Franklin Barreto

Why these A's spring performances that could translate into 2020 season

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AP

Why these A's spring performances that could translate into 2020 season

Let's take a trip back in time. Back when baseball was being played ... about one week ago. 

Since then, spring training games have been canceled and regular-season games will not be played until at least May due to the coronavirus pandemic

Before the spring games were done, there were some strong performances happening in the Arizona desert for the A's. 

Yes, to preface this, spring training numbers *don't matter.* But let's take a look:

The young lefty pitchers

For the first time in a long time, the A's rotation looks solid heading into the 2020 season.

Over the offseason, the team lost a couple of veteran pitchers in Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark, but have more than enough talent to make up for it.

The spring is the perfect time for pitchers to work on some of their specialty pitches. So Sean Manaea's 14.09 ERA was not the perfect way to define the fact that he was working on his slider, a pitch that he was happy with velocity-wise in one of his outings.

On the other side, we got to see young lefties A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo.

Puk only pitched in three innings this spring, but struck out two during those outings. He was shut down after being diagnosed with a mild shoulder strain.

But don't panic, manager Bob Melvin said multiple times that an MRI showed Puk has no structural damage. 

Puk has an extremely promising future, after coming off Tommy John surgery in April, 2018.

As for Luzardo, well, buckle up friends. We are in for a treat.

In Arizona, he pitched 8 1/3 innings and boasted a 1.08 ERA with 13 strikeouts and a 0.600 WHIP.

Glancing at social media, many people are incredibly excited to see what he's going to do this season.

Last year, he gave us a taste in his highly-anticipated MLB debut. In 12 innings, he accumulated a 1.50 ERA, fanning 16. 

Second base

The second base situation created some competition, with both Tony Kemp and Jorge Mateo performing well.

Kemp was slashing .345/.412/.483 with 10 hits in 10 games. The left-handed hitter is one of the favorites to possibly platoon with Franklin Barreto. 

Mateo, specifically, was showing off his speed during that time, proving that he could be an asset to the team. He stole four bases in 12 games during the spring and had 24 last season in Triple-A.

Speaking of Barreto, he was putting up solid spring numbers as well, slashing .306/.359/.528 in 13 games. Melvin knows when Barreto is good, he's deadly against opposing teams.

The starting job is his to lose ... or win. 

Catcher

We didn't get to see much of Sean Murphy, as he was slowly getting back into the grove coming off of knee surgery in October. 

He only played in four Cactus League games, but posted a .375 average and a 1.375 OPS with a home run in 10 plate appearances.

Murphy looks to be the starting guy behind the dish this season.

[RELATED: Canha could get rare opportunity during COVID-19 hiatus]

He was called up on Sept. 4 last season for his big-league debut and fared well. 

In 20 games he slashed . 245/.333/.566 with 13 hits in 53 at-bats.

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

Where A’s position battles 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.

Bob Melvin confident in A's young depth heading into Winter Meetings

Bob Melvin confident in A's young depth heading into Winter Meetings

The A's are at the MLB Winter Meetings with eyes on providing manager Bob Melvin with even more options to fill out his lineup, but it's not as if he doesn't have plenty to choose from already.

Whether it's the starting rotation, the infield or the outfield, Oakland possesses great depth at many positions, and a lot of that depth is young.

Both Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk made their long-awaited debuts for the A's last season, and Melvin told NBC Sports California that both are expected to be in the starting rotation when the season commences. Just how many players are a member of that rotation remains to be seen, however.

"I think anything is possible for us," Melvin said of the rotation. "We like to get a little bit creative. I think ideally guys like to be in a five-man rotation, it allows them to prepare. But whether it's the piggybacking-type thing, whether it's a six-man rotation for a period of time ... anything creative I think we would potentially look at, but I think as we go into the season right now, we'd probably look at a five-man rotation to start."

One would imagine that both Sean Manaea and Mike Fiers have been earmarked for two more spots in the starting rotation, as might Frankie Montas. Melvin also mentioned players like Chris Bassitt, Daulton Jeffries and James Kaprielian as additional pitching options.

That depth extends to the infield, as well. The A's were so confident in their second-base options that they felt comfortable trading the versatile Jurickson Profar to the Padres. Between Franklin Barreto, Jorge Mateo, Sheldon Neuse and even Chad Pinder, Oakland has several bodies to consider pairing with shortstop Marcus Semien in the middle of the infield. The trouble is, each of them bats right-handed, as does the vast majority of the A's current lineup. That doesn't seem to concern Melvin too much, though.

"I think we're always looking potentially for another left-handed bat in a little bit of a right-handed dominant lineup," Melvin explained, "but we're comfortable with the guys we have right now and we feel like we have multiple options."

The A's manager went on to admit that, in a perfect world, Oakland would be able to add a few left-handers, particularly considering the abundance of dominant right-handed starters in the AL West. The Angels reportedly are pursuing Gerrit Cole, and he could be the best of the bunch. The A's are aware of what their competitors are doing at the Winter Meetings, but they have reason to be confident.

[RELATED: Why Yankees offering Cole $245M is good for Giants, A's]

"We keep an eye on the teams in our division," Melvin said. "We keep our eyes on every team in the league, but at the end of the day, it's about what we can do to enhance our club and make our club better. You're talking about a club that's won 97 games two years in a row, so we feel pretty good about where we're at."

The A's already possess a deep roster, but perhaps with an addition or two, a deep playoff run could be in store.