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A's Murphy is MLB's No. 4 catching prospect

Skilled 23-year-old lauded as one of top backstops in Minors
MLB.com

OAKLAND -- The A's have one of the best young catchers in the Minors in their system, and he continues to draw widespread attention.

Sean Murphy, who frequently gets rave reviews for his elite defensive skills behind the plate, has been appointed by MLB Pipeline as the No. 4 catching prospect in the game.

OAKLAND -- The A's have one of the best young catchers in the Minors in their system, and he continues to draw widespread attention.

Sean Murphy, who frequently gets rave reviews for his elite defensive skills behind the plate, has been appointed by MLB Pipeline as the No. 4 catching prospect in the game.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

This comes just months after MLB Pipeline put together an All-Arizona Fall League team and chose Murphy, a 2016 third-rounder, at catcher. Murphy played in 18 games for the Mesa Solar Sox, batting .309 with a .413 on-base percentage.

A's Top 30 prospects

The 23-year-old catcher will be back in big league camp a second consecutive year to continue his development, having already greatly impressed the A's staff his first go around. Last year, manager Bob Melvin lauded Murphy's "electric arm." He even went so far as equating it to being "like Matt Chapman behind the plate," referring to Oakland's third baseman, who is equipped with one of the strongest arms in the game.

Along with his plus arm strength, Murphy's receiving and blocking skills are all considered Major League-caliber. But the Minor League grooming will continue in 2018, a year after Murphy finished the season with Double-A Midland.

Upon earning a midseason promotion, Murphy struggled at the plate, hitting .209 in 53 games with the RockHounds. He compiled four home runs and 22 RBIs in that span, after counting off nine home runs and 26 RBIs in 45 games with Class A Advanced Stockton, and he has the chance to hit for enough power to be a productive big league hitter.

Video: A's prospect Sean Murphy talks about his approach

It's Murphy's superior defense, however, that has him on the fast track to the Majors. It wasn't too long ago he was a walk-on catcher at Wright State University.

"He's still young," Melvin said, "but I know as an organization we're excited about him."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

 

Oakland Athletics, Sean Murphy

Puk, Luzardo among top 10 LHP prospects

MLB.com

OAKLAND -- As part of a renewed effort to restock their farm system, the A's have reeled in several hotshot prospects through a series of trades in recent years, albeit at the cost of a few fan favorites.

One such deal unfolded last July, when the A's shipped veteran relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Nationals in a trade that brought them three players: right-hander Blake Treinen, infielder Sheldon Neuse, and headliner Jesus Luzardo.

OAKLAND -- As part of a renewed effort to restock their farm system, the A's have reeled in several hotshot prospects through a series of trades in recent years, albeit at the cost of a few fan favorites.

One such deal unfolded last July, when the A's shipped veteran relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Nationals in a trade that brought them three players: right-hander Blake Treinen, infielder Sheldon Neuse, and headliner Jesus Luzardo.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

Luzardo, just 20 years old, has been selected, along with A's 2016 first-round Draft pick A.J. Puk, as one of the Top 10 left-handed pitching prospects by MLB Pipeline. Puk is ranked second, only behind San Diego's MacKenzie Gore, while Luzardo came in at No. 8.

Though Luzardo has yet to even pitch at the Class A level, he brings an exciting level of potential to an A's organization that's suddenly brimming with young talent. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2016, Luzardo made his professional debut last June and managed 48 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings while posting a tidy 1.66 ERA.

All the while, Puk was impressing enough on the Class A Advanced Stockton stage to warrant a promotion to Double-A, where he compiled a 4.78 ERA in 13 starts.

Luzardo is expected to jump a level this year, as he continues his chase to the big league stage. Should he make it, he would be the first MLB player born in Peru. The pitcher was raised in Florida, considered first-round talent as a high schooler until an elbow injury dropped his stock. Washington selected him in the third round in 2016.

Puk went sixth overall in the same Draft class, marking the A's highest pick since they took another lefty, Mark Mulder, with their second selection in 1998. Puk, who will be back in big league camp this year, split the 2017 season between Class-A Advanced Stockton and Double-A Midland in 2017, combining to go 6-10 with a 4.03 ERA.

Puk averaged more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings and yielded just three home runs in 125 innings of work. He was the A's lone representative at the All-Star Futures Game in Miami.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

 

Oakland Athletics

Prospect Puk pleased with 2017 progress

Lefty offers evaluation while representing A's at Rookie Career Development Program
MLB.com

OAKLAND -- Lefty A.J. Puk didn't disappoint in his first full professional season, and the pitcher's development on and off the mound continued into the offseason, as he represented Oakland at Major League Baseball's Rookie Career Development Program this month.

Puk was one of 20 prospects from MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list to participate in the annual event, which includes seminars designed to help future big league players with off-field issues such as media training and finances. Three other A's prospects were also in attendance: Jorge Mateo, Lou Trivino and Kyle Finnegan.

OAKLAND -- Lefty A.J. Puk didn't disappoint in his first full professional season, and the pitcher's development on and off the mound continued into the offseason, as he represented Oakland at Major League Baseball's Rookie Career Development Program this month.

Puk was one of 20 prospects from MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list to participate in the annual event, which includes seminars designed to help future big league players with off-field issues such as media training and finances. Three other A's prospects were also in attendance: Jorge Mateo, Lou Trivino and Kyle Finnegan.

Puk, the A's first-round pick in the 2016 Draft, split his time between Class A Advanced Stockton and Double-A Midland in 2017, going 6-10 with a 4.03 ERA en route to being named A's pitching prospect of the year by MLB Pipeline. He posted a 3.69 ERA in 14 games (11 starts) for Stockton before earning a midseason promotion and recording a 4.36 ERA with Midland.

Video: Top Prospects: A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics

The left-hander averaged more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings and yielded just three home runs in 125 innings of work.

"It was a good year, just learning my routine and what works for me, and working on developing all my pitches," Puk said. "I started throwing a curveball again, and toward the end of the year, everything started to come together again mechanically. I felt good. Overall, just working on being consistent every start."

The 6-foot-7 Puk began relearning the curveball early last year, expanding a repertoire that also includes a fireball fastball, slider, cutter and changeup.

"My changeup, I'd say, last year was probably my second pitch," Puk said. "I enjoyed throwing that more than my slider. I could throw it in any count I wanted and have control of it. The curveball is coming along. Beginning of the year, it was a little inconsistent, then toward the end, it was getting there. I was able to throw it for strikes when I needed, change speeds."

Puk, who will be back in big league camp for a second consecutive year, will continue work to sharpen his command and secondary offerings. There's no questioning his top-of-the-rotation ceiling, and Puk projects to be big league-ready by 2019.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

 

Oakland Athletics, A.J. Puk

A's avoid arbitration with 5; Graveman pending

MLB.com

OAKLAND -- The A's have come to terms on one-year contracts with shortstop Marcus Semien, catcher Josh Phegley and relievers Blake Treinen, Chris Hatcher and Liam Hendriks.

The club did not reach an agreement with 2017 Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman ahead of Friday's 10 a.m. PT deadline to exchange proposed salary figures with arbitration-eligible players for '18, but a deal can still be worked out before a hearing is required.

OAKLAND -- The A's have come to terms on one-year contracts with shortstop Marcus Semien, catcher Josh Phegley and relievers Blake Treinen, Chris Hatcher and Liam Hendriks.

The club did not reach an agreement with 2017 Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman ahead of Friday's 10 a.m. PT deadline to exchange proposed salary figures with arbitration-eligible players for '18, but a deal can still be worked out before a hearing is required.

It's unlikely it reaches that point. Only four times since Billy Beane took over baseball operations in 1997 have the A's taken one of their players to a hearing -- and not until last year was the club defeated. Following a career-high 42-homer season, Khris Davis was the first to beat the A's in a hearing during Beane's tour, getting $5 million for 2017 rather than the club-proposed $4.65 million.

Earlier this week, the sides avoided a repeat hearing, agreeing to a contract that guarantees Davis $10.5 million this season.

Video: TEX@OAK: Graveman fans four over seven strong innings

Per MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Graveman's camp filed at $2.6 million, while the A's came in at $2.36 million. The 27-year-old was limited to 19 starts in 2017 because of injuries. He compiled a 4.19 ERA over 105 1/3 innings, one year after posting a 4.11 ERA in 186 innings.

Semien, who was also arb-eligible for the first time, will reportedly earn $3.125 million in '18, after batting .249 with 10 homers in 85 games in a '17 season shortened by a right wrist fracture. Both Treinen and Hatcher, meanwhile, reportedly settled at $2.15 million.

Phegley, too, had his season disrupted by injury, succumbing to two stints on the disabled list for a second consecutive seasons. He hit .201 in 57 games.

Hendriks went 4-2 with a 4.22 ERA in 70 appearances out of the A's bullpen in 2017, striking out 78 batters over 64 innings and holding opponents to a .229 batting average.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

 

Oakland Athletics, Chris Hatcher, Liam Hendriks, Josh Phegley, Marcus Semien, Blake Treinen

Davis, A's reach 1-year, $10.5M agreement

With deal, Athletics avoid arbitration with power-hitting outfielder, 30
MLB.com

The A's announced Wednesday that they've reached an one-year agreement with slugger Khris Davis to avoid arbitration, two days before the deadline for clubs and arbitration-eligible players to exchange salary figures. The deal is worth $10.5 million.

Davis, 30, has crushed 85 homers with 212 RBIs over his two seasons in Oakland, including a career-high 43 home runs in 2017, good for fourth most in the Majors. He joined Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx (1932-34) as the only A's players with back-to-back 40-homer seasons.

The A's announced Wednesday that they've reached an one-year agreement with slugger Khris Davis to avoid arbitration, two days before the deadline for clubs and arbitration-eligible players to exchange salary figures. The deal is worth $10.5 million.

Davis, 30, has crushed 85 homers with 212 RBIs over his two seasons in Oakland, including a career-high 43 home runs in 2017, good for fourth most in the Majors. He joined Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx (1932-34) as the only A's players with back-to-back 40-homer seasons.

While Davis' power production remained elite, he did see a spike in strikeouts, from 166 to 195 last year, but he also had 31 more walks, which helped translate to a 29-point increase in his on-base percentage, to a career-best .336 in 2017.

Davis was the club's primary left fielder during a career-high 153 games last year, but with the offseason trade for right fielder Stephen Piscotty, Matt Joyce will likely move to left field and Davis is slated to be the A's primary designated hitter in 2018. He is one of many power cogs in a lineup that has plenty of home-run capability, along with Joyce, who hit 25 homers last year, Marcus Semien, who hit 27 in '16 when healthy and Piscotty, who has 20-homer potential.

Davis' salary will more than double next year from the $5 million he earned in his first year of arbitration. He remains under club control through 2019.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

 

Oakland Athletics, Khris Davis

Former A's fan favorite Braden joins broadcast

MLB.com

OAKLAND -- Beloved A's alumnus Dallas Braden is the latest former player to join the club's broadcast team, with plans in place for the left-hander to be featured in 35 telecasts as a color commentator during the 2018 season.

When not in the booth for NBC Sports California, which made the announcement on Wednesday, Braden is also expected to participate in 54 telecasts in the newly created role of field analyst, "reporting from a unique vantage point close to the action," per the network.

OAKLAND -- Beloved A's alumnus Dallas Braden is the latest former player to join the club's broadcast team, with plans in place for the left-hander to be featured in 35 telecasts as a color commentator during the 2018 season.

When not in the booth for NBC Sports California, which made the announcement on Wednesday, Braden is also expected to participate in 54 telecasts in the newly created role of field analyst, "reporting from a unique vantage point close to the action," per the network.

Braden, who played for the A's from 2007-11, threw the 19th perfect game in Major League history on Mother's Day 2010. He will also continue his work as a studio analyst for select pre- and postgame shows on NBCSCA.

"Dallas Braden provides a rare combination of deep baseball knowledge, passion for the game and love for the green and gold," said David Koppett, vice president of content strategy for the network. "He has a true connection with A's fans, and we're looking forward to seeing him in a much more substantial role in 2018."

Another former A's lefty, Mark Mulder, held the guest role of color commentator last season. Prior to that, Scott Hatteberg, Shooty Babitt and Eric Chavez have undertaken the part-time gig. Ray Fosse, meanwhile, remains the primary analyst alongside partner Glen Kuiper.

In addition, longtime in-stadium host Kara Tsuboi has been brought on board as a sideline reporter on the broadcast team for a limited number of home games.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

 

Oakland Athletics

A's 2018 bullpen off on right foot, seeking lefty

MLB.com

OAKLAND -- The A's sought to improve their bullpen this offseason, a chore they took on with might following a disastrous relief showing in 2017.

Striking early, the A's swung a deal with the Mariners for right-hander Emilio Pagan in November, later reeling in a versatile veteran in right-hander Yusmeiro Petit on a two-year deal. And yet, work remains, with the A's monitoring the market for a second lefty to join Daniel Coulombe.

OAKLAND -- The A's sought to improve their bullpen this offseason, a chore they took on with might following a disastrous relief showing in 2017.

Striking early, the A's swung a deal with the Mariners for right-hander Emilio Pagan in November, later reeling in a versatile veteran in right-hander Yusmeiro Petit on a two-year deal. And yet, work remains, with the A's monitoring the market for a second lefty to join Daniel Coulombe.

There's no shortage of right-handers, a good problem that will foster competition come spring. Given the club's rotation depth, several could-be starters -- Andrew Triggs, Chris Bassitt, Raul Alcantara -- will likely find themselves fighting for a bullpen spot.

Video: LAA@OAK: Triggs allows one run over six solid innings

The A's carried eight relievers for most of 2017 and could do so again this season, though it's not ideal considering they'd be left with a three-man bench. MLB.com is taking a look at the projected bullpen of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the A's might stack up:

BULLPEN IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
RHP Blake Treinen
RHP Chris Hatcher
RHP Emilio Pagan
RHP Santiago Casilla
RHP Yusmeiro Petit
RHP Liam Hendriks
RHP Ryan Dull
LHP Daniel Coulombe

STRENGTH
There's uncertainty surrounding the reliability of Oakland's rotation, amplifying the importance of a strong relief corps, particularly when it comes to length. The A's have that in several arms, starting with Petit, who can excel in any role thrown his way. Pagan is also capable of throwing multiple innings in a game, with others, like Dull and Hendriks, able to do the same on occasion.

Video: TOR@SEA: Pagan tosses four shutout innings in relief

This attribute also speaks to this group's versatility. When not providing length, Petit, Pagan and others also have the ability to pitch behind Treinen, giving manager Bob Melvin a handful of setup options at his disposal on any given day.

QUESTION MARK
Melvin would prefer to stick with seven relievers, which could lead to difficult decisions at the end of camp. Who stays and who goes? Casilla, though guaranteed $6 million this year, could potentially be on the bubble. Same for Hendriks. Both pitchers struggled last year, and the A's may be forced to cut ties with one of them depending on how things shake out.

Video: HOU@OAK: Casilla coaxes DP to secure the win

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Adding another left-hander to the mix remains a priority for the A's, who seem more inclined to do so via the open market. Available options include Tony Watson, Brian Duensing and Oliver Perez. Should they make a move before the regular season opens, yet another right-handed candidate would subsequently be pushed out.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

 

Oakland Athletics

A's rotation will hold key to success in '18

Several candidates to compete for spots behind Graveman, Manaea
MLB.com

OAKLAND -- Much has been made of the A's budding offensive star power, and for good reason. The club's young hitters are expected to lead the way in 2018, but it will need substantial support from the starting staff in order to compete.

Just two pitchers -- Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea -- are considered rotation locks entering Spring Training, setting up a fierce competition for the remaining spots between a myriad of candidates, including Paul Blackburn, Daniel Mengden, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Gossett, Andrew Triggs and Jesse Hahn.

OAKLAND -- Much has been made of the A's budding offensive star power, and for good reason. The club's young hitters are expected to lead the way in 2018, but it will need substantial support from the starting staff in order to compete.

Just two pitchers -- Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea -- are considered rotation locks entering Spring Training, setting up a fierce competition for the remaining spots between a myriad of candidates, including Paul Blackburn, Daniel Mengden, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Gossett, Andrew Triggs and Jesse Hahn.

In the meantime, MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotations of all 30 teams before camp opens. Here's how the A's rotation may shake out:

ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
RHP Kendall Graveman
LHP Sean Manaea
RHP Jharel Cotton
RHP Daniel Mengden
RHP Paul Blackburn

STRENGTH
This group is packed with potential, but execution will be key after inconsistencies -- and, in some instances, health issues -- plagued A's starters last season. Several, including Manaea and Cotton, appear primed for a breakout, but it just hasn't happened yet. The good news is that there's still hope for them to put it all together.

Video: Cotton discusses next steps in development

For now, the strength of this rotation lies in its depth, which is why the A's haven't prioritized additional starting help this offseason.

QUESTION MARK
Though promising, these arms are seemingly unreliable, and their performance could ultimately dictate the course of the A's season no matter how well the offense performs. First and foremost, they need health back on their side. Graveman and Manaea both spent time on the disabled list last season with shoulder injuries, Triggs will be attempting a comeback from July hip surgery, and Blackburn missed the final six weeks of the season with a deep bone bruise in his pitching hand. Moreover, Cotton endured a blister, while Mengden and Hahn were seen on the Minor League DL. Simply making it out of Spring Training with five healthy starters will be a victory, it seems.

Video: TEX@OAK: Graveman fans four over seven strong innings

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
The A's insist that they'd be perfectly comfortable beginning the season without a veteran starter in tow, citing the cost and volatility of pitchers. That could change, however. More than a month remains before the advent of camp, and an historically slow free-agent market remains still. Could the A's pounce on one of the available arms out there? They could potentially regret not doing so, since they're lacking experience -- and there's no such thing as too much pitching.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

 

Oakland Athletics, Jharel Cotton, Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea

Offense could push A's over hump in 2018

Piscotty trade provides finishing touch to likely Opening Day lineup
MLB.com

OAKLAND -- The A's are counting on their sluggers to lead the way in 2018, with plenty reason to believe they can build off a strong September that culminated in a 17-7 run.

Better days could be ahead for this club, largely because of an offense brimming with talent. A couple of prospective long-term core pieces -- corner infielders Matt Chapman and Matt Olson -- burst on the scene in 2017, providing the type of optimism that's been missing around these parts in recent years.

OAKLAND -- The A's are counting on their sluggers to lead the way in 2018, with plenty reason to believe they can build off a strong September that culminated in a 17-7 run.

Better days could be ahead for this club, largely because of an offense brimming with talent. A couple of prospective long-term core pieces -- corner infielders Matt Chapman and Matt Olson -- burst on the scene in 2017, providing the type of optimism that's been missing around these parts in recent years.

Video: Chapman responds to Olson's bat-theft allegation

The A's, attempting to piece together a future contender, added Stephen Piscotty to the mix in December via trade, seemingly putting the finishing touches on their 2018 lineup. MLB.com is taking a look at the projected lineup of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the A's might stack up:

LINEUP IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Marcus Semien, SS
Matt Joyce, LF
Jed Lowrie, 2B
Khris Davis, DH
Matt Olson, 1B
Stephen Piscotty, RF
Matt Chapman, 3B
Bruce Maxwell, C
Dustin Fowler, CF

STRENGTH
The A's have no shortage of sluggers, employing a power-hitting trio that could become one of the best in the game. Davis, Olson and Chapman will be asked to the supply the homers, and they're surrounded by several complementary pieces: Joyce bopped 25 homers last season, Semien compiled 27 the year before when healthy, and Piscotty also has potential to hang around the 20-homer club.

Video: OAK@PHI: Joyce hammers a two-run shot to right-center

QUESTION MARK
Oakland hitters lived and died by the long ball last year, a formula that proved unsustainable. This young A's club can't solely rely on power, meaning it needs to use different avenues to get on base more and maintain consistency in 2018. This group also lacked speed last year, and the addition of Fowler -- equipped with above-average speed -- will only help the A's marginally improve in this area.

Video: NYY@ATL: Fowler drives in two with double to right

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
The A's lineup appears set as Spring Training looms, but the team still must wait to learn Maxwell's fate. The A's hold out hope that their primary catcher will agree to a plea deal following his October arrest on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct, but a trial -- tentatively scheduled for April -- would keep him away from the club.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

 

Oakland Athletics

Pinder ready to seize any role with A's in '18

Utility man's versatility is valuable asset for Melvin's lineup
MLB.com

OAKLAND -- Chad Pinder is a man without a position. And that's OK.

Pinder proved his worth as a budding ultra-utility player during his rookie season, a role he learned not only to accept but embrace. He's a natural middle infielder with the athleticism and arm strength akin to an outfielder, and finding a permanent position isn't so much important to him as being able to play them all -- and play them all well.

OAKLAND -- Chad Pinder is a man without a position. And that's OK.

Pinder proved his worth as a budding ultra-utility player during his rookie season, a role he learned not only to accept but embrace. He's a natural middle infielder with the athleticism and arm strength akin to an outfielder, and finding a permanent position isn't so much important to him as being able to play them all -- and play them all well.

His bat got him to the big leagues, but his defense is helping him stay.

"Everyone asks me, 'What's going on, what's your role this year?' Honestly, I'm just ready to play any position.

"That is something that I cherish. I like to have that feeling, that I know I'm needed somewhere on the field, and there's a sense of pride in knowing that I can do that, and I can do it well. I can handle those positions and it's not like I'm going to go out there and be a liability."

Because of this, Pinder has the chance to be in manager Bob Melvin's lineup on a near-daily basis. Last year, Pinder became the first rookie in Oakland history to start at least one game at six positions -- shortstop, second base, DH and all three outfield spots -- and it's likely he'll be asked to play a seventh this season.

Video: HOU@OAK: Pinder makes a leaping catch at the wall

When Ryon Healy was shipped to the Mariners in November, subsequent chatter about the A's plans to move Khris Davis to a semi-permanent DH role surfaced. But not only had the A's lost their primary DH of 2017, they also gave up their backup first baseman.

Enter Pinder.

"I think the last time I played first base was in eighth grade," he said, "but throughout the year, I was taking ground balls there.

"There were situations where, if Ryon was DH'ing and then [Matt Olson] was at first base and God forbid something happened to him and I needed to go to first base so we didn't lose our DH, that was an option. That was definitely talked about."

Video: OAK@PHI: Pinder, Olson crush back-to-back home runs

The opportunity never arose, but the process of preparing for it began long ago, and Pinder has a perfect study partner in friend Olson.

"Honestly, there's no better person to take ground balls with than Ollie," Pinder said. "Just to watch him and get his take on different things, coming off the bag or whatnot. As good as Matt Chapman is at third base, Olson is neck-and-neck with him by position. Olson is the best first baseman I've ever played with. And I'm not taking anything away from Chapman, because Chappy's Chappy and he's incredible at third base, but Olson may be overlooked a little bit.

"So I think I should be able to take ground balls with him and just kind of watching him do what he does at first base helps me out tremendously."

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

 

Oakland Athletics, Chad Pinder

Baseball brightens day for NorCal fire victims

Semien, Knapp among big league volunteers at fundraising clinic
MLB.com

SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- For a community that in October was changed forever by a furious firestorm, baseball brought a semblance of renewal Friday as young players gathered for a first step back to the diamond following some trying times.

On a drizzly Northern California day, a baseball clinic was held inside the Epicenter sports and entertainment center in Santa Rosa, mere blocks from the Coffey Park neighborhood devastated by the Tubbs Fire, which swept into the city Oct. 9. The event brought Major League, Minor League and college ballplayers and coaches together with boys and girls eager for the fresh start that comes with the year's first pop of the glove and crack of the bat.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- For a community that in October was changed forever by a furious firestorm, baseball brought a semblance of renewal Friday as young players gathered for a first step back to the diamond following some trying times.

On a drizzly Northern California day, a baseball clinic was held inside the Epicenter sports and entertainment center in Santa Rosa, mere blocks from the Coffey Park neighborhood devastated by the Tubbs Fire, which swept into the city Oct. 9. The event brought Major League, Minor League and college ballplayers and coaches together with boys and girls eager for the fresh start that comes with the year's first pop of the glove and crack of the bat.

Kevin Wood, president of nearby Mark West Springs Youth Baseball, knows how much this baseball community needed to turn the page toward a brighter day. Of the 435 players in the Mark West Springs program, Wood said 110 lost their homes in the firestorm, and a couple dozen more were displaced for weeks or months.

"It's surreal, absolutely surreal," Wood said of the gathering. "To have all these players out here and all the kids, it's just amazing to see the community come together."

For Mark West players Jordon and Mason Niel, whose family lost its home in the firestorm, the Friday event was a real breath of fresh air.

"It's nice to get back to normal, playing baseball and everything, and not have to worry about all the stuff that's happened," Jordon said.

A's shortstop Marcus Semien, Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp and former Major Leaguers Noah Lowry, Jason Lane and Eric Bruntlett led the contingent of professional players and instructors who brought some big league excitement to the event -- all of them leaping at the opportunity to help out a good cause.

"It's really easy to come over here and help anybody who's less fortunate and anybody who lost their homes," Semien said. "To use the game of baseball as a tool to bring everybody together is what I'm all about."

Said Knapp: "You feel for everyone, some who lost everything. It's just so devastating. If we can bring a little light to them today and have a little fun while we're doing it, that's awesome."

The brainchild of Tony Arnerich and Kasey Olenberger, two Santa Rosa-area natives with professional baseball backgrounds, the clinic raised funds via fees and auctions for fire victims to replace baseball equipment, allowing players who lost their homes to participate for free. It attracted some 220 participants, and Olenberger said they had to turn away another 50 because the clinic was full.

"When Tony and I first talked about this, we had no idea what it was going to turn into," said Olenberger, a pitcher who reached Triple-A and competed internationally for Team Italy in 2008. "We just said, 'Hey, we've got to do this because both of us were born and bred here.' The response has been amazing."

For many of the professional players, a key connection was Arnerich, a former hitting coach at Cal and current catching coordinator for the Seattle Mariners organization. Semien and Knapp are among those who were coached by him at Cal, and it was a "quick yes," as Semien put it, to get them to help this cause.

Epicenter donated the use of its three indoor soccer facilities and gymnasium to conduct the clinics.

"When I heard Tony was planning this, I reached out to him before he even asked me," Knapp said. "I wanted to be involved."

For Arnerich, having it all come together for the benefit of those affected by the fires is a home run -- emphasis on home.

"It's just great the time people are putting in to just hopefully put a smile on some kids' faces and get them with a glove in their hand," he said.

The Niel boys were just ready to get back into baseball mode.

"It's fun to go around the different rotations and get back into baseball," said Mason, wearing a Santa Rosa Fire Department cap -- his father, Tony, is a firefighter with SRFD. "Baseball was stopped in the middle of the [season] for fall ball because of the fires, so it's been kind of a long time, but now we're getting back to it."

The green pastures of the baseball season are not far away for a community rising from the ashes.

"Baseball's around the corner," Wood said. "This is a great way to bring everybody together and jump-start everything again."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB.

 

A's to mark 50 years of Coliseum with free game

Fans can sign up starting today for tickets to April 17 anniversary event
MLB.com

A's fans have shared countless memories at the Oakland Coliseum through the decades. This April, they'll have a chance to add another one to the list.

The A's will offer a completely free game to fans for their matchup against the White Sox on April 17, a date that marks 50 years to the day after the team's first game at the Coliseum in 1968. Fans can sign up for tickets to this 50th anniversary game beginning at 8 a.m. PT today by visiting athletics.com/50.

A's fans have shared countless memories at the Oakland Coliseum through the decades. This April, they'll have a chance to add another one to the list.

The A's will offer a completely free game to fans for their matchup against the White Sox on April 17, a date that marks 50 years to the day after the team's first game at the Coliseum in 1968. Fans can sign up for tickets to this 50th anniversary game beginning at 8 a.m. PT today by visiting athletics.com/50.

A's season-ticket holders do not need to sign up for tickets, as they'll be automatically uploaded onto their accounts.

"We are extremely excited to offer this gift to the city as we celebrate 50 years in Oakland," A's president Dave Kaval said in an official team statement. "The entire 2018 season will be a celebration of the A's rich history, and offering the first free MLB game is another unique way for us to celebrate our team and wonderful fans."

Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium are the only three current ballparks that have hosted Major League Baseball longer than the Coliseum. The A's have fielded four World Series champions during their tenure there, most recently in 1989.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

 

Oakland Athletics

A's cautiously optimistic entering 2018

Prospects arriving around talented core in challenging AL West
MLB.com

OAKLAND -- A rousing youth movement has the A's more excited than ever about their future, but expectations must be tempered in the coming year while they practice patience with a rebuild.

Certainly the belief is that they will be better than their 75-87 showing in 2017, but playing in the American League West -- home to the defending World Series champion Astros -- is no easy task. The A's at least expect to be competitive with a talented core intact, bringing about cautious optimism as Spring Training nears.

OAKLAND -- A rousing youth movement has the A's more excited than ever about their future, but expectations must be tempered in the coming year while they practice patience with a rebuild.

Certainly the belief is that they will be better than their 75-87 showing in 2017, but playing in the American League West -- home to the defending World Series champion Astros -- is no easy task. The A's at least expect to be competitive with a talented core intact, bringing about cautious optimism as Spring Training nears.

Several questions remain, however. MLB.com takes a look at several key storylines as the calendar flips:

How reliable is the rotation?
Growing pains were all too common for the A's young starters last season, yet the club's tepid interest in adding a proven, veteran arm to the mix stems from their belief that this same group will be significantly better in 2017 with continued development. Whether that holds true, however, remains to be seen, and their performance will largely be counted on to complement a potent lineup. The pieces are in place to make it happen -- Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn and Jharel Cotton headline a lengthy list of options -- but only time will tell if they can round into form and make amends for a disappointing 2016 season.

Video: Melvin talks about how Manaea can improve in 2018

Who will be behind the plate?
Legal matters could interfere with the A's plans in 2017, with catcher Bruce Maxwell awaiting trial after pleading not guilty to charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct stemming from his Oct. 28 arrest at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. A hearing should come down in early 2018, and MLB is expected to conduct an investigation into the matter. For now, the A's see Maxwell as their starting catcher in 2018, with Josh Phegley and Dustin Garneau also on the depth chart, but the club may be forced to seek outside help should Maxwell's time in court take a turn for the worse.

Video: OAK@SEA: Maxwell mashes a solo homer in the 2nd

When will Franklin Barreto join the party?
Barreto's return hinges on the A's plans for incumbent second baseman Jed Lowrie, whose 2018 club option was picked up following a healthy and productive season. The A's have Lowrie penciled in at second base but seem open to trading him. Even if a deal doesn't come to fruition this offseason, it's likely that he could be out the door ahead of the Trade Deadline. Barreto, meanwhile, will be waiting in the wings at Triple-A Nashville. The A's top prospect was promoted for a short stay beginning June 24 amid a series of injuries to the big league club. He homered for his first Major League hit in his debut and would return as a September callup, batting .197 in 25 games overall.

Video: OAK@CWS: Barreto cranks his first Major League homer

Is Khris Davis here to stay?
The A's say yes, but they'll undoubtedly be tempted by offers to move him before Spring Training. That doesn't mean the A's will give in, but it will be worth keeping an eye on his salary-arbitration process. Davis is in line for a big raise, with MLB Trade Rumors projecting a 2018 salary of $11.1 million for the 30-year-old slugger, who banged out 43 homers and 110 RBIs -- both career highs -- in his second season with Oakland. It would make sense for the two sides to at least explore the idea of an extension, as the A's plan to do with a handful of their young players, but it's unclear if that's even on their radar.

Video: Khris Davis connects for 43 home runs in 2017

What will become of the stadium situation?
Less than three months after the A's expressed their desire to build a privately financed stadium near Oakland's Laney College, their plans were shelved when landowners decided to discontinue talks with the team. The A's expressed their disappointment in a statement, saying they were "shocked" by the verdict, and have been quiet since. Stay tuned for their backup plan.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.

 

Oakland Athletics

Alvarez joins ranks of women in A's front office

New scouting coordinator, 24, makes quick rise after gaining experience at Virginia, through internships
MLB.com

When Haley Alvarez finished her internship with the Oakland A's two years ago, she began searching for her next opportunity, understanding the A's didn't have any full-time positions available at the time.

But a couple of weeks later, she received a call from the club's general manager, David Forst, asking her if she would like to attend scout school, with the A's as her sponsor. That started Alvarez on a path that eventually led her back to the A's in a full-time role.

When Haley Alvarez finished her internship with the Oakland A's two years ago, she began searching for her next opportunity, understanding the A's didn't have any full-time positions available at the time.

But a couple of weeks later, she received a call from the club's general manager, David Forst, asking her if she would like to attend scout school, with the A's as her sponsor. That started Alvarez on a path that eventually led her back to the A's in a full-time role.

Alvarez, 24, was recently hired as the A's scouting coordinator, making her the first woman in their front office to be hired as a talent evaluator. In this role, in addition to scouting, she'll help prepare the A's for the Draft and work with the club's scouting database.

Alvarez had gained experience on the baseball operations side while she was still in college at the University of Virginia and through internships with the Commissioner's Office and the Red Sox. But it was scout school that became her springboard into a full-time career in baseball operations.

"I didn't know scout school existed before I received that call [from Forst]," Alvarez said. "But once I found out about it, I was definitely excited about the opportunity and really loved my experience there, especially getting to meet everybody throughout the baseball industry."

At scout school, Alvarez developed contacts with the Reds, who hired her as an administrative assistant to baseball operations in November 2016 until October of this year, when the A's hired her.

Alvarez isn't the first woman to be hired on the baseball operations side by Oakland, a club that continues to be on the cutting edge of creating opportunities for women in an area of a Major League organization typically dominated by men. Pam Pitts has been director of baseball administration for more than a quarter-century, and two years ago, the club hired Justine Siegal as an Instructional League coach in Arizona, working with top prospects.

"They've been extremely welcoming, and I think they recognize talent over everything else," Alvarez said. "That's really what's going to help them win baseball games in the end. They're looking to get a competitive advantage with whoever they can, with the best people who can do the job. I really admire what they've done with accepting women."

Alvarez, a native of the Bay Area, had already been exposed to the world of modern analytics in college, having spent her undergrad years as a manager for a Virginia baseball team that operated like a professional team.

With the Cavaliers, Alvarez worked extensively with TrackMan software, an analytics tool which at the time was relatively new to baseball but soon adopted by all Major League teams.

"They were pretty advanced in terms of technology," Alvarez said.

Most of the time, when she's on assignment, Alvarez is the only woman among her scouting brethren. That doesn't faze her, nor has she received a lot of negative pushback from colleagues.

"People in the industry understand what it's like to work there, and they don't see me any differently than anyone else does," she said. "Of course, when you're out in the field and you're scouting and people don't know you, there are some questions that have been raised in the past.

"But I've never faced anyone that has said anything to me that I can't get over or doesn't light a fire in me to do better at my job and to excel at what I'm doing."

Though she's still in the very early stages of her career, Alvarez understands she's a role model for the next wave of women who aspire to work in baseball operations. She has worked to start programs to get women involved in the sport, especially on the scouting side.

Her roommate in scout school was Amanda Hopkins, who is now an amateur scout with the Mariners. Alvarez hopes their career paths are a signal to women that there are opportunities in baseball operations.

"It's really about letting them know there's an opportunity within the industry, that you don't have to have played baseball, which is a common misconception," Alvarez said. "I hope that I can help women get to where I am today, because I think we can really help this industry grow and help teams be competitive in any way we can."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

 

Oakland Athletics