Opening Day roster coming into focus
The Oakland A’s made their third round of spring training cuts on Saturday, sending down six players from MLB camp. On the other hand, two players got the opposite message that they’d made the team, officially answering a couple questions about who we’ll see wearing green and gold on April 1.
The selection of Garcia as the club’s second catcher became apparent when all the other backstops in spring camp were sent down Saturday morning. He’d been up against Austin Allen for the job until Allen was optioned on Wednesday, and then NRIs Carlos Perez and Francisco Peña were among the cuts this weekend.
Garcia impressed manager (and former MLB catcher) Bob Melvin with his ability behind the plate, per Rickey Blog:
“His catching ability is tremendous. Whether it’s framing, whether it’s calling a game. … His last couple outings [working with Daulton Jefferies and Cole Irvin] really resonated. We saw it early on in spring, just talking to him, he has the great aptitude to catch.”
As Melvin noted, Garcia’s receiving skills were on full display on Friday against the Dodgers. His pitch-calling and framing helped Cole Irvin record seven called strikeouts among the lefty’s 10 Ks, in the span of 19 batters. In his previous start, Garcia caught Daulton Jefferies as the rookie fanned half of his 14 batters on Tuesday. He’s also shown off an impressive throwing arm this month, nabbing a couple base stealers.
The bigger question has come at the plate, where Garcia has a problematic 46.8% strikeout rate in his brief MLB career and a discouraging 30% rate in Triple-A. He didn’t completely eliminate that concern with 10 Ks in 29 plate appearances (34%), but when he hit the ball he did some damage to the tune of a 9-for-24 line (.375) with three doubles and five walks (.983) OPS.
Nobody is expecting a star hitter, but between making some hard contact and getting on base he offered optimism that he can do enough to get his glove into a major league lineup. While spring stats don’t normally count for much of anything, Melvin mentioned that Garcia’s numbers “certainly [did]” play a role in the decision.
Return of the Jedi
Meanwhile, Lowrie’s path to Opening Day had more to do with health. Everyone knows what he can do on an MLB field from his long career as a quality switch-hitting infielder, highlighted by an All-Star berth in 2018. But after missing the last two seasons to injury, he needed to prove he could still play at all.
He did just that. With his 37th birthday fast approaching, he got into a dozen Cactus League games and looked every bit like the professional hitter of old, knocking extra-base hits all over the yard and a couple of them over the wall. On the other side of the ball he saw plenty of time at second base, showing the sturdy competence we’re used to seeing from him.
Jed Lowrie lookin good over at 2B pic.twitter.com/sLK8BoWxfT
— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) March 24, 2021
Lowrie said the following upon word of making the team, per Gallegos:
“It’s easy to make assumptions coming off my last couple years. I knew if I had the opportunity to get healthy and get back out there feeling good that I still had some gas left in the tank. This is the opportunity I asked for.”
Melvin elaborated on what role the veteran will play, per Rickey Blog:
“I don’t know how many games in a row he would be able to play [on defense]. He can DH some, even though we kind of target [Mitch Moreland] more for that. But the fact that we’re running him out there every other day at second base basically [this spring] and he’s doing fine with it, would suggest that’s his position.”
Lowrie won’t be alone in covering second base, as Chad Pinder and Tony Kemp also figure to be locks for the roster. Vimael Machin is still in spring camp too, but has options remaining and is eligible to be stashed in Triple-A for now. And if Lowrie does get some DH time in partnership with lefty Mitch Moreland, then it’s convenient that both of his homers this spring and at least one of his doubles came from the right side of the plate against southpaws, so he’s ready for that potential platoon assignment.
But don’t worry, he can still hit lefty too.
The third stint of Lowrie in Oakland begins next week. He’s spent five summers here and played at least 136 games four times, and the A’s made the postseason in each of those four full years.
No country for long men
As for Saturday’s spring cuts, none were particular surprises, as all six were non-roster invitees who were always expected to open in the minors. Lowrie will be the only NRI to break camp with the A’s this year.
However, as some of the final candidates remaining in camp, the removal of this latest round of players doesn’t need to be shocking to help bring the Opening Day roster into clearer focus — like at catcher, where simple process of elimination gave away the news of Garcia’s achievement before it was even announced.
The bullpen is also a step closer to being complete, with the last two NRIs (Reymin Guduan and Deolis Guerra) out of the running. The only question remaining is whether the last spot goes to Burch Smith, or to a long reliever, and Melvin more or less answered that on Saturday, per Athletics Farm.
Melvin today on the possibility of one of the A’s potential starters opening the season working as a long-man out of the bullpen: “At this point, I would say it’s a long shot.” That would seem to bode well for Burch Smith’s chances of claiming the final spot in the A’s bullpen.
Continuing on that point, Melvin also said he thinks fifth starter candidates Daulton Jefferies, A.J. Puk, and Cole Irvin are “digging for that last starter spot” as opposed to a bullpen job, per Kawahara.
Of course, Smith isn’t exactly a pure short reliever himself, as the former starter is no stranger to length. On multiple occasions last season, he worked at least three innings at a time and remained unhittable throughout. He’s been knocked around this spring if you look at his 7.36 ERA and two homers in seven innings, but his six strikeouts and one walk are an encouraging sign that he’s ready to go after missing the end of last summer to injury.
Roster prediction scorecard
Time to check on our roster predictions! You can never quite be sure how spring will go, but things are coming together about how Athletics Nation thought they would.
Last week we discussed the backup catcher competition, and most of the community joined me in picking Garcia, which has now come true. As for Lowrie, well, the tweet below from February specifies “Opening Day lineup” but at this point that’s probably a foregone conclusion:
The possibility of Jed Lowrie staying healthy this season is approximately 3,720-to-1.
Never tell me the odds.
/immediately writes Lowrie into A’s Opening Day lineup in sharpie
— Alex Hall (@AlexHallAN) February 10, 2021
Deep down, we all knew it was happening the moment Lowrie signed.
In the bullpen we made predictions a few days ago, and my top pick was Smith, though only 34% of the community agreed with me (slight plurality went to Irvin, my second pick). Smith’s still the front-runner for now, and if that holds then I can avoid my second error this spring after previously clanking my Nik Turley pick.
The spring contingent is now down to 31 players, of which 26 will make the active squad and one more (Mike Fiers) will open on the injured list. That means four more players will have to go down to the minors. The easy guesses are Machin, who no longer has a spot now that Lowrie made it; outfielder Seth Brown, who will presumably wait his turn behind Rule 5 draft pick Ka’ai Tom; and the two pitchers who don’t make the cut.
Let’s do a different kind of poll question this time, under the assumption for now that Smith and Jefferies make the team out of camp.