Athletics

Notes: Smolinski set for surgery on right shoulder

Notes: Smolinski set for surgery on right shoulder

MESA, Ariz. — Outfielder Jake Smolinski will undergo surgery Friday for an injured right shoulder that hasn’t responded well to a throwing program.

Dr. Doug Freedberg, based in the Phoenix area, will perform the surgery, though A’s manager Bob Melvin said the recovery period won’t be known until Freedberg goes in and finds the extent of the damage.

It’s obviously a tough setback, as Smolinski arrived at spring training seemingly with the inside track to be the fifth outfielder should Oakland keep five on its roster. But Smolinski’s shoulder was already bothering him when he reported, and he had yet to play a single game in the field.

“He’s a guy we really feel has a high ceiling and has not hit his potential yet,” Melvin said. “Last year he did a nice job for us in center field and a guy we were targeting for quite a few at-bats against left-handed pitching.”

With Smolinski sidelined, veteran Alejandro De Aza — in camp as a non-roster invitee — becomes the favorite to make the club if the A’s keep five outfielders. He’s hitting just .238 in nine games but has had several good moments both offensively and defensively.

However, another non-roster outfielder is still in camp and has quietly impressed. Jaff Decker, signed to a minor league deal in November, has caught Melvin’s attention with the bat and glove. He’s hitting .300 (6-for-20) and can handle center field. That’s important as the A’s need someone who can serve as a capable backup to Rajai Davis. They’re getting a glimpse of Mark Canha in center, but they could ultimately decide to keep a fifth outfielder who has more experience at the position.

“Decker’s looked really good, and as comfortable as anybody we’ve had in center field (except for) Raj,” Melvin said. “Center field is obviously a spot, we have Raj and then we’re looking at Mark, but to have somebody else who’s experienced in center and handles it is something we’re looking for.”

The 27-year-old Decker, a left-handed hitter, has appeared in 60 big league games with the Padres, Pirates and Rays, hitting .162 with one homer and four RBI. San Diego drafted him as a sandwich pick (No. 42 overall) in 2008 out of Sunrise Mountain High School in nearby Peoria.

To answer the question on everybody’s mind, Decker’s first name is pronounced “Jeff.”

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Chris Bassitt, on the mend from Tommy John surgery, threw 30 pitches Tuesday and mixed in changeups for the first time along with his fastball. The session got a big thumbs-up from Melvin, though Bassitt still has a long way to go. It’s still unclear if he’ll be back before the All-Star break or after.

“There’s no timetable but it’s exciting because we really felt like he was on his way to becoming a consistent starter” before the injury, Melvin said. “Really, for me, he’s a guy that at the very least is a middle-of-the-rotation guy with the upside of being even higher than that.

“With the setback he had to go through, I don’t know that I’ve been around a guy that worked harder in his rehab to get to where he is right now.”

Left-hander Felix Doubront, who was reassigned to minor league camp earlier this week, is on a similar rate of recovery from his Tommy John procedure as Bassitt.

Could Franklin Barreto get a look in center field for A's?

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USATI

Could Franklin Barreto get a look in center field for A's?

Don’t count out top prospect Franklin Barreto as a possibility for the A’s in center field.

It’s long been speculated that the middle infielder might eventually get a look in center, and the idea has at least been discussed in team circles. It’s tied partially to whether the A’s exercise their $6 million club option on Jed Lowrie and bring him back as their regular second baseman in 2018.

Regardless, the battle to be Oakland’s everyday center fielder will be one of the A’s most intriguing storylines next spring. Grady Fuson, a special assistant to general manager David Forst who spends much of the season evaluating the team’s farm system, discussed several of the team’s center field options in the latest A’s Insider Podcast.

So much revolves around the health of 22-year-old Dustin Fowler, one of three prospects the A’s received from the Yankees for Sonny Gray. He’ll spend the winter continuing to rehab from a devastating knee injury suffered in his very first major league game in June while still with New York.

The A’s are hopeful he’ll be ready for spring training and believe he can be a solution in center.

“Fowler certainly is the guy we made this trade for, and I think everybody, top to bottom, in the system is counting on him taking that spot,” Fuson said. “But we all know he’s been hurt. How he comes back, who knows? Boog (Powell’s) been doing a very good job for us. And there’s other options.”

The 21-year-old Barreto, who has split time between second and short this season at Triple-A and with the big club, played some center in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2015. He’s always talked with enthusiasm about the idea.

The A’s experimented with another highly touted young infielder, Yairo Munoz, in center field in the minors this season.

“(We’ve) had discussions about taking Munoz out there, which we’ve done,” Fuson said. “We’ve had discussions about maybe Franklin Barreto, depending on what happens at second here at end of the year, over the winter, and early in camp.”

Lowrie has enjoyed a very strong season with Oakland, and A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane has said the team is seriously considering picking up his option. Having Barreto be an option in center could be a way to keep him in the majors in 2018 even if Lowrie returns at second base.

Fuson stressed that the idea of Barreto in center hasn’t advanced past the early-discussion phase. No decisions have been made.

What’s interesting is that, in a short time, the A’s have gone from scarce few center field options to suddenly having several. Powell and Fowler may enter the spring as front runners, but Munoz, Jaycob Brugman, Chad Pinder, Jake Smolinski and, perhaps, Barreto may all have a shot too.

The A’s also used their first-round pick in June on high school center fielder Austin Beck, who represents another option down the road.

Bob Melvin provides update on Bruce Maxwell after 'pretty good shot' to face

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USATSI

Bob Melvin provides update on Bruce Maxwell after 'pretty good shot' to face

A's catcher Bruce Maxwell has a history with foul tips and concussion concerns, so there was cause for concern after he took a direct shot during Wednesday's game against the Tigers.

With one out in the ninth inning, Tigers shortstop fouled a ball square into Maxwell's facemask. The A's catcher immediately fell backwards. As manager Bob Melvin and the team trainer checked on him, he appeared dazed and rubbed his eyes. In an attempt to try to stay in the game, reliever Liam Hendriks tossed two warmup pitches. Maxwell missed the first one, but even after he caught the second one, it was clear he wasn't right and was removed from the game.

Afterwards, Melvin was asked about Maxwell's status.

"He went through all the protocol. It doesn't look like a concussion at this point. We'll probably know more in the next couple of days," Melvin told reporters in Detroit. "Took a pretty good shot. More sore on his face because of where the impact was, which was right in the middle of his face."

Josh Phegley replaced Maxwell for the final two outs of the game. Hendriks managed to close out the 3-2 win for the A's.