Shortly before the start of the minor league free agency period, the Oakland A’s added longtime farmhand Tyler Ladendorf to their 40-man roster. The move kept Ladendorf from entering the minor league free agent market and also gave the A’s another option for their unsettled middle infield heading into the 2015 season.
But what role will Ladendorf play for the A’s in 2015? Will he serve simply as depth in Triple-A, much the same way that Andy Parrino did for Oakland last year? Or can Ladendorf contribute to the A’s at the major-league level? Let’s take a look.
First, a little background on Ladendorf.
Acquired in 2009 at the trade deadline for SS Orlando Cabrera, Ladendorf has been patiently waiting for a shot with the A’s for several years. The 2008 Minnesota Twins second-round pick played at the High-A level in his first full season with the A’s in 2010 and then moved up to Double-A in 2011. From 2011 through 2013, Ladendorf spent the majority of his time with the Midland Rockhounds. In both 2011 and 2012, Ladendorf had solid first-halves at the plate with the RockHounds, but he struggled during the second half of each of those seasons and finished those years with mediocre offensive numbers.
"[Tyler] was always a contact-oriented player with a short stroke that bodes well for higher levels. This year he catapulted himself forward to someone that is on the cusp." - A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens
In 2013, Ladendorf put together his best offensive numbers for the RockHounds (.263 BA and .340 OBP), but injuries limited him to 91 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
At the start of the 2014 season, it appeared that Ladendorf would head back to Midland for a fourth season. However, an injury to Jake Elmore opened a spot for Ladendorf in Triple-A and he took advantage of the opportunity. He hit .297/.376/.407 and walked 35 times in 78 games. Unfortunately for Ladendorf, he was limited to those 78 games because of a suspension for violating baseball’s policy on drugs of abuse. That suspension cost Ladendorf 50 games. Still, he did enough with the bat during his time in Triple-A to pique the A’s interest.
“Tyler Ladendorf made huge strides offensively this campaign,” A’s Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said via e-mail. “He was always a contact-oriented player with a short stroke that bodes well for higher levels. This year he catapulted himself forward to someone that is on the cusp. Tyler's plan, approach and execution all improved in 2014.”
One big factor in Ladendorf’s success in 2014 (besides getting away from the winds and grind of the Texas League) was a dramatic increase in his line-drive rate, a sign that Ladendorf was squaring up a lot more balls in 2014 than he did in previous seasons. In 2014, Ladendorf had a 29.3% line-drive rate, a more than 10% increase over the year before and by far his best line-drive rate of his career. Ladendorf also improved his walk rate by 2% (up to 11.1%), while keeping his strike-out rate relatively low (17.5%). His wOBA was a career-best .345. His BABIP was high (.355) but that is likely more a function of his increased line-drive rate than it is a sign that he got lucky in 2014.
The A’s are always looking for bench players who handle left-handed pitching well, and Ladendorf has done that throughout his career. Over the past three seasons, Ladendorf has a .328/.403/.512 line versus southpaws. In 2014, he slashed .395/.457/.568 versus lefties.
If Ladendorf’s improvements offensively are here to stay, he could be an asset for the A’s off of the bench in 2015. Since joining the A’s organization in 2008, Ladendorf has been one of the system’s best defensive players. Naturally a shortstop, Ladendorf can also handle second base, third base and all three outfield positions. He is a plus athlete who has above-average range in the middle infield and a strong arm. In 2014, Ladendorf appeared in 38 games at second and 38 games at short and two games in the outfield.
“He's always been able to play every position on the field soundly,” Owens said. “This year he blended his versatility and acrobatic capabilities with a touch more reliability defensively and forced his way on everyone’s radar. He's definitely one of our better defenders on the 40-man roster and I look forward to him making that next step in 2015.”
Currently, the A’s middle infield situation is unsettled, at best. Starting shortstop Jed Lowrie and back-up infielder Alberto Callaspo are both free agents and neither is expected to re-sign with the A’s. Incumbent starting second baseman Eric Sogard had a down year offensively in 2014 and veteran middle infielder Nick Punto is best served in a back-up role in this stage of his career.
The A’s are likely to sign or acquire a starting second baseman or shortstop from outside of the organization before the start of spring training. However, if they only sign one middle infielder, the A’s will probably have one open bench spot in the infield up for competition this spring. As the roster stands now, the spot will come down to Ladendorf and Parrino.
Both Ladendorf and Parrino are similar players in that they both are natural shortstops who handle that position well and can play several other positions around the infield, as well as the outfield in a pinch. Ladendorf is probably the better outfielder of the two, while Parrino offers the ability to switch-hit. Both players had strong seasons at the plate and in the field at the Triple-A level last year. Parrino has some MLB experience and he is out-of-options heading into spring training. Like Ladendorf, Parrino is a better hitter versus left-handed pitching than he is versus righties. A competition between the two this spring could come down to who performs better in Cactus League play.
One advantage over last year’s bench that the A’s will have if they carry either Ladendorf or Parrino is that they will have a better late-game defensive option up-the-middle than they did when Callaspo had that bench role. Given how much A’s manager Bob Melvin likes to use his pinch-hitters, having a good defensive option to sub in after using a late-game pinch-hitter will be beneficial for Oakland.