In Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to the White Sox at Camelback Ranch, Rooker went 2-for-2 with a walk and a pair of doubles off 2022 AL Cy Young Award runner-up Dylan Cease and reliever Joe Kelly. These types of performances have become routine for the 28-year-old outfielder, who is now 9-for-23 (.391) with a 1.172 OPS this spring, leading the team in doubles (5) and tied for the team lead in walks (8).
“Rook’s having a good spring,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “These at-bats today were great. He hits the ball hard. He’s done a nice job of taking some great at-bats. He’s taking advantage of this opportunity right now.”
Though Rooker getting claimed off waivers from the Royals back in November did not generate many headlines, the A’s have kept tabs on him dating back to his college days, when he starred at Mississippi State before becoming a first-round pick by the Twins in the 2017 MLB Draft. They were excited about the potential they were inheriting.
So far, Rooker has not disappointed. He’s reached base in 10 of his first 11 Cactus League games, doing so twice in seven of those contests.
“I’m excited to come here,” Rooker said. “A new opportunity. Just continue to do what I did last year. Swing it, produce at the plate and see what happens.”
The production is not much different than what he showed last season. Playing mostly at Triple-A in the Padres’ and Royals’ organizations in 2022, Rooker slashed .289/.395/.649 with 28 homers and 87 RBIs. But despite the strong numbers, he was limited to just 16 games and 36 plate appearances in the Majors.
“Last year was frustrating for me,” Rooker said. “I felt like the way I played in Triple-A merited some opportunities in the big leagues. I just wasn’t really given that at any point. I was given some spot at-bats and pinch-hits here and there, but no kind of consistent run or anything.
“I just thought that the numbers I put up in Triple-A kind of spoke to the fact that I deserved an opportunity in the big leagues. … For whatever reason, those rosters just didn’t shake out the way that it would have benefitted me.”
With his strong spring, Rooker has emerged as a candidate for a platoon-type role in the A’s outfield. He faces stiff competition from Conner Capel, who entered Tuesday 7-for-25 (.280) with a 1.000 OPS, two doubles and two home runs in 10 spring games.
There are certain factors that will come into the decision-making. Though both players can handle the corner outfield spots, Rooker is a right-handed bat, while Capel hits from the left side. The A’s may have to choose whether they prefer Rooker in a lefty-righty platoon with Seth Brown or Capel in a semi-platoon with Ramón Laureano.
“In terms of roster construction, we’re still ahead of the game in terms of making that decision,” Kotsay said. “That’s an area we’re definitely focused on. I think there’s more than just those two in that mix. But, obviously, they’re making a really good impression right now.”
With 102 homers and a career .909 OPS in five Minor League seasons, Rooker is waiting on his first real opportunity to stick with a big league team. He’s doing all he can to ensure that chance begins with the A’s on Opening Day.
“I’m just here to make whatever decision they have to make a difficult one,” Rooker said. “I’m not going to speak on how I think that’s going to shake out. Just produce when I’m out there and make the best of the opportunities that I’m given. Try to earn that spot. If I don’t earn it at first, just continue to swing it and earn it at some point down the road.”