The Oakland A’s have some positions to fill in their lineup this spring, and one of the biggest is first base. There they must replace All-Star Matt Olson, who was traded to the Braves last month.
We took a look at the 1B candidates a couple weeks ago, with several intriguing options to choose from, but things have changed since then. The team has played 14 games, giving everybody a quick chance to prove themselves on the field, and a new contender joined the ring.
Last week the A’s re-signed Jed Lowrie to a one-year contract. He’ll be on the roster, and presumably he’ll be in the mostly everyday lineup somewhere, with the only question being which position(s) will be available to fit in his bat. Last year he helped out at second base and DH, but every bit of versatility helps, and on Wednesday he got a start at first base. He said the following on the TV broadcast that day, per Alex Espinoza IV of Rickey Blog:
“That’s gonna be learning on the fly. That’s something that they’ve asked me to do. I’ll go over there and give it my best and try to learn as much as I can along the way.”
Lowrie has never started an MLB game at first base, and his 28 career innings over 11 mid-game appearances all came more than a decade ago. He’s never played there in the minors.
It would be a bold experiment to stick him at a new position, even if it’s just occasional duty as a secondary spot for him, but that might be the kind of season this is in Oakland. The team will need to mash together as many good pieces as possible to see what works, and if anybody can adapt it’s Lowrie. It remains to be seen if he actually ends up playing 1B at all, but he’s officially in the conversation.
Of note, catchers Stephen Vogt and Christian Bethancourt each got a start at 1B over the past two games. I’m not sure that means anything other than just getting them into the lineup for a few extra at-bats, especially Vogt who signed late.
And how about the rest of the candidates? Here’s an update!
First up are a few holdovers who could move from other positions. With Stephen Piscotty back in action and off to a hot start in spring games, it’s easy to see him taking his familiar spot in RF, which would reduce the outfield opportunities for Seth Brown and Chad Pinder. There might still be room for them to platoon in LF, but neither seems out of the question for at least some at-bats at 1B, and it’s getting difficult to see Pinder finding time at any other infield positions.
Among other names, Austin Allen had his path toward catching blocked yet again, this time by the signing of Vogt. His best avenue could be 1B/DH now, but he’ll need to hit his way there, and so far this spring he’s 2-for-14 (.143) with a homer and five strikeouts. Non-roster veteran Eric Thames is finding more success in the Cactus League, going 5-for-19 (.263) with a homer and four walks.
A couple other non-roster invitees are having a rough time. Dalton Kelly has gotten a long look but gone 3-for-25 (.120) with no extra-base hits and nine strikeouts. Billy McKinney hit a couple homers, but also struck out eight times in 23 plate appearances and hasn’t drawn a walk. Dermis Garcia was already reassigned to the minors, which was expected since he hasn’t yet played at Triple-A.
Also out of the picture for now is outfield prospect Cody Thomas, who is missing the spring due to an Achilles injury.
So where does that leave us? The only NRI producing in games this spring is Thames, and he’s also the one with by far the most MLB experience. Perhaps he could get the spot, or maybe he takes DH while some combination of Lowrie, Brown, and Pinder split duties. Of course, spring stats surely aren’t the sole determining factor, and who knows if they’re even part of the equation at all, but in this case they happen to point toward one of the least weird of the possible conclusions.
A final consideration is that rosters will be expanded in April to include two extra spots. That could make room for somebody like Allen, or one of the NRIs, to at least break camp with the team and continue trying to earn a permanent place in the lineup in the opening weeks of the season.
In other words, we know either slightly more or slightly less than we did two weeks ago, but we definitely still don’t have any kind of clear answer. It also doesn’t have to be just one everyday name, and maybe it’s more likely that it’ll be a platoon or some other patchwork plan.
With all that in mind, let’s vote!
Who do you think will start at 1B on Opening Day? (Against Phillies and RHP Aaron Nola)
This poll is closed
Seth Brown (L)
Jed Lowrie (S)
Chad Pinder (R)
Eric Thames (L)
Austin Allen (L)
Dalton Kelly (L)
Billy McKinney (L)
Somebody else? (Still could make another addition off free agency or waivers)