Athletics

Could Franklin Barreto get a look in center field for A's?

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USATI

Could Franklin Barreto get a look in center field for A's?

Don’t count out top prospect Franklin Barreto as a possibility for the A’s in center field.

It’s long been speculated that the middle infielder might eventually get a look in center, and the idea has at least been discussed in team circles. It’s tied partially to whether the A’s exercise their $6 million club option on Jed Lowrie and bring him back as their regular second baseman in 2018.

Regardless, the battle to be Oakland’s everyday center fielder will be one of the A’s most intriguing storylines next spring. Grady Fuson, a special assistant to general manager David Forst who spends much of the season evaluating the team’s farm system, discussed several of the team’s center field options in the latest A’s Insider Podcast.

So much revolves around the health of 22-year-old Dustin Fowler, one of three prospects the A’s received from the Yankees for Sonny Gray. He’ll spend the winter continuing to rehab from a devastating knee injury suffered in his very first major league game in June while still with New York.

The A’s are hopeful he’ll be ready for spring training and believe he can be a solution in center.

“Fowler certainly is the guy we made this trade for, and I think everybody, top to bottom, in the system is counting on him taking that spot,” Fuson said. “But we all know he’s been hurt. How he comes back, who knows? Boog (Powell’s) been doing a very good job for us. And there’s other options.”

The 21-year-old Barreto, who has split time between second and short this season at Triple-A and with the big club, played some center in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2015. He’s always talked with enthusiasm about the idea.

The A’s experimented with another highly touted young infielder, Yairo Munoz, in center field in the minors this season.

“(We’ve) had discussions about taking Munoz out there, which we’ve done,” Fuson said. “We’ve had discussions about maybe Franklin Barreto, depending on what happens at second here at end of the year, over the winter, and early in camp.”

Lowrie has enjoyed a very strong season with Oakland, and A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane has said the team is seriously considering picking up his option. Having Barreto be an option in center could be a way to keep him in the majors in 2018 even if Lowrie returns at second base.

Fuson stressed that the idea of Barreto in center hasn’t advanced past the early-discussion phase. No decisions have been made.

What’s interesting is that, in a short time, the A’s have gone from scarce few center field options to suddenly having several. Powell and Fowler may enter the spring as front runners, but Munoz, Jaycob Brugman, Chad Pinder, Jake Smolinski and, perhaps, Barreto may all have a shot too.

The A’s also used their first-round pick in June on high school center fielder Austin Beck, who represents another option down the road.

Bigger than baseball: Piscotty reflects on homecoming in trade to A's

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AP

Bigger than baseball: Piscotty reflects on homecoming in trade to A's

He’ll be playing in front of his family and hometown fans, in the ballpark he grew up going to as a kid.

Stephen Piscotty is fully aware that not many major leaguers get to do this, but his trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the A’s means so much more on a deeper level.

The Pleasanton native will get to play in front of his mother, Gretchen, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”, in May.

It was a difficult and emotional 2017 season for Piscotty, a 26-year-old outfielder who left the Cardinals for a period to be with his family and also dealt with two stints on the disabled list. He struggled to a .235 batting average after a 22-homer, 85-RBI season in 2016.

He admits how difficult it was to concentrate on baseball, with his thoughts drifting back to the Bay Area and his Mom. Piscotty expressed gratitude to the Cardinals for their treatment of him during his tough time and for their efforts in orchestrating a trade that brought him home.

The A’s sent minor league infielders Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock to St. Louis in a deal that was finalized Thursday.

“We’re pretty emotionally tied to that organization,” Piscotty said of the Cardinals. “It chokes me up a little bit. But family obviously comes first, and sometimes some things are more important than baseball. With this opportunity here, it’s just a great combination of family and baseball. … A lot of good is going to come out of it.”

Piscotty and his brothers, Austin and Nick, grew up going to the Coliseum, as his father, Mike, has been an A’s season ticket holder for more than two decades. In May, their tight-knit family was rocked by news of Gretchen’s diagnosis.

“I remember kind of thinking ‘OK, they diagnosed it a certain way but it’s gonna turn out to be something else,” Piscotty said. “I didn’t want to believe it. I kept playing for a couple days, but I was so distracted, I couldn’t focus. I really didn’t care about what was happening on the field.”

Piscotty talked with manager Mike Matheny, hitting coach John Mabry and others.

“They were like, ‘You need to go home,’ and it was the right decision,” Piscotty said. “… It was a roller coaster year. I got sent down (to the minors), but I learned a lot. I’m gonna tap into some of those experiences.”

The A’s feel they’re getting an athletic corner outfielder about to reach his prime. Piscotty inked a six-year $33.5 million before the 2017 season, so he’s locked up at an affordable rate moving forward.

Piscotty has played mostly right field, but he and new teammate Matt Joyce can handle either corner spot.

Though the A’s made the trade primarily for baseball purposes, general manager David Forst added that “it’s wonderful for his family, and hopefully it will have given him and his family some peace of mind.”

Piscotty got news of the trade while in Pebble Beach with friends for a golf trip that had been a long time in the planning. Team orthopedist Dr. Will Workman actually made the drive to Pebble to administer Piscotty’s physical — at a local Airbnb property — so the A’s and Cardinals could finalize the trade.

Piscotty lives in Pleasanton in the offseason, but the family recently made a trip to St. Louis and saw the Budweiser Clydesdales. Gretchen loves horses.

Piscotty is optimistic his mother will be able to get out to the Coliseum to see him play. He credits his father, who has “worked his tail off” to take care of insurance needs and medications for Gretchen.

“We’re in a good place,” Stephen said. “We’re at a point where we’ve got things pretty dialed in and we can move around and go places.”

The support has poured in from St. Louis and the Bay Area. A’s president Dave Kaval, responding to a fan on Twitter, said the team will donate some of the proceeds from Piscotty jersey sales to ALS research.

“I wish I didn’t need all of their support, but it’s nice to have it,” Gretchen Piscotty told the Bay Area News Group.

Stephen, who grew up idolizing Tim Hudson and Mark McGwire, is excited to wear green and gold. Getting to spend more time with his mother provides a different kind of lift.

“That will give me a lot of comfort and peace of mind knowing I’m close.”

A's land Piscotty without giving up any of their top prospects

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USATSI

A's land Piscotty without giving up any of their top prospects

The A’s finalized their trade for St. Louis outfielder Stephen Piscotty, sending two minor league infield prospects to the Cardinals in return.

Shortstop Yairo Munoz and second baseman Max Schrock were ranked 13th and 17th, respectively, on the A’s current list of prospects by mlb.com.

Both have upside but it’s fair to say Oakland pulled off this deal for a starting outfielder without giving up any of the premium guys in their farm system. A quick rundown on each prospect:

Munoz, 22, hit .300 with 13 homers, 68 RBI and 22 stolen bases last year split time between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville. His raw talent and all-around tools made him an intriguing prospect. Munoz primarily is a shortstop but bounced all around the infield last season. The A’s even experimented with him in center field, and it would have been interesting to see if Munoz could have emerged as a possibility in center at the major league level eventually.

But with prospects climbing through the system such as shortstop Jorge Mateo, third baseman Sheldon Neuse and, over at second base, top prospect Franklin Barreto — not to mention shortstop Richie Martin, a former first-round pick whose hitting has held him back thus far — the A’s appear to have dealt from depth in trading Munoz.

Schrock, 23, was acquired in August 2016 from the Washington Nationals for reliever Marc Rzepczynski. He hit .321 for Midland last season and made the Texas League Midseason and Postseason All-Star teams. He’s an offense-first second baseman who impressed with his all-around approach and knowledge of the strike zone. A’s manager Bob Melvin praised Schrock in his first look at him last spring in major league camp. At 5-foot-8, he’s the type of player that naturally will get overlooked when compared to other more highly touted guys in a farm system.

The A’s just dealt another second baseman from their system in Joey Wendle earlier in the week. But with Barreto considered the A’s second baseman of the future, and Chad Pinder available to handle second as well being starter Jed Lowrie, Oakland was in good enough shape depth-wise to deal Schrock.

Interesting to note: Thursday’s trade was the first between the A’s and Cardinals since 2009, the season Oakland shipped Matt Holliday to St. Louis after a disappointing first half of the season. Since the 2014 trade deadline, the A’s have swung trades with 24 of the other 29 teams in the majors.