Twelve official unofficial games into spring training (Friday's washout against Seattle not withstanding) has provided a bit of time to assess who looks good, who has struggled out of the gate and who's dealing with health issues for the Oakland A's. In terms of the players projected to make the 25-man roster, things have looked largely promising, though a couple of players have stood out, both good and bad.
Note: Italics represent player deemed biggest surprise, bust or serious injury situation currently on each list.
Shane Peterson - Peterson, beyond a long shot to make the club out of camp, has been absolutely on fire this early spring (err, late winter). As of Mar. 8th, he was hitting .448 (13-for-29) with five doubles, a triple and a home run with four RBI. He added a long solo home run against the Seattle Mariners in a game that was cancelled due to rain. While he is likely to start in Triple-A Sacramento, an OPS of 1.260 and a slugging percentage of .793 is great no matter where the production is coming from.
Michael Choice - Long at the top of the list of prospects for the A's, Choice has shown why he has been regarded so highly thus far. Like Peterson, Choice is swinging a sizzling bat, hitting .444 (12-for-27) with two doubles, a triple and a home run with eight RBI. Like Peterson, Choice also launched a home run against Seattle that won't count statistically due to the game's cancellation. And like Peterson, Choice will likely start in Triple-A Sacramento as a result of Oakland's outfield depth.
Hideki Okajima - In my season preview, I predicted that Okajima would find a way to make this roster. Early on, he has done nothing to hurt his chances. In four appearances, Okajima has pitched four innings without allowing a run and only allowing three hits while striking out three. The 37-year-old could wind up being the latest gem of a move made by GM Billy Beane. Regardless, Okajima only adds to the depth of what could be the most complete bullpen in the American League.
There easily could have been other names on this list. Daric Barton and Andy Parrino have both been pleasant surprises at the plate, particularly Parrino, who has shown some pop. Tom Milone has been fantastic and while he certainly pitched fine in 2012, there appears to be improved life on his fastball and his five scoreless innings have definitely been impressive.
Josh Donaldson - To be fair, Donaldson did hit two towering home runs against Seattle (there's a theme here) that will not count toward his spring totals. All that said, Donaldson has looked more like the guy who was lost at the plate to start 2012. Currently, he is hitting .050 (1-for-20) with eight strikeouts in games that do count. While there is less room for concern because of greater A's infield depth, Donaldson is the incumbent for a reason. If his numbers are not an aberration, there could be trouble at the hot corner.
Yoenis Cespedes - My dark-horse pick for 2013 AL MVP has been a bit cold early in the spring. And while I would say that you should take it with a grain of salt, Cespedes did start 2012 slowly as well. Either way, .118 (2-for-17) without an extra base hit is a slow start. The good news is, Cespedes has walked five times.
Bartolo Colon/Dan Straily - Both pitchers are vying for a spot in the rotation. Both have had less-than-stellar starts to their spring. Colon will likely get a pass being a veteran and trying to get himself ready for the season. That said, his numbers (four innings , 12 hits, six earned runs, .500 batting average against) have not helped his case.
The only problem is, Straily has not done enough to challenge for a spot, either. In 3.2 innings, Straily has allowed six hits, four earned runs and a .353 opponents' batting average. Both pitchers need to drastically improve to help their stock because the other A's starters (Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Milone and A.J. Griffin) have been fantastic early on.
Other players who nearly made the list include Sonny Gray, who has struggled with location (two home runs in six innings) on his pitches, as well as Michael Taylor, who might be running out of favor with A's management. Taylor is 2-for-15 with five strikeouts and does not seem to have a consistent approach at the plate.
Jemile Weeks - The way Weeks was playing out of the gate, he would have definitely merited a spot on the surprises list. Slashing the ball instead of uppercutting it, Weeks started 6-for-11 with two doubles, a home run, five RBI and three runs scored before a shoulder injury on Mar. 1st against the San Francisco Giants. He has not played since and while it's not expected to be lingering or serious, it will be interesting to see if Weeks keeps the same approach at the plate upon his return.
Grant Balfour - Yes, we have all known about his injury since the beginning of A's camp. That said, the sooner Balfour can return to rage in the ninth inning, the better off the A's bullpen will be. So it is encouraging that rehabilitation on his torn meniscus has gone well enough that the Australian closer could make up to six appearances in the spring. The sooner the A's get their bullpen in order, the better.
Scott Sizemore - After having his 2012 season end before it ever began, Sizemore had to be feeling some deja vu after getting hit on the hand against the Colorado Rockies on Mar. 3rd. Luckily, the X-rays proved to be negative. That said, it can't help Sizemore's chances of winning the second-base job when he hasn't played there professionally and needs every bit of the exhibition season he can get.
On the whole, the majority of the roster expected to break camp and begin the season against Seattle Apr. 1st is intact. Considering the abundance of injuries to the team in 2012, that is already good news for the A's.
In terms of a larger outlook, there is nothing that should dim optimism for A's fans based on what has transpired thus far in Arizona. Hiroyuki Nakajima is hitting .300 with two stolen bases and has been good at shortstop. The starting pitching looks fantastic in four slots. Josh Reddick, Derek Norris, Coco Crisp and Seth Smith have all swung solid bats. Best of all, the A's appear to be healthy. That, more than anything, is the biggest goal for a team with big-time aspirations when the games really count.
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