First and foremost: Happy Leap Day! On this rarest of days we begin with some Leap Day lore. I have only known one person who was born on Leap Day, a caretaker for my grandmother decades ago, and I don’t know if she is still alive but I think today would be around her 22nd birthday.
Now, channeling Bill Nye the Science Guy here’s Nico the Science Bro...We have a Leap Day because it actually takes the earth 365.2422 days to circle the sun, which happens to be exactly the same time it takes a Tommy Milone fastball to reach home plate.
So to get that extra .2422 days in there, every 4 years we add a day. But oops, that’s a little too much so every 100 years, on the century mark, we take that day away. Thus, there was no Leap Day in the year 1700, 1800, 1900. But wait! Now that’s a smidgen too little. So every 400 years, we put back the day we added and then took away. So there was a Leap Day after all in 2000.
OK that’s pretty much all I know about Leap Day, so let’s talk baseball.
Either 2B was figured out before camp (unlikely), or spring training — mostly just a tuneup for players — is key for the gaggle of candidates whose election is less than 4 weeks away. If results are meaningless in general, they are even more so at a point when every player has 16 at bats or fewer. Spring training is for “eyeball scouting,” which is why the Eyeball Scout will be heading to Mesa on the 13th of the month that has been delayed by a day.
The scorecard so far?
Of all the 2B candidates, Kemp has to be considered the closest to a lock because he cannot be optioned, and as a left-handed batter he is not competing with either Franklin Barreto or Jorge Mateo (nor Sheldon Neuse, who has options), for the primary role in a likely platoon.
A “wild card” in the analysis is that ripple effect Stephen Piscotty’s intercostal muscle injury could have, especially on players able to patrol the outfield. But Piscotty’s status is likely to impact Robbie Grossman and Seth Brown far more than Kemp.
In any event Kemp is off to a fine start, 3 for 10 with 2 BBs and he is somewhat of a known quantity at 2B (where he is perceived to be roughly average). Let’s just say that so far nothing has emerge to cast Kemp’s spot as being in any doubt.
If the A’s had not acquired Kemp, Machin’s presence as a left-handed batter would probably make him a prohibitive favorite to make the team in a platoon opposite Barreto or Mateo. But now Machin’s left-handedness works against him because it is difficult to see where both he and Kemp fit on even a 26-man roster.
Machin’s avenue to Oakland’s roster is probably that the A’s like him enough to “stash” him as the 26th man on a roster that also includes Kemp and a RH batting 2Bman. That scenario requires an unexpected move such as cutting Grossman, though there is an outside chance the A’s could stall on Machin by placing Piscotty on the IL to start the season.
For what it’s worth, Machin has come out of the gate 4 for 13, 0 BB, 1 K, while earning praise from his manager — who generally has public praise for all players, so that might mean about as much as 13 spring at bats.
Barreto has already proven himself to be an excellent big league hitter so long as it’s still spring training. In this, his final spring training audition before something has to give, Barreto has not exactly set the pace. He is 4 for 16 with 4 Ks, appearing very much to be the “talented whiffer” he has been in each MLB trial to date.
The A’s brass has been consistent over the years in portraying Barreto as a player they believe in, someone who just needs regular at bats in the big leagues. It seems like by March 26th we will know how sincere they still are in this belief, because probably nothing Barreto does or doesn’t do this next month will tell the front office what they don’t already know.
We already know Barreto can hit in the minors and in spring training, and that so far he has been equally unsuccessful in translating his skills to big league pitching. Trouble is, if Barreto does make the roster his role is probably going to be exactly the one in which he has failed: part-time player starting less than half the games.
You would think the A’s would conclude that Barreto either needs to be the primary 2Bman or be sent elsewhere, but in a contending year the former option may not be one Oakland is prepared to entertain — if they were, why add Kemp? Barreto’s situation may be as fascinating as any in camp, and how it plays out is anybody’s guess.
Mateo is opening eyes in a camp where raw tools play up while results are de-emphasized. Mateo’s blinding speed, undeniable athleticism, and ability to impact a game, make him an alluring possibility for a “26th man” who is out of options despite a lack of any big league experience.
What stands out so far about Mateo’s stat line? Not the 3 for 12, the 2 BBs, or the one stolen base, but rather the fact that Mateo has parlayed 12 at bats (and 14 plate appearances) into a team leading 4 runs scored. This is a guy who once on base will often find his way around the bases. If you like to dream, at a rate of scoring once every three at bats a player could score about 200 runs in a full season. Even Rickey never eclipsed 146.
Also notable, with Piscotty currently on hold, is Mateo’s exposure to CF. Even sans Piscotty, though, the A’s an all RH OF they can present in Canha-Laureano-Pinder so that “versatility” may not be a factor in any decisions.
Neuse has been almost an afterthought this spring, despite ending 2019 as the A’s primary 2Bman. This is simply due to the fact that he has options and two other talented RH batting candidates (Barreto and Mateo) do not.
It would take somewhat of a miracle for Neuse to prevent Oakland from keeping one of Barreto or Mateo, so as long as both are in the organization it appears that Neuse is bound for AAA to begin the season.
So far, Neuse is 2 for 12 with 3 BBs, and he is one of 5 players who has committed an error. But just as Kemp is presumed to have a spot locked down, Neuse is presumed to have one locked down in Vegas.
So there are 5 candidates vying for probably 3 spots, but if you add Grossman and Seth Brown to the conversation you get 7 candidates still vying for only 3 spots. Maybe 4 spots if Piscotty opens the season on the IL. And who knows what injuries will hit between now and March 26th.
Hard to know which way the A’s are leaning with regard to Barreto, Mateo, and Machin, all of whom they would probably prefer to keep along with Kemp and Grossman — but the numbers don’t crunch. Still the most interesting dilemma to follow this spring in Mesa, and thank goodness for the extra roster spot. Was it added as an homage to Leap Day? See how these articles come full circle?
Who do you think will be "odd man out" come 3/26?
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