Not since 1982 have the Oakland A’s had a big league spring training roster as crowded as it is this year. The A’s currently have 70 players in camp. From that group, the A’s will need to carve out an Opening Day 25-man big league roster. How that roster shakes out will have a significant impact on the rosters for the A’s Triple-A and Double-A clubs. In the first part of this series, I take a look at the A’s different options in the infield and outfield, and how roster decisions may affect where several top prospects begin the season.
The Big League Roster
The A’s began camp with only a few open spots in their big league infield and outfield. Assuming no injuries, the A’s will start the year in the infield with Trevor Plouffe at third, Marcus Semien at short, Jed Lowrie at second, Yonder Alonso at first and Adam Rosales as the utility infielder. Ryon Healy will serve as a back-up third baseman and first baseman, as well as a regular DH.
The outfield is slightly less settled. Khris Davis (LF), Rajai Davis (CF) and Matt Joyce (RF) will be the starters, but the fourth outfielder is yet to be determined. Major league veteran Alejandro De Aza signed a minor league deal during the off-season, but he would seemingly have the inside track on that back-up outfield spot. Roster players Jake Smolinski and Mark Canha are the other two leading candidates for that role. De Aza is the most experienced of the three and has the best defensive track record. He also is the only left-handed batter, which is helpful with both Davises hitting right-handed.
Of the three, Canha is the most likely to make a significant impact offensively, but De Aza and Smolinski both bring the ability to play center and both have speed that can be useful off of the bench. Canha can play first base, but with the A’s carrying Alonso, Healy, Rosales and Plouffe, Oakland will have plenty of options at first. Still, if the A’s are looking for more power, Canha is the best option of the three. Smolinski is currently battling a shoulder injury, so his health could take him out of the running for that spot, as well.
If the A’s start the year with only two catchers and 12 pitchers, they could carry two back-up outfielders instead of just one, another infielder (such as Joey Wendle or Chad Pinder) or someone who forces his way onto the roster with a big spring.
Below is a quick look at where the A’s stand in the infield and outfield for Opening Day right now.
1) Trevor Plouffe (RH; 3B/1B)
2) Marcus Semien (RH; SS/2B)
3) Jed Lowrie (SH; 2B/SS/3B)
4) Yonder Alonso (LH; 1B)
5) Ryon Healy (RH; 1B/3B)
6) Adam Rosales (RH; SS/2B/3B/1B/RF/LF)
7) Matt Joyce (LH; RF/LF)
8) Rajai Davis (RH; CF/RF)
9) Khris Davis (RH; LF)
10) Alejandro De Aza (LH; CF/LF)
11) Open spot
Regardless of how the 10th and 11th spots above are filled, the A’s are going to have quite the challenge when trying to put together their Triple-A roster. The bulk of the A’s top position player prospects are slated for Triple-A, and the A’s will need to weave them in with their minor league free agent signee class.
Matt Chapman will be the Sounds’ every day third baseman, which means that Renato Nunez likely will have to get his playing time either at first base, left field or DH. However, he will be competing for playing time at first base with Matt Olson, Rangel Ravelo and minor league free agent signee Chris Parmelee. If Canha is on the Nashville roster, he is likely to get some time at first base, as well. The same applies for Max Muncy. The A’s will also need to decide how minor league free agent signee Jermaine Curtis fits into the mix. Curtis has played mostly third base during his career, although he can also play second.
Nunez will also have plenty of competition for playing time in left. The A's aren't likely to carry both Canha and Smolinski on the Opening Day roster, unless there is an injury, so either Smolinski or Canha would likely see time in left. In addition, Muncy, Jaff Decker and Andrew Lambo are options for playing time in left.
The middle infield situation is even more complicated. Top prospect Franklin Barreto will play everyday for the Sounds. He is likely to get the bulk of his playing time at shortstop, but he will also see time at second base. The Sounds’ everyday middle infield last season was Pinder (SS) and Wendle (2B), and both could return to Nashville. If that is the case, new Sounds’ manager Ryan Christenson will need to divide up playing time between Barreto, Pinder and Wendle, and – with Chapman ensconced at 3B – Christenson won’t have the luxury of playing Pinder at third that often.
In addition to Barreto, Pinder and Wendle, the A’s could have Muncy (2B) and Josh Rodriguez (a natural shortstop who can play everywhere but catcher) on the roster and both could see time up-the-middle.
The potential Nashville outfield situation is also looking crowded. As I mentioned earlier, Nunez, Muncy, Decker and Lambo will be vying for playing time in left, along with either Smolinski or Canha. Jaycob Brugman figures to get the bulk of the playing time in center after winning the Sounds’ MVP award as their centerfielder last season. If Smolinski doesn’t make the A’s roster out of spring training, he will also get time in center. Minor league free agent signee Kenny Wilson is one of the top defensive centerfielders in minor league baseball. He has played at the Double-A level for significant portions of the past three seasons, but he could push his way onto the Nashville roster with a strong spring.
Olson is likely to get the everyday reps in right, especially if Ravelo and/or Parmelee are on the roster needing at-bats at first base. However, if Canha is on the Nashville roster, he could get regular at-bats in right, as well. And that depth chart back-up doesn't even take into account players not in big league camp, such as J.P. Sportman and Tyler Marincov, who had solid seasons with Midland in 2016. Both are spring mini-camp participants and have legitimate claims for an opportunity in Triple-A.
This entire rotation of at-bats doesn’t take into account the catching situation. If the A’s carry only two catchers at the big league level, then either Bruce Maxwell or Josh Phegley will be sent to Nashville. Ryan Lavarnway and Matt McBride are slated to be on the Nashville roster. If either Maxwell or Phegley are also on the Sounds, McBride is likely to get the bulk of his playing time at first base or right field.
Regardless of who makes the Nashville roster, Christenson will be looking at a deep depth chart without many obvious candidates to not play regularly. Of course, Christenson will be able to utilize the DH spot to spread out some of those at-bats, but even with the DH, there may not be enough at-bats to go around. Just like last year when Healy and Brugman were surprisingly sent to Double-A to start the year, the A’s could make some similarly surprising roster decisions in an effort to get as many of their top-end depth chart players as many at-bats as possible.
Some of these decisions will make themselves when injuries inevitably strike. Nonetheless, if the A’s make it through spring training relatively healthy, A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman will once again face a daunting task when handing out assignments at the end of the spring.
Just wait until we get to the catchers and the pitching staff!