When it comes to the look of the A’s opening day roster this year, there aren’t really that many question marks at this point. Of course, that original 25-man roster will end up going through plenty of permutations once the season gets underway. And unexpected injuries are bound to pop up and open the door for deserving minor leaguers who are looking to land a spot on the major league roster.
We all know that the A’s will have plenty of top prospects at Triple-A Nashville this year – players like Matt Olson, Chad Pinder, Renato Nunez and Sean Manaea. But when injuries arise during the season and a replacement is needed, it’s not always the team’s top young prospects that will be the first to get the call. There are a couple of other important factors that will often come into play when a team is looking for replacements at the major league level. One is a player’s status on the 40-man roster and the other is a player’s previous major league experience.
More often than not, a player who’s already on the team’s 40-man roster will be the first to get the call, since adding a player who’s not on the 40-man roster will require making an additonal roster move that could expose another player who might end up being lost to another organization. And all things being equal, most teams, including the A’s, usually prefer to be able to add a player who’s already gotten his feet wet in the majors before. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the players who could be the first to get the call should reinforcements be needed from Nashville this season.
Ryan Dull (RP)
Dull impressed in 13 late-season relief appearances for the A’s last year, and many thought he’d shown enough to earn himself a spot in the A’s bullpen this year. But with the offseason additions of right-handed relievers Ryan Madson, John Axford and Liam Hendriks and the return of right-hander Fernando Rodriguez, who’s out of options, if everyone stays healthy through the spring, there doesn’t appear to be any room on the right side for Dull to break camp with the big league team. So it looks like the 26-year-old North Carolina native could open the season as the top right-handed relief arm at Nashville. In 16 innings in the second half of last season with the Sounds, Dull posted a 1.12 ERA while striking out 21. And if he can even come close to replicating those kind numbers next year, then he’s likely to be in the front of the line if and when bullpen reinforcements are needed in Oakland. Behind Dull, other right-handed relief options currently on the 40-man roster include R.J. Alvarez and J.B. Wendelken.
Max Muncy (1B-3B)
A 5th-round pick for the A’s in the 2012 draft, Muncy moved through the system as fast as anyone from that draft class and made his debut with the A’s last April, ultimately making it into 45 major league games by the time the season was through. But there just doesn’t appear to be room for Muncy on the opening day roster this year. His ability to play both first base and third base makes him a valuable asset though, and he’s currently the only player in the A’s minor league system who can play both corner infield positions and has major league experience. Muncy’s posted a .378 on-base percentage in 386 games over his minor league career. And the A’s value his approach at the plate, knowing that he’s not prone to wasting at-bats by hacking at pitches he can’t handle. Top slugging prospect Matt Olson isn’t currently on the 40-man roster, but corner infielders Rangel Ravelo and Renato Nunez are. Neither has major league experience though, and Ravelo is primarily a first baseman who hasn’t seen more than two games at the hot corner since 2012, while Nunez is primarily a third baseman who’s only seen 16 games at first base in his minor league career and is considered a defensive liability at both positions. So if another corner infielder is needed this season, Muncy’s versatility and dependability should put him at the front of the pack.
Tyler Ladendorf (2B-SS-CF)
Ladendorf impressed in major league camp last spring and opened the season on the A’s roster before being sent down and then suffering an ankle injury that left him laid up for much of the season. If Ladendorf had any shot at earning an opening day roster spot this year, the acquisition of versatile infielder-outfielder Chris Coghlan quickly put an end to that. But that’s not to say that the A’s don’t still value Ladendorf’s versatility. In his minor league career, he’s started over 200 games at both second base and shortstop and has appeared in at least 50 games at third base and in center field, where he’s expected to see plenty of time this season at Nashville. If Sam Fuld doesn’t end up making the opening day roster, he may very well be lost to the organization since he’s out of options. And that would leave Ladendorf as the only A’s minor leaguer currently on the 40-man roster capable of stepping in in center field. If Eric Sogard doesn’t make the opening day roster and still ends up in the organization when the season starts (which may or not turn out to be the case), then he could be the go-to guy if the team needs another middle infielder. But if Sogard ends up elsewhere, then Ladendorf could be the clear choice if a middle infield need develops. Second baseman Joey Wendle also has a spot on the 40-man roster, but he hasn’t spent one inning at a position other than second base in the last three seasons, so his lack of versatility could hinder him. Meanwhile, infield prospect Chad Pinder has spent time at shortsop, second base and third base but isn’t on the 40-man roster and hasn’t yet seen time above Double-A, let alone in the majors.
Jake Smolinski (LF-RF)
Smolinski appeared in 41 games for the A’s in the second half of last season after being acquired off waivers from the Rangers. And the former 2nd-round draft pick did a solid job, showing plenty of pop while primarily playing in left field against left-handers. But with outfielders Josh Reddick, Khris Davis, Billy Burns, Mark Canha, Coco Crisp, Chris Coghlan and Sam Fuld all currently ahead of him on the depth chart, Smolinski seems set to start the season back at Nashville. He hit like a house afire in his brief time at Nashville last season, posting an impressive .349/.402/.628 slash line in 25 games with the Sounds. Smolinski appears set to open the season as Nashville’s starting left fielder but can play either corner outfield position. At the plate, his specialty is crushing left-handed pitching. So if the A’s should end up needing a right-handed hitting corner outfielder at some point this season, Smolinski should be the obvious call.
Andrew Lambo (RF-LF)
Acquired off waivers from Pittsburgh in the offseason, the 27-year-old Lambo was once considered a top power-hitting prospect, and some believe he could prove to be a bit of a late bloomer like Brandon Moss. Lambo is a left-handed hitter who’s slugged 100 home runs while putting up a .280/.347/.467 slash line over his minor league career. He’s also made appearances with the Pirates in each of the last three seasons. While he’s split most of his time between the two corner outfield spots, Lambo has seen some action at first base as well. And the California native has been one of the hottest hitters in the A’s camp so far this spring, notching a pair of home runs and a pair of doubles in his first 19 at-bats while while posting an impressive .421/.476/.842 slash line. With so many other outfielders ahead of him in the A’s camp though, Lambo’s likely to end up seeing lots of time in right field for Nashville this season, at least until an opening for a left-handed hitting corner outfielder pops up for the A’s.
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