New Starter: Kevin Kouzmanoff
For the first time since 1998, the Oakland A's are entering spring training with someone other than Eric Chavez expected to be the team's everyday third baseman. Despite the fact that Chavez is still under contract with the team for one more season and is theoretically healthy, the A's took no chances this off-season in addressing the third base position. The past two years, Oakland has struggled to find any consistent production at third, as injuries have limited Chavez to 31 total games. The A's have been forced to try a parade of players at third, but none of them distinguished themselves.
Determined to have an established major league third baseman on the roster besides Chavez, the A's first went after Marco Scutaro and then Adrian Beltre in free agency. After missing out on those players, Oakland swung a deal with the San Diego Padres to acquire Kouzmanoff. Kouzmanoff has spent the past three seasons as the Padres' starting third baseman, playing at least 141 games in each of those three seasons. The right-handed hitter isn't the same level of hitter or defender that Chavez is when healthy, but the Nevada alum has good power (59 homers over the past three seasons despite playing his home games in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park) and a reliable glove (only three errors and a .990 fielding percentage last season). Kouzmanoff will be making the sometimes difficult transition from the National League to the American League, but his numbers should benefit from the move away from Petco Park and be a significant improvement over the production the A's have received from the position over the past two seasons.
First Line of Defense: Jake Fox, Eric Chavez
Before Kouzmanoff was acquired in mid-January, Fox was one of the leading candidates to be the A's everyday third baseman in 2010. Fox was originally a catcher in the Cubs' system, but he has seen significant time at third over the past few seasons. He isn't considered a strong defensive third baseman, but the A's felt he was capable of hitting well enough to overcome his defensive deficiencies. Fox was a rookie with the Cubs last season and he hit 11 homers in 82 games. He played all over the field for the Cubs, but he appeared in the most games at third base. Fox is out of options, so the A's would have to expose him to waivers if he doesn't make the team out of spring training, meaning he'd have to play his way off of the roster at this point. He is likely to get regular starts against left-handed pitchers at a variety of positions where the A's have left-handed hitting starters (right field, first base and DH), but he will also be an option for everyday at-bats at third if Kouzmanoff is injured.
If Chavez is healthy in 2010 (and despite the early good news out of camp, that is a big ‘if'), it will be hard for the A's not to run Chavez out at third a decent amount. He is still the most talented hitter and defender on the roster and, at age 32, should have a lot of good at-bats left in him if healthy. It isn't likely that Chavez will be healthy enough to play third on a regular basis, however, so even if Kouzmanoff was to go down with a season-ending injury, Chavez would likely have to platoon with another player (perhaps the right-handed hitting Fox) to keep the wear-and-tear of playing everyday to a minimum. More than likely, Chavez will be a spot starter for the A's at a variety of positions including third base for as long as he is in good health. Given that Chavez is a left-handed hitter and Kouzmanoff hits from the right side, Chavez is likely to get his starts at third against the tougher right-handed pitchers in the league.
Spot Starter: Adam Rosales
As was detailed in our piece on the A's middle infield depth chart, Rosales enters camp as the favorite to be Oakland's back-up middle infielder in 2010. If Rosales earns that role, he will not only be a back-up option at second and short, but he will also be available to back-up third. In fact, in his career, Rosales has played at third base as often as any other position besides shortstop. He doesn't hit well enough to be an everyday option at the position, but he should be a decent option there for the occasional start and to fill in defensively late in games, especially when Fox starts.
Fighting to Make the Roster: Dallas McPherson
Before the Kouzmanoff acquisition, McPherson was set to battle Fox to be the A's primary third baseman. Now with Kouzmanoff on-board and Chavez looking healthy early in camp, McPherson is facing longer odds to make the A's Opening Day roster. McPherson is a familiar name to A's fans because he was the Angels' top prospect for a number of years and was supposed to be the man who replaced Troy Glaus at third in Anaheim. Unfortunately for the Citadel alum, injuries have sidetracked a once-promising career.
When healthy McPherson has always had an elite power bat. In 608 minor league games, McPherson has pounded 150 homers and he has posted a 970 OPS. He has fared well in the power department in limited big league action, as well, connecting for 18 longballs in 128 games. What has prevented McPherson from being an established major leaguer have been injuries, which cost him the 2007 and 2009 seasons and limited him to less than 100 games in 2005.
For McPherson to make the A's Opening Day roster, two things have to happen: 1) he has to have a healthy and productive spring and 2) either Chavez or Kouzmanoff have to go down with injuries. There is also a chance that McPherson could bump Fox off of the roster if he has a big spring and Fox struggles. However, Fox is out of options and has more defensive versatility than McPherson (who is limited to third and first), so Fox will have play very poorly to lose his spot to McPherson coming out of spring training.
Minor League Depth: Eric Sogard, Steven Tolleson, Adrian Cardenas, Gregorio Petit, Jeff Baisley
Should the A's face a rash of injuries at the hot corner in the big leagues, Oakland will have a number of options at Triple-A or Double-A to turn to. In addition to McPherson (if he doesn't make the team out of camp), the A's will have available at Triple-A or Double-A infielders Sogard, Tolleson, Cardenas, Petit and Baisley, all of whom are capable of playing third base. Of this group, Baisley is the only true third baseman. The others are middle infielders who have experience at third. However, Baisley has seen his position on the depth chart fall since 2008 when he was called up to the big leagues in September. Baisley was dropped from the A's 40-man roster last spring and he found himself struggling to get consistent playing time with Sacramento at times last season. Of this group, Baisley is the best defensive third baseman.
Cardenas – being the top prospect in this group – isn't likely to get the call to Oakland unless there is regular playing time available for him. Sogard and Tolleson are new to the organization and their place on the depth chart will likely be based on the impression they make on the A's coaching staff in big league camp this spring. Petit doesn't have the bat to be a corner infielder on a regular basis, but if Rosales or one of the A's starting middle infielders were to be injured, Petit could get the call to serve as a primary back-up at third, as well as the other infield positions.
Other Options: Eric Patterson, Josh Donaldson, Yung-Chi Chen, Alexander Valdez
The A's have plenty of options at third both on their likely Opening Day roster and in the upper levels of the big leagues, but if they have to reach even deeper at the position, there will be some additional options they can turn to. Patterson is trying to make the A's roster this spring and one of his biggest attributes is his defensive versatility, as he can play second base and all three outfield positions. Patterson has also seen some limited time at third base during his minor league career and if he makes the A's roster out of spring training, he could be an emergency option for Oakland at the hot corner. Patterson didn't look that comfortable defensively at third base in Sacramento last season, however.
Another player who could shift to third in an emergency capacity is Donaldson, a catcher who was a third baseman at the start of his collegiate career. Donaldson is expected to be the starting catcher in Sacramento this season, but the A's have three solid catchers who could be on the Sacramento roster (Donaldson, Anthony Recker and Joel Galarraga), so Donaldson could get some playing time at third to keep him sharp at the position and get more at-bats for Recker and Galarraga.
Chen and Valdez are both utility infielders who have intriguing offensive skills. Chen, as we detailed in the middle infield depth chart article, was a top prospect for Seattle before injuries derailed his career. He is a career .295 hitter in the minor leagues. Valdez has been a relative unknown in the A's system for the past six years, but he is starting to make a name for himself. The switch-hitter batted .280 in his first stint at Double-A last season and he batted .308 during the recently completed Dominican Winter League season. Valdez earned the league's Rookie of the Year award for his efforts. A good athlete with a strong throwing arm, Valdez has split his time between second base and third base during his minor league career.
Oakland A's Depth Chart: Third Base
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