With all the new names dotting the A’s roster, just look to the outfield for some familiarity.
Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick are among those still patrolling out there for Oakland, and both are key figures as the 2015 season approaches. Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry also return, and they may end up splitting time in left field. A few other players could factor into the outfield picture depending on what happens elsewhere with the roster.
That situation will play itself out. For now, we wrap up our “position outlook” series with a glance at how things currently shape up for the A’s in left, center and right field.
STARRING CAST: Crisp is ready to begin his sixth season in Oakland, making him the team’s longest tenured player. You know the storyline involving the switch-hitting center fielder – when he’s healthy, he does damage from the leadoff spot. But staying healthy always is the challenge.
Crisp, 35, played through pain for much of 2014 due to a strained neck, the result of a hard collision with the outfield wall last season. He played in 126 games -- just five fewer than in a very productive 2013 season – but hit just .246 with nine homers and 47 RBI. Crisp clearly wasn’t 100 percent, but the hope is that an offseason of rest helped remedy the situation. With Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss among those traded this winter, the A’s need Crisp’s production atop the batting order, especially if a new-look middle of the order takes some time to jell.
Reddick, whose past two seasons have been sidetracked by injuries, also needs to shoulder some of the offensive load. He’s appeared in just 114 and 109 games, respectively, over the past two years, during which he’s hit .245 and averaged just 12 homers and 55 RBI. A right knee injury sent Reddick to the D.L. twice last season, but he often found himself on the bench against left-handed pitchers even when healthy. If he shows the ability to hit lefties decently, his outstanding defense should keep him in the lineup regularly.
CAMP COMPETITION: Fuld and Gentry are both very good defenders who run well, and Gentry’s speed makes him particularly dangerous on the bases. They may form a platoon in left field, even though the left-handed hitting Fuld actually has hit lefties better than righties over his career. There are some moving pieces with the A’s outfield however. Mark Canha, a right-handed hitter and a Rule 5 pick acquired via trade during the winter meetings, could see time at first base, but assistant general manager David Forst also mentioned him as an option in left field. Per Rule 5 regulations, Canha must remain on the 25-man roster all season or be offered back to the Miami Marlins (his original club). If Canha shows he can hit big league pitching, he might very well see time in left against lefty pitchers.
Recently acquired Ben Zobrist, who appears slated for second base, has experience playing all three outfield spots, with the majority of it in right field. Should the A’s want to stack their lineup with right-handed hitters, the switch-hitting Zobrist could sub in for Reddick in right field or perhaps enter the mix in left.
It’s likely the A’s look to rest Crisp (or use him at DH) in an effort to keep him healthy, so Fuld and/or Gentry figure to get time in center. And don’t forget about speedster Billy Burns, who made the jump from Double-A and spent two stints with Oakland over the second half of 2014. As the roster stands, it seems Burns would need an eye-popping spring to break camp with the club. Should he begin the season with Triple-A Nashville, his speed makes him a call-up option at any time.
PAY ATTENTION TO: Whether the A’s remain in contention for Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera. They reportedly had several officials in attendance for Olivera’s recent workout in the Dominican Republic. Hypothetically, his addition at second would mean Zobrist sees a lot more time in one of the corner outfield spots.
Catch A’s Insider Joe Stiglich on the Hot Stove Show, today at 4:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area