The Oakland A's entered the offseason with few parts of their roster for 2012 more undecided than the three outfield spots and the designated hitter position.
The 2011 version of the four spots (and backup roles) consisted of Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui in the starting roles. All figure to be gone via free agency within the next two months or so.
Conor Jackson, the primary backup in the outfield, was traded midway through the season to the Boston Red Sox.
The only returning member from Opening Day 2011 is Ryan Sweeney.
Chris Carter, who we looked at in our first base preview, has some outfield experience, but is not necessarily the defensive fit the A's would be looking for behind their pitching staff.
Grant Green, previewed in our shortstop piece last week, was converted to center field this past season and could figure into the plans around midseason or as a September call-up if the A's decide he needs a full season in Triple-A and he doesn't make a return to the infield.
Michael Taylor, Jai Miller, Sweeney and Jermain Mitchell seem the most likely occupants of the outfield roster spots to open the season, with the designated hitter role likely being some combination of the above-mentioned players.
The only thing that remains certain: It will definitely be a different look than the 2011 outfield.
Sweeney found himself in a backup role in 2011 and could find himself there again if the A's make any offseason moves to upgrade the roster in the outfield in 2012.
His power has never developed to a level the A's had hoped it would, but he has remained consistent with his batting average and on-base percentage.
Sweeney's real value to the A's has always been his plus-defensive skills in the outfield.
He probably does not possess the offensive capabilities to be counted on as an everyday starter for Oakland, given their struggles scoring runs the past few seasons.
Then again, he might be given the opportunity to prove that assessment wrong if no further bats are brought in before the start of spring training.
Michael Taylor finally got his first taste of the big leagues in September of this past season.
He wasn't overly impressive in his 11 games, batting just .200, but he did display some of the power the A's were hoping for when they acquired him for Brett Wallace, hitting his first career homer in his brief stint with the A's.
His minor league stats were considerably better, batting .272 with 16 homers in 93 games for the River Cats.
He was likely slotted as Oakland's top choice in right field heading into 2012 anyway, but the lack of depth at the position all but guarantees it.
At 26 years old, he won't be your typical rookie, but I, for one, will be looking forward to watching his rookie season.
Jai Miller went on an absolute tear in Triple-A for the Sacramento River Cats in 2011, earning his September call-up to the A's and the majors.
He batted .250 with Oakland in seven games, but continued to flash the power he displayed all season in Sacramento with his second major league homer in his brief stint.
In the minors, he batted .276 and slugged 32 homers and 88 RBI.
Miller was also a perfect 16-for-16 in steal attempts in the minors.
A center fielder, Miller could fill the role until the A's decide either Grant Green or Michael Choice are ready to take over, or he could slide over to left field if Oakland decides to go with Ryan Sweeney in center field.
Jermaine Mitchell is another A's minor leaguer that made an impression in 2011.
He began the year in Double-A, where he batted .355 with 15 doubles, 13 triples, 10 homers and 14 stolen bases (in 27 attempts).
After his promotion to Triple-A, he batted .302 with 14 doubles, three triples, five homers and 13 stolen bases (in 18 attempts).
He should get a long look in spring training for a backup role or perhaps even a shot at one of the starting jobs if any of the other candidates gets off to a slow start.
At 27 years old, Mitchell is not considered a prospect anymore, but he could prove to be a very effective stopgap for the A's.
The A's acquired a young center fielder that should also get a long look for a starting position this spring.
Cedric Hunter is just 23 years old, and is considered very athletic.
He hasn't posted overly impressive stats at any level of the minors, but he did manage a .308 batting average in 71 Double-A games in 2010.
He earned his major league debut this season with the San Diego Padres and batted .250 in his six games (1-for-4).
I don't know enough about him to offer a full evaluation. We'll learn together this spring what he truly can bring to the team.
Michael Choice likely won't be in Oakland's major league plans in 2012. With the team looking like they are entering a rebuilding phase, there is no need to rush his development.
If he repeats his 2011 success from Single-A Stockton, he should work his way through Double-A and Triple-A quickly though.
He batted .285 with 30 homers and 82 RBI.
A September call-up isn't entirely out of the question, but I'd look for him to be contending for a starting position in 2013 instead.
He's certainly the prospect whose arrival A's fans will be anticipating the most, myself included.
The A's may decide that they can build around Michael Taylor, Grant Green and Michael Choice, but until the latter two reach the majors, they will still have to gamble on some of their farmhands to get them through the 2012 season unless they make a move or two to bring in some young talent.
Since the future of the A's appears to be headed towards a rebuild in hopes of moving to San Jose and fielding a competitive team timed with the opening of their new stadium, we can assume that any talent they bring in will be young and under club control for several seasons.
They likely won't be making any deals for a Josh Willingham- or David DeJesus-type player this offseason.
That means Andre Ethier is probably off the table, even if the Dodgers can't afford him after their massive commitment to Matt Kemp.
Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins is probably an attainable outfield bat though if the A's are willing to part with one of their pitchers. If that pitcher winds up being either Gio Gonzalez or Trevor Cahill, Morrison would certainly not be the only piece headed back to Oakland either.
I'm certainly not in favor of trading either pitcher, but a glance back through history should suggest that the A's won't take it off the table if the right deal presents itself.
My vote would be another one-year rental player or two to bridge the gap to Choice and Green while utilizing the current crop of outfielders as platoon and backup players.
I have to admit I wouldn't mind seeing Morrison in green and gold either though.
Next Sunday, we’ll take a look at how Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and the rest of the A’s system stack up in the starting rotation heading into 2012.
Prior Position Breakdowns