Oakland A's Spring Position Battles: 2B/SS
A Look Back At 2012 At the start of the 2012 season, the A's were hopeful that second baseman Jemile Weeks would be the catalyst for their line-up. Weeks had a strong rookie season in 2011, posting a .303/.340/.421 line in 97 games. He was expected to be at the top of the A's line-up and some considered Weeks to be the A's best player heading into the season. Cliff Pennington struggled to hit while playing short, but improved as a hitter when at second base. The notorious sophomore slump caught-up with Weeks. He hit only .186 in April and things didn't get much better for Weeks as the season progressed. In 118 games, he hit only .221/.305/.304. He also struggled defensively, posting a .977 fielding percentage and a -1.2 dWAR. Despite those struggles, Weeks remained the starter at second for the majority of the season. However, when the A's acquired shortstop Stephen Drew in mid-August, Weeks was sent back to Triple-A Sacramento. Although Weeks played well for Sacramento, he wouldn't start another game for the A's the rest of the season. He collected only seven at-bats in September for the A's and he was left-off of the team's post-season roster. Down-the-stretch, it was Cliff Pennington who took Weeks' spot as the A's starting second baseman. Pennington began the year as the A's starting shortstop. Although he struggled offensively, as well, he provided value with his glove at both short and second. He posted a 1.9 dWAR. Pennington hit much better in his 32 games as a second baseman (.276/.330/.408 in 98 at-bats) than he did as a shortstop (.194/.261/.277 in 314 at-bats). The A's looked for increased production from their middle infield at the trade deadline. While they were unable to make a deal before the deadline passed, the A's were able to bring in the veteran Drew in mid-August. Drew was acquired from Arizona for minor league prospect Sean Jamieson. Jemile Weeks struggled all season. The left-handed hitting Drew was in the middle of a poor season with the Diamondbacks, but his play improved with Oakland. In 39 games as the A's starting shortstop, Drew hit .250/.326/.382. While those numbers are fairly pedestrian, they represented a big upgrade for the A's over what Pennington had produced at short up until Drew's acquisition. And, as mentioned earlier, Pennington's offense improved when he moved to second base, giving the A's a boost at both spots. Drew was especially productive for the A's during the final month of the season. He posted a 793 OPS in September with five homers in 102 at-bats. Defensively, Drew was slightly below average. Adam Rosales, Eric Sogard and Brandon Hicks served as the back-up middle infielders during the season. Although he spent most of the season in Triple-A, Rosales was a solid contributor when in the big leagues. Rosales didn't make an error in 32 games at second and short, and he had a 0.7 dWAR. He didn't produce much at the plate, however, posting a .222/.297/.333 line in 99 at-bats. Sogard began the season platooning with Josh Donaldson at third base, but he did get six games at second and 15 at short. A back injury cut his season short, and he hit .167/.206/.275 in 102 at-bats. Hicks starred for Sacramento and was called up to Oakland on a couple different occasions to fill-in at short. He appeared in 22 games, suiting up at short, second and first. Hicks hit only .172/.243/.391, but he hit three homeruns, including a walk-off against the Texas Rangers. Goodbye And Hello The A's middle infield will have a decidedly different look in 2013. Drew, Pennington and Hicks are gone, while Hiroyuki Nakajima, Jed Lowrie and Andy Parrino have joined the fray. In addition, Scott Sizemore is returning from an ACL injury that cost him his entire 2012 season. Stephen Drew's stay with the A's was a short one. Drew was a free agent this off-season. The A's pursued bringing him back on a one-year deal, but he eventually signed with the Boston Red Sox to a one-year deal that can be worth $10 million. Pennington was traded to Arizona in the deal that netted the A's OF Chris Young. Pennington will fill the hole at short left when Drew was traded to Oakland. Hicks was traded to the New York Mets for cash considerations and will compete for a back-up role with the Mets this spring. Nakajima was signed to a two-year deal by the A's just days after Drew signed with Boston. The right-handed hitting shortstop has been an All-Star in Japan for many years, but he will be tasked with making a successful transition to the major leagues. The 31-year-old was a career .310 hitter in 11 seasons in Japan. Lowrie was acquired by the A's last week in a five-player deal with the Houston Astros. Lowrie, a natural shortstop, is expected to play a super-utility role for the A's this season. He should see time at short, second, first and third base. The switch-hitting Lowrie hit 16 homers in 97 games with the Astros last season. The A's acquired Parrino in a deal early in the off-season with the San Diego Padres that also sent LHP Andrew Werner to Oakland and sent Tyson Ross and A.J. Kirby-Jones to the Padres. Parrino has appeared in 79 games for San Diego over the past two seasons and he has a .200/.319/.256 line. In the minor leagues, Parrino is a career .272/.372/.406 hitter in six seasons. He has spent the majority of his career at short and second, although he has experience at third and in the outfield, as well. Going into spring training last year, Sizemore was expected to be the A's starting third baseman. However, he tore his ACL in the first day of fielding drills and missed the entire year. In his absence, Josh Donaldson asserted himself at third. Sizemore was a second baseman for most of his minor league career with the Detroit Tigers and he will get a long look at second for the A's this spring. Second basemen/Shortstops Invited To Camp Jed Lowrie* Hiroyuki Nakajima* Andy Parrino* Darwin Perez Adam Rosales* Addison Russell Scott Sizemore* Eric Sogard* Jemile Weeks* *Denotes player on 40-man roster Numbers of 2B/SS Likely On Roster: 3 or 4 Lock To Make The Team Of the middle infielders in camp, only the newly acquired pair of Lowrie and Nakajima are sure-fire bets to make the Opening Day roster, barring injury. Lowrie was the Astros' starting shortstop last season. In fact, he played in 97 games last year and all of them came as a shortstop or as a pinch-hitter. Lowrie won't be anchored to one position as much in 2013, however. The A's acquired him for his versatility and, if things go according to the A's pre-season plan, Lowrie should see time at several positions this season. Jed Lowrie will play all over the field. A switch-hitter, Lowrie brings above-average offensive production to the shortstop and second base positions. He has a history of getting on-base and power from both sides of the plate. Lowrie hit 13 homers in 253 at-bats as a left-handed hitter last season. While Lowrie struggled as a right-handed batter last season, he has historically been a better hitter from the right-side. In 267 at-bats over the past three seasons, Lowrie has an 833 OPS with 12 homeruns. Because of Lowrie's ability to switch-hit and his ability to play at short, second, third and first, he will be mixed into the line-up in a variety of situations depending on the daily match-ups. Lowrie also comes with a long injury history, so the A's will likely be mindful of giving him regular rest. Regular rest is something the A's figure to give Nakajima, as well. The free agent signee from Japan will be playing a 162-game schedule for the first time in his career. Nakajima's career-high in games played in 144 and he played in 136 games in 2012. Although he will technically be a rookie, Nakajima will be turning 31 during the season. Lowrie will likely spell Nakajima at short against tough right-handed pitchers. Hiroyuki Nakajima should be the A's everyday shortstop. Nakajima almost joined the New York Yankees before the 2012 season. He was posted by the Seibu Lions and the Yankees won the posting. They envisioned Nakajima as a back-up to Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. However, Nakajima preferred a situation where he'd have a chance to start, and the Yankees were unable to come to terms with Nakajima. Although the Yankees saw Nakajima filling both the shortstop and second base positions, the A's see him as a shortstop and he should play there exclusively this season. The history of Japanese middle infielders coming over to the major leagues hasn't been a strong one, but the A's believe Nakajima has the ability to buck that trend. "When we weren't able to bring Stephen back, we were excited to be able to bring in Hiro," A's manager Bob Melvin said at FanFest. "We've seen on video what he can do. The guy looks like a gamer. He can hit. He will fit in very well here." The A's figure to give Nakajima some time to get his feet wet in the major leagues, but if he struggles for an extended period, the A's will likely turn the shortstop position over to Lowrie on a full-time basis. Favorite For The Final Spots While Lowrie might see some time at second base, the A's plan to have someone else be their full-time second baseman. Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore are the leading candidates to be the A's regular at the keystone. Weeks is coming off of a disastrous sophomore season. The speedy switch-hitter made adjustments to try to add more power to his game last season. His K-rate actually went down and his BB-rate went up, but Weeks didn't make the same quality contact that he did in 2011, often popping the ball up, grounding out weakly or hitting lazy flyballs rather than hitting sharp groundballs or line-drives. His BABIP dropped from .405 in 2011 to .256 and his line-drive rate dropped nearly 5%, while his infield flyball rate jumped more than a percentage point. During his rookie season, Weeks stole 22 bases in 97 games for the A's and 10 in 45 games with Triple-A Sacramento. Last season, Weeks didn't run nearly as much, swiping only 17 bases in 128 games between Oakland and Sacramento. For Weeks to win the second base job, he will need to show this spring that he is the dynamic base-stealer who can get on-base regularly that he was in 2011. Can Scott Sizemore bounce-back from his ACL tear? Sizemore will be trying to show the A's that he is the same hitter that hit 11 homers and posted a 778 OPS in 93 games for Oakland in 2011. Like Weeks, Sizemore has historically been a player who can get on-base regularly, but that is where their offensive similarities end. Sizemore has above-average power for a middle infielder, but he isn't a threat to steal and isn't a switch-hitter like Weeks. Both Weeks and Sizemore have significant injury histories. Weeks has had several significant hip injuries, while Sizemore had a torn ACL last season and a broken leg during the Arizona Fall League in 2009. "It's an open competition," Melvin said at FanFest. "I expect Jemile to come back and play to his abilities. I expect it to be a nice competition over there. Just because one guy starts on Opening Day, another guy might be starting the next day based on a match-up." Defensively, neither Weeks nor Sizemore rates as above-average with the glove. Sizemore offers more versatility than Weeks, as he was a third baseman for the A's in 2011, but he has been a second baseman for most of his career. It is possible that the A's carry both Weeks and Sizemore on the Opening Day roster, with Sizemore seeing time at third base. "If you look at Sizemore, [second base] is his natural position," A's GM Billy Beane said during FanFest. "It's going to be easier for him over there than it was for him to flip over to third." Battling For A Spot While Weeks and Sizemore are the clear favorites for the regular second base job, the A's will have plenty of competition in camp for both at that position. Rosales, Andy Parrino, Sogard and Grant Green all figure to get significant reps at second this spring. All four players will see time at other positions, as they battle for a utility spot. Of the four, Rosales may have the inside track to make the Opening Day roster, as he is out of options. The A's like the energy that Rosales brings to the field and Beane recently praised Rosales' efforts last season with Triple-A Sacramento and at the major-league level. Rosales suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 season, but he was healthy in 2012 and he appeared in 118 games between the big leagues and the minors. "Rosie, he played great in Triple-A," Beane said. "People have a tendency to forget about him, but he finally got past that injury year and he played really well in Triple-A and he played really well at second base, so he's another option, as well." Adam Rosales brings versatility and experience. A right-handed hitter, Rosales can play all four infield positions and left field. Rosales didn't make an error in 42 games in the big leagues, although he hit only .222 with a 631 OPS. He has the most major-league experience of this group. Parrino was acquired by the A's this off-season from San Diego. Until the A's brought in Nakajima and Lowrie, Parrino was a favorite for the starting shortstop job. Parrino has been an effective minor league hitter for the past two seasons, although he has yet to see much success with the bat in limited major league experience. A good athlete, Parrino is a natural shortstop who can also handle the second base position and has experience at third base and in the outfield. Parrino is a switch-hitter. Sogard has a similar background to Parrino. Like Parrino, Sogard began his career in the Padres' organization (he was acquired by the A's along with Kevin Kouzmanoff in exchange for Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham). Sogard made the A's Opening Day roster and was even the starting third baseman for the A's in the first game of the season in Japan. A back injury slowed Eric Sogard in 2012. A back injury limited Sogard to 74 games between Triple-A and the big leagues. He hit .331 with a 905 OPS in 37 games with the River Cats, but he struggled with a 481 OPS in 37 games with the A's. Sogard, a left-handed hitter, is an above-average defensive second baseman who has held his own at shortstop and third base. His skill-set is very similar to Parrino's, although Sogard has gotten on-base at a more regular clip throughout his minor league career. Green is a bit of a wild card in this competition. The A's top pick in 2009 has the highest ceiling of the four players, but he also has no major league experience and is the least experienced second baseman. Originally a shortstop, Green was moved to the outfield in 2011 and then back into the infield in 2012, where he saw time at second, short and third. Most talent evaluators agree that Green doesn't have the arm strength to be a starting major league shortstop, but he could start there in a pinch. The A's liked what they saw from Green at second during the Arizona Fall League, but he is still learning the ins-and-outs of the position. He is also keeping his outfield glove warm, and he can fill in at all three outfield spots, if needed. It is Green's bat that carries him as a player and would make him an intriguing addition to the A's bench. He is a career .302 hitter in three minor league seasons. In his first year at the Triple-A level last year, Green hit 15 homers in 125 games and he is continuing to work on new swing mechanics with the idea of adding more power. Green isn't a prolific base-stealer, but he has enough speed to keep pitchers honest. "There is a chance that he could continue to [move around] because that could aid him in getting to the major leagues, being a guy who can play a number of different positions," Beane said. "That is an asset to Bob. My guess is that he will be playing most of his time at second base, but that doesn't mean he won't be playing other positions." Green will need to prove to the A's coaching staff that he can handle second base and hit major league pitching this spring. It might be a tall task in one spring training, but even if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster, he will be a player to watch throughout the year if the A's have injuries. Looking To Make An Impression It isn't often that 23-year-olds are available in the minor league free agency market, but Darwin Perez was one of those rarities. Signed as an 16-year-old out of Venezuela by the Angels, Perez has seven years of minor league experience, but he has only 13 games of experience above the Double-A level. Perez has never been much of a hitter during his minor league career, but he has shined with the glove. A natural shortstop, Perez can also play second base. He is a switch-hitter with good speed. Although he is a career .254 hitter, Perez does see a lot of pitches and is able to work a walk. He isn't likely receive strong consideration for a spot on the A's roster this spring, but he could put himself on the radar for a promotion with a strong spring. Here For The Future Addison Russell had a sparkling pro debut. Addison Russell will not only be the youngest player in the A's big league camp, he will also be the youngest player in any minor league camp around the league. The A's top pick in 2012 enters the season as the organization's top prospect. The Florida native hit .369/.432/.594 with seven homers and 16 stolen bases in 55 games for the AZL A's, short-season Vermont Lake Monsters and the Low-A Burlington Bees. Russell became the first position player selected by the A's with their first-overall pick out of high school since the organization took Eric Chavez in 1996. Chavez spent his first full professional season in the High-A California League and Russell may be on the same path despite being only 19. "It wasn't part of his contract to come to major league camp, so that will tell you how impressed we were, not only to invite him to major league camp but invite him to a camp with a team that just won the division," Beane said at FanFest. "I think normally those are the kind of invites you make when you are trying to get people to overlook the major league club and say, ‘hey, look who we have coming.' So it's a real credit to the kid that he would get invited. I'm excited to see him there. "Eric [Chavez] really broke out in his second full season. He played at Visalia and really held his own, but [Russell] had as good a debut as anybody that we've had for half a season. Ben Grieve comes to mind with what he did in his half-season, but he went to the Northwest League. This kid went to the Midwest League and hit close to .300 and played shortstop. It seemed like everywhere he went, we'd get a call from the manager saying, ‘this guy's the best player on my team.' I say that, and you have to be careful with young kids, but he has a good head on his shoulders and I don't have a problem using superlatives with him." Russell is a five-tool talent and he has a strong chance at staying at the shortstop position long-term. Coaches rave about his work ethic and his enthusiasm for the game. Russell is still at least two years away from being big-league ready, but he could be the focal point of the A's line-up in a few years.