Spring Training Battles: Utilitymen

As spring training draws near, we will be taking a look at the guys battling for a spot on the 25-man roster. Although the A's currently appear to have their 25-man roster set, injuries or trades could open up a spot before Opening Day. We begin our series by looking at the three utilitymen in the A's camp who will be hoping to latch on as the 25th man on the A's roster.

The A's haven't had a true utilityman on their roster since the Tony Phillips era ended in 1999. In past years, the A's lack of defensive flexibility on their bench has hurt them in some close games and has prevented them from giving their players adequate rest during the long season. This year, the A's appear to have addressed the bench flexibility problem by carrying players such as Antonio Perez, Marco Scutaro and Jay Payton who can play multiple positions. In addition, starter Nick Swisher can play both in the outfield and in the infield.

However, despite that depth, the A's currently don't have a true utilityman on their bench. Although Perez and Scutaro can play in the outfield in a pinch (as can starting third baseman Eric Chavez), both are primarily infielders. Payton can play all three outfield positions, but he can't play in the infield. If the A's were to move a position player before the start of the season, they may decide to fill that last roster spot with a utilityman who can play all over the field to increase the team's depth and flexibility.

Going into camp, the A's will have three men in Phoenix who can play in the infield and the outfield. The killer B's – Freddie Bynum, Hiram Bocachica and Andrew Beattie – all began their careers as infielders but have spent a lot of time in the outfield over the past few years. All three have significant experience playing everywhere but catcher and at first and all three would add to the A's depth. Let's take a look at what each player brings to the table.

Freddie Bynum

Six seasons after being the A's highest draft choice in 2000, Bynum finally made his major league debut in 2005. The speedy utilityman almost didn't make it on the field at all in 2005, as he overcame a scary blood clot in his throwing shoulder that off-season that threatened his career. He spent much of the year with the AAA-Sacramento River Cats and after a slow April, Bynum put together one of his better minor league seasons. He hit .278 with 23 stolen bases and 40 runs batted in over 102 games. Although he missed some time due to a hamstring injury, Bynum still managed to see action at second, short and in all three outfield positions. He spent all of September with the A's and collected two hits in seven at-bats, including an RBI double in the final game of the year.

Bynum was drafted as a shortstop and the A's kept him there until 2004 when they decided to try him in centerfield. He took well to the transition and showed excellent instincts and range in the outfield. He also has an above-average throwing arm. Bynum doesn't have much power, but the left-handed hitter runs extremely well and gets out of the box quickly. In six minor league seasons, Bynum has stolen 175 bases, including 48 in 2004. He has a tendency to strike out too much (604 in 692 career minor league games), but as a late-game pinch runner and defensive replacement, Bynum could have a lot of value.

At 26, Bynum is the youngest of the three utiltymen who will be in camp for Oakland. He is also the only one on the team's 40-man roster. That should give him a small advantage over Bocachica and Beattie, as the A's wouldn't have to move anyone off of the 40-man to make room for Bynum if he were to make the team. Currently, Bynum is on the outside looking in for making the A's 25-man roster out of spring training. However, if the A's move either Jay Payton or Bobby Kielty before the start of the season, he'll be a front-runner for that 25th slot on the roster because of the versatility he brings to the team.

Hiram Bocachica

Bocachica enters the 2006 season in the same position that he entered the 2005 campaign, as a non-roster invitee to Oakland A's spring training camp. The former first round pick signed a minor league contract with the A's last off-season and almost played his way onto the roster with an outstanding spring training. The right-hander hit .444 with an 1184 OPS in 20 spring training games. Unfortunately for Bocachica, his spring training ended with a broken right wrist and he missed much of the 2005 campaign.

He did make it back long enough to join the AAA-Sacramento River Cats for their playoff run. After some hot hitting for Sacramento in early September, Bocachica was recalled to the A's and he appeared in nine games for Oakland towards the end of the year. With the A's, Bocachica appeared in games at third and in center and right field. During his 12-year playing career, Bocachica has seen action at second, short, right, left and center field. Although he was drafted as a shortstop, he has made himself into an above-average outfielder with the glove.

Bocachica is a career .285 hitter over 10 minor league seasons, but he has never put it all together at the plate in the major leagues, as he has a career batting average of .217 in 231 major league games. Nevertheless, Bocachica would bring a veteran presence and a capable and versatile glove to the back of the bench. In 2004, Bocachica spent more than half of the season with the Seattle Mariners and he hit .244. He has some speed, although not as much as he did when he was younger and he would regularly steal more than 20 bases. Bocachica was on the A's 40-man roster for much of the off-season, but he was removed from the 40-man in December. He re-signed with the team on a minor league deal later that month. Bocachica missed the winter league season this year in order to continue his rehabilitation on his wrist. He is expected to be 100% at camp.

Bocachica is the kind of player teams love to have in AAA as insurance against injury, and unless the A's lose a few players in spring training to trade or injury, he will likely begin the year in Sacramento. However, he could earn an in-season recall similar to Jermaine Clark last year if he produces for the River Cats. This spring, he'll be looking to prove that his wrist is 100% healthy and that he can produce with the bat, as well as the glove.

Andrew Beattie

Signed as a minor league free agent out of the Cincinnati chain before the 2005 season, Beattie re-upped with Oakland this off-season and earned a trip to major league spring training as a non-roster invite. Beattie began the 2005 campaign in Midland and after hitting .293 with 17 RBI in 22 games, the A's promoted him to AAA-Sacramento. The right-hander was a steady performer for the River Cats, hitting .296 with eight homers and 55 runs batted in over 113 games. On the season, Beattie posted an 840 OPS between AA and AAA.

Although the majority of his appearances were as an infielder, Beattie did spend time in the outfield in 2005, as well. In fact, Beattie played every position except first base and catcher in 2005. He isn't a speed burner, but he has enough quickness to play some centerfield. He has good hands and a decent throwing arm. The right-hander wears out left-handed pitching, as he hit .350 off of lefties in 2005. He gets on-base at a decent clip (.378 in 2005), but he does have a propensity to strike out a lot (122 last season).

Despite being 28, Beattie had his first significant amount of playing time at AAA only last year. He is the least likely of this group to break camp with the A's, but if he performs at a clip similar to what he did in 2005, he could work himself into the utilityman race next season.


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