Oakland A's: Position-by-Position Breakdown of the A's at Spring Training
The Oakland A's have traveled to Arizona for another year of spring training camp. With returnees, new signings, freshly acquired players, prospects and a slew of non-roster invitees, it's time to break down the A's, position by position.
Most positions are all but locked up already but that doesn't mean others are short on competition.
Spring training offers plenty of intrigues. Oakland has more than a few guys fighting for a roster spot. It also has a prospect or two looking to prove they're worth the hype. There may even be a guy somewhere in camp that has the potential to pull off an upset of sorts, unseating a thought-to-be starter.
For this list, each slide will discuss a position, listing the players eligible and a short description of their likely outcome.
Derek Norris is the likely "starting" catcher. Quotations are used here because typically a starter catches two-thirds, if not more, of the games, while Norris may end up platooning like last season.
If Norris can better his hitting against right-handed hitters, then he could easily be the primary backstop. However, compared to his .320 average against lefties in 2013, he hit just .149 against righties.
The backup to Norris last season, Stephen Vogt likely remains in the same role, but should probably consider himself lucky. If the A's kept Seth Smith, then John Jaso remains the backup catcher and Vogt loses his spot. With a .256 average against right-handers and a .222 average against left-handers, Vogt is the opposite, and therefore perfect complement to Norris.
But it's Vogt's knowledge behind the plate rather than at it that keeps him in the discussion for getting more reps than a normal backup.
"He's easy to work with. He has a good idea of what guys want to throw and what they should throw," Jarrod Parker said via Don Ketchum of The Associated Press' The Big Story. Ketchum also points out the A's had a .675 win percentage with Vogt playing, including an 8-0 record in his first eight starts.
Here's what we know about Jaso: He is a natural catcher. But he finished last season on the sideline with lingering symptoms from a concussion. Now, he returns, likely as the team's DH.
Because of Norris' youth and ceiling and Vogt's strong finish in 2013 combined with Jaso's absence, the 2013 Opening Day starter may have Wally Pipped himself.
The A's claimed Chris Gimenez from the Tampa Bay Rays back in December 2013, but with so many catchers on the roster already, his chance of making the team are slim. He should report to Triple-A Sacramento.
According to John Hickey of Bay Area News Group, Luke Montz will not play any spring training games at catcher due to recovery from an injury.
Dusty Brown is a career minor leaguer. At 31 years old and with only 24 MLB games under his belt, he likely adds depth to the Triple-A team if anything.
Bruce Maxwell is quite the opposite.
The 23-year-old, who has never played above Single-A, should simply be looking to prove he can skip Double-A and report to the next level after a strong spring.
Brandon Moss is the obvious starter. Or is he?
Hickey of the Bay Area News Groups questions whether Daric Barton could take back what was once his: first base. Hickey particularly notes Barton's strong finish in 2013, his career on-base percentage and Moss' willingness to play anywhere as long as he's in the lineup.
As much as proponents of Moneyball love on-base percentage, it's doubtful Barton supplants Moss. Barton has had seven years worth of chances to prove himself. At this point, what you see is likely what you're going to get. To be fair, it took Moss six years to blossom, so it's not 100 percent out of the question.
And then there's Nate Freiman.
On Feb. 17th, I listed Freiman as a solid candidate to impress this spring training. His progression through the system and stats comparable to Moss make Freiman an interesting player to watch this spring. Though he'd have to legitimately outplay Moss for the A's to willfully sit a guy making $4.1 million.
A final option is minor leaguer Shane Peterson. But with one base to cover and only two guys—tops—needed, the fourth guy in the pecking order faces quite the uphill battle.
At this point, you could start feeling bad for Eric Sogard, a candidate for face of the MLB (isn't that some irony).
He battled out plenty of competition a season ago to earn starting honors. Yet, the A's still brought in Alberto Callaspo in a trade in 2013. Then in the offseason, the team signed Nick Punto. Worse, many are speaking of Punto as the potential starter moving forward in the short term.
Jane Lee of MLB.com says "Punto is probably the guy."
It's a puzzling move, though. Punto is eight years Sogard's senior. His 2013 average was worse than Sogard's and his career numbers are about the same.
Looking again at splits, it would appear second base might be yet another platoon, with Punto hitting against left-handers while Sogard takes on righties.
Of course we have to continue the trend of "that third guy."
Callaspo is still in the mix. But it sounds like he'll be used all over the diamond, especially first base.
As far as starters, the job is Josh Donaldson's. The only way he loses the job is if he suffers a major, long-term injury.
Besides that, Donaldson locked up his role in 2013; he really doesn't have much competition. Callaspo and Punto may get reps at third base this spring, but that's it.
Between the 40-man roster and the non-roster invitees, Donaldson is the only third baseman listed.
Just like his fellow left-side infield mate Donaldson, Jed Lowrie's spot seems all but locked up at this point.
Sure, there's competition, but it's more like "competition" if you know what I mean.
Addison Russell is one of the best prospects in Major League Baseball, but because he's young and has yet to spend an entire season at the Triple-A level—or Double-A for that matter—Sacramento is where you can bank on him ending up. Besides, management has already stated they have no intention of rushing the young man's development.
Hickey of the Bay Area News Group reports "there is next to no chance Russell, 20, will in fact be on the A's roster."
That won't stop fans from being excited to see what Russell can do this spring, and it shouldn't.
Beyond Russell, names like Andy Parrino and Darwin Perez will be present.
Parrino has appeared in 93 games in MLB since 2011, with a career average of .186. He holds a .262 average in the minors in 674 games, seven times the amount of experience in the majors.
Perez joined the Los Angeles Angels' organization when he was 16 years old in 2006. The now 24-year-old has yet to spend a full season in Triple-A.
What about Hiroyuki Nakajima?
He'll be in minor league spring training and won't be with the 40-man roster.
First you have your starters who are all signed and locked in: Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick.
Next, you have your fourth outfielder, Craig Gentry.
Those four guys will be on the active roster on Opening Day, again, barring significant injury. Beyond them, there are a few other guys vying for a spot.
Michael Taylor's time is all but up in the Oakland organization. He's on the verge of becoming a career minor leaguer or needing to find another organization, and this spring could determine his future. Taylor is surprisingly the only other outfielder on the 40-man roster currently.
Two non-roster invitees will be fun to watch, though.
Sam Fuld will attend after three decent years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Though he's a career .234 hitter, Fuld is known for his ability to play all three outfield positions and he does so with Eric Byrnes-like tenacity. He's one of those "great baseball stories," so it should be intriguing to see if he can earn a spot.
The other is Billy Burns—last year's Washington Nationals Minor League Player of the Year. Appropriately named, Burns' calling card is his incredible speed on the basepaths. He joins Oakland after the team shipped reliever Jerry Blevins to Washington.
Check out Jane Lee of MLB.com's latest on Gentry sitting out and praise for Fuld's versatility.
Your starting rotation will be five of the following six guys: Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone.
The guy who doesn't grab the fifth spot will either be a long reliever or more likely start in Sacramento.
The obvious picks to nab a spot in the bullpen are Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook. With their resumes of talent and experience, there's no doubt about this fearsome foursome of relievers.
Oakland's most tantalizing roster battle is for that last bullpen spot or two.
Competition includes Dan Otero, Jesse Chavez, Josh Lindblom, Drew Pomeranz, Fernando Abad, Fernando Rodriguez, Evan Scribner and Joe Savery.
Otero exploded onto the scene last year by posting a 1.38 ERA in 33 games. Chavez was effective as a long reliever in the first half of the season where he posted a 2.97 ERA as opposed to his second half 5.25 ERA.
He'll start in the first spring camp game. Little-used Scribner had trouble duplicating his 2012 success. His ERA rose from 2.55 to 4.39.
Meanwhile the rest are all new faces.
Pomeranz came via the Brett Anderson trade and looks to finally prove himself. In three seasons with the Colorado Rockies, his lowest ERA was 4.93.
Lindblom has spent three years in Major League Baseball—the first half of which has been good; the last half has been awful. While Lindblom's career went from up to down, Abad's has gone from good to really bad to OK. In the span between 2009-13, Rodriguez did not pitch in MLB in two of those years and worked in just 0.2 innings of a third season.
Savery arrives after being designated for assignment by the Philadelphia Phillies. He's been OK in the few opportunities he's had in the majors but pitched very well in Triple-A last season posting an 11.0 K/9 ratio. He could be the dark-horse candidate that steals a spot.
Prospects Raul Alcantara and Michael Ynoa will be in camp.
Like Russell, they're big-name prospects who will be fun to watch, but have little chance of making the Oakland A's in 2014. Both are years away from the major league level.
Arnold Leon is a third minor leaguer invited to camp. The 25-year-old has bounced back and forth between Double-A and Triple-A.
Seven players will vie for a spot as a non-roster invitee.
Of them, Philip Humber is the most notable. He threw a perfect game in 2012 with the Chicago White Sox. Andrew Werner had early success in 2011 and 2012, but struggled mightily in 2013 with the San Diego Padres.
Jose Flores is 24 years old and has never played higher than Double-A. Deryk Hooker is essentially in the same boat with only 15 games in Triple-A.
Jeremy McBryde is in that boat, too, and he's two years older than Flores and Hooker. Matt Buschmann is in the worst shape of all of them; he's 30 and still hovers between Double-A and Triple-A.