The Oakland A’s front office and player personnel department have been busy in meetings the past few days, working to organize their spring ranks into final Opening Day rosters for their four full-season affiliates. Although there is still significant work left to be done, some of those roster decisions are coming into focus.
Tuesday’s camp day came one day after the A’s made several difficult roster cuts. It was a full day of activities at Fitch Park, with an intra-squad High-A/Low-A game in the morning and spring games in the afternoon. During the intra-squad game, A’s outfielder Coco Crisp and relievers Dan Otero and Eric O’Flaherty got some work in. Crisp had several at-bats, most of them coming against A’s 2014 5th-round pick Heath Fillmyer. Fillmyer was sharp throughout his outing. Only shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto squared him up. Fillmyer has been the talk of camp. He pitched in the simulated game on Tuesday and hit 97 with his fastball while showing good downward movement and an impressive breaking ball.
During the intra-squad game, I caught-up with A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, who shared several insights on how players have performed this spring. Those notes are below.
Catcher Nick Rickles had another strong day defensively in the intra-squad game on Tuesday morning. He threw out an attempted base-stealer and made several nice stops on pitches in the dirt. Lieppman referred to Rickles – who is less than a year removed from serious shoulder surgery – as a “nice comeback story”. Lieppman indicated that Rickles would go out with High-A Stockton and would team with catcher Beau Taylor on the Ports’ Opening Day roster. Luke Carlin and Bryan Anderson are projected to be the catchers in Triple-A Nashville, while Bruce Maxwell and Carson Blair are expected to go to Double-A Midland.
The A’s plan to challenge some of their talented younger prospects with aggressive assignments this season. Lieppman said the current plan is to send shortstop Franklin Barreto, 19, to High-A Stockton. Barreto missed a part of spring training dealing with some personal matters in Venezuela, but his numbers with short-season Vancouver last year and the scouting report the A’s had on him were enough for the A’s to decide to challenge him with an assignment that will pit him against players two-to-three years his elder on average.
Shortstop Yairo Munoz, 20, has been one of the top performers in camp this spring, according to Lieppman. Lieppman says that Munoz came back from the off-season in great physical shape and has played with energy and focus. He has shown more selectivity at the plate, as well. The plan is to send Munoz to Low-A Beloit to keep him and Barreto on different rosters and playing shortstop every day. The decision to send Barreto a level ahead of Munoz came down to the performances the two each had at the short-season level last season and the sense that Barreto’s game is a little more polished at this point in both of their careers. However, the A’s are very high on Munoz’s future.
Joining Barreto in the middle of the Stockton infield will likely be 2014 seventh-round pick Branden Cogswell, who played primarily at shortstop in college at Virginia and with Low-A Beloit during his pro debut. Cogswell will be the second straight college shortstop to make his full season debut in Stockton as a second baseman (Chad Pinder was that player last season). Speaking of Pinder, Lieppman said that he has looked good at shortstop this spring and he doesn’t anticipate Pinder having any issues moving back to that position with Double-A Midland this year.
Another shortstop may see time at second base this season. Edwin Diaz, a 2013 15th-round pick from Puerto Rico, is expected to go to Low-A Beloit. Diaz will likely share time at second base with 2014 pick Trent Gilbert and see time at third base, as well. Diaz has one of the strongest throwing arms in the A’s system.
A’s 2014 top pick Matt Chapman will be sent out to High-A Stockton when he is ready to break camp. As we reported last week, Chapman is rehabbing a sprained LCL in his left knee. Lieppman says the hope is that Chapman will need only two weeks at extended spring training before he is ready for the regular season.
Third baseman Renato Nunez may be on a similar progression to Chapman. Nunez’s calf injury has lingered a little longer than expected and Lieppman anticipates that Nunez will need at least two weeks of playing time at extended spring training before he is sent out to Double-A Midland. Before he was hurt, Nunez was showing improvement defensively at third base, according to Lieppman. Outfielder Jaycob Brugman has been cleared after completing his rehab program and Lieppman anticipates that Brugman will be sent out to Double-A Midland.
Max Muncy has seen the majority of his defensive time this spring at third base, but Lieppman expects Muncy to play mostly at first base with Triple-A Nashville. He will be in the third base mix this season, but the A’s will have Alden Carrithers, Niuman Romero, Andy Parrino and others seeing playing time at third. Rangel Ravelo may see time there when he is healthy, as well.
Tyler Ladendorf could eventually factor into the Nashville infield rotation, but he is making a strong push to land on the A’s Opening Day roster as an injury fill-in for either Coco Crisp or Josh Reddick. Lieppman is happy to see how Landendorf – who was added to the 40-man roster for the first time this off-season – has taken advantage of his opportunity this spring.
“He has really developed into that utility role well,” Lieppman said. “He is an outstanding centerfielder in addition to being a good infielder, and he has started to hit, as well. It took him a little while to figure it out [as a hitter], but he has driven some balls into the gaps this spring. It’s great to see.”
The Stockton outfield is projected to have two talented prospects who struggled in the Midwest League last season – B.J. Boyd and Justin Higley. Lieppman compared the situation with Boyd, in particular, to the scenario with Matt Sulentic in 2008. After struggling in 2007 with Low-A Kane County and short-season Vancouver, Sulentic was jumped up to Stockton in 2008. He responded with a solid season.
“Sometimes you just have to get the hitters out of the Midwest League and give them a fresh start in the California League,” Lieppman said.
Higley is one of the most physically gifted position players in the A’s system, but Lieppman said how much contact he makes will determine how much success he has in the California League.
J.P. Sportman, who caught significant attention for his work in big league camp last week, is currently projected to go to High-A Stockton. Sportman was a 27th-round pick last year and spent half of his pro debut in the Arizona Rookie League, but his performance last season and this spring have firmly planted him on the A’s prospect radar.
“He impressed right away,” Lieppman said.
Tyler Marincov, who got roughly 60 at-bats with Stockton last season, is slated to return to the Ports.
With Chapman expected to miss at least two weeks, 2014 16th-round pick Jose Brizuela is being considered for a spot with Stockton. Michael Soto, the power-hitting first baseman who had a strong season last year with Low-A Beloit, is also in the mix for a roster spot with the Ports.
Shawn Duinkerk and Sandber Pimentel are expected to jump from short-season leagues to Low-A Beloit next week. Duinkerk’s development has been slow since he signed with the A’s as an amateur free agent out of Aruba before the 2011 season. He came into spring training in great shape and has been “outstanding in BP and has carried that into the games,” Lieppman said. Duinkerk has also moved better in the field than he had done in previous years.
Pimentel took the organization by storm with an impressive fall Instructional League. The hulking first baseman was compared physically to David Ortiz.
Lieppman said the plan right now is to go with a regular five-man rotation in Low-A Beloit rather than a tandem starting rotation. 2014 draft picks Daniel Gossett, Brett Graves, Jordan Schwartz and Heath Fillmyer are projected to be part of that rotation.
The Stockton rotation is likely to include 2013 picks Dillon Overton, Kyle Finnegan and Lou Trivino. Lieppman said that Overton’s velocity isn’t quite yet up to where it was before his Tommy John surgery, but his change-up and curveball have been outstanding.
Lieppman noted that catcher Argenis Raga has had a good spring, making lots of hard contact. Much of that contact has been between the third base and shortstop hole, but he is showing promise at the plate and in the field. Lieppman also mentioned that outfielder Robert Martinez had been impressive this spring.
Rehabbing right-handers Raul Alcantara and Derek DeYoung are progressing well with their recoveries from Tommy John surgery. Alcantara threw a bullpen on Tuesday morning and mixed in his breaking balls for the first time. DeYoung is roughly one month ahead of Alcantara in his rehab progression.