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What did A’s first round of spring cuts tell us about 2021 Opening Day roster?

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Answer: Not much, but more than nothing

2021 Spring Training: Los Angeles Dodgers v. Oakland Athletics
Kap will not be the 5th starter to begin the year
Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Oakland A’s made their first round of spring training cuts on Monday. They sent down 15 players, and also returned a Rule 5 draft pick, reducing their camp roster to 49 players.

Early spring cuts tend to be routine, and these were no exception, with most of the departures being prospects and minor leaguers who weren’t in the running for Opening Day. But if you look closely enough, you can find a couple details worth noting.

Our goal here isn’t to guess how the A’s feel about each player based on who was cut and who wasn’t. The precise chronology of these cuts is not necessarily a statement about who the team likes most. Rather, there are objective implications regarding topics like who is still eligible to break camp with the MLB club in various roles, and one player is gone from the organization entirely.

Here are three takeaways from Monday’s cuts. Of course, new injuries in the future could always change things further, so this is a snapshot of the current moment.

Fifth starter competition thins

Starting pitcher Mike Fiers is a “longshot” to be ready for Opening Day due to hip inflammation, says manager Bob Melvin, which means the A’s will have to tap into their prospect depth immediately. Fortunately, there are lots of exciting arms to choose from.

Two of the top prospects are out of the running, though. James Kaprielian and Grant Holmes were never likely to win the jobs this month, but now they definitely haven’t, as they’ve been optioned to Triple-A. There’s still every chance we’ll see them in Oakland this summer, but it won’t be in the first week of April, as things currently stand.

That leaves three candidates:

  • LHP A.J. Puk
  • RHP Daulton Jefferies
  • LHP Cole Irvin

Puk is the team’s top prospect, Jefferies isn’t far behind in that regard, and Irvin is a new acquisition who was a rookie last year for the Phillies.

Analysis: Just reading between the lines of Melvin’s recent comments in interviews, my guess is Jefferies gets the spot out of camp. Puk might be the top pick, but it’s difficult to see him getting stretched out in time to be ready, a concern that Melvin has publicly addressed. But it ain’t over till it’s over, and officially there are still three horses in the race.

Bolt out of outfield competition

There’s still room on the team for a lefty outfielder if the A’s want one, either as a platoon starter or a fourth body on the bench.

There were quite a few candidates entering the spring, but the field is narrowing. Dustin Fowler was traded away in February, and now Skye Bolt is out of the running too. Like with Kaprielian and Holmes, Bolt isn’t out of the 2021 picture entirely, but he’s been optioned to Triple-A and won’t get the Opening Day roster spot.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Bolt went down on the same day Rule 5 draft pick Ka’ai Tom returned from injury to make his spring debut. Between Tom and the slightly more proven Seth Brown, Bolt was always likely to be ticketed for the minors by the end of camp. But stuff happens, and sometimes a different prospect than you expect surprises you, like if it had been Bolt who came out with the performance we’ve seen from Buddy Reed. Instead he missed a week to a shoulder issue while Reed stole the highlights, and now he’ll have to wait longer for his turn, as expected.

The lefty outfield spot, assuming there is one, is down to Tom or Brown, and only Brown is eligible to be sent to Triple-A. You could also include Reed if you want to dream big.

Analysis: Seems like an easy call. If Tom shows anything at all the next two weeks in the Cactus League, you keep him in April and see what you’ve got. Brown and Bolt will be there waiting if you change your mind later, with Reed, Luis Barrera, and Greg Deichmann hot on their heels. The usual A’s move is to keep everyone in the organization, and that would mean choosing Tom for the Opening Day roster.

Final bullpen spots

The A’s bullpen figures to have eight members, and six of them may as well be written in Sharpie. That group includes Rosenthal, Diekman, Petit, Romo, Kolarek, and Wendelken. That’s four new acquisitions, plus a 2020 All-MLB Team finalist, and one more excellent incumbent arm who is out of minor league options.

That leaves two spots, and until yesterday, there were exactly two relievers on the 40-man roster who couldn’t be sent down to the minors. One was the out of options lefty Nik Turley, and the other was Rule 5 draft pick righty Dany Jimenez. Everyone else could be stashed in Las Vegas if needed.

Under normal A’s practices, those inflexible statuses would give Turley and Jimenez inside lines to Opening Day, but both were getting hammered especially hard in Cactus League auditions. Would the A’s stick with them anyway, over optionable incumbents like Lou Trivino, Burch Smith, and Jordan Weems?

We got our first answer Monday, when Jimenez was returned to the Blue Jays. That leaves only one reliever who has to break camp with the team.

That doesn’t mean Turley has a spot locked up, especially since he’s yet to have a good spring outing through four tries, but his odds certainly increased. There’s now room for him and Trivino to make it if the A’s decide to continue rolling the dice on the southpaw, and committing only one bullpen spot to an upside project feels more reasonable.

Two other top prospects from the 40-man roster are also out of the Opening Day picture, as Miguel Romero and Wandisson Charles were sent down. They were never likely to make it to Oakland quite yet with such a long line in front of them, but again, situations can change quickly in the pitching world and Romero in particular could be one breakout away from a promotion. Charles, on the other hand, goes all the way to Double-A, which suggests we could be waiting a bit longer for him.

Several of the minor league depth free agents were also sent down, though a few remain, including Matt Blackham, who has pitched well this spring and has a strong pro track record.

Analysis: I’m still sticking with Turley. Same principle, the A’s like to keep as many players as possible, and now there’s space to do so. Dumping Turley now would just get you Smith or Weems on the roster, and you can still do that anytime you want in April, or whenever the first reliever gets hurt — it’s been a while since we’ve watched a 162-game season, so it’s easy to forget how important it is to have six months’ worth of depth. The A’s saw something in Turley in November when they acquired him, and he was good in last season for the Pirates (3.88 FIP), and for me it’ll take more than four spring duds to overshadow that.

That means at this moment I’m going with Turley and Trivino for the last two spots, over the remaining candidates Smith and Weems or a surprise like Blackham.

Spring roster update

Players in —italics are non-roster invitees, meaning they’re either CPL prospects or minor league free agent depth. Players in strikethrough have been cut from major league camp. Players with asterisks** can’t be optioned to the minors, either because they’re out of options or they’re Rule 5 draft picks.

Oakland A's spring roster (49)
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Chris Bassitt (R)
Jesus Luzardo (L)
Sean Manaea (L)
Frankie Montas (R)
Mike Fiers (R)
Daulton Jefferies (R)
A.J. Puk (L)
Cole Irvin (L)
James Kaprielian (R)
Grant Holmes (R)
—Paul Blackburn (R)
—Parker Dunshee (R)
—Brian Howard (R)
—Trey Supak (R)


Relievers

Trevor Rosenthal (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Sergio Romo (R)
Adam Kolarek (L)
J.B. Wendelken (R)**
Nik Turley (L)**
Burch Smith (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Jordan Weems (R)
Wandisson Charles (R)
Miguel Romero (R)
—Domingo Acevedo (R)
—Cristian Alvarado (R)
—Argenis Angulo (R)
—Matt Blackham (R)
—Ben Bracewell (R)
—Montana DuRapau (R)
—Reymin Guduan (L)
—Deolis Guerra (R)
—Brian Schlitter (R)
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)
Austin Allen (L)
Aramis Garcia (R)
—Kyle McCann (L)
—Francisco Peña (R)
—Carlos Perez (R)
—Tyler Soderstrom (L)


Infielders

Matt Chapman (R)
Matt Olson (L)
Elvis Andrus (R)
Chad Pinder (R)
Tony Kemp (L)**
Vimael Machin (L)
DH: Mitch Moreland (L)
—Nick Allen (R)
—Pete Kozma (R)
—Jed Lowrie (S)
—Frank Schwindel (R)
—Jacob Wilson (R)


Outfielders

Mark Canha (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Ka'ai Tom (L)**
Seth Brown (L)
Skye Bolt (S)
Luis Barrera (L)
Greg Deichmann (L)
—Buddy Reed (S)
—Cody Thomas (L)