GOODYEAR, Ariz. — If this is audition time for Franklin Barreto, the A’s top prospect is making the most of it.
Barreto connected for his first spring homer Thursday against Cleveland, an opposite-field blast to right-center that showed his deceiving power for a player who measures a compact 5-foot-10. The middle infielder is now hitting .480 (12-for-25) in 15 games, doing nothing to dispel the speculation of when he might get his first major league call-up.
“He’s just a baseball player — defensively, offensively. He runs the bases,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “There’s not much this guy can’t do. Really, the only question is when, not if.”
Though A’s general manager David Forst is preaching patience with Barreto, who just turned 21 last month, there’s a good chance he reaches the bigs sometime this season. He’ll begin with Triple-A Nashville, where he’s likely to get time at both shortstop and second base.
Shortstop has been his primary position since the A’s acquired him from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade of November 2014. But they gave him plenty of time at second last season at Double-A, and he also got innings there during the Arizona Fall League.
The A’s aren’t inclined to move Marcus Semien off shortstop at this point, so second base appears the quickest route to Oakland for Barreto, a native of Caracas, Venezuela. But while he remains in the minors, the A’s want him to keep playing on the left side of the infield too.
“I think the determining factor overall is the efficiency and accuracy of him throwing,” said Grady Fuson, an A’s special assistant who scouts the farm system extensively. “He’s got a strong enough arm. The footwork continues to get cleaned up. There’s no panic in this (decision of) where he’s gonna play. He’s getting very good at both, so time will tell.”
Jed Lowrie is the A’s incumbent starter at second base, but he’ll turn 33 next month and he’s in the final year of his contract, so he’s not the future at the position. If Lowrie is playing well as summer rolls around, it’s easy to envision him being dangled in a trade if the A’s aren’t contending.
“I feel really comfortable at second. I also feel comfortable at short,” Barreto said through interpreter Juan Dorado. “I’m just kind of learning and doing my job wherever they have me.”
The A’s also have Adam Rosales, and, as far as younger players, Joey Wendle, Chad Pinder and Max Schrock as part of their second base depth. But it’s Barreto who projects as a top-of-the-order talent with speed, a player who could be a cornerstone piece by the time the A’s hope to be moving into a new Oakland ballpark.
“I just feel bad for him, only 21 years old and hitting ‘oppo' homers in spring training,” catcher Stephen Vogt joked. “No, he’s some kind of special talent. He’s obviously shown what he’s capable of and is going to be a very, very good player for a long time. He’s just a confident, quiet, really nice kid. It’s fun to watch him play.”