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.

A's owner John Fisher changes mind, will pay team's minor league players

A's owner John Fisher changes mind, will pay team's minor league players

A's owner John Fisher has reversed course and decided to pay the team's minor leaguers.

Oakland had been the only MLB team to stop paying its minor leaguers during the league's shutdown due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. That decision was met with significant backlash, and played a role in Fisher reversing it.

"I changed my mind after spending a lot of time talking to our team,” Fisher told the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser on Friday. “I concluded I’d made a mistake."

Fisher apologized for his error in judgment. Moving forward, all A's minor leaguers will receive weekly stipends through the rest of what would have been the minor league season.

"I’ve listened to our fans and others, and there is no question that this is the right thing to do,” Fisher said. “We clearly got this decision wrong. These players represent our future, and we will immediately begin paying our minor league players. I take responsibility and I’m making it right."

[RELATED: Kaval provides stadium update after A's deferred payment]

Additionally, Fisher announced the A's are establishing an emergency assistance fund for furloughed employees. The A's furloughed more than half of their employees through Oct. 31 on Monday, more than 90 of whom came from baseball operations.

"We have a lot of employees who have been incredibly loyal for many, many, many years,” Fisher said. “It felt like the right thing to do was to set up a fund to support them."

What if A's hadn't traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester back in 2014?

What if A's hadn't traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester back in 2014?

Editor's note: Twice a week, NBC Sports Bay Area will look back on biggest "What If?" moments in Bay Area sports history in our "Hindsight 2020" series. The second installment: What if the A's hadn't traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester in 2014?

Billy Beane added to the A’s starting rotation in 2014 with a massive midsummer trade, acquiring pitcher Jeff Samardzija on July 5 to strengthen a roster already performing better than any in major league baseball.

The A’s reversed field somewhat and became buyers in the trade market, a surefire sign they were going for it. Their offense could rake and a solid staff that got a lot better with a major transaction. That blockbuster seemed to be the A’s move.

But that’s why everyone was so shocked by what happened the day of the trade deadline.

Beane, then the A's general manager (he's since been promoted to VP of baseball operations), shipped star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance pick to the Boston Red Sox for Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes and cash. It was a move that, even in today’s modern media landscape where nothing stays secret for long, was considered a legitimate shock.

“They made the Samardzija trade before that, and that was big deal for a starter who could help down the stretch,” A’s play-by-play broadcaster Glen Kuiper said in an interview with NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil. “They made a big trade and that seemed like the one even though it came in early July. You just weren’t expecting another trade, especially another trade for a starting pitcher. That’s another reason why it surprised people.”

Lester gave the A’s a bonafide ace in the prime of his career -- though clearly a rental -- and cost a star outfielder in the prime of his career with another year remaining on his contract.

“My mind is blown,” then-A’s outfielder Josh Reddick told the San Francisco Chronicle right after the trade. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would give up ‘Cespy.’ But it makes sense in the long run to get another guy who is an ace.”

The A’s led the league in runs scored at the time. Beane built up the rotation during the season to include Lester, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Samardzija and Hammel. They already had Sean Doolittle in the closer’s role and seemed primed to finish the 2014 campaign as well as they started it.

They also acquired outfielder Sam Fuld back from the Minnesota Twins for Tommy Millone, reinforcing the outfield along with Gomes.

The adjusted roster did not produce great results. They had baseball’s best record on July 31 but floundered through a 12-17 record in August and a 10-13 September. The Los Angeles Angels surged in the opposite direction following an excellent July, with a 34-21 record the last two months.

That left the A’s clinging to a wild card spot and a one-game playoff. Lester was on the mound for the game he was acquired to pitch, but the A’s fell short, collapsing in the late innings as the Kansas City Royals stormed back and won in walk-off fashion in the 12th inning.

The season’s disappointing end put the A’s moves, the Cespedes trade in particular, in a negative light through hindsight.

Beane made one point clear to reporters after the A’s season ended: His team wouldn’t have made the playoffs without Lester. He’s probably right, considering Lester had a 2.35 ERA and the lowest WHIP of his career (1.07), over 76.2 innings in 11 starts. He even took a lead into the eighth inning of the wild-card game before it slipped away.

The trade’s detractors will point to the fact the A’s offense fell apart in mid-August and never got its groove back, but it’s hard to certainly say the Green and Gold made a misstep -- especially when viewed in context.

"The Angels were going to catch us," Beane told reporters after the season, via ESPN. "They played nearly .700 ball from a certain point. If you go back to my quotes from when we made those trades, despite the fact of where we were, at no point were those trades made for the playoffs. I was adamant about it. I could feel the Angels breathing down our necks.

"What I didn't reveal was that I was also concerned about us, which was the point of the trades. I have said this many times: It's not where you are, it's where you're headed. And I like to think being here every day, I have a feel for where we're headed."

If we’re going to project what might’ve happened if Beane didn’t trade Cespedes for Lester, maybe the GM is right. Maybe the A’s falter down the stretch and don’t reach the postseason.

Or ... maybe the keep their high-octane offense going down the stretch. There was no doubt the A's missed Cespedes after he was gone, on the field and in the clubhouse. He was a true cleanup hitter who made everyone around him better.

“I’ll never forget talking about him with Bob Melvin later, maybe a couple of years ago. Cespedes didn’t speak much of any English, but Bob said he was a leader,” Kuiper said. “He was a leader because he wanted the spotlight on himself. He wanted it. When you have a guy who is great and wants to be in the spotlight, it takes a lot of pressure off the guys around him. In that case it was (Brandon) Moss and (Josh) Donaldson and (Josh) Reddick.

"He had no problem taking it on and living in the spotlight. When he went out of the mix in trade, the spotlight shifted to those other guys. Then it was up to them to handle it. This is an in-depth, clubhouse way to look at it but, if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.”

Losing a fan favorite and a productive player never goes over well with the fanbase, especially considering the trade’s surprise element and the fact that the slugger had another year left under his contract.

Cespedes bounced around after the A’s trade. Boston shipped him to Detroit after the 2014 season, and then the Tigers moved him to the New York Mets at the 2015 trade deadline.

[RELATED: Hindsight 2020 - What if Warriors had traded Klay for Love?]

It’s impossible to imagine the A’s would’ve inked him to a three-year, $75 million deal the New York club gave him before the 2016 season, a contract that included an opt-out clause after that campaign he exercised. Cespedes signed a four-year, $110 million contract with the Mets that he has been injured throughout. The A’s would have lost him to free agency or a trade with far less return than Lester.

The left-hander was a rental from the start, eventually leaving for the Chicago Cubs after the season on a massive, $155 million deal. Gomes didn’t stick around after the season, so no team came out ahead in the long run.

There’s disappointment in the 2014 season’s final results, but it’s clear what the A’s were trying to do by reaching the postseason with the pitching required to take them on a run.

“I will say, though, that the A’s had a plan,” Kuiper said. “We knew we’re good enough to get into the postseason and we needed an ace, a No. 1 guy. As it worked out, they had Lester for the wild card game. It didn’t work out as they had hoped, but if you look at the A’s plan, it all lined up for Lester.

"He pitched in the wild card game and threw pretty well up until late in the game. It got one inning away from working, but Lester ran out of gas a little bit.”