With all the things that went wrong for the A’s in 2015, the outfield was one area that produced some positives.
Rookie Billy Burns emerged as the everyday center fielder and leadoff man, while right fielder Josh Reddick stayed healthy and returned to form as a dangerous hitter in the middle of the lineup.
Count both of them as important building blocks entering 2016.
However, one of Oakland’s biggest unknowns is in left field. Coco Crisp is viewed as the starter entering the season, but considering he’s averaged just 85 games over the past two years because of injuries, his regular presence in the lineup can hardly be assumed. Mark Canha figures to see his share of time in left when he’s not playing first base, and the A’s have other platoon options, though none that will strike fear into opposing pitchers.
STARRING CAST: Last spring, Burns arrived at camp just looking to carve out a 25-man roster spot. This year, he’ll return as one of the A’s most indispensable pieces. The switch-hitter led the team in batting (.294) and runs (70), and he paced all Major League rookies with 26 stolen bases. Manager Bob Melvin can enter this season feeling good about the leadoff spot, and a healthy Crisp would pair nicely with Burns atop the batting order.
Perhaps the most important number of Reddick’s 2015 campaign was 149. That’s the number of games he played, his most since 2012. He led Oakland in homers (20), RBI (77), slugging (.449), total bases (236) and extra-base hits (49) to go with a .272 batting average. Though opponents successfully ran on his throwing arm more than in previous years, Reddick’s defense in right remains an important part of his value.
The 36-year-old Crisp is in the final guaranteed season of a two-year extension signed in 2014. Chronic neck issues rendered him a non-factor last year, as he hit just .175 in 44 games. Will the A’s ultimately decide to use Crisp off the bench, where he was 6-for-15 last season as a pinch hitter? Melvin and general manager David Forst have both said they consider Crisp an important piece of the everyday puzzle.
CAMP COMPETITION: Canha’s best defensive position is first base, but if the A’s plan to keep him in the lineup regularly, he’ll need to play left field too. Newcomer Yonder Alonso is slated to play first versus right-handed starters, but the right-handed hitting Canha oddly hit much better against righties than lefties (.271 to .221) last season, so it would make sense to get him and Alonso in the lineup at the same time.
As the 25-man roster currently projects, the A’s will probably keep just one pure backup outfielder. Sam Fuld would appear to have the upper hand on that job, but if the A’s prefer a right-handed hitter, Jake Smolinski will get a chance to win a spot. Smolinski is the bigger threat at the plate, while Fuld is the more dynamic defender of the two. The left-handed hitting Andrew Lambo, claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh in November, should get plenty of innings in Cactus League play but is likely ticketed for Triple-A.
PAY ATTENTION TO: Whether the A’s throw their hat in the ring for any of the free agent outfielders still available. Who would have thought so many would still be unsigned at this point? And although the A’s don’t figure to jump in on big dogs Yoenis Cespedes or Justin Upton, might they be tempted by second-tier options such as Denard Span or Gerardo Parra?