Athletics

Strong-armed catcher Murphy highlights A's prospects in Arizona Fall League

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AP

Strong-armed catcher Murphy highlights A's prospects in Arizona Fall League

With the Arizona Fall League set to begin Tuesday, here’s a glance at the seven minor leaguers the A’s are sending to the annual prospect showcase.

Oakland will have four pitchers and three position players on the roster of the Mesa Solar Sox, joining prospects from the Astros, Cubs, Nationals and Tigers organizations for five weeks of games in the desert:

C Sean Murphy: Rated the A’s No. 4 prospect by Baseball America, the right-handed hitting Murphy was a third-round pick out of Wright State in 2016. He finished this past season with Double-A Midland despite it being his first full professional campaign. He has an excellent throwing arm with solid footwork behind the plate. Murphy finished at .250 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and a .723 OPS in 98 games split between Single-A Stockton and Midland. Participating in his first big league camp this past spring, Murphy impressed one former catcher in particular.

“The kid can throw,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said back then. “It's special. We heard that coming in, but to actually see him throw to bases, it's one of those where you tell the infielder, 'If the ball looks low, give it a chance, because it's carrying.’ It’s an electric arm for sure.”

Murphy turns 23 on Tuesday.

RHP Logan Shore: Lefty A.J. Puk got most of the buzz coming out of the A’s 2016 draft. But it’s Shore, Puk’s teammate at the University of Florida, who many felt was a more polished pitching product. Shore, 22, missed a good chunk of this season with a lat strain suffered in May. He finished 2-5 with a 4.09 ERA in 72 2/3 innings at Stockton. Shore made a nice impression in the spring with a spot start against the Angels that included a strikeout of Mike Trout. A’s special assistant Grady Fuson praised the right-hander during an A’s Insider Podcast interview in September.

“Great sinker, probably as good a changeup as we’ve got in the system. He basically almost makes the baseball stop.”

For much more on A’s prospects, listen to that entire podcast.

3B Sheldon Neuse: Acquired from Washington in the Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madson trade, the 22-year-old Neuse made a big impression with the A’s, hitting .380 with seven homers and 28 RBI in 40 games split between Single-A and Double-A. He also plays shortstop, but after his promotion to Midland, Neuse settled at third base with Jorge Mateo handling short for the Rockhounds.

“He’s got more of a third baseman/catcher’s type build, but the one thing that’s stood out since the day we got him is this guy looks like he might be as pure a hitter as we’ve got,” Fuson said. “He’s got a very good approach to the right-center part of the diamond. He’s strong. He’s physical.”

RHP Norge Ruiz: The A’s signing of this free agent from Cuba last December didn’t create a huge buzz because of the timing of it. But they gave Ruiz, now 23, a $2 million bonus, which speaks to the upside they believe he has. Ruiz posted a 2.55 ERA over three years in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s top professional league. He began this season pitching for the A’s Dominican Summer League team before moving to the Arizona Rookie League and eventually joining Stockton’s rotation, where he went 3-1 with a 5.71 ERA in eight starts.

OF Tyler Ramirez: A seventh-round draft pick out of North Carolina in 2016, Ramirez — who hits and throws left-handed — enjoyed a fine season split between Stockton and Midland. He hit .304 with 11 homers, 63 RBI and a .398 on-base percentage. Ramirez, 22, saw time in all three outfield spots this season but primarily played left field.

RHP Nolan Blackwood: A 6-foot-5 reliever with a submarine delivery, the 22-year-old Blackwood posted 19 saves and a 3.00 ERA for Stockton. That included an impressive 1.05 WHIP and .205 opponents’ batting average over 57 innings.

RHP Miguel Romero: Signed in February out of Cuba, Romero, 23, spent four seasons in Serie Nacional, mainly pitching out of the bullpen. It appears that’s the role the A’s envision for him as well. Romero pitched at four different levels this past season, including eight appearances (one start) and a 6.87 ERA for Stockton.

New Cardinals OF Marcell Ozuna takes jab at A's during media event

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AP

New Cardinals OF Marcell Ozuna takes jab at A's during media event

While expressing his happiness to be with his new team, Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna took a swipe at the A’s during a media function in St. Louis on Sunday.

Ozuna’s name, you’ll remember, swirled in trade rumors earlier this offseason that he might be dealt from the Miami Marlins to Oakland. Instead, the two-time All-Star was traded to St. Louis, making him one of several big-name players Miami has shipped off as it looks to slash payroll.

While attending the Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up event to preview this season, Ozuna was asked what it was like being dealt to a team that’s more focused on winning right away as opposed to the rebuilding Marlins.

“I feel happy about that,” Ozuna responded. “First thing when I heard they were trying to trade me to the Oakland A’s, I say … (long pause) Well, I say ‘God, please leave me over here.’ Then I heard they trade me to the Cardinals, I say ‘OK, thanks.’”

Ouch.

Well, it’s not the first time such an insult has been hurled the A’s way, whether directly or indirectly. Last winter, it came out that Matt Holliday — who spent part of 2009 with Oakland — had a no-trade clause included in his contract with the Yankees that prohibited him from being traded only to the A’s.

Is it surprising to hear Ozuna volunteer his thoughts about the A’s in a public forum? Perhaps.

Is it a shock that he’d feel that way in the first place? Definitely not.

It’s no secret the A’s reputation is one of a team that’s always looking to trade its best veteran players rather than spend the money to sign them long term. It’s also common knowledge that they play in an outdated ballpark that’s considered the worst in the majors.

No question, those are the dominant thoughts of players on the other 29 teams when they think of the A’s. And there’s no quick fix to that. National perception is tough to alter.

“Why doesn’t ownership just start spending more money on payroll?” you might ask. “That’s the best way to change perception.”

No arguments there, but we know from the past that isn’t going to happen. Clearly, majority owner John Fisher isn’t going to spend more freely on payroll — especially with the A’s being cut off from MLB’s revenue sharing system — unless he sees the potential for other forms of revenue to stream in.

It all points back to the critical need for the A’s to identify a ballpark site and begin construction on a new home. That will send a message around the majors that a plan is in motion, that better days are ahead.

Until then, the A’s can expect to absorb the occasional jab like that delivered by Ozuna. On the bright side for Oakland fans, they might have just identified Public Enemy No. 2, a player who can slot in right behind Holliday as their favorite opponent to vilify.

A's, Khris Davis avoid arbitration, but is this a long-term union?

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USATSI

A's, Khris Davis avoid arbitration, but is this a long-term union?

The A’s took care of a big piece of business with their top run producer, signing slugger Khris Davis to a one-year contract Wednesday and avoiding arbitration.

FanRag’s Jon Heyman reported the sides settled on a $10.5 million salary. That’s more than double the $5 million Davis made last season in his first trip through the arbitration process, but a huge raise was expected after Davis put up more monster numbers in his second year with Oakland.

His 43 home runs in 2017 ranked second in the American League and he was third in RBI with 110. Consider that Davis is the only major leaguer to crack the 40-homer mark in each of the past two seasons, and only Giancarlo Stanton has more total homers during that span (86 to Davis’ 85).

That obviously makes the 30-year-old Davis a valuable commodity.

“Back to back 40-homer years in this ballpark. You guys don’t talk about it enough,” A’s executive VP of baseball operations Billy Beane said in October. “When we acquired him (in a trade from Milwaukee) we knew we got a guy with a lot of power. I think we were thinking a 30-homer guy. The fact he’s gone 40 back-to-back is pretty amazing. He fits in perfectly here. I think having that big bat that Khris brings helps guys like (Matt) Olson and (Matt) Chapman.”

So it’s clear the A’s value Davis, and that’s why he hasn’t been traded thus far, as many around the game speculated he might be this winter. But where do things go moving forward?

He’ll be eligible for arbitration one more time next winter before he’s able to test free agency heading into the 2020 season. If you’re an A’s fan, you know where this is going. If July hits and the A’s are floundering in the standings, Davis no doubt will be a trade candidate. He’d have appeal as a proven slugger who would remain under team control for 2019.

But Davis is a rare breed. He loves playing in Oakland and doesn’t hide that fact. The pitcher-friendly Coliseum has done nothing to suppress his power. In fact, he’s thrived. His 26 home runs at the Coliseum in 2017 fell one short of Jason Giambi’s Oakland record for homers by a home player.

It would seem he’d be open to a long-term extension, and the sides reportedly have held past discussions about one. The A’s have designs on signing some of their younger core players to extensions. But you’d have to rank it as a surprise were they to actually complete an extension with Davis, given the money he would command.

More than likely, Beane and his staff will evaluate the team through the first half of the upcoming season, weigh the pros and cons of dealing him, and if he stays, enter through this arbitration process again next winter, knowing that he’ll command even more bucks on another one-year deal.

An ‘X’ factor is how Davis adjusts to his shift from left field to designated hitter. He told NBC Sports California in November that he prefers the outfield but will fill whatever role is best for the team.

The feeling here is that he’ll put up the same numbers that fans have grown accustomed to, and the ball will be in the A’s court as to how long he remains in green and gold.