With two weeks of games in the books, several Oakland A's prospects and non-roster invitees are making a strong impression this spring, including Michael Choice (1195 OPS), Shane Peterson (1279 OPS), Grant Green (1313 OPS), Jefry Marte (1111 OPS) and Darwin Perez (955 OPS).
It isn't an usual occurrence to see prospects and non-roster invitees turn heads during spring training. We take a look at some prospects and NRIs in A's camp over the past few years who made similar strong impressions and trace what happened to those players after spring ended.
2007 Spring Standouts
The Oakland A's came into the 2007 as the defending AL West champions and as a team that had reached the American League Championship Series. The A's were supposed to be contenders once again in 2007 and they were a veteran-laden squad. Despite going into camp with a relatively set roster, the A's still had several prospects and non-roster invitees make a splash that spring.
The biggest splash was made by outfielder Travis Buck. Buck was the A's second pick in 2005 and he had a strong first full professional season in 2006, hitting .320/.385/.521 for High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. He was the A's top prospect going into the 2007, but he was expected to start the season with Triple-A Sacramento. Those plans changed when Buck got off to a fast start in spring training, impressing the A's coaching staff with his presence at the plate and his energy out in the field.
Buck wound up winning a spot on the A's Opening Day roster and was a regular in the A's line-up soon after that. He would go on to have a strong, albeit truncated, rookie season, posting a .288/.377/.474 line. Those numbers came in only 82 games, however, as Buck would miss a significant part of the season with injuries. Injuries would become a theme for Buck, as he has never regained the form that he displayed in 2007. Buck hit only .226 in 38 games for the A's in 2008, .219 in 36 games with Oakland in 2009 and .167 in 14 games for the A's in 2010.
Buck was released by the A's after the 2010 season and he has hit under .225 in 83 games for Cleveland and Houston in 2011 and 2012. He is currently a non-roster invitee in Padres' camp and he is batting .375 in 24 spring at-bats thus far.
Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki were also top-five prospects for the A's entering that spring. Both were stuck behind veterans in camp and weren't given an opportunity to win jobs out of spring training, but both would make their big league debuts later in the year. Barton, who was 21 at the time, spent most of the season with Triple-A Sacramento. He posted an 827 OPS in 136 games for the River Cats. After a strong showing at the start of the River Cats' post-season run, Barton was made a September call-up by the A's. He had a red-hot September debut for Oakland, homering four times in 84 at-bats and posting a 1067 OPS.
Since 2007, Barton's career has yo-yoed between success and failure. He was unspectacular in his rookie 2008 season, posting a 674 OPS in 140 games. Barton then lost his starting job during the 2009 spring training, when the A's brought in veterans Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Giambi. Barton would regain his starting job late in the year and did show some improvement, posting a 784 OPS in 54 games. He would put together his best major league season in 2010, putting up a .393 OBP while playing above-average defense at first. However, Barton's play has regressed significantly over the past two years, in part because of a shoulder injury. He is fighting for a roster spot with the A's this spring.
Suzuki had been on the radar of the A's major league coaching staff since 2005, when he was invited to his first big league spring training. Despite that, Suzuki wasn't expected to play much of a role for the A's in 2007, as veteran Jason Kendall was firmly entrenched as the A's starter. After his strong spring in big league camp, Suzuki was assigned to Triple-A Sacramento. He hit .280 in 55 games for the River Cats before he was given a mid-season promotion to the big leagues.
Suzuki served as Kendall's back-up for roughly a month before the A's traded Kendall to the Chicago Cubs and turned over the starting job to Suzuki. The A's 2004 second-round pick remained the A's primary catcher until last August, when Oakland traded him to the Washington Nationals. Suzuki is expected to be the Nationals' number one catcher in 2013.
2009 Spring Standouts
After a disappointing 2007 season, the A's front office made several big trades, dealing several veterans for a large number of prospects. The 2008 A's over-achieved, finishing the season at .500, while the A's minor league system saw several prospects put together standout seasons. Buoyed by the organization's success both at the major and minor league levels, the A's front office acquired several high-profile veterans with an eye towards competing for a playoff berth in 2009.
Although the position-player side of the A's roster was veteran-laden, the A's pitchers in camp were on the younger side, as a whole, leaving open opportunities for young pitchers to make strong impressions. Two of those young pitchers were Brett Anderson and Andrew Bailey. Both were slated to start the year with Triple-A Sacramento, but both pitched too well for the A's to keep them in the minor leagues.
Anderson struggled some to start the year, but he found his footing midway through the season and was one of the best left-handed pitchers in AL during the second half of 2009. Since then, Anderson has been one of the A's top starters when he has been healthy. Health has been an issue, however. He had arm problems in 2010 and 2011, eventually leading to Tommy John surgery. Anderson also missed time last season with an oblique injury. If healthy, Anderson will be the A's Opening Day starter in 2013.
Bailey began the 2009 season as a middle reliever, but he quickly pitched his way into more important innings. Bailey eventually became the A's closer and he would go on to win the AL Rookie of the Year. The right-hander was an effective closer for the A's in 2010 and 2011, although he, too, missed significant time with injury. The A's traded Bailey after the 2011 season to the Boston Red Sox. The New Jersey native's first season with the Red Sox didn't go particularly well, as he missed the first half of the season with a thumb injury and struggled when he returned. Bailey is expected to be a set-up man for the Red Sox this season.
Sean Doolittle was the A's second overall pick in 2007 and he was one of several prospects in the A's system to have standout 2008 seasons. Doolittle began the year with High-A Stockton and he hit 18 homers in 86 games for the Ports before earning a promotion to Double-A Midland. Doolittle struggled after his promotion to the Rockhounds, but he was one of the stars of the Arizona Fall League. Despite that Fall League performance, there was still some debate over whether Doolittle should return to Double-A or move up to Triple-A before the start of spring training.
Doolittle quieted that debate quickly with his spring performance both at the plate and in the outfield. The A's front office considered putting Doolittle on the Opening Day roster, but ultimately they decided to send him to Sacramento. Doolittle got off to a fast start with the River Cats, but he injured his knee during the first week of May. That knee injury would cost Doolittle the rest of the 2009 season and all of the 2010 campaign. After a wrist injury wrecked his 2011 season, Doolittle decided to move to the mound and he quickly rose through the A's system as a reliever. He will be a set-up man for the A's this season.
Matt Carson came to the A's as a non-roster invitee after seven years in the New York Yankees' system. The BYU alum impressed the A's coaching staff with his defensive abilities and his aggressiveness at the plate during spring training. Carson continued to play well with Sacramento once the season started and he would eventually receive his first major league call-up that season. Carson remained with the A's until midway through the 2011 season, when the A's sent Carson to the Tampa Bay Rays' organization. Carson played in 26 games for the Twins in 2012 and he is competing for a roster spot with the Cleveland Indians this spring.
2010 Spring Standouts
Tyson Ross: 9.2 IP, 2.79 ERA, 12 K, 2 BB
There weren't many surprises in A's camp in 2010, with the exception of the performance of Tyson Ross. The Oakland native was taken in the second round by the A's in 2008. He pitched well as a starter in his first full professional season, reaching Double-A midway through the 2009 campaign. Going into the 2010 spring training, however, Ross wasn't expected to be a factor for the A's. Instead, he was projected to be in the starting rotation for either Double-A Midland or Triple-A Sacramento.
Those plans changed when Ross began snapping off his sharp slider and blowing his fastball past hitters. Ross filled the strike-zone that spring and was a surprise member of the A's Opening Day roster as a reliever. In retrospect, Ross probably wasn't ready for the big leagues in 2010. He struggled to find the strike-zone during his rookie season, walking 20 in 39.2 innings. The A's sent Ross back to the minor leagues midway through the season. Back in the minors, Ross returned to the starting rotation. However, he was limited only to six starts thanks to injuries.
In 2011, Ross began the year in Triple-A, but he was back on the A's roster before the start of the minor league regular season when Michael Wuertz landed on the DL. Ross pitched well for the A's at the start of the year, making six starts and three relief appearances. However, he injured his oblique in late May and never fully recovered from the injury. He struggled in 10 minor league starts and missed significant time on the disabled list. In 2012, Ross split the season between the A's staff and the River Cats' starting rotation. Ross pitched well for Sacramento, but he was roughed up with the A's, posting a 6.50 ERA in 73.1 innings. The A's traded Ross this off-season to the San Diego Padres.
2011 Spring Standouts
Jemile Weeks was the A's top pick in 2008, but the switch-hitting second baseman had been something of a disappointment up until the spring of 2011. Weeks badly injured his hip a few weeks into his professional career and the hip injuries dogged him during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Weeks appeared in only 157 games between those two seasons and he posted underwhelming numbers.
Weeks looked like a different player during the spring of 2011. He was healthy and played without restrictions, turning singles into doubles and showing good range in the field. Based on that spring performance, the A's sent Weeks to Triple-A despite his struggles at the Double-A level in 2009 and 2010. Weeks continued to play well with the River Cats. He posted an 862 OPS in 45 games with Sacramento and the A's didn't hesitate to bring Weeks to the big leagues when veteran Mark Ellis was injured. Weeks would star for the A's for the rest of the season, batting .303 in 97 games. The 2012 season didn't go as well for Weeks, however. He posted a 609 OPS and finished the year in Triple-A. He is competing to regain his spot as the A's starting second baseman this spring.
Andy LaRoche was brought into A's camp as a non-roster invitee. A few years earlier, LaRoche had been one of the top prospects in baseball, but his chances of a long major league career had dimmed considerably after two unproductive seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. LaRoche received a long look by the A's during the spring of 2011 and he took advantage of the opportunity, earning a spot on the A's Opening Day roster.
Serving as a back-up infielder, LaRoche appeared in 40 games for the A's. He wasn't able to capture his spring training form, however, posting a 654 OPS in 93 at-bats. LaRoche was sent back to Triple-A midway through the season and he spent the rest of the season with the River Cats. LaRoche split his 2012 season between the Cleveland and Boston organizations, spending the entire year at the Triple-A level. He is currently in camp with the Toronto Blue Jays.
2012 Spring Standouts
Brandon Moss: 13 G, 22 AB, .500/.522/.773
Collin Cowgill: 20 G, 48 AB, .396/.455/.563
Andrew Carignan: 8.1 IP, 2.16 ERA, 9 K, 0 BB
With a season-opening series in Japan cutting their spring training short, the A's didn't have many opportunities for players to emerge on the scene unexpectedly. Consequently, there weren't many surprise members of the A's 2012 Opening Day roster. Collin Cowgill and Andrew Carignan were arguably the only members of the Opening Day roster who weren't penciled into that roster before the start of the spring.
Cowgill, an outfielder, was acquired during the off-season in a trade with Arizona. He came into camp with the advantage of having played in the Diamondbacks' organization when A's manager Bob Melvin was working in their front office. Cowgill was one of the A's top hitters in camp and he impressed the coaching staff with his hustle in the field and on the bases.
As a fourth outfielder, Cowgill appeared in 32 games for the A's during the first half of the season. He was hitting .271/.343/.313 when he injured his ankle trying to make a diving catch in a game against the Giants. Cowgill missed several weeks and lost his spot on the A's roster by the time he was healthy. He wouldn't return to the A's roster until September and he was traded by the A's to the New York Mets during the off-season.
Carignan was coming off of a breakthrough 2011 season that saw him make his major league debut in September. The right-hander struggled through injury problems in 2009 and 2010 before putting together a mostly healthy 2011 campaign. He came into A's camp last season throwing strikes and hitting the mid-90s with his velocity.
Once the regular season started, Carignan's command eluded him with the A's. He was sent back to Sacramento in mid-April, but after pitching well for the River Cats, he was brought back to Oakland. Unfortunately for Carignan, his stay with the A's didn't last long, as he injured his elbow and missed the rest of the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is projected to be back on the mound in May or June.
Brandon Moss, a minor league free agent signing, wasn't given much of an opportunity to make the A's roster out of spring training. He took advantage of whatever opportunities he was given, putting up monster numbers. Moss continued to put up big numbers for Triple-A Sacramento once the regular season started. He had an option to opt-out of his contract with the A's on June 1 if Oakland didn't promote him to the big leagues. With Moss hitting .286/.371/.582 for the River Cats, the A's didn't want to lose him so they brought him up to the big leagues. Despite having to play an unfamiliar position (first base), Moss excelled with the A's. He posted a 954 OPS and was instrumental in the A's run to the post-season. Moss is expected to be the A's regular first baseman against right-handed pitchers this season.