March 17, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima (3) makes the play for the out against the Chicago Cubs in the third inning during a spring training game at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Dog Days of March and What's Left to Determine

Normally as the month of March moves into its 20’s, just about everyone who plays, watches, listens, or pays any attention to Spring Training baseball is desperately ready for it to end.  For the most part guys are just about in game condition and ready to start the regular season, but unfortunately for them they have another week in either Florida or Arizona to continue their preparations and most importantly not injure themselves.

This year’s Spring Training is that much worse with the extra week to allow for the World Baseball Classic.  Since none of the Athletics were involved in the WBC, this Cactus League has to feel extra tedious for them.  So with one week left before teams break camp and head back home for a few remaining exhibition games, what is left to be done at Phoenix Muni for the Oakland Athletics?  There are certainly some decisions left to be made.

Who will fill out the middle infield?

Aside from Jed Lowrie, there hasn’t been much to be impressed with from within the ranks of the middle infielders thought to be vying for playing time at second base and shortstop.  Hiroyuki Nakajima was slated to be the everyday shortstop at the beginning of camp, but his performance has apparently made the Athletics question that decision according to John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group.  Nakajima has begun to take some grounders at 3rd and at 2nd base, so a little bit of added versatility for Hiro cannot hurt.  Right now it looks like Lowrie has the leg up for the starting shortstop job.  At second base, it was presumed that Scott Sizemore would get the first chance to start, with Jemile Weeks on the outside looking in.  But Scott Sizemore has struggled and looks like he may need some more time than even this extended spring can provide to get his timing back after missing the 2012 season.  Jemile Weeks missed time during the spring with a shoulder injury, but has been much more productive then he was last year at any point.  Then there’s Eric Sogard, he of the over .500 batting average this spring (I know, batting average…), who seems like he may have forced his way into the conversation for playing time in the middle infield, whether he really gets that shot still remains to be seen.  Then we also have Adam Rosales, Andy Parrino, and Grant Green who are all having productive springs as well.  Needless to say the A’s have depth at these two positions, and it’s up to them to make the most of it.

How will outfield playing time be divided?

It’s much easier during spring with the presence of split squad and minor league games to ensure everyone gets the at bats they need to get themselves up to speed.  Once the regular season starts, the roster is down to 25, and there is only one game to get at bats in.  Chances are that the foursome of Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, and Chris Young will function as a unit that will rotate through the 3 outfield positions and the DH spot.  That doesn’t leave much space for Seth Smith, but he’s too talented to be riding the pine too much.  Shane Peterson has also made quite a statement this spring, and has to be in the conversation for the Athletics outfield.  Undoubtedly he’ll start the season in Sacramento with the River Cats (I spelled it correctly, so don’t fine me), but he can probably be considered the A’s 6th outfielder.

Who will occupy the back end of the bullpen?

The high leverage relievers like Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Pat Neshek and Jerry Blevins are all pretty much set in their roles and have nothing to fear about making the 25 man roster.  But there are a number of relievers who are battling it out for a chance to head to Oakland and help provide depth for the A’s bullpen.  Chris Resop, Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa, Jordan Norberto, Hideki Okajima, Mike Ekstrom and Travis Blackley will have to battle it out for probably three remaining spots.  It appears as if Resop has the inside track to making the team, so he can probably relax a bit more than the rest of the group.  Chances are that would send Scribner to Sacramento as a result.  Jordan Norberto and Hideki Okajima are likely battling for the last middle reliever role, and chances are slim that both of them would make the team considering they’re both lefties and the A’s already have two established lefty relievers in their pen.  Travis Blackley might be the toughest decision of them all.  He’s an admitted sentimental favorite, but his performance in the spring has been far from reassuring.  His fate will rest on how Bob Melvin weighs Blackley’s performance from 2012 versus his performance this spring.  Perhaps the need for a long reliever/spot starter though could negate any concerns about his spring performance.  The likes of Ekstrom and Figueroa are probably destined for Sacramento as well.

There isn’t much to get excited about right now as the Cactus League enters its final week, aside from the eternal desire to defeat the San Francisco Giants when they play on Saturday.  The main objective of course is to not injure themselves, and simply be ready to put the petal to the metal on April 1st against the Seattle Mariners.  Opening Day is so close we can taste it, and I’m already thinking about what to wear to the O.co Coliseum for the first game.

Tags: Eric Sogard Hiroyuki Nakajima Oakland Athletics Shane Peterson Travis Blackley

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