The Oakland A’s played their first baseball game of 2019 on Friday, in a Cactus League contest against the Mariners. In the end Seattle won 8-1 after controlling the action from start to finish.
Of course, this is spring training, so the actual results of the game don’t matter. The wins and losses don’t count, the stats are meaningless, and everyone is just getting warmed up for when the real season begins. On the other hand, this matchup was televised on MLB Network, so there is at least the chance to do some eyeball scouting.
As long as we’re here, let’s start with a quick play-by-play. The Mariners scored immediately in the 1st, then added to it, then added some more, all against a parade of 10 A’s pitchers. Meanwhile, Oakland didn’t manage to push across a run until the 9th inning, on a solo dinger by top prospect Sean Murphy. That just about covers it.
OK, now for some assorted thoughts.
- The homer by Murphy was to more or less dead-center. It looked like a flyout off the bat, but it kept carrying, even on a cold, rainy day. I’m cautiously extra-impressed by that context. Murphy is the team’s consensus top position-player prospect, and that’s based mostly on his defense as a catcher, so the development of his bat could be the difference between being a solid regular or a Chapman-esque superstar.
- We also got to see the A’s top pitching prospect in Jesus Luzardo, as the lefty pitched the 4th inning. I’ll let other folks parse the quality of the stuff he showed (topped at 97 mph, and working on fastball command), but in terms of his shaky results he got some bad luck. He began with a hard-hit liner for a double, but Seattle didn’t get anything else out of the infield against him. The infield failed to convert two grounders, and that resulted in a run; more on those grounders in the next two bullet points. Luzardo also notched a called strikeout on a nasty breaking ball.
- I was impressed with Sheldon Neuse on defense at 3B. He ranged in both directions to field tough grounders, and he mostly showed a strong and accurate arm. The one exception was the first of Luzardo’s grounders — he made a nice diving play to field it, but then his throw came in low and in the dirt and the 1B was unable to pick it. Matt Olson probably would have squeezed it, though, for what it’s worth (and the backup 1B in question, Eric Campbell, made a couple other nice picks as the day went on). Neuse isn’t on Chapman’s level, of course, but he’s billed as a solid-to-good defender and that’s exactly what I saw on Friday.
- At SS, Jorge Mateo was fine but not perfect. The second of Luzardo’s grounders (with runners on first and second) went into the SS/3B hole, and Mateo managed to get to it. However, instead of throwing directly in front of him to Neuse covering the bag (for a force at third), he turned and tried to get the force at second. The throw got there, but Franklin Barreto was unable to squeeze it (properly ruled as Barreto’s error). So, Mateo did make the play, but it was an unnecessarily difficult play and so I have to assign at least some of the blame to him for the fact that it went wrong — all of which fits his reputation as a great athlete who’s still learning how best to use that talent on the field. He got a couple other routine plays and looked smooth, though he did bury one throw in the dirt (but picked cleanly).
- My biggest takeaway today was that Franklin Barreto simply isn’t an infielder. That’s a small-sample take on the first day of February baseball, so it’s not a final conclusion by any means. But he’s already moved from SS to 2B and he still doesn’t appear to be good at any facet of infield defense — he didn’t show range, he bricked the catch on Mateo’s throw, and he made a lollipop throw of his own that cost the A’s a routine out. Meanwhile, speed is one of his top tools, and it’s being wasted at a position where he never needs to go more than a few steps. My interest in seeing Barreto audition in the outfield skyrocketed today — hey, it worked for Chad Pinder.
- Speaking of Pinder, he made a couple solid plays at 3B. He still belongs in the outfield, but it’s nice to know the super-sub can still move in when needed.
- Reliever Kyle Crockett was slightly wild, but visually he looks like a classic LOOGY. Somewhat low release point, and the ball sails horizontally from one side of the TV screen to the other. I can see why he’d be tough on lefties.
- Robbie Grossman just doesn’t swing outside the zone. He went 3-1 in his first at-bat and then lined a sharp single up the middle, and then the next time up he took the count full and drew the walk. I’m intrigued, at least.
- Misc: The homer off Daniel Mengden was a meatball, but hey, first day of spring in the February rain. ... Seattle stole off catcher Chris Herrmann and he sailed the throw into CF. ... Ichiro’s two-run hit was just a bloop to RF, which still counts (and is exactly what Ichiro is probably trying to do) but I’m just saying it’s not like he crushed it.
We’ll do it all again tomorrow! First pitch is 12:05 against the White Sox.