Pitchers and catchers normally have five full days to work before the full squad shows up for spring training. They’ll have 24 hours in spring training 2.0 or Summer Camp or whatever we’re calling baseball’s restart after hitting pause on the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Let’s just stick with training camp, a generic term that fits every point in the calendar.
The A’s start camp on Saturday, with one day afforded to pitchers and catchers. Everyone else shows up Sunday when the Green and Gold start training in earnest for a 60-game regular season that will be strange in every sense.
That will include a camp run out of Oakland Coliseum, featuring strict social distancing and testing protocols, with player workouts rotating and training almost exclusively done outside. Then we get to games played before zero humans but possibly hundreds of cardboard cutouts and a few reporters in the stands.
Before we get to the games that haven’t been formally scheduled, let’s take a look at five questions needing answers during Oakland's three-week training camp.
Can A’s stay as healthy as they are?
The A’s went through some typical spring-training injury issues that could’ve impacted the regular season. Pitcher A.J. Puk dealt with a shoulder strain in camp. Outfielder Stephen Piscotty was sidelined with an intercostal strain. Hurler Daniel Mengden spent the spring on the 60-day IL with an elbow issue.
All three players should be back and ready to ramp up for the season. That’s great news for an A’s team that’s stacked and needs to hit the ground running in a short season.
Can they stay that way with less time to get ready to play? Will this unique set-up have some ramifications regarding soft tissue injuries common to sudden activity increases after a prolonged lull? Time will tell on that front.
The A’s have depth throughout the roster and have plenty of injury protection, though losing an established or emerging star during this camp would be a real setback in a season with no margin for error.
How will A’s set up their pitching staff?
They have an excellent five-man rotation, featuring Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and Puk. They easily could make it six with Chris Bassitt, at least while pitchers ramp up after the season formally starts. Some teams are doing that, though there’s no indication the A’s will.
They could start the season with 15 pitchers, including a bullpen with several long relievers, to make things work in the short-term, especially with 30 roster spots available. There’s enough depth for the A’s to get by that way. Other teams will be operating under the same predicament, so strong bullpens will be vital in the early going especially. Defined roles and pitching pairings – a starter and a long man could work in tandem – could well be set up in camp.
How key will continuity be?
The A’s typically experience significant roster turnover between seasons. Not so this year. Most key positions players and pitchers are back for an opportunity to build off of last year’s 97-win season. Communication and on-field chemistry should be spot on even at the start of camp, especially among longer-tenured A’s.
The battery might be an exception, with new starting catcher Sean Murphy taking over this season. He had several weeks this spring and a September cameo with the team to work with the pitching staff. He made a point to work with every pitcher several times during the spring and will be comfortable calling games with anyone on the mound.
Having such stability throughout the roster should help the A’s start well despite this abbreviated camp.
Are there any position battles left?
The additional roster spots available early in the season should eliminate do-or-get-cut position battles that might have happened in the spring, especially at second base. Tony Kemp and Franklin Barreto should make the team. Vimael Machin seems like a lock as well, especially with Jorge Mateo traded to the Padres. Kemp and Barreto will both play, maybe in a straight platoon. Kemp, however, was getting steady work with the starters in the spring. That could well continue once the season starts.
Mark Canha sure seems like the regular left fielder, though Robbie Grossman will want some at-bats and Chad Pinder needs some playing time. Is there enough time in camp, while playing mostly intra-squad scrimmages, for an underdog to upset a frontrunner to start? That’s tough to see. The order of things could stay the same as it was foreshadowed in the spring.
Will this whole thing work?
Major League Baseball has set up detailed protocols designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus within its teams. There’s a giant manual to follow, with players tested at least every other day. Can all this prevent an outbreak? Can it keep players healthy and get them ready for a regular-season that involves travel while exclusively playing teams in the A.L. West and N.L. West?
There’s no telling. The sport is going to try. Hopefully, they’re able to train and then play a season without players getting sick.