The Oakland A’s lost spring training phenom Buddy Reed to injury this week, but a new outfield prospect is already emerging to steal the daily headlines.
Rule 5 draft pick Ka’ai Tom homered and singled in his third game back from injury, and the A’s topped the San Diego Padres 4-2 in their Cactus League exhibition on Wednesday.
Oakland had to wait an extra couple weeks for a look at Tom this spring due to an oblique injury, but he’s quickly made up for lost time. He’s hit safely in all three games he’s played, and his homer today served as the go-ahead run to give the A’s a lead they never relinquished. He also singled, for his second straight multi-hit day.
Tom, spring: 5-for-10, HR, double, 0 BB, 2 Ks
His Rule 5 status already gives him an inside track to the Opening Day roster, since he can’t be sent down to the minors until the end of the regular season, but his early performance is helping end any question about whether he’s ready for an MLB opportunity as a platoon/fourth outfielder on the 2021 A’s.
But Tom wasn’t the only Athletic who shined on offense. Infielder Vimael Machin reached base in three out of four trips, via a double, single, and walk, helping set the table for a couple rallies and scoring one run himself. Catcher Austin Allen added a pair of doubles, raising his spring line to 6-for-19 with four extra-base hits as he competes with Aramis Garcia for a backup job.
Speaking of Allen’s doubling, shortstop prospect Nick Allen did just that too. His double in the 4th inning knocked in the tying run for Oakland at the time, and he also flashed his signature elite defense. After a slow start with the bat, he’s 4-for-9 over his last several sporadic appearances.
The non-roster crew chipped in as well, especially infielder Pete Kozma with a double and a sac fly. His 7 RBI are second on the team, because that’s how spring training rolls. 1B Frank Schwindel and OF prospect Cody Thomas both drove in runs, and Thomas added a hit and a walk in addition to his sac fly.
Manaea and Trivino lead pitchers
The A’s lineup didn’t dominate by any means, totaling just four runs, but they did a lot well and it was plenty to win the game. The same can be said for the pitching.
Starter Sean Manaea didn’t have his sharpest control, issuing a pair of walks, hitting a batter, and uncorking two wild pitches all in the 1st inning, but he still had a promising day overall. His early wildness cost him a couple runs, but bore down and retired the side in order in each of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Along the way he struck out five of his 16 batters.
Even more important than the spring box score is that the lefty is still throwing hard. In his first spring outing last weekend he showed higher velocity than we’d seen from him in recent years, and on Thursday he kept it up, operating 93-95 mph in the 1st inning, per Shayna Rubin of the Mercury News. He also made a nice play on defense:
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only ball hit his way. In the 1st inning, Eric Hosmer drilled a grounder right back at him, striking Manaea in his pitching arm. He ultimately pitched through it, and he doesn’t sound worried about it moving forward. Click here for video of his postgame comments.
Sean Manaea got hit in the arm (on his throwing elbow) in his ST start today, but says he feels fine. Says there will be a "big bruise" and adds that there are "some seam marks on there" which is "cool" pic.twitter.com/MmAEPeCGbj— Alex Coffey (@byalexcoffey) March 18, 2021
Among the relievers who pitched, Lou Trivino continued his impressive spring with two scoreless innings, raising his Cactus League total to five frames without a run so far. Jordan Weems also tossed a scoreless 9th after his own early struggles this spring.
But the most welcome sight in the bullpen was reliever Nik Turley, who pitched an entire inning without letting a run cross the plate, for the first time in five tries this month. The lefty wasn’t perfect, navigating around a double and a walk, but to his credit he did help himself by striking out two batters, including red-hot former A’s prospect Jorge Mateo. Turley’s spring ERA is now down to 20.77, in less than five innings of work.
Hot take: Turley’s gonna make the roster. You can agree or disagree, like it or dislike it, but it’s happening. This isn’t an audition, it’s a tuneup; his real audition begins in April. (That’s not a report, that’s my opinion, which is correct.)
All of that, and we haven’t even gotten to the truly best part, which is that catcher Sean Murphy made his spring debut amid recovery from a collapsed lung. He went 0-for-3 with a walk at the plate and caught five innings, saying the following afterward, per Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle:
“I see nothing standing in the way of me getting ready for opening day.”
Sounds like the Matt Chapman Of Catchers should be ready to join the actual Matt Chapman in the starting lineup when the season begins.
Another productive spring day for the A’s in the Cactus League! Three bubble roster candidates — one outfielder, one infielder, and one catcher — all had excellent days at the plate, a couple top prospects drove in runs, Murphy made his triumphant return from unusual injury, and just for fun the Pete Kozma RBI Machine kept rolling. Manaea put in work and threw hard, and the bullpen had a big day, including scoreless outings from a couple struggling relievers. Good news all around!
As a cherry on top, you can still watch this game. It will be aired on delay on MLB Network at 11 p.m. PT, according to my TV listings.