Austin Allen

Where A’s position battled stood before spring training was canceled

Where A’s position battled stood before spring training was canceled

Major League Baseball, along with the rest of the sports world, faces an unprecedented time right now.

The original Opening Day start at the end of March had been pushed back two weeks, and then another extension into May. That’s the earliest the regular season could begin.

Spring training games were also canceled, and as a result, we’re left waiting.

For now, we can revisit some of the position battles that were taking place down in Arizona for the A’s. The two main ones being second base and catcher.

Catcher

Sean Murphy
Austin Allen
Jonah Heim

At the catcher spot, for now, Sean Murphy looks to be the starter behind the plate.

Last season, he made his MLB debut and in 20 games batted .245/.333/.566 with 13 hits and four home runs. His spring training debut took a while as the team wanted to ease him in coming off of left knee surgery in October.

When he did make his Cactus League debut, it appeared to be worth the wait.

Yes, I know -- these are spring numbers, but he was hitting .375 in 10 plate appearances.

A’s manager Bob Melvin views the catcher position as an important one. 

He’s a former big-league catcher himself so he appreciates it. Before he was able to see Austin Allen -- who was acquired in the Jurickson Profar trade -- he knew Allen could hit.

He took advantage of the Pacific Coast League before his time in San Diego, but finished his 2019 big-league campaign with a .215/.282/.559 line. He also had a splendid spring and in 15 Cactus League games hit .406 with two homers and 10 RBI. Plus, Baseball Reference projects him to do very well this season.

BoMel specifically told NBC Sports California about Jonah Heim’s Triple-A numbers. He, too, swung the bat well in the PCL after a Double-A promotion. Across two teams in 2019, he hit for a .310 average and .863 OPS. He played in 12 games during the spring and fared well.

Needless to say, the catching position sits rather pretty for the moment.

There were talks of the A's bringing in a veteran behind the plate, but that doesn’t look likely at this point. The backup-catcher competition remains between Allen and Heim. 

Second base

Franklin Barreto
Tony Kemp
Vimael Machin
Jorge Mateo

When Profar went to the San Diego Padres, the attention to take over at second base immediately went to Franklin Barreto. But his numbers last season weren’t a good characterization of what he can do.

Melvin says when Barreto is on point, he’s scary for an opposing lineup to face. It’s whether or not he’ll get there.

For now, it’s his job to win or lose. And if he’s solid, he could take it over by himself, but perhaps also with a lefty bat to platoon with.

Tony Kemp could be that lefty bat. And if his spring is any indication, then Kemp could tighten that spot up.

Last season with the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, Kemp had 52 hits in 245 at-bats. 

One of Oakland's main goals last season was to acquire a lefty bat. Kemp not only fulfilled that need, but his athleticism and range could create the perfect pair with Barreto to tackle that position.

Jorge Mateo made things interesting during his spring outing. He got plenty of chances playing in 12 Cactus League games. His speed could also be what puts him ahead of the race. Slight pun intended. He stole 24 bags with Triple-A Vegas last season.

Vimael Machin is intriguing for many reasons. He was able to take over for a resting Matt Chapman at third base, so there was time to watch him.

He’s vying for a spot on the 26-man roster. If he doesn’t get there, he will be offered back to the Cubs. 

His time watching Ben Zobrist will only help his chances, but it’s rather crowded there at the moment.

Then there is also Ryan Goins, 32, who has plenty of big-league experience. He also offers infield versatility, which helps his case but makes the A's decision more challenging.

[RELATED: A's had best record in Cactus League before spring cancelation]

Over seven seasons, Goins has averaged a .230/.279/.335 line.

There’s just one more factor here. Two words: Chad Pinder.

This guy will not only play any position, but he’ll play it well. Melvin told NBC Sports California during spring training that Pinder wouldn't be put at second base to start off, but could get more reps if the A’s believe the position needs to be shored up.

Why A's young catchers excited Bob Melvin heading into 2020 season

Why A's young catchers excited Bob Melvin heading into 2020 season

OAKLAND -- The catcher position is an important one, especially for A's manager Bob Melvin.

A 10-year catcher in the bigs, Melvin knows how underappreciated the position can be. But not to him.

For the A's, however, the position appears quite young. If today were Opening Day, 25-year-old Sean Murphy would be the starter behind the plate.

Not that this would be particularly a bad thing. In 60 big-league plate appearances last season, Murphy slashed .245/.333/.566 with four home runs and eight RBI.  

"And certainly the development of Murphy," Melvin told NBC Sports California at A's Media Day last Friday. "[He] did enough last year, and certainly in his minor-league career, to have us excited."

Across three minor-league teams last season, Murphy finished with a .964 OPS, 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 41 games. 

The A's also acquired catcher Austin Allen in the Jurickson Profar trade from the Padres.

"We're excited to see Allen -- supposedly he swings the bat really well," Melvin told NBC Sports California. 

Fans appear to be excited, too.

"Jonah Heim had a great year for us, too -- he's another roster guy for us, a switch-hitting catcher who really kind of had a breakout year for himself last year, so he's another guy we'll be watching."

Heim took advantage of the Pacific Coast League with a .358/.412/.557 line in 35 games with Triple-A Las Vegas. 

[RELATED: BoMel recalls funny story about Beltran, Cespedes]

"Who knows if there's something else we do before spring, or during spring -- or whatever, but we're comfortable with the guys we have right now," Melvin added.

The A's reportedly were targeting veteran catcher Matt Wieters before he ultimately signed with the Cardinals earlier this month.

With just a couple of notable catchers left on the free-agent market, the A's could make a bid on one of them, but there's always a possibility of a trade for one of those veteran names to be a part of that squad.

MLB rumors: Matt Wieters drawing interest from A's in free agency

MLB rumors: Matt Wieters drawing interest from A's in free agency

If you look at the catcher position on the A's depth chart right now, there are two names: Sean Murphy and Austin Allen.

Both are rookies and have a combined 54 games of MLB experience.

So it would make sense for the A's to pursue a veteran backstop to split time with Murphy, one of the A's top prospects, who figures to be the opening day starter.

That veteran catcher appears to be Matt Wieters, who is drawing interest from the A's and St. Louis Cardinals, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Saturday, citing sources.

The 33-year-old Wieters spent last season with the Cardinals, so they likely have the upper hand in the pursuit. But the A's have been after Wieters for a while, as they pursued him last winter as well.

An 11-year veteran, Wieters would be the perfect mentor for Murphy and Allen.

[RELATED: A's sign Semien, six others]

The A's could get Wieters at a bargain price, as he's coming off a minor league contract with the Cardinals.

For a team that has aspirations of winning the AL West and going deep in the postseason, it would be wise for them to bring in a veteran backstop who has played in high-pressure situations.