MESA, Arizona. – With more than 23 new players on the roster and positional players reporting for camp on Monday, the Oakland Athletics are emphasizing three main points this spring: patience, competition and improvement.
After a 2022 season where the Athletics went 60-102 and finished last in the American League West, improvement is a must.
However, with new players and a long list of enthusiastic prospects, manager Mark Kotsay said morale is high and the team is ready to get started.
“I feel a little different today,” Kotsay said before practice. “First day with the full squad, lots of new faces and I think there’s a lot of excitement about how things are going.”
Takeover by a free agency Jesús Aguilar, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract last month, agreed, speaking highly of the energy around the clubhouse after just one day of practice.
“It’s a special group,” said the first baseman with a grin. “It’s a lot of energy. Baseball is back, so I feel good, and I think most guys feel like me.”
Other additions include veteran utility players Jace Peterson and Aledmys Díaz, and outfielder JJ Bleday, acquired in the trade that sent AJ Puk to Miami.
Of the 68 men scheduled to appear at Hohokam Stadium on Monday morning, only one player was missing: outfielder Vicmal De La Cruz, who according to Kotsay has problems with his visa.
For the rest of the team, the morning consisted of bullpens, live batting drills and other standard drills, giving the coaching staff a first look at the new positional gains. In general, the coaches seemed content during the drills, occasionally giving a nod, a high five, and a smile.
“We try to create environments where players can interact with each other, and you can see how they interact with each other, cooperate through the fundamental exercises and have fun,” said Kotsay, who will be important in team happiness before the start of the season. spring training. games on February 25.
It’s still early days to finalize a roster, but Kotsay said he expects versatility to be a strength heading into the regular season. For now, he’s focusing on figuring out who’s going where with all the new additions and where returning players fit in.
Looking at the first base line, Aguilar may be the obvious choice, but he will have to improve on his poor season last year when he hit .230 compared to his career average of .254. He has been brought in to help lead offensive production for a team that struggled to score points last season and be a clubhouse veteran.
But Aguilar himself said staying healthy will be his number one priority. In 2021 and 2020 he missed games with knee and back injuries.
“If I stay healthy, I can do a lot of good things,” Aguilar said. “The most important thing for me is just being (here) every day and helping the team win more games.”
Pushing Aguilar to first base will be a familiar face, Seth Brown, who appeared in 84 games there last season and played 77 more in the outfield, leading the 2022 A’s with 25 home runs. Ryan Noda, who picked up the team in the Rule 5 draft, is also in the mix at first base.
Kotsay said he expects Brown to redistribute his playing time this season and said there will be competition in the outfield as well. The list includes returnees Cristian Pache, Ramón Laureano and new signings Esteury Ruiz, acquired in the Sean Murphy trade, along with the adaptable Peterson and Díaz.
“There are a few outfielders who have married the outfield, but not one position,” Kotsay said. “It’s a pretty versatile squad at the moment.”
One of the safer positions on the team is second base, where former World Series winner and three-year athletic Tony Kemp gets credit for starting the year, but Kotsay said it’s too early to commit anything.
Peterson, the former Brewer who hits well against right-handed pitchers, will compete for the third base starting spot with Jonah Bride, who last year played in 58 games for the A’s and batted .204, and Jordan Diaz, who spent most of his season 2022 at the minors.
As shortstop, 22-year-old Nick Allen returns, accompanied by newcomer Díaz. Allen made his debut and played in 100 games last year for the A’s between short and second base, but his .207 batting average left room for competition. Díaz, who was with the Braves, batted in 38 RBIs, had 12 hits and a .243 batting average over 92 games.
As with Aguilar, Díaz will be relied upon to provide attack power.
There are also a handful of other players in the camp, such as Brent Rooker, Conner Capel and Jordan Díaz, who may not be quite ready for the big leagues yet, but will still have a chance to fight for a spot.
“The young talent we acquired will have the opportunity to go out and compete for jobs,” said Kotsay. “Guys who really didn’t play a day-to-day role at this club last year came into the camp and tried to compete.”
Aguilar said he was hopeful about the roster the team has built and feels there is a good mix of young players and veterans to improve on last year’s result.
“The most important thing for me is to bring new energy every day,” said Aguilar. “We have a great group of young guys on the team, and I think we can make a really good mix between veterans and young guys, and (I) just came here to help the team win games.”