The Oakland A’s opened their Cactus League spring training season on Sunday, with a home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The exhibition contest was only scheduled to go seven innings, with no rush for players to overextend themselves this early in the warmup process, and the Dodgers won 2-1.
But as usual, the standings don’t matter in the spring. Instead, let’s take a look at some individual performances, especially from prospects, non-roster invitees, and other players on the Opening Day bubble. First are the pitchers, with seven hurlers each throwing one inning apiece, and then we’ll look at some key position players.
The start went to Daulton Jefferies, No. 5 on our Community Prospect List. He looked sharp, needing only nine pitches to breeze through the 1st inning.
Jefferies began with a three-pitch strikeout of Mookie Betts, swinging on a loopy breaking ball. Corey Seager chased what looked like a changeup for a routine flyout. Then Austin Barnes protected the plate on a 2-2 pitch and grounded out. Along the way (for Strike 2), Barnes chased a different kind of breaking ball than Betts saw, a harder slider/cutter hybrid.
Daulton Jefferies on if there was a small sense of redemption with clean 1st inning against LA after a bad 1st inning in Texas last yr: "I think a little bit. I gave myself a little fist bump. It was more just being proud that I was able to slow everything down and be present."— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) February 28, 2021
Can’t ask for a better opening than that. Jefferies faced three MLB hitters, got them all out, and flashed basically his whole arsenal — in fact, an even bigger arsenal than we were expecting, with two distinct breaking balls.
The 2nd inning brought another top prospect, James Kaprielian, No. 7 on our CPL. He wasn’t quite as efficient as Jefferies, needing 18 pitches, but he was better than his box score suggests.
Kaprielian’s first batter was A.J. Pollock, and he nearly froze him for Strike 3 on a nice breaking ball, but it registered just low; Pollock flew out instead.
Next up was Matt Beaty, who hit a routine grounder to 2B, except that there was a defensive shift and 3B Chad Pinder was there; Pinder flubbed it but it was called a hit. Then Kap put a ball in the dirt to the next batter, and catcher Austin Allen let it bounce just far enough for the runner to advance. The defense was not helping Kap.
It almost cost him, as Edwin Rios got ahead 3-1 and lined a single to RF, but the defense redeemed itself. Buddy Reed delivered a perfect throw home to nail the runner trying to score from second. So, the A’s fielding put a free runner on second but also eliminated him later. A routine flyout then ended the frame.
The 3rd inning went to Jordan Weems, who had an impressive MLB debut last summer and is a promising sleeper for the 2021 bullpen.
Weems got off to a rocky start. He allowed a leadoff single, and got ahead of the next batter 1-2 but nibbled and lost him to a walk. Betts then lofted a deep fly to RF, but it easily stayed in the park for an out. Reed almost picked up another outfield assist, nearly throwing out the runner advancing to 3B, but in doing so he let the trail runner get to 2B with just one out.
Next up was Seager, who worked a full count and muscled a looper into shallow center for an RBI single, though the runner on 2B didn’t score. Weems then got out of it, inducing a double play grounder from Barnes — 2B Tony Kemp initially bobbled it, but recovered and made a nice flip to the bag to get the 4-6-3 going.
In the 4th we got our first look at Dany Jimenez, a Rule 5 draft pick. His fastball was hard but wild, and he dropped in at least one nice breaking ball. Despite his spotty control, when he fell behind 3-0 to one batter he responded by throwing a strike when required. He only needed nine pitches for his inning, though he got away with a mistake up that Pollock wasn’t able to take advantage of.
The 5th gave us a glimpse at Domingo Acevedo, a minor league free agent signing and non--roster invitee who was once a top prospect for the Yankees. The information we most need for him is velocity readings, to find out if he’s back to his old upper-90s or if he’s still down in the low-90s where he’ll have more trouble succeeding. Unfortunately, that data isn’t available yet.
Acevedo didn’t have much trouble with the three batters he retired, but he did lose control at one point and issued a five-pitch walk. Still, he needed only 14 pitches for his inning.
The 6th went to the 30-year-old Ben Bracewell, a non-roster invitee who isn’t exactly a prospect anymore but was in the 60-man player pool last summer.
Bracewell finished his inning in just eight pitches, thanks to three ground balls. One of them he fielded himself, knocking it down and recovering to pick it up and flip to first. Then Sheldon Neuse hit a routine grounder to Pete Kozma at 2B, but Kozma clanked it for an error. No matter, as slick-fielding prospect Nick Allen picked up the next one to start a 6-4-3 double play.
Finally, the 7th saw Argenis Angulo, another minor league free agent signing. He’s billed as having big stuff and shaky command, but he threw strikes to his first two batters and retired them quickly.
However, veteran slugger Matt Davidson worked a long at-bat, and then Angulo gave him a pitch way up and Davidson swatted it over the wall for a homer. The final out was a popup, but a particularly adventurous one due to the wind, and Nick Allen did a good job to stick with it.
Put it all together, and the A’s pitching staff tossed seven innings and allowed two runs on five hits and two walks. They only recorded one strikeout, the very first batter of the game. More important than the results is that nobody looked terrible — a few were excellent, and a couple more were shaky, but there were no complete meltdowns or long-term losses of control. And no injuries.
On the other side of the ball, Oakland’s lineup didn’t get much going. They earned six times on base, and two of them were by new DH Mitch Moreland, on a solid oppo-liner single and then a hit-by-pitch. Elvis Andrus also worked a quality walk in his first at-bat, but was later caught stealing on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play. The only other hit was a liner for a clean single by MLB-ready prospect Seth Brown.
Their only run came in the 5th. Mark Canha led off with a walk, and Moreland had his HBP, to put two runners on with nobody out. Catcher Austin Allen struck out looking, and then toolsy outfield prospect Buddy Reed hit a grounder up the middle that might have had a chance for a rally-killing double play. Fortunately Reed has 70-grade speed so he beat the throw to 1B, and it turned out the fielder missed the bag at 2B so the runner was safe there too. Bases loaded, still just one out.
Next up was Brown, who made just enough contact. His slow chopper wasn’t enough for the Dodgers infield to turn two, so they settled for the out at 1B while the lead runner crossed the plate. Tony Kemp drew a brilliant walk to keep it going, and then Vimael Machin drilled a liner to the left side but the 3B snared it for the third out.
The good: Nice day for Moreland and Brown. Good to see Kemp’s pesky batting eye is already in full force. And don’t sleep on Machin’s 0-for-1 in the box score, as that was nearly a run-scoring double that would have given the A’s a lead at the time — a positive data point for an infielder battling for the 2B job.
The bad: On the other hand, it was an afternoon to forget for backup catcher candidate Austin Allen. He grounded into a double play his first trip, then struck out in a big opportunity his next time, and also had a whoopsie on defense. Minor league free agent Pete Kozma also made an error in the field at 2B, which is tough because his entire purpose on the depth chart is middle infield defense.
The amazing: In happier Allen news, how about top shortstop prospect Nick Allen? The No. 3 on our CPL made three impressive plays in just three innings off the bench. You can see two of them below, and he also started a clean GIDP after Kozma’s error.
Allen also showed something at the plate, where he is roughly the same height as the crouching umpire and only slightly taller than the squatting catcher. He struck out, but along the way he worked a tough nine-pitch at-bat.
And of course, we can add Buddy Reed to the Amazing list as well, with his great throw from RF and his wheels out of the batter’s box.
There were also at-bats from prospects Tyler Soderstrom, Greg Deichmann, and Cody Thomas, though none hit the ball out of the infield.
As spring openers go, this game was perfectly fine. The loss is irrelevant, but we got an early look at several pitching prospects, and two exciting defensive prospects flashed their talents. Let’s do it again tomorrow!
One final note: Cody Thomas was acquired this month in the trade that sent Sheldon Neuse to the Dodgers, and both played in this game. Thomas entered as a pinch-runner and reached 3B, where Neuse was playing on defense.