Spring Training Preview: Who's In Left? Part 1

Eric Byrnes enjoyed his best season in the Majors last year. Yet he still finds himself in a battle with newly acquired LF Bobby Kielty for the one remaining slot open in the revamped A's Outfield. Byrnes has the tenure over Kielty but Billy Beane didn't trade Ted Lilly away for a bench warmer.

After another gut wrenching post season for the A's and their diehard fans, this latest off-season has seemingly lasted an eternity. Yet with players starting to get back into the swing of things in Papago Park; the light in the seemingly endless off-season tunnel is rapidly drawing nearer. For the most part the roster is complete and the regular starters are more or less penciled into their respective positions, looking to utilize the spring to get back into the daily grind. However there are two key positions that are very much for the taking. And many fans are looking forward to witnessing the all out battle that could shape the futures of these hopefuls looking to make the starting lineup, and opening day roster.

The Fight For Left Field: Eric Byrnes Vs. Bobby Kielty

Leading up to the All Star break the fans in Oakland had been caught up in a craze that was sweeping the Bay Area. A phenomenon that was picking up steam and rising in popularity with every reckless diving catch or clutch hit. It all stemmed from one wild, blonde haired, former bench warmer who had seemingly come out of nowhere, and propelled himself into the limelight. That man was Eric Byrnes. He carried the team offensively when they were struggling for runs. He smacked the clutch homeruns when they were down; he'd fly into the wall running after a foul ball. He even helped put the Bud Light advertisement back up in left field (much to the amusement of the fans) when it had fallen off the fence. Eric Byrnes led the team in batting average, stolen bases, and sheer heart. His new shirts and jerseys were selling like crazy, the Eric Byrnes fan club in left field worshipped him and the fans couldn't get enough of him. Then toward the end of inter-league play Eric Byrnes fell into a slump the likes of which we haven't seen in many years. After going 9-95 for the rest of the season, the confident and good natured Byrnes tried not to let it get him down too much.

Byrnes still has his eye on that starting left field spot. The one he thinks the real Eric Byrnes is more than accomplished enough to have. Byrnes doesn't look at that slump and consider that his future, he looks at the amazing first half of the season as the potential he knows he has. After another great year in winter ball, where he once again captured the hearts of the Dominican fans, Eric Byrnes is locked and loaded and ready to take back his domain. According to Eric Byrnes, it is his job to win and he doesn't expect anything short of victory.

Bobby Kielty: Bobby Kielty is a player that A's General Manager Billy Beane has had his eye on for quite some time. Kielty, the California native, spent his previous years in the major leagues as a role player for the Twins and the Blue Jays. Kielty displays great patience at the plate, which is a quality the A's highly prize, and he is a switch hitter with some power. He came over to the A's in the some-what surprising trade for starting pitcher Ted Lilly. Many A's fans were both surprised and disappointed with the trade, because Lilly was red hot in the second half, and they expected to see Byrnes get a shot at left field. At the moment Kielty looks to have the early advantage, but his 2003 numbers (.244 batting average, 13 home runs, 57 RBIs and an On Base Percentage of .358) aren't much more impressive than Byrnes' numbers for 2003, even after the slump. (.263 avg., 12 home runs, 51 RBIs and a .333 OBP) Don't think Eric Byrnes is the only one wearing his heart on his sleeve. Kielty is very happy that he was traded to Oakland, and wants nothing more than to win that starting left field position. He is currently reading the Michael Lewis book, entitled Moneyball, which is written about the A's and their unorthodox approach to winning. Kielty is happy that he sees eye to eye with the A's front office, as both of their main approaches have to do with posting a high on base percentage; something Kielty is known for. Kielty feels last year wasn't a great year for him and he has worked hard in the offseason to make this year different. Coming in to spring training, he believes that he is in the best shape of his life, and knows he has to perform in spring to show he deserves the starting position at left field.

What the Future May Hold: As it stands right now, it looks like it is Kielty's position to lose. He is already penciled in to that starting role, but A's Manager Ken Macha's favorite saying is, "the players write the lineup". If Bobby Kielty doesn't perform, then Eric Byrnes has a fair shot at winning that spot. Byrnes is fresh off another Carribean Series Championship win, with the Licey Tigers, in which he lead the post season in batting average (hitting .389), doubles, hits, and on base percentage. He even set a post-season record with 19 RBIs. Keep in mind former A's MVP Miguel Tejada was one of his teammates, so he wasn't the only pro on the team, by any means. It will be an exciting Spring Training turf war between these two, so be sure to track their progress as the season draws nearer.

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