Melvin praises A's top prospect Barreto: 'Not much this guy can't do'

Melvin praises A's top prospect Barreto: 'Not much this guy can't do'

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — If this is audition time for Franklin Barreto, the A’s top prospect is making the most of it.

Barreto connected for his first spring homer Thursday against Cleveland, an opposite-field blast to right-center that showed his deceiving power for a player who measures a compact 5-foot-10. The middle infielder is now hitting .480 (12-for-25) in 15 games, doing nothing to dispel the speculation of when he might get his first major league call-up.

“He’s just a baseball player — defensively, offensively. He runs the bases,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “There’s not much this guy can’t do. Really, the only question is when, not if.”

Though A’s general manager David Forst is preaching patience with Barreto, who just turned 21 last month, there’s a good chance he reaches the bigs sometime this season. He’ll begin with Triple-A Nashville, where he’s likely to get time at both shortstop and second base.

Shortstop has been his primary position since the A’s acquired him from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade of November 2014. But they gave him plenty of time at second last season at Double-A, and he also got innings there during the Arizona Fall League.

The A’s aren’t inclined to move Marcus Semien off shortstop at this point, so second base appears the quickest route to Oakland for Barreto, a native of Caracas, Venezuela. But while he remains in the minors, the A’s want him to keep playing on the left side of the infield too.

“I think the determining factor overall is the efficiency and accuracy of him throwing,” said Grady Fuson, an A’s special assistant who scouts the farm system extensively. “He’s got a strong enough arm. The footwork continues to get cleaned up. There’s no panic in this (decision of) where he’s gonna play. He’s getting very good at both, so time will tell.”

Jed Lowrie is the A’s incumbent starter at second base, but he’ll turn 33 next month and he’s in the final year of his contract, so he’s not the future at the position. If Lowrie is playing well as summer rolls around, it’s easy to envision him being dangled in a trade if the A’s aren’t contending.

“I feel really comfortable at second. I also feel comfortable at short,” Barreto said through interpreter Juan Dorado. “I’m just kind of learning and doing my job wherever they have me.”

The A’s also have Adam Rosales, and, as far as younger players, Joey Wendle, Chad Pinder and Max Schrock as part of their second base depth. But it’s Barreto who projects as a top-of-the-order talent with speed, a player who could be a cornerstone piece by the time the A’s hope to be moving into a new Oakland ballpark.

“I just feel bad for him, only 21 years old and hitting ‘oppo' homers in spring training,” catcher Stephen Vogt joked. “No, he’s some kind of special talent. 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.”

Despite solid start, Cotton admits to thinking about no-hitter: "It just bit me'

Despite solid start, Cotton admits to thinking about no-hitter: "It just bit me'

NEW YORK — Keep peeling away the layers of Jharel Cotton’s start Saturday, and there are several different ways to view it.

The A’s rookie pitched into the sixth inning despite enduring big-time command issues and giving up a run in the first.

He took a no-hitter into the sixth despite not having the feel for his best pitch, the changeup.

He was on the verge of completing six mostly dominant innings before losing a handle on things in the sixth, allowing a two-out rally that culminated with Matt Holliday’s two-run homer. That blast wound up being the difference in Oakland’s 3-2 loss to the Yankees.

It was an eventful 5 2/3-inning outing for Cotton in his return from the minors. He admitted he was very aware he had a no-hitter going, though it also must have registered that with his pitch count at 88 entering the sixth, he wasn’t going to get a chance to complete history.

“I wanted to just go out there and get (through) the sixth inning with no hits,” Cotton said. “I guess I thought about it too much and it just bit me.”

Taking the mound for his first big league start since being optioned to Triple-A on May 11, Cotton was also making his first start at Yankee Stadium. He couldn’t find the strike zone in the first, allowing a walk, a hit batsman and a wild pitch that led to Starlin Castro’s sacrifice fly and an early lead for New York.

But then he settled down and found a groove, retiring 15 out of 16 hitters for a stretch from the first all the way until the sixth. That was all the more impressive given that Cotton did not have the effective changeup that’s usually the centerpiece to his game plan.

Catcher Josh Phegley said he was encouraged by Cotton’s effort in his first start back from Triple-A.

“He was kind of sporadic at the beginning, so I was just calling a lot of cutters because that was our strike pitch,” Phegley said. “You’d like to have the changeup because it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen. But he’s got the stuff to do without one of his pitches and still compete and put us in a good position.”

The game turned when Cotton couldn’t slam the door in the sixth after retiring the first two hitters. He walked Gary Sanchez and then caught too much plate with a 1-0 cutter to Holliday, who signed a one-year $13 million contract with New York in the offseason. He drilled a two-run homer to left-center, and Cotton was lifted after Castro singled on his next batter.

“I didn’t want to walk that guy,” Cotton said. “You don’t wanna put guys on base with free passes and I did that, and it came back to haunt me.”

With Cotton’s pitch count crossing 100 in the sixth, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he had no second thoughts about not going to his bullpen earlier. Cotton was charged with three runs on just two hits with three walks and five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.

“I was fine with him to get through the inning. That probably would have been it,” Melvin said. “You don’t take a guy out just because he’s got 100 pitches. He was pitching well.”

Cotton will be an important factor for the A’s moving forward given the injuries to starters Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman, with the former going on the 10-day disabled list Saturday and the latter expected to join him in the next day or two.

 

Tempers boil over as A's strike out 14 times in defeat

Tempers boil over as A's strike out 14 times in defeat

NEW YORK — As their frustration mounted inning after inning, the A’s afternoon seemed destined to end in ugly and disappointing fashion.

So it was that Matt Joyce walked away from home plate visibly baffled after a game-ending strikeout that cemented a 3-2 loss to the Yankees on Saturday. The A’s struck out 14 times in a game that included ejections for manager Bob Melvin and second baseman Jed Lowrie, and lots of puzzled looks over the strike zone of home plate umpire Will Little.

Lowrie was doing a slow burn throughout all of his at-bats. He struck out looking in three of his four plate appearances, and if you go by the location of pitches as presented by the mlb.com Gameday tracker, he had a justifiable gripe.

It came to a head when Little rang him up in the eighth inning, with Lowrie arguing and getting a quick ejection, the first of his 10-year career.

“All I’m gonna say is I got the bat taken out of my hands three times today,” he said afterward.

Later in the eighth, Trevor Plouffe appeared to perhaps hold up on a check swing. It didn’t matter, as Little rang him up on a Dellin Betances slider that appeared high. Melvin got ejected protesting from the dugout and then went out to get a few more words in.

“A lot of frustration, in big situations,” the manager said.

On the game’s final at-bat, Joyce worked the count to 3-1 against Betances and was so sure he’d gotten ball four that he unsnapped his shin guard in anticipation of taking first. But Little called strike two. Joyce swung through the next pitch for the final out.

By the end, the Yankees had pocketed a victory despite collecting just two hits, including Matt Holliday’s two-run homer off Jharel Cotton (3-5) in the sixth that snapped a 1-1 tie. Cotton had a no-hitter going until then.

New York’s odd victory also ended an odd trend between these teams — the road team had won each of the previous eight games they’d played.

Ryon Healy’s RBI double scored Khris Davis from first to tie the game 1-1 in the top of the sixth. Holliday, who spent the first half of 2009 with Oakland before being shipped to St. Louis, homered to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. Then A’s catcher Josh Phegley came back with a solo shot in the seventh to bring Oakland within a run.

The A’s have split the first two of this three-game series in the Bronx. But you can’t spotlight their dissatisfaction with Saturday’s strike zone without also pointing out they struck out 13 times on Friday night too. They’ll need to make more of their at-bats to take Sunday’s rubber match.

“It is what it is,” Phegley said when asked to sum up the day. “We were no-hitting the Yankees and losing. I think we wanted a little more offensive production but that’s just the way the game went. We just didn’t make the best of the opportunities we had. Obviously I feel like like there were some walks we had, we worked the counts pretty well, and it didn’t go in our favor. That’s just the way it goes.”