Of course, we've still got just a little ways to go until the opening of the 2016 season. And, of course, there will certainly be some trades, some free agent signings (both major league and minor league), some releases, some injuries and, knowing the A's, some totally unexpected developments during the offseason as well as in spring training. And considering the way the 2015 season has played out for the A's, there could certainly be some considerable changes to come. But, just for fun, let's take a look at the players currently in the A's organization who will most likely find themselves in the running for a roster spot in Nashville next season. You can always keep tabs on all the A's prospects on my Athletics Farm site and you can see who the most likely suspects are to be making the cut next year at Triple-A right here on Athletics Nation...
Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley appear likely to return as the catching corps for the A's in 2016. And with Carson Blair the only other catcher currently on the A's 40-man roster, it seems reasonably safe to assume that he could be making a return trip to Nashville next season. The Sounds primary receiver this season, Bryan Anderson, can become a minor league free agent in the offseason if he's not added to the A's 40-man roster. And the A's could replace him by signing another experienced minor league backstop, as they seem fond of doing. But if they don't, then Midland's Bruce Maxwell would probably be the most likely suspect to join Blair as part of the catching combo at Nashville next season.
It's questionable whether the A's will choose to offer Ike Davis arbitration in the offseason. And if they don't, that makes it much more likely that Max Muncy will find a spot somewhere on Oakland's roster next season. The left-handed hitter could serve as a great option to get some playing time at first base, third base and designated hitter, especially if right-handed hitters Brett Lawrie, Danny Valencia, Mark Canha and Billy Butler remain as the primary options at those positions. If he's not added to the A's 40-man roster, first baseman Nate Freiman can become a minor league free agent in the offseason. And Midland first baseman Matt Olson has been spending more time in right field than at first base during the second half of the season. So if Muncy finds a spot on the A's opening day roster, Freiman departs for potentially greener pastures and Olson does indeed spend more time in the outfield - all of which seem likely - then Rangel Ravelo could find himself getting most of the starts at first base for Nashville next season. The situation at third base seems considerably less complicated. One of the organization's top hitting prospects, Midland third baseman Renato Nunez (who's hit two grand slams in the last two days), will be ready to make the jump to Triple-A next year, while his Midland teammate, Ryon Healy, who has been splitting time between third base and first base the past couple seasons, seems set to join Nashville as well, splitting time with Nunez at third and Ravelo at first in 2016.
One thing seems clear. After putting together an impressive season at Midland this year, it's Chad Pinder's turn to be the starting shortstop for Nashville next season. If he's not added to the A's 40-man roster, Andy Parrino can become a minor league free agent in the offseason, which will just help clear the path for Pinder. If Joey Wendle doesn't win a starting job with the A's in spring training, which seems less and less likely as Brett Lawrie spends more and more time at second base, then he'll end up returning as Nashville's starting second baseman again next season and serve as Pinder's double-play partner. And if Tyler Ladendorf doesn't land a roster spot as a utility man for the A's, then he'll also figure into the Sounds' middle infield picture, along with Midland infielder Colin Walsh. If those two both end up on the Nashville roster, then expect to see them playing all over the diamond. While they're both primarily suited to play second base, they've both got plenty of experience playing elsewhere. Ladendorf would most likely spend time at second base, shortstop and in the outfield, while Walsh would probably find time at second base, third base and in the outfield.
Craig Gentry and Jason Pridie were both staples of the Sounds outfield for most of 2015, but it's quite possible that neither will be back in 2016. It would be surprising if the A's chose to offer Gentry arbitration in the offseason, and it seems unlikely that Pridie would retain a 40-man roster spot throughout the offseason, though it is possible that he'll manage to hang on. As mentioned earlier, top prospect Matt Olson has spent more time in right field than at first base during the second half of the season. And with Canha, Muncy and Ravelo all in the A's first base picture and a lack of top-quality outfield prospects in the system, it seems likely that Olson will continue to see more time in the outfield at Nashville next season. Midland's other primary outfielders - Chad Oberacker, Josh Whitaker and Jaycob Brugman - all seem ready to take the next step and could join Olson in the Sounds' outfield picture next year. Jake Smolinski could land a spot with the A's, sharing time with Coco Crisp in left field or giving Josh Reddick a break in right field against lefties. But if he doesn't, possibly because the A's acquire another outfielder, then he'll be right in the middle of Nashville's outfield mix next season as well.
A number of potential starting pitching candidates for the A's will be out of options next season, including LHPs Sean Nolin, Felix Doubront and Drew Pomeranz as well as RHP Jesse Chavez - as noted in Jeremy F. Koo's piece here on Athletics Nation last week - so it's unlikely you'll be seeing any of them doing time at Nashville in 2016. In addition, RHPs Chris Bassitt and Kendall Graveman seem to have earned spots in the A's major league rotation. So who does that leave as the likely starters in Nashville next season? Well, Aaron Brooks seems as likely as anyone to start the season in the Triple-A rotation. When it comes to current Sounds starters, unless they're added to the A's 40-man roster, Brad Mills and Nate Long will both become minor league free agents in the offseason. And if RHP Cody Martin remains on the A's 40-man roster through all the offseason's wheelings and dealings, then he's likely to land a starting spot, as is reliable RHP Zach Neal. A.J. Griffin, who's still working his way back from injury issues following last year's Tommy John surgery, seems unlikely to be a leading candidate for the A's starting rotation next spring and could end up starting the year as one of Nashville's starting five. Jarrod Parker is also working his way back from injuries after his Tommy John surgery. It's not clear whether or not he'll return to a starting role but, if he does, then he could pose another potential Triple-A rotation option. And a few Midland starters could factor into the picture as well. RHP Jake Sanchez has already been called up to finish the season with the Sounds, while LHPs Sean Manaea and Dillon Overton are two of the team's most promising pitching prospects who could be pushed up to Nashville in 2016.
Well, it should be noted that in recent years the A's have tended to sign a big batch of minor league free agent relievers to stock their Triple-A bullpen. So if that ends up being the strategy again this offseason, then the Sounds bullpen is likely to be comprised of a bunch of guys we've yet to meet! But there certainly are plenty of arms currently in the organization who could fill the relief role in Nashville next season. First of all, if not added to the 40-man roster, then familiar names like Angel Castro, Brock Huntzinger, Jim Fuller, Taylor Thompson and Ryan Doolittle could all become minor league free agents in the offseason. When it comes to arms currently on the A's 40-man roster, if he doesn't find a spot in the A's bullpen, then Ryan Dull will certainly be returning to the Sounds, as will Dan Otero, R.J. Alvarez and Pat Venditte. Aaron Kurcz also seems highly likely to be making a return appearance in 2016. Arnold Leon is out of options but, if the A's can manage to sneak him through waivers, then he could find himself back in Nashville as well. Jarrod Parker could also be a candidate to start the season in the Sounds bullpen as he makes his way back from a serious arm injury incurred after his Tommy John surgery. And then there are a number of RockHounds relievers who've all earned the opportunity to see time at Triple-A, most notably Seth Frankoff and Tucker Healy (who've both had a taste of the PCL), Kris Hall (who'll be showcasing in the Arizona Fall League starting next month) and Brendan McCurry (who'll also be in the AFL and has been one of the most impressive relievers in the A's system over the past two seasons). Add in the inevitable minor league free agent signees, and there shouldn't be any shortage of available relief arms to stock the bullpen at First Tennessee Park in 2016.
You can check out my site - Athletics Farm - for updates on the A's minor league teams and all the top prospects down on the farm.