Oakland Athletics second baseman Jurickson Profar. (Courtesy Oakland Athletics)

As Oakland Athletics FanFest approaches, A’s welcome new faces

With FanFest scheduled for Saturday in Jack London Square, the Oakland Athletics are less than a month away from opening Spring Training and just under two months away from their first regular season game, which will be played in Japan on March 20 against the Seattle Mariners.

Though there’s plenty of offseason still to go, and though MLB teams have shown a recent tendency to make later and later signings as players begin to accept lower contracts, the A’s still have a few fresh faces to report on that are going to have an opportunity to fill in at positions of critical need.

There’s been far less turnover on the 40-man roster than in a typical year in Oakland, but the biggest change would have to be at second base, where Jed Lowrie is gone and Jurickson Profar has been acquired from the Texas Rangers.

Profar, who is under team control for two years, is expected to be the team’s primary second baseman while Franklin Barreto continues to develop. There have been rumors of Barreto moving to another position, such as center field, which has now been thrown around for a third consecutive year. While Profar is going to be playing second base on a near-everyday basis, he has played in a utility role in the past and could stand in at any of the other infield positions or even left field if the situation called for it. Profar made his MLB debut in 2012 and turns 26 next month, though his name has been a familiar one for quite some time as a former top prospect and star for Curaçao in the Little League World Series in 2004 and 2005.

The catcher position still has a bit of uncertainty, but the A’s did sign left-handed-hitting Chris Herrmann, and if the season started today, he would platoon at the position with Josh Phegley. Herrmann owns just a .205 career average but has a 9.5 percent walk rate and .146 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average).

After a season in which the pitching staff was bombarded with injuries, the A’s have bolstered the bullpen while making a few depth additions to the rotation. Joakim Soria, owner of 220 career saves, has been added as a setup option who could also spell Blake Treinen at closer if needed. Soria posted a 3.12 ERA in 2018, which he split between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, and over the last two years his FIP (a metric which measures a pitcher’s expected ERA based on contact rates) was 2.23 in 2017 and 2.44 last year.

The A’s also made a pair of quiet additions to the staff in Tanner Anderson and Parker Bridwell.

Anderson was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in November and posted a 2.64 ERA in 61 1/3 Triple-A innings in 2018. Until the past season, he saw time as both a started and a reliever, but in 2018, he was used exclusively out of the bullpen.

Bridwell, who was acquired Tuesday, pitched briefly for the Baltimore Orioles in 2016 and saw relative success for the Los Angeles Angels in 2017 before missing most of 2018 with injuries. Though he seems to lack a truly overpowering pitch, Bridwell did post a 3.64 ERA in 2017 across 121 innings. There were some unsustainable underlying numbers, such as a 38.1-percent ground ball rate and an extremely high 79.3-percent LOB rate, which contributed to his 4.84 FIP.

For his career, Bridwell has a 4.60 ERA, but almost all of his nightmarish outings came against the A’s, who have torched him for 22 earned runs in just 9 2/3 innings. Against all other opponents, he has a 3.34 ERA. If the A’s have isolated what allowed them to knock Bridwell around while he found success against other opponents, he could be a sneaky find as a waiver claim coming off an injury-filled season that limited him to just 6 2/3 innings at the MLB level in 2018. He has had a ridiculously good history of run support from his offense. Bridwell went 10-3 as a starter in 2017 and the Angels were 18-3 in his 21 appearances, averaging 4.95 runs per game in his starts and 5.04 overall.

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