The multi-part Around the Horn series, which features a position-by-position look at Oakland's projected starters and backup options heading into the season, resumes in center field.
Who's in center field?
Billy Burns was the unexpected solution at the spot that used to belong to Coco Crisp. When the A's moved Crisp to left field last spring, they planned to form a platoon of Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry in center field. But that lasted just one month before Burns was recalled from Triple-A in May, and he remained on the big league roster the rest of the way, proving to be a catalyst at the plate, on the bases and in the outfield.
The 26-year-old speedster finished fifth in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting and will enter 2016 with a year of experience to lean on, much like shortstop Marcus Semien and slugging first baseman/outfielder Mark Canha.
The switch-hitting Burns provided a jolt at the top of the lineup last year, sporting a healthy .294/.334/.392 slash line while showcasing improved comfort from the left side of the plate. Burns led the team with 26 stolen bases in 34 attempts, along with 70 runs scored, and chipped in five home runs -- three more than he totaled in 407 Minor League games combined -- and nine triples.
Speed once again figures to be Burns' biggest weapon. The switch-hitter tallied 38 infield hits in 2015, which ranked second in the Majors to Dee Gordon's 52. An aggressive plate approach also served him well in his first big league season. Burns hit .479 with four of his five home runs when putting the first pitch in play, and his 56 first-pitch hits ranked second in the Majors only to Jose Altuve's 57.
Burns plays fearless defense and made dozens of spectacular catches last season by taking full advantage of his enviable speed. He has average arm strength at best, but he does a good job of reading the ball off the bat quickly and closing in on it with efficient routes.
Fuld will be the primary backup to Burns, who played in 125 games during his rookie season. Crisp, of course, boasts plenty of experience at the position, but the A's would prefer to keep Crisp in left field in an effort to keep him healthy.
Top prospect Franklin Barreto came over in the Josh Donaldson trade as a shortstop and could remain there long-term, but Barreto will also see time at second base and center field with Double-A Midland this season.