Athletics

Fowler, Mateo highlight young players to watch on A's spring roster

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Fowler, Mateo highlight young players to watch on A's spring roster

The A’s report to spring training in five weeks, and they’ve announced the group they’ll bring to Arizona with them.

Along with their official 40-man roster, Oakland will have 17 non-roster invitees in camp. That’s a smaller spring roster than recent seasons, which means a little better chance for new guys to make an impression.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of some noteworthy players taking part in their first big league camp with Oakland. We’ll focus on young guys you need to know about, starting with those on the 40-man …

OF Dustin Fowler: His physical condition holds the key as he’s coming back from surgery following a devastating right knee injury last year. Acquired from the Yankees in the Sonny Gray trade, Fowler, 23, is viewed as the possible starting center fielder if he’s full strength. Reports have been that he’s progressing well in his rehab, though he’ll likely be broken in slowly as far as game action this spring. He’s ranked as the A’s No. 3 prospect by mlb.com, but Fowler remains a question mark until he shows he’s 100 percent.

SS Jorge Mateo: A speed burner who also came over in the Gray deal, the 22-year-old Mateo will be one of the most closely watched players in camp. He’s rated the A’s No. 4 prospect, and he’s a player that team officials have pegged as part of the big league future. Will it be at shortstop, perhaps center field? That remains to be seen. But Mateo will be one of the best all-around athletes to set foot in team facilities in Mesa. He’s played just 60 games as high as Double-A, so Mateo won’t factor into the big league plans right away.

RHP Heath Fillmyer: If you’re looking for the next under-the-radar guy who could impact the big league rotation soon, Fillmyer fits the bill. A fifth-round pick out of junior college in 2014, the 23-year-old Fillmyer is making a good impression as he climbs the ranks. He went 11-5 with a 3.49 ERA with Double-A Midland last season and features a mid 90’s fastball with sinking action that generates ground balls.

OF Ramon Laureano: It didn’t generate much buzz when the A’s acquired him in November from the Astros for minor league pitcher Brandon Bailey, but Laureano began the 2017 season as the No. 13 prospect (Baseball America) in a stacked Houston farm system. The tools are there, including good speed, a strong arm and the ability to handle all three outfield spots. But Laureano, 23, had a poor year at the plate last season in Double-A (.227/.298/.369). He did steal 24 bases, and the A’s thought enough to add him to the 40-man roster.

NON-ROSTER INVITEES

RHP Grant Holmes: Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas have logged time on the big league staff since arriving from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade of 2016. Holmes, just 21, is the third right-hander that was acquired in that deal, and some pegged him as the brightest prospect of the trio. He’s got a nice fastball/curve combo but needs to throw more strikes. Remember when Sean Manaea drew attention two spring ago with the curly mop of hair that spilled out from his hat? Holmes is the red-headed answer to that.

RHP Logan Shore: You might remember Shore, 23, from last spring, when he came over from minor league camp and struck out Mike Trout in an emergency spot start. He’s a full-time invite to big league camp this year, joining Holmes as another righty starter ranked among Oakland’s top 10 prospects. A college teammate of top A’s pitching prospect A.J. Puk at Florida, Shore missed two months with Single-A Stockton last season with a lat strain. His changeup impresses, with A’s special assistant Grady Fuson saying Shore “almost makes the baseball stop” with that pitch.

3B/SS Sheldon Neuse: It’s pronounced “noisy,” let’s get that out of the way. Neuse made a splash after coming over from the Nationals in last summer’s Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madson trade, hitting .380 with 28 RBI in 40 games split between Single-A and Double-A. Then he impressed in the Arizona Fall League. Neuse, 23, is better suited for third than short. So where does he fit in considering Matt Chapman’s presence? If this guy keeps hitting, the A’s will find a position for him.

Mr. Professional: A's Jed Lowrie playing best baseball of his career at 34 years old

Mr. Professional: A's Jed Lowrie playing best baseball of his career at 34 years old

Jed Lowrie has delivered some productive seasons throughout his 11-year Major League Baseball career, but nothing quite like this.

Through 19 games, the A's second baseman leads all of baseball with 28 hits and 21 runs batted in. His six home runs are tied for the American League lead, while his 49 total bases rank second and his .346 batting average is fifth.

In an extremely small sample size, the former Stanford star is on pace to hit 51 home runs and drive in 179 runs, at the age of 34. To put that in perspective, Lowrie's career highs in those categories are 16 and 75, respectively.

"It's all about the work for me, the routine," he explained. "I think the results speak for themselves. But I'm not focused on that. I'm focused on my work in the cage and what I do to prepare for the games."

"He's playing the best baseball of his entire career," A's manager Bob Melvin marveled. "He's as professional a hitter as anybody in the league. He has been absolutely terrific."

Lowrie has been on an absolute tear the last two weeks. Over his last 11 games, he is batting .367, with six home runs and 16 RBI.

"He's got a great awareness what his strengths and weaknesses are," Melvin said. "Through experience, he knows what pitchers are going to try to do to him. Throughout the course of the game, he understands the adjustments that are going to be made. He has a focus now probably better than any point in his career, and the numbers would suggest that as well."

Lowrie believes the turning point of his career came two offseasons ago, and ironically, it had nothing to do with baseball. For years, he couldn't figure out why he would wake up still feeling tired, despite sleeping more than eight hours a night.

It turned out Lowrie had a deviated septum, suffered several years earlier when he was hit in the nose by a baseball. After consulting with an ear, nose, and throat specialist, he had surgery to repair the septum.

"I think it helped a lot," Lowrie said. "I just assumed I wasn't waking up refreshed because of the season. Come to find out my airway was very restricted and my sleep quality was not very good. So while I was sleeping eight or nine hours a night, I was still waking up not feeling refreshed, like I hadn't even gone to sleep. After nine years of having a deviated septum, that's going to be something that takes time, but I can already see the results from it."

"From that point on, he seemed like a different guy,” added Melvin. “He's allowed to work a little bit harder because he's getting some rest."

Last season following the surgery, Lowrie set an Oakland A's record with 49 doubles, while leading the team with a .277 batting average. The A's picked up his $6 million option for this year, which has turned out to be quite a bargain.

If Lowrie continues at his current pace, or even anywhere near it, he'll soon be able to add another achievement to his baseball resume: MLB All-Star.

POLL: A's Memorable Moments -- Hernandez walk-off bunt vs Reddick's 'Spiderman' catch

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AP

POLL: A's Memorable Moments -- Hernandez walk-off bunt vs Reddick's 'Spiderman' catch

PROGRAMMING NOTE: NBC Sports California is looking back at the A's 50 Memorable Moments since the franchise relocated to Oakland in 1968. Below are the next two moments you can vote on. Tune into A's Pregame Live tonight at 6:30pm to watch highlights of the two moments. After the A's and Red Sox conclude, tune into A's Postgame Live to see which moment will move on to the next round!

1. Ramon Hernandez's walk-off bunt in 12th inning of Game 1 of 2003 ALDS (Defeated Brandon Moss' two-run walk-off homer in 19th inning against Angels in 2013)

Nobody in the entire stadium saw it coming. How could they? With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 12th inning of a 4-4 game, A's catcher Ramon Hernandez laid down a perfect bunt to beat the Red Sox in Game 1 of the 2003 American League Division Series.

“The element of surprise reigns supreme!” longtime A's announcer Bill King exclaimed. The walk-off bunt capped a thrilling comeback victory for Oakland, which tied the game in the bottom of the ninth on a two-out RBI single by Erubiel Durazo.

At 4 hours and 37 minutes, the game became the longest in Oakland's postseason history. The A's would also win Game 2, 5-1, but the Red Sox stormed back with three straight victories to take the series in five games.

VS.

2. Josh Reddick's 'Spiderman' catch against the Blue Jays in 2012

On July 25, 2012, Josh Reddick introduced himself to the world as Spider-Man. With the A's taking on the Blue Jays in Toronto, Reddick literally climbed the right field fence and robbed Travis Snider of extra bases.

Many fans thought the ball had cleared the wall, and the Blue Jays' home run horn even sounded briefly. But Reddick had the ball in his glove for the final out of the second inning.

Reddick also doubled home a run in the game, as the A's routed the Blue Jays, 16-0, for their seventh straight win. Reddick would win a Gold Glove that season, still the only one of his career.

VOTE HERE: