Oakland A's Depth Charts: First Base/DH

Spring training kicks off this week and the Oakland A's depth charts are starting to come into focus. Over the past few weeks, we have been looking at how the A's depth stacks up at each position. In the fourth piece of this series, we look at the first base/DH positions.

Note: This article is the fourth 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

Every day player: Billy Butler
Starter vs. righties: Ike Davis
Competing for a spot: Nate Freiman, Mark Canha
Additional 25-man roster depth: Stephen Vogt
Additional 40-man roster depth: Rangel Ravelo

First base and DH were revolving doors for the A’s last season, as six different players logged at least 20 games played at first and seven different players logged at least 12 games played at DH. With the addition of Billy Butler, the A’s should have more stability at the DH spot this season, although Oakland manager Bob Melvin is still likely to use the DH occasionally as a way to give some of his position players half-days off. The playing time at first base will be open for more competition, however.

Butler joined the A’s early in the off-season on a three-year free agent deal. The longtime Kansas City Royals’ slugger is coming off of the worst season of his career. He posted a 702 OPS for the eventual AL champions, although Butler was better the second half of the season after getting off to a slow start. The A’s are counting on Butler to give them steady production in the middle of their line-up. Although not a huge homerun hitter, Butler has averaged 18 homeruns a season during his career. He has always hit for average (career .295 hitter) and is a rare middle-of-the-order hitter that doesn’t strike-out much. Butler has killed left-handed pitching throughout his career (912 OPS). Hitting versus southpaws was a major weakness for the A’s in 2014.

Butler is likely to DH far more frequently than he will play in the field, but he should see some time at first base this season. Butler played in 37 games at first last season. He is likely to get the majority of his starts at first when the A’s are facing a left-handed starter. Butler could also see time at first when Coco Crisp needs a DH day. Butler will never remind anyone of Keith Hernandez at first, but the A’s are hoping that he is passable there.

Newcomer Ike Davis should see the majority of the starts at first for the A’s, at least as long as he is productive. Davis was acquired by Oakland from the Pittsburgh Pirates this off-season after the Pirates non-tendered the Arizona State alum. Davis had a 722 OPS last season in a year split between the Pirates and the New York Mets. He is two seasons removed from a year in which he hit 32 homers. The A’s hope Davis can bring power to the line-up, especially against right-handed pitchers. He has a career 813 OPS versus righties. Davis isn’t likely to start much versus left-handers, as he has a career 577 OPS versus southpaws. Defensively, Davis has generally been considered average to slightly below-average.

The A’s are likely to carry one more first baseman/DH type who is right-handed and can platoon with Davis. The two leading candidates for that role are Nate Freiman and Mark Canha. Freiman is entering his third season with the A’s. In 2013, he spent the entire year with Oakland as a Rule 5 pick. He hit .274/.327/.389 in 80 games. Freiman spent half of the 2014 season in Triple-A and appeared in just 36 games with the A’s. His OPS was nearly identical in 2014 as it was in 2013 (717 vs. 716), but he got on-base much less frequently and hit for more power in 2014 (.218/.269/.448).

Canha comes into camp in the same position that Freiman was in during the spring of 2013 – as a Rule 5 pick. Under the Rule 5 designation, Canha must remain on the A’s 25-man roster all season or be offered back to his original organization (the Miami Marlins). Canha, a Cal alum, has yet to appear in a major league game, but he has a strong minor league track record. He has a career .285/.375/.474 line in 496 minor league games. In 2014, Canha hit .303 with 20 homers for Triple-A New Orleans.

Going into spring training, Freiman carries the advantage of 301 MLB plate appearances and a 796 career OPS versus lefties in the bigs. However, Freiman can be sent down to Triple-A without being exposed to waivers, while the A’s will risk losing Canha if he doesn’t make the roster. In addition, Canha can play the outfield and third base, giving him an advantage defensively over Freiman. This battle is likely to go down to the final days of camp. Should a corner outfielder or either Davis or Butler land on the DL before camp breaks, both players are likely to make the roster.

Projected starting catcher Stephen Vogt got plenty of experience playing first base last season, when a foot injury prevented Vogt from being able to catch. Vogt isn’t likely to see much time at first this season if he is healthy enough to catch, but the A’s could turn to him to play first if the need arises.

We discussed Rangel Ravelo during the third base depth chart article. The 22-year-old will be participating in his first big league camp and isn’t expected to make the A’s roster out of spring training. The A’s would like to see Ravelo get more playing time at third base this season after he spent the majority of the past two years playing at first base. However, even if he is playing third base regularly in Triple-A this year, Ravelo should be able to switch over to first base at any time if injuries create a need for a first baseman at the big league level and Ravelo is hitting well in Triple-A.


Triple-A Depth

Triple-A Veterans: Nate Freiman, Anthony Aliotti, Josh Whitaker
Rising Prospects: Rangel Ravelo, Max Muncy

Even if both Mark Canha and Nate Freiman make the A’s 25-man roster, Nashville manager Steve Scarsone will have plenty of players to choose from at first base this year. And if Freiman lands in Nashville or somehow the A’s are able to work out a deal with Miami to keep Canha in Triple-A, the first base picture will be even more crowded for the Sounds.

Fortunately for Scarsone, all of the players listed above (with the exception of Freiman) are able to play other positions. Ravelo, as mentioned earlier, will see plenty of time at third base this year. Max Muncy, mostly a first baseman during his professional career thus far, is also likely to see time at third and could be tried in the outfield and at second. Veteran Anthony Aliotti saw time in left field last season, while Josh Whitaker has mostly been an outfielder the past few seasons, although he can play first base.

Muncy (who we covered more thoroughly in the third base profile) and Aliotti are very similar players. Both are above-average defensive first basemen whose best offensive attribute is their ability to get on-base. Muncy has shown more power than Aliotti thus far in his career, and he is younger, but Aliotti is a solid player in his own right. He hit .350 in Double-A in 2013 and had an 870 OPS at that level last year. Aliotti hasn’t yet hit his stride in Triple-A, although he hit .290/.369/.374 last season after returning to Triple-A following a mid-season demotion to Double-A.

Whitaker is coming off of a shoulder injury and may not be 100% at the start of the season. Injuries have slowed his progress through the minor leagues, but when he has been healthy, Whitaker has shown a lot of promise offensively. Last season, Whitaker hit .320/.367/.523 in Double-A before earning a promotion to Triple-A. He got off to a slow start in Triple-A, but was starting to heat up at the plate when he suffered a season-ending injury that he eventually had surgery to correct. Whitaker is a career .281/.349/.480 hitter in 424 minor league games.


Top Prospects

Highest Ceiling: Matt Olson
Solid All-Around Performer: Ryon Healy
Rising Star: Sandber Pimentel

With Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson in new organizations, Matt Olson has taken over the reigns as the A’s top prospect. Olson is one of the top power hitters in the minor leagues and he could be knocking on the door of the big leagues as soon as mid-season 2016.

Olson was a supplemental first-round pick of the A’s out of high school in 2012. Since then, he has appeared in 322 minor league games and has amassed a .495 SLG and has hit 69 homeruns. Last season, Olson challenged for the minor league lead in homeruns when he hit 37 for the High-A Stockton Ports. Olson led all of the minor leagues in walks with 117 and added 31 doubles for good measure. He was in the middle of an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League when he injured his right shoulder during a collision at first base. Olson is expected to be ready for the start of spring training after a winter of rehab.

Although the vast majority of Olson’s playing experience has come at first base, he did see a little time in the outfield last year and he could see more time in right in 2015, as the A’s look to increase his versatility. Olson isn’t fleet of foot, but he has a strong throwing arm and he was an excellent pitcher in high school. He is a very good defender at first base, so if he does remain at that position long-term, he should be an asset there with the glove. Olson is projected to start the season with Double-A Midland.

We covered Ryon Healy in the third base article. He will continue to see time at third, first and at DH, sharing field time with Olson and Renato Nunez. The A’s are high on Healy’s defensive abilities at first already. His biggest focus in 2015 will be to improve his plate discipline and continue to develop defensively at third base.

Sandber Pimentel has yet to play an inning of a regular season game in the United States, yet the expectations are high for the Dominican native. He has played the last three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, improving his numbers each season. In 2014, he posted a .311/.432/.458 line in a league that is difficult on hitters. Pimentel came over to the States for fall Instructs and continued to impress.

Pimentel just turned 20 last September, but he is built like a player much older. He is listed at 6’3’’, 225, but may be bigger than that. Pimentel has power to all fields and a high baseball IQ. His approach at the plate is advanced for a player of his age and experience. Pimentel struggled defensively as an outfielder and is still finding his way with the glove at first. His bat should carry him. Pimentel may jump straight from the DSL to Low-A Beloit.


Other Players to Watch

John Nogowski, Michael Soto, Ryan Huck

A 34th-round pick of the A’s last season out of Florida State, John Nogowski showed a keen eye at the plate and a solid glove during his pro debut season. Nogowski posted a .357 OBP and walked 20 times in 50 games for the Vermont Lake Monsters this past summer. He should get a promotion to Low-A Beloit this season.

Michael Soto missed time last year due to a freak injury, but the Dominican native hit well when he was on the field. In 71 games split between Low-A Beloit and the AZL A’s, Soto hit .290/.353/.492 with nine homers. It has taken Soto a little time to progress as a hitter and he’s already 23, but if the improvements he made last season stick, he could be in for a break-out season with High-A Stockton.

Ryan Huck had a solid pro debut season in 2013 with the A’s two short-season clubs. He struggled in 2014, however, he hit just .194/.276/.291 in 82 games between Low-A Beloit and short-season Vermont. He will look to get back to the hitter he was in 2013, when he had an 843 OPS for the A’s two short-season teams.


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