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Fifth starter is final decision for A’s 2021 Opening Day roster

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Taking the last roster spot down to the last minute

Oakland Athletics v San Francisco Giants
Daulton Jefferies
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s 2021 roster is almost set for Opening Day. Out of 26 spots, 25 are confirmed, and the last one is only open because of a recent injury.

With Chris Bassitt, Jesús Luzardo, Sean Manaea, and Frankie Montas locked into the starting rotation, that leaves one spot to fill in for Mike Fiers while he eases back from right hip inflammation. The three candidates:

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

We’ve already talked a lot about this trio during the spring, so rather than introduce them again, check out Nico’s Eyeball Report on Puk and also on Jefferies and manager Bob Melvin’s recent praise of Irvin, as well as game recaps from Irvin dominating the Dodgers, Jefferies shutting down the Rockies, and Puk breezing past the Rangers. For anyone who needs catching up, Puk and Jefferies are two of the top prospects in the A’s organization, and Irvin was acquired over the offseason.

All of them have potential, from the high ceiling of Puk to the incredible minor league numbers of Jefferies to the efficient profile of Irvin, but they’re short on experience with only 60 MLB innings between them. Picking between Jefferies and Irvin is nearly impossible if you base it on their Cactus League stats this spring, and while Puk’s overall line lags behind he did cap it off with four nearly perfect innings in his final outing.

  • Jefferies: 1.50 ERA, 18 ip, 24 Ks, 6 BB, 3 HR, 10 hits
  • Irvin: 1.00 ERA, 18 ip, 18 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 10 hits
  • Puk: 5.87 ERA, 7⅔ ip, 8 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 6 hits
  • Puk, last start: 4 ip, 0 runs, 3 Ks, 0 BB, 1 hit

The players themselves are having fun with the competition. Irvin spoke about his friendship with Jefferies, with the pair texting each other after outings, and Jefferies offered the same feedback.

As for Puk, he’s battling not only his teammates but also nature, as he works back from missing two of the last three seasons (including all of 2020) to injuries that required surgeries. He detailed what he was working on in each of his three spring appearances, culminating in “attack[ing] it like a real game” in his brilliant final outing.

It’s still possible that two of these young arms could find themselves making starts in the opening week, as Montas tore a cuticle in his last spring game and isn’t yet a guarantee to be ready for his first turn. “The A’s sound optimistic that Montas will be ready,” reports Alex Coffey of The Athletic, so we’ll cross that bridge when and if we get there.

For now, there is one spot to fill, in place of Fiers. Bill Moriarity of Athletics Farm reports the latest update on the veteran right-hander, who might not be out long:

Melvin on Fiers: “He’s doing great. This is his first time to hitters today [in a simulated game] ... Today’s gonna be 2 ups for him. If he comes out of this, probably a couple days off & then try to replicate this again. Probably have to use the alt site for him to get some of his work in to hitters.”

More answers will come based on how Fiers and Montas responded to their simulated game today, but what we know for now is there is at least one rotation spot to fill within the first five days of the regular season.

Hot takes: Jefferies has been my pick all spring, and I’m sticking with him, though I’m only about 50% confident in being right on this one.

I see no rush to get Puk into an MLB rotation, and value in letting him spend a few weeks in alternate site camp to keep sharpening up after a year off. Irvin is good too, and he and Jefferies were both phenomenal this spring, but Jefferies is a bigger prospect with higher upside so that’s an easy tiebreaker for me.

They’ll all get their turns sooner than later anyway, so this decision doesn’t matter that much. You might even want to base it on some kind of matchup preference, against the Astros or Dodgers. But I’m not overthinking it. I’m going with the Almost Top 100 prospect who was already next in line at the end of last season, and who has been basically perfect since then between Cactus League dominance and adding a new breaking ball. It’s like the dream scenario fifth starter candidate. Why would you pick anyone else?

Who do you think will get the job? Vote in the poll!

Poll

If only one of these three gets a rotation spot on the A’s 2021 Opening Day roster, which do you think it will be?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Daulton Jefferies
    (559 votes)
  • 23%
    Cole Irvin
    (212 votes)
  • 13%
    A.J. Puk
    (122 votes)
893 votes total Vote Now