Programming note: This article is part of an ongoing feature series, as Insider Joe Stiglich breaks down each A's position group over the offseason
Marcus Semien got some exciting news when he found out the A’s traded for him in December, but the drama didn’t end there.
Semien watched Oakland swing another deal in early January for Yunel Escobar, who threatened to take away Semien’s playing time at shortstop. But Escobar wound up getting flipped to the Washington Nationals just four days later for reliever Tyler Clippard, and once again the path was cleared for Semien to get first crack at the shortstop job.
[RELATED: Escobar trade reflects A's faith in Semien]
Will there be any other additions at that position before Opening Day? Hey, it’s the A’s. The roster is always fluid. But as things stand, Semien will provide quite the storyline entering spring training -- a young player landing with his hometown team, getting a chance to prove himself at one of the major leagues’ most demanding positions.
Semien, 24, was one of four players acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade, and general manager Billy Beane immediately pegged him as the man being looked at to replace veteran Jed Lowrie, who signed with Houston after two seasons spent as Oakland’s shortstop.
It’s a big opportunity for a player who has yet to spend a full season in the majors. And that makes Semien -- who was born in San Francisco but grew up in the East Bay -- one of the most interesting A’s players to watch this spring.
STARRING CAST: Though Semien predominantly has played shortstop in the minors, most of his big league time over parts of two seasons has come at second and third base. It’s fair to speculate how he will acquit himself as an everyday shortstop in the majors. Scouting reports suggest his range is quite good for second and third base but only average for short. But remember, Lowrie was never known for his range either, and he held down Oakland’s shortstop job for two years. Semien does have the arm strength for short. And if he hits the way the A’s feel he’s capable of, that will help make up for any defensive shortcomings.
Beane said during the winter meetings that he thinks Semien has 20-homer potential. No doubt his power is considered a plus for a middle infielder. He hit 15 home runs last season in 83 games at Triple-A Charlotte, and he combines it with excellent plate discipline, as his .380 on-base percentage with Charlotte would suggest.
CAMP COMPETITION: Ben Zobrist, acquired in the same trade from Tampa Bay that originally netted Escobar, is likely to start the season as the A’s second baseman. But Zobrist has substantial experience at shortstop and represents a solid option there if he’s needed. Eric Sogard, who might end up occupying the utility infielder role, is best suited for second base but also has the ability to play short. A wild card in spring camp will be 26-year-old Tyler Ladendorf, who has spent five-plus seasons in the A’s farm system but has yet to crack the bigs. He’s an excellent defensive shortstop and took a step forward offensively last year at Triple-A. But Ladendorf is just a .253 career hitter in the minors, so he’ll have to show some life offensively in camp to turn heads.
Andy Parrino will be a non-roster invitee to camp and will once again try to insert himself in the competition for a backup infielder spot.
PAY ATTENTION TO: The progress of two young shortstops who could factor prominently in the A’s plans down the road. Franklin Barreto, acquired from Toronto as part of the Josh Donaldson trade, is considered Oakland’s top prospect following the trade of fellow shortstop Daniel Robertson. He’ll turn just 19 in February, but he enjoyed a strong year at the short-season Single-A level in 2014. Another shortstop prospect who’s generated less fanfare, Yairo Munoz, has impressed A’s officials (as well as scouts from other teams) since being signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. Munoz turns 20 later this month. Neither he nor Barreto is part of the major league spring training roster, but you’ll be hearing their names more in the future.