Oakland A's Depth Chart: Middle Infield

Over the past three seasons, injuries have become almost synonymous with Oakland A's baseball. The frequent injuries have tested the A's organizational depth and caused the front office to stockpile talent at the upper levels of the A's system. We take a closer look at the A's depth at the major league and Triple-A levels at each position. Inside we examine the A's depth in the middle infield.

Incumbent Starters: Mark Ellis (2B) and Cliff Pennington (SS)

The A's middle infield will be manned by a mix of experience and youth in 2010. Mark Ellis, the longest serving Oakland A's player outside of Eric Chavez, will return as the team's second baseman for an eighth season, while Cliff Pennington – he of 96 career major league games – will likely earn his first Opening Day start at shortstop.

Of the A's expected starters on Opening Day, only one remains from the A's 2006 AL West division championship team: Mark Ellis. When healthy, Ellis has been one of the A's most valuable players since making his debut in 2002. Health, however, has been an issue for Ellis throughout his career, beginning with a serious shoulder injury that cost him the 2004 season. Since 2005, Ellis has played more than 130 games only once. Last season, he was limited to 105 games thanks to a calf injury. If he is healthy, Ellis is guaranteed to be in the lineup on a daily basis, but given his injury history, it is likely that the A's backup second baseman will see some action in 2010. Ellis is in the last year of his contract (there is an option for 2011), so he could become a trade target for contending teams in July if the A's are out of the race.

For the first time since the 2003 campaign, a pre-season look at the A's middle infield does not include Bobby Crosby as a factor at shortstop. Crosby, after an ultimately disappointing six season stint with the A's, has moved on to Pittsburgh via free agency. Meanwhile, the A's have turned to the man who was drafted with the team's number one pick during Crosby's best season with the team (2005): Cliff Pennington.

Pennington has had a bumpy road to the major leagues. A series of hamstring injuries limited his effectiveness in 2006 and 2007 and had many pundits questioning whether he would ever make it to the major leagues. Pennington turned his career around with a strong 2008 season in the minors that culminated in a September audition with the A's. Despite playing reasonably well for Oakland in September of 2008, the A's chose to sign free agent Orlando Cabrera and retain Crosby in 2009, forcing Pennington to start the season in Triple-A. However, when Cabrera was traded to Minnesota at the July 31st deadline, the A's handed the shortstop job to Pennington rather than Crosby, ushering in a new era for Oakland, at least until 2009 first-round pick Grant Green is ready for primetime.

Pennington didn't waste his opportunity with the A's in 2009. Batting mostly in the ninth spot in the lineup, Pennington hit .279 with a 760 OPS. He also played solid defense until a bad streak with the glove the final two weeks of the season. Pennington will have every opportunity to make the A's shortstop job his own this season, as there isn't a top prospect pressing him just yet. To keep the job, Pennington will need to play well on defense and find his way on-base at a solid clip. He will also need to steer clear of the hamstring injuries that hampered him his first two full professional seasons.

First Line of Defense: Adam Rosales

Going into the off-season, the A's didn't have a clear-cut favorite for their back-up middle infield spot. They addressed that need on February 1 when they acquired Adam Rosales in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds. Rosales comes to Oakland with 105 career major league games and the ability to play all over the infield. Rosales has only a .212 average in the major leagues, but he has had a solid minor league track record. In five minor league seasons, he has a .289 average and an 855 OPS. In 30 games in Triple-A last season, Rosales hit .349 with a 1004 OPS.

Rosales is, by no means, an established major league veteran, but he should have the inside track on the A's back-up infielder role. It is likely that only an injury or a dramatically poor performance during spring training will cost Rosales' his spot on the Opening Day roster. Whether he becomes a permanent fixture on the A's roster will have a lot to do with how he handles any playing time opportunities he gets during the season.

Fighting to Make the Roster: Eric Patterson, Gregorio Petit

The A's may only carry one back-up middle infielder, but if they carry two then Eric Patterson and Gregorio Petit are the two leading candidates to earn that second spot. Both players enter camp with factors going for them and against them.

Patterson comes into camp on a wave of momentum after batting .362 with a .492 OBP over 18 games in September and October for Oakland. It was Patterson's first successful stretch in the big leagues after three previous unproductive stints with the A's and the Chicago Cubs. Patterson played mostly in the outfield with the A's last season, but he is primarily a second baseman and that is where he has played for the majority of his minor league career. The fact that Patterson can play both in the infield and the outfield is to his advantage when vying for a job. Also working in Patterson's favor is the fact that he is out of options, so the A's will risk losing him if they don't keep him on their Opening Day roster. Given his speed and minor league track record, it seems unlikely that Patterson would make it through waivers. He may generate some trade interest, however. Working against Patterson is the fact that he isn't a strong defender at second base and he hasn't seen much time at other infield positions. In addition, he hasn't played much centerfield despite his above-average speed. If he can show a dependable glove at second this spring, he will be a much more viable option for the A's bench.

In contrast, any advantage Petit has in chasing a spot on the A's roster is with the glove. He is arguably the best defensive middle infielder in the A's system outside of Ellis. However, his bat lags far behind his glove and he has clearly fallen down the organizational depth chart. The A's chose not to make him a September call-up last season and dropped him off of the 40-man roster in early February. He made it through waivers and remains the team's best option if Oakland chooses to go with a defense-first mentality for its bench, although he will have to overcome the disadvantage of no longer being a member of the 40-man roster.

Triple-A Depth: Corey Wimberly, Eric Sogard, Steven Tolleson and Adrian Cardenas

Over the past few seasons, the A's have had to call on the services of a number of the Sacramento River Cats' infielders. If the A's need to turn to their Triple-A affiliate once again this season, they will have plenty of options to choose from. Neither Wimberly, Sogard, Tolleson or Cardenas have major league experience, but all offer the A's some unique skill-sets.

Cardenas is the top prospect of this group. Originally a shortstop coming out of high school, Cardenas has mostly played second base in the minor leagues. He has also seen time at third and a little at short, although his best glove position right now is at second. Cardenas is a top prospect not for his glove, however, but his bat, which is advanced for a 22-year-old. As a 21-year-old last season, Cardenas posted an 838 OPS at the Double-A level. He also benefited from some extended time at Triple-A. He struggled during his first stint with the River Cats, but hit much better his second time around. Because Cardenas is a top prospect, he isn't going to be on a roster unless he has an everyday role. In other words, he isn't likely to make the team unless there is a starting job available for him. Given that, it would likely take an injury to or a trade of Ellis to land Cardenas in Oakland before September.

Wimberly will be a non-roster invitee to major league camp for a second consecutive year. He impressed the A's front office with his high-energy play and versatility last spring. In addition to being able to play at second, third and short, Wimberly can handle all three outfield positions. His speed, versatility and on-base skills are his biggest assets. He has never played above the Double-A level, however. Wimberly will most likely have to prove himself with Sacramento before he gets the call from the A's.

Sogard and Tolleson were acquired by the A's late in the off-season to address the organization's relative lack of depth in the middle infield in the upper levels of their system. Sogard has primarily been a second baseman since turning pro, but the A's plan to play him all around the infield. He has a solid bat for a middle infielder with an above-average batting eye. Sogard won't turn 24 until May and he has yet to play at the Triple-A level, so he will likely need some time with Sacramento before he becomes an option for Oakland, especially considering that he will be playing at infield positions he hasn't played at professionally before.

Tolleson may be a more immediate option for the A's. The 26-year-old has experience at Triple-A and has more experience playing at second and short in the minor leagues. He was acquired off of waivers on February 1st, so unlike Cardenas, Wimberly and Sogard, Tolleson is on the 40-man roster. He doesn't have the offensive skills of Cardenas or Sogard or Wimberly's speed, but his skill-set is well-suited for a back-up middle infield job in the major leagues.

Other Options: Eric Chavez, Jemile Weeks, Yung-Chi Chen

If there is a back-up job available this spring, Chavez will apparently be an option for it. Because of his recent injury history, the A's were taking no chances with their third base job this season, acquiring Kevin Kouzmanoff to be the everyday third baseman. With Kouzmanoff on-board, the A's will have to get creative to get Chavez in the line-up, if he is healthy. He has already been working out at first and has been mentioned as an option in the outfield. His name has also been mentioned in connection to the shortstop position. Chavez last played the position in high school, however, and it is hard to imagine him being able to handle the position given his back and shoulder problems. Still, if he can show a competent glove at short this spring, he will likely see some time there during the season.

Weeks, like Cardenas, is a top prospect and, like Cardenas, isn't going to be on a roster unless he is playing everyday. Unlike Cardenas, Weeks has yet to play at the Triple-A level. He also missed time last season with a leg injury. Weeks is a second baseman only, so Ellis would need to be off the active roster for Weeks to have a shot this season in Oakland. He will have a chance to start the season at Triple-A, but he is likely at least a half season away from being major league ready.

Chen, a former top prospect with the Seattle Mariners, was acquired by the A's off of waivers last season. He was eventually dropped from the 40-man roster but remained with the team. Chen suffered through an injury-filled 2009 season with Midland and Sacramento, but he hit .306 in 52 games. Chen will have to fight for a spot on the River Cats' roster this spring in minor league camp, but he is a talented hitter and he can play multiple positions, so he would be an intriguing option for the A's bench should he put together a healthy season.


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