Aguilar leads wave of new faces at full-squad report
First baseman and teammates have big job ahead
With over 23 new players on its roster and positional players reporting to camp on Monday, the Oakland Athletics are stressing three main points this spring: patience, competition and improvement.
Following a 2022 season that saw the Athletics go 60-102 and finish last in the American League West, improvement is a must.
However, with new players and a long list of excited prospects, manager Mark Kotsay said morale is high and the team is ready to get going.
“I feel a little different today,” Kotsay said before practice. “First day with the full squad, a lot of new faces and I think there’s a lot of excitement about this thing going.”
Free agency acquisition Jesús Aguilar, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract last month, agreed and was already speaking highly of the energy around the clubhouse after just one day of practice.
“It’s a special group,” the first baseman said, grinning. “It’s a lot of energy. Baseball is back, so I feel good, and I think most of the guys are feeling like me.”
Other additions include veteran utility players Jace Peterson and Aledmys Díaz, and outfielder JJ Bleday, acquired in the trade that sent A.J. Puk to Miami.
Of the 68 men expected to show up at Hohokam Stadium on Monday morning, only one player was missing: outfielder Vicmal De La Cruz, who Kotsay said is having trouble with his visa.
For the rest of the team, the morning consisted of bullpens, live batting practice, and other standard drills, giving the coaching staff its first look at the new positional signings. Overall, the coaches seemed satisfied during drills giving the occasional head nod, high five and smile.
“We try to create environments in which players can interact, and you can see them communicating to each other, working together through the fundamental drills and having fun,” Kotsay said, which will be important in the team jelling before the start of spring training games on Feb. 25.
It’s still early days for finalizing a roster, but Kotsay said he expects versatility to be a strength heading into the regular season. For now, he’s focused on figuring out who goes where with all the new additions and where returning players fit in.
Looking down the first base line, Aguilar might be the obvious choice, but he will need to improve on his down season last year, when he batted .230 compared to his career average of .254. He’s been brought in to help lead offensive production for a team that struggled to score runs last season and be a veteran presence in the clubhouse.
But Aguilar himself said staying healthy is going to be his main priority. In 2021 and 2020, he missed games with knee and back injuries.
“If I stay healthy, I can do a lot of good things,” Aguilar said. “The most important thing for me is just being (here) every day and helping the team to win more games.”
Pushing Aguilar at first base will be a familiar face, Seth Brown, who played in 84 games there last season, and played 77 more in the outfield, leading the 2022 A’s with 25 home runs. Ryan Noda, who the team picked up in the Rule 5 draft, is also in the mix at first base.
Kotsay said this season, he expects Brown to split his playing time once again and mentioned that there will be competition in the outfield, too. The list includes returners Cristian Pache, Ramón Laureano and new additions Esteury Ruiz, acquired in the Sean Murphy trade, along with the adaptable Peterson and Díaz.
“There’s a few outfielders that are wedded to the outfield, but not one position,” Kotsay said. “It’s a pretty versatile roster right now.”
One of the more secure positions on the team is second base, where former World Series winner and three-year Athletic Tony Kemp will get the nod to begin the year, but Kotsay said it’s still too early to set anything in stone.
Peterson, the former Brewer who hits well against right-handed pitchers, will compete for the starting spot at third base with Jonah Bride, who played in 58 games last year for the A’s and batted .204, and Jordan Diaz, who spent the majority of his 2022 season in the minors.
Rounding out the infield at shortstop, 22-year-old Nick Allen returns, joined by newcomer Díaz. Allen debuted and played in 100 games for the A’s last year between short and second base, but his .207 batting average left room for competition. Díaz, who was with the Braves, drove in 38 RBIs, had 12 hits and a .243 batting average over 92 games.
Similarly to Aguilar, Díaz will be relied on to help provide offense power.
There’s also a handful of other players in camp like Brent Rooker, Conner Capel and Jordan Díaz, who may not be quite ready for the major leagues yet but will still get a chance to fight for a spot.
“The young talent that we’ve acquired, they’re going to get their opportunities to go out and compete for jobs,” Kotsay said. “Guys that really didn’t have everyday roles on this club last year, coming into camp and trying to compete.”
Aguilar said he was hopeful about the roster the team has built and feels there’s a good mix of young players and veterans to improve on last year’s result.
“The most important thing for me is to bring a new energy every day,” Aguilar said. “We got a great group of young guys in the team, and I think we can make a really good mix between veterans and young guys, and (I) just came here to help the team to win games.”