Oakland A's Spring Training Battles: OF

Not since Nick Swisher and Milton Bradley were roaming the Oakland A's outfield has the team benefited from good production from its outfielders. The A's are hoping that will change in 2012. We take a look at the A's outfield situation, which now features a number of new faces.

A Look Back At 2011

Willingham was the A's most productive outfielder.

The 2011 season began with expectations of a possible playoff push for the Oakland A's. One of the main reasons for optimism about the A's chances at the post-season going into the 2011 season was the team's revamped outfield, as the team had added three veterans to the mix during that off-season. Veteran corner outfielder/DH Hideki Matsui was signed to a one-year deal via free agency and fellow veteran corner outfielders David DeJesus and Josh Willingham were acquired via trades. The three veterans joined incumbents Coco Crisp, Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney in a revitalized Oakland outfield.

As with much of the team, the A's outfield failed to realize those early season expectations. Only one player (Willingham) would post an OPS above 800. Willingham was also the only A's player who hit at least 20 homeruns. In total, the A's received only 43 homeruns from players in the line-up as outfielders (they would receive 18 more homeruns from players in the line-up as the DH). Right fielders posted a .234/.316/.361 line, left fielders had a .252/.334/.418 line and centerfielders managed to hit only .266/.330/.375.

Willingham was by far the A's most productive outfielder. In his one season with the A's, Willingham split his time between left field and the DH spot. He batted only .246, but he hit a team-leading 29 homeruns and slugged at a .477 clip. No other A's outfielder would post an OPS above 700 or SLG better than .400.

DeJesus had a disappointing season.

DeJesus had the second-highest OPS of any A's starting outfielder, but he had a disappointing season. A career .284 hitter, DeJesus batted only .240 with a 698 OPS. He hit 10 homers and drove-in 46 in 131 games. Matsui also had a disappointing season. The former Yankees and Angels star appeared in 141 games, but he hit only .251 with a career-worst 696 OPS. He did fare much better the second half of the season (778 OPS), a surge in production that coincided with manager Bob Melvin's arrival and Melvin's willingness to play Matsui every day, including occasionally in the outfield. Early in the season, Matsui was often benched versus left-handed pitchers.

Incumbent A's outfielders Crisp, Sweeney and Jackson all had down seasons, as well. Crisp led the A's with 49 stolen bases, but he posted only a 693 OPS in 136 games. Sweeney struggled in a part-time role after serving as a starter for the A's for the previous three seasons. He hit a career-low .265 with only one homerun and a 687 OPS in 108 games. On the plus side, he was healthy after struggling with knee problems the previous two seasons. Jackson played all over the field for the A's before being traded to the Red Sox late in the season. He split the majority of his time between the corner outfield spots and first base. In 102 games for the A's, Jackson hit .249/.315/.342.

Michael Taylor, Jai Miller and Adam Rosales also made appearances in the A's outfield, although none of them played enough for Oakland in the outfield to make an impact.

Good-Bye And Hello

The A's have had a significant amount of turnover amongst the outfield portion of their 40-man roster. Gone from the 2011 roster are Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui, Conor Jackson, Ryan Sweeney and Jai Miller. The first three on that list left the team via free agency (although it should be noted that Matsui is still unsigned) and the last three were traded away (Jackson was actually traded before the end of the 2011 season). The A's retained Coco Crisp with a free agent deal and kept Michael Taylor on the 40-man roster. Oakland also added Jermaine Mitchell to the 40-man roster after a stellar minor league campaign.

Oakland has added a significant number of outfielders to their 40-man roster since December. It began with the acquisition of Collin Cowgill in the Trevor Cahill trade and continued with a trade for Josh Reddick as part of the Andrew Bailey deal in late December. In January, the A's acquired veteran Seth Smith in another trade and signed free agent Jonny Gomes. Then on Monday the A's came to terms with Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes on a four-year contract.

Oakland has also added some Triple-A outfield depth this off-season. Jeff Fiorentino, Jason Pridie and Brandon Moss were all signed to minor league deals and invited to big league camp. All three have major league experience.

Outfielders Invited To Camp

Yoenis Cespedes*T
Michael Choice
Collin Cowgill*
Coco Crisp*
Jeff Fiorentino
Grant Green
Jonny Gomes*
Cedric Hunter
Jermaine Mitchell*
Brandon Moss
Jason Pridie
Josh Reddick*
Seth Smith*
Michael Taylor*

*Denotes player on 40-man roster

TCespedes hasn't been added to the roster officially yet, but we are including him in this article.

Number Of Outfielders Likely On Roster –5 or 6 (depending on whether the A's keep a DH who is also an OFer)

Locks To Make The Team

Yoenis Cespedes: The A's acquisition of Cespedes isn't even technically official yet, but the entire look of the Oakland outfield will hinge on whether he is in the line-up or not. The Cuban defector was one of the most coveted free agents on the market this winter. He surprised nearly everyone when he signed with the A's this week. A lot is unknown about Cespedes, including whether he is ready to start in the major leagues on Opening Day or if he needs a month or two in Triple-A for seasoning, but it seems that the A's will give Cespedes every opportunity to be on the team's Opening Day roster. Whether he is the A's centerfielder or right fielder, Cespedes should be one of the A's biggest power threats and a regular in the three or four spot of the line-up.

Will Crisp be in left or center?

Coco Crisp: Another big surprise by the A's this off-season was when the team re-signed Crisp. It was assumed before the off-season began that Crisp would depart the organization via free agency along with fellow 2011 A's outfielders Josh Willigham and David DeJesus. Instead, the A's inked the veteran centerfielder to a two-year contract. Crisp had a much healthier season with the A's in 2011 than he did in 2010, but he was more productive in 2010. Crisp appeared in only 75 games that season, but he hit .279/.342/.438 with 32 stolen bases in 35 chances. Last season, he posted a 693 OPS in 136 games, although he stole a career-best 49 bases in 58 chances. Crisp is 32 and has a lengthy injury history, so the A's will likely use back-ups liberally to keep him healthy for the entire season. Crisp was signed to be the A's centerfielder but there is talk of having Cespedes play in center and Crisp man left. Either way, when he is in the line-up, Crisp figures to be the A's number two hitter most frequently.

Jonny Gomes: The A's signed Gomes, a Bay Area native who has spent parts of nine seasons in the big leagues, to a one-year deal in January. The right-handed slugger has a long history of excelling versus left-handed pitching. Gomes has spent most of his career with either the Tampa Bay Rays or the Cincinnati Reds. Last season, he spent half of the year with the Reds and other half with the Washington Nationals. It was one of the worst seasons of Gomes' career, as he posted a 714 OPS in 120 games for the Reds and Nationals. Gomes still hit left-handed pitching well (863 OPS) but struggled badly versus righties (654 OPS). He has been a platoon player for much of his career, and he is likely to assume a similar role with the A's. Gomes will be a regular in the line-up versus southpaws – spelling left-handed hitting corner outfielders such as Seth Smith and Josh Reddick – and against the occasional right-hander, as well. Gomes could also see time as the A's designated hitter, provided the team doesn't sign another veteran DH before the start of the season. He also has experience playing first base and could fill in at that spot from time-to-time.

Josh Reddick: Reddick was the only player with major league experience that the A's acquired from the Boston Red Sox for Andrew Bailey. The outfielder appeared in a career-high 87 games with Boston last season. He got off to a very fast start with the Sox last year but cooled off down-the-stretch. In 254 at-bats, he hit .280/.327/.457. Reddick was a power hitter throughout his minor league career, posting a .500 SLG in 466 games. He can play all three outfield positions but he could see most of his playing time in right field, where his strong throwing arm should play well. He hit better versus right-handers than left-handers with Boston last season but it wasn't a huge split (788 OPS to 766 OPS, respectively). Reddick had off-season wrist surgery but it isn't expected to impact him during spring training. Before the A's signed Cespedes, Reddick had the inside track to be the A's starting right fielder. He may still win a starting job, but that isn't as set in stone as it was last week. If the A's use the DH spot to cycle through outfielders such as Gomes and Seth Smith, Reddick should get a number of starts in either right or left field.

Smith could platoon with Gomes.

Seth Smith: The A's acquired Smith from the Colorado Rockies in a January trade that saw Oakland send two pitchers to Coors Field. Smith was one of the Rockies' main outfielders in each of the past three seasons, appearing in at least 133 games in all three seasons. Last year Smith played in a career-high 147 games. He posted an 830 OPS, the second-best OPS of his four-year big league career. In some ways, Smith is the perfect compliment to Gomes. Where Gomes has struggled versus righties and excelled versus lefties, Smith has done the opposite. Over the past three seasons, Smith has a 616 OPS versus southpaws and an 878 OPS versus righties. The A's initially indicated that Smith would play every day when they acquired him, but that was before Oakland signed Gomes and Cespedes, who is also a right-handed hitter. Smith will be making numerous adjustments in coming to the A's, including making the move to the American League for the first time and leaving the hitter-friendly Coors Field. Smith, like many hitters, has excelled at Coors during his career, posting a 935 OPS over the past three seasons at home and a 736 OPS away from Coors. He is an average defensive corner outfielder who has experience in left and right field. Whether Smith plays in right or left when he is in the field will depend on whether Cespedes or Crisp is playing in center (if Cespedes is in center, Crisp will be in left; if Crisp is in center, Cespedes will be in right).

Favorite For The Final Spot

Can Cowgill stick as a back-up outfielder?

Collin Cowgill: When Cowgill was acquired in December as part of the Trevor Cahill trade, he was anointed as a strong candidate to be the A's everyday centerfielder in 2012. Now he could be on the outside looking in even for a roster spot at the start of the season. The 25-year-old Cowgill had a standout season with Triple-A Reno in 2011, batting .354 with a 984 OPS. He had 13 homers and 30 stolen bases in 33 chances. Cowgill spent the final few months of the season with the Diamondbacks and posted a 604 OPS in 36 games. Cowgill has been a steady performer throughout his minor league career, getting on-base at a solid clip and stealing bases at a high percentage. He has good speed and an above-average throwing arm, attributes that allow him to play all three outfield positions. His defensive flexibility and his speed could make Cowgill a valuable bench player for the A's. Whether he makes the team out of spring training or not will likely hinge on what the A's decide to do with the DH spot coming out of camp. If the A's go with an outfielder at the DH spot, then there should be room for Cowgill. However, if Oakland signs a veteran DH who is eligible to play on Opening Day (i.e., not Manny Ramirez) or if the A's decide to let first basemen Kila Ka'aihue, Brandon Allen or Chris Carter be the everyday DH, then Cowgill will likely be sent back to Triple-A to start the year.

Battling For A Spot

Is Taylor headed back to Sacramento?

Michael Taylor: It hasn't been an easy off-season for Taylor, who spent much of it watching the A's acquire outfielders who slot ahead of him on the team's depth chart. The addition of Cespedes could signal definitively that Taylor will begin the 2012 season in Triple-A and it could also be a sign that his best opportunity in the major leagues may come with a different organization. Taylor had a disappointing first season with the A's organization in 2010 after being acquired in a trade. However, in 2011, he improved in nearly every offensive category despite missing the first six weeks of the season with a sprained wrist. Taylor made his major league debut last season and had six hits in 30 September at-bats, including a homerun. The Florida native is still only two seasons removed from posting a 944 OPS in the minor leagues. He has the talent to put up spring numbers that will make it very difficult for the A's to send him to Triple-A, but it will take a monster spring or an injury to another player for Taylor to have a legitimate chance at the Opening Day roster now.

Looking To Make An Impression

Jeff Fiorentino: Fiorentino was one of three veteran outfielders to sign minor league contracts with the A's early on during the off-season when it appeared that the A's would be having an open competition for outfield spots this spring. Now it appears only a series of injuries will give those players a chance at a roster spot at the outset of the season. Regardless, Fiorentino will be afforded the opportunity to make a strong impression on the A's coaching staff. The former Baltimore Orioles prospect is actually in his second tour with the A's. He was claimed off of waivers by the A's before the 2008 season and collected a hit in his only at-bat with the A's that year (an at-bat during the Japan Series versus Boston). Fiorentino broke his nose in a freak accident at first base early in the 2008 minor league season and wound-up playing only eight games with the Sacramento River Cats before he was designated for assignment and claimed on waivers by his original organization, Baltimore. Fiorentino spent the 2009 season with Baltimore and had an 862 OPS in the minors and a 648 OPS in 24 games with the O's. He spent the 2010 season in Japan and returned to Baltimore on a minor league deal at the start of the 2011 campaign. Fiorentino was traded to the Braves in May and appeared in 83 games for Triple-A Gwinnett in the Braves' chain. He finished the year with a 755 OPS in the minor leagues. Fiorentino is a solid defensive corner outfielder who has a good eye. He should start the 2012 season in Triple-A.

Cedric Hunter: Hunter, once one of the San Diego Padres' top prospects, was claimed off of waivers by the A's earlier this off-season. He would later be designated for assignment by Oakland but cleared waivers and was invited to camp as a non-roster invitee. Hunter made the Padres' Opening Day roster last season but appeared in only six games before he was sent back to Triple-A. Injuries cut short his season with Triple-A Tucson and he posted only a 680 OPS in 81 games. The centerfielder had his best minor league season in 2008 when he hit .318 for High-A Lake Elsinore of the California League. He has good speed and excellent contact skills. For his career, he has struck-out only 262 times in 2,676 games. He doesn't walk a lot (231 walks) and doesn't have a lot of power (31 homeruns), but he is a solid defensive player. Hunter is only 23 (he will turn 24 in early March), so he is still in the developmental stage of his career.

Mitchell starred in 2011.

Jermaine Mitchell: Mitchell was one of the best stories to emerge out of the A's organization last season. After three disappointing seasons at the High-A and Double-A levels, the outfielder put together a breakthrough campaign with Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento in 2011. Between the two levels, he hit .332/.430/.530 and reached double-digits in doubles, triples, homeruns and stolen bases. Mitchell also impressed defensively in centerfield. He demonstrated a lot of toughness by playing in 130 games despite suffering from knee pain for much of the season. That pain eventually led to off-season surgery. Mitchell isn't expected to be 100 percent at the start of spring training, making it unlikely that he will factor in the battle for a back-up spot in the A's outfield coming out of camp. However, if he is healthy enough to appear in any games, he could make a strong impression on the A's coaching staff and could position himself as a top candidate for a big league opportunity should the A's lose a centerfielder to injury during the season.

Brandon Moss: Moss may be best remembered by A's fans as the player who hit the game-tying, ninth-inning homerun off of Huston Street in game one of the 2008 Japan Series as a member of the Boston Red Sox. For the rest of the baseball world, Moss is likely remembered as being one of the players acquired by Pittsburgh in the three-way deal that sent Manny Ramirez from Boston to Los Angeles and Jason Bay from Pittsburgh to Boston. Moss, who signed a minor league free agent contract with the A's earlier this off-season, has spent time in the big leagues with Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. He was a regular for the Pirates in 2009 but lost his job after hitting only .236 with a 668 OPS in 133 games. The left-handed hitter had a big season for Triple-A Lehigh Valley of the Phillies' chain last year, hitting 23 homeruns in 124 games. He should put up good numbers for Triple-A Sacramento this season.

Jason Pridie: Pridie signed a minor league deal with the A's after spending much of the 2011 season on the Mets' big league roster. In 101 games for the Mets, he hit .231/.309/.370 with seven stolen bases in eight chances. It was his longest stint in the big leagues after two short appearances with the Minnesota Twins in 2008 and 2009. Pridie was a second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2002 and was once a highly regarded prospect for Tampa and Minnesota. He was part of the trade that sent Delmon Young to the Twins and Matt Garza to Tampa. Pridie has good speed and can play all three outfield positions. His defense is his biggest asset.

Here For The Future

There will be a lot of eyes on Choice this spring.

Michael Choice: Choice, the A's top pick in 2010 and our selection as the organization's top prospect, will be appearing at his second big league camp. He opened a lot of eyes last year with an impressive showing in big league camp as a 21-year-old. Choice would go on to lead the California League in homeruns with 30. He had a 918 OPS for High-A Stockton and then starred in the post-season for the Ports. Choice spent the fall participating in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 1090 OPS with six homers in 17 games. The centerfielder is moving quickly up the A's depth chart, but Oakland won't rush his arrival to the big leagues. He should spend the majority of the season with Double-A Midland. A 2012 campaign similar to his 2011 could put Choice in the discussion for a starting spot with the A's in 2013, however.

Grant Green: Green was the A's 2009 first-round pick and he will be participating in his third big league camp. This will be Green's first big league camp as an outfielder, however. He made the switch from shortstop to centerfield halfway through the 2011 campaign. Green is still adjusting to the new position, but he showed some promise with the glove during the Arizona Fall League. He spent all of the 2011 season with the Midland Rockhounds. Although he hit .291, Green's overall line was disappointing, especially in the power department (.408 SLG). A sore back may have contributed to his reduced power numbers. Green slugged at a .551 clip during the AFL season and posted an 893 OPS. He is expected to start the 2012 season with Triple-A Sacramento and could make a late-season push onto the A's roster, especially if the A's make trades or suffer injuries to some of their veterans.

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