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No shortage of words will be written this spring about the Oakland A’s big-name players.
But so many Cactus League innings will be handled by lesser-known souls, those wearing uniform numbers in the 60s and 70s that send fans flipping through their smart phones to find details about them.
Part of what makes spring training fun is watching younger players, newcomers and fringe guys fight to make a lasting impression on the front office. With that in mind, here’s a look at some players that might not land on the A’s Opening Night roster but are worth keeping an eye on throughout camp.
Nice To Meet You
OF Billy Burns -- He’s got the speed to match the name. Acquired from Washington in December for reliever Jerry Blevins, the switch-hitting center fielder hit .315 with 74 stolen bases split between Single-A and Double-A in 2013, and he was Washington’s minor league player of the year. He has good range in center but doesn’t possess the strongest arm (traits shared by the A’s current switch-hitting center fielder, who manages to make it work). Burns, 24, is a non-roster invitee -- meaning he’s not on the 40-man roster yet – but the A’s see him as a potential part of their future. He’s listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, and if his size and speed make it seem he’d be a great defensive back, understand that Burns’ father, Bob, played for the New York Jets (though as a running back).
OF Sam Fuld -- Signed Tuesday to a minor league deal, Fuld has played parts of six seasons with the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays. Known more for his glove than his bat, Fuld earned the nickname “Super Sam” for his many diving catches. He’ll be hard-pressed to make the 25-man roster if the A’s keep only four outfielders, but Fuld, 32, is an experienced player who can fill in if injuries hit.
C Chris Gimenez -- The A’s already are crowded at catcher with Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt and John Jaso, but no one has a stranglehold on the starting job, so Gimenez, 31, can’t be completely counted out for a roster spot. He was claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay in December, but he’s just a .199 hitter over parts of five seasons with the Indians, Mariners and Rays. Gimenez is good defensively and can play first base or the outfield in a pinch.
[STIGLICH: A's position battle -- Catcher: Norris vs. Vogt]
RHP Philip Humber -- You know him from the perfect game he threw in 2012 while with the Chicago White Sox. Overall, Humber is just 16-23 with a 5.31 ERA over eight major league seasons split between the New York Mets, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals, White Sox and Houston Astros. The 31-year-old struggled with Houston last season mainly as a reliever. But the A’s figure to have a couple of bullpen spots up for grabs this spring, and stranger things have happened.
RHP Josh Lindblom -- He came over along with Craig Gentry in the trade that sent outfielder Michael Choice and infielder Chris Bostick to Texas. Lindblom, 26, has made 104 of his 109 major league appearances in relief, but the A’s view him as a potential starter. A key to the A’s success in the past two seasons has been their ability to go six or seven deep with their rotation. Lindblom could be a piece to that puzzle this season.
Names You Know
SS Addison Russell -- We could have included him in the “prospect” group below, but most A’s fans surely know Russell’s name by now. He is ranked as the majors’ No. 3 prospect by ESPN, and speculation is rampant about whether Russell could reach the big club in 2014. The A’s won’t rush him, and in his second major league camp, watch how the 20-year-old continues to acquit himself around big league ballplayers.
OF Michael Taylor –- The perpetual spring question: Is this the season that Taylor, 28, fulfills the potential the A’s have always seen in him? The urgency will be there considering Taylor is out of options, meaning he must be exposed to waivers (where other teams can claim him) before being sent to the minors. It won’t be easy cracking Oakland’s big league outfield, and Fuld’s signing adds more competition.
RHP Raul Alcantara –- After a strong 2013, Alcantara shot to No. 3 on Baseball America’s rankings of A’s prospects, and he’s their top pitching prospect. The right-hander was one of three players acquired from Boston in the Andrew Bailey trade (Josh Reddick and infielder Miles Head were the others). Alcantara, 21, benefited from some mechanical adjustments that improved his command last season. He throws a fastball in the 92-93 mph range and complements it with a good changeup and improving slider. He’s likely ticketed for Single-A Stockton to start the season, but he’s a pitcher to watch.
RHP Arnold Leon –- The 25-year-old is entering his seventh season in the A’s system, and his development was sidetracked due to Tommy John surgery that wiped out most of his 2010-11 seasons. After relieving in 2012, he returned to starting last season and posted a 9-8 record and 4.13 ERA split between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento. You might remember Leon’s name from last year’s World Baseball Classic, when he intentionally hit a batter while pitching for Mexico, which started a brawl.
RHP Michael Ynoa –- The A’s brass will be curious to see how the progression continues for Ynoa, the highly touted Dominican who got a huge signing bonus as a 16-year-old but has been sidetracked by injuries. Now 22, Ynoa was mostly healthy last season, when he went 3-3 with a 3.69 ERA between low Single-A Beloit and high Single-A Stockton. Baseball America still ranks him as Oakland’s No. 4 prospect. His fastball sits in the 93-95 mph range, but the A’s want Ynoa to continue developing his breaking ball and change-up.