The Oakland Athletics have a number of very talented and MLB-ready prospects who will be looking to break into the big leagues either in September or next season. Quite a few of them have been discussed already–the outfielders, the guys to watch for as potential members of the starting rotation and now it’s time to take a look at the infield.
The A’s have more infield prospects ready for the majors than they do outfielders or pitchers, meaning choosing the infield next season could be a mess. The A’s may already have a better idea of who is staying, who is going and who will be manning the infield positions, or maybe they need the rest of the season and spring training to evaluate.
The only player in the infield who has 100 percent job security is two-time All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt. He has a very team-friendly contract, plays well offensively and his ability to work with pitchers and call games along with his defense behind the plate are good enough that it could potentially earn him a Gold Glove one day. There is almost no chance Vogt is going anywhere.
Yet, there may be a position battle at back-up catcher. Josh Phegley has been out for most of the season with a knee injury and his position has been filled by young Bruce Maxwell, who has done a great job learning about how to call games from Vogt. When Phegley returns from injury it leaves the A’s with just their first infield dilemma–Phegley or Maxwell.
The other two players who may have a good chance of staying at their current positions are shortstop Marcus Semien and first baseman Yonder Alonso. Semien has vastly improved his defense and found the power in his bat, having hit 23 home runs this season with still a month to go.
Alonso started off the season slow at the plate but overall has been relatively productive, especially with runners in scoring position. Plus, he has played unbelievable defense at first base.
However, nothing is set in stone and wherever Semien plays on the field–second, short or third– he’s already been clear that he wants to continue being in the lineup on a daily basis.
There are rookies ready to make their case for the big leagues that play every infield position. There are enough to start at each position, with some to spare.
Ryon Healy is currently playing third base at the big league level for the A’s. He’s done quite well at the plate, including his first home run being a walk-off for the A’s and he was recently on a 13-game hitting streak.
Healy has made seven errors in 42 games, but when you compare that to Semien’s 2015 season in which he led the majors in errors with 35 only to show vast improvement after working with third base coach Ron Washington, one can only assume that Washington could have the same effect on Healy.
Unfortunately for Healy, there is the organization’s No. 4 prospect Matt Chapman, who is also a third baseman and is currently on the Triple-A Nashville Sounds playoff roster. Chapman was named the Texas League Player of the Year on Wednesday.
You could move shift Healy to shortstop, but what happens to Semien? If Semien were to move to second base, he’d be in competition with Joey Wendle who, on Wednesday, reached base twice in his MLB debut at second and Chad Pinder who has been getting time at second base with the big league club as well.
Not to forget that the A’s also have veteran second baseman, Jed Lowrie who is owed $6.5 million next season. It was announced Thursday that Lowrie, who is on the 60-disabled list with a foot injury, underwent successful surgery and should be ready to play by the time spring training rolls around.
Healey also has experience playing at first base, but where does that leave Alonso? The two could platoon at the position but that wouldn’t leave too many at-bats for the right-handed hitting Healy.
Franklin Barreto is another potential infielder who is currently a shortstop but profiles better as a second baseman. He is still very young and will be playing in the Arizona Fall League beginning in October, but he impressed the coaching staff at big league camp last year during spring training so he can’t be ruled out as a potential player to make the 25-man roster.
Finally there is the Billy Butler problem. While Butler has been hitting well the past month–until he went on the seven-day concussion list after his altercation with Danny Valencia, another A’s third baseman–Butler hadn’t hit well over the past year and a half since coming to Oakland as a free agent. Butler mainly serves as the designated hitter but can also play first.
It’s likely if Butler doesn’t continue to hit and regresses back to his first year in Oakland, he may be relegated to a bench role like he was earlier in the season. The only problem there is that he is owed over $11 million next season, making him one of the highest paid players on the team next to closer Ryan Madson.
The A’s are going to have to determine who they think has the most talent moving forward but while keeping in mind each player’s development.
Whether decisions moving forward are determined by trades, competition or both, it should be an interesting month of September and an intense month of March as these talented, young infielders battle it out for just five positions.
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