OAKLAND -- The A’s have most positions filled as they enter Spring Training, but second base appears to be headed for a standoff in the desert.
There’s no shortage of candidates to take over at the position previously occupied by Jurickson Profar, whom the A’s traded to the Padres this offseason. What is unknown is which player has the upper hand, as the handful of infielders in the mix are either unproven in the Majors or yet to establish themselves as everyday players.
Other factors, such as Minor League options and Rule 5 Draft regulations, certainly will come into play when determining who comes out on top of this five-man battle. In all likelihood, the A's will have to make a tough decision by leaving one or two off the roster, depending on their strategy for the 26-man roster.
Here’s a closer look at those candidates:
Just a few years ago, Barreto was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the organization and was ascending through the Minor Leagues alongside the likes of Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Chad Pinder. But while those three are now major contributors on the big league roster, Barreto has been stuck trying to dodge the dreaded “four-A player” label. He has bounced between Triple-A and the Majors, getting limited playing time in his stints with Oakland. Barreto has proven he can hit at each level of the Minors. He’s coming off a 2019 campaign in which he slashed .295/.374/.552 with 19 home runs and 65 RBIs to go with 15 stolen bases over 98 games at Triple-A Las Vegas.
All the 23-year-old needs now is a full look at the big league level. Working in his favor could be a lack of Minor League options. The A’s will need to find a spot for Barreto on the roster or risk losing him on waivers, where he likely would get snatched by another club, given his talent and age. This puts him near the top of the second-base group.
Mateo bounced back from a disappointing 2018 by putting together a year worthy of selection to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team. He slashed .289/.330/.504 with 19 home runs, 14 triples and 78 RBIs to go with a team-high 24 stolen bases over 119 games for Las Vegas. Like Barreto, the 24-year-old Mateo is also out of Minor League options, which no doubt boosts his chances of making the Opening Day roster. The A’s likely do not want to give up on a player of his caliber without ever having seen what he can do in the Majors.
Barreto and Mateo are in similar situations, but given the likelihood of the A’s going with a platoon at second and both players being right-handed hitters, there might be room for only one of these two on the roster.
The organization's No. 8 prospect in the MLB Pipeline rankings, impressed many in the organization with his athleticism playing second base as a September callup after he spent the majority of his Minor League career at third base. Neuse, 25, fits into the A’s long-term plans, but being a right-handed bat, he could be third in line behind Barreto and Mateo, given his ability to be sent to the Minors without being exposed on waivers.
“The good thing about Tony is he can come in and be a left-handed platoon with Barreto or Mateo. Or if [Vimael Machin] does what he’s done his whole career and continues to hit, Kemp can play multiple positions,” said Billy Beane, A’s executive vice president of baseball operations. “A guy like [Kemp], there’s a spot for him no matter what, because he’s left-handed and multi-positional, which is the reason we went after him. But he’ll get an opportunity at second base, at least to start.”
Acquired through the Rule 5 Draft in December, Machin must remain on the roster for the entirety of the season or be offered back to the Cubs. His career .358 on-base percentage in the Minors is certainly appealing to the A's. He enters Spring Training with some confidence after putting up solid numbers in the Puerto Rican Winter League, a .333/.369/.469 slash line. Like Kemp, Machin is a left-handed bat who can also play multiple positions -- infield and outfield.