A’S HAVE PUZZLE TO SORT OUT AT SECOND
Replacing Jurickson Profar at 2B a key question for Oakland entering spring
MESA, ARIZ. >> Pitchers and catchers reported to the Lew Wolff Training Complex on Wednesday to kick off what the A’s expect to be a breakthrough season.
The organization sees the postseason opportunity window cracked open wider. And why not? All young prospects and established talent seemingly are in place for the A’s to make their strongest run at finally breaking through in the postseason.
The A’s are seeking to return to the playoffs for the third year in a row — but finally win a postseason game again after successive wild-card game losses the past two Octobers.
Here’s what to watch as the A’s open camp and head into the Cactus League season.
WHO’S ON SECOND? >> This question loomed ever since Jurickson Profar was traded in November to the San Diego Padres for catcher Austin Allen and outfielder Buddy Reed.
There are a handful of options to replace, and potentially upgrade, Profar at second base.
Billy Beane is fond of saying spring training performances mean little, but there will clearly be something to watch here.
The clock is ticking on prospects Jorge Mateo and Franklin Barreto, who will get their shot to display some improved discipline at the plate. Both right-handed hitters are out of minor league options and will presumably platoon with Tony Kemp — acquired in a trade with the Chicago Cubs. Rule 5 pickup Vimael Machin is another possibility.
Kemp’s slash line with the Cubs and Houston last season was .212/.291/.380 and a .671 OPS with 8 home runs, 47 strikeouts and 23 walks in 245 at bats.
WHO’S CATCHING? >> Sean Murphy should be the everyday catcher after making his debut last summer and playing in 20 games. At least that seems to be the expectation, and rightly so. He’s an elite defender and framer with a strong reputation for his game-calling skills.
As of now, Austin Allen (34 games in the majors) and Jonah Heim (who made his Triple-A debut last season) are the top backup options behind Murphy, although former Angels backup Carlos Perez is in camp as a non-roster invitee.
One might assume an experienced catcher might be necessary to coax this young pitching staff through the big league motions, but these guys have grown together.
In spring, it should be interesting to watch how Murphy works with the pitching staff.
WILL LOU TRIVINO BOUNCE BACK? >> Don’t forget about Lou. He was half of the dominant one-two punch with All-Star closer Blake Treinen — now with the Los Angeles Dodgers — back in 2018.
Remember that masterful cutter and spicy fastball combo he flashed in 2018? It’s on the Trivino canvas. But an injury-marred 2019 that included an injured thumb and a cracked rib pushed his stuff out of whack.
Trivino, 28, battled through a 5.25 ERA with a 1.533 WHIP last season. In 2018 he had a 2.92 ERA with a 1.135 WHIP.
A replenished A’s bullpen would be a lot healthier with Trivino firing on all cylinders in the eighth inning. Liam Hendriks shouldn’t need to push out all those multi-inning saves in 2020. WHAT IS INNING MANAGEMENT AND HOW WILL THE A’S EMPLOY IT? >> Top prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk are projected as future anchors to a potentially stellar A’s rotation, but their full impact will need to cook at a slow-boil.
Luzardo has crept over the 100-inning mark just one season in his young career and his arrival in Oakland was delayed last season because of injuries. Puk, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2018, hasn’t gone over 100 innings since 2017, where he threw 125 between high-A Stockton and double-A Richmond.
The A’s will have to employ some inning management, filling gaps in the rotation to make up for shortinning needs.
HOW CONFIDENT ARE THESE A’S? >> The A’s are sick of playing wild-card games. Hard to blame them, as they’ve lost two in a row now while the Houston Astros soared quickly (with a little self-help) to division titles and beyond.
The A’s are a tight-knit group, and many of these players came up through the ranks together. The players of this core — Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Marcus Semien, Ramón Laureano, Fiers and Trivino — have made back-to-back postseason runs together.
This spring, watch for how they jell and play together.
Tony Kemp, at left in April 2019, will see time for the A’s at second base after the team traded Jurickson Profar, right, in November.
A’s pitcher Sean Manaea (55) takes the field against the Rays in the first inning of their American League wild-card game at the Coliseum in Oakland on Oct. 2.
The A’s Lou Trivino throws a pitch against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in August 2019in Chicago.