The battle for the final spots on the Oakland A's roster took an interesting turn on Saturday when the team announced that they had claimed first baseman Nate Freiman off waivers from the Houston Astros. Freiman was a Rule 5 pick by the Astros from the San Diego Padres this off-season. Freiman will continue to carry the restrictions of a Rule 5 player with the A's, meaning that Oakland will need to carry him on their 25-man roster for the entire season or offer him back to the Padres for a small fee.
Freiman, 26, is coming off of a big season with the Double-A San Antonio Missions in the Padres' organization. The Duke alum posted a .298/.370/.502 line in 137 games. Freiman hit a career-high 24 homeruns last year (he hit 22 in 2011 with High-A Lake Elsinore). The Washington, D.C. native is the all-time Duke homerun leader. He was teammate of current A's farmhands Max Perlman, Nick Rickles and Jeff Urlaub on Team Israel in the WBC qualifying tournament this past fall.
If Freiman makes the A's roster, he will be used in much the same way that Chris Carter was used last season – as a platoon partner for the left-handed hitting Brandon Moss. The 6'8'' Freiman has a career 1060 OPS with a .276 ISO against left-handed pitching.
Before being exposed to waivers, Freiman had received 36 at-bats in big league camp with the Astros. He was batting .278 with a homerun, but he had only a 694 OPS. Freiman had yet to walk and he had seven strike-outs.
Freiman's addition to A's camp could be an indication that the A's are leaning towards having Jed Lowrie be their everyday shortstop rather than Hiroyuki Nakajima. The switch-hitting Lowrie was expected to play a number of roles for the A's this season, including serving as the A's right-handed hitting first baseman. If they are looking at Lowrie spending most of his time at shortstop, however, then it would make sense that the A's would be looking for a true right-handed hitting first baseman to pair with Moss.
Nakajima has struggled thus far this spring both at the plate and in the field. He spent Saturday working in the back fields with A's roving instructor Phil Garner and Nakajima played in a minor league spring game.
A's Release Several Minor Leaguers
The A's have made several cuts in minor league camp already and more are expected next week as Opening Day draws near. According to A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, the A's have released John Nester, Logan Chitwood, Ryan Pineda, Nate Eppley, Cecil Tanner, A.J. Huttenlocker and Rhett Stafford. The A's have also released Argenis Paez, who was at the team's Dominican Academy.
Nester was the A's 39th-round pick out of Clemson in 2010. A strong defensive catcher, Nester spent the past two seasons with Low-A Burlington. He posted a 592 OPS in 222 at-bats with the Bees last season.
Chitwood, a 19th-round pick in 2010 out of UT-Tyler, spent much of the past three seasons with the A's short-season A affiliate. Last year, Chitwood split his time between short-season Vermont and Low-A Burlington. In 42.2 combined innings, Chitwood posted a 2.11 ERA with a 31:17 K:BB.
Pineda, a middle infielder, was the A's 28th-round pick out of Cal State, Northridge in 2010. He split last season between Low-A Burlington and High-A Stockton. Pineda played well for the Ports during the final few months of last season. Overall for both teams, he hit .241/.325/.367.
Eppley, a right-hander out of Rider University, was the A's 29th-round pick in 2011. The sidearmer reached Low-A last season after starting the year with short-season Vermont. He had a 3.86 ERA in 37.1 innings between the two levels. A groundball pitcher, Eppley has allowed two homeruns in 65 career innings.
The hard-throwing Tanner appeared in four games for short-season Vermont last season, allowing five runs in five innings. The Georgia alum was a 23rd-round pick in 2011.
Huttenlocker starred for High-A Stockton in 2011. The left-hander posted a 1.83 ERA with a 60:12 K:BB ratio in 69 innings for the Ports that season and helped guide the team to the Cal League finals. Huttenlocker struggled in 2012, however, posting a 5.50 ERA in 54 innings between Double-A Midland and Stockton. Huttenlocker was a 44th-round pick out of Missouri Western in 2009.
Stafford was a 22nd-round pick of the A's in 2011 out of Marshall. He split his time with the A's between catching and playing in the outfield. Stafford had a 790 OPS in 43 games for the A's AZL squad in 2011 but he appeared in only 24 games for the AZL A's and short-season Vermont last year.
Paez was one of the A's most promising pitching prospects from their Dominican Academy a few years ago, but arm injuries have curtailed his career. The native of Venezuela didn't pitch in 2012 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He had a 3.15 ERA and a strong groundball rate for the AZL A's in 2010, his best season.