Athletics

Examining A's position battles after first spring cuts

Athletics

The A's made their first round of spring cuts Monday, reassigning 15 players to the minor leagues.

Top pitching prospects Grant Holmes and James Kaprielian headlined the roster moves, as the two right-handers were reassigned to Triple-A Las Vegas, along with outfield hopefuls Luis Barrera, Greg Deichmann and Skye Bolt, as well as reliever Miguel Romero. Right-handed reliever Wandisson Charles was reassigned to Double-A Midland, rounding out the seven players on the 40-man roster who were optioned.

As far as non-roster invitees go, Cristian Alvarado, Paul Blackburn, Brian Schlitter, Montana DuRapau and Trey Supak, along with top prospects Kyle McCann, Parker Dunshee and Brian Howard were all also reassigned to minor league camp. 

The moves primarily were procedural. Minor league camp doesn't open until April this year due to COVID-19 protocols, so those reassigned still will work out at the team complex and also could still see game action. 

However, what the moves do tell us is who has been impressing this spring, and what players have a legitimate chance in landing on the Opening Day roster. 

Let's take a look.

Starting rotation shaping up

Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Jesús Luzardo and Sean Manaea are locks for the A's starting rotation to open the season, but with Mike Fiers dealing with hip inflammation and looking to be a "long shot" for Opening Day, the final rotation spot still is up for grabs. 

 

A.J. Puk likely is the preferred candidate for the role, but the 25-year-old has been plagued by injuries in his career and the A's will exercise caution in ramping up the southpaw this spring. With Kaprielian and Holmes being sent down, that leaves Daulton Jefferies, who has been a notable presence on the mound in Cactus League action so far, and lefty Cole Irvin as an outside option. 

Both Holmes and Kaprielian left a good impression on manager Bob Melvin in their respective spring stints, with the skipper noting the two "impressed."

But with April 1 looming near, Oakland needs to narrow down their rotation options, and as Melvin noted, there just aren't enough innings for everyone.

"When we have starting pitchers and now our relievers are pitching in big-league games, too, there’s just not enough innings for these guys to get their pitch counts up to where they’re ready for a season," he said to reporters Monday.  

With the aforementioned starters needing to be stretched out, and guys like Puk and Jefferies warranting longer looks, optioning intriguing younger arms creates flexibility the A's will need to configure their starting roster.

The A's will have some tough decisions ahead. Jefferies has yet to allow an earned run in three appearances this spring, scattering three hits over six innings with two walks and seven strikeouts. Puk, who missed the entirety of the 2020 season and eventually underwent shoulder surgery, will make his highly-anticipated spring debut Thursday.

Options in the outfield

The A's reassigning Barrera, the organization's top outfield prospect, wasn't too surprising given the amount of options left in camp. The most surprising breakout candidate however is Buddy Reed.

That's no knock on the 25-year-old, who already has a reputation in the minor leagues as an advanced defender at all three outfield positions. But Reed, the A's only non-roster outfield invite, has taken the spring by storm.

For example, in Sunday's contest against the Chicago White Sox, Reed robbed Jose Abreu, the reigning American League MVP, of a home run.

It's just one of many plays the human highlight reel has churned out so far. Reed's speed, flashy defense and ability to barrel the ball all have been on display this spring, and in return, he has seen a lot more playing time than the A's first envisioned. He's leaving his mark on Melvin as well.

"He’s done just about everything this camp,” Melvin said after Sunday's game. 

"He continues to impress and is having a great time with it,” Melvin added. “This is the best we’ve seen him playing and he’ll continue to get an opportunity.”

That certainly is the case, as Reed survived the first cuts and seems to be garnering more consideration by the day. However, Melvin announced Wednesday that Reed suffered a quad strain in the batting cage and he could be out for a while. The A's awaiting the MRI results before determining Reed's timetable.

 

Seth Brown remains the A's top candidate for the backup outfielder role, but Rule 5 draft pick Ka'ai Tom will get an extended look as well, for a multitude of reasons. Tom missed nearly the first month of camp with an oblique issue. Also, as part of MLB's Rule 5 stipulations, Tom must make the Opening Day roster or be returned to his previous team, in this case, the Cleveland Indians. 

Reed previously has struggled offensively, but if he can prove his bat isn't too far behind his glove, he could perform his way onto the roster.

"You look at the playing time he’s getting right now and that has a lot to do with the fact that he’s performing well," Melvin said. "That’s what it’s all about — you perform well, you get reps."

Don't call it a comeback

Of the remaining non-roster invitees left at A's camp, one name sticks out more than most.

That would be Jed Lowrie, who is back with Oakland for a third stint, this time on a minor league deal, and has showcased a solid overall performance in five Cactus League games so far. 

Lowrie, 37, has played just nine games in the last two seasons and is returning from offseason knee surgery. While injury concerns surround the former MLB All-Star, the switch-hitter is doing all he can to put that to rest. He even showed off some pop by homering off Madison Bumgarner in the A's 12-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday.

While Lowrie's big fly was his first hit of the spring, he has looked overwhelmingly healthy in the infield and could be the A's top choice for the second base job if that continues.

“He’s had some good swings," Melvin said after the loss. "I know that was his first hit but all his swings look balanced, both left and right-handed."

The biggest key for Lowrie for the rest of spring is his health. Should he be able to prove his durability, he could be a lock as a regular in the infield alongside Chad Pinder and Tony Kemp. 

"We’re trying to fit him in as many games as we can," Melvin said. "He also had a ton of at-bats in simulated games. But he doesn’t look a whole lot different from the last time we had him.”

That's reassuring news for the A's, indeed.