Melvin: 'I'm comfortable with what we have right now'
Jed Lowrie appeared in a career-high 154 games last season with the A's. Can he stay healthy in 2014? (USATSI)
Jed Lowrie enters this season as the Oakland A’s unquestioned starter at shortstop, a veteran staple of the 2014 lineup.
But spring training will also provide a glimpse of the future at shortstop. Addison Russell will take part in his second big league camp, and one longtime member of the A’s front office said he is more excited about Russell than any prospect he’s seen come through the organization.
The A’s won’t rush Russell to the bigs, and Lowrie’s emergence last season is one reason why they don’t have to. The switch-hitting former Stanford star turned in the best offensive season of any A’s shortstop since Miguel Tejada in 2003.
Nick Punto, signed as a free agent in November, will be around to spell Lowrie on occasion. And Andy Parrino, who appeared in 14 games with Oakland in 2013, also provides depth.
Here’s a glimpse into the A’s present and future at shortstop:
STARRING CAST: Acquired from Houston last winter as an infielder who could play multiple spots, Lowrie entrenched himself as the No. 1 shortstop. He bounced around the top half of the batting order and eventually settled in as the primary No. 3 hitter. Lowrie hit .290 with 15 home runs, 75 RBI and 45 doubles, just two shy of Jason Giambi’s single-season Oakland record. His .472 slugging percentage led American League shortstops.
The production wasn’t a surprise to the A’s but Lowrie’s durability had to be. He played 154 games after never having appeared in more than 97 in five previous major league seasons.
Can he remain healthy again in 2014? Lowrie, 29, won’t be lacking motivation as he’s due to become a free agent for the first time after the season, unless the A’s sign him to an extension.
Though Oakland has made a flurry of noteworthy additions this winter, they have not acquired an impact hitter. So it would seem Lowrie could be penciled into the No. 3 spot again (Josh Donaldson is another option in that slot).
There were rumors early in the offseason that St. Louis was interested in trading for Lowrie, but A’s assistant general manager David Forst said Lowrie undoubtedly was Oakland’s shortstop.
Lowrie doesn’t possess great range defensively. His .962 fielding percentage last season was lowest among major league shortstops, and his 16 errors at the position were third-most in the A.L.
CAMP COMPETITION: There won’t be a competition for the shortstop job in spring training, but Russell’s development could impact Lowrie before the season is over. Should Russell – ranked by mlb.com as the majors’ 18th best overall prospect -- earn a promotion to Oakland at some point this season, it stands to reason the A’s could plug him in at shortstop and shift Lowrie to second base.
Russell, who turns 20 on Jan. 23, will have to force the issue though. A first-round pick out of high school in 2012, he hit .275 with 17 homers and 60 RBI last year at Single-A Stockton. There was speculation at the time he was drafted that Russell might have to move to third, but he’s shown good hands, good range and a strong arm. And it’s believed he’ll hit for power, always at a premium at the shortstop position.
A’s director of player personnel Billy Owens, who joined the organization in 1998, said he’s “as excited about Addison Russell as a prospect as anybody we’ve had here.”
The current plan is for Russell to begin this season with Double-A Midland. The A’s will watch his progress with great interest.
“Is it unrealistic he’s a big leaguer by late second half (of this season)? Absolutely not,” said Grady Fuson, a special assistant to A’s GM Billy Beane. “But it depends on what’s going on with the big league club, what’s going on at shortstop, what’s going on with him.”
PAY ATTENTION TO: Another young shortstop working through the farm system, Daniel Robertson. He played last season at low Single-A Beloit, so he’s still a long way off. But he’s highly thought of in the organization. Like Russell, Robertson was a high draft pick out of high school in 2012. Eventually, one of them may have to move to a different position so as not to be blocked by the other. But right now, the A’s have two young, quality shortstop prospects.