento. Worst-case scenario—not really sure. Some club will likely claim him off waivers.

    A quick run-down of Fiorentino shows that he’s a modest hitter—he had a .255 cumulative batting average in 2011 at three different minor league levels. He has seen several dozen games in the major leagues—including two with Oakland in 2008—but has not made much of an impact. He has a good eye at the plate but is also undisciplined.

    At almost 29 years of age, it’s unlikely Fiorentino will land on with the A’s. Hopefully he performs at a high enough level where he can be espied by another team before the end of spring training.

    2012 outlook: Fiorentino will likely be released by the A’s in the next round of cuts with hope that he is picked up off waivers prior to Opening Day. 

Jonny Gomes

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    The A’s made three transactions this offseason that will surely boost their MLB-worst attendance: They signed Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes, un-retired slugger Manny Ramirez and reunited Jonny Gomes to the Bay Area.

    Yes, Jonny Gomes will boost Oakland’s attendance in 2012. The local boy from nearby Petaluma was signed as a free agent last winter in an effort to provide some right-handed pop in the middle of the order. The 31-year-old outfielder has 118 home runs in his career, most of any other Oakland Athletic in attendance this spring training, aside from Ramirez.

    With a handful of viable outfield candidates at camp this spring, it’s possible that Gomes will end up as the Athletics’ Opening Day designated hitter. But he also has a ton more experience in the outfield than some of the other options on the A’s roster, so Gomes could fill in the corner outfield positions from time to time—most likely in platoon situations (career .281 hitter against lefties vs. .224 batting average against right-handers.)

    Certainly, it will be hard for Gomes to fill in the right-handed shoes left by the departed Josh Willingham. But if anything, Gomes will be able to bring an entire section of fans to the Oakland Coliseum night in and night out.

    That’s got to mean something, right?

    2012 outlook: With Manny Ramirez serving out his 50-game suspension to start the 2012 season, Gomes should be slated as the Athletics’ designated hitter. When (if) Ramirez returns to action, Gomes will slide over to a corner outfield spot—likely left field. Gomes will feel right at home in Oakland, embracing the role as life of the party, following the eccentricities of those A’s before him, including Bobby Keilty, Barry Zito and Jason Giambi.

Brandon Moss

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    Another non-roster invitee, Brandon Moss actually has modest experience in the major leagues, having played a total of 249 games with three different ball clubs over the past five seasons.

    Unfortunately, this experience will not carry over to the Oakland A’s this spring training—but don’t tell Moss that. “I know the odds,” says the 28-year-old journeyman. “I believe in my ability.”

    Moss needs to outperform several other outfielders to land a spot as a bench player. Thankfully, because Oakland opens the MLB season in Japan, the rosters are a bit swelled to atone for the Athletics’ shorter spring training schedule. Thus, both the A’s and the Seattle Mariners (Oakland’s Opening Day opponent) will be able to chaperone 28 players on their 25-man roster.

    Moss is looking to be one of those extra three roster spots. In his favor is his left-handed bat and decent eye at the plate.

    But he’ll have to excel at a high level this spring to solidify a spot on the Opening Day roster. Otherwise, he’ll land in Triple-A Sacramento.

    2012 outlook: Moss will gather himself this spring and make the temporary Opening Day roster—only if he hits for a high average. Even if he does make the squad, look for him to be demoted to Sacramento once the rosters are reset and Manny Ramirez is eligible to become a big leaguer again.

Manny Ramirez

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    The Oakland A’s have almost come full circle. By signing Manny Ramirez, a two-time drug-test failure, a noted performance enhancing drug user comes to Oakland, the place where Jose Canseco fathered steroid use over 20 years ago.

    It’s a bit ironic that Ramirez is with the A’s—a team that has perennially shied away from national media by being a terrible team for so many seasons recently. And yet by signing Ramirez, the Athletics assuredly are advertising that the circus will be in Oakland for the summer of 2012.

    The A’s are obviously prepared to face the pitfall that will be the negative attention surrounding Ramirez and his drug history. What they hope will offset that minor distraction will be his return to the major leagues as a power hitter—at the age of 40 years old.

    It’s a tremendously low risk for the Athletics, who signed Ramirez to a one-year, $500,000 minor league contract last February. If Manny isn't Manny from an offensive standpoint—that is, raking home runs and driving in runs—then the A’s lose nothing more than the prorated $300,000-plus salary he is owed after serving his 50-game suspension to start the season. On the other hand, should Ramirez regain one of baseball history’s greatest right-handed strokes by midseason, then the A’s will have added a significant power surge to their anemic offense at a significantly low cost.

    Either way, though, the A’s bring to Oakland one of the more charismatic and affable personalities in all of baseball. And with him hopefully will come national media attention that will deflect that pesky San Jose stadium issue; fans who are curious about the hype of a lightning rod that is Manny Ramirez; and wins.

    Or just wins.

    2012 outlook: Ramirez will start the season serving out his 50-game suspension, along the way, spending some time in Triple-A Sacramento rediscovering his hitting. Upon joining Oakland in June, he’ll serve as the Athletics’ full-time designated hitter. He won’t necessarily excel or fail; but by reputation alone, he’ll provide some security in the middle of the order. Prediction of 15 home runs and a .260 batting average.

Josh Reddick

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    Acquired in the trade that sent reliever Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney to the Boston Red Sox, Josh Reddick is 24-year-old outfielder who played in 87 games last season, hitting .280 with seven home runs and 41 runs scored. He comes to Oakland fighting for a starting spot in one of the corner outfield positions.

    With the signing of Yoenis Cespedes, and the re-signing of Coco Crisp, the A’s look to have two positions solidified in the outfield. That leaves a handful of players competing for the remaining spot, including Reddick.

    The book on the left-handed hitter is that he has a fairly obvious swing, one with holes in all the normal places. This prevents him from hitting to all fields—a classic pull hitter. Reddick also lacks plate discipline and ability to drive the ball to the gaps.

    What he has is great above average speed and a great feel for the outfield, which makes him a solid all-around defender. Hopefully for him, Reddick is able to hone his hitting stroke this spring training, as he attempts to distinguish himself ahead of Collin Cowgill, Seth Smith and Michael Taylor for the third starting outfield spot. Otherwise, he’ll primarily be used as a late-inning defensive outfield replacement.

    2012 outlook: Reddick will be with Oakland Opening Day and will serve as the Athletics’ starting right fielder until both Cespedes and Ramirez are called up to the team during the first two months of the season. The rest of the season, Reddick will be a bench player and defensive replacement.

Seth Smith

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    Seth Smith was acquired by the A’s last offseason in the trade that sent Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman to the Colorado Rockies. The 29-year-old left-handed hitter is expected to be one of the Athletics’ everyday corner outfielders.

    Last season, Smith batted .284 with 15 home runs and 59 runs batted in. He has proved to have strength to all fields, with a solid 41.4 extra-base-hit percentage (56 of his 135 hits were not singles.) This is important for the A’s, who lost their best two power hitters from last season, Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham.

    Unfortunately, Smith is a terrible hitter against left-handed pitching. He sports a career .202 average versus lefties, which may indicate that he’ll have to platoon whichever outfield spot he occupies, splitting time with either Jonny Gomes or Collin Cowgill.

    For now, spring training will be a time for Smith to hone his hitting against southpaws, hoping to improve enough to be considered an everyday player. Otherwise, there are obviously plenty of candidates the A’s can use to patrol each outfield position.

    2012 outlook: Smith simply can’t turn on a switch that will make him a legitimate hitter against lefties. Thus, he’ll eventually wind up as a platoon outfielder against right-handed starters, and be a solid pinch hitter off the bench in situational opportunities late in games.

Michael Taylor

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    If Michael Taylor could show that he can hit the way that his physical ability and natural athleticism indicate he should, then he’d have already solidified a permanent spot on the A’s roster for years to come.

    Sadly, that has not been the case for the 26-year-old Taylor. He flat-out dominated lower-level minor leagues, hitting .346 in 2008 and .320 in 2009. The past two seasons, however, both at Triple-A Sacramento, Taylor batted .272, with only 22 home runs in a combined 220 games. He still demonstrates a high baseball IQ and a raw ability to get on base, drive in runs and make plays in the outfield. But Taylor has yet to fully gel enough to warrant a full-time gig in Oakland.

    This might be the last straw in Oakland for the brawny right-handed hitter. He obviously has the tools to make an impact on a ballclub—it’s just a matter of how close to becoming a star he can be. Right now, Taylor will have to wow the A’s coaching staff in order to leapfrog free agent acquisitions Collin Cowgill, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith. But will he?

    One of the big questions this spring will be whether Taylor can fulfill the expectations that have had for him as one of Oakland’s top prospects for the past four seasons.

    If not, then this might be his last season in the Athletics franchise.

    2012 outlook: He has the potential to outplay Reddick and Cowgill to become a bench player for the A’s. However, he’ll start the season in Triple-A and be shuttled back and forth to Oakland whenever there is an injury to one the A’s starting outfielders. By season’s end, he’ll have received enough big league playing time for the Athletics’ front office to determine if he’ll remain in their short-term future.