GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Spring Training might be halfway through, but the competition for the A’s second base job appears to just be getting started.
The original five candidates for the vacant spot remain in the battle, and there has not been much separation among them. It’s important to remember that even if one of these players does not seize the position, some still hold a chance to make the club in another role. For example, the A's could go with a lefty-righty platoon. Others could begin the regular season in the Minors as depth.
Barreto and Mateo are out of Minor League options, meaning either would have to be placed on waivers were they not to make the Opening Day roster. Given their talent and young age, either player would likely get snatched up by another club in a hurry.
Machin was acquired through the Rule 5 Draft. If he does not make the club out of Spring Training, he would have to be returned to his original club, the Cubs.
With camp halfway over, let’s take a look at how the competition for second base is shaping up.
Of the five candidates, Kemp, who was acquired from the Cubs via trade this offseason, has received the majority of the playing time with the rest of the A’s regulars, and is off to quite the hot start. The left-handed-hitting infielder has collected eight hits through his first 18 at-bats (.444) with a double and a home run.
“You come to a new team and you want to impress,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He’s playing a position that’s not his most comfortable and has looked good out there. It makes you feel like you’re part of the team when you come right in and are productive.”
As it stands now, Kemp seems to have the most secure spot on the roster of the bunch, as his ability to also play the outfield makes him an attractive option.
Long considered the A’s second baseman of the future, it’s now or never for Barreto to make an impact in Oakland as he’s out of options. As opposed to the previous three Spring Trainings when he was blocked at second base by more established players like Jed Lowrie and Jurickson Profar, Barreto has a clear pathway in front of him this year.
Barreto has been known to put up impressive numbers in the Cactus League over the years, and he’ll need to do so this year more than ever. He entered Tuesday’s game against the White Sox 6-for-22 (.273) with a double, triple and stolen base over nine games.
“This is the first year he hasn’t played winter ball, so he got off to a little bit of a slow start with the bat, but you see what he brings to the table when he’s playing well,” Melvin said. “He brings power. He brings speed. The guy is a really good player.”
Neuse has actually received most of his playing time subbing out Matt Chapman at third base, but he already showed he could hold down second as he played there on a semi-regular basis last year as a September callup. Known to put up monster numbers on offense in the Minors, Neuse is off to a solid start this spring. The A’s No. 6 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, is 6-for-21 (.286) with two RBIs in nine Cactus League games.
The A’s like what they’ve seen from Machin so far. A supreme utility man who drew inspiration from Ben Zobrist in his time with the Cubs' organization, Machin has spent time at all four infield spots this spring. He’s a left-handed bat, which would bring some balance to a right-handed heavy A’s offense, and is 6-for-20 (.300) with two doubles and two RBIs over eight games.
“He looks like he has an advanced bat,” Melvin said of Machin. “He walks. He doesn’t strike out very much. He puts the barrel on the ball. He’s versatile. Just does a lot of things that we profile here.”
One of the fastest players in all of baseball, Mateo’s electric style of play certainly jumps out. He’s off to a slow start at the plate in seven games, going 3-for-16 (.188), but he’s Oakland’s reigning Minor League Hitter of the Year by MLB Pipeline. Given that he’s out of options, it would be a tough decision to risk Mateo getting claimed off waivers by another club without ever having seen him play an inning in the Majors.