Around the Horn: Corner infield
A's set at third base with Donaldson; Moss may platoon at first
This is the second in a seven-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at Oakland's projected starters and backup options heading into the new season. Today: Corner infield.
OAKLAND -- Can Brandon Moss hold down everyday duties at first base, or will the A's again employ a platoon there this year?
That question may not be answered by the end of Spring Training, but the six-week preseason at least figures to offer more insight into the A's plans for Moss.
This much is clear: The 30-year-old late-bloomer will at least be given the majority of playing time at the position, which lacked some serious power before his arrival in 2012 via a Minor League deal. Since, he's hit 51 homers and driven in 139 runs in just 711 at-bats, becoming the poster boy for an A's system that extracts value from, well, undervalued players.
"We just try to make sure guys are given the opportunity that lets them have the best chance of succeeding," A's general manager Billy Beane has said. "It's pretty Darwinian. If you're good against left-handers, you'll play against left-handers. If you're good against right-handers, you'll play against them. It's really about production."
The A's have managed to squeeze a lot out of Moss in little time, and his raw power makes him a likable candidate for an everyday player. But his past struggles against lefties can't be dismissed.
Moss hit .268 vs. right-handers, compared to .200 against southpaws, last year, with 26 of his 30 home runs coming off righties. He struck out in nearly half (38) of his 80 at-bats with a left-hander on the mound.
"I think he has the ability to play every day," said manager Bob Melvin. "Some days he struggled some against left-handers and Nate Freiman did great in the role we had for him. He gave Brandon some time off. It just depends who we have to match up with him."
It likely won't be Freiman again in 2014, despite a nice showing from the Rule 5 Draft pick in 2013. As a rookie, Freiman hit .274 with four homers and 24 RBIs in 190 at-bats over 80 games. He started 48 of them against left-handers, hitting .304, and only two vs. a right-hander.
Freiman did his job well, providing a right-handed replacement at first base for the departed Chris Carter. But there simply may not be room for a true backup first baseman this time, leaving Daric Barton's place on the roster muddled, too.
The A's are bringing back their entire infield from last year, and they've also added Nick Punto to the mix. Punto is essentially guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster next to Moss, Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie and Alberto Callaspo. The A's are likely to also carry Eric Sogard as a complement to Punto at second base, which would keep Freiman and Barton in the Minors.
That's why the switch-hitting Callaspo is expected to see playing time at first base this spring, presumably against left-handers.
"Unfortunately for a guy like Callaspo, he can do everything," said Melvin. "He was an everyday third baseman. He's played second in his career. And who knows, we might have him play a little bit of first base, too. He can hit. And whether he's starting or not, he's also a weapon coming off the bench. So for him, it will be kind of the same as far as the role goes, but even adding a potential position."
Donaldson's future is less fuzzy.
After converting from catcher to a third baseman during the spring of 2012, Donaldson established himself as one of the top third basemen in the league one year later, batting .301 with 24 homers and 93 RBIs in 158 games in a breakout 2013 campaign that also showcased a spectacular defensive performance.
Donaldson, who finished fourth in AL MVP voting, seems to be the answer to Oakland's long-awaited prayer for a third baseman. One too many average stopgaps paraded through Oakland following Eric Chavez's final injury-ridden days with the A's, but in Donaldson the team has seemingly stumbled upon its long-term solution.
Durability was on Donaldson's side in 2013, a key ingredient to his success. Expect his off-days to again be far and few between this year, with Callaspo acting as his primary backup.
Together, Donaldson and Moss form an enviable corner-infield duo with plenty power at an affordable price, and continued consistency from them will be crucial to Oakland's patchwork lineup this year.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.