San Francisco Chronicle
Rooker making a push for a roster spot
SURPRISE, Ariz. — Bidding for a roster spot in Oakland Athletics camp, outfielder Brent Rooker is also reunited with bullpen coach Mike McCarthy, an influential presence in Rooker’s minor-league career.
Rooker, 28, was an offseason waiver claim from the Royals. McCarthy, a Walnut Creek native, is the A’s new bullpen and assistant pitching coach. Both were with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in 2019 and 2021, at the Twins’ alternate site in 2020 and with the Padres’ Triple-A team in 2022.
McCarthy served as a bullpen and pitching coach at those stops, so his primary charges were pitchers. But Rooker, a corner outfielder with good minor-league power numbers, also found McCarthy to be a helpful resource for him as a hitter.
McCarthy “does a great job on the pitching side watching video of (hitters) and breaking down how he would attack them,” Rooker said. So Rooker essentially asked: How would you pitch to me?
“He looks at my information and tells me how he would try to get me out,” Rooker said. “Then we look at pitchers’ information and use that to formulate a game plan around what I do well.”
A former Red Sox minor-league pitcher, McCarthy, 35, started coaching in 2018 and is versed in analytics. In the minors, Rooker said the two studied video of his swing and data such as Rooker’s spray charts and heat maps, or how he fares against pitches in different locations.
“Brent has always been a very intelligent and bright hitter,” McCarthy said. “So that’s always been an easy conversation to have about his swing path, what he does well in terms of what he hits, and then what the pitcher executes well — his usage, counts, ball flight and all of that. What I see with the pitcher is what I then offer him in terms of how I think they’ll attack him.”
Said Rooker: “I’ve always been a guy who wants as much information as possible. Some guys don’t want much, some guys want a little … If we have information, I want it.”
Rooker, the 35th pick in the 2017 draft, has flashed power in the minors with 102 homers in 402 games. An early flaw was his plate discipline to the outer part of the zone. McCarthy helped to suggest a simple fix in 2019, setting up closer to the plate — which helped — but Rooker said he “got away from it a tad” in ensuing seasons.
Rooker hit .245 with 20 homers at Triple-A in 2021 and also played in 58 games with the Twins, hitting .201 with an 89 OPSplus (100 is MLB average). The Twins traded Rooker to the Padres last spring, and Rooker moved closer to the plate again in April. He said that was his biggest adjustment in 2022, when he hit .289 with 28 homers in 81 Triple-A games.
This spring, Rooker is vying for a reserve outfield role with the A’s. He is limited to the corner spots on defense and still has a minor-league option, two factors that could lessen his chances of opening with Oakland. But his power potential could intrigue the A’s, whose lineup largely lacks it, and he has good Cactus League numbers, 9-for-24 (.375) with nine walks and 10 strikeouts in 34 plate appearances.
Either Esteury Ruiz or Cristian Pache will likely open in center field for Oakland. If the A’s decide not to carry both on the initial roster, the backup outfield spot could be between Rooker and Conner Capel, a left-handed hitter. The A’s could also carry five outfielders but might want to use their final bench spot on more infield flexibility.
Briefly: Catcher Manny Piña (left wrist) visited the specialist in Atlanta who performed surgery on his wrist last May; the A’s said results were pending and didn’t offer a timetable for Piña’s return. … Lefthander Ken Waldichuk worked 4 1/3 innings and allowed two runs in the A’s 2-0 loss to the Royals. … Adam Oller worked three scoreless innings with one hit allowed.