While the Oakland A's had a successful season by all means in 2012, the infield is bound to be a lot better in 2013.
The A's went out and got Hiroyuki Nakajima and Jed Lowrie, and they will return formerly injured Scott Sizemore in 2013. Brandon Moss hit .291 in 2012, and Donaldson hit .284 in his last 225 at-bats (for the regular season). Sizemore doesn't have too much on his resume, but he is a talented player who may start at second base.
Lowrie has some pop, as he homered in 4.71 of his at-bats in 2012. He is a good middle infielder, and while he might not start, I see him improving on his stellar .331 on-base percentage (OBP) and seizing a starting spot eventually.
Right now, however, the leading candidates appear to be Sizemore and Jemile Weeks, who broke out and had a spectacular 2011 season before regressing significantly and getting sent down to the minors. Weeks hit .303 in 2011, but in 2012, his .158 well-hit average placed him among the 10 worst players in the league at making hard contact.
Weeks has speed, however, and while he isn’t a great defensive second baseman, he can play defense. However, it's going to take a lot from him in the spring, as his numbers were appalling last year. It's hard to post a horrific minus-one wins over replacement (WAR) and bounce back so significantly the next spring to win the starting job.
And, unfortunately for Weeks, that's the position he is in.
Sizemore, however, is also in a tough position. He tore his ACL in 2012 and was forced to watch Oakland's magical playoff run from the dugout. Due to his injury, his chances of starting in 2013 have significantly decreased. Sizemore is only a career .239 hitter, so it's not like he's automatically penciled in as a starter.
Who should win the job at second base?
In 2011, Sizemore posted a .345 OBP with the Athletics, which is good by all means. Sizemore has a career .958 fielding percentage as a second baseman, a mark that needs to improve. However, he seems to be a better and more proven option than Weeks, which gives him a slight edge.
Lowrie is expected to get time everywhere, backing up Nakajima, who was projected by scouts to hit .270 or .280 in the big leagues. Lowrie, who doesn't hit for average, is predicted to be a utility player, although he piqued interest from teams as a trade target and should see significant time at lots of positions.
Lowrie won’t be playing first base, however. Moss did a great job in 2012, hitting .291, and Daric Barton is a capable backup. He isn’t great, but he has posted a .360 OBP over his career. Unfortunately for him, he will need to build significantly on his .204 batting average for 2012 if he wants to work his way into a platoon.
Luckily for Barton, he should be on the roster, unlike some players. The A’s cannot afford to carry eight infielders, and presumably, they will keep Weeks, Sizemore, Lowrie, Nakajima, Donaldson, Moss and Barton. Guys like Andy Parrino and Adam Rosales have an outside chance of making the team, but they don’t bring anything special.
Donaldson locked down third base due to his great end-of-year performance, as he almost hit .300 over a span of 225 at-bats. Moss and Barton have first base under control, and a strong start from Nakajima will give him shortstop.
Second base is the only position that appears to be in doubt, and while I believe Sizemore will start on Opening Day, we will see if Weeks can rebound from his sophomore slump and if Lowrie can make a good first impression on manager Bob Melvin.
It will be interesting to watch how the infield works together, who plays when, where and how often. Any of these guys can play designated hitter, especially someone like Weeks, who isn’t an exceptional defensive player.
The infield is set in terms of which guys will make the 25-man roster, but the mess is yet to be sorted out. Melvin will have a difficult task at hand, and he will have to decide a lot of things. While I think he’s fairly confident about all four positions and how the infield can help the A’s, he has to be worrying about how to shuffle everyone around.
Spring training will be vital for all second basemen and just infielders in general, so everyone can prove that they’re ready to contribute in 2013. Oakland has enough depth and talent at each position that they are completely set in the infield, a place where they had lots of trouble in 2012.
What does that mean for the A’s? It means they are ready to embark on a legitimate championship journey, and every man in the infield will play a vital role in the team’s fate.