Spring Training is mostly a nice chance to enjoy some largely meaningless baseball. It’s a nice chance to drink some beer, enjoy some nice weather, a reason to go to Arizona. From a baseball standpoint, there’s not a lot of utility to the results of Spring. There is a faint correlation between how teams do offensively in the preseason and the regular season, but by and large we just can’t gauge which performances are actually meaningful.
There are larger issues than just how predictive Spring is. When a roster is squeezed like the A’s appears to be, final cuts can be determined by how players do in the preseason. Think back a year ago - Jesse Hahn, a 2015 stud could barely crack the second inning in his spring starts. The result? Hahn missed the Opening Day rotation in favor of Eric Surkamp. The A’s clearly valued their Spring Training learnings.
It’s not always about what the stat sheet says when camp closes, it’s often how things look. Optics are important when sample sizes are so very small and involve so very many fringe players. Jesse Hahn not only couldn’t get outs, he couldn’t hit the strike zone in 2015, indicating his issues weren’t small sample glitches or problems that would just go away when the calendar turned from March to April.
Which 2017 Spring performances might determine the shape of the regular season roster?
Coulombe makes oh so much sense on this roster, a team with just three lefties in need of a LOOGY. Oh, but Coulombe is so much more than just a LOOGY, and the fact that he’s versatile should make him more attractive when it comes cuttin’ time.
But Coulombe has options and the A’s have a glut, meaning in spite of the fact that there is a spot the exact size and shape of his person, there’s a chance Coulombe will start the season in Nashville.
A strong spring in which Coulombe dominates lefties while showing his ability to get righties out might land him on the roster, putting the bullpen squeeze on someone else, likely a Raul Alcantara or John Axford.
Just about the whole pitching staff
This isn’t exactly top notch analysis, but it bears repeating. The shape of the A’s rotation is still a huge question mark, one that should be strong no matter how it plays out, but one that can go a number of ways. In the mix for the final two spots are:
Andrew Triggs, the submarining reliever turned starter who was pretty fantastic for a five start period. Early Slusser reports pit Triggs as having inside position for one of the final slots, and he certainly earned the excitement around him. There are questions, though.
Can Triggs stay healthy? Making the transition from reliever to starter isn’t known for being easy on the arm or the body, and Triggs didn’t make it through the entirety of 2016. That’s not necessarily a death knell on his chances, it’s doubtful the A’s are expecting him to pitch a full season as a starter anyway. But how he holds up through March is a large portion of his chances.
Can Triggs continue to get left handers out? Triggs has never had major splits, but his stuff portends to a guy who could struggle against left handed hitters. He was fine against them in 2016, but as the novelty wears off and he sees the same lineups more frequently, left handers may be his kryptonite.
Jharel Cotton, the man with arguably the best pitch on the team, seems like a lock. It’s easy to forget that he’s a rookie and sometimes, rookies do rookie things. A tough spring could land Cotton in AAA.
Raul Alcantara, the man with upside but without options, and without much of a track record to suggest he could last in a big league rotation at this point in time.
Jesse Hahn, the forgotten talent with great stuff, okay control, and sometimes wayward command. He missed the rotation last year thanks to a poor spring - perhaps this year he can do the opposite.
Matt Olson and Yonder Alonso
With Ryon Healy squarely off of third, presumably splitting his time between first and DH, Yonder Alonso’s spot on the roster becomes a bit more tenuous. There’s still room for a platoon first baseman, particularly one who can pick errant throws from a poor defensive infield backing a groundball based staff.
While there is value to that role, Alonso’s lack of versatility puts his spot on the Opening Day roster in question. If only he had higher offensive upside, a longer contract, and some positional flexibility!
Enter Matt Olson, a guy who has all three, albeit not in ways that are necessarily germane to the A’s right now. Olson’s 2016, his long swing and his swing and miss tendencies make him a candidate to refine his game in AAA Nashville, not rushing his game at all. The A’s probably won’t be good enough to need the marginal upgrade a better platoon first baseman would provide, and the odds of Olson beating Alonso for that spot are low.
But maybe Olson should be working on his game at the big league level, having played at every level in the minor leagues. His defense is good enough to supplant Alonso, rumored to be some of the best the A’s have seen. His ability to play right with more competency than Matt Joyce would help the A’s defense too.
The question ultimately comes down to his bat, one that started poorly last season but finished with a flash. If he can cut down on K’s in the spring, maybe the A’s have a question on their hands.
Jed Lowrie isn’t long removed from being a productive big leaguer, and his poor 2016 was likely at least somewhat due to his injured foot. However, with him being on the last year of his deal, his poor defensive history, and the fact that the A’s aren’t projected to be very good, he’s not the ideal man for this roster.
Like Olson, Wendle isn’t likely to hit his way onto the roster in Spring. Lowrie seems to have the spot locked down, health dependent but regardless of spring performance. Still, Wendle mashing in the spring, showing some semblance of plate discipline could expedite his arrival in the bigs. He’s done what he can in the minors and at his age, the final hurdle is big league success. The A’s would be well suited to find out what he can do once and for all.
Let’s be honest: Spring Training can get boring. In the moments where you find yourself thinking, “why am I watching this game that doesn’t matter with players I don’t recognize on streams that don’t work?”, focus your attention on the future. Barreto won’t make the Opening Day roster and while we very well may see him this year, he’s exciting and watching his raw potential is one of the best parts of Spring.