A’S HAVE PUZ­ZLE TO SORT OUT AT SEC­OND

Re­plac­ing Jurick­son Pro­far at 2B a key ques­tion for Oak­land en­ter­ing spring

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Shayna Ru­bin

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.

BOB LEVEY — GETTY IM­AGES

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.

RAY CHAVEZ — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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.

STACY RE­VERE — GETTY IM­AGES

The A’s Lou Triv­ino throws a pitch against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Au­gust 2019in Chicago.

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