With the regular season fast approaching, the Oakland A's re-assigned seven non-roster players to minor league camp. Among those sent down were top prospects Matt Olson and Joe Wendle. The other five re-assigned were catcher Carson Blair and pitchers Brad Mills, Ryan Verdugo, Fernando Rodriguez and Kevin Whelan.
Olson, in his first big league camp, appeared in 17 games and racked up 41 at-bats. He hit just .195/.283/.341, but Olson played well defensively and collected four extra-base hits. He struck-out 14 times and walked five times.
Wendle, acquired from the Cleveland Indians for Brandon Moss this off-season, made a strong first impression on his new club. In 18 games, he hit .286/.342/.371 with two extra-base hits. Wendle struck-out seven times and walked three times.
Blair appeared in just seven games in his first big league camp with the A's. The former Boston Red Sox's prospect had one hit in five at-bats. He also walked three times and struck-out just once.
Mills came into camp with an outside chance of cracking the A's Opening Day starting rotation, but he struggled in three appearances. The left-hander allowed five runs and walked six in four innings. He is expected to be part of the Triple-A Nashville rotation.
Rodriguez also came into camp with an outside chance of making the Opening Day roster. The right-hander allowed just a run in 5.1 innings pitched, but he walked five against seven strike-outs. Rodriguez could be the closer for the Sounds this season and figures to factor into the A's bullpen at some point this season.
Whelan and Verdugo made solid first impressions on the A's after signing this off-season as minor league free agents. Whelan did not allow a run in 5.2 innings. The right-hander struck-out six and walked three. He also allowed three hits. Verdugo allowed two runs in 6.1 innings spread out over seven appearances. The left-hander struck-out three and walked one.
The A's currently have 42 players in big league camp. The battles for the final spots on the Opening Day roster are heating up. The starting rotation battle is particularly fierce. Jesse Chavez, Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman, Drew Pomeranz and Barry Zito have all pitched well in their bids to fill the final three spots in the rotation behind Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. Right-hander Chris Bassitt has also looked very good at times, although he currently carries a 7.88 ERA.
Graveman has been arguably the most impressive player in A's camp this spring. The right-hander has allowed just a run in 15 innings pitched. He has given-up just seven hits and four walks, while striking out eight. Pomeranz leads A's pitchers with 15 strike-outs and he has walked just three in nine innings pitched. Chavez has a 4.38 ERA in 12.1 innings, but he has 11 strike-outs and only two walks.
Zito and Hahn have both gotten better as camp has progressed. Zito has a 3.09 ERA in 11.2 innings. The veteran left-hander has nine strike-outs and just one walk. He has also allowed only six hits. Zito isn't likely to take a minor league assignment if he doesn't make the A's Opening Day roster, so if Oakland wants to keep Zito past this spring, they will need to find a spot for him on the roster. Hahn threw five shutout innings in his last start and seems a near lock for a spot in the rotation.
The bullpen battle is also going strong. Rookie R.J. Alvarez has allowed just a run on three hits in six innings. He has walked three and struck-out seven. Right-hander Evan Scribner, who is out of options, has allowed four runs in 8.1 innings, but he has 12 strike-outs. Scribner has walked three and allowed eight hits.
Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte was a dark horse candidate for an Opening Day bullpen spot at the start of spring, but he has to be considered a legitimate candidate now. He has allowed two runs in seven innings on four hits and two walks. He has struck-out five. His ability to get both right-handers and left-handers out would give the A's extra depth in the middle of their bullpen if he made the roster.
Rule 5 pick Mark Canha is batting just .239 with a .300 OBP in 17 games this spring, but his .500 SLG and his ability to play defense effectively at first and in the corner outfield spots make him a strong candidate for a roster spot on Opening Day. With Josh Reddick and Sam Fuld banged up, outfielder Billy Burns is also positioning himself for a spot on the roster should Reddick or Fuld need to start the season on the disabled list. In 17 games, Burns is batting .400/.451/.578. He has two doubles, three triples and has walked three times. Burns has also stolen four bases in five chances.
The A's infield has been relatively injury-free thus far, but Tyler Ladendorf is taking advantage of his opportunities to make an impression with the big league staff. He has yet to walk in 16 games, but he is batting .317 with a .463 SLG in 41 at-bats. Ladendorf has also played well defensively at a number of different positions. Corner infielder Max Muncy isn't likely to make the A's Opening Day roster, but he is having a very strong first big league camp. Muncy has appeared in 18 games, mostly at third base, which is a relatively new position for him. He is batting .296/.412/.556 with a homer, four doubles and six walks. Muncy leads the team with four errors, but he has shown some promise at third base and should continue to see plenty of time at third during the regular season.