Barreto makes case for second base job

March 9th, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- made the competition for the A’s second-base vacancy much more compelling on Sunday afternoon.

Barreto turned Hohokam Stadium into his personal playpen by doubling in his first three plate appearances in Oakland’s 11-3 exhibition victory over Milwaukee. Barreto struck out in the seventh inning and flied out in the eighth, but he had made his statement by then.

“Obviously, the position is there, but I don’t let the other things come into my head,” Barreto said through an interpreter. “I just focus on doing the things I have to do.”

This spring represents Barreto’s best chance to win a starting job. While Barreto steadily demonstrated that he had nothing to prove in the Minors, entrenched veterans occupied second base for Oakland. That forced him to divide each of the previous three seasons between Triple-A and the Majors. Jed Lowrie owned second base with the A’s from 2016-18 and last season began with Jurickson Profar occupying second, but he batted .218 and developed issues with his throwing accuracy, prompting A’s management to seek a fresh alternative this year.

The A’s dealt utility man Alfonso Rivas to the Cubs on Jan. 13 for , who immediately became the tentative favorite to become Oakland’s Opening Day second baseman. Kemp has excelled in Cactus League action, batting .333 (9-for-27) with seven runs and a .419 on-base percentage. Barreto matched Kemp’s batting average with his big Sunday (11-for-33 overall). Jorge Mateo and Vimael Machin also are candidates for the job, creating a pursuit for playing time that could continue throughout the Cactus League season.

“You want to try to give everybody a fair chance and the proper amount of at-bats. That would suggest that it would go on for a while,” Melvin said.

Barreto, 24, launched a bid to influence Melvin’s thinking with each hit. In the third inning, Barreto hustled to second base on a one-out line drive that would have resulted in a single for most hitters. Taking the extra base enabled him to score Oakland’s first run. He collected his next hit leading off the fifth off Milwaukee left-hander Josh Hader and scored when the two-time All-Star flung a wild pitch with the bases loaded. Barreto drove in a run with his final hit one inning later.

Barreto has no Minor League options remaining, which could work in his favor if the A’s braintrust decides that he’s too valuable to risk losing should they try to place him on waivers and send him back to Triple-A. Outfielder Stephen Piscotty’s rib injury is another factor in Oakland’s roster management. Melvin said Piscotty’s “not even close” to resuming on-field activity, which could enable the A’s to open the season with two of their aspiring second basemen.

The A’s know Barreto’s gifts and flaws. He owns a .189 career batting average in 80 games with Oakland. Yet the A’s considered him valuable enough to include on the Wild Card Game roster in 2018-19, though he didn’t appear in either contest. Barreto tinkered with his swing during the offseason and found a way to take cuts while eliminating some head movement, which can undermine any hitter.

Melvin said that understanding the strike zone has challenged Barreto. “It’s about identifying a good ball to hit,” Melvin said. Perhaps Barreto’s adjustments are beginning to work.

Worth noting

• Right-hander added a dash of deception to his usual array of overpowering stuff during his 2 2/3-innings outing Sunday.

Montas mixed in a quick pitch, a stratagem he uses only occasionally. He said he initially tried it in 2017, when he bounced between Oakland and the Minors and struggled in both places.

“I was just going through a tough time,” said Montas, whose stuff is so good nowadays that he rarely needs to resort to trickery. “Some days I don’t feel like I have to do it.”

Montas was unconcerned about yielding four hits and two runs, which were unearned due to shortstop Marcus Semien’s throwing error.

“My fastball was coming out good,” Montas said. “I was just trying to get ready for the season.”

• The A’s continued to prune their spring roster by optioning infielder Sheldon Neuse and outfielder Dustin Fowler to Triple-A Las Vegas. They also reassigned infielder Logan Davidson and outfielders Greg Deichmann, Buddy Reed and Dillon Thomas to Minor League camp. The A’s now have 41 players in camp.

Up next

The A's will confront one of their American League West rivals, the Rangers, in a 6:05 p.m. PT encounter -- available on MLB.TV and A's cast -- Monday at Surprise, Ariz. Chris Bassitt will start for the A's against Jonathan Hernandez. The teams will face each other again Friday in Mesa, Ariz.