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3 Things to watch in September

A few young players should be joining the roster soon

MLB: Oakland Athletics at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s had a tough August as they went 9-18 and only won two series (one against the Giants though!). Another season of 100+ losses is all but assured at this point, but that doesn’t mean the final month of the season is going to be boring. A lot of the players on the team are still trying to solidify their spot on the big league roster and the club still doesn’t want to pass the 2003 Detroit Tigers as one of the worst teams in baseball history. To do that they only need to go 5-23 the rest of the way, which feels very doable. There is still baseball to be played and that means there are still questions that could use answers before the long winter begins. Such as …

  1. Can anyone secure their rotation spot for next year? Or at least give themselves a leg up? The starting rotation has been arguably the biggest weak point for the team this year. The club entered the season with lots of young exciting options but almost none of them have run away with a permanent rotation spot, except for lefty JP Sears. He’ll be joined by Paul Blackburn (assuming he’s not traded, which is a big if) as the only two sure-fire locks for the 2024 starting staff.

The rest of the rotation should be wide open. Other than Sears and Blackburn, the Athletics had four other pitchers make over 10 starts for them this year but none of them had an ERA under 5: Ken Waldichuk, Luis Medina, Kyle Muller, and James Kaprelian. Kaprelian is done for the year (and so is Freddy Tarnok, who could also vie for a rotation job in spring), but the rest of that group can still help their chances of being in the rotation next season. A couple of strong starts here in September will sit in the minds of A’s coaches all winter. And then there’s Mason Miller, who is on the cusp of returning to the Athletics after recovering from an elbow scare. He was assured of staying in the rotation before his injury, so if he can come back healthy and pitch even decently, he might also have an early leg up on a rotation job, if not locked down.

2. Which prospect(s) get a September call-up? The recent roster moves freed up three spots on the 40-man roster for the Athletics to play around with in September. One of those spots is probably ticketed for Mason Miller when he’s activated off the 60-day IL. That means the club can add two prospects to the roster and get a look at them here in the final month. The club wouldn’t have freed up those spots for no reason, so they must have someone in mind already.

The one that every Athletics fan is clamoring for is shortstop Darell Hernaiz. After coming over this offseason in the Cole Irvin trade, Hernaiz has been a surprise revelation, dominating Double-A before a promotion to Triple-A. He’s continued to do nothing but hit all season and he’s been playing shortstop a ton this year in the minor leagues, for good reason too. Oakland’s other two young-ish shortstops, Nick Allen and Kevin Smith, have had plenty of chances to earn the job and have repeatedly failed to impress the club. Now seems as good as any time to give Hernaiz a look in the big leagues. The club could also be looking at someone like pitcher Joey Estes (acquired in the Matt Olson trade), or perhaps even former first-rounder Logan Davidson. Both of those guys started the year in Double-A and earned their way to Triple-A. Either way, it’s fair to expect a promotion or two in the coming days.

3. What’s the plan for Tyler Soderstrom? The Athletics’ top prospect got his first callup to the big leagues after the All-Star break. Unlike fellow rookie Zack Gelof, Soderstrom struggled in his first cup of coffee in The Show and was subsequently demoted back to Vegas after just over a month. The problem isn’t necessarily with his hitting. At this point he doesn’t really have much else to prove by mashing against Triple-A pitchers in a hitter-friendly environment like Vegas.

The problem was, and remains, the long-term home for him defensively. Oakland’s current catcher, Shea Langeliers, hasn’t had a great season when you look at his overall season stats but he’s had streaks where we see what he can do. In fact he’s on one of those streaks right now with five home runs in the past 15 contests. Add in the fact that he was a central part of the return for Olson, and that it’s his first full season in the big leagues, and it’s hard to imagine the team moving on from him after the season. Chances are that Langeliers is back behind the plate on Opening Day 2024.

So the logical move would be to put Soderstrom at first base. But hold on. Rule 5 draft pick Ryan Noda has been a solid player for the team this year with solid defense and an exceptional eye at the plate. If Noda hadn’t missed a month due to a broken jaw, his OBP would likely be among the leaders in the American League thanks largely to his ability to draw walks. And since both are left-handed hitters, a platoon at first base probably wouldn’t work.

So that leaves the Designated Hitter slot. But moving such a young player like Soderstrom to DH this early in his career isn’t a great long-term idea. Perhaps the club tries doing what it did when he was here, by cycling Soderstrom between playing the field and DH’ing. There’s a strong chance that we see Soderstrom back in Oakland here in September and it will be interesting to see how they throw him into the mix. It should give an idea of how they might operate next season.