1

Yoenis Cespedes shows up to take physical, will join A’s on Sunday

Well, Yoenis Cespedes arrived to A’s camp Saturday — sort of. He showed up to take his physical and met a few people, but the team isn’t announcing he has joined the team yet. Passing his physical is the last step for the Cuban outfielder’s four-year, $36 million deal to be finalized. It’s rather odd to see a player walk into the clubhouse, shake some hands, but no one is officially acknowledging his existence. At any rate, Cespedes missed the first two weeks of spring training while awaiting his visa paperwork to be processed. He will join his teammates on the field Sunday and address the media for the first time. Players were having fun with his arrival. “It’s a big day for you guys,” Jonny Gomes joked to writers, knowing full well how much ink Cespedes has received before he even showed up.

In other news, A’s manager Bob Melvin discussed his closer situation and said that choosing a ninth-inning man will depend partly on what the full composition of the bullpen looks like. He said spring results for veterans such as Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes won’t factor so much into the decision because of those pitchers’ vast experience. He stopped short of labeling those two front runners to be closer. Fautino De Los Santos and Joey Devine are also under consideration.

But one factor in the decision will be how many left-handed relievers the A’s break camp with. If Fuentes is the only lefty in the bullpen, for example, it might be tough to use him as closer because he might be needed for matchup situations earlier in the game. And that will take some time to play out. Jerry Blevins, Jordan Norberto and Pedro Figueroa, who has impressed early, are all lefty relievers who are legitimate candidates to make the team.

Manny Ramirez originally was going to serve as D.H. on Sunday against the Cubs in Mesa. Instead, Chris Carter will play that entire game at D.H. and Ramirez will start Monday’s split-squad home game against the Angels. “Carter’s the one guy, he had just one at-bat (Friday) and he’s not starting (Saturday),” Melvin said. “So I’ll give him several at-bats (Sunday).”

First baseman Daric Barton had an MRI on his surgically repaired right shoulder, which will delay his throwing program and likely hinder his chances in the first base competition. Barton said he started feeling sore recently as his throwing increased. After missing a couple of days, he was back doing infield work Saturday morning. He is scheduled to swing the bat Sunday and might be available to DH on Monday.”It’s good to be back on the field and be a part of the team again,” Barton said.

We’re off to Peoria for this afternoon’s game against (who else!!) the Mariners. It’s one of the longer Cactus League road trips for the A’s. Surprise Stadium, spring home of the Rangers and Royals, still takes the prize for longest drive from A’s headquarters.

6

De Los Santos shapes up as key man in A’s bullpen

Three days until the A’s first full-squad workout. Here’s the morning update …

The bullpen holds some mystery for the A’s this spring, but manager Bob Melvin expects right-hander Fautino De Los Santos to play a key role one way or another. De Los Santos went 3-2 with a 4.32 ERA in 34 games as a rookie last season, notching 43 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings.

“This is a big year for him,” Melvin said. “We’re not targeting him (for a specific role yet) … But now there’s a little bit more of target on him in that we expect big things out of him.” De Los Santos primarily needs to continue developing his slider to complement a high-90s fastball, Melvin said. But De Los Santos also must cut down walks and hold runners better.

Another reliever in camp, lefty Jordan Norberto, could also land a spot in the bullpen. He was acquired last season from Arizona in the Brad Ziegler trade but struggled with his command. Norberto worked as a starter in the Dominican Winter League this past offseason but has primarily been a reliever since 2008. Melvin mentioned the possibility of experimenting with Norberto as a starter in the minors if he doesn’t make the big league club out of camp.

–As for the A’s rotation, it’s shaping up to be right-handed heavy no matter who the five starters are. If Dallas Braden were to begin the season on the disabled list, Tom Milone is the only left-handed starting candidate currently in camp. Melvin doesn’t see it as a big issue. He said the five best pitchers will land in the rotation, and if it’s five right-handers, so be it …

–Melvin likes what he sees so far from Sean Doolittle, the injury-riddled first baseman trying to make a comeback as a pitcher. Doolittle was a stellar pitcher/first baseman for the University of Virginia but the A’s converted him to a full-time position player upon drafting him. Melvin said he’s particularly impressed with how still Doolittle keeps his head through his delivery, which should help his command. “For a guy who hasn’t pitched a whole lot, that impressed me,” Melvin said.

0

A’s manager Bob Melvin talks pitcher/catcher relationship, and the search for a closer

On the first day that pitchers and catchers worked out, A’s manager Bob Melvin had a predictable topic in his team meeting Sunday. “The message today was about the pitcher/catcher relationship, we’re trying to cultivate that,” said Melvin, a former catcher with the Giants. “The catchers are an extension of the pitchers. We want our guys to feel like when the pitcher gives up a run, that’s their run. That’s their ERA.”

The A’s had an opportunity to begin camp about a week earlier than they did, due to their early season opener against Seattle on March 28 in Tokyo. The Mariners opted to take advantage of that time and report earlier. Melvin defended the A’s decision not to, saying there’s sufficient time to get everyone ready. “You can do all the work like this to get their arms ready and so forth, but it’s when you get into games that you really start to find out about people,” he said. “We didn’t feel like we needed to go too early. We’re talking about two regular-season games (in Japan).”

And Melvin was asked again about the closer’s position, which is sure to be a hot topic in coming weeks. The A’s need to identify a ninth-inning man since Andrew Bailey was traded in the winter. “The obvious choices are (Grant) Balfour and (Brian) Fuentes,” Melvin said. “Those are guys in the past that we’ve used to get key outs in earlier innings, too. We do have talented guys like (Joey) Devine and (Fautino) De Los Santos. We have several guys capable of doing it, but we’ll take our time choosing that guy.”

0

Bob Melvin talks pitcher/catcher relationship, and the search for a closer

On the first day that pitchers and catchers worked out, A’s manager Bob Melvin had a predictable topic in his team meeting Sunday. “The message today was about the pitcher/catcher relationship, we’re trying to cultivate that,” said Melvin, a former catcher with the Giants. “The catchers are an extension of the pitchers. We want our guys to feel like when the pitcher gives up a run, that’s their run. That’s their ERA.”

The A’s had an opportunity to begin camp about a week earlier than they did, due to their early season opener against Seattle on March 28 in Tokyo. The Mariners opted to take advantage of that time and report earlier. Melvin defended the A’s decision not to, saying there’s sufficient time to get everyone ready. “You can do all the work like this to get their arms ready and so forth, but it’s when you get into games that you really start to find out about people,” he said. “We didn’t feel like we needed to go too early. We’re talking about two regular-season games (in Japan).”

And Melvin was asked again about the closer’s position, which is sure to be a hot topic in coming weeks. The A’s need to identify a ninth-inning man since Andrew Bailey was traded in the winter. “The obvious choices are (Grant) Balfour and (Brian) Fuentes,” Melvin said. “Those are guys in the past that we’ve used to get key outs in earlier innings, too. We do have talented guys like (Joey) Devine and (Fautino) De Los Santos. We have several guys capable of doing it, but we’ll take our time choosing that guy.”

6

More on McCarthy, Ross and the A’s bullpen situation

Checking in from AT&T Park, where the outlook for the A’s sure looks different than it did just a day ago …

–Brandon McCarthy said he knew in the three or four days leading up to Wednesday’s start that his shoulder wasn’t feeling right. But he knew he could get through the start, so the plan was to get his shoulder checked by a doctor Thursday morning, which he did. That appointment showed what appears to be a stress reaction – the precursor to a fracture. McCarthy is hopeful of being able to throw again within a two-week period, but he says it will depend on how he feels. Last year, he had a similar injury and tried pitching through it. He eventually missed an extra 1 ½ months because of that, and he hopes by shutting it down now, he’s nipping the problem in the bud. “It’s either stop it at the beginning and try to catch it early, or play it out until you have to stop and possibly miss more of the season,” McCarthy said. The big question: By pitching Wednesday, did McCarthy make his shoulder worse? He said he doesn’t believe that to be the case, and that the pain while pitching in games is bearable. It’s the discomfort between starts, and not being able to work out, that’s most difficult.

–As for Tyson Ross, his MRI today showed he’s got a Grade 2 oblique strain in his left side, which is considered moderate on a scale of 1-3. He said he was told he could be pitching in games again in about two weeks, but obviously it’s a very fluid situation. “You’ve got to stay on top of these things, it’s easy to re-injure it. You’ve got to let it heal and take your time,” Ross said.

Overall, the early prognosis for both McCarthy and Ross could have been worse. But anyone who’s followed the A’s in recent seasons knows that their injuries tend to linger, and setbacks occur. So there’s no clear indication when the A’s will get their two starters back. The A’s will need to call up starters for Monday and Tuesday against the Angels, and manager Bob Geren confirmed that Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso are two pitchers at Triple-A being considered.

–On the flip side of that bad news, reliever Joey Devine is back in the majors after missing the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons recovering from elbow surgery. He’s thrilled to be back, understandably. “It’s been a long while,” Devine said. “It feels good, feels like things are starting to come together. It feels like all the time and patience is starting to pay off.” And he’s still beaming from the birth of his son, Mason Joseph, on April 11. Geren said he’s happy with his late-inning relievers right now, but that Devine could be an option in the late innings if he proves effective. You can bet that Devine will start getting the call in the eighth and ninth innings if he has a couple of good outings right away. With Andrew Bailey still sidelined, you can’t waste an arm like Devine’s strictly in middle relief situations. Oakland’s bullpen has shown vulnerability and was in need of some new blood.

–Another reliever called up today, Fautino De Los Santos, is making his first appearance in the big leagues. He also has made the long road back from “Tommy John” elbow surgery, like Devine, and his fastball has been touching 99 miles per hour. Watching him figures to be like watching Henry Rodriguez, where you’re checking the radar gun every time the ball pops the catcher’s mitt. De Los Santos, speaking through a translator, says he also throws a slider, sinker and changeup.

Finally, tonight’s lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, Barton 1B, DeJesus RF, Willingham LF, Suzuki C, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Giants – Torres CF, Sanchez 2B, Huff 1B, Posey C, Schierholtz RF, Ross LF, Fontenot SS, Tejada 3B, Vogelsong RHP.

4

Updates on some top Oakland A’s prospects

With two weeks left until spring training begins, it’s a good time for an update on some of the A’s top prospects. As I did last year, I stuck to those who were active over the offseason – either playing winter ball somewhere or participating in the Arizona Fall League or the A’s instructional league program. I sought out the team’s director of player personnel, Billy Owens, who spends much of his winter evaluating the A’s top young players. Owens offered a few of his thoughts (only after he got done scouting super prospect Bryce Harper in a junior college game. Owens has no offseason, I tell you).

Baseball America recently ranked the A’s top 10 prospects, which you can read about. The players below are listed in no particular order. I put an (*) next to those who will be in major league spring camp. You’ll notice a common thread: Most of these guys are crossing their fingers for better health in 2010 …

–*Jemile Weeks, 2B: The A’s believe Weeks can be a speedy table-setter batting from the first or second spots in the lineup. But his development with the glove probably will determine how quickly he makes the big leagues. Weeks, 23, has logged lots of hours with A’s roving infield instructor Juan Navarrete. A hip-flexor injury delayed the start of his 2009 campaign. “Defensively he made strides (during the Arizona Fall League),” Owens said. “He worked on his pivots at second base and being more aggressive. He’s going to be a catalyst down the road at the top of the order, in the same mold as Ray Durham.”

–*Corey Brown, OF: Knee and shoulder injuries sidetracked his 2009 season at Double-A, but the A’s saw the player Brown can be during the Arizona Fall League. He hit .333 with six homers and 28 RBI in 105 at-bats. A sandwich pick between the first and second rounds in 2007, Brown is a center fielder but can play all three outfield spots well. The A’s love his power and defense, but as Owens says, “His kryptonite can be strikeouts.” Brown, 24, combined for 168 strikeouts in 2008 at two levels of Single-A ball, but he also hit 30 homers that season, so A’s fans may have to take the good with the bad. Brown was extended a non-roster invitation to spring training after fellow outfielder Grant Desme retired.

Michael Ynoa, RHP: Ynoa, now 18, was supposed to make his professional debut last season, but the A’s shut him down due to elbow soreness. His fastball topped out at 94 mph during the Dominican Republic instructional League this winter. Ynoa’s English is improving rapidly, Owens said, and he’ll report for the start of minor league spring training March 7. After participating in extended spring training in April, Ynoa will join either the A’s rookie league team in Phoenix or the short-season Single-A Vancouver squad, assuming all goes well. The A’s are taking it slow with Ynoa, given a $4.25 million signing bonus in 2008.

–*Fautino De Los Santos, RHP: He’s the forgotten man in the Nick Swisher trade. The A’s obtained De Los Santos from the White Sox along with Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney in January 2008. But he missed most of 2009 following elbow ligament replacement surgery. De Los Santos, who turns 24 this month, made seven appearances in rookie ball toward the end of the season, but Owens said he was closer to full strength in November and December. “He didn’t truly dial it up until the Dominican instructional league. The results were very positive. He had a dynamite arm. It came back in full force.”

James Simmons, RHP: Simmons’ rise through the system has been slow considering he began his pro career at Double-A in 2007. A minor shoulder problem set him back last season, when he went 7-7 with a 5.72 ERA at Triple-A. He posted a 1-4 mark and 4.50 ERA in six starts during the Arizona Fall League. “He’s a kid that’s got exquisite fastball command,” Owens said. “His change-up is solid, major league average or above. He’s just been working on that third offering — a breaking pitch, whether it’s a breaking ball, slider or cutter.” Simmons was a non-roster invitee to big league camp each of the last two years, but not this spring.

–*Grant Green, SS: The A’s will get a close-up look at their 2009 first-round pick during spring training. He appeared in five games with Single-A Stockton after signing last summer, then took part in the A’s instructional league after the season. Owens compares Green to the Texas Rangers’ Michael Young, a hitter who can “go gap-to-gap with authority.” The question marks may come on defense, where some think Green might project more as a third baseman.

–*Max Stassi, C: Just eight months after graduating from Yuba City High School, Stassi will report to major league spring camp. It’s likely the A’s just want to give him a taste of big league life. But there’s serious hype around Stassi, whose $1.5 million signing bonus was a record for a fourth-round pick. His father, Jim, was his high school coach, and Owens said it’s obvious Stassi comes from a baseball family. “He’s a student of the game. He has an amazing maturity level for a teenager, from what he showed in instructional league. He was born to catch.”

NOTE: Chris Carter played winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League, but his stint was very short due to illness, so I didn’t include him. Besides, you’ll be reading plenty about Carter come spring training!

3

A’s add Chris Carter to 40-man roster — where does he fit best?

As you all know, the battle at first base will be one of the more interesting storylines for the A’s come spring training. Clearly, they need more pop at the plate from whoever’s playing first. The A’s have a logjam of youngsters at the position, but things would be less crowded if stud hitting prospect Chris Carter could play the outfield adequately. Check out this interview at Minor League Ball, where GM Billy Beane addresses that very topic. He says the ideal scenario would have Carter playing the outfield once he’s brought up to the majors. A couple different A’s officials have told me for some time now that Carter has the tools to be a decent left fielder.   And honestly, would he have to be that great? The A’s have shown they’re willing to use a defensive question mark in the outfield if it means getting a needed bat in the lineup.

Carter, by the way, was added to the A’s 40-man roster Friday, along with pitchers Fautino De Los Santos, Pedro Figueroa and Justin Souza.

But here’s a couple issues to consider: How soon will Carter be ready for the majors? Will one of the other first base candidates – Daric Barton, Sean Doolittle, Tommy Everidge, etc. – hit well enough to allow Carter to play somewhere else? Doolittle missed most of the 2009 season recovering from a tear in his left patella tendon, which he tried to rehab without surgery. He encountered road blocks in his recovery, and scout.com reported that Doolittle recently underwent knee surgery to fix the tear. It’s unknown whether he’ll be ready for the start of spring training.

Let’s remember that Scott Hairston’s status also will affect Carter, if Carter is indeed considered for left field. I honestly don’t have a read on how the A’s feel about Hairston at this point. They gave up three pitchers to get him from San Diego in July, and used him as the regular left fielder when he was healthy. Now Hairston is arbitration-eligible. I see the A’s tendering him a contract, but he got a rather lukewarm endorsement from Beane at the end of the season.

How do you see Carter fitting into the A’s puzzle???

3

Stephen Strasburg playing alongside A’s prospects at Arizona Fall League

If you need a baseball fix (outside of the playoffs) during October or November, the Arizona Fall League is a pretty nice option. It’s a developmental league featuring some of the major leagues’ best young prospects, and runs from Oct. 13-Nov. 6. Games are held at spring training ballparks all over the Phoenix area, and single-game tickets cost no more than $6. Check out rosters here.

The A’s have seven players suiting up for the Phoenix Desert Dogs — second baseman Jemile Weeks; outfielders Corey Brown and Grant Desme; and pitchers James Simmons, Sam Demel, Mickey Storey and Justin Friend. Also playing for the Desert Dogs — pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2009 draft and probably the most hyped draft pick ever. AFL games typically don’t draw much of a crowd, but I’m guessing more fans will show up to see Strasburg.

–A brief update that didn’t make my A’s season wrap-up story: Pitching prospect Michael Ynoa has been doing well in throwing sessions during instructional league in Phoenix, but he won’t throw in any games there. Another right-hander, Fautino De Los Santos, has had complications in his comeback from ligament replacement surgery on his elbow. The A’s were having him undergo more tests this week …

–I’ll be updating the blog throughout the winter, so check back often!!

0

A little more on Michael Ynoa, other A’s prospects

If you haven’t seen it, click here for the story I did today on some of the A’s top hitting prospects. Here’s some updates on a few other players in the farm system. Some names you might be familiar with, others not so much:

RHP Michael Ynoa: The prize of the 2008 international amateur signing class has been slowed by injuries. The A’s shut Ynoa down over the summer as he had elbow soreness, and he’s recently battled tendinitis in one of his knees. But his elbow is doing better and he’s been on a throwing program for the past month, according to Keith Lieppman, the A’s director of player development. Ynoa, who turns 18 in two weeks, has been back home in the Dominican Republic, but he’ll return to Phoenix and participate in the fall instructional league, which starts in about a week. Considering his age, and the $4.25 million bonus he was signed to, the A’s will treat him carefully.

RHP Tyson Ross: There’s nothing flashy about the stats for Ross, the Cal product the A’s took in the second round in 2008. But Lieppman is enthusiastic about Ross’ development in his first full professional season. He began 2009 with Single-A Stockton and received a promotion to Double-A Midland, going a combined 10-10 with a 4.09 ERA to this point. He’s likely to start next season with Midland.

1B Sean Doolittle: Doolittle was limited to 28 games with Triple-A Sacramento because of a torn patella tendon in his left knee. But his recovery is coming along well, according to A’s GM Billy Beane, and the team is hoping to find a place for him to play winter ball. Doolittle made a nice impression with the club during spring training and should figure prominently in the future mix at first base if he rebounds from his knee injury.

OF Matt Spencer: He was one of three players the A’s received from Philadelphia in the Joe Blanton trade, along with pitcher Josh Outman and infielder Adrian Cardenas. Spencer, who hits and throws left-handed, began the year with Stockton and turned heads after his promotion to Midland, hitting .294 with nine homers and 62 RBI in 93 games with the RockHounds.

RHP Fautino De Los Santos: After the long recovery from last season’s Tommy John elbow surgery, De Los Santos threw a little bit for the A’s rookie league team this summer and will continue rounding into form during instructional league. He was acquired along with Ryan Sweeney and Gio Gonzalez from the White Sox in the Nick Swisher deal.

RHP Andrew Carignan: The reliever was deep in the organization’s thoughts when spring training began, but a right shoulder injury sabotaged his season. He didn’t require surgery, but spent the whole season rehabilitating. Carignan will begin throwing again Oct. 1 during instructional league, Lieppman said.

RHP Mickey Storey: Storey was “nowhere on the radar” when the season began, according to Lieppman, but this reliever is climbing rapidly through the system. He began the season as a closer with low Single-A Kane County but is now in Double-A. His combined season stats: A 1.22 ERA with 71 strikeouts and eight walks. Keep an eye on this guy.