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.

How three clutch hits turned tide in A's bounce-back win vs. Twins

How three clutch hits turned tide in A's bounce-back win vs. Twins

Entering Friday's game in Minnesota, the A's were only batting .243 with two outs and runners in scoring position. They were tied for 16th in MLB, but that position and their average will go up following Oakland's 3-for-7 performance in such situations during their 5-3 win over the Twins.

Matt Olson, Khris Davis, and Chad Pinder all came through with clutch RBI singles, two of them with two outs, to help the A's rally back and even the series at a game apiece.

Olson came to the plate in the top of the fifth with two outs and the tying run on second base. The A's first baseman took three straight fastballs, two for balls and one for a strike, to inch ahead in the count 2-1.

Twins starter Jake Odorizzi then executed a well-placed splitter low and away, but Olson was able to reach out and stroke it into center field for a base hit to score Marcus Semien and tie the game at three.

The single extended Olson's career-high hitting streak to 14 games and revealed his tremendous growth as an all-around hitter. The 26-year-old can obviously still hit for plenty of power, as his 20 home runs in just 238 at-bats would suggest, but he also knows how and when to put the ball in play for a base hit.

The next inning, with the game still tied at three, Ramón Laureano led off with a double. That brought up Davis, whose recent struggles have been well-documented. However, the A's slugger displayed a terrific piece of hitting, waiting back on a 2-1 curveball and ripping it into left field for his second RBI single of the night to give the A's a 4-3 lead. 

Davis still hasn't homered in more than a month, but he put together three solid at-bats on Friday. In addition two his two RBI singles, he torched a ball at 107 mph in the fourth inning for a lineout to center. Davis appears to at least be making small strides at the plate.

Later in the sixth inning, with two outs and a runner on second, Pinder came to the plate with a chance to provide some insurance. He would fall behind in the count 1-2 before sitting back on a curveball and blistering it into left field for an RBI base hit to make it 5-3.

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The A's finished the night 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position, good for a .364 average. When Oakland can manufacture runs with situational hitting on top of launching home runs (which Marcus Semien did on the third pitch of the night), it's a potent combination.

With the win, the A's improved to 56-42 on the season, a full game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays for the second AL wild-card spot. Oakland hasn't lost consecutive games since June 8.

A's vs. Twins lineups: Matt Chapman out again with ankle soreness

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USATSI

A's vs. Twins lineups: Matt Chapman out again with ankle soreness

Matt Chapman will miss his second straight game as the A's try to even their series with the Minnesota Twins on Friday night.

Oakland's All-Star third baseman left Wednesday's game against the Mariners after two innings with left ankle soreness and is considered day-to-day. Chad Pinder will once again fill in at third base and hit ninth in the order.

A's designated hitter Khris Davis will bat sixth for the third straight game, with right fielder Mark Canha in the cleanup position. Second baseman Jurickson Profar moves up to the number two spot after launching three home runs in his last two games.

Chris Herrmann gets the start at catcher and will bat eighth. Herrmann is off to a hot start since returning from a knee injury, hitting .300 (6-for-20) with a home run and six RBI.

Right-hander Chris Bassitt takes the hill for Oakland, seeking his seventh win of the season. The 30-year-old is 6-4 with a 3.98 ERA in 15 starts this year. In four career outings against the Twins, Bassitt is 0-0 with a 1.54 ERA.

Minnesota will counter with All-Star Jake Odorizzi. The right-hander enters with an 11-4 record and a 3.06 ERA in 18 starts this season. Odorizzi, 29, is 1-4 with a 3.86 ERA in seven career games against Oakland.

Here are the full lineups for the A's-Twins game, which will be broadcast on NBC Sports California and the MyTeams app. Coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. PT, with first pitch at 5:10.

Oakland A's (55-42)
Marcus Semien, SS
Jurickson Profar, 2B
Matt Olson, 1B
Mark Canha, RF
Ramón Laureano, CF
Khris Davis, DH
Robbie Grossman, LF 
Chris Herrmann, C
Chad Pinder, 3B

Chris Bassitt, RHP (6-4, 3.98 ERA)

Minnesota Twins (59-36)
Max Kepler, CF
Jorge Polanco, SS
Nelson Cruz, DH
Eddie Rosario, LF
C.J. Cron, 1B
Marwin Gonzalez, RF
Luis Arraez, 2B
Miguel Sanó, 3B
Jason Castro, C

Jake Odorizzi, RHP (11-4, 3.06 ERA)