Unproven Players Fighting for Jobs in Oakland this Spring

Zack Gelof, Mesa Solar Sox, Arizona Fall League 2022. Photo credit Benjamin Rush, @BenRushPhoto on Twitter

The old adage goes that the best ability is availability. Well, what happens then when you have too much availability? For good teams you usually get depth. For not so good teams, you usually get position battles. The latter will be the case for the 2023 Oakland A’s as they come off their first 100 loss season as a franchise since 1979. Nearly every spot on the diamond could be won outright this spring. All that to say, many players will get their chance to prove they belong at the game’s highest level. Let’s take a look at some unproven names fighting for jobs in Oakland.

The first base job is as good a place as any to start. Oakland’s Rule 5 selection this fall, Ryan Noda, is in a prime position for his introduction to the big leagues after 5 seasons in the minors. The 26-year-old lefty bat brings plus on base ability to go along with solid in game power. He’s popped at least 25 homers while hitting .250 in the last two seasons while escalating the minor’s highest levels in AA and AAA. A 15th round pick in 2017, Noda will get his first big league opportunity in 2023.

Also unproven, but from the other side of the plate, is 25-year-old Dermis Garcia. Listed at 6’3” 230 lbs, Dermis has immense power but also has a track record of difficulty with putting the bat on the ball. In 125 at bats as a rookie last season in Oakland, Garcia ran a 44% K rate to go along with a paltry 73.5% Z-contact rate. It was a small sample and he showed glimpses of the huge power, but he has to get to it. The acquisition of Jesus Aguilar, another right handed hitter, threatens Garcia, however, both figure to get AB this spring. Both sluggers could conceivably fill the DH role for Oakland as well.

Turning to the infield, Jordan Diaz and Kevin Smith are in the mix for a job. Smith, a major piece of the Matt Chapman trade, looked lost at the plate to start last season with the Athletics. An injury and subsequent demotion to AAA Vegas left him with ugly numbers at both levels at season’s end, however, he did end the campaign on a high note. The 26-year-old former 4th round pick hit .300 with 13 homers from August 1st onward in AAA. He didn’t get another look in Oakland but Smith could be poised to carry that late season momentum into camp as he looks to claim the 3rd base job. A platoon with newly signed infielder, and left handed hitter, Jace Peterson is a strong possibility.

Diaz is in the mix for 2B against veteran Tony Kemp. Diaz, who will be away from camp with Team Colombia for the WBC, just hits. It might be all he does. Since entering rookie ball as a 16-year-old, Diaz has never registered a K-rate north of 17%. He crushed High-A in 2021 before doing the same across AA and AAA on his way to the big leagues in 2022. Batting from the right side, the 5’10” infielder slots in as Kemp’s platoon partner as things stand now but the better bat here could win out for a full time role, and quickly at that.

The Oakland infield picture would not be complete without a mention of Oakland’s number 2 prospect on our list, Zack Gelof. The Virginia product is slated to begin the year in the minors, and he is not on the 40-man, but a strong Spring (he will be representing Team Israel in the WBC) could propel Gelof to his big league debut sooner than later.

Turning to the outfield, the picture in the expansive Oakland Coliseum has come into more focus with the recent addition of former 1st rounder JJ Bleday. The 25-year-old outfielder has struggled to produce offensively since his introduction to pro ball with Miami in 2019. In 65 games with the Marlins last season, Bleday didn’t ease the concerns about his bat with a .167 batting average and 72 WRC+. What has been constant though is the Vandy product’s plus approach. Bleday brings excellent OBP skills along with his prospect pedigree. He’ll have the chance to lock down a corner OF spot for years to come in Oakland.

Conner Capel is another name in the mix as a lefty bat. Claimed off waivers from St. Louis in September, the 25-year-old outfielder played well down the stretch last season slashing .308/.356/.519 with 3 homers in 22 games. It was a small but enticing sample from the former 5th round pick. Brent Rooker, a November waiver claim from Kansas City, is another name to monitor. Rooker is a 28-year-old right handed hitter, now on his 4th club. He boasts strong on base skills and big raw power. He’s a AAA masher who has struggled in 81 games in the big leagues across three seasons but there are tools here and Rooker will get a shot.

Finally, the centerfield position. Esteury Ruiz is the front runner as the marquee return in the maligned Sean Murphy trade. It’s no secret he stole over 80 bases across two levels in the minors last season but it is unknown whether his sudden improvements in approach will hold. The new rules, and the current club in Oakland, could be the perfect ingredients for a big steals total from Ruiz this year.

On the other hand, with his stock arrow pointing down, is Cristian Pache. The 24-year-old is also in the mix. He is a double plus defender but simply did not hit, or show any improvements, in an extended big league look last year. For what it’s worth, Pache didn’t right the ship this winter while playing for Estrellas in the Dominican Winter League. He hit .218 without a homer in 65 plate appearances. Pache’s time in Oakland could be running out without progress in his ability to make meaningful contact.

The acquisition of veteran Aledmys Diaz admittedly muddies nearly all these waters. A right handed hitter, Diaz can play on both the grass and the dirt however he does not have the cleanest track record with being able to stay on the field. He’ll get at bats but hopefully some of these young hitters I mentioned could force manager Mark Kotsay’s hand. I’d be remiss not to mention Ramon Laureano who is slotted into a starting role in the corner outfield. The 28-year-old figures to be a trade candidate until he’s traded. That will likely not occur, however, until he’s able to rebuild some of his lost value after his PED suspension and subpar play.

Yes, there are many names in the mix this spring. If one or two mentioned here prove themselves to be first division regulars, the A’s could be pushing for .500 ball down the stretch. All the while, and much more importantly, uncovering cornerstones for their next playoff run. This team will be better than it was last year at the very least.

Nick covers the Florida State League for Prospects1500. Born and raised in the Bay Area he fell in love with the Oakland A’s at an early age. The A’s have never loved him back but that’s never stopped him from obsessing over all things baseball, especially prospects, the minor leagues, and dynasty baseball. Find him on Twitter @Leobaseball3.

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