Note: This article is the sixth 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 Starters: Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick
Potential LF Platoon: Sam Fuld, Craig Gentry
40-man Roster Competition: Mark Canha, Billy Burns
Additional Depth: Ben Zobrist, Stephen Vogt
Non-Roster Veteran: Jason Pridie
Not since the spring of 2012 have the A’s had any spring training competition for playing time in the outfield. Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick have been the presumed starters in the outfield since the end of the 2012 camp, with a variety of other veteran players in the fourth outfielder role.
The A’s traded away Cespedes at last year’s trade deadline, and they have yet to acquire an everyday left fielder to take his place. There is still time for the A’s to make a move, but at the moment, Oakland is looking at a likely platoon situation in left. The A’s are also likely to use the DH role to give Crisp several half-days off during the season, so Oakland will use several centerfielders during the season. In right, Reddick should play everyday if he is healthy, but health has been elusive for Reddick the past two seasons.
Last season, the A’s got a .247/.324/.433 line out of their left-fielders. Almost all of that production came from Cespedes and from Brandon Moss, who was also traded away. Fuld appeared in 26 games in left for the A’s last season and had a 489 OPS. Gentry hit .316 with a .350 OBP in 14 games, while non-roster invitee Andy Parrino (two games) and 2015 starting catcher Stephen Vogt (one game) each made cameos in left.
If the A’s make no other moves going into Opening Day, Oakland is likely to feature Fuld against right-handed pitchers and a right-handed batter such as Gentry or Rule 5 pick Mark Canha versus lefties. If the A’s add another infielder, they could shift Ben Zobrist to left field. As a switch-hitter, Zobrist could play there everyday, or he could play left versus some pitchers and another position versus other pitchers, depending on the A’s roster construction. Zobrist has most frequently played at second and in left in recent years, although he can play all over the field.
If Fuld and Gentry are the A’s platoon in left, Oakland will have a very different look at the position than they have had in recent seasons. Neither player is a threat to go deep, but both are above-average defensive players whose main value comes with their speed and their gloves. Canha, a right-handed hitter, is a more traditional left fielder with average (at best) footspeed but power and the ability to hit for average. As a Rule 5 pick, Canha will need to remain on the A’s roster all season or be offered back to his original team (the Miami Marlins). He has a lot of experience at first base in his minor league career, as well, and will see time at third this spring.
In center, Crisp will continue to start on the days that his legs and neck are feeling good enough for him to play in the field. Crisp played in 111 games in center last season while battling a neck injury and other ailments. While defensive metrics have Crisp’s defense in center declining dramatically last year, the A’s still believe he is an elite defender in center. They will try to use him there as much as possible, but they will also be careful to give him days off and DH days to keep him healthy. Crisp’s offensive numbers declined last season, but when he was on his game out of the lead-off spot, the A’s offense was much more dangerous.
Oakland will have plenty of options in center on the days Crisp isn’t in the line-up. Both Fuld and Gentry are natural centerfielders and both are good defenders. In addition, Reddick can play center in a pinch, as can Zobrist. If Crisp (or Gentry or Fuld) land on the DL, Oakland could turn to prospect Billy Burns, who made his major-league debut with the A’s last season. Burns is coming off of a poor season offensively (more on him later), but he is a solid defender and his plus speed would be an asset to the A’s in a bench role should the need arise. Oakland also signed minor league free agent Jason Pridie this off-season and he will be in camp as a non-roster invitee. Pridie has nearly 50 games of big league experience in center and more than 700 minor league games at that position. He still has good speed at age 31 and he stole 28 bases last year in Triple-A.
Reddick will be the A’s everyday right fielder, as long as he can remain on the field. Reddick was foiled by wrist injuries in 2013 and knee injuries in 2014. His numbers early in the season weren’t impressive, but Reddick was arguably the A’s best hitter down-the-stretch in 2014. He hit .299/.337/.533 with eight homers after the All-Star break. If the A’s can get a full season of close to that production from Reddick, they would be thrilled. He is one of the top defensive right fielders in the game, as well.
When Reddick isn’t on the field, the A’s are likely to turn to a combination of Gentry, Fuld, Zobrist and possibly Canha to take his place. Vogt also has a lot of experience in right from his minor league days, and the A’s could play him there in a pinch. Oakland doesn’t currently have an obvious in-house candidate to take over for Reddick on an everyday basis should he land on the DL, however.
The A’s lost a lot of their upper-level minor league outfield depth this off-season. Shane Peterson was claimed off of waivers by the Chicago Cubs and later the Milwaukee Brewers. The A’s also lost Jeremy Barfield, D’Arby Myers, Kenny Wilson and Nick Buss to minor league free agency.
The A’s don’t have a lot of pure outfielders with a lot of upper-level minor league experience in the organization right now, but a number of their infield prospects (Tyler Ladendorf, Andy Parrino, Alden Carrithers, etc.) have seen time in the outfield in recent years. Managers Steve Scarsone and Ryan Christenson shouldn’t have any issues filling out their line-up card.
In recent years, the A’s have featured high-profile outfield prospects such as Michael Choice, Michael Taylor and Grant Green. With the exception of Billy Burns, most of the A’s upper-level minor league outfield talent isn’t particularly well-known around baseball. Burns made a splash with the A’s last spring in big league camp when he lasted until the final days of camp as a non-roster player. He would make his major-league debut in July and spend all of September with the A’s.
Despite the good spring and the big league debut, it was a frustrating season for Burns, who had the first sub-par campaign offensively of his minor league career. An early-season oblique injury contributed to a slow start for Burns with Double-A Midland. He got on-track with the RockHounds mid-summer, but really struggled at the plate during an August trial at Triple-A. Burns should return to Triple-A this season, and the A’s hope he is able to get back to getting on-base at an above-average clip. Once on base, Burns is dangerous. Even in a down year, he stole 57 bases (in 64 chances) between the minors and the majors. Defensively, Burns struggled a bit with the bigger stadiums during his major-league debut, but he shined in the minors with the glove and should be fine there in the majors with more experience.
Josh Whitaker and Kent Matthes are really the only pure power-hitting outfield prospects the A’s have with Triple-A experience. Whitaker is coming off of a season shortened by a shoulder injury that had to be addressed surgically. If healthy, he could push his way towards a big league debut this year. Whitaker has a career .480 SLG in the minors and he had a .488 SLG last season between Double-A and Triple-A before getting hurt.
Matthes was a waiver claim by the A’s early last season. He struggled in Triple-A but hit 15 homeruns in 78 games in Double-A. Matthes, who is now a non-roster player, is at the A’s spring mini-camp. He has reached double-digits in homeruns in every season since 2011 and has a career .488 SLG. Both Whitaker and Matthes are corner outfielders. Whitaker has one of the stronger throwing arms in the A’s system.
Conner Crumbliss spent last season in Double-A after splitting the 2013 season between Double-A and Triple-A. One of the most patient hitters in the minor leagues, Crumbliss had a down 2014. He got off to a slow start and finished the year with a .251/.358/.394 line. Crumbliss did have a 865 OPS after the All-Star break. In 2013, he struggled badly in Triple-A, but in Double-A, he quietly had one of his best seasons. Crumbliss hit .280/.405/.432, homering 10 times in 92 games. The 13 homeruns he hit between the two levels were a career-high. Crumbliss played more second base last year than the outfield, but he has plenty of career experience at all three outfield spots.
Like Crumbliss, Anthony Aliotti is an extremely patient hitter. Primarily a first baseman, Aliotti moved to left field for much of his time in Triple-A last year, as Daric Barton received most of the starts at first. Aliotti had a rough start in Triple-A, but after a mid-season demotion to Double-A, he regained his swing. He had an 870 OPS with Midland and earned an All-Star nod before returning to Triple-A. Aliotti hit .290/.369/.374 during his second tour of Triple-A last year. He doesn’t have the traditional power profile of a corner outfielder, although he is a career .284 hitter with a .389 OBP. Aliotti’s best defensive position is still first base, but he held his own in left. He is currently at the A’s spring mini-camp.
Chad Oberacker will be looking for a rebound season in 2015. He struggled in a back-up role with Double-A Midland last year, but the A’s like his defensive abilities in center and his approach at the plate. Oberacker has good speed and is likely to return to Double-A, although he could play his way into a Triple-A role at some point in 2015.
Jason Pride and Matt Angle are the new faces in A’s camp. Pridie, as noted above, is a longtime veteran. He has 12 years of minor league experience and 127 games at the big-league level. Once a highly regarded prospect, Pridie would be more of a role player in the major leagues if he made the A’s roster. In Triple-A, he is likely to play regularly. With Burns on the roster, Pridie may not see everyday action in center, but he can play all three outfield positions. Although Pridie hasn’t played an official game as a member of the A’s organization, he was in camp with the A’s in 2012. He was suspended at the end of that spring for 50 games and was released at the end of the suspension to pursue opportunities with another organization. Pridie played at Triple-A Colorado Springs last year and hit .278 with a .341 OBP.
Angle joins the A’s from the Marlins’ organization. He was a teammate of Mark Canha's in New Orleans in 2014. The Ohio State alum had a rough season in 2014, posting only a 544 OPS in 88 games. He hit much better in two previous seasons in Albuquerque. Angle has 31 games of major league experience, all with the Baltimore Orioles in 2011. The 29-year-old has plus speed and has 219 career stolen bases in the minors and majors over eight minor league seasons. Angle, like Pridie, is primarily a centerfielder, but he could move around for the A’s. He is currently at the A’s spring mini-camp and will be competing for a spot with Triple-A Nashville.
The A’s have let go of a lot of their top minor league outfield prospects over the past few years. Michael Choice, Michael Taylor, Grant Green, Billy McKinney, Shane Peterson and Boog Powell are among the outfielders who have appeared in our top-50 prospects lists over the past few years that are no longer with the organization. Much of the A’s minor league outfield prospect talent is at the lower-levels of their system currently.
Billy Burns ranks as the top A’s outfield prospect in our current rankings. Behind him on the list are Jaycob Brugman and Tyler Marincov, a pair of 2013 draft picks who put together strong 2014 seasons. Brugman is arguably the best all-around outfield prospect in the A’s system. He doesn’t have one stand-out tool like Burns does, but Brugman does a little bit of everything. He can hit for power (21 homers last season), average (.280 in 2014) and he uses the whole field well at the plate. Brugman made some significant adjustments at the plate last season and those adjustments allowed him to put together an 860 OPS between Low-A Beloit and High-A Stockton. Defensively, Brugman covers a good amount of ground in the corners and he has a solid throwing arm. Brugman is currently at the A’s spring mini-camp.
Marincov, a former two-sport star in high school, is a little less polished than Brugman, but he may have a more powerful bat. Marincov is also a little faster than Brugman. The right fielder had an 833 OPS between Beloit and Stockton last season. His strike-outs were higher than he would like (130 in 127 games), but overall, he had a solid first full professional season.
B.J. Boyd came into 2014 as one of the A’s top prospects, but the South Bay native had a rough first season in a full-year league. The 2012 fourth-round pick is one of the fastest players in the A’s system and he has the ability to hit for power on occasion, as well. He was the co-MVP with short-season Vermont in 2013, but he never got comfortable at the plate with Beloit last season, posting a .226/.300/.319 line. Boyd has a good idea of the strike-zone, but he is still trying to find the right balance between being patient and attacking a hittable pitch. Boyd won’t turn 22 until late July and, with a good spring, could jump up to High-A to start the year.
The aforementioned Whitaker may have the most power from this group, although Justin Higley (more on him below) could have the most raw power of any outfielder in the A’s system. Whitaker, if healthy, should get a chance to start a season at the Triple-A level for the first time in his career. Whitaker has always played well when healthy, but injuries have impacted him since he turned pro.
Other Players to Watch
The A’s have a talented second wave of outfield prospects who are all candidates to move up the prospect chart in 2015. Justin Higley, as mentioned above, has an intriguing set of raw tools. The Sac State alum has a similar skill-set to former A’s prospect Grant Desme. Like Desme, Higley can hit the ball out of any park and to any field. Also like Desme, Higley has above-average speed and the tools to be a good defensive outfielder. Higley’s approach at the plate is still quite raw, however. He struck-out 90 times in just 72 games last season and pitchers in the Midwest League were able to exploit his aggressiveness. Higley had an impressive fall Instructs and could be in-line for a breakout season. He will be 22 throughout the season and is likely to start the year with Beloit.
Aaron Shipman, like Josh Whitaker, has seen his career hampered by injuries. A third-round pick of the A’s in 2010, Shipman was finally coming into his own as a hitter with the Stockton Ports last season when an oblique injury shut him down after just 52 games played. Shipman hit .292/.414/.410 in those 52 games with 13 stolen bases. He will never be a power hitter, but Shipman has excellent command of the strike-zone and the ability to take an extra base. He is also an above-average defensive centerfielder. Now 23, Shipman will need to prove in 2015 that he can stay healthy over the course of a full season.
J.P. Sportman was one of the most pleasant surprises to come out of last year’s A’s draft class. A 27th-round pick last year, Sportman demonstrated excellent bat control and the ability to run and throw in his pro debut season. Already 23, Sportman will need to continue to shine each year to get noticed, but the Central Connecticut State alum offers some interesting tools and he has an excellent work ethic.
Robert Martinez made the jump to the US last season after two years in the Dominican Summer League. A 19th-round pick in 2012 out of Puerto Rico, Martinez has flashed some power and the ability to work a walk during his brief professional career. He swung-and-missed too much in the AZL last season, but Martinez also walked 26 times in 48 games. He just turned 21 and could make his full-season league debut this year.