Early in the season, the Sacramento River Cats were loaded with outfielders and had a hard time getting the necessary at-bats for some of the club's most talented players.
But thanks to a promotion to the Oakland A's for former outfielder Brandon Moss and the recent switch back from the outfield to the infield for Grant Green, manager Darren Bush has had to put a player in left field who is unaccustomed to the position. And with the coming addition of Kila Ka'aihue to the roster this week, the team will have a surplus of first baseman with Daric Barton and Chris Carter also needing plate appearances.
A move back to the infield has major ramifications for Green. Originally drafted as a shortstop, the A's first-round pick in 2009 was asked to move to the outfield in June of last summer when he was with Double-A Midland. After spending time in the Arizona Fall League working with coaches on center and left field, Green was just starting to get accustomed to life as an outfielder.
"What I was told was it was just trying to open up some roles for me to play," Green said.
"It's the type of thing where I'd rather do that than be locked into one position and they find someone that's better then I'm kind of screwed."
Green has played both third base and shortstop recently, likening the move back to the position he always played growing up and into his first few seasons as a pro to"riding a bike."
"The hitters looked really close," Green said. "That's one thing that's kind of been the difference."
But neither Bush nor Green said the move would be permanent. Given the A's abundance of outfielders on the major league team currently, having Green play there exclusively might slow down his path to the big leagues. Getting accustomed to shortstop again could ease a potential transition to third base; a spot the organization has struggled to fill with major league talent.
Originally, the A's elected to move Green to the outfield before they spent the offseason acquiring Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith, Collin Cowgill, Jonny Gomes and re-signing Coco Crisp to play center field. Now that the A's have five outfielders that have all shown the ability to contribute, it's far more likely Green joins the team as a third baseman or shortstop.
With such an unbalanced roster, writing out a lineup every night is a tough task for Bush, but he thinks he's found a way to simplify the situation.
"You make sure you give them all an opportunity to show what they can do - to show that they belong at the next level. You just find ways – you create ways," Bush said.
Bush has gotten creative indeed. Catcher Anthony Recker has made three starts in left since Moss was promoted, as the River Cats have had to look to create opportunities for playing time for Recker with top prospect Derek Norris playing behind the plate everyday. Bush has started to give Carter some reps in left in pregame workouts, as well. Carter played seven games there last season and 23 in 2010, but didn't appear comfortable enough to stick.
For Recker, the A's former backup catcher, it's been a tough adjustment to play in the outfield.
"It's pretty much the only way I can get ABs. I'm up for it. It's always fun learning different positions," Recker said.
"But when you make mistakes it doesn't make you feel too good, hurting the pitcher and the team. It's just a learning process."
On Saturday, the A's recalled infielder Eric Sogard and sent down Adam Rosales, who got the start in left field immediately and has much more experience there than Recker.
With the impending addition of Ka'aihue back into the fold at first base, Bush will have the burdened luxury of finding at-bats at first base for three players who have spent time in the major leagues. Ka'aihue was one of the A's better hitters during the first month and a half of the season when the team was in a heavy rut offensively. His production forced the team to cut ties with Brandon Allen and later caused the demotion of Barton.
But with Moss having a clause in is contract that allowed him to opt out if not brought up to Oakland before June 15, the A's elected to see what he could do at the major league level after showing off lots of power with the River Cats. The former Red Sox and Pirates outfielder had a 952 OPS with 15 home runs in 51 games with Sacramento and represented a potential power bat the A's desperately needed.
In the short time since the move was made, the results have been better than anyone could have expected. In just 10 games, Moss has six home runs and 11 RBIs, while holding his own defensively at first base.
Barton struggled this year with the A's, but was also a victim of a numbers game that led to his demotion. Oakland needed a roster spot to reinstate Brandon McCarthy from the disabled list and liked the production Cowgill, the fifth outfielder, was giving, leaving Barton the odd-man out.
But A's unofficial MVP from 2010 has done very well in his own right since his demotion to Sacramento. Coming into Saturday, Barton was hitting .317/.509/.683, an 1192 OPS and hit three home runs with 15 walks in just 12 games.
"He's coming in here with a very good outlook since coming down here," Bush said of Barton. "Hopefully he can continue with what he's doing – get some consistent and quality at-bats and just go from there."
As good as Moss has been, there's no guarantee his level of production is sustainable given his .236/.304/.364 slash line during his last extended stint in the major leagues with Pittsburgh in 2009. If his production were to drop off at any point this summer, it's very possible Barton or Ka'aihue could be due for a return trip to the big leagues.
Carter remains the wild card in the A's hand at first base. He could possess the most upside of any players at the position for the A's at Triple-A or in the major leagues. But he has struggled in limited opportunities at the big league level. In his third year with Sacramento, Carter is having his worst season at the plate statistically with just an 813 OPS coming into Saturday, compared to an 897 mark last year and an 894 clip in 2010, when he hit 31 home runs. He did connect for his 11th homerun of the season on Saturday.
If Carter regains his form reminiscent of two seasons ago, he could also earn another shot with Oakland. But time might be running out on the player once considered the A's most highly rated hitting prospects if he doesn't take the next step in his development.