The Oakland A’s season is off to a rough start. The team traveled all the way to Japan to lose their first two games, and by the time they returned home they’d also lost Gold Glove first baseman Matt Olson and star pitching prospect Jesus Luzardo to injuries. And it’s not even April yet.
While Luzardo’s absence helps settle the final questions about the Opening Day pitching staff, for which he was one of the final names in the running, Olson’s setback opens a brand-new hole in the lineup that must be rapidly addressed. His injury (broken hamate) generally requires several weeks before a return to MLB action, and indeed Olson guessed a timetable of 4-8 weeks, reports Ben Ross of NBCS.
In response, here is the A’s tentative plan, via John Shea of the S.F. Chronicle:
- 2B Jurickson Profar plays 1B against RHP
- OF Mark Canha plays 1B against LHP
- 2B Franklin Barreto makes the team
- UT Chad Pinder also available for 2B
Profar was here to play 2B, but he’s a versatile defender and 1B is among the five positions he’s played in the bigs. In fact, he started 20 games there last season for the Rangers. Meanwhile, Canha has played mostly outfield in the majors, but he first arrived here in 2015 as primarily a 1B and he has a wealth of experience there dating back through the minors and college. Given the last-minute circumstances, that’s a pretty good backup plan amid the loss of a star performer — thank goodness for depth and versatility, which the A’s have gone to active effort to accrue in recent years.
The most interesting part of this news comes further down that bulleted list, though. We already knew Profar could bounce around the field, and that Canha was waiting for a logjam to clear in order to find playing time. But Barreto making the team, and with a potential avenue to actual playing time, is both new and significant.
A’s fans have been waiting a long time for Barreto. He was still looking ahead to his 19th birthday when he was acquired in the late-2014 Josh Donaldson blockbuster, and he’s spent the last four seasons developing in the minors, all the while ranking as a consensus Top 100 national prospect each winter. He’s had enough cups of coffee in MLB to have now graduated from prospect status, and he’s provided a few big moments including a July 4 walk-off homer in 2017, but he’s never gotten a real, extended chance to start in the bigs beyond just a couple of weeks.
Granted, there have been good reasons why he’s had to continue waiting, beginning with being stuck behind All-Star veteran Jed Lowrie last summer. Barreto spent the last two seasons striking out way too much in Triple-A (and in an astronomical 41% of his MLB plate appearances), and his defense wasn’t doing him any favors as evidenced by his move away from shortstop last year. But he’s recently shown signs of progress with his plate discipline, right as his new primary position of second base is partially opening up in Oakland, and at some point you have to toss the now-23-year-old into the fire and see how he responds.
As for what his new opportunity might look like, that still remains to be seen. There’s no actual guarantee that Barreto will start regularly or even at all, just the potential for it. Shea notes that super-sub Pinder will continue playing LF against lefties (while Canha is at 1B, and presumably with Profar back at 2B), so the real question is who will play 2B against righty pitchers (while Profar is covering 1B). It could be Pinder, himself deserving of everyday duty after showing up on multiple national lists of 2019 breakout candidates (including here and here and here).
Or, it could be Barreto, at least some of the time. And, speculatively speaking, you’d have to think that if such a big-name youngster got off to a quick start in limited duty then he could force his way into even more regular playing time. After all, he’s the kind of dynamic talent that you move others around to make room for if he begins reaching toward his ceiling. He’s also dabbled in the outfield this spring, for what it’s worth, so while second base is the currently open door it isn’t necessarily the only way to fit him into the mix long-term if things do go well.
It’s possible Barreto could wind up sitting on the bench this month, serving in a backup utility role and occasionally pinch-running. The A’s have enough other bodies to cover for Olson if they choose, and he’ll probably only be out until sometime in May. But the first step to getting a chance in the bigs is making the active roster, and it sounds like Barreto will be there for the home opener, possibly for a longer stint than he ever has before, and with his main position up for grabs.