MESA, Ariz. -- There weren’t many formal introductions needed when A’s pitchers and catchers reported to camp on Wednesday.
The group that found plenty of success during last year’s 97-win campaign returns mostly intact and with a goal to go even further than last year’s postseason exit in the American League Wild Card Game.
Things won’t be much different when position players report Monday, but as is the case with just about every team in baseball, there are still some interesting storylines that are sure to develop.
Here are a few Spring Training predictions for the A’s:
Franklin Barreto will seize the second-base job
The only real position battle for the A’s is for second base, with no real frontrunner among the five players expected to compete for the spot that is now vacant after Jurickson Profar was traded to the Padres this offseason. If there was ever a time for Franklin Barreto to take advantage, it’s now.
Long blocked at the big league level by Profar last year and Jed Lowrie a couple of years prior to that, Barreto enters this Spring Training essentially on a level playing field with the other second-base competitors in terms of established big leaguers.
It’s do-or-die time for Barreto as he’s out of Minor League options. Were he not to make the team out of Spring Training, there would no doubt be a number of teams lining up to claim the 23-year-old infielder who was rated the top prospect in Oakland’s Minor League system just a few years ago.
He’ll have some tough competition in A’s No. 4 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) Jorge Mateo, who is also out of options, but Barreto has a tendency to go off in Spring Training like he did last year, when he slashed .351/.429/.541. Even if it is a platoon with a left-handed bat like Tony Kemp or Vimael Machin, two players who are also in camp vying for the second-base gig, Barreto should finally get his chance to prove himself at the big league level.
The A’s will roll with two rookie catchers
It was almost an expectation that the A’s would sign or trade for a veteran catcher to pair with young Sean Murphy. The fact that Spring Training is officially underway and Murphy’s current backup catcher on the depth chart is Austin Allen, who has played just 34 games in the Majors, speaks volumes to the confidence the front office has in these two.
“I think there’s a lot of talent there,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “What they lack in experience, I think they’re going to make up for. We like all these guys quite a bit. There’s always the ability to look for experience, but I’ll take talent right now.”
Allen was one of the players acquired from the Padres for Profar, and he packs some pop with 65 home runs over his past three seasons in the Minors. He also bats left-handed, which could make for a semi-platoon with the right-handed Murphy.
McFarland will have an important role
The free-agent signing of left-hander T.J. McFarland flew under the radar, even in an offseason that was pretty quiet for the A’s, but there’s a reason why the club signed McFarland early on in the winter.
McFarland gives the A’s a second left-hander in the bullpen along with Jake Diekman. With Diekman likely to be used as a setup man, McFarland could be asked to get tough lefties out in the middle innings of a game. He’s certainly equipped to get out of a tough situation, bringing a career 63 percent ground-ball rate that ranks third-highest in the Majors since 2013.
“You look at the ground-ball numbers, and that’s what sticks out to me,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s something we really didn’t have a ton of last year. Blake [Treinen] was that guy, and it backfired on him a little bit. Knowing the new three-batter rule now and the fact he gets a high percentage of ground balls against righties, this is a guy you know you can rely on.”