Note: This article is the second 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.
Big League Depth
The Oakland A’s off-season was filled with ebbs-and-flows as it related to big league talent acquired and traded away. Arguably the most valuable major leaguer acquired by the A’s this off-season is Ben Zobrist, who was worth 5.0 WAR last season. Part of Zobrist’s value is his ability to play everywhere on the field (except behind the plate), but the position he is projected to start the most games this season for the A’s is second base.
Last year, Zobrist appeared in 79 games at second for Tampa Bay, and he was worth 5 Total Runs Above Average defensively at second, according to Baseball-Reference. Zobrist’s best defensive position by this measure was left field, and he is likely to split his time between second and left in 2015.
When Zobrist isn’t at second base, incumbent starter Eric Sogard figures to see a good amount of the playing time. Sogard’s offensive struggles last season are well-documented (although he did have a solid second half at the plate), but his defense at second was a plus for the A’s last year. In 102 games, Sogard was worth 11 Total Runs Above Average, according to Baseball-Reference. Zobrist is a switch-hitter, so he is likely to see most of his playing time away from second versus right-handed pitchers, when the left-handed hitting Sogard would man second base.
As we discussed in the shortstop depth chart article, Tyler Ladendorf and Andy Parrino will be competing this spring for a spot on the A’s roster. Depending on how the A’s construct their roster, they could carry two back-up infielders (Sogard and either Ladendorf or Parrino). However, given the positional flexibility of Zobrist, the A’s may not feel the need to carry two extra infielders. Third baseman Brett Lawrie and shortstop Marcus Semien both have big league experience at second base, so the A’s have some extra built-in depth on their projected 25-man roster.
Of course, this all presumes the A’s don’t make another move before the start of the season to acquire an everyday second baseman. Oakland has been rumored to be interested in Cuban free agent second baseman Hector Olivera, who should be big league ready upon signing with an MLB team. He is still waiting to be cleared by MLB for free agency, but given the number of teams that have had a look at him, he should sign quickly once that clearance is given.
Sleeper Depth: Max Muncy
The A’s will have no shortage of options at second base at the Triple-A level this season, although only Colin Walsh is a true second baseman among the players listed above. Ladendorf and Parrino are both true shortstops, while Alden Carrithers and Niuman Romero are both third basemen who can also play up-the-middle. Conner Crumbliss was a second baseman early in his pro career, but he has seen more playing time in the outfield over the past few years.
The A’s acquired Joe Wendle (more on him below) from the Cleveland Indians this off-season, and they project Wendle as an everyday second baseman in the big leagues in the next year or so. Wendle had an abbreviated 2014 season because of a broken hamate bone. His performance in big league camp this spring will go a long way towards determining whether Wendle starts 2015 in Double-A or Triple-A. Should Wendle find himself in Triple-A, Walsh is likely to go down to Double-A to be the RockHounds’ everyday second baseman (barring another acquisition, of course).
One other possibility is that the A’s try first baseman Max Muncy at second this year. Muncy has played first base for most of his professional career, but he made 22 appearances at third base last season with Double-A Midland. In high school, Muncy played all over the infield, including second base. He was converted to a full-time first baseman at Baylor primarily because the Bears had a team need at that position. Muncy has developed into a plus defender at first, but the A’s have a very deep depth chart at that position and third base is pretty crowded, too (more on that in the coming days). At 6’0’’, 205, Muncy wouldn’t be too big for second and he has shown the ability to handle tough hops and tricky spins at the corner spots. The biggest issue, of course, would be footwork, but it could be something the A’s toy with this season.
As mentioned above, Joe Wendle assumed the mantle of future A’s second baseman when he was acquired from the Indians for Brandon Moss. An offensive-minded second baseman, Wendle has a career .292/.357/.471 line in two-and-a-half pro seasons. Wendle is a contact hitter who projects to reach double-digits in homeruns in the big leagues and hit for average. His defense is average, at best, but the A’s are willing to live with average defense if they can get the offensive production out of him that they believe Wendle will provide. He could make his major league debut as soon as this season, although it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get a little more time in Double-A given the wrist injury last year.
As outlined in the shortstop piece, Chad Pinder is likely to move back to shortstop after spending last season at second base. However, Pinder proved himself more than capable of playing second base last season, his first at the position. After an adjustment period early in the year, Pinder became quite adept at the position. Like Wendle, Pinder provides the potential of above-average offensive production in the big leagues. Pinder’s plate discipline isn’t at the same level as Wendle’s, however, but Pinder is more naturally athletic than Wendle. He is less of a sure-bet to produce in the big leagues because of his free-swinging ways, but Pinder could be the better all-around player if everything comes together for him.
Middle infielders Trace Loehr and Jesus Lopez spent last season in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Both are natural shortstops, but both could move to second if the A’s roster depth chart pushes them that way. Loehr, in particular, is more well-regarded for his bat than his glove at short, so a move to second could make sense down-the-road. Loehr has a chance to start next season with Low-A Beloit. Lopez, the youngest player on the A’s AZL roster last year, is likely to repeat in Arizona or play with short-season Vermont.
Others to Watch
Trent Gilbert was the A’s 15th-round pick last season out of Arizona. He had a disappointing pro debut with the short-season Vermont Lake Monsters, but Gilbert was an outstanding offensive player for the Wildcats his last two years in college. He is likely to start the season with Low-A Beloit.
Joe Bennie should also land in Beloit after a strong season with Vermont in 2014. The 2013 28th-rounder made the New York-Penn League All-Star game. He has good speed and a solid approach at the plate. Bennie has been almost exclusively a second baseman in regular season games, but he saw time in the outfield during extended spring training last year and could play both positions in 2015.
Jean Carlo Rodriguez spent much of his 2014 season at third base, but he saw a lot of time at second base in 2013 while in the Dominican Summer League. Rodriguez struggled as an 18-year-old in the Arizona Rookie League last year, but he showed the ability to hit for average and work a walk during his pro debut season in 2013. He will likely repeat in Arizona in 2015.
Wade Kirkland and Chih Fang Pan were both covered in the shortstop article, but both can also play second, as well as short. Kirkland will be a candidate to move up to Double-A after two years in Stockton, while Pan will be competing for a spot in Stockton this spring.