The Rays Outfield Gets Rangier!

Adventures In Exploiting Market Inefficiencies In Tampa’s Outfield
by Jim Silva

    The Tampa Bay Rays have been the definition of a small market team since they got their start in 1998 as the Devil Rays. They have a reputation similar to the A’s as being clever in how they use their resources and have managed to win the rich and powerful AL East twice (2008 and 2010), and caught a wild card spot twice (2011 and 2013). They made it all the way to the World Series in 2008 but lost in five games to the Phillies. The 2008 team did it with speed, a healthy young starting rotation, an excellent and fairly deep pen, solid defense, and some pop – the team finished 4th in the league in home runs. They were young and still cheap. Evan Longoria was only 22. It would obviously be a window that would close quickly, but for a while they looked like a surprising team to beat.
Lately though, they have struggled. In 2016 they finished last in the AL East losing 94 games and they didn’t appear to be moving in a particularly positive direction. They are still on the young side, but they no longer do a good job of getting on base, and although they finished fourth in the AL in home runs, they finished next to last in runs scored. Their pitching is still desired by other teams, but last season saw some of their young staff struggle for portions of the campaign, although they were still a good starting staff if not a great one. Then the Rays traded Drew Smyly, one of their starters, for Mallex Smith, adding a speedy outfielder to the crowded outfield scene. And now they have traded their starting second baseman to the Dodgers for a great young arm in Jose DeLeon. So what are the Rays doing exactly? I think I have a clue about their outfield so let’s take a look at the fairly large crew of players projected to start the season in Florida.
    Any discussion of the Rays outfield has to start with their centerfielder – glove man supreme – Kevin Kiermaier. Few in baseball have gotten more love for their glove work than the speedy Kiermaier. Even though he spent time on the disabled list, the 31st round draft pick from 2010 still managed a 25 DRS (defensive runs saved) and 24.2 UZR per 150 innings (a similar defensive metric to DRS, but prorated per 150 innings) season. Both defensive metrics measure a player’s ability to save runs beyond the average player at his position, and Kiermaier has lived near the top of the leader board in both categories since he became a starter. He has the range, the arm, and the fearlessness that define a superior centerfielder. What he hasn’t had that would make him a star, is the bat. Last season saw some moves in the right direction, but at 26 he is approaching the point where we will have to accept that he is what he is. And what he was last season was an elite level centerfielder who doesn’t hit for high enough average (or walk quite enough to make up for it) to be a leadoff hitter even though he is a high percentage base-stealer (87.5% last season). His on-base percentage was .331 in spite of his .246 batting average because his walk rate increased to almost 10% – his career rate is 6.6%. He is also an excellent baserunner, both as a high percentage base thief (23 of 26 last season) and just running the bases where he was 2.9 runs better than average. It could be argued that a lot of his offensive value comes from his base runnings skills. If you are a WAR guy (wins above what would be created by a replacement level player), Kiermaier is almost a 3.0 Offensive WAR guy with back to back seasons of 2.7 and 2.8. His overall WAR for the last three seasons – his first three as at least a semi-regular – has been 3.6, 7.3, and 5.5 – over 7.0 is near MVP level and over 5.0 is All Star level. Granted a lot of his value is in his defense and as he ages, that will likely decline. Still, right now, there are few players you would rather have playing centerfield for your club.
    The right fielder for right now is Steven Souza Jr., who if he makes it should be the poster boy for Portuguese ballplayers, and should get a nickname like “The Portuguese Man of War” because dude is a physical specimen at 6’4 and 225 pounds. Souza is fast and powerful and that’s what the Rays wanted when they got him in a crazy three team trade from the Nationals (the trade where the Nats ended up with Trea Turner AND Joe Ross – wow!). If Souza turns out to be as good as he looks then the Rays won’t fret what they gave up in the trade (four players, including Ryan Hannigan and Wil Myers), but so far Souza has two similar seasons of “meh” in a Rays uni. His last two seasons, he has put up wRC+ scores of 102 and 94 respectively where 100 is average runs created after park and league adjustments. In other words he was 2% above average and 6% below average in his first two campaigns with the Rays. Factor in his defensive metrics – a DRS/UZR per 150 of -4/-2.4 in 2015 and an improved 2 and 6.3 in 2016 – and you get an athlete with unfulfilled potential who is 27. He has yet to do better than a 1.0 WAR so he hasn’t shown himself as even an average starter, much less the star the Rays thought they were getting when they traded for him. At 27, projecting a breakout would probably fall into the category of wishful thinking. He certainly improved afield last season, but looking at his swing patterns, it doesn’t look like he did anything that would portend an imminent breakout with the bat. Souza actually swung at more pitches last year – 49.8% driving his career rate to 47.9% – than he had in the past including more pitches outside the strike zone – 68.7% last year pulling his career rate up to 67.5% and missing more often, making contact with 68.6% of the pitches he offered at, dragging his contact rate down to 69.3%. So he is swinging more and making less contact. His walk rate also dropped to 6.6%, with a career rate of 8.7%. This is not meant to pile on Mr. Souza – in fact Souza tried to play through a hip injury before going under the knife for a tear in his labrum. So here is hoping for Souza to have a healthy year and to break out, because teams like the Rays can’t afford to miss too often.
    Left field might go to Colby Rasmus, unless it doesn’t. The Rays signed Rasmus on the cheap after he had a poor season that was probably at least partly due to a slew of injuries – he had surgery for one of them this off-season. Rasmus is, at his best, a power-hitting rangy centerfielder type who walks some, but strikes out enough to suppress his batting average. Last season Rasmus played incredible defense in left and center (career high DRS/UZR per 150 of 20 and 31.0 respectively), but his slugging was well below his career average and it looks like there was some bad luck too as his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) dipped to a career low .257. After three seasons in a row with wRC+ numbers above 100, the 30 year old outfielder only created runs at a 75 level – well below average. Teams like the Rays and the A’s have to gamble on guys like Rasmus because they don’t have the money to spend on sure bets. As gambles go this might be a good one. Rasmus is the kind of guy – assuming he turns it around –  they could easily flip at the trade deadline for a solid if not spectacular prospect. In the meantime he will get playing time in left and possibly center spelling Kiermaier.
    If Souza and Rasmus don’t win the starting jobs, the Rays have two more players who could steal playing time and even the starting jobs in Mallex Smith and last year’s trade acquisition, Corey Dickerson. Dickerson mostly played left in 2016 and did an ok job in the field posting a DRS of 2 and a UZR/150 innings of 14.6. Those are by far Dickerson’s best defensive numbers, so it is unclear whether or not they represent actual growth or a one off. Dickerson is a hitter first and foremost, and last year was less than what the Rays were hoping for with the bat possibly costing Dickerson the starting outfield job he held last season. Dickerson hit the ball hard – 24 home runs, 36 doubles, and an ISO (slugging – average intended to show how much of his hits are for extra bases) of .224 in line with his career numbers – but hit only .245 which was 34 points below his career average. Since Dickerson doesn’t walk much (6.5 % walk rate) his on-base percentage is reliant on his batting average which means in 2016 he made a lot of outs. His on-base percentage of .293 was more than 30 points below his career rate, but it might be the new normal because he went from the best hitting park in baseball to one of the worst. It remains to be seen if Dickerson can be more than a league average run producer (101 wRC+ in 2016) and more than an overall slightly below starter level outfielder 1.5 WAR. Right now Dickerson looks like last week’s news because Mallex Smith could be in one of the corner spots. It could mean that Dickerson is the primary designated hitter. If that happens, his seemingly improved glove would matter less and his subpar baserunning would matter more, so his average and walk rates would have to improve for him to be worth keeping around as more than a pinch hitter.
    Unlike Corey Dickerson, who stole zero bases in 2016, Mallex Smith has elite speed and almost no power with an ISO of around .100 every season in the minors. So far in the majors, he uses his speed better in the field than on the bases, but if he can adjust and look like he did in the minors he has the potential to lead the league in steals. In the minors, Mr. Smith got on base a touch over 38% of the time, and hit safely close to 30% of the time making him an ideal leadoff hitter – especially when combined with his blazing speed. He stole 230 bases at a 79% clip in the minors, but went only 16 for 24 in his debut in the majors last season. The Rays would hugely benefit from a guy who could get on base at the top of the lineup, and he would fit with Kiermaier, Rasmus, and Souza to cover a ton of ground in the field. An outfield of Smith, Kiermaier, and Souza, with Rasmus as the 4th outfielder giving guys breathers, would rival the Mariners new crew for best defensive outfield in the league.
    Elite speed and defense in the outfield is apparently the new way to build an outfield on the cheap. All the cool kids are doing it – ok, so the Mariners are doing it, but if the M’s and the Rays experience success with this strategy don’t be surprised if others try to capitalize on this apparent inefficiency in the market. For a team in a pitchers park that relies on deep starting pitching, it is a strategy that makes a lot of sense. Unless Mallex Smith comes into spring training and underwhelms everyone, they should go all in on the strategy and keep Dickerson in the DH spot right from the start. Rasmus makes an excellent fourth outfielder who can also come off the bench to hit and stay in any of the outfield spots. He would make it hard on opposing managers to get too cute with their pitching changes when facing the Rays starting outfielders in close games. When Rasmus gets starts, Dickerson can pinch-hit unless he is the DH, and the Rays wouldn’t lose much bringing one of their glove men in to catch flying things for Dickerson. When you can put together an elite defensive outfield and you aren’t looking to contend, it seems like you should. If it works and you are better than expected, you can bring in offense at other positions or go get more pitching. The Rays need to do something different after an awful 2016 and they have the pieces, so go bold Rays!

Mashers or glove men? How would you populate your outfield if you were the Mariners?

You won’t hear a pin drop in the M’s outfield because no pins WILL drop!
by Jim Silva

    Are you one of those people who gets excited about outfield defense? While it doesn’t sound particularly romantic when your outfield doesn’t combine for 90 home runs but instead accumulates 40 DRS (defensive runs saved), the Mariners might just pull off that kind of defense in 2017 after remaking their outfield to more of a RomCom outfield than an Action/Adventure type outfield. Their general manager, Jerry DiPoto made two moves this season designed to give a facelift to the outfield, trading away some offense in the process.
    Why did DiPoto decide he needed to change the makeup of his outfield for 2017? Well, for one reason, run prevention, particularly in the outfield, is still cheaper than run production with Jason Heyward being the notable exception. Ok, so let’s say you assemble a great defensive outfield, then what else should you consider to maximize their impact? It seems to me that picking up flyball pitchers would be a good move, especially after you trade your 23 year old potentially slick-fielding shortstop for a shortstop who had an excellent offensive year, but at best is a neutral defensive year and at worst a below average defensive year. What were the last couple moves the Mariners made? They traded a good hitting outfielder who is at best a marginal outfielder – last season he was a poor outfielder – for  Yovani Gallardo, a flyball pitcher, to add to their rotation depth. Then they made a multi-team deal to get Drew Smiley – another flyball pitcher, from the Rays. So if you want to change more than one aspect of your club you can improve your pitching without moving a single pitcher by improving your outfield defense. But this article is about the Mariners’ outfield, not their pitching staff, so back to the fly-catchers!
    The lone outfield starter who is coming back for 2017 is Leonys Martin. From 2013 through 2015, he averaged 15 DRS and never fell below 14 while putting up a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating – similar to DRS with runs saved above average by defensive play) between 8.5 and 11.3 in the same time frame, all while playing mostly centerfield. Last season the numbers disagreed with a -2 DRS and a UZR of 3.6 although both numbers show that Martin didn’t have as amazing a year with the glove as he was used to having. Obviously one year does not a trend make, and Martin is widely considered an excellent defender. Last season he showed a bit more pop, blasting 15 home runs – the most of his short major league career – but still ended up with a wRC+ of 88 where 100 runs created is average. He doesn’t get on base enough for the homers to matter that much. Martin has yet to have a wRC+ of 100 or more in the majors and he really isn’t trending that way. He strikes out about a quarter of the time and only walks about 7% of the time so unless he hits 30 home runs, he won’t help the offense. However, if his defensive numbers come back to where they have been the three previous seasons then he will be a positive asset for the Mariners.
    Most likely to Martin’s left, will be newly acquired Jarrod Dyson late of the Kansas City Royals. Dyson mainly played centerfield for the Royals and the Mariners might decide to play him there and push Martin to left because Dyson has put up double figure DRS numbers each of the last three seasons and averaged just over 14 UZR in the same time span. Last season was his best according to DRS (19) and second best according to UZR (16.7) but both numbers have consistently agreed that he can flat out pick it no matter where you put him in the outfield. Dyson is all about speed on defense and on offense stealing 30 bases in 37 attempts last season, so he covers a lot of ground and makes things interesting for opposing pitchers and catchers when he gets on base. About that getting on base thing – like Martin, so far Dyson has been a slight offensive liability at bat with wRC+ numbers consistently in the 80s and 90s. Dyson doesn’t strike out like Martin but fails to draw walks just like Martin. Unlike Martin, Dyson has no power with seven home runs in 1539 career major league at-bats. Both men are there for their elite level gloves, but Dyson needs to get on base and play elite defense if the Mariners are going to benefit from his presence. But there is one other guy who is different from his two outfield brethren.
    The Mariners acquired Mitch Haniger in the Segura trade, and analysts are pretty excited at what he might become given regular playing time. Haniger is a late bloomer who pretty much destroyed double-A and triple-A pitching in 2015 and 2016. He hit for average, drew walks, didn’t strike out excessively, and hit for power – 36 doubles, 30 home runs, 81 walks, and 126 strikeouts in 671 plate appearances through three levels last season. He struggled with the bat, but still managed a .713 OPS in his final stop with the big club. He suffered from a poor BABIP (average on balls in play) which often indicates poor luck. He hit the ball hard 37.3% of the time and managed medium contact 45.8% when he hit the ball which means he made weak contact only 16.9% of the time. Also of note was that Haniger maintained good plate discipline in the majors with a swing rate slightly below league average, a contact rate that was almost exactly league average, and a contact rate on balls in the strike zone that was above league average. In summary, Haniger should hit enough in the majors to be a starter in a corner outfield spot. In fact he could hit enough to bat in the middle of the order as soon as next year, which would mean the Mariners offense just got a serious upgrade by adding Haniger and Segura (over Marte) in one move.
    But wait, there’s more! Haniger torched the highest two levels of the minors while playing good centerfield defense, and then continued to play well in center once he reached the majors. Next season he will be tasked with playing a corner outfield spot, where his defensive abilities should actually play up. Last season, in his brief time in Arizona, the former first round pick accumulated 1 DRS and 5.5 UZR while playing all three outfield spots (but mostly centerfield). It would be folly to try to extrapolate those numbers to a full season, but don’t be surprised if Haniger posts 10 DRS and UZR next season when he has less ground to cover. If he can do that while posting wRC+ above 100, which he has done every season of his professional career, then he will be the best of the three flycatchers on the Mariners and a regular, if not a potential star. Get your “Haniger’s Heros” t-shirts soon before they sell out!
    Whether or not you are drinking the Mitch Haniger Kool-Aid, the Mariners outfield will be really fun to watch. Seattle will miss the bats of Nori Aoki and Seth Smith, but most definitely not their gloves. The M’s rotation is now made up predominantly of fly-ball pitchers who should all benefit greatly from the outfield makeover. Don’t be surprised if the Mariners pitching coach gets a lot of love this season as his staff puts up improved numbers from 2016. It will be interesting if the Mariners manager Scott Servais stays the course as his offense slows a bit, but his defense shines. If Haniger gets off to a slow start, that would truly test the manager’s patience and the power of GM Jerry DiPoto to direct his manager’s lineup decisions. The Seattle club believe they can get to the playoffs this season and they are putting their chips on defense. As one of those guys who loves to see the D, I hope it works.
   

The A’s part ways with a big hitter – now what?

Shifting Sands In Oakland’s Infield
by Jim Silva
    Well, that didn’t take long. The A’s made a trade, this time moving arguably their best hitter from last season in Danny Valencia to Seattle for a minor league pitcher, Paul Blackburn. This is a move designed to give the A’s more pitching depth, and improve their defense. Valencia didn’t really have a spot anymore as the A’s had promoted his replacements near the end of last season. The move was timed to get something valuable for Valencia before he became expensive – a pretty typical A’s move. Let’s take a look at what it means for the A’s infield.
    Danny Valencia came to the A’s as a waiver claim from the Blue Jays late in the 2015 season. Valencia was crushing the ball at the time he was waived with a slash line of  .296/.331/.506 so it was surprising that Toronto would just let him go like that. Primarily a third baseman before the 2015 season, Valencia has also played both outfield corners, as well as first and second base, albeit none of them particularly well if you believe in defensive metrics. What Valencia has done well is hit baseballs really hard. 81.6% of the balls he hit were classified as hit with medium or hard (as opposed to soft) speed. His exit velocity is quite something. What he doesn’t do is control the strike zone – he doesn’t take kindly to that free base-on-balls claptrap – but his batting average mostly makes up for it. So Valencia is a pretty solid number five hitter and that is nothing to be sneezed at. That said, the Blue Jays sneezed and then so did the A’s in a way, although the A’s got back something of value in return. Why? Why does a guy who can hit and hit for power, and play the corners of the infield and outfield without turning it into a dumpster fire get moved around so much? Up until a couple seasons ago Valencia was pretty strictly a platoon player unable to hit righties, but that changed. The past two seasons Valencia has shown, and pretty clearly, that he can now not only hit righties, but hit them with power. Here is a wee graph showing his hitting against righties each of the last two seasons.
PA
HR
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
2015
214
13
12
56
0.285
0.325
0.556
0.881
2016
373
10
27
88
0.275
0.330
0.412
0.742
Not bad, eh? And that’s his “bad” side!
    Valencia’s glove is not his best tool, but again, he plays a clean corner without a ton of range or flash. So put him at DH or first base or left field and leave him in everyday and you are in pretty good shape. He was certainly better with the bat than anyone else the A’s have played at first base in either of the last two seasons. There were rumors about him as a clubhouse problem – don’t forget his fight with Billy Butler – but the guy can hit (including Billy Butler’s head) and the A’s certainly need bats. That ship has sailed to Seattle, and everyone pretty much knew it would sail sooner rather than later because of the usage patterns Valencia saw at the end of the season. The A’s were auditioning youngsters to take over at the corners. “What youngsters”, you ask?   
    Down on the farm are two men who can hit the ball very, very far when they actually hit the ball – and that “when” is a key qualifier, because Matt Chapman and Renato Nunez struck out a lot last season. Chapman draws more walks than Nunez but strikes out more often, but both men have legit power combining for 59 home runs in 2016. Nunez is only 22 and has a better hit tool than Chapman so with a full season at triple-A there is hope that he could be ready by 2018. Matt Olson also played first base (mostly an outfielder) and could be in the mix. Olson also has power, like Chapman and Nunez, but his plate discipline is much more advanced than the other two young corner men. Even though Olson is only 22 and hasn’t hit for average as he has moved up the organizational ladder, he appears to be more ready to play in the majors than either of the other youngsters. He will draw walks and hit with power even if his average is low, and that would be an improvement over what Bob Melvin wrote in to the A’s lineup last year. It will be interesting to see if they give him another year to grow in the tough hitting environment of Nashville to see if he can improve his average, or just take a shot with him at first or in a corner outfield spot right out of spring training. None of the three minor leaguers is a can’t miss prospect. Chapman is blocked by Ryon Healy (more on him later) at third for the time being, but he is only 23 with only 18 games at triple-A so what’s the rush? Nunez is coming off his first full season at triple-A where he hit .228 and he is only 22(you already said his age, just fyi), and Olson, also 22, hasn’t convinced the A’s yet that he is the answer (and he might be an answer in the outfield). So spring training should be fascinating as Oakland tries to figure out what to do to put a more viable team on the field at the big league level while still trying to develop some really interesting power hitting prospects.
    Another corner man who was down on the farm but came up for about half a season is third baseman, Ryon Healy. At 6’5, 225 Healy is a very large third baseman and hits the ball like one would expect from such a large man. Healy’s home run power just kicked in last season with 14 home runs in the minors and 13 with the big club – that’s 27 for those of you who are too tired to do the addition. The A’s young third baseman has hit at least .285 at every stop since 2014 – the only knock on his hitting is that he doesn’t walk often. His minor league slash line is .293/.332/.452, so until balls started leaving the park the knock on Healy was that a lot of offensive value was tied up in his batting average. Now the profile has changed a bit. He still needs to get on base, but his ability to score himself takes some of the pressure off his walk numbers. If Healy’s batting average drops below .270 then his value starts to fall off quickly. The young corner infielder succeeds, at this point in his short career, by making contact when he swings the bat, whether the pitch is in or out of the strike zone. He actually takes pitches at a slightly above average rate, so all this indicates that Healy’s swing is pretty tight and he can adjust quickly to pitches when he is fooled. Healy’s glove is just ok. It isn’t that he can’t make the plays at third, just that his range is limited. He has a strong arm, but ultimately might be best suited to first base. Healy is already the answer to one question the A’s had moving forward. They have a starting third baseman who will hit in the middle of the order. Looking at how Healy profiles, it looks a bit like how Valencia profiles, the difference being that Healy has room to grow and Valencia is getting more expensive. It would have been easy for the A’s to move Valencia to first or DH with some time in the corner outfield spots, allowing them to keep both players. Alas, the lure of a young pitcher and a smaller payroll appears to have been too much for the A’s to pass up.
    The other infield corner was handled mainly by Yonder Alonso in 2016. Many a fan and a couple GM’s have hoped that Yonder would finally figure it out and at least become a poor man’s Mark Grace pounding out 40 doubles a year while getting on base at a .350 clip. Uh, nope – hasn’t happened, and last season, while he managed 34 doubles, he also made a lot of outs. His wRC+ of 88 in 534 plate appearances means he hurt the A’s offense at a position that needs to be productive. The least he could have done was provide his normal excellent level of defense at first, but it just didn’t happen. According to UZR he was 1.1 runs below average while DRS had him at -3, not horrible marks – close to average in fact, but when you aren’t producing with the bat then you need to produce with the glove and Yonder did neither. At 29, one must wonder if it is too late to hope that Alonso turns into a league average starter someday. The A’s have Mark Canha coming back from a mostly lost season. Canha amassed only 44 at bats due to a hip injury, but in 2015 he showed power, and the ability to get on base while playing clean if unspectacular defense at first. The question is whether the A’s want to see ONE MORE TIME if Alonso can hit his projections, or perhaps play Canha in a corner outfield spot and give first to one of the youngsters.
    The middle of the A’s infield hasn’t been a strength for the A’s for a while. With Franklin Barreto, the man wearing the crown as the best A’s prospect, finishing the 2016 season with a taste of triple-A, the A’s might be close to having their best middle infield since 2005 when Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis manned shortstop and second respectively, contributing a total of 8.4 WAR to a second place A’s team. The A’s are optimistic because Barreto profiles to be the best of the organization’s infielders when he is ready, and Marcus Semien, the incumbent, has turned himself into a valuable, if flawed, shortstop. Currently, the A’s have Marcus Semien blocking Barreto, but could easily move Semien to second if Barreto proves to be superior defensively (and ready). But lest we get ahead of ourselves here, young Franklin is only 20 and it is highly unlikely that the A’s will rush to install him in the majors until they are sure he can experience success. Right now, Marcus Semien is the shortstop and he hit 27 long balls in 2016 so he is unlikely to go anywhere. In his first season with the A’s, it looked like the young shortstop was overmatched in the field. Enter Ron Washington, infield coach spectacular, to work with Semien, and the young shortstop turns it around and has a solid second half greatly reducing his error totals. Much of the credit goes to Washington, but from all accounts Semien worked his butt off to improve. His second year as starting shortstop with Oakland was a mixed bag. His error totals went way down in more innings played so his fielding percentage increased 24 points from .947 to .971. At the same time his range numbers dropped – he didn’t get to quite as many balls, so depending on your defensive metric of choice, Semien either improved a bit or dropped off some. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) had him costing the A’s 3.7 runs with his glove – an improvement over 2015 when he cost them 10.0 runs. Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) had Semien costing his team 6 runs this year after saving them 5 runs in 2015. Both metrics are measured in runs saved/cost so they are easy to compare and the bottom line is that he was adequate with the glove, especially in light of his power numbers. Right now the question is at second base where the A’s auditioned two youngsters in the second half of last year.
    Chad Pinder, who can play second or short, and Joey Wendle, who is a second baseman exclusively, both took a shot at showing the big club who should be the starter in 2017. But before we look at the kids, let’s remember who held down the position most of the season, Jed Lowrie. Lowrie, who mainly played second for the A’s, will play the season as a 33 year old, gets hurt a lot, is defensively challenged, and isn’t the hitter he used to be. In the recent past, teams could put up with his subpar defense because Jed would hit a bunch of doubles, pop double-digit home runs and hit for a decent average – not so much anymore. His career slugging percentage is at .400, but he only managed an anemic .322 mark last season, so it is hard to imagine why the A’s would want to use him much when they have multiple options who carry better gloves and are more interesting going forward. It would be surprising if Lowrie started the season on the A’s major league roster.
    Pinder didn’t show much with the bat at triple-A, but Nashville depresses batting average, home runs, and mediocre singers like few parks in existence, so it makes more sense to look at his career numbers to evaluate him. He didn’t cement himself as the starter during his 22 game tryout in Oakland, but he carries a career slash line of .280/.331/.450 in his minor league career. He doesn’t walk much so he has to get on base by way of the hit. He showed some doubles power in his 55 at bats in Oakland with four two-baggers. Pinder settled in during the last two months of the season hitting .276/.344/.517 keeping small sample size caveats in mind. Three errors led to a .914 fielding percentage at second base, but he is actually a decent middle infielder who can hang at second or short so again, beware of small sample sizes.
    Wendle is hard to pin down. He was a 6th round pick by the Indians in 2012 and the A’s traded for him before the 2015 season, sending Brandon Moss straight up for Wendle. He raked until he got to double-A and then his progress appeared to slow down. He has hit for a decent average for the majority of his minor league career although his strikeout rate increased and his walk rate decreased as he progressed through the system – career minor league slash line of .288/.340/.459. He shows some power, thumping 30 to 40 doubles and adding 10 to 15 homers a season. Playing in Nashville half the time likely depressed his stats so .279/.324/.452 looks better in that context. Wendle managed to not look completely overmatched in his first taste of the majors last season ending with a .260/.298/.302 slash line over 104 plate appearances, although he showed absolutely no power with 23 of his 25 hits being of the single variety. It’s difficult to figure out what he is like at this point. Is he a guy who will hit in the .260 to .275 range, who strikes out 100 times a season, and maybe pop a few long balls while getting on base at a .320 clip or will he be a doubles machine who gets on base at a .340 clip and drives 15 balls out of the park? Those are two different profiles with two greatly different values and the A’s hope they can figure out who Wendle is soon because he is 26 and running out of prospect status. If he turns out to be “Joey the Lesser” that’s not a bad placeholder to have, but Wendle isn’t likely to hang on to the starting position if that is his peak, even if you throw in his solid glove. Right now if forced to choose, the A’s should give Wendle a shot to hold onto the job, keep Pinder as the utility guy and give him regular at bats between second and shortstop and see what comes out in the wash. Wendle is two years older at 26 and can only play second, so the A’s need to find out what they have in him. Pinder can play both middle infield positions and did better than Wendle in his audition, so Pinder would give the A’s more flexibility if he doesn’t start the season as the starting second baseman.
    Max Shrock was acquired in a mid-season trade with the Nationals. The A’s gave up Marc Rzepczynski and cash to get the 2015 13th round pick. Shrock is a second baseman only and is 5’8 so why give up a useful bullpen arm and money to get him? The guy has done nothing but hit since his pro debut and is now at double-A. His career minor league stats so far are a slash line of .326/.369/.449. In 2016 spanning single-A and double-A he hit .331/.373/.449 with 43 extra-base hits and 22 steals in 28 attempts over 534 at bats. Shock only plays second base and at 22 has to keep up his current pace to push people out of the way, but so far he looks like he is up to the job and will likely crash the A’s top 10 prospects list this season.
    The A’s organization has a lot of middle infield prospects who look like they might pan out as big-leaguers. Richie Martin is an athletic shortstop who was a first round pick in 2015 and is already at double-A Midland where even I can hit. After a season that was mostly a mixed bag, Martin could move quickly if he can put it together at Midland. Yairo Munoz is another toolsy shortstop already at double-A – they just added him to the 40 man roster. He has shown power and speed, but not a lot of patience. It will be interesting to watch how the A’s handle having both him and Martin at double-A. Munoz and Martin will push Barreto, who will in turn push Semien, possibly to second, which would in turn push Wendle and Pinder to figure it out quickly. And then there is Shrock. The A’s have a lot of good options and tough decisions to come in the middle of the infield – sounds like a nice problem to have. The corner infield spots have options too – if Healy can just repeat what he did in half of 2016 for an entire season, and it looks like he just might, then the A’s are set at the hot corner for a while. First base is more problematic. I recently dismantled my Yonder Alonso shine and have moved on emotionally. I suggest the A’s do the same and try Canha there to start the season while the wait for one of Chapman, Olson, and Nunez to break away from the pack and push Canha to the outfield. The sun will shine again in Oakland Alameda County Coliseum one day soon  – well at least on the infield.