Melissa Lockard contributed to this report.
For the fourth straight spring, the Oakland A’s will host a group of minor league players in advance of the official start of minor league spring training. This minor league mini-camp will serve two purposes – one, to have minor league veteran players on hand who are able to fill in in big league camp early in the MLB spring training schedule, and two, to provide extra one-on-one coaching instruction for a handful of promising, younger minor league prospects.
The mini-camp will be led by new A’s minor league field coordinator Aaron Nieckula, who was the manager of the Texas League Champion Midland RockHounds last season. He will also oversee minor league spring training and extended spring training as part of his new role before heading out to Vermont to manage the short-season Lake Monsters’ squad.
Beloit hitting coach and former A’s prospect Lloyd Turner will also be on-hand as a coach for the mini-camp. He will be joined by Beloit pitching coach Steve Connelly, Beloit manager Fran Riordan and minor league catching coach Gabriel Ortiz. Riordan will be entering his first season as a coach in affiliated baseball after a Hall of Fame managerial career in the independent Frontier League. All other minor league coaches invited to major league camp will work when available, including minor league coordinators Greg Sparks, Garvin Alston, Juan Navarrete and Craig Lefferts.
The A’s have invited 33 players to the spring mini-camp, and it is a mix of veteran and younger prospects. The camp begins on February 21st and will run until the start of regular minor league spring training. The camp will take place at the A’s new minor league facility at Fitch Park in Mesa. The players will train when the big league squad finishes their practices until the big league spring training game schedule begins and the big league team moves to Hohokam Park. After that, all practices at Fitch will begin at 9am for the mini-campers.
Below is a complete roster with notes on each player invited to the mini-camp.
Dylan Covey: The A’s hope 2015 will be a break-through year for Covey, who has outstanding stuff with a plus two-seamer, a four-seamer that can hit 95 and two good off-speed pitches (change-up and breaking ball). Covey had a tough time maintaining his consistency last year. He pitched mostly as a sinkerballer in 2014, but the A’s would like to see him recapture his identity as a power pitcher.
Ryan Doolittle: After a standout stint in the Arizona Fall League, Doolittle will compete for a spot in Triple-A this spring. He struck-out more than a batter an inning and had a 2.98 ERA last season between High-A and Double-A. After injuries stalled his career early on, Doolittle is finally on the verge of being in the discussion for a big league opportunity.
Dustin Driver: Driver, 20, missed the regular season in 2014 with a back injury, but he was arguably the most impressive starting pitcher at the A’s fall Instructional League. Driver has a mid-90s fastball that moves, as well as a sharp slider and a developing change-up. Because of the missed time last season, Driver’s innings could be capped in 2015, but he will have an opportunity to compete for a spot in Low-A this spring.
Ryan Dull: After a rough first six weeks in Double-A, Dull quietly became one of the RockHounds’ most steady relievers last season. He finished his first full year in Double-A with a 2.88 ERA and a 61:15 K:BB. Dull should see some time in big league camp and will compete for a spot in Triple-A this spring.
Heath Fillmyer: Fillmyer was the A’s fifth-round pick last season. A recent convert to pitching after a high school career as an infielder, Fillmyer showed plenty of promise in his pro debut season. He will continue to get close instruction from the A’s minor league pitching coaches and will compete for a spot on a full-season roster this spring.
Kyle Finnegan: Finnegan made a lot of adjustments last season with Low-A Beloit and he will be looking to carry over what he learned with the Snappers into 2015. The right-hander didn’t miss that many bats last season, but he proved tough to square-up (.227 BAA in the Midwest League). Finnegan will be looking to take the next step forward in his development and move up to High-A in 2015.
Seth Frankoff: Frankoff split his 2014 season between Double-A and Triple-A, and he figures to be on the list of relievers the A’s consider for in-season big league promotions should the need arise. Frankoff is likely to get several opportunities in big league camp.
Daniel Gossett: Gossett was the first pitcher selected by the A’s in the 2014 draft. He had a very impressive pro debut with short-season Vermont and enters the 2015 campaign as one of the A’s top pitching prospects. Gossett could make the jump from short-season to High-A with a strong spring.
Brett Graves: Graves was selected one round behind Gossett. He also showed big league stuff during his pro debut. He is a little less polished with his command than Gossett, but Graves has an outside chance of making the jump to High-A. He is more likely to start the year with Low-A Beloit, however.
Kris Hall: Command was an issue at times for Hall in 2014, but there is no question that he was difficult to hit while pitching for High-A Stockton. The right-hander struck-out 77 in 56.2 innings and allowed just 42 hits. If Hall can consistently find the strike-zone in 2015, it could be a break-through year for the Lee alum.
Tucker Healy: Healy moved up three levels last season, dominating at High-A and Double-A before running into some trouble at the Triple-A level. Healy struck-out 86 in 61 innings last season and has 205 strike-outs in 138.1 career innings. He will likely get several opportunities in big league camp this spring and, like Frankoff, should be on the list of pitchers considered for an in-season promotion if there are openings with Oakland.
Chris Jensen: Jensen had a strong first season in the A’s organization, earning post-season Texas League All-Star honors and helping to lead the RockHounds to a title. After 160.1 innings of 3.14 ERA ball last year in Double-A, Jensen will be competing for a spot in Triple-A this spring.
Chris Kohler: One of the biggest disappointments of the 2014 season within the A’s system was the injury to Kohler, who missed the entire regular season. He was back throwing during fall Instructs and should be ready to go on Opening Day this year. The promising lefty was slated to pitch in Low-A before his injury last year and he should end up in Beloit – health-permitting, of course – in 2015.
Brendan McCurry: McCurry was nearly flawless during an impressive pro debut in 2014 and the right-handed reliever could be on the fast track in 2015. He may get a look in big league camp, but even if he doesn’t make it over to Hohokam, McCurry could still rocket up the A’s system in 2015.
Deck McGuire: The former Blue Jays’ first-round pick (2010) joined the A’s organization late in the 2014 campaign. The A’s coaching staff will be looking to get McGuire back on track after a disappointing last couple of seasons.
Zach Neal: Picked up from the Marlins before the 2013 season, Neal has been a solid addition to the organization the past two seasons. He was a reliable presence in the Triple-A rotation for the A’s for much of last season and will be working to stay in that rotation coming out of spring. He has outstanding command (20 walks in 166 innings last year). Neal should get a few looks in big league camp.
Dillon Overton: The A’s second-round pick in 2013 finally made it onto the mound midway through last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery shortly after signing with the A’s. The left-hander didn’t have all of his velocity back in 2014, but that didn’t stop him from dazzling in 37 innings of short-season work (1.95 ERA; 53:4 K:BB). Overton may be limited to 100-115 innings this season, but he could move up a couple of levels during that time if he continues to pitch like he did in 2014.
Jordan Schwartz: The A’s fourth-round pick last season came into professional baseball as a project pick after splitting much of his early collegiate career between the outfield and the mound. Schwartz worked hard on his delivery during fall Instructs and made a lot of progress by the end of camp. The right-hander can reach the mid-90s with his fastball and he has a promising change-up and slider. Schwartz is likely to spend mini-camp continuing to refine his delivery in anticipation of starting the year with Low-A Beloit.
Paul Smyth: Like Frankoff and Healy, Smyth figures to spend some time in big league camp after an outstanding season in Triple-A in 2014. The side-arming right-hander had a 3.05 ERA and a 56:14 K:BB in 59 innings last year. He also earned a spot in the PCL All-Star game.
Bobby Wahl: Wahl struggled early in the season with an oblique injury that impacted his ability to finish his delivery. Once healthy, Wahl moved into the bullpen, where he was able to channel his aggressive approach to pitching better than he did as a starter. Wahl has some of the best pure stuff in the A’s organization. In his second full year as a pro, Wahl could take a big leap forward in 2015. He could see an inning or two in big league camp.
Jose Chavez: Despite being 18 for most of last season, Chavez spent time in Low-A and even had a stint in Double-A. He also played for short-season Vermont. Chavez’s glove is ahead of his bat, but the now 19-year-old has a promising future behind the plate.
Max Kuhn: Kuhn had a solid pro debut at the plate for the A’s short-season squads last year. During Instructs, he moved behind the plate. Although still raw as a catcher, Kuhn showed promise during Instructs and he will continue to get plenty of work as a catcher this spring.
Phil Pohl: Pohl was the Low-A Beloit catcher for much of last season, and he also saw time in Triple-A when Stephen Vogt was on the DL. An excellent defender and a good clubhouse guy, Pohl is likely to jump to High-A Stockton in 2015. He could get a few innings in big league camp this spring.
Argenis Raga: In his second season in the Arizona Rookie League, Raga had a big year at the plate, batting .338/.400/.479 in 71 at-bats. Raga won’t turn 21 until midway through the season. He will likely start the year in extended spring training and spend the bulk of his playing time with short-season Vermont.
Beau Taylor: Taylor has struggled at the plate in two-plus seasons at the Double-A level, but he swung the bat well with High-A Stockton after a mid-season demotion. Taylor is a very good defensive catcher with excellent athleticism behind the plate and a strong throwing arm. If he can find a way to hit upper-level pitching, he could move up the A’s organizational ladder quickly, as Oakland is thin at the catcher position at the upper levels. Taylor could get some innings in big league camp this spring.
Anthony Aliotti: Aliotti had a solid finish to his season after a slow start. He figures to return to Triple-A at the beginning of the regular season, but he could encounter a crowd at first base with Aliotti, Max Muncy, Rangel Ravelo and Nate Freiman all potentially on the roster. Aliotti saw some time in the outfield last year, and he could get plenty of work in the outfield this spring to increase his versatility in advance of the potential roster crunch at first.
Franklin Barreto: Acquired in the Josh Donaldson trade this off-season, Barreto comes into his first A’s camp as one of the organization’s top prospects. After a huge year in short-season A ball with Toronto last season, Barreto could make the jump to High-A in 2015 with a strong spring. He will likely spend most of mini-camp getting acquainted with the A’s staff, but Barreto could get a cameo or two in big league camp this spring.
Matt Chapman: Chapman was the A’s top pick last year and the third-baseman had an impressive stint with Double-A Midland during the post-season. An advanced defender with power potential at the plate, Chapman projects to start the year in High-A Stockton, as Renato Nunez and Ryon Healy will be ahead of Chapman at third in Double-A. Chapman is likely to get several appearances in big league camp this spring.
Conner Crumbliss: The versatile Crumbliss returns to the A’s for potentially his final season in the organization. He struggled in a 20-game stint in Triple-A last year, but Crumbliss had an outstanding season offensively with Midland. He doesn’t have much left to prove in Double-A and will be looking to push his way onto the Triple-A roster with a strong spring. He is likely to spend some time in big league camp.
Ryon Healy: Sometimes over-shadowed by fellow top prospects Renato Nunez and Matt Olson, Healy more than held his own as a first baseman/third baseman/DH with High-A Stockton last year. Scouts that watched the Ports on a regular basis indicated that Healy hit the ball harder more consistently than anyone on that team. An excellent defender at first with a decent glove at third, Healy will continue to share time at both positions with Nunez and Olson in 2015 in Double-A. He could make a trip or two over to Hohokam this spring.
Yairo Munoz: Munoz was always considered a glove-first prospect, but he changed that perception with a solid year at the plate with short-season Vermont last year. Now Munoz is one of the A’s most promising all-around middle infield prospects. Munoz just turned 20 last week and should make his full-season debut in 2015.
Chad Pinder: Injuries limited Pinder to 94 games last season, but he hit for power and average with High-A Stockton. A shortstop and third baseman in college, Pinder played mostly second base last year alongside shortstop Daniel Robertson. With Robertson being traded to Tampa Bay, Pinder should see a lot more time at shortstop this season. He could get a few at-bats in big league camp this spring.
Jaycob Brugman: Brugman made some early-season adjustments with his approach and set-up at the plate and they paid off big time. The outfielder finished the year third in the A’s organization in homeruns with 21. He hit well in a late-season stint with High-A Stockton and could compete for a spot in Double-A this spring.