A's position outlook: Much different outfield look in 2017 than 2016

A's position outlook: Much different outfield look in 2017 than 2016

The A’s will arrive at spring training and greet two new pieces to their outfield mix, lending some intrigue as to how that position group shakes out by Opening Night.

Matt Joyce was signed in November to a two-year $11 million deal and provides a veteran left-handed hitter who can play either corner spot and be an effective pinch hitter. Just last week, Rajai Davis inked a one-year $6 million contract and is expected to be the everyday center fielder.

Beyond those two, there’s left fielder Khris Davis — coming off a 42-homer season — and a mix of others who could fit into the 25-man puzzle and perhaps factor in at designated hitter too.

A month’s worth of Cactus League games will help manager Bob Melvin and the front office sort things out, but here’s a look at how Oakland’s outfield currently shapes up.

STARRING CAST: Rajai Davis, who remains one of the major leagues’ most dangerous base runners at age 36, is a strong candidate to hit leadoff. His speed and base-stealing ability is needed because the A’s finished last in the American League last season in runs and slugging percentage, and as the roster currently stands, they still don’t look like a team that will be powered greatly by the long ball.

With Khris Davis expected to man left field most of the time (he’ll also get at-bats at DH), Joyce could form a platoon in right field with the right-handed hitting Mark Canha, who is a wild card as he returns from hip surgery that limited him to 16 games last year. Joyce, 32, hits righties well and posted a .403 on-base percentage in 293 plate appearances with Pittsburgh last season, and that was a big draw for an A’s team that ranked last in the league with a .304 OBP. He also led major league pinch hitters in RBI and walks and tied for the lead with four homers. Overall, he slashed .242/.403/.463 with 13 homers and 42 RBI.

CAMP COMPETITION: Lots of variables will factor into the makeup of the outfield. Do the A’s keep four outfielders or five? Do they sign a power hitter that can share first base with Yonder Alonso? If not, Canha may see significant time in a first-base platoon and that would open up an opportunity for another outfielder. It’s highly unlikely that Jake Smolinski and Brett Eibner, who hit right-handed, both make the roster. But one of them certainly could. Give Smolinski the edge entering camp as he’s done more in an A’s uniform to this point. Matt Olson, a combo first baseman/right fielder who the A’s hope blossoms into a bonafide big-league power hitter, probably needs a huge spring to break camp with the club as the roster stands right now.

A’s fans will get introduced to Jaycob Brugman this spring. A 17th round pick out of BYU in 2013, the left-handed hitting Brugman batted .285 with 12 homers and 87 RBI combined last season between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville, and he provides a solid glove at all three outfield spots. The A’s added him to the 40-man roster this winter, and Brugman (who turns 25 later this month) will be in big league camp for the first time. Count him as the dark horse in the outfield competition.

PAY ATTENTION TO: Whether the A’s throw their hat in the ring for free agent Jose Bautista. With the six-time All Star still lingering on the open market, there’s thought that the 36-year-old Bautista may settle for a one-year contract. It doesn’t seem so far-fetched for Oakland to get involved in an offseason where the A’s already made an aggressive run at Edwin Encarnacion. Bautista, who’s primarily a right fielder, hit 40 homers for Toronto as recently as 2015.

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


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


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

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.