Happy Valentine's/Singles Awareness Day, AN! Today happens to be one of my favorite days of the year, and not just (really, not at all) because of the red and pink-themed festivities. Today, of course, is the day that A's pitchers and catchers report to Oakland's Spring Training facility in Phoenix. In other words, today is the first day of the 2014 baseball season!
In her post Wednesday, baseballgirl took a look at the A's likely 25-man roster come Opening Day, including a potential battle for the 25th and final spot between Stephen Vogt, Nate Freiman, and Daric Barton. Here are a few more general story lines to keep an eye on throughout Spring Training:
-Phoenix Muni: This Spring Training is Oakland's last at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which the A's have called home since 1984. Next year, they'll move 10 miles east into Mesa's HoHoKam Stadium, where the Cubs have played since 1997. The Cubs just cut the ribbon on their brand-new spring training complex, Cubs Park, which is also in Mesa.
The move is unfortunate for a few reasons, in my opinion. The biggest one is simple convenience — Phoenix Muni is in a great neighborhood, a ten-minute drive from Sky Harbor International Airport, and blocks away from a new light rail route connecting directly to Downtown Phoenix and Eric Sogard's alma mater, Arizona State University. While HoHoKam isn't far from Phoenix Muni, it's the easternmost of the Cactus League venues, meaning that if you rented a car and are driving from Mesa to another spring training venue, you'll be spend about 10 minutes longer on the freeway in each direction.
The conversation about amenities, capacity, and revenue-generating capability is a reasonable one to have when you're talking about regular-season venues — on this blog, we talk about it all the time. But in my opinion, a Spring Training stadium needs a baseball field, dugouts, food, drinks, and a press box. That's about it. HoHoKam is a definite upgrade in terms of capacity and amenities, but I don't know that the move will prove to be worth it.
-Defense: While Alberto Callaspo, assuming he's still with the organization at the end of March, is a shoe-in to make the 25-man roster, it'll be interesting to see how he performs defensively in Cactus League play. The A's have discussed sticking him at first base occasionally, so he could get some looks there. Even if he doesn't, his play at second base will be critical throughout the year. Expect him to improve leaps and bounds from last year — he looked pretty bad at second toward the end of 2013, but he'd played third base almost exclusively with the Angels organization.
The same goes for Nate Freiman, who'll be battling for a roster spot. While his wRC+ of 125 against lefties last season was impressive, his defense was anything but. For him to make the 25-man slate, he'll need to show that he's somewhat less of a liability at first base.
-Addison Russell: Last year, Russell got his feet wet at the big-league level in March, recording 17 Cactus League plate appearances. He went 4-for-16 with a double, a walk, and five strikeouts. He'll be back in the major-league camp this year, and probably for a longer stretch. One of the cool things about Spring Training is that you get to see unlikely combinations of players — often from different levels of professional baseball — on the field together. I have a hunch that if you see a Russell-Sogard-Moss double play in March, you might see it again in August. Speaking of which...
-Eric Sogard: The light-hitting second baseman turned into a skinnier, nerdier version of Babe Ruth last spring — his spring OPS was 1.236. His batting average was .500. On-base? .536. Slugging? .700. Yeah, Eric Sogard slugged .700 in the Cactus League. It won't matter in the slightest, but it'll be fun to see if he can live up to his title of Mr. March.
-Bay Bridge Series: A's and Giants play four times in Cactus League, including the Spring Training opener on February 26 at Scottsdale Stadium. Next is a matchup at Phoenix Muni against a split-squad Giants team on February 28, then another split-squad (both ways) game at Scottsdale Stadium on March 15. The final Cactus League clash is a night game in Scottsdale on March 21.
The weekend before the regular season, as usual, the A's and Giants play a three-game exhibition set in the Bay Area. This year's series runs Thursday-Saturday, with the Giants returning to AT&T Park for the first time since September on Thursday, March 27. The A's return to the Coliseum for the first time since October on Saturday, March 29. (Get it? Get it?)