With the 2015 season turning out to be such a big disappointment for the A’s, the team’s plans heading into this offseason are probably just about as unclear as they’ve been in quite some time. General manager Billy Beane and the A’s front office could choose to head in many different directions and there are very few players currently on the roster who are certain to still be around come 2016.
The only two players with multi-million-dollar guaranteed contracts for next season are also two of this season’s biggest disappointments – outfielder Coco Crisp and designated hitter Billy Butler. Reliever Sean Doolittle also has a guaranteed contract for next season but, with this season’s injury, there are still some question marks surrounding his reliability at this point. And there are three players currently on the 40-man roster – first baseman Ike Davis and outfielders Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry – whom it seems the A’s would be highly unlikely to offer arbitration to in the offseason.
So there certainly could be quite a few openings on the A’s roster heading into next season. And, though the A’s minor league system may not be rich in top prospects at the moment, there are plenty of players at the upper levels of the system who could potentially play useful roles for Oakland in 2016. So let’s take a look at some of the most likely suspects to be appearing in the green and gold next year…
Max Muncy (1B-3B)
Muncy has had 82 at-bats with the A’s this season, almost all against right-handed pitching. And while he may not have hit up a storm in his brief time in Oakland, he’s been a solid minor league hitter since being drafted in the 5th round back in 2012, particularly when it comes to his ability to get on base. The 25-year-old has a career minor league on-base percentage of .379 and has posted a .351 OBP in 179 at-bats for Nashville this season. Since it seems unlikely that the A’s will offer first baseman Ike Davis arbitration this offseason, that could leave an opening for the lefty-hitting Muncy to potentially share time with Mark Canha at first base next year. If the A’s decide to give Canha more playing time in the outfield, that could also open up more opportunities for Muncy at first. And if the A’s decide to move Brett Lawrie, either to second base or to another team in an offseason trade, Muncy also has experience at third base and could potentially form a platoon at the hot corner with righty-swinging Danny Valencia. Whatever happens in the offseason, it seems likely that there could be an opening on the A’s roster for a left-handed hitter with a track record of getting on base and who can play both first and third.
Jake Smolinski (OF)
In just 35 at-bats with the A’s this season, Smolinski has shown the potential to be a productive righty-hitting platoon outfielder for Oakland. The former 2nd-round draft pick also put up an impressive .349/.402/.628 slash line in 86 at-bats at Nashville this season and appeared in 59 major league games for Texas between 2014 and 2015. With no clear left fielder in the picture for the A’s next season, it’s possible that Smolinski could vie with Coco Crisp for playing time in left or also serve as a possible platoon partner for lefty-swinging Josh Reddick in right. And with the A’s unlikely to offer fellow right-handed hitter Craig Gentry arbitration in the offseason and a lack of other respectable outfield options currently on the roster, there could be room for a right-handed hitter with a little bit of pop in the A’s outfield picture next year.
Joey Wendle (2B)
After coming over from Cleveland for Brandon Moss in the offseason, Wendle has spent this year as the starting second baseman for Triple-A Nashville. The left-handed hitter currently leads all A’s minor leaguers in hits with 151, in extra-base hits with 52 and in doubles with 37. His .428 slugging percentage is nothing to sneeze at either, and folks in Nashville have been raving about Wendle’s abilities in the field. The problems start when you catch a glimpse of his 19 walks, 100 strikeouts and .318 on-base percentage. Still, second base has been a weak spot in the A’s lineup. Last spring, before the injuries started to pile up, the plan was to have Ben Zobrist start out as the team’s primary second baseman, with Eric Sogard moving into the utility infielder role. And if the A’s decide they’d like someone with a little more pop at second base this season, they could try to slide Sogard into a back-up role once again while giving Wendle a real shot to start the season at second.
Tyler Ladendorf (2B)
Ladendorf had just 10 at-bats with the A’s earlier this season before heading to Nashville and then missing most of the season after undergoing ankle surgery. After primarily being known for his defense, the former 2nd-round draft pick had a breakthrough offensive season at Sacramento last year, posting a .297/.376/.407 slash line while playing at second base and shortstop as well as in the outfield. Ladendorf’s been back in action at Nashville since earlier this month and has already played four different positions while putting up similar numbers for the Sounds. While his versatility makes him valuable, his best position is probably second base. So, while Ladendorf could be quite useful in a utlity role, backing up at a variety of different positions, he could also serve as a possible right-handed platoon partner for either Eric Sogard or Joey Wendle at second base next season.
Rangel Ravelo (1B)
Ravelo missed most of the season after undergoing wrist surgery, but he returned to action with Double-A Midland in July before joining Triple-A Nashville in August. Before his injury, the plan had been to have the 23-year-old Cuban spend time at both first base and third base at Nashville but, since returning from his injury, he’s appeared exclusively at first base and also as a designated hitter. Like a right-handed version of Muncy, Ravelo’s always shown the ability to get on base, and he has a career minor league on-base percentage of .371 and a .353 OBP this season at Nashville. It’s possible that Muncy and Ravelo could form a potential first base platoon at some point. But since Ravelo has only appeared in two games at third base since 2012, it’s probably going to be difficult to count on him possibly being able to fill much of a role at third base at this stage of the game. And with only 17 career games at the Triple-A level at this point, it would probably take a mighty impressive spring for Ravelo to factor into the A’s plans to start the 2016 season. But with Ike Davis unlikely to be offered arbitration by the A’s in the offseason, depending on how everything else shakes out, there could be some opportunities at first base for the A’s before next season is through.
Ryan Dull (RP)
Dull started the season with Double-A Midland before moving up to Triple-A Nashville in July, and the right-hander hasn’t missed a beat since advancing a level. Between both levels, the 25-year-old has allowed just 4 runs while notching 68 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings of work this season. At a listed height of just 5’10”, the former 32nd-round draft pick doesn’t fit the profile of the big, intimidating, flame-throwing reliever. He’s also not currently on the A’s 40-man roster. And while Dull’s been nearly unhittable against righties, he’s been considerably less impressive against lefties. But with the effectiveness that he’s shown throughout his minor league career, along with a solid fastball, slider and changeup, and the team’s current lack of quality relievers at the major league level, it’s hard to imagine that Dull wouldn’t at least be given a very long look by the A’s in spring training in 2016.