Oakland A's Spring Training Battles: 2B/SS

For the first time in a decade, the Athletics will trot out an Opening Day double-play combination that does not include Mark Ellis. This season the club will lean on a pair of former first-round picks in Cliff Pennington and Jemile Weeks to solidify the middle of the diamond and perhaps the top of the batting order. We take a look at the A's middle infield situation inside...

A Look Back At 2011

Jemile Weeks established himself as a big leaguer in 2011.

Jemile Weeks made headlines during his rookie campaign by hitting .303 with a 761 OPS while stealing 22 bases. He appeared in 97 games (96 at second base) after a June promotion that came when incumbent Mark Ellis landed on the disabled list. Weeks played so well after arriving in the big leagues, the A's eventually traded Ellis to the Colorado Rockies for two minor leaguers. After taking over the managerial duties from Bob Geren in June, Bob Melvin took a liking to Weeks immediately and penciled him into the leadoff spot for the remainder of the year. He would lead the club in hitting; however, he was caught stealing 11 times earning him the fourth-lowest stolen base percentage in the American League. He also struggled with inconsistency defensively, committing 13 errors to lead to the AL. Melvin has said he likes Weeks' approach and preparation, leaving him to believe Weeks will improve in those areas in 2012.

Weeks had an OPS of 788 against right-handed pitching, compared to 704 versus lefties. Strangely, he fared better in the pitcher-friendly O.Co Coliseum with a 794 OPS while having a 727 OPS elsewhere. He finished the year with two home runs, 36 driven in and 50 runs scored.

Before injuring his calf in June, Ellis was off to a very slow start at the plate and he finished his stint with the A's with a .211/.245/.287 line in 59 games at second base. Ellis would post a 709 OPS in 70 games with the Rockies after the trade. He signed a free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers this off-season.

Adam LaRoche spent the first few months of the season as the A's back-up middle infielder after winning a job out of spring training. He appeared in the third-most games (8) of any A's player at second base in 2011. LaRoche would also log nine games at shortstop, one at first and 27 at third base before being designated for assignment in early June. He would spend the rest of the season with Triple-A Sacramento.

In his third year as the A's starting shortstop, Cliff Pennington put up an identical 687 OPS in 2011 as he had in 2010. His batting averaged jumped from .250 to .264 with eight home runs and 58 RBIs. However, his glove work regressed after having a good year defensively in 2010. He made three fewer errors, but was much more inconsistent on routine plays and rarely made the great plays he had shown he was capable of the year before. Pennington had a .964 fielding percentage, which was the lowest in AL and worst by an Oakland shortstop since 1987.

Pennington was apart of the hitting pandemic that plagued nearly all of the A's hitters during the first half of the year where he hit just .235. These struggles perhaps were a result of Pennington's truncated spring training, as he was limited in camp as he recovered from off-season shoulder surgery. After the All-Star break, the switch-hitter came around hit .303 with an 815 OPS and found himself batting out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup 37 times toward the end of the season. Melvin has said he hopes Pennington can regain his form from the second-half and provide good speed and versatility atop the lineup. The move up the order could potentially give the team three switch-hitters in the lineup's first three spots, with Weeks and Pennington hitting in front of Coco Crisp.

Adam Rosales should be healthy in 2012.

Backup infielder Adam Rosales had a forgettable 2011 after starting off the season on the 60-day DL rehabbing a broken right foot suffered in spring training. He bounced between Sacramento and Oakland, hitting just .098 in 24 games over three different stints with the A's. With the River Cats, Rosales hit .265 with a 697 OPS in 40 games. He hit a solid .361 with runners in scoring position but just .193 with the bases empty. While with Oakland, Rosales logged seven games at short, three at second, six at third, five at first and two in the outfield.

Rookie infielder Eric Sogard was the team's backup at second, third and short for most of the season when Rosales was either on the DL or in Sacramento. Acquired in the trade that also brought Kevin Kouzmanoff from the Padres before the 2010 season, Sogard hit .200 in very limited playing time. The left-handed hitter appeared in 27 games and made 19 starts after being called up to the A's July 15. Three of those game appearances came at second, 14 at short and 10 were at third base. None of his numbers at the plate were impressive, including going hitless (0-for-11) against left-handed pitching.

Offense wasn't a strength for A's middle infielders for much of the season. A's shortstops hit a combined .262/.318/.376 with 14 stolen bases in 25 chances. A's second baseman hit a combined .266/.305/.368 with 29 stolen bases in 41 chances.

Goodbye And Hello

While the pitching staff went through a dramatic transformation in the offseason, there wasn't a lot of turnover atop the A's organization when it came to middle infielders. The team only lost one middle infielder off of their 40-man roster, Adrian Cardenas. Acquired in the Joe Blanton trade before the trading deadline in 2008, Cardenas found himself in a purgatorial situation in Sacramento without a true position. While he showed the propensity to get on-base, he was blocked by the faster Jemile Weeks and didn't have the power bat of a major league outfielder. Cardenas was DFA'd to make room for free-agent outfielder Jonny Gomes, and was picked up by the Chicago Cubs on February 6th.

Middle Infielders Invited To Camp

Cliff Pennington*
Adam Rosales*
Eric Sogard*
Wes Timmons
Jemile Weeks*

*Denotes player on 40-man roster

Number Of Middle Infielders Likely On Roster – 3

Locks To Make The Roster

Jemile Weeks: Only injury will keep Weeks, the latest face of the franchise, off the Opening Day roster. He has a chance to become the first position player the A's have sent to the All-Star game since Ramon Hernandez in 2003. The 24-year old second basemen is coming off one of the healthier seasons of his professional career, but will face the burden of high expectations coming off his outstanding debut. The dreaded "sophomore slump" could be looming for Weeks, but given the company he keeps and his knack for preparation, the chances are slim. Weeks spent the offseason, like every offseason, working out with his brother Ricky (All-Star of the Milwaukee Brewers), Prince Fielder and Hall of Fame inductee Barry Larkin. At the A's recent FanFest, Weeks mentioned the only thing changing for him in 2012 is the amount of interviews he'll have to give as one of the team's most recognizable players, but his offseason routine remained unchanged. In 2011, Weeks did his best work with runners on base, hitting .352 with an 813 OPS. With runners in scoring position, those numbers bumped up to .395 with a 924 OPS where he accounted for 32 of his 36 RBIs. If the bottom of the club's lineup improves from a year ago, expect Weeks RBI numbers to increase as well.

Can Cliff Pennington build off of a strong second half of 2011?

Cliff Pennington: Pennington is beginning his fourth season as the team's starting shortstop, and 2012 is an important year for the former first-round pick out of Texas A&M. Pennington is coming off two disappointing seasons after a promising rookie campaign in 2009. In 208 at-bats in 2009, Pennington hit .279 with a 760 OPS while showing the potential to be a Gold-Glove caliber defender. Over the last two years, however, the strong-armed shortstop committed a combined 47 errors and shown a tendency to miss routine plays. Like Weeks, Pennington will be forced to deal with the expectations created by his solid second half of last season where he posted a .303 average and 815 OPS. His speed and ability to handle the bat from either side of the plate are the type of things a manager looks for out of the No. 2 hole, but Pennington must hit in order to earn that spot behind Weeks as a table-setter. Easing the pressure from Pennington is that fact that the A's don't have a sure-fire replacement should the club try to go in another direction at shortstop. One of the team's top-prospects, Grant Green, made the switch from shortstop to the outfield last summer in a move that either signifies faith in Pennington, or was made because Green is a better fit in the outfield. Either way, if Pennington were to play himself out of his good standing with the team, his replacement is likely outside of the organization.

Favorite For Final Spot

Adam Rosales: Despite coming off a bad year during which he dealt with injury, Rosales heads into spring training with the utility role likely as his to lose. While his numbers might not jump off the stat line, he is one of the team's most well-respected and hard-working veterans. Melvin's love for players who provide energy falls in Rosales' favor and his liveliness would set a positive example for the team's core of young players. Rosales' versatility also benefits his standing. The 29-year-old started games at five different positions in his limited time with the A's last year, including making two appearances in left field. Despite the down year, his 2010 form remains fresh in the organization's mind, where he hit .271 with a 721 OPS before a stress fracture in his right ankle ended his season in August.

Battling For A Spot

Eric Sogard was a lead-off or number two hitter for Sacramento in 2011.

Eric Sogard: Sogard's path to the majors was expedited last season due to Rosales' injury and inability to stick with the A's, but it's going to take a strong showing in spring training for the former second-round pick to supplant Rosales as the team's back-up infielder. While Sogard has the ability to play second, third and shortstop, it's doubtful he could fill in at first base or the outfield in a pinch like Rosales. Over his last 20 big league games, Sogard struggled hitting just .173 with a just one walk. Prior to being promoted to Oakland July 15, Sogard hit .298 with a 791 OPS in 79 games with Triple-A Sacramento. His struggles against left-handers at the major league level could mean he would be best served getting more seasoning in the minor leagues. But should anything happen to the infielders ahead of him at the major league level, Sogard would be first in line to get the call-up. One factor in Sogard's favor is that he is a better defensive player at second and short than Rosales.

Looking To Make An Impression

Wes Timmons: After spending the better part of the last six seasons at the Triple-A level in Atlanta and Oakland's system, the 32-year-old Timmons is out to prove he's more than just a lifetime minor leaguer. In 56 games with the River Cats last year, Timmons hit .321 with an 874 OPS and was an integral part to the club's playoff run that saw the team fall in the PCL Championship Series to the Omaha Storm Chasers. Timmons is another player who possesses the type of infectious energy that managers love. While he's not the rangiest of defenders, Timmons can play all over the infield and even made an appearance on the mound for Sacramento last year. A career .283 hitter with a 782 OPS in the minors, Timmons is the only non-roster invitee to big league camp who plays in the infield.

Here For The Future

The A's have chosen not to invite any non-roster prospects to big league camp this spring, but they will have several prospects working out at the team's minor league spring mini-camp starting in late February. Those players participating in the mini-camp figure to see some time in the late innings of big league spring games, especially early on in the game schedule.

Chris Bostick: Bostick is the least-experienced and youngest middle infielder who will be participating in the A's spring mini-camp, so he probably will see the least amount of time in big league camp. The New York native was the only high school player drafted by the A's to sign with the team last season. He had a standout professional debut, batting .442/.482/.654 in 14 games with the AZL A's. Bostick also played well during the team's fall Instructional League. He is a long way from the major leagues but will be a player to watch in 2012.

Yordy Cabrera is a promising prospect.

Yordy Cabrera: The Athletics haven't made a habit of drafting position players out of high school with an early-round pick, so Cabrera, the A's 2010 second-round pick, is an exception. The shortstop hit just .231 with a 664 OPS at Low-A Burlington last year. But with above-average power, good speed and a strong arm, it's clear why the 6'1'', 205-pounder was a high-round pick. Some think Cabrera is not long for the shortstop position, especially boasting the type of power potential he does for a 21-year old. His strikeout percentage of 27.4 indicates he is still very raw offensively, but he also hit .309 on balls he put in play. Cabrera is still a few years away at best, but owns one of the most explosive right-handed bats in the A's system.

Dusty Coleman: Despite striking out 185 times in 130 games last season, Coleman had a positive 2011 season. The shortstop was completely healthy after missing all of the 2010 season with a broken wrist. He showed good power (15 homers) and speed (21 stolen bases in 27 chances) with Stockton and Sacramento, as well as above-average range in the field. Coleman struggled during a stint in the Arizona Fall League this October and November, but he finished the AFL season on an up-note. He will need to cut-down his strike-outs this season but offers intriguing talent.

Josh Horton had an injury-plagued 2011.

Josh Horton: Things were looking up for Horton, the A's 2007 second-round pick, at the start of the 2011 season. He was invited to his first big league spring training camp and began the season on the Triple-A Sacramento roster. However, he struggled with inconsistent playing time and then had a hamstring injury that limited him to only 27 games. The UNC alum is an excellent defensive shortstop and he can handle second base, as well. Horton's experience in big league camp last year will likely make him a popular choice to come over to Phoenix Muni for big league games this spring, especially early in camp.

Tyler Ladendorf: Acquired by Oakland from the Twins in 2009 for Orlando Cabrerea, Ladendorf is often described as a slick-fielding, toolsy middle infielder. While he is one of the best defensive players in the A's system, he has yet to put it together offensively since the club acquired him. In 2011, Ladendorf hit just .225 with a 627 OPS in 125 games at Double-A Midland before being promoted to Sacramento late in the year to appear in four games last year. His best season as a pro came in 2009 when he hit .275 with a 765 OPS at three different levels between the Minnesota and Oakland organizations. He is a career .248 hitter with a 677 OPS in the minors.

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