A Look Back At 2012
The first base position had been somewhat of a bugaboo for the Oakland A's in recent seasons, as they have struggled to find consistent production since Daric Barton's banner 2010 season when he combined solid defense with one of the best on-base rates in baseball. But since then, Barton has struggled to stay productive while the club has seen a lot of turnover at the position. Barton came into 2012 off a surgically repaired shoulder, struggled early in the season in the big leagues and got the majority of his at-bats with Triple-A Sacramento.
|Brandon Allen was let go early in the season.|
When the team broke camp last year, three players had a shot to solidify themselves as the everyday first basemen, but none of the three players coming out of camp could do so. Between Brandon Allen, Kila Ka'aihue and Barton, the three struggled significantly for the first two-plus months, which was in-line with the rest of the team's offense. As it turns out, none of the three panned out and the organization elected to go an unlikely direction at first base.
Former outfielder – and minor league free agent signing – Brandon Moss had been tearing up the Pacific Coast League, hitting 15 home runs in his first 51 games, getting on base at a .371 clip and amassing a 952 OPS for Triple-A Sacramento. A provision in his contract with the team allowed him to become a free agent if not brought up to the majors by mid-June, forcing the A's to see what they had in the former Red Sox's and Pirates' property. Moss had played first base periodically for the River Cats, but still spent the majority of his time as a corner outfielder or designated hitter.
The A's took a shot and allowed Moss to get the lion's share of at-bats as a first baseman, and it might have been one of the most important moves made by the team all season. In his first 14 games, he hit seven home runs and drove in 12 with a 1157 OPS and helped catapult the offense from dormant to threatening. During that stretch, the A's took care of their interleague schedule, finishing with a 15-13 record in June, their first winning mark for a month.
Moss finished the year with a .291/.358/.596 slash line and 18 homers in just 84 games, helping the A's finish with the seventh-most home runs in baseball. But his production slipped in the playoffs, akin to the rest of the offense, and he had just two hits in 15 at-bats in the division series against Detroit.
|Chris Carter had a breakthrough 2012 season in the big leagues.|
But Moss wasn't the only player to emerge at the position. Former prospect Chris Carter – known for his slow starts at new levels – became the other half of the first base and DH platoon, adding 16 home runs in just 260 plate appearances.
Since coming to the A's way back in 2007 as a part of the Dan Haren trade from Arizona, Carter had been somewhat of an enigma as a prospect. He became the A's top power prospect but never progressed as quickly as Oakland would have liked. After cups of coffee in the majors in 2010 and 2011 – where Carter started 0-for-33, two at-bats short of the major league record for hitless at-bats to start a career – the A's weren't sure what they had in the big first baseman. He hit just .136/.174/.310 in 46 plate appearances in 2011.
After working with River Cats hitting coach Greg Sparks on weight distribution and balance for the first third of last season, Carter got another shot with the A's in late-June and took advantage. He hit home runs in his first two games, and went on to hit six more in July, helping the A's to one of the best months in team history by finishing 19-5, launching the team back into playoff contention. Carter had a great summer, combining to hit 12 home runs in just over two months. But his production really slipped in September, getting just nine hits in 19 games and striking out 32 times. He didn't get any at-bats in the playoffs.
Good-bye And Hello
|Kila Ka'aihue is now with Arizona.|
The A's parted ways with Allen early in the season, designating him for assignment to make room for Barton off the disabled list. Allen had just seven hitless at-bats, the majority coming against Felix Hernandez. Allen was claimed by Tampa Bay and was released in late-July. He signed with Texas in December.
Ka'aihue was granted free agency after spending most of his 2012 with Sacramento, hitting .256/.367/.496 with 15 homers in 66 games. In November, he signed with the Diamondbacks.
One of most surprising moves of the offseason came when Carter was dealt along with catching prospect Max Stassi and starter Brad Peacock to Houston for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez. Lowrie had been on the A's radar for some time, going back to last season when they were looking at upgrading the shortstop position before acquiring Stephen Drew. But given Carter's production level before his rough patch late in the season, it would have been very tough to move on the team's most formidable power threats in the middle of a playoff run.
After winning the division, the A's decided to trade from the standpoint of a contender, rather than a rebuilding project. Dealing Carter falls in line with that thinking.
There's a very good chance Lowrie becomes the right-handed half of the platoon with Moss at first base. Lowrie, a switch hitter, has a 128 OPS+ against left-handed pitching, compared to an 87 mark against righties. Moss hits for significantly more power against right-handers while the rest of his career splits are relatively even.
But Lowrie will also be in the fold for the other three infield positions, along with designated hitter. Where he gets his at-bats depends largely on the production of players such as Jemile Weeks, Scott Sizemore and Josh Donaldson. Lowrie becomes undoubtedly the club's most talented infielder and should get 500 at-bats should he stay healthy. But health has always been a concern with the Stanford product, as he's never played more than the 97 games played last year for the Astros.
Lock To Make The Team
Given how heavily the A's relied on the home run throughout the playoff run, it's very likely Moss will retain his starting first base gig. But his struggles in the postseason should be of concern for Oakland. It's unlikely Moss will be able to replicate his 954 OPS and he will have to find ways to adjust to pitchers taking advantage of his weaknesses, as the Tigers did in the division series.
|It is Brandon Moss' job to lose.|
Striking out less will be key, especially if he's penciled in the middle third of the lineup. His career-worst 30.4 percent strikeout rate from 2012 indicates his propensity to swing for the fences. Moss will need to become a more well rounded hitter to avoid the type of regression in 2013 all the metrics are pointing towards.
Of all the infield positions Lowrie has played throughout his career, he's played first base the least. Where he plays will largely depend on what happens with the second and third base positions. Regardless, Lowrie's bat will be in the lineup.
There's a strong possibility that Lowrie will be the A's backup first baseman, and could earn the full-time gig if Moss struggles early on. Against left-handed starters, A's manager Bob Melvin could try to fill his lineup with as many right-handed bats as possible, which would allow the switch-hitting Lowrie to play for Moss. A shift to first could also be advantageous given Lowrie's injury history.
Favorites For the Final Spots
Although Adam Rosales isn't a natural first baseman, he boasts the versatility to play all four infield positions and will likely make the 25-man roster as a bench player. Rosales has become a favorite of Melvin, who continuously mentioned Rosales' name when discussing the various position battles FanFest.
Rosales' impact on the first base position will likely be minimal, but getting a spot start here and there shouldn't be ruled out as the season rolls on.
Battling For A Spot
|Can Daric Barton hit his way back into the mix?|
The A's decided to avoid arbitration with Barton, who is scheduled to make $1.1 million in 2013, and could earn $250,000 in performance escalators. Barton struggled in 2011 while dealing with a shoulder injury, and spent the early portion of the season on the disabled list recovering. He was unable to find his grove in the majors and was sent to Triple-A to regain his pre-injury form.
Barton played well for the River Cats, getting on base at an impressive .411 clip, but only managed a .425 slugging mark by hitting eight homers and 14 doubles in 74 games. Moss and Lowrie are clearly better power options, but if Barton is somehow able to regain his form that made his so effective in 2010, he could give the A's something to think about. After all, Barton might be the best defensive first baseman in the entire organization – and has played the position for almost his entire career, unlike Lowrie and Moss.
If Barton can't hit his way on to the roster this spring, there's a good chance Barton will be traded or released before the end of camp. The A's won't owe Barton his full salary if he is released during camp and he is out of options. Given Barton's defensive abilities, his relatively low salary and his on-base skills, Barton is unlikely to skate through waivers unclaimed. If he can prove he's healthy, there might be a team willing to take him in a trade.
Looking To Make An Impression
|Scott Moore was once a top prospect with the Cubs.|
Former first-round pick Scott Moore came to the A's as a minor league free agent. He has played the majority of the last seven seasons at the Triple-A level, where he has proven his ability to get on base. In 2012, he set a career high with Oklahoma City by reaching at a .410 clip and slugging .555 with 10 homers in 291 plate appearances. He got the rest of his at-bats in the major leagues, putting together a .259/.330/.448 slash line with nine homers for the Astros.
Moore could be a sleeper for the A's, much like Moss was in 2012. Moore spent last season playing third, left field and first, giving him the type of versatility the A's have become fond of in the last few years. The left-handed hitter, will likely start the season with Sacramento and fill place left by Ka'aihue, but could hit his way on to the 25-man roster much like Moss did in 2012 should he build off his very good season a year ago. He could also fit into the competition at third base.
Shane Peterson could also get some looks at first base. The career outfielder has made 123 appearances at first throughout his five seasons as a pro and he has played well there. Although he's traditionally a corner outfielder, Peterson's power or speed doesn't quite fit the bill. Given the A's depth in the outfield, Peterson might get some of his at-bats as a first baseman this spring.
Here For The Future
|Miles Head was the A's minor league player of the year.|
Miles Head raised some eyebrows throughout the organization with the numbers he put up in his first season in the A's organization after being acquired from Boston in the Andrew Bailey trade. He lit up the California League with a .382/.433/.715 slash line with 18 long balls before getting promoted to Double-A Midland in late-June. He didn't see the usual drop-off that's become customary for hitters leaving the Cal League and going to the Texas League. The 21-year-old put up a very respectable .272/.338/.404 line in 57 games and impressed coaches with his evolution as the season wore on.
Head played 102 games at third base in 2012 - compared to just 11 at first. But some scouts believe his future will be as a first baseman due to his limited athleticism and range. His 2013 season will go a long way toward determining where he fits best defensively, but he could be the A's second best power prospect behind Michael Choice heading into the season.
Head will turn 22 in May, giving Oakland plenty of time to work with him on cutting down on his strikeouts and developing further as a hitter. Head is coming off of a shoulder injury sustained during the Arizona Fall League, but he isn't expected to be limited by the injury in camp.
It's likely Head will start the season with the RockHounds, and could see a promotion to Triple-A during the first half of the season should he continue to progress. With a good year, Head could vault himself into the major league discussion at this time in 2014 at both corner infield positions.