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A’s second base competition heating up

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Kemp, Machin, Lowrie? Even Kozma is doing things.

Cincinnati Reds v Oakland Athletics Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s addressed most of their major needs over the offseason in February. They acquired a shortstop, rebuilt their entire bullpen in a week, and kept a reliable veteran for their inexperienced rotation. However, they did remain noticeably idle at one position, second base.

The A’s finished 2020 with deadline rental Tommy La Stella at the keystone, and Athletics Nation generally hoped he’d return, but the Giants put in an overpay to win the bidding. Beyond that, even as Oakland did eventually spend money and resources in other areas, they chose to roll with what they already had in-house at 2B.

The biggest move they made was signing Jed Lowrie to a non-roster minor league deal, coming off two consecutive missed seasons and entering age 37. They even traded away an internal candidate in Sheldon Neuse.

When spring training began for 2021, it was anyone’s guess who might be on the Opening Day lineup card at second base. It could be Tony Kemp, who started the first half of last year. Or Vimael Machin, whose rookie season was more encouraging than it looked. Or Lowrie, with the highest ceiling of them all, if his health allowed. And that’s just the ones who bat lefty, with righty Chad Pinder standing as an obvious platoon partner for whoever does get first crack at the primary job.

More than a week into the Cactus League, how is that competition going?

The short version is that we’re no closer to an answer, but for the best possible reason. Everyone is doing everything you could ask so far.

(Stats updated to include Wednesday’s game.)

First up is Kemp. Based on his history on the depth chart, and the A’s tendency to go with a safe veteran at a questionable position like this, my personal assumption is that he’s the default option unless someone else breaks out or bounces back to pass him. That’s not a fact, just my hunch. And he’s actively helping his case beyond that front-runner status, with a couple extra-base hits, every ounce of his expert plate discipline, and his usual assortment of little things that don’t show up in the box score.

Kemp: 4-for-10, HR, 2 doubles, 4 BB, 2 Ks, HBP, 1-for-1 SB

Next is Machin, who posted low traditional stats in 2020 but encouraging advanced metrics. More of his hard contact is falling for hits this month, and he’s making that contact at a La Stella-like high rate. There are limitations in his spring stat line so far, but it’s been an encouraging showing by the Hittin’ Machin.

Machin: 7-for-16, 1 double, 0 BB, 1 K

Then there’s Lowrie. When he signed, Athletics Nation cautiously assumed DH would be the wisest role for him, given his injury history, age, and the fact that he was always bat-first anyway. And that was if he made it back to the field at all. Well, he did on Tuesday, and it was in the starting lineup at 2B. He didn’t get on base, but both times up he hit the ball. Remember, eight plate appearances since the end of 2018. Baby steps.

Lowrie: played a live baseball game in 2021

For goodness sake, even Pete Kozma is hitting. He isn’t realistically part of the roster battle, as he’s presumably here as experienced depth for the minors, but that’s not stopping him from mashing in the Cactus League. The full irony for the glove-first veteran is that his 1.214 OPS has come paired with several mistakes on defense, showcasing the exact opposite of his expected skill set. Go home spring training, you’re drunk.

Kozma: 6-for-14, HR, 2 doubles, 5 RBI, 0 BB, 2 Ks

Fun fact: Kozma trails only Matt Olson and Ramon Laureano for the A’s lead in RBI.

As for Pinder, he’s only 1-for-13 so far, but he’s surely not competing for a roster spot because he’s locked in as the super-sub. He’s also unlikely to play full-time at 2B, and if there’s a platoon then he’ll clearly be in it now that Neuse is gone, so there’s no point in discussing him. He is who he is and we know what he can and can’t do, and what kind of role he’ll play in the lineup.

But the other 100-plus games at second base? That’s still up in the air higher than a majestic Pete Kozma dinger, because Kemp, Machin, and Lowrie are all showing just how much they want it.

***

Who do you think will get the nod? Vote in the poll below! We did this same poll a month ago, and out of a thousand votes the results were Kemp 42%, Pinder 21%, Neuse 16%, New Acquisition 13%, Machin 4%, among others. But that was before Neuse was traded and Lowrie was signed, and before anyone played any games.

Poll

Who do you think will start at 2B on Opening Day? (Against the Astros and RHP Greinke, so I’m leaving out Pinder)

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Tony Kemp
    (556 votes)
  • 12%
    Vimael Machin
    (133 votes)
  • 27%
    Jed Lowrie
    (287 votes)
  • 5%
    Pete Kozma!!!
    (54 votes)
1030 votes total Vote Now