Oakland A's Spring Training Battles: 2B/SS

The weather outside might still be frightful, but spring is just around the corner and that means only one thing: baseball! Every year, we preview the spring training roster battles that will take place during major league camp. While these battles may change based on a late off-season move, most of these scenarios will still hold true. We continue our series with a look at the 2B/SS battle.

A Look Back At 2006

The Oakland A's 2006 season was marked with injuries, and no positions were effected more than second base and shortstop.
Starting shortstop Bobby Crosby missed 66 games with a variety of ailments and starting second baseman Mark Ellis missed 38 games. Back-up middle infielder Marco Scutaro earned the bulk of the playing time, appearing in 117 games. Antonio Perez, acquired in December 2005 to shore up the bench, played in only 57 games, as he struggled at the plate all season.

The A's dipped into their minor league rosters for middle infielders for D'Angelo Jimenez and Mike Rouse, who each played in eight games. Jimenez ended up on the A's post-season roster when Perez went down with a broken finger during the last weekend of the season. Jimenez wound up playing in five post-season games after Ellis broke a finger in Game Two of the Divisional Series.

In 2005, the A's got strong production from Crosby (when he was healthy) and Ellis offensively. However, both players struggled at the plate in 2006. Crosby managed a meager 636 OPS in 358 at-bats and Ellis saw his average drop from .316 in 2005 to .249 in 2006. Scutaro had the strongest offensive season of his career, posting a 747 OPS and drawing 50 walks against 66 strikeouts. Perez finished with the lowest batting average in A's history, hitting .102 in 98 at-bats.

Good-Bye And Hello

After a post-season during which he committed two crucial errors, Jimenez was released by Oakland. He eventually signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals. Both Perez and Scutaro were arbitration-eligible and both were offered contracts and will return to the A's in 2007.

The A's added two middle infielders to compete for bench positions this off-season: J.J. Furmaniak and Donnie Murphy. Furmaniak, a former Padres and Pirates prospect, was signed to a minor league deal and was invited to spring training. Murphy, a former Royals prospect, was picked-up on waivers and added to the 40-man roster.

Middle Infielders Invited To Camp

Bobby Crosby
Mark Ellis
J.J. Furmaniak
Kevin Melillo
Donnie Murphy
Antonio Perez
Marco Scutaro

Number Of Middle Infielders Likely On Roster – 4

Locks To Make The Team

Bobby Crosby: This may be a make-or-break season for Crosby. After a decent rookie season, Crosby's sophomore and junior campaigns have been riddled by injuries and inconsistency. He is a top-notch defensive shortstop, but he has yet to reach the offensive potential that many saw for him when he entered the league. The A's would like to see him grow into a middle-of-the-order hitter, but he will need to avoid the disabled list to have that happen.

Mark Ellis: Ellis may have seen his batting average drop considerably, but he still had a productive season while he was healthy. He set a major league record for fielding percentage for a second baseman and he hit 11 homeruns in 124 games. He also was among the leaders on the team in pitches seen per at-bat. Both of his injuries were of the freak variety. The A's are a better team when he is on the field, so he will need to stay healthy for Oakland to have a good season.

Marco Scutaro: Every year, Scutaro enters spring training looking like the odd-man out and yet every year he manages to play a significant role for the A's. He had a solid season at the plate, batting .266 with a .350 on-base percentage. He also played a sure-handed defense at both second and short and was a hero during the A's Divisional Series. Scutaro is one of the A's most valuable bench players and will continue in that role in 2007.

Favorite For The Final Spot

Antonio Perez: Perez had one of the worst seasons of any A's player in recent memory. He managed only 10 hits in 98 at-bats and then missed his chance to compete in the playoffs when he was injured during the season's final week. The A's didn't give Keith Ginter a second chance after he struggled in 2005 and Ginter had a more productive season then did Perez. However, Perez was offered arbitration, so it appears that he remains in the A's plans, at least for now.

When the A's acquired Perez from Los Angeles last season, they thought they were getting a talented offensive player who was capable of playing third, second and short. In 2005, Perez hit .297 with 11 stolen bases in 98 games for the Dodgers. The A's would love to get similar production from Perez in 2007. Despite being offered arbitration, Perez is likely on thin ice with Oakland. If he looks bad in spring training, he could be let go. If he plays well, he could get a lot of playing time this season, considering the injury history of the A's starting middle infielders.

Battling For The Final Spot

Donnie Murphy: Murphy was picked up off of the waiver wire this November from the Kansas City Royals organization, where he had spent his first five professional seasons. Murphy reached the major leagues in 2004 at age 21 and was given a chance to win the Royals starting second base job in 2005. He failed to stick with the Royals in 2005 and then spent the entire 2006 season in Double-A Wichita, where he struggled through a rough season thanks to a broken hamate bone.

Murphy will enter camp with a good chance to open the A's eyes. He was a top prospect for Kansas City as recently as 2005 and is still young enough (24 in March) that he could have a long career as a major leaguer. Murphy has above-average power for a middle infielder and is capable of playing both second and short. As a member of the 40-man roster, even if he doesn't make the 35-man roster out of camp, Murphy will be on a short-list to be recalled to Oakland if any of the A's middle infielders were to be hurt.

J.J. Furmaniak:
Furmaniak signed with the A's as a six-year minor league free agent this off-season. The former Padres and Pirates prospect enters camp with 13 games of major league experience under his belt. Like Murphy, Furmaniak has good power for a middle infielder. He hit 18 homeruns in 2004 and 16 homeruns in 2005.

Furmaniak is a maximum-effort player who can play third, short and second base. He is a long-shot to make the team out of camp because he isn't on the 40-man roster. However, he could position himself for a mid-season call-up if he has a strong camp and gets off to a fast start in Sacramento.

Here For The Future

Kevin Melillo:
Melillo earned a non-roster invitation to spring training after two standout seasons that have propelled him to the top of the A's middle infield prospect list. Melillo's 2006 numbers weren't as impressive as his 2005 stats, but he still showed above-average power (46 extra-base hits), decent speed (14 stolen bases) and a good eye (68 walks). He also improved a lot on defense, leading all Texas League second basemen in fielding percentage. Melillo added versatility to his resume by playing some third base at the Arizona Fall League and holding his own at the hot corner.

Melillo will need at least a half season at Triple-A before he gets a shot at the big leagues. However, he could do a lot to cement himself as the A's second baseman of the future with a strong showing in camp.

Storyline To Watch

The A's haven't had a healthy middle infield in three seasons. Ellis was hurt during spring training in 2004 and Crosby suffered early season injuries in 2005 and 2006. In addition, A's third baseman Eric Chavez has battled injuries in each of the last three seasons. If injury history repeats itself, the A's could have a wide-open competition among middle infielders for a bench job in camp.

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