With the news that the Oakland A’s optioned utilitymen Tyler Ladendorf and Max Muncy to Triple-A Nashville on Monday and the news from Sunday that outfielder Sam Fuld will be on the disabled list to start the season, the Oakland A’s Opening Day roster is starting to gain a little more clarity. The same can’t be said for the Nashville Sounds’ Opening Day squad, however.
Fuld’s injury all but solidifies outfielder Mark Canha’s spot on the A’s Opening Day roster. He is likely to be joined in the A’s outfield by starters Khris Davis, Billy Burns and Josh Reddick, and back-up Coco Crisp. Utilityman Chris Coghlan will also see time in the outfield for the A’s, and Canha will likely get some starts at first base versus left-handed pitchers.
Jed Lowrie could serve as the A’s back-up shortstop – in addition to being the team’s primary second baseman – with Coghlan seeing some time at second. In addition to the six players mentioned who will see time in the outfield, the A’s will likely carry Lowrie, Danny Valencia, Billy Butler, Marcus Semien and Yonder Alonso in the infield. Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley will be behind the plate. That would bring the A’s position player total to 13. If the A’s carry 12 pitchers on Opening Day (which they often do), Oakland is likely going to have to send veteran infielder Eric Sogard to Triple-A to start the year.
If Sogard heads to Nashville, the A’s will have a very difficult task on their hands to try to spread out the at-bats between Sogard and the several top prospects who play in the infield that are projected to be on the Nashville roster on Opening Day.
Even if Sogard makes the A’s Opening Day roster, the Nashville infield will still be plenty crowded. Let’s take a look at the position players most likely to receive consideration for an Opening Day roster spot in Nashville even before Sogard enters the equation.
Possible Infielders (7)
Matt Olson – 1B/RF
Joey Wendle – 2B
Chad Pinder – SS/2B/3B
Renato Nunez – 3B/1B
Rangel Ravelo – 1B
Max Muncy – 3B/1B/2B
Ryon Healy – 3B/1B
Utility Players (2)
Tyler Ladendorf – SS/2B/3B/CF/RF/LF
Josh Rodriguez – SS/2B/3B/LF
The A’s could try some of these players in the Sounds’ outfield, but they are likely to be crowded there, as well. It should be noted that IF Colin Walsh is a Rule 5 player with the Brewers. If he is offered back to the A's, he could enter this roster picture, as well.
Possible Outfielders (4)
Andrew Lambo – LF/RF
Jake Smolinski – RF/LF
Jaycob Brugman – CF/RF/LF
Josh Whitaker – RF/LF
Not included on this list: Olson, Ladendorf and Rodriguez, who should be viable options in the outfield if on the roster. Olson saw significant time in right field last season with Midland and should be in the right field mix for Nashville, as well. Ladendorf could very well be the Sounds’ starting centerfielder, given the crush of infielders on the Nashville roster. In addition, Rodriguez has plenty of experience in the corners, as does Matt McBride (more on him below).
The A’s will have some decisions to make at catcher, as well. They have four viable candidates to catch in Nashville, but are likely to carry just two – three if one is also a utility player.
Possible Catchers (4)
McBride is as much an outfielder as he is a catcher, so he could be on the roster as a third catcher and outfielder. The other three are true catchers, with some experience at first base.
That’s 17 players that the A’s will need to whittle down to 14 or 13, depending on whether they carry 11 or 12 pitchers on the Nashville staff. The A’s will have some difficult decisions to make about which of those 17 players are sent down to Double-A. All 17 have earned opportunities at Triple-A based on past performances, but a few may find themselves in Double-A to ensure they receive regular at-bats.
For example, even though Healy hit .302 for Midland last season and was arguably the Texas League’s top hitter the second half of the season, he could find himself back with the RockHounds at the start of the year if the A’s are also carrying Nunez, Ravelo and Muncy on the Nashville roster. With those other three corner infielders on the roster, Midland may be the best place for Healy to get regular at-bats at the start of the year. This logic could also apply to Ravelo and Muncy, although both are on the 40-man roster and using up an option year, which could push them ahead of Healy on the depth chart.
The same backlog could push Brugman back to Double-A despite a solid year with the RockHounds last season. The projected Nashville roster doesn’t have a lot of depth at centerfield – which does work in Brugman’s favor – but Ladendorf could get his at-bats in center, and Smolinski could fill in there in a pinch. Whitaker has been on the wrong end of this kind of roster crunch for the past couple of years. He could find himself pushed back to Midland again. If the A’s decide to keep McBride on the Nashville roster as a third catcher/outfielder, it will be tough for Brugman and Whitaker to both be on the roster. Rodriguez – who signed a minor league free agent contract with the A’s this off-season – is also on the bubble. He has positional versatility working in his favor, but he would likely see more regular playing time with the RockHounds.
This roster crunch doesn’t even include the addition of Sogard. Should Sogard be optioned to Triple-A, the A’s will need to get very creative with playing time. Top prospects Pinder and Wendle are projected to be the Sounds’ starting middle infield. Both could be factors in the A’s line-up in the near future, so giving them regular playing time will be important. However, Sogard will be the first player the A’s recall should there be an injury in the infield. Consequently, he will need to be in the line-up everyday as a middle infielder and occasional third baseman to stay fresh.
The Sounds do have the benefit of the DH, but that spot will be busy with the Sounds possibly carrying corner infielders Nunez, Ravelo, Muncy, Healy and Olson on the roster. Nunez should get the majority of the starts at third, but Muncy and Healy will need to see time there, as well. Nunez also needs time at first base, as does Olson, Healy, Muncy and Ravelo. The DH will help get those guys some regular at-bats, but there will be a number of days where one or two of them aren’t in the starting line-up under this current roster configuration.
The trickle-down effect of this roster crunch will be felt throughout the rest of the A’s system. For instance, should Healy be sent back to Double-A, he will likely get the majority of the playing time at first base, as Matt Chapman will be the RockHounds’ primary third baseman. That could close the door on John Nogowski moving up to Midland after a solid 2015 season with Stockton. With Sandber Pimentel set to move up to Stockton, the first base position will suddenly be crowded for the Ports, as well. And it could be even more crowded if 2015 draft pick Seth Brown – a first baseman and outfielder – lands on the Stockton roster.
Managing rosters is one of the most challenging aspects of player development in professional baseball. The A’s have one of the best in the business overseeing the process in Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman. Lieppman has a significant challenge on his hands as he tries to map out where A’s prospects will begin the 2016 season, starting with this roster crunch in Nashville. The situation will continue to bear watching as the rest of the spring plays out.