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The battle for center field on the Oakland A’s

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With just days left to decide, will it be Powell or Fowler?

Oakland Athletics v Philadelphia Phillies
Boog Powell
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

With Opening Day a mere four days away, the Oakland A’s still have not decided who will be the team’s starting center fielder.

The rotation had been set, basically by default, with the team’s starting pitchers dropping like flies to injuries. The infield is complete beginning with Jonathan Lucroy at catcher, Matt Olson at first base, Jed Lowrie at second base, Marcus Semien at shortstop, and Matt Chapman at third base. Right field belongs to Stephen Piscotty and left field will be a combination of Matt Joyce and Khris Davis, although Davis will mostly serve as the A’s designated hitter. There is still a bullpen spot that is up in the air, but the battle for center field is the team’s biggest remaining conundrum.

Dustin Fowler, who was acquired last season in the trade that sent Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees, is seen as the team’s center fielder of the future. While his defensive skills are there, there are still questions as to whether he is ready for Opening Day or if he needs more time in Triple-A to hone his offensive skills. There is little doubt that he can and will hit the ball, but the Athletics don’t want him to stumble out of the gate in the majors and risk a possible demotion.

The 23-year-old Fowler suffered a ruptured patella tendon in his knee while making his big league debut last June with the Yankees. Playing right field instead of center that day, Fowler ran full force into the right field wall, his right knee slamming directly into an unpadded, metal electrical box. He was carried off the field by stretcher and taken to the hospital by ambulance, all before getting his first big league at-bat.

New York Yankees v Chicago White Sox
Dustin Fowler
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Fowler had a rough spring offensively, batting just .195/.227/.244, but those were his first at-bats since his injury in June. He could improve quickly and dramatically once he shakes off more rust and the games start to count — he was lucky to be recovered in time for Spring Training as it is.

While Fowler is scheduled to be the A’s center fielder for years to come, his main competition for the final spot on the present-day roster is Boog Powell. While not as strong defensively as Fowler, Powell had a better spring at the plate and impressed in an audition with Oakland last summer. He’s as ready as he’ll ever be right now, which could be helpful for the A’s while Fowler gets his groove back in Triple-A.

It’s a tough call. Only one of the two will join Jake Smolinski, who will serve as the A’s backup outfielder even after missing all of 2017 with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Smolinski has had a quietly good spring and will give the A’s versatility in the lineup and at the different outfield positions. Melvin had nothing but praise for Smolinski, saying (via insider Jane Lee):

“He plays hard, and you really pull for a guy like that. And he’s had a great spring after being inactive after a whole year, which is tough to do. ... You get the versatility in the outfield with all positions, he hits left-handed pitching well, he’s really had a nice spring for himself.”

However when it came to talking about the decision of who will start on Opening Day in center field, all Melvin had to say was this,

“It might be our last decision.”

It appears that it will actually be the team’s final decision with Opening Day looming in just a few more days.

Poll

All things considered, who should start in CF for the A’s at the beginning of 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Dustin Fowler
    (341 votes)
  • 63%
    Boog Powell
    (595 votes)
936 votes total Vote Now