A's position-by-position breakdown: Outfield

A's position-by-position breakdown: Outfield
January 21, 2014, 7:45 pm
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A's outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp combined for 48 home runs in 2013. (AP)

A glance around the Oakland A’s outfield reveals an impressive variety of skills.

Center fielder Coco Crisp is the speedy igniter atop the batting order. Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes is the middle-of-the-lineup intimidator, capable of changing a game with one swing. And in right field, Josh Reddick brings Gold Glove defense along with run-producing potential.

In 2014, the A’s would like to mesh the talents of all three players more consistently.

Reddick was hampered by a sprained right wrist last year that limited him to 114 games and required offseason surgery. His offensive production fell off dramatically from 2012. Cespedes slugged 26 homers but was erratic with the bat for much of last season. His batting average dipped to .240, 52 points lower than his rookie season.

Should both of those players find some consistency, it would be an in-house boost for a team that has yet to add a true impact hitter this winter.

[RELATED: A's position-by-position breakdown: Second base]

Speedster Craig Gentry, acquired from Texas in early December, brings base running and defensive prowess off the bench, and the A’s are banking that his value trumps the loss of promising outfield prospect Michael Choice, who went to the Rangers in the Gentry deal.

Here’s a closer look at the A’s outfield as we finish off our offseason positional breakdowns:

STARRING CAST: Crisp, who turned 34 in November, has been hopeful of a multi-year extension. His value to the A’s, with his bat and glove, is unquestioned over four seasons with the team.

Though Crisp’s speed has always been his most talked-about asset, the switch hitter surprised everyone with a career-high 22 home runs in 2013. Along with his 21 stolen bases, he was one of just two American League players to post a 20-20 season. Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout was the other.

Crisp again will be looked to as a catalyst from the leadoff spot. The A’s have become more dangerous offensively over the past two seasons largely because they’ve hit more home runs. But it all begins with Crisp getting on base, delivering key hits, making things happen.

Cespedes’ 2013 numbers -- .240, 26 homers, 80 RBI – were viewed as a letdown after his impressive rookie season. But consider he’s one of just two players in franchise history to hit 20-plus homers in his first two major league seasons. Bob Johnson (1933-34) is the other. Still, Cespedes did not take the steps forward that might have been expected in his second major league season. Can he increase his plate discipline and lay off sliders out of the strike zone?

Reddick had another stellar defensive season, and with his rifle arm on one corner and Cespedes’ on the other, it helps cover for Crisp’s subpar arm in center. But the A’s need Reddick’s bat. He hit .226 last season with just 12 homers and 56 RBI. He doesn’t need to replicate his 32-homer output of 2012 – he might never. But if Reddick can be a 20-25 homer, 80-RBI guy, that’s a big upgrade and it will make Oakland’s lineup look a lot deeper.

[RELATED: A's position-by-position breakdown: First base]

CAMP COMPETITION: Gentry was acquired largely as a center field insurance policy for the oft-injured Crisp. But it stands to reason he could also get some time in right if he outplays Reddick early on. As a right-handed hitter, he could also form a natural platoon with Reddick. Gentry is considered a very good defender.

“We’ll see how it plays out,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said when Gentry was acquired in December. “We’ve got the DH spot. We didn’t bring him in not to play him. He can spell Coco. He’s played left some. He’s a natural outfielder. We’re pretty certain he’ll be able to play right field, give Josh some days off.”

But Melvin is also encouraged that reports on Reddick’s health are good. The outfielder had arthroscopic surgery on his right wrist in October, and indications are he’ll be full strength at the start of camp.

“There’s always motivation to go out there and have a better season,” Melvin said of Reddick. “Mentally, just knowing that he’s feeling better physically (will benefit him).”

[RELATED: A's position-by-position breakdown: Shortstop]

PAY ATTENTION TO: How the A’s roster takes shape coming out of spring training. They typically keep five outfielders, but given their current collection of players, the A’s could carry as many as six infielders on their Opening Night roster. If that’s the case, it could mean just the four outfielders mentioned above – Cespedes, Crisp, Gentry and Reddick.

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