OAKLAND - A month away from the start of spring training, the Oakland A's are unsure how they will divide up the playing time in left field.
Coco Crisp, who made the permanent transition to left field from center last season, missed most of last season with a vareity of ailments. He is entering camp as a question mark after chronic neck issues and elbow surgery allowed him to play in just 44 games last season.
At the end of the year, Crisp was used primarily as a late-game pinch hitter or defensive replacement and made just one start in September. He was not at the team’s annual FanFest event last weekend and A's manager Bob Melvin is unsure what to expect when Crisp reports to spring training in Mesa, Arizona, late next month.
“I really don’t know. We have some depth around him to be able to fill in,” Melvin said. “It’s going to be all about how (his neck) works when he plays. He keeps himself ready to go, but once he got into the season, he had the same issues that popped up with the neck again. He was a little sporadic with how we could use him, especially toward the end of last year. We really don’t know until the spring. But he feels good at this point.”
The uncertainty surrounding Crisp could open the door for second-year player Mark Canha, 26, who was one of the A’s most productive offensive players last season. He split his time between left field and at first base and slashed .254/.315/.426 with 16 home runs and 70 RBI in 124 games.
Overall, it was a promising rookie season considering Canha was a Rule 5 player the A’s had to keep on their 25-man roster or risk losing him to his original organization, the Miami Marlins. He wound up finishing with the club’s third-highest OPS of 742, behind catcher Stephen Vogt (783) and right fielder Josh Reddick (781).
“I’m really excited about this year because, I think, there’s a lot to be said about getting that first year out of the way,” Canha said. “You get comfortable with the way things work and with everything there is when it comes down to being in the big leagues. I think I’ll have that experience under my belt, and I’ll be ready, I’ll just be able to focus on baseball without all that other stuff being new to me.”
Canha was the rare right-handed hitter that hit better against righties than lefties. He slashed an impressive .271/.334/.486 with 13 of his homers against right-handed pitchers. He had just three homers and hit .221/.278/.309 against lefties.
The A’s trade for Canha in December of 2014 was a homecoming of sorts. He went to Cal after growing up in San Jose. Canha’s rookie season was somewhat of a roller coaster dictated by calendar. He struggled to put together back-to-back productive months, until finding a groove in August through September and October, where he had an 812 OPS with eight home runs and 13 doubles. He bounced back after a rough July when he hit .208 and failed to leave the park.
“I think I’ve learned that it’s a long season, you get a lot of at-bats. It’s marathon,” he said. “You got to have an even-keeled general approach to the game, because you’re going to get a ton of at-bats, there’s a ton of games. You can’t get too high and too low in the ups and downs of the game.”
If Canha can improve his consistency at the plate after showing promise as a rookie, he could develop into the middle-of-the-order threat the A’s desperately need in the right-handed batter's box after trading away reigning MVP Josh Donaldson and All-Star left fielder Yoenis Cespedes over the last two years.
With Crisp, 35, becoming hard to count on after an injury-riddled season in 2015, Canha might end up getting the majority of the starts in left field.
“He has the ability to (play every day),” Melvin said. “What he did last year would suggest that he can up his game to another level, which was a high level last year. We’ll just see where that is.”
Canha will also be in the mix at first base, where he spent 69 of his games as a rookie. He’ll likely split time with newcomer Yonder Alonso, who came to the A's in a trade with the San Diego Padres this off-season.
The left-handed hitting Alonso, 28, had one of his best seasons in last year, reaching base at a .361 clip while walking 42 times to 48 strikeouts. But he also missed significant time with injury. Alonso will likely replace Ike Davis, who remains a free agent, after posting a 652 OPS in just 74 games in 2015 for the A's.
“We feel like with (Canha) and Alonso at first, it’s a good dynamic,” Melvin said. “And where we can we'll get Mark in there at the other positions, or giving (Reddick) a day off in right.
“If he hits, we’ll have to find a way to get him in there.”