|Dan Johnson's year began with a hip injury. b>|
Those injuries hurt the team's on-field production, but it did allow the A's to try a few young players at the major league level. Donnie Murphy and Jack Hannahan saw significant time with Oakland and Kevin Melillo and J.J. Furmaniak also received cameo appearances with the A's. Top prospect Daric Barton made his major-league debut in September and it was an impressive showing.
Good-Bye And Hello
|Marco Scutaro's home run off of Mariano Rivera was a memorable blast. b>|
The A's also said good-bye to infielder J.J. Furmaniak. Furmaniak signed a minor-league contract with the A's last off-season and appeared in 16 games for Oakland. He hit .292 with an 823 OPS for Triple-A Sacramento in 2007 and inked a deal to play in Japan in 2008.
Late in the off-season, the A's added first baseman Mike Sweeney, who signed a non-guaranteed, minor-league deal. The former Kansas City Royals star has appeared on five American League All-Star teams, his last appearance coming in 2005. He has struggled with back problems for a number of years, including the past two, during which he has appeared in less than 80 games in each season. The A's also signed two minor league free agent infielders this off-season: Brooks Conrad and Casey Rogowski.
Infielders Invited To Camp
*Denotes member of the 40-man roster
Number Of INFs Likely On Roster – 6 or 7, depending on how many relievers the A's decide to carry, Oakland may have room for an extra pinch-hitter/DH type.
Locks To Make The Team
|Daric Barton had a strong season for Sacramento. b>|
It was a nice bounce-back season for Barton, who missed much of the 2006 campaign with a broken elbow and hamstring problems. He was healthy for the entire 2007 season and more than held his own as a 21-one-year-old (he turned 22 in mid-August) against much older competition. Barton has proved all he can in the minor leagues and demonstrated last September that he is ready for a full-time role with Oakland in 2008. It would likely take an injury for Barton to lose his spot as the A's starting first baseman.
|Eric Chavez will be recovering from injury this spring. b>|
Chavez is reportedly feeling good, but it still isn't clear if he will be back to 100 percent by the start of the season. Even if he is held back a few weeks, the A's are hopeful that he will be on the field for the majority of the year and back to his productive self. He still has three years and roughly $33 million on his contract, which makes him the highest paid player on the A's by a lot. He could be moved mid-season if he proves that he is back to his healthy and productive self, but the A's don't have a lot of depth in the minor leagues at third base, so the team may elect to hold onto Chavez and try to build their line-up around him over the next three seasons.
|Bobby Crosby missed two months with a broken hand last season. b>|
The A's insist that Crosby is still a big part of their future publicly, but privately, their patience may be wearing a bit thin. Crosby has now played in 435 games at the major-league level and his 701 career OPS is nowhere near where the A's thought it would be when they allowed Miguel Tejada to leave as a free agent after the 2003 season. The A's don't have an obvious replacement for Crosby in the minor leagues, but Donnie Murphy showed some flashes of good offensive production last season and he could step-in and play a larger role this season if Crosby continues to struggle at the plate.
|Mark Ellis had a career-high 19 home runs. b>|
Ellis is in the final year of his contract, which has led to some talk that the A's might deal him at some point this season. However, the team loves what Ellis brings to the table, especially in the field, where they believe is one of the most valuable defensive players in all of baseball. With the A's featuring a young pitching staff in 2008, the team may look to hold onto their veteran second baseman as a way to help the younger pitchers gain the confidence that pitching with a good defense behind them brings.
Favorites For The Final Spots
|Donnie Murphy has good defensive versatility. b>|
Murphy demonstrated a lot of defensive versatility in 2007, appearing at second, short, third and even in the outfield. His natural position is shortstop and although he made a few errors at short in the major leagues, he also showed off a cannon right arm. At the plate, Murphy dominated left-handed pitching both at the major- and minor-league levels in 2007, and he could serve as a nice platoon for Chavez at third. Murphy will have the inside track on the back-up infielder spot for the A's going into the spring.
|Jack Hannahan filled in for Eric Chavez at third in 2007. b>|
Hannahan only appeared at third base for the A's last season. During his minor league career, he has seen a lot of time at second base, in addition to third. The A's were also considering trying him in the outfield this spring to give him a little more versatility. He has an excellent chance of making the A's Opening Day roster if the A's carry two back-up infielders, but if he doesn't, Hannahan should be a first option for the A's should any of the team's injury-plagued infielders go down with injury.
Mike Sweeney or Dan Johnson:
|The veteran Mike Sweeney will battle Dan Johnson for a roster spot. b>|
Despite poor 2007 numbers and injury concerns, Sweeney likely has an advantage over Johnson in the battle for the back-up first baseman/DH role going into the spring by virtue of the fact that Sweeney is right-handed. Both starters at DH and first base for the A's are left-handed, making Sweeney a more attractive platoon partner for Barton and Cust than the left-handed hitting Johnson. However, Johnson is younger than Sweeney and more reliably healthy. The A's may let the competition between the two players go for much of the spring, but barring a spring injury to Cust or Barton, only one of these players will make the Opening Day roster and the "loser" of the competition will likely be traded.
Battling For The Final Spot
|Kevin Melillo's sore right wrist needed surgery in the off-season. b>|
When healthy, Melillo projects to be an above-average offensive second baseman. He has good power and a patient approach at the plate. He used to rate as below-average with the glove, but he has worked hard to make himself an average defensive second baseman. Melillo has also spent time at third base and has done well at that spot. He offers a similar skill-set to Hannahan and will have to out-play Hannahan to win his spot on the A's roster. Melillo, who walked in his only major league at-bat in 2007, is likely to see some time at the big-league level in 2008 even if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster.
|Gregorio Petit is a master with the glove. b>|
Petit's main asset as a player is with his glove. He has an above-average arm, soft hands and quick feet. His natural position is at shortstop, but he has also seen a lot of time at second base during his career and has done well there, as well. Offensively, he is capable of putting up decent batting averages, but he could use some improvement with his pitch selection. Petit only turned 23 in December, so he is still young. He could use some additional seasoning in Triple-A to improve his approach at the plate, but if the A's need a defensive specialist at any point during the season, they may call on Petit.
Looking To Make An Impression
Brooks Conrad: Conrad was signed to a minor league contract this off-season after spending seven seasons in the Houston Astros minor league chain. He was a solid prospect for the Astros for some time, but he never had a chance to play at the major-league level. In 2007, he hit 22 homers (his third straight season with more than 20 homers) for Triple-A Round Rock, but he slumped to a .218 average and a 725 OPS after posting a .267 average and an 868 OPS in 2006.
Conrad can play both at second and third and he has good power. He has always been a high strikeout guy. The switch-hitter turned 28 in January. He will be looking to show the A's coaching staff that his struggles in 2007 were an aberration. Conrad will be hoping to parlay his time in camp into a few chances at the major league level during the season.
Casey Rogowski: Rogowski signed a minor league deal with the A's this off-season after spending his entire nine-year minor league career in the Chicago White Sox chain. The left-handed hitting first baseman has spent the past two seasons in Triple-A, posting a 787 OPS in 2006 and a 740 OPS in 2007. Rogowski's best season in the minor leagues came in 2004 with High-A Winston-Salem, when he had a .401 OBP and he hit 18 homers and drove-in 90 runs.
Rogowski may have a tough time getting at-bats early this spring, especially if first baseman Wes Bankston (who was waived last week when the A's signed Keith Foulke) clears waivers and rejoins the A's as a non-roster player, as he will have to compete with Barton, Johnson, Sweeney and possibly Bankston for reps at first base.
Here For The Future
|Jeff Baisley struggled with a knee injury in 2007. b>|
Despite his late-season struggles, Baisley is still well thought of by the A's brass. The right-handed hitter has good power and the ability to hit for high average. He is also a strong defensive third baseman with soft hands, a good throwing arm and good footwork. Depending on who makes the A's Opening Day roster, Baisley will either start the season at Double-A or Triple-A. Even if he starts the year in Double-A, he is likely to spend time at Triple-A by season's end.