Athletics

A's outlook: Options at second base 'a concern' for 2017 season

A's outlook: Options at second base 'a concern' for 2017 season

Among many questions Billy Beane addressed with reporters during the recent winter meetings, one in particular generated an honest and straightforward response from the A’s top baseball official.

It pertained to second base, and how that position sets up for Oakland in 2017.

“It’s a concern,” Beane said. “Long term, I think we feel like we have some options that probably aren’t quite ready yet. I think we prefer not to rush those options.”

The second base mystery revolves around the health of veteran Jed Lowrie, who is recovering from August surgery on his left foot to remedy a number of ailments, including ligament damage and a bunion on his big toe that sidelined him for the final two-plus months of 2016.

In his absence, Joey Wendle showed some promise at second during his first major league exposure in September. Chad Pinder, who also got his first taste of the bigs late in the season, returns to the picture as well. And it might just be that the A’s true long-term answer at second isn’t even playing there regularly yet.

Shortstop Franklin Barreto, Oakland’s top overall prospect, has logged some time on the right side of the bag in the minors and most recently in the Arizona Fall League. The 20-year-old Barreto figures to begin this season with Triple-A Nashville but will likely make his big league debut sometime in 2017.

Unlike center field — where the A’s lack both a short and long-term answer — team officials at least like their future options at second. The question is whether they seek immediate help via free agency or trade.

The Twins’ Brian Dozier is available but Minnesota is setting a high price for him and doesn’t necessarily have to unload him. Chase Utley, who makes the Bay Area his offseason home, is an intriguing name on the free agent front, though he’ll play this season at age 38.

STARRING CAST: All indications are that Lowrie, 32, is recovering well from foot surgery and that his timetable should have him ready for the start of spring training in February.

At full strength, Lowrie offers the A’s an experienced switch-hitter that manager Bob Melvin feels can bat anywhere in the order. But Lowrie also is three seasons removed from his last truly solid campaign — in 2013 he slashed .290/.344/.446 with 15 homers and 75 RBI for Oakland. His offensive production is key because Lowrie doesn’t offer great defensive range at second. The value comes with his bat.

“Jed certainly is an option,” Beane said. “We have to wait until he’s out there and playing and fully recovered from his surgery. … With guys who come off surgery, and when the timeline (to return) puts them right around spring training, if you bank on that you can find yourself in trouble.”

Keep that health factor in mind as you ponder whether the A’s could find a taker for Lowrie. It’s believed they’ve at least gauged trade interest for him this winter, though his physical status could make it tougher to pull off a deal. He’s in the final season of a three-year deal that will pay him $6.5 million in 2017. That’s not an outrageous amount, and Lowrie does offer the versatility to play shortstop or third if needed.

CAMP COMPETITION: Wendle hit .260 with a homer and 11 RBI in 28 games of his big league debut last season. Not eye-popping numbers, but he impressed those within the organization with his defense, an area in which he's improved by leaps and bounds since coming over from Cleveland in the Brandon Moss trade of December 2014. He also plays with a fire that the box score doesn’t account for. And if Wendle can improve his patience at the plate and work deeper into counts, the A’s could give him a longer look as their leadoff man.

Should the A’s not be convinced Lowrie is the everyday solution at second, Wendle and the right-handed hitting Pinder could form a second base platoon, though there’s not a guarantee that both (or either) even make the Opening Night roster.

Another prospect whose name is worth stashing away is Max Schrock, a non-roster invitee to spring training. Acquired from the Nationals for reliever Marc Rzepczynski and cash in August, the 22-year-old Schrock is a bat-first second baseman who has played as high as Double-A to this point.

PAY ATTENTION TO: Whether Wendle and Pinder get a look during the spring as true utility-type infielders. The A’s will need to identify a backup infielder. Pinder has experience playing second, short and third. And Wendle, though he’s primarily a second baseman, played a substantial amount of shortstop during winter ball in Mexico .

A's vs. Orioles lineups: Brett Anderson tries to clinch series win

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AP

A's vs. Orioles lineups: Brett Anderson tries to clinch series win

The A's will look to do something they haven't been able to all month when they host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night. 

Oakland has had three opportunities to move two games above .500 in June, but has lost each time. Brett Anderson has a chance to help the A's turn things around, and is coming off one of his best starts of the season. The 31-year-old threw 6 1/3 innings and struck out four in Oakland's 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays his last time out, picking up a no decision. 

Gabriel Ynoa starts for the Orioles. He's still looking for his first win of the season, and will make just the 12th start of his MLB career. Ynoa has never pitched against the A's, but has limited opponents to a .258 batting average away from Camden Yards this season.

Here are the full lineups for the A's-Orioles game, which will be broadcast on NBC Sports California and the MyTeams app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. PT, with first pitch at 7:07.

Oakland A's (37-36)
Marcus Semien, SS
Matt Chapman, 3B
Matt Olson, 1B
Khris Davis, DH
Ramón Laureano, CF
Robbie Grossman, LF
Stephen Piscotty, RF
Jurickson Profar, 2B
Beau Taylor, C

Brett Anderson, LHP (6-4, 3.89 ERA)

[RELATED: How Semien is thriving in leadoff spot for A's]

Baltimore Orioles (21-51)
Hanser Alberto, DH
Trey Mancini, RF
Pedro Severino, C
Renato Nunez, 1B
Anthony Santander, LF
Jonathan Villar, 2B
Keon Broxton, CF
Rio Ruiz, 3B
Richie Martin, SS

Gabriel Ynoa, RHP (0-3, 5.02 ERA)

How Marcus Semien has thrived as A's everyday leadoff hitter this year

How Marcus Semien has thrived as A's everyday leadoff hitter this year

OAKLAND -- A's manager Bob Melvin could probably talk about Marcus Semien forever and still not run out of superlatives.

Oakland's shortstop is one of the hardest workers in all of baseball, as evidenced by his massive improvement defensively over the past few years. This season, Semien has taken his offensive production to another level as well.

The 28-year-old is slashing .280/.365/.443 with 10 home runs, 36 RBI, and 48 runs scored. He's on pace to set career-highs in nearly every major offensive category, including hits, walks, runs, and RBI.

"He's just become a complete player," Melvin praised. "Offensively, defensively, he's got leadership qualities, he's out there every day. There are a lot of things to like about Marcus Semien. He continues to get better and I don't see that slowing down either. He's very aware of what he needs to work on and what it takes to get better.

"Nobody works harder."

It probably seems crazy now, but Oakland actually entered the season without a set leadoff hitter. That changed in a hurry, as Semien grabbed the role and didn't let go.

"I just want to get on base," he said. "That's what I've been trying to do more of this year and just stay in the strike zone. ... I've been walking more too. I'm just trying to get on base for the middle of the order."

Semien has certainly done that. He is currently riding a career-high 14-game hitting streak, batting .390 with three home runs, four doubles, and 11 RBI during that stretch.

"Better direction, better timing with the fastball and then being able to take the pitches out of the zone, those offspeed pitches," Semien explained. "You get in better counts, and when you're catching up to the fastball and hitting in good counts, good things will happen."

Semien's .365 on-base percentage ranks fifth among major league shortstops. Prior to this season, he had never posted an on-base percentage higher than .325.

"I used to lead him off against lefties and not righties," Melvin said. "Now we're comfortable leading him off (against either). ... He sets the table for a lot of guys. You see the RBI through the lineup. A lot of it has to do with him being on base quite a bit."

[RELATED: First-round pick Davidson reminds A's of Dodgers' star]

Semien has also reduced his strikeout rate from a year ago, punching out just 47 times in 296 at-bats (15.9 percent). Last season, he struck out 131 times in 632 at-bats (20.7 percent).

"I can't say enough about what he means to this team," Melvin said. "He hits the ball the other way. If you shift on him, he'll shoot the ball in the hole. He's just very aware of what's going on out there and he shows up on both ends."