Spring Training is a little past its halfway point, and the roster picture is starting to come into view. With injuries and roster cuts abound, we can take a more accurate guess at who will start the season on the 25-man roster. Here’s how the positional battles have broken down thus far.
The pitching staff
Just two short months ago, the A’s pitching depth seemed unreal. There were eight guys with legit claims to a rotation spot and seemingly no obvious way of finding all of them spots. Then, baseball did was baseball does and both Daniel Mengden and Sonny Gray went down with injuries.
The direction of the rotation is now much clearer. It’ll come down to five of six players (Jharel Cotton, Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Andrew Triggs, Jesse Hahn, and Raul Alcantara) with the battle most likely coming down to the final two.
The loss of Sonny Gray makes the Raul Alcantara decision a little bit easier. With the A’s depth being downgraded from amazing to enviable, holding onto Alcantara is a bigger priority. He’ll probably start as the long man but should another guy go down, he’ll slot into the rotation. That’s just about what Alcantara should be. That’ll make Jesse Hahn the five, provided he can survive the rest of spring showing control, command, and a general competency.
The A’s have noted that Daniel Gossett is next up on the list of starters, should that be needed. The righty had a successful spring and is on the verge of the bigs, adding another layer of depth alongside Zach Neal.
Alcantara’s likely addition is bad news for someone in the pen, most likely Daniel Coulombe. He’s the man with options and his rather miserable spring will likely land him in Nashville to start. From a baseball strategy standpoint, that’s not great as the A’s lone bullpen lefty is now Sean Doolittle. Coulombe will likely be in the bigs sooner than later, though, as there’s often turnover in a team’s pen.
That pen is shaking out to look something like this:
Ryan Madson (R)
Sean Doolittle (L)
Ryan Dull (R)
Liam Hendricks (R)
Santiago Casilla (R)
John Axford (R)
Raul Alcantara (R)
As it stands, the ever imaginative A’s are planning to use Mark Canha as their fourth outfielder. They envision he’ll be able to play all three slots in spite of the fact he can barely handle one which is a long winded way of saying the A’s better carry a fifth outfielder and he better be able to pick it.
There are two guys vying for that spot, Jaff Decker and Alejandro De Aza. Both would trump Canha defensively and would provide nice depth for an outfield with none. Decker has higher upside with the bat, while De Aza is the better defender. De Aza can opt-out should he not make the big league roster, which shouldn’t be much of a factor in the decision making.
Decker’s spring has been impressive on the field, but he’s currently battling an oblique injury. If he can’t make it back sooner than later, his chances will be oh, bleak. I need real baseball in my life.
For my money, the A’s just have to carry that fifth outfielder. Mark Canha as the fourth outfielder is a disaster. If things go according to plan, and yes they’ve actually planned this, the outfield will at some point will be Khris Davis, Mark Canha, and Matt Joyce. Mother of god.
This was always a bit of manufactured battle, as the potential advantages of keeping Matt Olson over Yonder Alonso are small, and the A’s were always likely to give Alonso the nod. Still, it’s worth noting that Olson struggled mightily in Arizona and will need more seasoning in Nashville. Alonso on the other hand? With his mighty new swing, Alonso is hitting a rather comical .333/.486/.593 solidifying an already solid spot on the roster.
The enormous gap between BA and OBP will tell you not to take these number all that seriously, as clearly Alonso isn’t facing the caliber of pitching he’ll see when April rolls around. Still, the slugging is encouraging, hopefully signifying the change in approach has worked. Combine that with Olson’s struggles, Alonso is your platoon first baseman.
Another battle that was more wishful thinking than reality, it appears Jed Lowrie is your starting second baseman as was largely expected based on Slusser reports from the beginning of the offseason.
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been news, as the A’s second base situation is certainly active. The nearest player to the bigs, and the one who ultimately had a chance at unseating Lowrie is Joey Wendle. Wendle has only made it to the plate 14 times this spring thanks to a shoulder injury. While his return isn’t far off, it’s unlikely he’ll do anything to supplant Lowrie now.
He’ll go to AAA alongside top prospect Franklin Barreto. Barreto absolutely dominated the Cactus League, hitting .481/.500/.667 in 27 at bats. That creates a bigger logjam in the middle infield at Nashville, where the log was already jammed. Between Chad Pinder, Barreto and Wendle, there are three guys for two spots. Yairo Munoz will probably be in the mix at some point as well, though that’s not a huge cause for concern for now.
The likely setup will be Barreto getting most of the reps at second, as finding him a defensive home is priority #1 in his development. Melvin says he’s more or less big league ready, and Stiglich notes his fastest path to the bigs is at second base. That would slot Pinder at short and Wendle somewhere unkown. That logjam is part of why Wendle in the bigs was a tantalizing proposition but at the end of the day, there’s no knowing if he could actually hack it over a big league season.
All that said, the A’s have a bit of an awkward dance to find playing time for four deserving players.
15 days until baseball is officially back!