The Oakland A’s called up infielder Corban Joseph on Wednesday, the team announced. To make room on the 40-man roster, catcher Beau Taylor was designated for assignment. To make room on the 25-man roster, outfielder Nick Martini was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas.
The 30-year-old Joseph is primarily a second baseman. He was drafted out of high school in 2008 and has spent the last decade toiling in the minors for several different organizations, with two brief cups of coffee in the majors — two games for the Yankees in 2013, and 14 more for the Orioles last season. The A’s picked him up last winter from Baltimore, in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, and he’s put up incredible numbers in 425 plate appearances for Las Vegas.
Joseph, AAA: .371/.421/.585, 143 wRC+, 13 HR, 7.8% BB, 10.8% Ks
There are lots of red flags to go along with this performance. The most obvious is that the Pacific Coast League has been a hitter’s paradise like we’ve never seen this year, and on top of that he’s quite old for Triple-A. His average is also fueled by a huge .392 BABIP, which is no guarantee to last since he’s never done anything like it before. But at this point he’s been smoking the ball for four months straight, and it’s getting tough to completely ignore the stats he’s posting even with all that context.
One number that almost certainly isn’t a fluke is his tiny strikeout rate. He’s consistently kept the Ks low throughout his career, including a long track record in the upper minors, and that’s because he almost never misses when he swings. His 5.4% swinging-strike rate is extremely low, sixth-best in all of Triple-A, and he’s kept it down at that level for years even as he’s moved around to different teams and different leagues. His average might be inflated by his BABIP, and his career-best slugging could just be part of the league-wide power surge, but his mastery of the strike zone and ability to put the ball in play appear to be real.
Despite those skills, Joseph has never really gotten a serious chance in the majors, as his previous stints were all extremely brief. In May 2013 he spent two days with the Yankees as an injury replacement, and went 1-for-6 with a double, walk, and strikeout. Five years later, he spent a few June days with the Orioles, plus most of September in a bench role, and went 4-for-18 with a double, walk, and five strikeouts.
Now Joseph will finally get a real opportunity, joining a contending A’s team that is desperate for answers at second base. Offseason acquisition Jurickson Profar has been a complete flop on both sides of the ball, top youngster Franklin Barreto has been unable to force his way into the job, and fellow prospect Jorge Mateo began the year hot in Triple-A but has cooled off dramatically. Profar’s 70 wRC+ is one of the worst in the majors, his .268 OBP is virtually unplayable, and his defense has been a negative thanks to a case of the yips that inexplicably ruined his throwing — his role on the team will be “greatly reduced,” reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
Even better, Joseph bats left-handed, which makes him an ideal fit for the righty-heavy A’s lineup. One of the few lefty bats in the group is the switch-hitting Profar, so Oakland doesn’t lose any platoon balance against right-handed pitchers by swapping out their second baseman. And indeed, Joseph is in the lineup right away on Wednesday, batting seventh against righty Tyler Beede and the Giants.
In terms of corresponding moves, the odd man out of the 25-man squad is Martini, who spent the last couple weeks in the majors and made it into five games. After a breakout rookie year in 2018, he’s maintained excellent production in Triple-A this year but hasn’t been given many chances in a crowded Oakland outfield. Overall he’s gone just 1-for-11 with two walks and five strikeouts, though the one hit was a homer.
As for the 40-man roster, Taylor was DFA’d to make room. The A’s had four catchers on their 40-man, which is one more than normal, so it’s not a surprise to see them cut from that area. Taylor has been in the A’s organization for nearly a decade, and finally made his MLB debut last September. This summer he got a couple more brief looks in the majors, showing off his on-base skills and blasting a couple homers en route to a line of 4-for-22 with four walks and a HBP. Over the next week, the 29-year-old will either be claimed on waivers by another club, released, or accept a non-roster assignment to the minors.
The Joseph Family
As an extra fun fact, Joseph isn’t the only major leaguer in his family. His older brother, Caleb, is a catcher in the Diamondbacks system. He’s played 415 games in the bigs since 2014, mostly for Baltimore.
But it gets better! Corban and Caleb got to play on the same Orioles team last September and even appeared in the same game several times. In fact, on two occasions Corban pinch-hit for Caleb, including once against the A’s last September.
I have no idea how well this will work out, but it was absolutely beyond time to try something new at second base and Joseph is as interesting of a free flyer as any.
I loved the Profar acquisition, but sometimes the gamble just doesn’t pay off, and he’s been so terrible that it’s even worse than what I would have considered a reasonable worst-case scenario. I would then have given Barreto a longer everyday trial back in July, but that didn’t happen and instead the A’s wasted a month alternating between two struggling players such that neither one had any chance to find a groove. It had to stop, and hopefully Joseph will get some consistent playing time to avoid that same yo-yo effect.
And why not Joseph? There are plenty of reasons why he might be a PCL mirage, but it costs nothing to find out. He’s already in the organization; his lefty bat and high-OBP skill set are a perfect fit for the lineup; a catcher was probably going to be DFA’d at some point soon no matter what, with more roster moves on the imminent horizon; and there is zero opportunity cost given how awful the other 2B options have been. It’s a free roll of the dice on a veteran journeyman who did everything humanly possible to earn another look in the majors.
What’s more, there are few things more fun in baseball than seeing a random nobody come up and become a legit late-bloomer. A’s fans live for this stuff, polishing a misfit toy into a productive contributor, from Brandon Moss to Stephen Vogt to Jesse Chavez and beyond. Last year it was Martini, who arrived as a minor league free agent and made his MLB debut just shy of his 28th birthday. We’ll see if Joseph can be the next in that long line of surprise jackpots — after all, he caught my attention over the winter when the A’s picked him up in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, where you usually find nothing but org filler.
Unfortunately, another one of those potential late-bloomers was Taylor, who was 28 when he debuted in the bigs last year. I correctly speculated yesterday that a catcher would be cut to make room for Joseph, though I figured it would be one of the out-of-options trio (Garneau, Herrmann, Phegley) instead of Taylor. He’s been a quality backup to have stashed in Triple-A, but we’ll see if he makes it through waivers, and if so whether he wants to stick around in Vegas or try his luck on the open market. For what it’s worth, when he was a free agent last winter he chose to return to the A’s.
The loss of Taylor will sting for some on Athletics Nation, where he’s become a minor fan favorite, but perhaps another name could cheer us back up: Max Schrock. If I had to come up with a quick comp for Joseph, it would be Schrock, a former A’s prospect and lefty-hitting 2B who was similarly known for making tons of contact and never whiffing. He was eventually traded for Stephen Piscotty and now has stalled at Triple-A in the Cardinals system, but Joseph has the kind of batting line that we used to love from Schrock and with more power, which was always the latter’s key weakness. For those bummed that we never got to see Schrock in Oakland, well, this is the next best thing (or maybe even a better version thereof).
One last name worth mentioning is Richie Martin. The infield prospect was snatched away last winter in the main MLB portion of Rule 5 draft, after the A’s chose not to add him to the 40-man roster. He’s been one of the worst players in the majors this year, thanks partly to being rushed up straight from Double-A, but on the MLB-worst Orioles he’s at least managed to stick on the roster and he still might have upside remaining.
Some in the Athletics Nation community were bummed to lose a former 1st-round pick for nothing, but here’s a golden lining. Martin was taken by the Orioles in Rule 5, and the A’s then took Joseph from the Orioles in the same draft. Functionally speaking, from Oakland’s perspective, that’s the same as if they’d just traded Martin for Joseph straight up, so even though the two moves were technically unrelated they do kind of match up together. Joseph effectively took Martin’s spot in the organization, and specifically in the Vegas infield, and now he’s panned out enough to get a call to the majors. The A’s kinda-sorta got something for Martin after all, simply by using his vacancy to bring in a new player who was an odd man out of Martin’s new team.
Add it all up, and at the very least it’s worth taking a look at Joseph right now. If he doesn’t pan out then no harm done, and if he does then it’s found money amid a tight race for the postseason. Stay tuned to find out!
What’s in a name?
But wait, there’s more! Here’s another fun fact: He’s the only MLB player ever to be named Corban. He joins Liam Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, Wei-Chung Wang, Jurickson Profar, and Khris Davis as current A’s players with unique first names in MLB history. That’s a full seven out of 25 on the active roster, and if you expand to the 40-man roster then you can add Jharel Cotton and Skye Bolt to the list.
Finally, here’s a look at the updated 40-man roster. Players in italics are not on the 25-man roster. Those with a second dash before their name (--) have not yet debuted in MLB, and those with asterisks** are on the 10-day injured list (or, in Barrera’s case, the minor league IL).
Remember that more 40-man spots will likely be needed soon for the return of pitcher Sean Manaea from the 60-day IL, and the potential promotion of pitching prospect A.J. Puk.
Mike Fiers (R)
Tanner Roark (R)
Brett Anderson (L)
Homer Bailey (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
-Daniel Mengden (R)
-Paul Blackburn (R)
-Tanner Anderson (R)
--Grant Holmes (R)
--James Kaprielian (R)
Liam Hendriks (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
Joakim Soria (R)
Blake Treinen (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)
Wei-Chung Wang (L)
-Jharel Cotton (R)
-J.B. Wendelken (R)
Chris Herrmann (L)
Dustin Garneau (R)
-Josh Phegley (R)**
Matt Olson (L)
Jurickson Profar (S)
Marcus Semien (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Corban Joseph (L)
-Franklin Barreto (R)
--Jorge Mateo (R)
Khris Davis (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Robbie Grossman (S)
Chad Pinder (R)
-Ramon Laureano (R)**
-Nick Martini (L)
-Skye Bolt (S)
-Dustin Fowler (L)
--Luis Barrera (L)**
60-day IL: RHP Marco Estrada (back), RHP Daniel Gossett (TJS), LHP Sean Manaea (shoulder)