With more additions undoubtedly coming for the A’s this offseason, one spot on the diamond that looks settled is first base.
Yonder Alonso, who had appeared a non-tender possibility, signed a one-year $4 million deal earlier this month. That lines him up as Oakland’s returning everyday first baseman, providing an excellent glove but hardly the offensive production teams typically crave at this position.
Looking down the road, the A’s have several possibilities to eventually assume the starting role here. Matt Olson has lost some ground in the rankings of A’s top prospects, but he’s still just 22, he profiles as a traditional power hitter and is an excellent defender at first. Ryon Healy might eventually shift across the diamond from third base and Renato Nunez, a third baseman who’s put on a terrific power display in the Venezuelan Winter League, could also play more first.
Here’s the initial entry in our series breaking down the A’s position by position. By the time we’re finished, it’ll almost be time to grab the sunscreen and head to Arizona …
STARRING CAST: Alonso’s first season with Oakland saw him play in a career-high 156 games, as he avoided the injury problems that sidetracked him during his years with the Padres. However, he hit just .253 and posted the fourth-lowest slugging percentage (.367) and OPS (.683) in the American League. Alonso’s seven home runs were third fewest in Oakland history for a player who logged 400 or more plate appearances as a first baseman. On the plus side, Alonso’s batting average jumped from .217 to .302 when runners were on base.
It’s in the field where the 29-year-old Alonso shined. The advanced defensive metrics frowned on Alonso at first base in 2016, but anyone who watched him on a daily basis saw the impact he made, particularly scooping throws from the dirt. His glove was a major factor in why the A’s acquired him from San Diego last winter in the Drew Pomeranz trade (reliever Marc Rzepczynski also came over), and his glove is a big reason why he’s coming back in 2017.
CAMP COMPETITION: Depending on whether the A’s add anyone else who can play right field, Mark Canha could definitely see some at-bats at first as a right-handed hitting platoon with Alonso. He’s appeared in 74 games there since the start of 2015. Stephen Vogt is also an option at first, particularly if the A’s had any thoughts of carrying two other catchers, Josh Phegley and Bruce Maxwell, on the roster at the same time.
Olson and Nunez, who both made their major league debuts in September, will have to turn heads in spring training to have any chance of cracking the Opening Day roster. After swatting 37 homers for Single-A Stockton in 2014, Olson has combined for just 34 over the past two years with Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville, though the ballparks in Midland and Nashville are both known for suppressing the power of lefty hitters.
Like Olson, the 22-year-old Nunez is a power-hitting prospect with high strikeout numbers. With the presence of Matt Chapman as the A’s top third base prospect, Nunez’s best chance at sticking in the bigs might be at first. He’s played there extensively this winter with Tigres de Aragua, with whom he’s mashed 10 homers in 33 games.
Max Muncy provides depth at first, among other positions, and has seen considerable time with the big club over the past two seasons.
PAY ATTENTION TO: How quickly Chapman, ranked by Baseball America as Oakland’s No. 3 prospect, shows he’s ready for the majors. He’s considered an excellent defender at third and he swatted 36 homers last season between Double-A and Triple-A. His eventual arrival in Oakland figures to move Healy across the diamond to his natural position of first.