September is fast approaching, and with it comes expanded major league rosters. The Oakland A's haven't historically used all 40 of their possible September roster spots, but they will certainly add several players throughout the month to augment their current 25-man roster down-the-stretch.
Below we take a look at the position players on the current Triple-A Sacramento River Cats' roster to weigh the chances that those players might be donning the green-and-gold next month.
Note: Players currently on the disabled list have not been included in this discussion.
Jemile Weeks: One of this season's ongoing subplots has been when (and if) Weeks would return to the A's roster. Oakland's 2008 first-round pick had a stellar rookie campaign in 2011, but he slumped in 2012 and found himself back in the minor leagues late in the season. The A's made him a September call-up last year, but he didn't play much for Oakland down-the-stretch and he has spent the entire 2013 season with the River Cats.
The chances are quite good that Weeks will be a September call-up for a second straight year. He hasn't had a spectacular season with the River Cats (he has a 782 OPS in 117 games), but Weeks has reached base at a .382 clip and has stolen 17 bases in 19 chances. He has also improved his defensive versatility, gaining experience at shortstop and centerfield in addition to his customary second base position. Given Weeks' previous big league experience, his ability to switch hit, his base-running skills and his added defensive versatility, he seems like a perfect fit for the A's bench next month.
Hiroyuki Nakajima: The second-most followed subplot for the A's this season has been the progress of Japanese free agent signing Nakajima. The shortstop was supposed to be an everyday player when he signed with the A's this winter, but he struggled during spring training and finished the spring on the DL. Once healthy, Nakajima was optioned to Sacramento and he has spent the entire season with the River Cats.
For the most part, Nakajima has done a solid job of hitting for average (.293 on the year and only one month under .295), but he hasn't hit for much power (four homers and a .377 SLG). He doesn't have Weeks' plus speed or patient approach at the plate, so the lack of power diminishes Nakajima's value a lot more than it hurts Weeks. Like Weeks, Nakajima has increased his defensive versatility this season, adding second base and third base to his resume. Unlike Weeks, Nakajima is no longer on the A's 40-man roster, having been removed over the weekend. The A's are paying Nakajima more than $3 million this season, but dropping him from the 40-man roster may be a strong indication that they don't plan to use him at the big league level this season.
Andy Parrino: Of the A's three Sacramento middle infielders, Parrino has struggled the most offensively (.220/.307/.318 in 97 games), but he has been far-and-away the team's best defensive infielder. In fact, one could make the argument that Parrino is the best defensive middle infielder in the organization, or at least a close second to Eric Sogard. Parrino can handle every defensive position in the infield except catcher and first and he also has some experience playing the corner outfield positions, making him extremely versatile. The A's have struggled defensively this season and Parrino could be a nice fit as a defensive replacement late in games. That being said, he hasn't hit well enough to justify giving him important at-bats late in games. If the A's decide to bring up two middle infielders, there is a good chance that one of them would be Parrino given his defensive prowess.
Daric Barton: The former A's top prospect appears to be nearing the end of his time in the Oakland organization. Although he spent a little time on the A's roster at the start of the year, Barton has been primarily in Triple-A this season. He has put together a solid year with the River Cats, posting a .297/.425/.433 line in 103 games. However, he hasn't shown the power one would like to see from a first baseman. The arrival of prospect Anthony Aliotti to Sacramento pushed Barton from first to third base, a position Barton hadn't played with any regularity since 2007. Barton's major league experience, his defense at first and his ability to put together a quality at-bat make him a possibility for September, but given that the A's already have two first-basemen who have been productive this season on the roster, it isn't likely that Barton will get the call. If he isn't added to the 40-man roster this September, Barton will be a free agent this fall.
Anthony Aliotti: Aliotti spent most of the season in Double-A, where he put up MVP-like numbers before earning a promotion to Triple-A in late July. He struggled initially with the jump to Sacramento, although he has been swinging the bat well of late (.306/.390/.417 in his last 10 games). Aliotti is a strong defensive first baseman and, like Barton, regularly puts together quality at-bats. Given that he is just getting his feet wet in Triple-A, Aliotti isn't a strong candidate for a September call-up. It will be interesting to see if the A's protect the 2009 15th-round pick for this December's Rule 5 draft.
Ryan Ortiz, David Freitas and the candidate to be named later: Without exception, the A's always carry a third catcher in September. It is a no-brainer move, given the beating catchers take on a day-in and day-out basis. At the very least, third catchers can handle some of the pitcher warm-up duties and other extraneous tasks usually left to the two catchers on a team's everyday 25-man roster.
The A's are in an unusual position going into September. Their starting catcher, John Jaso, is currently battling symptoms from a concussion he sustained just after the All-Star break. There is a distinct possibility that Jaso won't be able to return this year, given the tricky nature of head injuries. Stephen Vogt has done an admirable job filling in for Jaso, while Derek Norris has handled his duties well as the platoon catcher against left-handed pitchers, despite battling a back problem of his own.
Luke Montz is the only other catcher currently on the A's 40-man roster, but he is on the DL. The two catchers currently in Sacramento are Ortiz and Freitas. Both spent time with the A's during major league spring training, but both have spent a big chunk of the season in the lower level of the minors (Ortiz in High-A and Freitas in Double-A) and neither has more than 50 games of Triple-A experience, let alone any major-league experience.
Ortiz has been in the organization since 2009 and knows the A's staff fairly well because of that experience (he even has a cameo in one of the A's ‘Green Collar' ads). Generally thought of as an offense-first catcher, Ortiz has improved defensively and his arm strength has returned after shoulder surgery in 2010. Unfortunately, Ortiz has struggled at the plate since returning from his shoulder problems. In 55 games this year, he has a 699 OPS and a .227 average between Stockton and Sacramento.
Freitas was acquired by the A's for Kurt Suzuki last August. While he spent some time with the A's staff this spring, Freitas hasn't caught most of them on a regular basis. Freitas had a big debut with the A's last year with Double-A Midland (916 OPS in 63 at-bats), but he struggled at the plate with the RockHounds this year (.214/.285/.362). Freitas has hit well since being promoted to Sacramento in late July (.308/.384/.446) and he has some power, but he is still very green compared to most of the catchers in the big leagues.
It is likely that the A's will acquire a veteran catcher on a minor league deal over the next few weeks and then add him to the 40-man roster on September 1. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle has mentioned former A's prospect John Baker as a possibility. Baker, a veteran of parts of four major league seasons, was recently outrighted off of the 40-man roster by the Los Angeles Dodgers. LA may be willing to send Baker to the A's if he isn't in their plans for September. Former San Francisco Giants catcher Guillermo Quiroz is another possibility. He was removed from the Giants' 40-man roster earlier this month and was outrighted to Triple-A. The Giants may also be willing to send Quiroz to the A's if Quiroz has a better opportunity to play in the big leagues with Oakland this season than with San Francisco.
Michael Choice: The A's outfield situation has been crowded all season with five players with significant starting experience (Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Chris Young and Seth Smith) sharing the outfield and DH at-bats. The A's have received relatively disappointing production from that group of five, but the A's have stuck with that group and are unlikely to change the playing-time dynamic this late in the season.
That being said, given the fragile health of Crisp and the A's propensity to play a lot of extra-inning games this season, Oakland is likely to bring up at least one outfielder who can fill in when the current group of five needs a breather. There is a chance the A's will summon two outfielders, but unless the A's suffer a significant injury to one of their current outfielders, any September call-up is likely to receive limited playing time.
Choice is one of the candidates to get a September nod, although the fact that he isn't yet on the 40-man roster does work against him some. The A's top pick in 2010 has had a solid first season in Triple-A after an injury-shortened 2012 in Double-A. Choice currently has a .300/.387/.447 line in 119 games for the River Cats. His power numbers are a little lower than one would expect, but he has made consistently solid contact all season and is capable of hitting prodigious homeruns.
Defensively, Choice has been a centerfielder for most of his career, although he projects as a corner outfielder longterm. He has received experience in both corners this season and would be an option for the A's defensively at all three spots in the outfield, although he wouldn't be used as a defensive replacement, per se. Choice has above-average speed, but that hasn't translated into stolen bases in the minor leagues. He would still be a strong option as a pinch-runner with his speed, however.
Choice will be added to the 40-man roster this off-season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, so the A's could decide to bring him up this September since he will be added to the 40-man roster before next year. However, when faced with a similar situation last season with Grant Green, the A's elected not to call-up Green and instead waited to add him to the roster in November.
Michael Taylor: Taylor has had cups of coffee with the A's in each of the last three seasons, including earlier this year when the A's outfield corps was ravaged by injuries. He has never been given a long leash at the major league level, but he has also been unable to give the A's a reason to give him more at-bats, collecting only 10 hits in 74 big league at-bats.
Taylor has been a good solider, putting up solid numbers at the Triple-A level despite fighting off the disappointment of not being in the big leagues. This season has been a good one for Taylor, although he has slumped the past two weeks. He has a .283/.363/.481 line with 16 homers in 98 games for the River Cats. He has also continued to play well defensively. Taylor is a natural right fielder, but he has the speed to fill in in centerfield in a pinch, giving him some versatility. He is also a smart base-runner.
This is Taylor's third option year, so he will enter next season needing to remain on a 25-man roster or be exposed to waivers. If the A's don't plan to have Taylor on their 25-man roster at the start of next season, they may remove him from the 40-man roster in September if they need a spot for someone else. However, if he does remain in their plans for next year, there is a decent chance that he will receive a call-up at some point in September.
Shane Peterson: Peterson made his major-league debut with the A's early in the season when Brandon Moss was placed on the paternity leave list. Although he has been primarily an outfielder in the A's system, Peterson played first base exclusively during his big league time and more than held his own at that position. That versatility of being able to play all three outfield positions and first base may give Peterson an advantage as the A's decide who to call-up next month.
For the most part, it has been a disappointing season for Peterson, who hit .389 in 38 games for the River Cats last season. His current line with Sacramento is .260/.362/.402. However, he is killing the ball this month and has a .400/.467/.677 line for August. Peterson has a career-high 11 homeruns and 17 stolen bases, as well. Although his plate discipline has slipped some this season, Peterson has generally been one of the most patient hitters in the A's system and a solid contact hitter. Both of those traits could bode well for him in a September call-up situation.
Jake Goebbert: Goebbert was added to the River Cats' roster earlier this month after a strong season with Double-A Midland. The former Astros prospect was acquired by the A's from Houston for Travis Blackley just before the start of the season. Goebbert was a tough out while with Midland, posting a .268/.352/.480 line in the Texas League. He has a .222/.489/.389 line in 12 games with the River Cats thus far. Although Goebbert had some Triple-A experience with the Astros, he is still relatively new to the level. He also isn't on the A's 40-man roster, making it unlikely that he will be a September call-up this season.