When the Oakland Athletics dedicate Rickey Henderson Field at the Coliseum on April 3, Franklin Barreto — the club’s unofficial Cactus League MVP — won’t be among the 25 players standing along the third-base line, decked out in white jerseys, white cleats and green-and-gold caps.
On Friday, some two weeks before the team begins its season by hosting the Los Angeles Angels on opening night, Barreto was one of three prospects jettisoned to minor league camp.
Even though Barreto, the 21-year-old shortstop and sometimes second baseman, made a resounding impression in Mesa — a .481 average in 16 games — he was always a mortal lock to begin the season in the minors. The reality is that Marcus Semien is entrenched at short, and the Venezuelan infielder has tallied just 17 Triple-A at bats.
“There’s not much this guy can’t do,” manager Bob Melvin told CSN Bay Area. “Really, the only question is when, not if.”
Along with fellow A’s farmhand Matt Chapman and Christian Arroyo — the top-rated position player in the San Francisco Giants’ minor league system — Barreto forms one-third of the triumvirate of Bay Area infield prospects poised to become future stars.
A stint with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds figures to be the final staging post for Barreto, who was the crown jewel of the Josh Donaldson deal. The Toronto Blue Jays signed Barreto as a prospect from Caracas in July of 2012.
“He’s some kind of special talent,” catcher Stephen Vogt told CSN Bay Area. “He’s obviously shown what he’s capable of and is going to be a very, very good player for a long time. He’s just a confident, quiet, really nice kid. It’s fun to watch him play.”
The route for Barreto’s ascension to Oakland has already been laid. While it’s difficult to envision Barreto deposing Semien at shortstop after the incumbent clubbed 27 home runs in 2016, second base — where the prospect has made seven appearances this spring — could soon be vacant.
Jed Lowrie is playing on an expiring deal (the A’s have a club option for 2018), making the veteran an obvious July trade candidate for a team in the midst of an extended rebuild, reeling from back-to-back fifth-place finishes.
Chapman’s path to Oakland — and a regular big-league spot — is less clear. The 23-year-old, who MLB.com ranks as the second-best position player and fourth best prospect in the A’s system, is stuck behind Trevor Plouffe and 2016 surprise standout Ryon Healy on the third-base depth chart.
Heralded as a future Gold Glover, Chapman, a former college pitcher, already has the arm and defensive skills to stick in Oakland. His bat, even accounting for his unassailable power — Chapman slammed 36 homers in the minors last season — still has a worrying hole.
While splitting 2016 with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds and the Sounds, Chapman piled up 173 strikeouts in 589 plate appearances, punching out 29.4 percent of the time.
Early in the spring, before the Cactus League began (Chapman has eight strikeouts in 24 at bats as of Friday), general manager David Forst underscored the fact that the third baseman still has work to do.
“I don’t know what his timeframe is as far as getting to the big leagues,” Forst told CSN Bay Area. “But it’s clear from a development standpoint he still needs some time at Triple-A.”
Over in Scottsdale, Arroyo also has a road block or two to overcome before arriving in the majors. Unlike the pair of A’s, Arroyo, who doesn’t even turn 22 until the end of May, has never appeared in a Triple-A game.
A shortstop by trade, who has moonlighted at second and third base, Arroyo spent last season with the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels. In the Eastern League — where Arroyo was 3.3 years younger than the average player, per Baseball-Reference.com — the infielder hit .274 with 36 doubles but clubbed just three home runs.
For now, the final rung of the minor league ladder calls, but like Barreto and Chapman, Arroyo is on the cusp of his first major league shot.
“He might be a guy this season if there’s an injury or there’s an opportunity with somebody struggling and there’s an opportunity with everyday at-bats, then you make that call and bring him up,” GM Bobby Evans told CSN Bay Area. “But you probably at least give him some time in Triple-A to start the year.”