Oakland A's Spring Position Battles: OF

Can Cespedes avoid a sophomore swoon?

The success of the 2012 Oakland A's offense was in large part due to the production of the team's outfielders. The A's are returning largely the same group of outfielders in 2013. Can they carry the team back to the post-season? Will any new outfielders emerge at the big league level for Oakland? How does Chris Young fit into the picture? Chris Biderman addresses these questions and more.

A Look Back At 2012

The A's got a majority of their offensive production from the outfield during their playoff run last year, getting very good seasons from Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick while both were seeing their first full season of regular playing time in the big leagues. The duo spent the majority of the year in the middle of lineup, combining for 55 home runs and 167 runs driven in, while also holding their own defensively.

Josh Reddick led the team in homers and won a Gold Glove in 2012.

Reddick won a Gold Glove for his efforts, showing a propensity to make the highlight-reel catch and gun-down runners with one of the best throwing arms in the game. Cespedes started out the year in center field and experienced some growing pains, and eventually moved to left field to allow Coco Crisp to move back to center, taking some of the wear and tear off Cespedes' body.

As it turned out, Crisp's defense in center field was a gift and a curse for the A's. While he was outstanding for a majority of the year - including a home run-robbing catch in the first inning of Game 3 of the divisional series – his defensive gaff might have cost Oakland a trip to the ALCS against the struggling New York Yankees. In Game 2 in Detroit, Crisp's misplay on a shallow fly ball turned out to be a decisive play in the game and the series. With the way the Yankees were hitting at that point in October, it's not unreasonable to think winning that game against the Tigers could have eventually led to a World Series berth against the Bay Area-rival Giants.

Crisp struggled at the plate during the majority of the season's first half, leading some to believe a change of scenery might be in the cards considering the A's depth in the outfield. The club elected not to move the veteran and keep him atop the lineup. Clearly it paid off, as Crisp went on to post an 859 OPS and he scored 45 runs in the second half of the year when he catalyzed the resurgent offense.

The A's lineup had a considerably different feel when he was out dealing with lower-leg injuries and pink eye late in the year. As important as the misplayed pop fly was in Game 2 against Detroit, the A's might not have gotten to a Game 5 without his game-winning RBI in the ninth inning of Game 4.

Coco Crisp came on offensively during the second half of the 2012 season.

Fourth and fifth outfielders Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith also played well for the A's in manager Bob Melvin's continuously makeshift lineup. The two spent time platooning in the designated hitter role and made late-inning appearances off the bench.

Gomes was especially effective in his at-bats against left-handed pitching with a 974 OPS and 11 of his 18 homers. The Petaluma native played in just 99 games, making only 333 plate appearances. Expand those numbers to full season's worth of work, and clear why the Red Sox decided to give him a two-year, $10 million deal to play in front of the Green Monster in a more expanded role than Oakland would have provided.

Smith found himself getting on base at an extraordinarily high rate early on with a .350 clip despite just a .244 average in the first half of the year. But that production slipped considerably when Brandon Moss and Chris Carter began cutting into his at-bats with their run in the second half. Smith hit just .228 in the season's final three months, but did contribute six home runs in 49 games. A hamstring injury cut into his playing time late in the summer.


Good-bye And Hello

Although Gomes was one of the team's most productive players, his loss to Boston might be felt more in the clubhouse than on the field. The boisterous veteran became a leader and important figure to a number of the club's young players, including Reddick, who figures to take over a similar clubhouse role in 2013. Without Gomes, the team could lack a veteran voice that helped give the team its identity and soul on the way to its playoff run in 2012.

Jonny Gomes' presence in the clubhouse will be missed.

To replace Gomes, the A's brass brought in Chris Young in a three-way trade with Arizona and Miami, sending Cliff Pennington to the D-Backs and shortstop prospect Yordy Cabrera to the Marlins. Young might be a more subdued personality than Gomes, but he boasts the athleticism and versatility to play all three outfield positions, which Gomes couldn't do. That versatility – and ability to hit left-handed pitching – will help Young get plenty of at-bats and help spell Cespedes, Crisp and Reddick from having to play in the outfield every day.

Although Reddick's 2012 saw him hit 32 home runs, win a Gold Glove and emerge as one of the team's rising stars, his production slipped in the second half of the season and he really struggled against lefties, getting on base at just a .277 clip on the year. He was virtually non-existent in the playoffs, going just 2-for-18 with 10 strikeouts. Young could take some starts away from Reddick against left-handed starters considering his 860 career OPS against southpaws.

Chris Young will fill multiple roles for the A's.

Given his slight build and all-out style of play, Reddick could see a boost in his production in the long haul with more days off. And although Young has never played anywhere but center field, he possess a level of athleticism that should have no problem translating to right or left. Young's addition to the roster could also mean more DH chances for Crisp and Cespedes to keep their legs fresh. Although he had a down season last year, Young put up career numbers with Melvin as his manager in 2007, when he hit 32 home runs and stole 27 bases.

The other outfielder to leave the club was Collin Cowgill, who was traded to the Mets for corner infield prospect Jefry Marte. Cowgill was always a favorite of Melvin and the front office for the energy he brought to the team and the versatility to play all three outfield positions at a high level.

The A's could afford to keep seven outfielders on the roster when the team only needed four starting pitchers early in the year. But Cowgill's hamstring injury late in a June loss to the Giants derailed his season and forced him to get the majority of his at-bats with Triple-A Sacramento. He still provided depth and a pinch-running option late in the year, but the club elected to send him somewhere he would have a better chance at consistent at-bats.


Outfielders Invited To Camp

Yoenis Cespedes*
Coco Crisp*
Shane Peterson*
Josh Reddick*
Seth Smith*
Michael Taylor*
Chris Young*
Michael Choice

*Denotes player on 40-man roster

Numbers Of Outfielders Likely On Roster: 5


Lock To Make The Team

Cespedes, Crisp and Reddick are likely to get the majority of starts in the A's outfield. Without a high level of production from these three, it's very unlikely Oakland will be able to repeat as division champions.

Reddick's ability to adjust away from his pull-happy habits will go a long way toward avoiding regression from his breakout 2012. He will need to improve his pitch selection and approach to the opposite field. He may never get on base at a good clip, but if he can hit 25 home runs and continue to play great defense on a consistent basis, the A's can work around his lack of patience. (He reached base at a .305 mark in 2012.)

Yoenis Cespedes will be counted on for another big season.

Cespedes will also be looking to avoid any regression after his outstanding rookie campaign. Had it not been for MVP runner-up Mike Trout, Cespedes would have been the clear-cut Rookie of the Year in any other season. His .292/.356/.505 slash line and 137 OPS+ to pair with his physical abilities should make him one of the game's most electric players. Melvin has said the sky is the limit for Cespedes, but he will need to keep refining his approach – much like he did throughout 2012 – if he hopes to avoid a falloff in his sophomore season.

At FanFest, Cespedes told reporters he has changed his offseason regimen to include more stretching to help prepare him for the rigorous 162-game schedule. He should benefit greatly from the addition of Young and a more defined role as a left fielder that doesn't have to worry about the physical toll of playing center.


Favorites For the Final Spots

Seth Smith will see the majority of his at-bats against righties.

Barring injury, Young and Smith should be considered locks to make the 25-man roster out of camp. But look for look for Smith to get his at-bats almost exclusively against right-handers. His 2012 season splits were consistent with his career numbers, as he had a 521 OPS against lefties and an 805 numbers against righties. That makes him an ideal candidate to come off the bench in late-game situations or DH against right-handed starters.

Melvin has indicated early on that he plans to find 400 at-bats for Young, meaning he will be very much in the fold for designated hitter at-bats if he's not playing in the field to spell one of the regulars.

But depending on what happens with first base and with the newly acquired Jed Lowrie, look for Smith and Young to platoon at designated hitter for most of the season depending on the opponent's starting pitcher.


Battling For A Spot

It's become a tradition every February, but once again Michael Taylor is in a position to prove something to the organization, or to other teams looking for a corner outfielder with his type of potential. Taylor comes into the season with yet another approach, understanding that he will need to hit the ball out of the ballpark if he wants a shot at the major leagues.

Can Michael Taylor have a Chris Carter-like breakthrough in the big leagues this season?

Last season was one of his best in Triple-A, as Taylor hit .287/.405/.441 with 12 homers, 31 doubles and 18 stolen bases. He's done everything but prove he has the power to play the position in the show.

At FanFest, he discussed his renewed approach to hit the long the ball on pitches out over the plate instead of letting pitches get deep and take them the other way for a single. In some respects, Taylor's hitting ability over the last couple of seasons would be more suited to a speedy top-of-the-order-type hitter, rather than a hulking, 6-foot-5 corner outfielder.

His identity crisis in the batters box has been one of the biggest reasons he hasn't gotten any consistent at-bats in Oakland since making his debut late in 2011. It would likely take an injury or trade for him to land on the 25-man roster, but he has always possessed the talent to make him worth keeping around in case he runs into a hot streak where he can consistently show off the power he should have given his size.

Then there is Grant Green. Although he has spent the offseason working at second base, the club hasn't ruled out him potentially playing the outfield if that's how things shake out. Green's bat has progressed nicely throughout his time in the minor leagues and should be major league-ready at some point this season, regardless of what position he is playing.

Grant Green could factor in a lot of scenarios for the A's this season.

His improved plate discipline and quick hands should translate to hitter that could flirt with the .300 mark for years to come, which could make it tough to keep him out of the major leagues.

The A's have continually made the point that Green's versatility remains a big asset going forward. If the team decides that his bat is one of the best nine in the organization, then Melvin will find a way to get him at-bats, even if it means playing some left or center field rather than second base. It's more likely he will be in the fold at second this spring, but an injury or trade could allow him to play some outfield at some point this summer.

If one of the other more natural second basemen emerge, then Green could be an interesting trade chip for a club willing to take a chance on his bat, despite not having a defined position.


Looking to Make An Impression

This is Shane Peterson's first season as a roster player.

Shane Peterson had a great second half of the 2012 season for the River Cats when promoted from Double-A Midland. After a very solid 48 games with the Rockhounds, he tore up the Pacific Coast League to the tune of .389/.484/.618, getting 51 hits in 39 games. While that incredibly hot run was likely a deviation from the norm, the organization has always been high on Peterson since acquiring him from St. Louis as one of three players in the return for Matt Holliday.

The former second round pick has always been regarded as a promising offensive player, but his physical tools have held him back some. He doesn't quite have the speed to be viewed as a potential major league center fielder and doesn't have the power that translates to a corner outfield position. If Peterson wants to become more than a career Triple-A player, he will have to continue to get on base at a great clip and force the organization's hand.

If there's a comparison to be made, it's that Peterson's ceiling is very much like Daric Barton's, whose 2010 made him one of the club's most valuable players, getting on base at a .393 mark thanks to 110 walks. Peterson could be capable of something similar, but the opportunity is unlikely to be there given the talent in front of him in the outfield position. But don't be surprised if he makes his major league debut at some point this summer if the injury bug hits. Peterson does offer some versatility, as he is a solid defender at first base, as well as in the outfield.


Here For The Future

Former 10th-overall selection Michael Choice will be making an appearance in major league camp this spring. After playing well in big league camp the past two years, he is looking to show the coaching staff that he could be an option for them during the 2013 season, should the need arise. His 30-home run performance in his first full season as a pro in 2011 with High-A Stockton solidified his standing as the organization's most talented power threat with Chris Carter gone.

Michael Choice's time in the big leagues is coming soon.

Choice was the A's representative in the MLB Futures Game during the All-Star break last year. He got off to a slow start in the notoriously tough Texas League, but started to turn things on as the summer progressed. In 62 July at-bats, Choice slugged .435/.493/.710 with 27 hits in his 16 games, including four homers after hitting just six in the previous three months combined.

Unfortunately for Choice, a broken hand ended his season early and prevented him from building on that run through the second half of July and August, and a potential Triple-A promotion for the playoffs. This year, Choice is likely to start out in Sacramento, where he will have plenty of time to season his approach and build confidence in the confines of the PCL.

Choice possesses an ideal combination of speed and power, giving him as much upside as any A's prospect in recent seasons. And having spent his entire career in center field, Choice could be in the fold for that job with the A's in 2014, if the A's decide not to retain Crisp or Young. Regardless, Choice will have the opportunity to learn a lot from major leaguers with similar skill sets, like Cespedes, Young and Reddick, this spring.

The A's have the luxury of not having to rush Choice given the players currently ahead of him, which takes pressure off of him and could allow him to absorb the process and maximize his potential. But the A's brass did trade some talented young prospects for major league help this off-season, and Choice will likely be the club's top trade chip come July should the team be looking to make a serious upgrade on the major league roster for a playoff push.

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