The Buddy Reed Show might be temporarily sidelined, but the Ka'ai Tom Show is just beginning.
One of the biggest storylines in A's camp this spring surrounds who will take over the final outfield spot on the Opening Day roster. With Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, Stephen Piscotty and utilityman Chad Pinder already factored in on the A's depth chart, the final role should come down to performance over the next two weeks.
It appears Tom received that memo loud and clear.
After a delayed start to the spring, the 26-year-old is more than making up for lost time. Tom ripped his first Cactus League home run Thursday in the A's 4-2 victory over the San Diego Padres, a booming solo shot off an offspeed offering from San Diego reliever Michel Baez.
The former Cleveland Indians prospect has played in just three spring games after missing the first few weeks with an oblique strain. However, in those three contests, he is 5-for-10 with a double and three RBI, and has showcased some pop not usually common for a player of his 5-foot-9 frame.
"[Tom] does that often in batting practice,” manager Bob Melvin said to reporters. “It was an offspeed pitch he got in front of and he was able to get the barrel on it. That’s part of his game. ... It didn't surprise us."
Tom's torrid start couldn't come at a more opportune time. While Reed had shined, particularly defensively, early on, the 25-year-old non-roster invitee suffered a right quad strain earlier in the week and will be out "a while" according to Melvin.
That's tough news for Reed, who had made a name for himself as a human highlight reel this spring and had forced the A's front office to seriously consider him as an option to round out Oakland's outfield.
While Seth Brown likely remains the favorite to nab the final outfield spot, the A's have another incentive in keeping Tom, as he serves as Oakland's Rule 5 Draft selection. Per MLB rules, Tom must be named to the A's Opening Day roster and remain there for the entirety of the season. If he is not, he must be returned to his former club, the Indians.
Because of this, expect to see Tom in plenty of game action down the stretch, especially when factoring in the games he missed while he was injured.
"With him being a Rule 5 pick, we want to get as good a look as we can," Melvin said earlier in the week.
The A's first round of roster cuts featured other outfield candidates Skye Bolt, Greg Deichmann and top outfield prospect Luis Barrera all being reassigned to Triple-A Las Vegas. With Reed sidelined for the foreseeable future, the outfield race will come down to Tom, Brown and Cody Thomas. Brown is 4-for-20 with two doubles and a homer in 15 games, while Thomas is 3-for-13 with a triple in 14 games.
Tom should garner plenty of consideration over the last two weeks of spring action. If he continues to showcase his innate ability to barrel balls, he could find himself onto a Major League roster for the first time in his career.