Athletics

Why versatile Chad Pinder is most respected player in A's clubhouse

Why versatile Chad Pinder is most respected player in A's clubhouse

MESA, Ariz. -- Chad Pinder played every defensive position for the A's in 2019, minus catcher and pitcher.

“I have so many gloves that I own,” Pinder told NBC Sports California during spring training. “I have an outfielder's glove, a third baseman glove, a middle infielder glove, a first baseman’s mitt … and I just got a catcher’s mitt.”

The 27-year old is the definition of a “super-utility" player. That makes him super valuable, but it doesn’t make his job super easy.

“To put up the numbers he’s put up, with the inconsistent at-bats he’s had, not only that — he’s had to worry about playing every position on the field,” relief pitcher Lou Trivino said. “I think it shows what a talented player he is.”

Stephen Piscotty can easily sum up how teammates view Pinder: “With the utmost respect.”

“Baseball is a lot about rhythm,” Piscotty continued. “And when you’re not playing every day, it’s hard to find that rhythm. He just brings it.”

Pinder also routinely brings “it” as one of the prominent leaders inside Oakland’s clubhouse, even though you might not find him regularly in the starting lineup, or drawing extra personal attention.

“I think it’s just through relationships and building trust,” Pinder shared. “And being friends with everyone in the clubhouse. I’ve always been told since being little to just put my head down and go about my business. Let your actions on the field do the talking. That’s something that I’ve tried to live by.”

Manager Bob Melvin recognizes Pinder’s leadership as so strong, that he can already make this bold prediction: “He’ll be a manager someday.”

“There are times that I call him in my office and say, ‘You know that Chapman guy? Go handle him,' " Melvin shared. “He’s got a great idea how to handle guys, he’s probably as well-liked a guy as we have.”

[RELATED: Where key A's position battles stand before opening day]

Pinder has become an A's fan-favorite for all of his on-field hustle since his 2016 arrival, and a players’ favorite for much of the effort you don’t see.

“What we see too, on the bench is that he’s up in the tunnel in the fifth inning getting ready for that pinch-hit at-bat that may or may not come,” Piscotty shared. “He’s very active and I know how draining that can be, getting all psyched up.”

“I have so many things I like about him. He works hard every single day, he wants to be great,” center fielder Ramon Laureano said. “On the field, and inside the clubhouse, he’s just outstanding. I love the guy. I get happy every time I see him. He’s one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever had.”

How A's can benefit from rare season without major roster turnover

How A's can benefit from rare season without major roster turnover

The A’s are used to significant roster turnover. It’s normal on a team trying to compete with a lower payroll, solid player development and a penchant for trading stars over extending them.

The front office generally has managed to field quality teams under those circumstances, but even successful execution of the A’s strategy has its drawbacks.

Team chemistry starts from darn close to scratch this time every year.

The spring training, however, was not your typical meet and greet.

It was a reunion.

“This is one of the first years where you show up in the spring and you basically know everyone,” right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt said. “That in itself has been so great. We obviously added some pieces, but everyone on the pitching staff knows each other well. The hitters do, too.

“We usually have a significant amount of turnover here. We didn’t have to revamp the starting rotation or the bullpen or the infield. It has been awesome because there’s so much talent and we know exactly what to expect from each guy. We show up as good friends confident in what each other can do.”

The Athletics feel they’re starting this spring a step ahead due to rare continuity in the clubhouse even over recent seasons. Only 10 members of 2018’s Opening Day roster remain from a club that won 97 games. There were 13 returners – we’ve included a few who started the year hurt – who opened 2019 with the club.

This year? The A’s could bring 18 back, using NBC Sports California A's reporter Jessica Kleinschmidt’s recent 26-man roster projection as a guide. There’s an extra roster spot available over previous years, but 18 of the 26 is a strong total. Fortifying it even further, only four of Jess’ projected group are brand new to the organization. The other four spent time with the A’s down the stretch.

“Pretty much since I’ve been here, it has been a new team every year,” first baseman Matt Olson said. “This year we have the same dudes coming back. There are some new faces here and there and that’s part of the business, but it’s awesome knowing the guys you’re playing next to. You don’t have to meet a ton of new guys and build chemistry from scratch. Hopefully, it translates to us hitting the ground running.”

A pair of 97-win clubs weren’t able to do that. The 2018 team was 14-14 in March and April. The 2019 team was 14-18 in that same span. Those are the only two monthlong stretches --  “monthlong,” in this instance, adds the few March games to April totals -- where the A’s finished at or below .500 in the last two years.

“We’re way ahead of where we are in the past,” Bassitt said. “People may look at our struggles to start the year, but it’s hard when you’re trying to learn about the guys you’re playing with. That’s just the reality of it. I don’t think we’ll stumble out of the gates. It’s an exciting time from that standpoint.”

Continuity isn’t the only reason why the A’s expect to improve on 97-win seasons. Returners are established, feature MVP-caliber players in Marcus Semien, Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, and six projected starters with more than 20 home runs last year.

The rotation’s full of frontline starters, including Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers and Frankie Montas. Phenom pitchers A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo and catcher Sean Murphy are seen as significant upgrades.

All that’s why optimism is so high. The clubhouse culture is well established, and this spring’s focus is on refining quality performance and, above all else, staying healthy.

That’s clear to Tony Kemp, a veteran newcomer who has played with the Houston Astros and  Chicago Cubs.

“You can see how the positive mentality just flows throughout the clubhouse,” he said. "I feel right at home with these guys. Everyone is working toward the same goal. Everyone is focused on getting better each day. You can see that.

“Building bonds and quality relationships is so important over a long season. It’s cool to see the transformation of this organization over the past couple years. Now being here, so can see exactly why this team is on the right track.”

[RELATED: How Sean Manaea is taking on leadership role with A's, in rotation]

A tight clubhouse has its benefits. So does continuity between players and the coaching staff.

“I’ve had some of these guys for a while now and, when you get to this point, you can take things to the next level,” hitting coach Darren Bush said. “Every year you’re trying to grow as a hitter and expand what you’re learning. Each guy is working on something individually, and with all the continuity on the team, I feel like I know where everybody is and what their goals are. There’s a level of trust here that takes time to build, and it puts us in a great position to make progress.”

Whether the A’s can maintain continuity over a longer haul is a story for another day. Meeting sky-high market values for Semien, Chapman and others soon owed new deals will be tough on a franchise historically unwilling to break the bank. Those problems come down the road.

The A’s enjoying this moment right now, as they try to best previous seasons with a stacked and familiar roster.

“I think we handled [expectations] well last year, and now we’re looking to do more,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We welcome the expectations placed upon us. That just means that we’re in a really good place right now.”

A's roster analysis: Examining position battles before MLB Opening Day

A's roster analysis: Examining position battles before MLB Opening Day

MESA, Ariz. -- While A's manager Bob Melvin remains thrilled knowing he has plenty of good options to choose from for an Opening Day starter, that's not the main competition at camp.

After the A's traded Jurickson Profar to the Padres for Buddy Reed and Austin Allen, second base has more question marks than answers at the moment. 

At catcher, a position important to BoMel, there could be a competition worth noting as well. 

Let's make some predictions for the A's position battles as spring training continues ... 

Second Base

Acquiring Tony Kemp complicated the picture, perhaps, but for the moment, it appears the job is Franklin Barreto's to lose. However, he could be platooned with a lefty bat.

Barreto, in 23 games last season, slashed just .123/.138/.263 with two home runs and seven hits. 

He took advantage of his time in the PCL with a .295 average and .926 OPS, but obviously was inconsistent in the bigs. 

Melvin wants Barreto to realize his potential, not only to make his decision easier, but to further strengthen an already-formidable A's lineup. 

There are others vying for the job, as well, including Jorge Mateo and Sheldon Neuse, who put in some big-league innings last season at second base.

Chad Pinder could be used at any position and be successful at it, but Melvin doesn't see the utility guy being a factor in the competition.

"We're not intent on getting [Pinder] out there at second base yet," Melvin told the media on Monday before the Cactus League game against the Brewers.

"We want to take a look at some other options at this point, we have to make some decisions on some guys -- very difficult decisions on some talented guys, unfortunately. So yeah, he'll probably get more second base reps later and if we feel like we want to shorten it up, we don't carry as many guys that could potentially play that position, then he factors in there, too."

[RELATED: How Pinder's hard work won over A's fans, his teammates]

It'll be a tough decision with or without Pinder in the mix, it appears. 

The A's also acquired young Vimael Machin, who many believed would make a difference -- which could still be the case. However, he's simply trying to nab a roster spot at this point. He put up solid numbers with a .333/.369/.469 slash line in the offseason Puerto Rican League. 

Catcher

Behind the plate sits -- well, squats -- Sean Murphy, one of the A's top prospects. He, along with Austin Allen and Jonah Heim, form the contingent of young guys hoping to claim the starting job. Murphy appears to be the main guy, as he saw plenty of major-league action last season with Oakland, slashing .245/.333/.566 with four home runs and eight RBI across 60 plate appearances.

Allen is a left-handed bat who put up strong numbers with the Padres last season. Melvin said he liked what Allen did with the lumber and he looks to be a great backup option.

Heim put up amazing numbers in Triple-A and took advantage of the PCL with a .412/.557/.968 line. He caught Liam Hendriks' short outing Monday and received some compliments from the Aussie. 

The infield and outfield positions are relatively secured and with many talents. You can check out the 26-man projections, here.