Note: This article is the first in a series that will look at how the A’s depth chart lines up at each position. Depth charts go from the big leagues down to the lowest levels. These depth charts are not meant to be prospect rankings, as a top prospect may be further from the big leagues than a player at Triple-A with more experience but a lower ceiling projection.
The 2015 season will be the first since 2012 that the Oakland A’s top prospect wasn’t a shortstop. Addison Russell was the A’s top prospect in 2013 and 2014, and he was supplanted by Daniel Robertson when Russell was traded to the Chicago Cubs midway through the 2014 campaign. Robertson was set to be the A’s top prospect for 2015, but he, too, was traded. Despite these two deals, the A’s still have an intriguing mix of talent at the six spot up-and-down their system.
Big League Depth
For the past two seasons, the A’s primarily relied on Jed Lowrie to man their shortstop position. The A’s got 290 games out of the injury-prone Lowrie the past two years and a 738 OPS. He was one of the team’s most valuable offensive players in 2013, but he struggled in 2014. Defensively, Lowrie was a liability throughout his time with Oakland.
The A’s let Lowrie leave via free agency this off-season and enter spring training with somewhat of a question-mark as to who will man the position for the 2015 campaign. Oakland acquired middle infielder Marcus Semien from the Chicago White Sox in December, and he enters spring training as the favorite to be the A’s everyday shortstop (barring any additional acquisitions). Semien was primarily a shortstop in college at Cal and in the minor leagues, but he has spent most of his big league time at second base. The A’s are confident Semien can handle the shortstop spot defensively, and they are hoping to receive above-average offensive production from Semien at short.
Semien has appeared in 85 games in the big leagues over the past two seasons. He has a career .240/.293/.380 line with eight homers. However, his minor league numbers suggest that he should put up much better statistics in the big leagues. He is a career .272/.374/.465 hitter in the minors and he has reached double-digits in homeruns in each of his full minor league seasons. Semien has also reached double-digits in stolen bases in all but one of his full minor league seasons and he exceeded a .360 OBP in all but one full season.
If Semien falters this spring or lands on the DL, the A’s will be looking at glove-first options to take Semien’s place. Eric Sogard, Tyler Ladendorf and Andy Parrino are the three most likely candidates to replace Semien at short should Semien not secure the starting job. The A’s could also turn to veteran Ben Zobrist to play short, although shortstop has historically been Zobrist’s weakest position defensively.
Sogard has the most major-league experience between the three challengers, but, unlike Ladendorf and Parrino, Sogard isn’t a natural shortstop. He is an above-average defensive second baseman, but he has struggled at short – not surprising given he only began to play the position regularly when he reached Triple-A with the A’s. Sogard is more likely to be on the roster as a back-up middle infielder. Ladendorf and Parrino are both spectacular defensive shortstops with less offensive potential than Semien.
Ladendorf reached Triple-A as a regular for the first time last season and he hit .297/.376/.407 in 78 games. The A’s added Ladendorf to the 40-man roster this off-season for the first time in his career. Parrino was removed from the A’s 40-man roster this off-season, but that shouldn’t be an impediment to him reaching the big leagues this year if the A’s have a need for him. Parrino hit only .152 in 46 at-bats with the A’s last season, but he hit .274/.352/.384 in Triple-A.
Projected Starter: Tyler Ladendorf/Andy Parrino
Additional Depth: Niuman Romero
If all goes according to plan for the A’s this spring, Ladendorf and/or Parrino will be the regular shortstop for Triple-A Nashville. Beyond those two, however, the A’s don’t have a lot of Triple-A depth at shortstop. The A’s two primary shortstops at the Double-A level last season – Dusty Coleman and Addison Russell – are both no longer with the organization. Minor league free agent signing Niuman Romero is the only other player on the projected Triple-A Nashville roster with a significant amount of experience playing at short.
Romero is a 30-year-old longtime veteran who has more than 1,000 career minor league games and 12 major league games under his belt. He hit .320/.417/.417 for Double-A Bowie in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization last season. He has significant playing experience all over the infield, but his most career games have come at short. Romero is currently a member of the Venezuelan team in the Caribbean World Series. He had a solid regular season in the Venezuelan Winter League, winning the league’s Gold Glove at third base and hitting .286/.349/.385.
Given the A’s lack of depth at short behind Ladendorf and Parrino, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the organization acquire another Triple-A shortstop late in the spring if it looks like either Ladendorf or Parrino will make the A’s 25-man roster.
With Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson traded out of the organization, the A’s have lost a significant amount of talent at the shortstop position over the past six months. However, the A’s still have a trio of legitimate prospects at the position.
Franklin Barreto leads the pack. The soon-to-be 19-year-old came to the A’s in the Josh Donaldson deal with the Toronto Blue Jays this off-season. Barreto was a highly regarded international prospect when he signed with the Blue Jays before the 2013 season. He opened a lot of eyes last year by hitting .311/.384/.481 with six homers and 29 stolen bases in 73 games in the short-season Northwest League. Barreto is an explosive athlete who packs a lot of power and speed into a small frame. He is a potential perennial double-double candidate who should hit for average, as well. Barreto has a strong arm and has improved defensively in his two seasons as a pro. Although just 19, Barreto could jump from short-season to High-A Stockton, especially if the A’s want to keep him and Yairo Munoz on separate rosters.
Munoz, an international amateur free agent signing by Oakland before the 2012 season, had a breakout year with short-season Vermont in 2014. The A’s had planned to keep Munoz in Arizona for most of the short-season, but he hit so well during his first few weeks with the Lake Monsters that they decided to leave him in the New York-Penn League all year. Munoz won the team MVP award and made the mid-season All-Star team. The 20-year-old native of the Dominican has one of the top three throwing arms of any infielder in the A’s system and he could be a plus defender at short in the upper-levels, provided he continues to improve his footwork. Munoz is built like a middle-of-the-order hitter, and the A’s expect him to add more power as he progresses. He hit .298/.319/.448 in 66 games for Vermont last year. Munoz should land in Low-A Beloit at the start of the 2015 season.
Of the A’s top shortstop prospects, Chad Pinder is the closest to being big-league ready, although he still has more work to do on his game. A shortstop and third baseman in college, Pinder moved to second base last year with High-A Stockton so that Daniel Robertson could see the majority of the reps at short. Pinder improved dramatically at second as the season went on, but he looked his most comfortable defensively when he was at shortstop. He should return to shortstop with Double-A Midland this year. Pinder has had some trouble staying healthy since turning pro in 2013, but he is an excellent athlete with above-average power for a middle infielder and the ability to hit for average. Pinder was a little over-aggressive at the plate at times with Stockton, and the Texas League should be a good test for the Virginia Tech alum. Pinder hit .288/.336/.489 with 13 homers and 12 stolen bases in 94 games for Stockton last year.
Other Players to Watch
Wade Kirkland is the only other shortstop in the A’s system besides Chad Pinder who has logged significant playing time at the High-A level and projects to be at Double-A in 2015. Given Pinder’s injury history, it wouldn’t be surprising for the A’s to add another player with Double-A or significant High-A experience who can play shortstop.
Kirkland has been the Ports’ back-up middle infielder the past two seasons. The 2010 11th-round pick has a solid glove at short and second and some pop in his bat. Plate discipline has been an issue for Kirkland, however. He walked just 10 times in 67 games last year. He should make the jump to Double-A unless a backlog at the top levels of the A’s system sends Niuman Romero down to Double-A.
It is an open question as to who will be the primary shortstop in Stockton next season. Melvin Mercedes, Chih Fang Pan and Branden Cogswell all saw time at short for Low-A Beloit last season. If the A’s decide to keep Franklin Barreto in Low-A to start the 2015 season, Mercedes, Pan and Cogswell are the three most likely candidates to be the Ports’ starting shortstop.
Mercedes hit .381 during his pro debut season in 2012, but he has struggled at the plate the last two years. The switch-hitter has an excellent eye at the plate and good speed. He can play shortstop and second base.
Pan missed the entire 2013 season and he appeared in 81 games in 2014 for the Snappers. The native of Taiwan hit .331 and .336 his first two pro seasons, but his average dipped to .243 and .254 in 2012 and 2014. This is a make-or-break season for the left-handed hitter.
Cogswell was the third position player selected in the 2014 draft by the A’s. Considered a polished hitter and defender coming out of Virginia, Cogswell struggled at the plate in his pro debut with Beloit. He made several adjustments during his pro debut season, as well as during the A’s fall Instructional League camp. Despite his disappointing numbers with Beloit, Cogswell is still a candidate to jump to High-A in 2015, much the same way that Chad Pinder and Ryon Healy did in 2014 after disappointing pro debut seasons.
The A’s have several intriguing shortstop talents in the lower levels of their organization. 2013 draft pick Edwin Diaz has one of the strongest arms in the A’s organization, and he made significant improvements at the plate in 2014. 2014 draft pick Trace Loehr was the second position player selected by the A’s in the 2014 draft. Loehr was a favorite of scouts for his high-energy, all-out style of play and he finished his pro debut season with a strong last month of the year. Diaz will be 19 until late August, while Loehr turns 20 in May. Loehr is a little more polished offensively than Diaz and is more likely to make the jump to full-season ball at the start of the 2015 season than Diaz, although both could end up with short-season Vermont.
Gabriel Santana appeared in 41 games for the Lake Monsters last season. A glove-first middle infielder, Santana could land with Beloit at the outset of the season if Cogswell/Mercedes/Pan and Barreto are in Stockton. The 18-year-old Jesus Lopez made his pro debut last year as a 17-year-old in the Arizona Rookie League. He spent more time at second than at short, although he can play both positions. Lopez held his own at the plate despite being one of the younger players in the league, batting .221/.316/.272. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the switch-hitter repeat in the Arizona Rookie League, however.