Three Positions To Watch During A’s Spring Training
What might be even tougher than winning 97 games like the Oakland Athletics did last season, is following it up. The A’s shocked the baseball world with that 97-win season and their one game trip to the playoffs.
As cliche as it sounds, the journey to the postseason begins at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Arizona. Plenty of spots are to be filled for Oakland and only time will tell how the team will look entering Opening Day.
Here’s the three positions to watch over the course of spring training:
The 2018 A’s starting rotation was decimated by injury to a point where Oakland had to implore the “opener” strategy for the wild card game. Arms like A.J. Puk, Jharrel Cotton, and Sean Manaea were lost with Cotton and Manaea slated to miss half and most of the season respectively.
With those injuries, the A’s found plenty of depth with Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson, and Mike Fiers. With Jackson still a free agent, the Green and Gold brought in Marco Estrada and were able to re-sign Anderson. Fiers and Estrada will likely be in the rotation but the rest of the spots could go to Anderson, Frankie Montas, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, and the list goes on. There’s no shortage of starting arms but the quality comes into question.
The big name to watch here is 21-year-old Jesus Luzardo. The A’s acquired Luzardo in a deal with the Washington Nationals that saw Sean Doolittle head to Washington. There’s expectations that Luzardo could crack the A’s opening day roster in the rotation.
Manager Bob Melvin seems to be impressed by the 21-year-old: “He knows there’s a spotlight on him. What really stands out — he’s got an upper 90s heater, but it’s his breaking stuff that kind of sets him apart in who he is right now, both changeup and breaking ball.”
Last season in the minors, Luzardo finished with a 2.88 ERA in 109.1 innings throwing 129 strikeouts to 30 walks across three levels.
Three catchers are currently in the mix to be the A’s Opening Day starter behind the dish. Josh Phegley, Chris Herrmann, and Nick Hundley all have a chance to earn the spot over the next six weeks.
Phegley by far has the most experience with Oakland, entering his fifth season with the A’s but hasn’t amassed more than 75 games played in a season in those five years. The 31-year-old does have the advantage over Herrmann and Hundley because of his familiarity with the pitching staff. Phegley has shown struggles on the offensive side, slashing .204/.255/.344 in 102 plate appearances in 2018.
Herrmann is entering his first season with Oakland after spending a season in Seattle. The 30-year-old may sneak his way on to the Opening Day roster due to his versatility in the field. Last season, with the Mariners, Herrmann played games at first base, left field, right field, and catcher. Him playing first base could have some value to manager Bob Melvin to give Matt Olson more days off during the season.
Hundley was signed last week after spending two seasons with the San Francisco Giants. The 35-year-old has been a career backup but has more experience with pitching staffs than both Phegley and Herrmann. He saw extended playing time last season with the Giants and finished with a .241 batting average and a .706 OPS.
A fourth name to watch for the future is Sean Murphy, a third-round pick in 2016. Murphy is only 24-years-old an earned a non-roster invite this season. Murphy is expected to start and play most of the season in Triple-A Las Vegas but there’s a sense that he may be the future for the A’s catching position. The third-round pick slashed .285/.361/.489 in 306 plate appearances last season across three levels in the minor leagues.
Franklin Barreto has been up and down the A’s farm system for the past two seasons now and has been a highly-touted prospect since being acquired in 2014. Unfortunately for the 22-year-old, the numbers haven’t been great with Oakland. In 57 games the past two season, Barreto has hit .215 with an OPS of .746 in 151 total plate appearances and has been good for a -0.3 WAR.
The Athletics brought in Jurickson Profar via trade this off-season, acquiring him from the Texas Rangers. Profar in a way was like Barreto with the Rangers, a prospect that never really could put it together in the big leagues. Texas gave Profar plenty of chances but he never once batted higher than .254 in five season. The good news could be that his career-high .254 batting average came last season where he also posted a career-high .793 OPS with a career-high 20 home runs.
Profar and Barreto will be battling for the second base void left by Jed Lowrie who signed with the New York Mets this off-season. The A’s infield is relativity set with Olson at first, Marcus Semien at short and Matt Chapman at third. Second base will be the position to watch over the span of spring training.