That's the issue Triple-A Sacramento River Cats' manager Darren Bush is faced with every night while penciling in his lineup. He has more talented outfielders needing at-bats than places to put them.
"I guess you just consider what's enough," he said. "Is five days a week enough? Is three days a week enough? They're all getting ABs and playing three out of four, four out of five a week. So that should be enough. It should be enough for them to get comfortable in the box."
Bush has used 12 different outfield combinations in 23 games this year. The combo used most frequently features a trio of top Oakland A's prospects: Grant Green in left, Jermaine Mitchell in center and Michael Taylor in right. Brandon Moss, who's been the team's best hitter so far, has played both outfield corners, two games at first base and seven at designated hitter.
To complicate things further, Collin Cowgill was added to the roster April 18 and will need regular at-bats should he be called back up to Oakland. When Cowgill was demoted, Sacramento placed Jeff Fiorentino on the disabled list. Fiorentino has some major-league experience, but is far less of a priority than Oakland's top farmhands who may be on the verge of a call up.
Cowgill has just five hits in 28 at-bats (.179) since joining the River Cats after going hitless in four at-bats with the A's. But he remains a favorite among Bob Melvin and the club's brass since being acquired in the Trevor Cahill trade.
Despite the headache of getting all of these outfielders the proper amount of playing time, they are producing. Coming into Saturday, Mitchell, Moss and Taylor were all hitting better than .338 with an OPS better than 930. Green's slash line of .253/.300/.386 is the "worst" among the slew of outfielders, but he has still scored 10 runs and driven in 11. Defensively, Green is making strides, Bush said.
Mitchell, coming off a resurgent 2011 and an off-season marred by knee surgery, is off to an outstanding 16-game start. He's hitting .338/.416/.515 with five stolen bases while splitting time in center with Green.
A fixture in the leadoff spot, the left-handed hitting Mitchell doesn't appear to be slowed by the microfracture surgery he had in the fall. He's shown great range in the outfield and could be an intriguing option for a promotion to Oakland at some point should the club look need speed from the left-handed batters' box. He was put on the 40-man roster in the off-season.
"He's one of the fastest people I've ever seen," Cowgill said.
"When he hits it, if he hits it on the ground, there's a chance he's going to get a hit. He can run it down in the outfield. It's awesome having him hit in front of you too, because he gets on-base and makes your job easy. All I do is put it in play and something's going to happen, you're job is going to get done."
Bush has lauded Taylor all season for his outstanding play. The 6'5" Stanford alum is hitting .366/.393/.573 with two homers, 17 RBI and four stolen bases to boot. He has played right field exclusively for Sacramento and came into the year with a chip on his shoulder knowing he didn't perform well enough in his 11-game stint in Oakland last season to earn a spot on the 25-man roster this year.
Taylor's inability to replicate his superb numbers he put up in Philadelphia's system since coming over to Oakland via a trade is well documented. But a healthy start to 2012 has rejuvenated him after Taylor began last year with a wrist injury bogged him down the rest of the year. In 93 games in 2011, he managed a respectable .270/.360/.456 slash line with 16 home runs.
It's unlikely Taylor will see any significant time in right field with Oakland as long as Josh Reddick is healthy. But he'll likely get another chance with the A's in September or sooner with an injury or trade to a corner outfielder. Taylor was flown out to Baltimore Thursday to join the A's as a precautionary measure in case the team decided to put Coco Crisp (viral infection) on the disabled list. Crisp was well enough to play, however, and Taylor returned to Sacramento on Saturday.
Moss' torrid start includes a line of .353/.423/.618 with an OPS of 1041. His 249 major-league games are the most among Sacramento's outfielders. Early on, his strikeout rate of 16.2 percent bests any year of his career by a considerable margin. Despite not being on the 40-man roster, Moss is also an intriguing option should the A's need a left-handed bat down the road given his experience.
Of course, Bush is allotted some flexibility with the designated hitter when filling out his lineup card, with Moss getting used the most there. But with third baseman/catcher Josh Donaldson's recent demotion to Triple-A and the organization wanting to get a look at third base prospect Stephen Parker, it's unlikely an outfielder will able to DH every night.
"We have a lot of guys that are playing really well. It's early," Bush said.
"We'll see where we are, so where they are in a month. We'll see if they're making progress and if everything's going in the right direction."