Note: This article is the third 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
Projected Starter: Brett Lawrie
Additional 25-man Roster Depth: Ben Zobrist, Marcus Semien, Eric Sogard, Mark Canha
Additional 40-man Roster Depth: Tyler Ladendorf, Andy Parrino, Rangel Ravelo, Renato Nunez
For the past two-and-a-half seasons, the Oakland A’s best player has made his home at third base. Josh Donaldson was the A’s best defensive infielder and the hinge by which the offense turned. This off-season, Donaldson was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package of players that includes the man the A’s hope can come close to providing the production Donaldson delivered the past two-plus years. Brett Lawrie comes to the A’s with a world of talent, but also a history of injuries that makes it difficult to know exactly what the A’s will be getting from their third base position this year.
Lawrie, who turned 25 in January, has played in parts of four big league seasons. A first-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 out of a Canadian high school, Lawrie quickly became one of baseball’s top prospects. He was traded to the Blue Jays before the 2011 season and he made his major-league debut with Toronto that season as a 21-year-old.
Since then, Lawrie has compiled a .265/.323/.426 line in 345 major league games. Injuries have prevented Lawrie from appearing in more than 125 games in any of his big league seasons. Last year, Lawrie played in just 70 games for Toronto.
Lawrie is a phenomenal athlete who has the power to be a force in the middle of a big league line-up. However, he has yet to reach his perceived potential as a hitter in the big leagues. Defensively, Lawrie is above-average at third, and he should be able to come close to covering the ground that Donaldson did with the A’s. There is no question the talent is there for Lawrie to be a star, but the track record is spotty. One of the biggest questions for the A’s heading into 2015 is whether Lawrie can stay healthy and productive.
Given Lawrie’s injury history, the A’s are likely to spell him from time-to-time at third base. They should have several options to choose from to make those spot starts at third. Jack-of-all-trades Ben Zobrist is penciled in to be the A’s everyday second baseman. He hasn’t played much third base in his big league career because the Rays had a fellow named Evan Longoria ensconced at third. However, Zobrist could move over to third on an as-needed basis.
Projected starting shortstop Marcus Semien has more major league experience at third than Zobrist. He, too, could take the reigns at the hot corner when Lawrie needs a day off, with Zobrist or a back-up infielder taking over at short.
Projected back-up infielder Eric Sogard, like Zobrist, has played only a handful of big league games at third base. However, he has experience at the position and could fill-in there on an as-needed basis. Should Lawrie land on the shelf for an extended period, Semien is the most likely from this group to take over on an everyday basis given his previous experience at the position.
Rule 5 pick Mark Canha will be a wildcard this spring for the A’s at third. Mostly a first baseman and corner outfielder during his minor league career, Canha appeared in 18 games at the hot corner in Triple-A last season. He intends to get plenty of work over at third this spring. If the A’s think Canha is passable defensively at the position, he could get regular at-bats there when Lawrie needs a day off.
Prospects Rangel Ravelo and Renato Nunez are also on the A’s 40-man roster. Neither has played a game above the Double-A level (in fact, Nunez will be making his Double-A debut in 2015), so neither is likely to be an option for the A’s early in the season. However, the progress of both prospects will be closely monitored during the season (more on them below).
Nashville Sounds manager Steve Scarsone is going to have a challenge on his hands when it comes to allocating playing time at third base this season. He has several players on his projected roster that have experience at third, and two other top prospects who the A’s are interested in gaining more experience at the position.
Minor league free agent signing Niuman Romero comes into camp after a productive winter league season in Venezuela during which he won the Gold Glove for his work at third. Romero has played the majority of his minor league games at shortstop, but he played at third base most frequently for Double-A Bowie last season. Romero, who can also play second base, figures to move all around the Nashville infield this season.
Alden Carrithers returns to the A’s for a second straight season on a minor league deal. He appeared in 76 games at third base in Triple-A last year. Like Romero, Carrithers is a versatile defender. He is also likely to see time in left and at second base this season. Carrithers has never hit for much power during his minor league career, but he has a career .399 OBP and is a career .295 hitter.
Colin Walsh also returns for his second season in the A’s organization after being picked up as a minor league free agent at the start of the 2014 regular season. The Stanford alum has mostly played second base and left field over the past two years, but he has experience at third and will offer depth at that position at either Triple-A or Double-A this year. Walsh, a switch-hitter, hit .290/.375/.371 in 78 games at three levels (High-A, Double-A and Triple-A) last year.
Both Tyler Ladendorf and Andy Parrino – if they don’t make the A’s roster coming out of spring training – figure to get most of their playing time in the middle of the Sounds’ infield. However, both are more than capable of playing a solid third base and could see some time there, as well.
From a development standpoint, the A’s are likely most interested in seeing Rangel Ravelo and Max Muncy gain experience at third this season. Both players are coming off of solid seasons in Double-A. Both are patient hitters who spent most of their 2014 seasons playing at first base. However, neither player has the classic power profile of a typical major-league first baseman (although both have shown flashes of power and could develop more as they mature), so both would benefit from playing at third rather than first.
Ravelo played a lot of third base early in his minor league career with the White Sox, but he was moved over to first base almost exclusively in 2013. The A’s believe Ravelo has a shot to stick at third, and they will give him plenty of opportunities there this season. Ravelo turns 23 in April and carries a .301/.368/.424 career line in 421 minor league games. He reached double-digits in homeruns for the first time last season (he hit 11 at the Double-A level). The A’s believe the 6’2’’, 220-pound Ravelo is just starting to tap into his power potential, but that remains to be seen. They have also compared him to the Boston Red Sox’s Allen Craig, the Cal alum who has played at third, first and in left field during his big league career.
Muncy will be 24 until late August. The A’s 2012 fifth-round pick has a career .270/.383/.432 line in 326 minor league games. Muncy hit 25 homers in 2013, but 21 of those came in a half-season in the offense-friendly California League. In 169 games in the power-sapping Texas League, Muncy has 11 homeruns. Muncy is one of the most patient hitters in the A’s system, and he led the Texas League in walks in 2014. The A’s believe Muncy’s power numbers will rebound when he gets away from the winds of the Texas League, but the knock on him as a prospect even in college was that he didn’t have the prototypical power of an MLB first baseman. Muncy is a good athlete and a plus defender at first base. He got his feet wet at third last season and showed some promise there, although he is still raw at the position. Muncy, who played all over the infield in high school, could also see some time at second base and in the outfield in 2015.
In terms of top position player prospects, the A’s are deepest at third base. If one includes Muncy and Ravelo as third basemen, the A’s have five third base prospects in their top-20 and three in their top-10.
Matt Chapman was the A’s top pick in 2014, and he made quite an impression late last summer when he was called up as an injury fill-in for the Double-A Midland RockHounds during the Texas League playoffs. Chapman not only played above-average defense, he also hit .310/.375/.586 with two homers in eight games. Chapman has all of the tools to be a top defender in the big leagues. His arm is arguably the strongest of any infielder in the A’s system, and he has good hands and quick feet. Offensively, Chapman is still a work-in-progress, but he has plus power and was a patient hitter in college. He is likely to start his first full pro season with the Stockton Ports in the California League.
The Ports’ third baseman in 2014 – Renato Nunez – has the most power of any right-handed hitter in the A’s system. His plate discipline is still developing, but Nunez can hit the ball out of any park to any field. He hit 29 homers last season with Stockton and batted a respectable .279. Nunez cut down on his strike-outs and improved his walk-rate slightly last season from 2013, but he will need to continue to make strides with his plate discipline to reach his ceiling offensively. He fared well in his first season in the Venezuelan Winter League and will be competing in his first big league camp this spring. Defensively, Nunez is still a work-in-progress, and he could ultimately end up at first base. He has a strong arm and was a more consistent fielder in 2014 than he was in 2013, but he is still working on his footwork and his reads on the ball off of the bat. Nunez will turn 21 in early April and has plenty of time to polish his game.
In any other system, Ryon Healy would be seeing everyday playing time at third base. However, Healy, the A’s third-round pick in 2013, was stuck behind Nunez on the third base depth chart last season with Stockton. He figures to be in a similar situation in 2015 with Double-A Midland. Healy played mostly first base at the University of Oregon, but he played third in high school and in summer ball, and the A’s believe he can handle the position. Healy appeared in 48 games at third last season with the Ports, and he held his own. He is an excellent defensive first baseman already. As a hitter, Healy, like Nunez, still has work to do on his plate discipline. He hit .285 with the Ports last season, but his OBP was .318. Healy hit 16 homers for the Ports last year and the A’s believe he will continue to develop as a power hitter as he improves his selectiveness at the plate. Healy uses the whole field well and has a good feel for barreling the ball on the bat. He turned 23 last month.
Other Players to WatchJose Brizuela, Miles Head, Argenis Raga, A.J. Kubala, Jean Carlo Rodriguez
Jose Brizuela was the A’s 16th-round pick out of Florida State in last year’s draft. Brizuela was the Vermont Lake Monsters’ everyday third baseman last season and he should be the regular third baseman for the Beloit Snappers in 2015.
Miles Head was one of the A’s top prospects heading into the 2013 season. However, a shoulder injury suffered during the 2012 Arizona Fall League season didn’t heal properly and Head eventually missed half of that season after having surgery. He struggled badly when on the field in 2013 and struggled again in 2014 before landing on the DL midway through the year. With corner infielders Renato Nunez, Matt Olson and Ryon Healy set to move up to Double-A in 2015, Head will have a struggle to make the Midland roster coming out of spring training.
Argenis Raga had a breakthrough season at the plate after three non-descript seasons in 2011-2013. Raga split his time with the AZL A’s last season between third base and catcher. He hit .338/.400/.479 in 71 AZL at-bats. It will be interesting to see what Raga can do in the New York-Penn League this season.
A.J. Kubala missed much of the 2014 season with injury. A 34th-round pick out of high school in 2013, Kubala has some power potential, but he is very raw. He is likely to return to the AZL in 2015, where he will look for a healthy season.
Jean Carlo Rodriguez hit .302 with a .373 OBP in 2013 in the DSL. He struggled in the AZL in 2014, batting just .184. Rodriguez did walk more than he struck-out. He has an excellent eye at the plate and some speed. The 19-year-old can play second and third base and is likely to return to the AZL in 2015.