Final rosters for Opening Day tend to have last minute surprises, be it in the way of injuries, last minute trades, or just “well didn’t see that coming” decisions.
Cases in point include Coco Crisp’s broken pinkie sliding into 2B during the Bay Bridge Series and the DFA of Jack Cust (only to re-sign him cheaper) at spring training’s 11th hour.
2023 has brought us minor injuries to Paul Blackburn and Drew Rucinski, but mostly the A’s got through the Cactus League with their collective health intact. Here’s how the landscape looks at the very moment...
Likely Locks for the 26 man roster
Note that Waldichuk and Oller only qualify as locks because they are now necessary place holders for Blackburn and Rucinski. Either or both could be optioned as soon as the first week of the season. Sears makes it because the A’s need at least one reliever who can go multiple innings, and Smith is deemed a lock because he was always likely to make the team and has performed accordingly.
Basically attrition, and the Familia signing, has given us the probable 13 to open the season in Oakland — unless the A’s zag and decide only to take 12 pitchers into the season, which has off days in days 2 and 8.
That’s 10 seeming locks, with presumably 3 more spots open.
One of those spots will go to the backup catcher, which is a 3-man race between the recently signed Carlos Perez, minor league catcher Kyle McCann, and MiLB free agent signee Yohel Pozo. My smart money here is on Perez, because the A’s signed him just now for a reason, don’t seem to want to see much of Pozo and must not feel McCann is ready.
2 spots remain, either for 2 OFers or 1 OF and 1 INF. I give Pache a strong nod for one of these spots because he is out of options and just too good in CF to give up on yet. He has also shown some progress at the plate, although after not striking out for much of the spring he has spent the past week making up for it.
And here’s where it gets truly interesting and muddy. If there is but one precious spot left, does it go to the LH batting Conner Capel? The RH batting Brent Rooker? Or the infielder Kevin Smith?
All three figure to be factors in 2023, but here are the pros and cons of each right now:
- Gives L/R balance to the outfield along side Brown, Ruiz, Laureano, Pache
- Following his excellent showing at the end of last season, Capel has picked up where he left off walking 11 times against 8 Ks in spring training while whacking a pair of HRs and a couple doubles.
- With Ruiz and Laureano likely to play every day, the best shot for an extra OFer to get playing time is to platoon with Brown. That’s not going to be the LH Capel.
- Rooker presents as the ideal platoon partner for Brown, as he bats RH and his best position is LF. (You might consider Pache to be a possible platoon option but unless the A’s want to move Ruiz around it would mean putting Pache in LF and his main value is his extraordinary CF play.)
- Not only did Rooker bat .343 in the Cactus League, with 11 BB he ended with an OBP of .489.
- There might have been some red flags in Rooker’s excellent ST performance. He did strike out 13 times and despite being known for having power he did not HR.
- Rooker is very much a “bat first” player who figures to offset much of his offensive value in LF. His best position is DH and the A’s may or may not want to put a poor defensive player out there when they have other options.
- Smith has been lighting it up at the plate ever since he went on a torrid streak the last 6 weeks of the AAA season. He finished ST with a .390 batting average that included 2 HR and 14 RBI in just 46 PAs.
- As an accomplished SS Smith gives the A’s some insurance against a slow Nick Allen start. Presumably Aledmys Diaz does that too but he is not known to be a very good defensive SS.
- As with Rooker, there are ‘red flags’ in Smith’s ST performance starting with his .615 BABIP. Perhaps his 32.3% K rate is an indicator that Smith will struggle when the regular season begins.
- Carrying Smith has some redundancy on a team already committed to A. Diaz as a RH utility player on the infield.
How do I see it all shaking down? Barring injuries (such as a Brown IL that opens up a spot for Capel) or transactions (such as a Pache trade/DFA) that change the landscape, I’m going to guess the A’s go for the logical platoon and give Rooker the shot to break camp with the club as a counter part to Brown. Rooker has certainly performed this spring, and his defensive shortcomings can hidden first by his starting only 1/3 of the games and further by the presence of Pache off the bench, Ruiz and Laureano by his side.
So I’ll guess Perez, Pache, and Rooker get the last 3 spots, Capel and Smith optioned to open the season. Let me know where, if anywhere, you think I have erred in my guess work. And then 5 days from now we’ll have our real answers...