Who's On Second?

With Bobby Crosby and Antonio Perez already hurt at the start of the playoffs, the Oakland A's thin middle infield became down-right skinny when Mark Ellis broke his finger. With Ellis out, the A's have an empty roster spot going into the ALCS. They will fill that spot with a middle infielder to back-up Marco Scutaro and D'Angelo Jimenez. The A's have three candidates to fill that roster spot.

Mark Ellis' broken right index finger has put the Oakland A's in a difficult situation on the eve of their appearance in the 2006 ALCS. With starting SS Bobby Crosby already injured, the A's are down to only middle infield back-ups Marco Scutaro and D'Angelo Jimenez on their playoff roster. With no other middle infielders on their 40-man roster, the A's will have to add a non-roster middle infielder to their playoff roster by Tuesday morning. We look at the candidates.

When the Oakland A's put Mike Rouse on waivers in early September, no one thought that that move would have any further implications for 2006. When Rouse was claimed by the Cleveland Indians, the A's were left with only Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, Antonio Perez, Marco Scutaro and D'Angelo Jimenez as middle infielders on their 40-man roster. That seemed like enough. Then the injuries started.

Crosby missed the month of September with a back injury and, despite rehab efforts, he was unable to get healthy enough to be added to the playoff roster. Perez broke his finger on the last weekend of the season in Anaheim. Ellis was injured in Game Two of the ALDS and will miss the rest of the post-season with a broken finger.

Those injuries have left the A's with Jimenez and Scutaro as the only middle infielders on the roster. Utilityman Hiram Bocachica came up as a middle infielder and played some third base with Sacramento this season, but he primarily has been an outfielder the last few seasons. Adam Melhuse can also play some third base, and Eric Chavez could be moved to short in a pinch if the A's had another injury.

However, the A's can't go into the ALCS with Bocachica and Chavez as the only options to cover the middle infield if Scutaro or Jimenez were to get hurt or be thrown out of a game. Consequently, the A's have been working furiously to find a middle infielder to take Ellis' roster spot before Tuesday's series opener.

Under MLB rules, only players who were with the A's organization on August 31 will be eligible to join the A's playoff roster. Therefore, the A's can only look internally to find a player to add to the roster. The A's have identified three candidates: Keith Ginter, Mark Kiger and Kevin Melillo.

Keith Ginter is the only player of the three who has any major league experience. Ginter was the A's starting second baseman going into last season before his struggles at the plate sent him to the bench. He was removed from the 40-man roster last off-season and he spent the year with AAA-Sacramento. Ginter had a good season with the River Cats, posting an 800 OPS and hitting 13 homers as Sacramento's primary second baseman.

Ginter has the advantage of being a major league veteran and is someone who is a known commodity. As recently as 2004, Ginter was considered an up-and-comer offensively, having hit 19 homers in 113 games for Milwaukee. He can play both second and third base, although he has only an average glove, at best.

There is a slight complication with adding Ginter to the roster, however. He was a free agent at the end of the season and has already declared for free agency. Ginter would have to sign a 2007 contract with the A's to be eligible to join the team. He isn't a part of the A's long-term plans at second, so it isn't clear whether he or the A's would be interested in having him sign a 2007 deal.

The next most likely candidate to be added to the roster is long-time A's farmhand Mark Kiger. Kiger, like Ellis, is a University of Florida alum. He was taken in the 2002 draft and he has a career 745 OPS in five minor league seasons. Kiger made it to AA-Midland by his second full season of professional baseball, but he has floated back and forth between AA-Midland and AAA-Sacramento since then.

Kiger is a versatile player and he has a lot of experience at second and short and can play third base in a pinch. He has a solid approach at the plate, having amassed a .365 OBP over his career. Kiger has some speed, although he hasn't run much since joining the A's organization. The A's have brought Kiger to Oakland to work him out with the big league club to see if he can handle the glove well enough to be added to the post-season roster.

The third candidate for the roster spot is probably the player with the most future upside but the smallest chance of being added. Kevin Melillo is the A's top middle infield prospect, having put together two straight solid seasons at second base. Melillo is ranked as the fifth-best second base prospect in Scout.com's minor league prospect rankings and is considered part of the A's long-term plans at second. Unlike Ginter or Kiger, Melillo was likely to be added to the A's 40-man roster this off-season.

Melillo is currently in Phoenix, getting ready to compete in the top prospect showcase, the Arizona Fall League. It is for that reason that it isn't likely that Melillo would be chosen for the post-season roster. The AFL is an important part of the development process for most top prospects in baseball and Melillo would get a lot more playing time in the AFL against top prospects then he would on the bench on the A's roster. In addition, Melillo can only play second base, so he doesn't offer the versatility of a Ginter or Kiger.

The A's don't have to release their ALCS roster until Tuesday morning, so this decision could go down to the wire.


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