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Spring Game #5: Matt Olson, James Kaprielian shine despite loss to Angels

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Olson smash

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

The Oakland A’s dropped their Cactus League game on Friday, 7-3 to the Angels, due mostly to their bullpen giving up a steady flow of runs. The damage was done against mixture of minor leaguers and backend MLB relievers.

Instead, let’s focus on a few positives.

*** Click here to revisit today’s Game Thread! ***

First on the list is Matt Olson, who went deep off Shohei Ohtani in the 2nd inning for his second homer of the spring. The first baseman is looking for a bounce-back after batting just .195 last year and hitting only one dinger in the season’s final 17 games.

In three exhibition contests so far, Olson is 3-for-7 with two homers, a double, and one strikeout.

Elsewhere in the A’s lineup, new catcher Aramis Garcia walked in both his trips to the plate, meaning he’s now reached base in four out of six tries this spring. Outfield candidate Seth Brown notched his second sac fly of the Cactus League in a lone plate appearance off the bench. Tony Kemp doubled to the gap and walked, and Elvis Andrus doubled in his first at-bat.

Perhaps the most intriguing line in the box score belongs to outfield prospect Luis Barrera, who got his first plate appearance after being delayed by visa issues. The 25-year-old led off the 6th inning against former A’s pitcher Jesse Chavez, a longtime MLB veteran, and swung at the first pitch he saw. The lefty hitter laced a liner the other way into left-center field, and even though the left fielder cut it off before it could squirt past to the wall, Barrera still sprinted around for a hustle double.

That at-bat was Barrera’s entire offensive skill set in a nutshell. He’s an aggressive swinger and won’t draw many walks, but the plan is to spray liners all over the park and use his 70-grade burner speed. After his double, he came around to score on a pair of productive flyouts, including Brown’s sac fly.

Speaking of hustle doubles, how about Ramon Laureano? Barrera’s hit looked nearly identical to this, except that it went about 50 feet farther before hitting the ground, and he hit it from the left side of the plate.

Among other prospects, IF Vimael Machin went 0-for-2, but both outs were loud fly balls to the opposite-field warning track. OF Greg Deichmann grounded out sharply the other way for what could just as easily have been a solid single, and SS Nick Allen struck out looking on five pitches.

And the mighty Buddy Reed? He darn near did it again. After Barrera’s double, he launched a towering fly to center field that landed about a foot short of the wall in the outfielder’s glove. Missed it by that much.

Pitching

The start went to James Kaprielian, who earned every bit of his lofty No. 7 ranking on our Community Prospect List. The right-hander was brilliant, showing off multiple weapons in his powerful arsenal. He consistently threw his fastball for strikes, even getting Mike Trout behind on it, and saw results from both a loopy curveball that he located within the zone and a slider that earned several key swings and misses.

Kap got into a bit of trouble in the 1st inning, but that just gave him the chance to show some mettle by working out of it. He ultimately pegged Trout with a 2-2 pitch, and then Dexter Fowler hit a grounder through a shift for a BABIP single, but Kaprielian struck out Albert Pujols and induced a harmless routine flyout from Justin Upton to squash the rally.

In the 2nd he retired the Halos 1-2-3 and also played some defense on a comeback grounder, fielding his position well to convert the out despite a brief bobble on the pickup.

Kaprielian: 2 ip, 0 runs, 3 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 1 hit, 34 pitches

Unfortunately, all five other A’s pitchers allowed at least one run. Takeaways on three of them:

  • Righty Burch Smith still looks nasty, though he allowed a leadoff homer to Luis Rengifo. He rebounded to strike out Trout, and his breaking ball is fun to watch.
  • Lefty Adam Kolarek had a rocky spring debut, but you can see how he’d be tough when he’s on his game. He made a mistake to Upton for a homer, then allowed a triple to the wall (Laureano nearly caught it and usually will) and loaded the bases by hitting a batter and issuing a walk, quite the variety of negative outcomes. But he did earn a strikeout of Max Stassi with some impressive secondary pitches from his funky low arm angle, and then got Franklin Barreto to wave at a pitch nowhere near the plate for another K to strand the three runners.
  • Lefty Nik Turley also served up a homer, to lefty minor league slugger Jose Rojas, but recovered to strike out two of the next three batters. The thing I noticed most in my first impression of Turley is how much he changes eye levels, locating his fastball up in the zone and then dropping loopy breaking balls way down low. He also made a nice play on defense, leaping to snare a high comeback chopper.

As for the rest of the team’s defense, here’s a lowlight and a highlight at the same position. Machin got some reps at third base, and with the bases loaded in the 5th he missed a playable grounder down the line, resulting in two unearned runs. To make it worse, on the backend of the same play, he clanked the throw in from left field when there was a chance to tag out a runner sliding right next to him.

But for what it’s worth, the A’s aren’t looking at Machin for third base, but rather for second. Their star third baseman, Matt Chapman, took the field on defense Friday for the first time since hip surgery ended his 2020 season, and it was everything we’ve been waiting to see from the two-time Platinum Glove winner.

“Going to make that play, I didn’t really think about anything,” said Chapman after the game, via insider Anthony Castrovince. “Just make the play. Got up and made the throw. So it’s nice to kind of test it and see where it’s at.”

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The A’s next game is Saturday at noon against the Mariners. RHP Daulton Jefferies is expected to start for Oakland, with LHP Jake Diekman among the relievers.