Oakland A's MLN: Sunday Camp Day

MESA, AZ - The Oakland A's minor league camp hosted intra-squad games on Sunday. We have notes from those games, as well as insight from A’s minor league field coordinator Aaron Nieckula.

Oakland A's minor league spring training has less than a week left, and the rosters of the four A’s full-season affiliates are starting to take shape. A’s minor league field coordinator Aaron Nieckula said on Sunday that he expects two more iterations of the A’s minor league spring camp rosters before camp breaks on Saturday. Some of the roster moves this week will ultimately result in players being released from the organization, as happens every spring. It’s a part of camp that none of the A’s minor league coaching staff looks forward to.

“That’s the tough part of the game is those releases and those cuts,” Nieckula said. “Lipp [Keith Lieppman, Director of Player Development] certainly doesn’t like to do it. Us as a minor league staff don’t like to do it, especially when you know a guy and he’s worked hard and he’s developed to a certain point. That’s the business. Unfortunately, you can only carry a 25-man roster for each team and sometimes there is more than enough to suffice, so cuts have to be made.”

Several A’s prospects are racing a ticking clock to complete rehabs from injuries in time to be included on an Opening Day roster. One such player is outfielder Jaycob Brugman, who had a hamstring injury early in camp. Nieckula says there is a chance that Brugman will be ready in time to break camp with an affiliate on Saturday. Brugman played in the Triple-A/Double-A intra-squad game on Sunday.

“He has progressed very nicely. We anticipate a full recovery,” Nieckula said. “I can’t say for sure if he is going to break camp [with a team] or not. He looks to be moving in that direction. There are a week left of games, so there are six games left. Depending on how he feels and how his body responds will determine whether he can break camp.”

Utilityman Conner Crumbliss is not going to be ready in time to break camp with a team next weekend.

“He’s going to be on the rehab track for a bit longer,” Nieckula said.

Outfielder Josh Whitaker had off-season surgery to his shoulder and he is currently on a progression schedule that may not have him ready to break camp on Saturday with a team.

“It’s all about getting these guys enough ABs and enough reps in the field before they go out,” Nieckula said.

Catcher Seong-Min Kim is currently listed on the rehab spring roster, but he played all five innings of the A’s High-A/Low-A intra-squad game.

A couple of players are working on transitioning to new positions this spring. Max Kuhn spent the A’s fall Instructional League working on a transition from second base and third base to behind the plate. This spring, he has moved to first base and he played some outfield on Sunday.

“I think we are going to try to get him into a utility role,” Nieckula said. “He’s caught a little bit. He’s going to play some first base and maybe roam left or right field.”

Chad Pinder began his professional career as a shortstop, but he moved to second base last season so that he and fellow shortstop Daniel Robertson could both play everyday with High-A Stockton. Now that Robertson is part of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, Pinder is moving back to shortstop. Nieckula says that Pinder has handled the transition well.

“He’s looked good at short,” Nieckula said. “He hasn’t gotten a lot of ABs because he’s been at big league camp a lot. He’s gotten a few up there and then he hasn’t gotten a lot up there. I wouldn’t say he’s behind the eight ball, but I think the plan is to try to keep him here the rest of the time to get him to his 35, 40 at-bats.”

As they do every year, the A’s have had to balance giving their minor league players opportunities to join the big league team for spring games and making sure those players get enough regular playing time.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be asked to join the big league side, but at the same time, when you don’t get your innings if you are a pitcher or if you are a hitter and you don’t get your ABs or your reps in the field, then you kind of feel like you are behind,” Nieckula said. “You have to play catch-up a little bit. It’s kind of a balancing act that we try to maintain.”

The A’s are going to have to figure out how to get two of their top shortstop prospects into games at that position on a regular basis this year. Both Yairo Munoz and Franklin Barreto competed at the short-season A level last year (Barreto was in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization). The natural progression for both players would be to move them to Low-A Beloit for 2015, but the A’s may decide to keep the two on different rosters this season to allow for both of them to play everyday at shortstop. The A’s haven’t made a final decision on where to send Munoz and Barreto. Munoz has played mostly with the Double-A squad this spring, while Barreto has been on the High-A roster.

Nieckula has been very impressed with how Munoz has handled playing on the Double-A team this spring.

“He has been fantastic,” Nieckula said. “The reports that we get when we don’t have a chance to see him here and he’s on the road are that he is having tremendous ABs and that he is very selective. Making hard contact and playing with a lot of energy. He’s done a very good job this spring. He’s played hard and done some right things.”

Nieckula says the A’s have been careful with Barreto in his first spring with the organization, integrating him slowly into the program.

“He’s adjusted very well [to the A’s organization],” Nieckula said. “We don’t want to rush him. We want to make sure that he is healthy, number one, and then ready to play and break camp.”

Outfielder J.P. Sportman made a splash last week when he collected a double and a homerun in three big league spring training at-bats. The A’s 2014 draft pick spent last season with the A’s two short-season squads, but he has been playing on the Double-A roster for most of the spring. Sportman earned his opportunity with the big league club with his play in minor league camp.

“A lot of times when you are performing well in minor league camp and playing hard and hustling and all of the intangible stuff, Lipp tends to reward them and send them over,” Nieckula said of Sportman. “And then you get an opportunity and you take advantage of that and open up some eyes? That’s how you put yourself on the radar and on the map in terms of the front office or the big league staff.”

This is the A’s first spring in the newly renovated Fitch Park, which includes the brand new Lew Wolff Training Center. Nieckula says that while not much has changed for the A’s program on the field in their new complex, the move has made a significant difference to the off-the-field parts of the program.

“Four fields are four fields, but the big difference with this facility is that the four fields are more close-knit,” Nieckula said. “Papago was a little more wide-spread, which wasn’t necessarily bad. The only complication we have with this facility is that we only have the one half field and the batting cage on the other side of the complex. Logistically, the guys have to move around a little bit, but they are grown men. They can handle it.

“Papago was a little bit more close-knit and intimate in that respect, but in terms of what we can do inside, it doesn’t even compare. What we can do in the weightroom and the classroom and the agility fields, and the cafeterias and conference rooms, it’s night-and-day compared to what we had at Papago.”

Notes from the Intra-Squad Games

- Right-hander Branden Kelliher had an impressive outing for the A’s Low-A team in the Single A intra-squad game. He got the start and worked three hitless innings with several strike-outs.

- Outfielder Bobby Crocker cracked a long homerun for the Triple-A team in the Triple-A/Double-A intra-squad match-up. Crocker is working to move up to Double-A after two seasons with High-A Stockton.

- Outfielder Shawn Duinkerk is bidding to move up after three seasons with the A’s AZL squad. The native of Aruba has played for the High-A squad for most of the spring. He had an impressive catch in right field and sent a ball to the warning track in right-center in the High-A/Low-A match-up. Outfielder Rodolfo Penalo – all 5’7’’ of him – made an impressive catch on Duinkerk’s drive.

- Infielder Niuman Romero was slowed physically some this spring, but he has been getting regular at-bats and field reps with the A’s Low-A squad in recent days, although he is listed on the A’s Triple-A spring roster.

- Shortstops Edwin Diaz and Trace Loehr are other shortstop prospect the A’s will have to find playing time for if either land on the same roster as Yairo Munoz or Franklin Barreto. Loehr could move to second base in that scenario, while Diaz is a candidate to see time at third because of his strong arm.

- Chad Oberacker has most often been a centerfielder since turning pro, but he played first base for the A’s Triple-A squad on Sunday.

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