Stevenson, Sears impress in next phase of A's youth movement

August 11th, 2022

OAKLAND -- Once the A’s entered a rebuild by trading away several key pieces for prospects this spring, a youth movement was expected to take place at some point in 2022. With less than two months left in the season, that process now appears to be underway.

Earlier in the week, A’s general manager David Forst appeared on the A’s Cast pregame radio show and indicated that with Oakland now well out of playoff contention, an emphasis of this second half would focus on identifying players who could be a part of its future success.

“I’ve talked all year about how we’re sort of balancing the young players and the veteran guys who can contribute right now and help us win on a nightly basis,” Forst said. “The scales are tipping a little bit. We’re ready to start seeing some of these young guys.”

Another strong indicator of the A’s direction came prior to Wednesday’s 5-4, 12-inning loss to the Angels, when veteran infielder Jed Lowrie was designated for assignment. The move made room on the A’s 40-man roster for 25-year-old outfielder Cal Stevenson, who made his Major League debut on Wednesday after Oakland selected his contract from Triple-A Las Vegas.

Though he ranks outside of Oakland’s Top 30 prospects list put together by MLB Pipeline, Stevenson -- a native of nearby Fremont, Calif., who was acquired from the Rays last month in a trade that sent Christian Bethancourt to the Rays -- quickly impressed the A’s front office in his time with the organization. In 16 games at Triple-A Las Vegas, Stevenson hit .305 and displayed solid defense all around the outfield.

Getting the start in center field and batting ninth, Stevenson was accompanied by a personal cheering section down the left-field foul line made up of a large contingent of friends and family, many of whom made the short 20-mile drive up from Fremont. It didn’t take long for Stevenson to get them going, as the rookie outfielder picked up his first big league hit on an infield single in the sixth and later contributed to the A’s three-run eighth inning with a two-out walk to load the bases.

“Cal had a good day,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “First big league hit, which is great. He took some good at-bats. Even the last at-bat of the game, he goes from 0-2 to 3-2 and barrels the baseball. Overall, the assessment from watching today, he’s got good control of the strike zone.”

Stevenson wasn’t the only debuting rookie with a solid performance. There was also left-hander JP Sears, who started in place of injured All-Star righty Paul Blackburn and limited the Halos to two runs on three hits with no walks and three strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.

Though Sears pitched in seven games with the Yankees earlier this season, Wednesday marked his first start for the A’s. Acquired from New York at the Trade Deadline as part of the return package for Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino, Sears is another young player the A’s will closely evaluate over these final months of the regular season.

There was plenty to like from Sears’ first outing, which saw Oakland’s No. 19 prospect at one point retire 15 batters in a row while showing off an impressive sweeping slider and a fastball that sat 92-94 mph.

“JP throws the ball well,” said A’s catcher Stephen Vogt. “That’s a really good fastball and the slider was a very good pitch. He got some weak contact on the changeup as well. Three very good pitches and he commanded it well. Really excited to have him here and it was really fun to catch him.”

Expect the trend of letting the kids play to continue. Over the past two weeks, playing time has also increased for rookies such as Nick Allen and Jonah Bride, and even more debuts could be on the way. When asked about No. 1 overall prospect Shea Langeliers, Forst offered high praise for the catcher and deemed him as Major League-ready.

“We’re going to evaluate these young players over the remainder of the season,” Kotsay said. “We talk about getting Nick Allen more time at shortstop and getting Jonah Bride every opportunity at second and third. This is just another indicator of that direction.”