OAKLAND -- While the A’s entered Spring Training with clarity at most positions, there was an obvious vacancy at second base, and who might fill that spot was going to be determined largely by performance in the Cactus League. However, a position battle at another spot emerged in camp.
With Spring Training suspended for all clubs and Opening Day pushed back for at least the next eight weeks, here’s a look at where things stand in the A’s position battles:
Austin Allen: 13-for-32, 2 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K
Jonah Heim: 8-for-25, 2 2B, 5 RBI, BB, 2 K
What we've learned: Allen, acquired by the A's from the Padres in exchange for Jurickson Profar this offseason, was the favorite to start the season as the backup to Sean Murphy and displayed a strong bat this spring as he hit .406 in 15 games. But Jonah Heim, the A’s No. 11 prospect, showed that his bat seems to have caught up to what was already considered strong defense behind the plate, batting .320 with two doubles over 12 spring games.
What's next: Allen and Heim appeared to be at a standstill at the time play was halted. The A’s decision may ultimately come down to offense or defense. Heim is clearly the better defender behind the dish, but Allen’s track record for hitting could represent a slightly better option in the lineup on days where Murphy would need a break. Regardless of who gets the job, it’s evident the A’s feel good about these two. Whichever catcher ends up starting the year in the Minors will likely find his way to Oakland at some point in the regular season.
Franklin Barreto: 11-for-36, 4 2B, 2 3B, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 8 K, SB
Tony Kemp: 10-for-29, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 4 BB, 5 K, SB
Jorge Mateo: 6-for-26, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 6 K, 4 SB
Vimael Machin: 10-for-30, 2 2B, 5 RBI, 6 BB, 6 K
What we've learned: The feeling entering camp was that Barreto and Kemp had the inside track on beginning the regular season as a left-right platoon solution to the A’s second base hole, and so far both have done nothing to sway away from that likelihood. The more interesting development here is a battle within a battle regarding Mateo and Machin. Mateo is as electric as they come, with his speed producing headaches for opposing pitchers whenever he gets on base. Machin may not be as flashy as Mateo, but he has impressed manager Bob Melvin with his approach at the plate. Another plus for Machin has been his ability to play all four infield positions, looking comfortable at each.
What's next: With Stephen Piscotty currently shut down from all baseball activities due to an oblique/rib cage injury, even a potential mid-May start to the regular season might still see him going through the rehab process. Piscotty’s injury and the addition of a 26th man to all Major League rosters this year opens up an extra roster spot for the A’s, and that spot is likely to come down to Mateo and Machin.
Unlike the catcher battle where the A’s can just send Allen or Heim down to the Minors, the chances of keeping Mateo around were he not to make the Opening Day roster are slim given that he’s out of options. Machin was a Rule 5 Draft pick, meaning he would have to be returned to his original club, the Cubs, were he not to make the squad on Opening Day.