To prepare for WBC, Sonny Gray adjusts throwing schedule

To prepare for WBC, Sonny Gray adjusts throwing schedule

MESA, Ariz. — Sonny Gray is gearing up to pitch in the World Baseball Classic, but he wouldn’t join Team USA unless it advances to the second round of the international tournament.

Essentially, the A’s right-hander is on call. Always a fan of watching the WBC, Gray obviously has a vested interest in how this year’s event unfolds. In new rules for the WBC, now in its fourth installment, each team is allowed a pool of up to 10 “designated pitchers,” but only two of those pitchers can be on the staff in each round.

The Americans have eight designated pitchers on their squad, with Danny Duffy and Tanner Roark being chosen for the first round, which begins March 10 for Team USA. Gray is among the other six designated pitchers and would be lined up to join the squad for the second round, which begins March 14 in San Diego, if the Americans advance.

The tournament runs through March 22.

Gray said he’s adjusting his throwing schedule, but only slightly, to line up for potential second-round duty. His first bullpen session of camp was moved up from Friday to Wednesday, though Gray has thrown several times off the mound already in preparation for spring training.

Having pitched for Team USA over two summers while at Vanderbilt, Gray said representing the national team is a special experience.

“It’s cool. You get a bunch of these guys, when I was in college, who are some of the best players all throughout college, and you put them on the same team, it’s an instant bond with everyone. Once everyone puts the same jersey on, you become a team right away. You don’t need a lot of practice. When you put on the USA jersey, it just kind of happens.”

Four others on the A’s 40-man roster besides Gray are scheduled to play in the WBC — pitchers John Axford (Canada), Santiago Casilla (Dominican Republic) Liam Hendriks (Australia) and left fielder Khris Davis (Mexico).

A’s manager Bob Melvin said his staff has been in communication with Team USA pitching coach Jeff Jones on how best to handle Gray’s workload.

The right-hander is coming off a disappointing 2016 season in which he went 5-11 with a 5.69 ERA and spent two stints on the disabled list. But A’s catcher Stephen Vogt still views Gray as the guiding force that can be the veteran leader of what’s sure to be a young Oakland rotation overall.

“The thing was, the stuff was still there (last year), just not in the right part of the zone,” Vogt said. “And whether that’s health or confidence or a little bit of both, … when that kid’s on the mound healthy and confident, there’s no one in baseball I’d rather have pitching for us.”

In another WBC-related note, Eric Blum — who works on the A’s spring training clubhouse staff — will serve as the equipment manager for Team Israel, which qualified for its first WBC. He’ll depart for Seoul, South Korea on Sunday to join the team.

A's 2019 Projections: Franklin Barreto could make impact, if he plays


A's 2019 Projections: Franklin Barreto could make impact, if he plays

Editor's note: Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports California will be analyzing a different A's player each day to project their numbers for next season.

Franklin Barreto might be the toughest A's player to project for next season.

First of all, we don't have any idea where, or how much, he's going to play. With Jurickson Profar taking over the starting second baseman job, Barreto could find at-bats hard to come by.

The 22-year-old has played the outfield before and could get some action in left field, but he'll have to battle with Nick Martini, Mark Canha, and Dustin Fowler. There's also still a chance the A's could trade Barreto, possibly for a starting pitcher.

Last season, Barreto hit .233/.253/.493 with five home runs and 16 RBI in 32 games. He spent the majority of the season in Triple-A, where he hit .259/.357/.514 with 18 homers and 46 RBI in 77 games.

Barreto has shown flashes of his potential, but he is still far too inconsistent at the plate, striking out 62 times in 144 career at-bats, compared to just six walks.

Baseball Reference projects Barreto to get 224 at-bats next season and hit .241/.299/.424 with nine home runs and 32 RBI. While the slash line looks realistic, we don't see how he will be able to compile that many at-bats.

Barreto could fill in for Profar or Marcus Semien here and there, but those opportunities will be few and far between. In the outfield, he figures to be fifth, at best, on the depth chart, and that's assuming he's ahead of Fowler and Chad Pinder.

[RELATED: Semien's 2019 projections]

It could be another trying year for the talented 22-year-old, at least in terms of playing time. However, Barreto should continue to develop as a hitter and his easy power is undeniable.

Projection: .244/.306/.434, 9 HR, 23 RBI

Deion Sanders explains why Kyler Murray should pick baseball over NFL


Deion Sanders explains why Kyler Murray should pick baseball over NFL

If anyone knows what Kyler Murray is going through right now, it's Deion Sanders.

"Prime Time" is one of the most successful two-sport athletes. He played 14 seasons in the NFL with five teams, was a six-time All-Pro and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Sanders also played parts of nine MLB seasons with four teams, including 52 games with the Giants.

So does the NFL Network analyst believe Murray, whom the A's took No. 9 overall in last year's MLB draft, made the right choice by declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft on Monday?

"If I'm in his shoes, I'm picking up that baseball bat and I'm not looking back," Sanders told ESPN's Cari Champion on Monday night.


"Because, that's just for me," Sanders said. "Sometimes, I still have regret that I didn't give [baseball] more. But you know, I got a gold [Hall of Fame] jacket in the closet. I'm straight. But I wish I would have given [baseball] more.

"But for Kyler, that's tough at his position, and I don't think he realizes the ridicule you go through once you declare and say, 'I'm going to be a football player.' Now people start talking about your height, your size, what you can't do. He hasn't dealt with that yet."

NFL experts and scouts are torn on the Heisman Trophy winner. Several outlets have released mock drafts that project Murray as a first-round pick. But NFL Network's Ian Rapoport has spoken to some NFL scouts who believe Murray will fall to the second or third round.

Sanders is, excited, though, to see what Murray does in the future.

"I think he can do whatever he wants to do," Sanders said. "He's that type of athlete."