The A's know where their biggest weaknesses lie as they look ahead to 2016. Along with the beleaguered bullpen, LF and 2B have been the areas most in need of long-term stability. Both are currently manned by players who can field but can't hit (Eric Sogard, Sam Fuld), players who can hit but can't field (Mark Canha) or who are better served in a platoon (Jake Smolinski) or who can't hit, throw, or stay healthy but are really cool (Coco Crisp).
In all likelihood the A's will look outside the organization for the LFer who will join the young team Oakland has assembled across Oakland, Nashville, Midland, Stockton, Beloit, and Vermont ("go Lake Monsters!!!"). At 2B, the A's have Joey Wendle at AAA about to finish a full season and he would be the logical next internal option to get a shot at claiming 2B.
Wendle is having a strong second half and yet even so, I wonder if Chad Pinder is not only the better 2B prospect, but also as or more likely to make the jump to the big leagues any time. Wendle and Pinder are two very different kinds of players -- unfortunately, what they most have in common is an allergy to walks.
Here's why I think you could make the argument that Pinder could beat out Wendle for the 2B job as soon as April, 2016:
- Wendle has thrived post All-Star break at Nashville, with a batting line of .351/.371/.494, yet he has really made little to no progress in the key area of plate discipline. Those numbers reflect that Wendle has drawn 5 BBs in 154 ABs (19 BBs now all season in 508 ABs). So one has to take even his second half breakout with a grain of salt as to his readiness to handle big league pitching.
- Pinder has mashed at AA all season, with an impressive line of .320/.363/.491, 14 HRs. He has essentially done, all season, what Wendle has done for 6 weeks, only walking a bit more (Pinder has walked 26 times in 440 ABs). But the numbers alone don't really begin to tell the story. Pinder has put up that batting line in the extreme pitcher-friendly Texas League, where the howling wind especially suppresses HRs and slugging. For Pinder to put up a .491 slugging percentage in the Texas League is impressive for anyone, let alone a middle infielder.
- Defensively, Wendle probably has an edge but Pinder's less stellar reputation comes partly from being stretched at SS. At 2B he is probably quite solid -- perhaps still a tick or two behind Wendle, but also likely more than adequate if he is hitting.
The question, of course, becomes "What are each of them ready to do in the big leagues?" On the face of it, one would think here is where Wendle has the all-important edge. He has done what he has done at AAA, while Pinder has not yet been AAA-tested.
If Pinder were 20 or 21, this would arguably be the key point. Sure, players skip AAA sometimes and there are many success stories to be found amongst AA players who jumped directly to the big leagues. However, they are usually players with extreme pedigree and they are the exception, not the rule. Generally, a 20 or 21 year old is best served moving up a level at a time and mastering the next level rather than being pushed to face competition that is not only big league quality but also mostly 23+ years old.
Pinder is 23 and will celebrate his 24th birthday at the end of March (3/29). He's not so old for his AA league that his numbers lack validity, but he's also not so young that a jump to the big leagues would be age-inappropriate. As for pedigree, Pinder's name recognition was largely obscured by Addison Russell (1st round) and Daniel Robertson (supplemental 1st round) but in fact he is a high (2nd round) draft pick.
In other words, it's not especially precocious for a 2nd round pick, turning 24 on March 29th, 2016, coming off of a slam-dunk breakout season at AA having batted .320 slugged around .500 in a league that suppresses slugging, to vie for a starting 2B job in the big league camp.
Of course Pinder would have to earn it next spring. As would Wendle. But if the A's don't make any significant roster additions to 2B in the off-season, and both Wendle and Pinder come to camp with a shot at winning the job, does Wendle have the edge based on being older (Wendle will turn 26 on April 26, 2016) and having played at AAA? Or does Pinder have every bit as good a shot -- if not better -- given his age, pedigree, and the season he has had?
I'm not saying that Chad Pinder will be the Opening Day 2Bman for the 2016 A's. What I am saying, though, is don't count him out. If he's not the front-runner right now, he has to be awfully close.