Oakland A's Spring Training: Can Chris Carter or Michael Taylor Replace Jackson?
The offseason additions of Josh Willingham and David DeJesus created a log-jam in the Oakland outfield. The two offseason trade acquisitions joined returning A's outfielders Coco Crisp, Ryan Sweeney, Conor Jackson and Chris Carter, meaning that come the end of Spring Training, there would be one player headed to Sacramento to begin the season.
All early indications were that Chris Carter would wind up being the odd man out with Sweeney and Jackson filling bench roles as the fourth and fifth outfielders. At the time of this update however Conor Jackson has only managed to put together a .077 batting average over his first 26 at-bats, leaving his inclusion on the opening day roster as anything but certain.
Oakland has top outfield prospects Chris Carter, Michael Taylor and their 2010 top draft pick Michael Choice in camp this spring all performing better than the veteran Jackson. Also competing this Spring Training in the outfield are Matt Carson, Rashun Dixon, Jai Miller, Jermaine Mitchell and John Whitaker.
Dixon, Miller, Mitchell and Whitaker have little chance of cracking the opening day roster even with the struggles of Conor Jackson, Chris Carter, Michael Taylor and Matt Carson, however, could provide some competition down the stretch as the regular season approaches. Michael Choice has performed the best out of the bunch, however with this being his first full season of professional baseball the Athletics would like to see him develop through the minor league levels with a more realistic chance of making the roster in 2012.
Conor Jackson remains the front runner if he can turn his Spring around, however let's take a look at the five candidates for the roster spot, starting with Jackson.
Jackson was acquired by Oakland last season from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Sam Demel. In 42 games for the Diamondbacks before his trade to Oakland, Jackson was batting .228/.326/.331 with one homerun and eleven RBI. After his trade to Oakland he appeared in just 18 games due to injuries and time spent on the disabled list. In his 18 games with the Athletics, he batted .228/.362/.316 also with one homerun and only five RBI.
Jackson entered Spring Training fully recovered from a September surgery to fix a sports hernia, however he has yet to show any signs that he belongs on a Major League roster. In nine games this spring Jackson is hitting .077/.143/.077 in 26 at-bats, managing only one hit so far.
Carson actually played in more games for the Athletics in 2010 than Jackson managed after his trade. Carson, in 36 games for Oakland, batted .177/.193/.354 with four homeruns and nine RBI. Hardly inspiring statistics, however Carson did bat .303 with 13 home runs through 64 games with Triple-A Sacramento.
So far this Spring, Carson is batting .258/.258/.484 with one homerun and four RBI over 31 at-bats in 11 games.
At this point Carson would seem the front-runner to steal the position away from Conor Jackson unless Jackson turns his spring around.
Chris Carter made his much anticipated Major League debut last season, and promptly went 0-33 to start his career. He rebounded and went 13 for 38 (.342) with three homers and seven RBIs over his final 13 games.
Carter still has work to improve his defense after transitioning to the outfield just last season. He remains the A's top power-hitting prospect, and his presence would be a welcome addition to the A's lineup.
So far this spring Carter is hitting .207/.324/.241 with three RBIs. If he is to steal the roster spot away from Jackson he will need to elevate these numbers, otherwise he will be ticketed for Sacramento to receive regular playing time and work on his swing and defense.
Last season Taylor missed time with Sacramento due to calf injuries. When he was able to play he batted .272/.348/.392 with just six homeruns and 78 RBIs. Taylor worked on his swing and tried to regain his homerun power in the Arizona Fall League.
So far this spring Taylor is batting .212/.235/.424 with two homeruns and six RBIs. Taylor finds himself in the same position as Chris Carter. If he wants to make the A's roster as the fifth outfielder he will need to improve his statistics or find himself in Sacramento again working on his approach at the plate and trying to find his lost power.
After being selected by the Oakland Athletics in the first round of the 2010 draft, Choice began his pro career by participating in 30 games for the Athletics in the Rookie League and Low-A Vancouver team. Choice began his career by batting .266/.377/.587 with seven homeruns and 26 RBIs.
Choice spent the offseason being tutored by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Torii Hunter, and entered his first Spring Training ready to learn from the veterans and show the A's first hand what he is capable of contributing.
So far this Spring Choice is batting .412/.474/.471 on seven hits in 17 at-bats over his first 10 games.
While he has performed the best of the A's options for the outfield, he will likely start the season in A-ball with the Stockton Ports and work his way up through the minor league system this year.
Taking Advantage of Opportunities
At the beginning of spring, the outfield seemed set with Crisp, DeJesus, Willingham, Sweeney and Jackson. Jackson's struggles have left one roster spot up for grabs, if any of the other outfielders in camp are able to take advantage.
At this point, with Carter and Taylor also struggling, the spot would still seem to be Jackson's based on past track-records, although Matt Carson is providing competition.
The final two weeks of spring will show if Carter, Taylor or Carson can step up to the challenge and take the spot away from Conor Jackson, or if Jackson responds with his own bounce back to remove the competition.