Oakland A's Spring Training Battles: OF

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 outfield battle.

A Look Back At 2006

With the off-season addition of Milton Bradley, the Oakland A's outfield was expected to be an offensive strength in 2006. Unfortunately, injuries limited the A's outfield production to some degree. Nick Swisher led all A's outfielders in games played with 157. However, 90 of those games came at first base. Swisher finished second on the team in homeruns and RBIs with 35 and 95, respectively. He also walked 97 times and played a solid left-field when he wasn't at first base.

Jay Payton played in the second-most number of games among the A's outfielders with 142. This number was a result of a myriad of injuries to regular A's centerfielder Mark Kotsay and right-fielder Bradley, as Payton was slated to be the A's fourth outfielder at the start of the season. Payton did a solid job for Oakland, playing an excellent centerfield when needed and leading the team with a .296 batting average. He only walked 22 times last season and struggled at times with his defense in left-field, but his versatility in the outfield was huge for the A's while Bradley and Kotsay were on the mend.

The aforementioned duo combined to miss roughly 100 games with injury. Bradley's ailments landed him on the disabled list twice during the first half of the season. He recovered in the second half and posted good numbers in a limited amount of playing time, hitting .276 with 14 homers and a .370 on-base percentage in only 96 games. He also played excellent defense in right-field when healthy and was a star for Oakland in the playoffs. With 10 stolen bases, Bradley was the only A's player to reach double-digits in homers and stolen bases in 2006.

Kotsay's back problems never landed him on the disabled list, but they did cause him to miss 33 games. His effectiveness both at the plate and in the field was effected somewhat by the injury, which seemed to bother him all season. Kotsay posted the weakest power numbers of his three seasons in Oakland, hitting only seven homers and posting a .386 slugging percentage. He did, however, hit the most memorable homerun during the A's playoff run, an inside-the-park round-tripper versus Minnesota in Game Two that broke open a tie game.

Bobby Kielty entered the season as a forgotten man, spending a chunk of the first six weeks of the season in Triple-A Sacramento. However, he saw a lot of playing time as the season went on, finishing the year with 270 at-bats. He was outstanding as a right-handed hitter (965 OPS), but he continued to struggle as a left-handed batter (622 OPS). He also missed time with a few nagging injuries. Hiram Bocachica was called up at the end of the season and saw action in eight games, mostly in the outfield. When Payton, Kotsay and Bradley were in the outfield together, the A's boasted one of the best defensive outfields in the league.

Good-Bye And Hello

If the A's outfielders suffer from a similar assortment of injuries in 2007 as they did in 2006, they will have to rely on someone other than Jay Payton to pick up the slack. Payton signed a deal with the Baltimore Orioles this off-season, leaving the A's without their top back-up outfielder.

On the acquisition side, the A's went an unconventional route, selecting an outfielder in the Rule 5 draft, Ryan Goleski. The A's traded up for the number one Rule 5 pick to select Goleski, who hit 27 homeruns in High-A and Double-A in the Cleveland organization last season. It was revealed after his selection that Goleski had off-season wrist surgery that could affect his ability to compete for a starting spot in spring training. If healthy, he will have the inside track for a spot on the Opening Day roster, as the A's will have to keep Goleski on the active roster all season or they will have to offer him back to Cleveland for $25,000.

The A's also picked up former San Diego first round pick Vince Faison, who was most recently in the New York Yankees chain. Faison hit .260 with 14 homers at Double-A Trenton in 2006. He was signed to a minor league deal and was invited to big league spring training.

Outfielders Invited to Camp

Hiram Bocachica
Milton Bradley
Travis Buck
Vince Faison
Ryan Goleski
Javier Herrera
Bobby Kielty
Mark Kotsay
Nick Swisher
Charles Thomas

Number Of OFs Likely On Roster – 5 or 6, including Swisher.

Locks To Make The Team

Milton Bradley: During the second half of the season and in the playoffs, Bradley demonstrated how valuable of a player he could be to Oakland if he were healthy all season long. The five-tool outfielder hit .300 with 11 of his 14 homers after the All-Star break and an even .500 in the American League Championship Series. He also homered and threw out a runner at the plate during the A's series-clinching win in the American League Divisional Series. Bradley has had trouble remaining healthy for his entire professional career, so it would be a lot to expect him for 150+ games. However, the A's will be a much better team if they can get even 130 games out of Bradley, who is in his contract season.

Nick Swisher: We covered Swisher in the 1B/3B/DH piece, however, it is important to add in this piece that how much Swisher plays in the outfield will go a long way towards determining the make-up of the A's roster. If Swisher is going to be the A's primary first baseman, then it logically follows that Oakland will carry five additional outfielders (including one true centerfielder on the bench to back-up Kotsay). However, if Swisher is slotted as the everyday left-fielder, then the A's could go with only four additional outfielders and save a roster spot for the infield or the bullpen. Swisher was the team's workhorse last season, and his play seemed to lag at times due to fatigue. The A's may look to rest him a bit more periodically throughout the season to prevent that fatigue in 2007.

Mark Kotsay: Kotsay is coming off of a disappointing season where his offensive production was below his normal levels and his defensive range was somewhat limited due to his back injuries. It appears that his back problems will linger throughout the rest of his career. However, the injury was managed better in 2004 and 2005, so it is entirely possible that Kotsay will be able to put up better numbers in 2007. Kotsay's best offensive season was in 2004, when he hit .314 with a .370 on-base percentage for the A's. In 2005, his on-base percentage fell, but he drove-in a career-high 82 runs. The A's would take either levels of production in 2007, as well as the return of Kotsay's full range in center. His back will be closely monitored once again this season and he will likely be given days off when the team is playing on turf or on day games after night games.

Bobby Kielty: Kielty returns to the A's for a fourth season. He will once again be asked to be the team's fourth outfielder.
The switch-hitting Kielty is significantly better from the right-side of the plate, where his career OPS is 901 (as opposed to his 683 career OPS from the left-side of the plate). Ideally, the A's would use Kielty only against left-handed pitching. However, injuries being the nature of the game, Kielty will likely see some time against right-handed pitchers. How much time he sees against right-handed pitchers may have a lot to do with the overall success of the A's offense when all is said and done. Defensively, Kielty is an average corner outfielder with a decent throwing arm and he is capable of playing both in left and right.

Favorites For The Final Spots

Ryan Goleski: Although some of the luster surrounding Goleski has worn off since the news of his wrist injury surfaced a few days after the Rule 5 draft, he still is a legitimate candidate to make the team out of spring training and to have an impact on the A's regular line-up. The powerful corner outfielder was one of the top slugging prospects at the Double-A level in 2006. He batted better than .300 against both lefties and righties and reached base at a nearly .400 clip (.392) in a season split between High-A and Double-A.

The Eastern Michigan alum had a break-through season in 2006 after a disappointing 2005 campaign that threatened to knock him off of the prospect charts completely. The Eastern Michigan alum has hit 17 or more homers in each of his three full minor league seasons and has hit 27 or more in two of those campaigns. He is a classic run producer who drove-in 100 or more runs in both 2004 and 2006 and he is capable of playing a solid left and right-field.

Goleski was not someone that the Indians wanted to lose in the Rule 5 draft and if he hadn't been injured, he likely would have been protected on Cleveland's 40-man roster. That being said, Goleski's wrist injury is troubling enough that the A's may not have selected him had they known he was injured (the Indians inadvertently failed to notify teams that Goleski was injured before the Rule 5 draft).

Wrist injuries are tricky, especially for hitters. It took two years for Bocachica to recover from a broken wrist that he incurred in spring training 2004. Goleski's injury wasn't as serious as Bocachica's, but it will be closely monitored at camp. If Goleski is not 100 percent during spring training, the A's may choose to put him on the disabled list at the start of the season. If he is healthy during camp, he will likely get a lot of at-bats to determine if he is ready to make the jump from Double-A to the bigs.

Hiram Bocachica: If the A's carry six outfielders (including Swisher), Bocachica will have an inside-track for that sixth spot.The utilityman has been in the A's organization for two seasons and has been up with the club in September in each of those two campaigns. Bocachica even made the A's playoff roster last season, although he didn't get to play.

Bocachica has nothing more to prove at the Triple-A level. He has posted an OPS of 1000 or better for Sacramento in each of the last two seasons. Last year, he hit 19 homers and stole 18 bases in only 77 games for the River Cats. Bocachica is a versatile player who can handle all three outfield spots with above-average skill. He has good speed and has been a patient hitter throughout his minor league career. He has failed to duplicate his minor league success at the major league level thus far in his career, as he has only a .218 batting average in 239 major league games. In his last extended look at the big league level, Bocachica posted a 737 OPS in 90 at-bats for the Seattle Mariners in 2004.

Bocachica began his career as a shortstop and he has seen time at third, short and second during his career. The A's have used him almost exclusively in the outfield during his two seasons with the organization. However, they may give him some time in the infield during spring training. If he can show that he can handle the infield and the outfield, it will only increase his chances of sticking on the Opening Day roster.

Battling For The Final Spot

Charles Thomas: Thomas, who was acquired as part of the Tim Hudson trade in December 2004, was given the A's starting left-field job at the outset of the 2005 season. He slumped at the start of that year and since then has been something of a forgotten man in the A's system. Thomas spent all of last season at Triple-A Sacramento, where he struggled at the plate for most of the season before exploding in August with eight of his nine homeruns for the year. He finished the season with a .274 batting average and a 726 OPS.

Thomas won the River Cats' defensive MVP award for the second consecutive season last year. He has consistently displayed plus-range in center for the River Cats and his ability to play outstanding defense in the outfield could earn him a spot on the bench in Oakland, especially if the A's are worried about Kotsay's back. For Thomas to make the team, however, he will have to regain some of the offensive prowess that he displayed in Atlanta in 2004, where he had an 813 OPS in 83 games for the Braves.

Looking To Make An Impression

Vince Faison: Despite being an eight-year minor league veteran, Faison is still only 26 years old. He has played only 10 games at the Triple-A level during his career. Consequently, Faison is in big league camp to introduce himself to the organization rather than to compete for a spot on the A's roster. Faison was a first round pick by the San Diego Padres in 1999. At one time, he had the most speed of any player in the Padres organization. During his rookie minor league season, Faison stole 37 bases in only 55 games. He also displayed a little power in his early minor league years, hitting 12 homeruns in 117 games in 2000.

Injuries and inconsistency derailed Faison's career. He was traded from San Diego to Seattle in 2004 and was never healthy with the Mariners. He spent the 2005 season in Independent ball before returning to affiliated play with the Yankees in 2006.

Faison doesn't quite have the speed that he once had, but he has added some power (he had a .456 slugging percentage in 2006) and has gotten better at recognizing pitches. The A's have a lot of talent in centerfield in the lower levels of the minor leagues, but they are thin in the upper levels. Faison should have an opportunity to get some significant playing time at Triple-A Sacramento in 2007.

Here For The Future

Travis Buck: With an outstanding camp, Buck could force the A's to give him his eventual job in left-field a year early. All things being equal, however, the A's are likely to want to give Buck some time at Double-A or Triple-A season before he makes his major league debut. The A's top prospect had an outstanding season in 2006 before being injured for the year in mid-July. Buck began the year at High-A Stockton, but after 34 games, he was promoted to Double-A. He hit .349 for the Ports with a 1003 OPS. Buck didn't slow down much at Double-A, batting .302 with the Rockhounds in 50 games. He had 39 doubles, four triples and seven homers in only 338 at-bats last season. Buck also had a solid BB:K ratio, walking 36 times against 57 strikeouts.

Buck's injury (a sports hernia) eventually required surgery, which he had during the off-season. Although he is expected to enter camp at full strength, he may not be in as good of physical shape as he would have been without the surgery since he was forced to be inactive for a good portion of November and December.

Buck is the heir apparent for the A's in left-field. He has all of the makings of a classic number three hitter in that he hits the ball well to all fields, sees a lot of pitches and can drive the ball into the gap. He doesn't have a lot of homerun power yet, but that should come as he gains more experience. He is only average defensively at this point, but he is a hard-worker and showed improvement in the outfield in 2006 over his first season in the A's chain. It isn't clear whether the A's will start Buck in Triple-A or give him some more time in Double-A. However, barring a major injury or very poor season, Buck should be a strong contender to be the A's starting outfielder in 2008.

Javier Herrera: Herrera will be returning to big league camp for a second consecutive year. He impressed a lot of people within the A's organization last year during big league camp and many expected him to have a huge season for High-A Stockton. Unfortunately, Herrera left big league camp complaining of right elbow pain. He eventually was told that he had a torn elbow ligament. He had Tommy John surgery that spring and missed the entire 2006 campaign.

Entering last season, Herrera was the A's top outfield prospect. Buck has moved ahead of him now, but Herrera's future is still quite bright. When healthy, he can do it all: run, hit for power and average, play good defense and throw out runners. He had one of the best throwing arms in the A's system before the surgery, but it remains to be seen whether the surgery will have robbed him of that tool. He has plenty of speed to play center even if his right-field-quality throwing arm isn't there anymore.

Herrera is still probably one-and-a-half to two-years away from the big leagues. Unlike Buck, who is quite polished, Herrera's game is still raw in many areas. He has improved his plate discipline every year, but he is still somewhat of a free swinger. He can also be very streaky at the plate and he has a tendency to press when things are going well. Herrera is an excellent base-stealer. In 60 career attempts, he has been caught only seven times. In the outfield, he still has the tendency to take bad routes on occasion, but he is improving in that area, as well.

Herrera was slated to start last season at High-A and he will likely be sent to Stockton in 2007 unless he knocks the A's socks off in spring training. However, look for Herrera to receive an in-season promotion to Double-A if he is playing well for the Ports.

Storyline To Watch

Ryan Goleski's wrist will likely be the talk of camp, at least at the outset. If his wrist is healthy, it will lead to a spirited competition for the remaining outfield roster spots between him, Bocachica and Thomas. If his wrist isn't healthy, there will be discussions about whether the Indians will owe the A's any compensation for not disclosing his injury situation before the Rule 5 draft. In addition to the $50,000 fee the A's paid to Cleveland for the rights to Goleski, Oakland also paid the Devil Rays $100,000 for the rights to the first pick. The cash-strapped A's can only recover $25,000 of that money if Goleski is returned to Cleveland, unless the A's and the Indians make additional arrangements to compensate for the miscommunication about the injury.

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