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The Final Six: An Early Look at Spring Bench Battles

Players running during Spring Training, 1948
Many will join, few will remain
Photo by George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Twenty-six is the number of counties in the Republic of Ireland, the number of bones in a normal human foot and ankle, and, newly this year, the number of players on an active MLB roster.

For those who missed the news, this coming season roster sizes from Opening Day through Aug. 31 increase from 25 to 26. The 40-man active roster for September will be eliminated, and from Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season all clubs will carry 28 players.

That means roster slot battles will feature an extra wrinkle as clubs across the league decide how best to leverage their newfound flexibility. We may see increased platooning, 8-man bullpens, and possibly a 6-man rotation or two. A club might even hire a professional sprinter to serve as designated pinch runner (Who would be crazy enough to try that idea?).

For the Oakland A’s, skipper Bob Melvin perhaps won’t be afforded the luxury of using the new roster slot to optimize on-field tactical advantage. Instead of a LOOGY or platoon hitting specialist, the A’s may find themselves needing to use the 26th roster slot to preserve roster depth. With seven key players entering camp this spring with no remaining minor league options, an already crowded list of bubble roster candidates turns into a full-blown enigma of possibilities. And a potential drain on talent reserves.

Having “no options” means that, every time the player is assigned to the minor leagues, another team can then claim the player for their own 26-man active roster. These are the seven out-of-option players Oakland could risk losing to waiver claims this spring:

Notable Out-Of-Option Players

Frankie Montas (SP)

Chris Bassitt (SP/RP)

Daniel Mengden (SP)

Franklin Barreto (2B)

Jorge Mateo (2B/SS)

J.B. Wendelken (RP)

Tony Kemp (OF/2B)

From the above group, only two players are sure roster locks: Frankie Montas and J.B. Wendelken. That leaves five players whose future with the A’s may be dependent of making the 26-man roster Opening Day. This begs the question - how many open slots are there on the A’s roster as it currently stands?

How Many Open Roster Slots Are There This Spring?

By my count there are six open slots on the MLB club this season. For position players all the starting jobs except 2B are accounted for: Sean Murphy (C), Matt Olson (1B), Marcus Semien (SS), Matt Chapman (3B), Mark Canha (corner OF), Ramon Laureano (CF), Stephen Piscotty (corner OF), and Khris Davis (DH). That leaves two mandatory roles that need filling:

  • A Starter for 2B
  • A Back-up Catcher

Over in the pitching ranks, the rotation was demystified when Bob Melvin stated that both A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo will go into the season as starters, presumably filling the final two rotation slots behind Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea, and Frankie Montas.

In the bullpen there are five stone-cold locks: Liam Hendriks, Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, Jake Diekman, and J.B. Wendelken. Two other candidates are also likely to make the squad. Lou Trivino could be considered a lock but had troubled year in 2019 and can still be sent to the minors if needed. And T. J. McFarland is of questionable talent but is presumably a lock for now in a LOOGY role.

If we consider all of Puk, Luzardo, Trivino, and McFarland as roster locks (or at least front-runners) that would leave the count at twenty roster slots filled with six assignments left to hand out. Of those assignments, two must be a catcher and second-baseman. Beyond that, management has four flex spots to utilize however they wish. In recent years, the A’s have used the final three roster slots to fill the following roles:

  • Backup Infielder
  • Backup Outfielder
  • 8th Relief Pitcher

This year the A’s will add new roster slot to the list

  • The New 26th Man Roster Slot

And that brings us to the real question of the article, and of Spring Training as a whole: who fills the six open roles listed above?

Who’s In the Mix for the Six Open Roster Slots?

In my view, there are twelve candidates who have the best chance to make the team. This includes the five out-of-option players listed above (Bassitt, Mengden, Barreto, Mateo, Kemp) as well as the following players: Donnie Hart (RP), Vimael Machin (INF), Sheldon Neuse (INF), Robbie Grossman (corner OF), Chad Pinder (OF and backup INF), Jonah Heim (C), and Austin Allen (C) competing for big league jobs.

With that list comes a disclaimer: My choice for the current bubble is my own intuition and guesswork. Maybe Grossman is already a lock for the roster. Maybe McFarland isn’t a lock. Reasonable minds can and will differ and I look forward to your thoughts.

So AN, who’s on your bubble? Who’s on your 26-man roster? Who would like to see more of before you decide? Below, I’ve added a poll where you can vote for your top six candidates from the bubble list.

And to those intrepid hopefuls on the fringe this year, I say: Happy Spring Training! And may the odds ever be in your favor.

Full List of Spring Training Names to Consider


Roster Locks

SP (5): Fiers, Montas, Manaea, Luzardo, Puk

RP (7): Hendricks, Petit, Soria, Diekman, Trivino, Wendelken, McFarland

INF (4): Murphy, Olson, Semien, Chapman

OF (3) Laureano, Piscotty, Canha

DH (1) Davis

Pitcher Count: 12

Position Player Count: 8

Total Number of Roster Locks: 20

Open Roster Slots: 6 (2B, Backup C, Four Flex Spots)


Bubble Candidates (*Out Of Options, **Minor League Contract)

P (4): Chris Bassitt*, Daniel Mengden*, Donnie Hart**,

IF (7): Jonah Heim, Austin Allen, Franklin Barreto*, Jorge Mateo*, Vimael Machin, Sheldon Neuse

OF (3): Robbie Grossman, Chad Pinder, Tony Kemp*

Total Number of Bubble Candidates: 12


Other Bubble-Adjacent Names

Prospects on the 40-man Roster

Daniel Gossett, Dustin Fowler, Grant Holmes, James Kaprielian, Daulton Jefferies, Seth Brown, Skye Bolt, Luis Barrera

Prospects not on the 40-man Roster

Parker Dunshee, Brian Howard, Tanner Anderson, Wandisson Charles, Miguel Romero, Ben Bracewell, Mark Payton

Minor League Contracts

Brian Schlitter, Carlos Perez, Nathan Orf, Ryan Goins, Jaime Schultz, Ryan Court



Which six bubble candidates make it onto the final 26-man Opening Day roster?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Chris Bassitt
    (112 votes)
  • 0%
    Daniel Mengden
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Donnie Hart
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Jonah Heim
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Austin Allen
    (3 votes)
  • 4%
    Franklin Barreto
    (13 votes)
  • 5%
    Jorge Mateo
    (17 votes)
  • 2%
    Vimael Machin
    (7 votes)
  • 5%
    Robbie Grossman
    (16 votes)
  • 34%
    Chad Pinder
    (104 votes)
  • 4%
    Tony Kemp
    (15 votes)
  • 2%
    Sheldon Neuse
    (8 votes)
305 votes total Vote Now