For almost ten years, the Oakland Athletics had a very good idea who was going to play second base on any given day. From 2002 to 2011, Mark Ellis provided excellent value at second base as an excellent gloveman and solid contributor to the offense.
That he never won a Gold Glove in Oakland remains a travesty, and while he wasn’t an excellent hitter by any means, he had almost as many seasons with 100+ wRC+ (4) as <100 wRC+ (5). He was a dependable, valuable contributor to the team.
That era ended in 2012 when Ellis–older, and, after some bumps and scrapes, now an injury concern–left for the LA Dodgers. The A’s had been anticipating Ellis’ departure for several years, and spent their 2008 first-round pick on Jemile Weeks. Weeks, selected 13th overall out of Miami, developed right on schedule and moved into the second base position perfectly in the latter half of 2011.
Weeks seemed to be the sparkplug the A’s had been looking for to put at the top of the lineup: he hit for an excellent average (.303), got on base (.340), and stole bases (22 in 97 games).
2012 began with Weeks firmly entrenched as the team’s second baseman of the future. That label has since disappeared. Weeks went into a tailspin in 2012 and never hit the ground: popup after maddening popup left his speed unused, and he was out of the big leagues by the time the A’s turned things around on their way to a division title.
If you had looked closely, you might have seen the warning signs: a .350 BABIP inflated his average considerably, and his small stature led to an embarrassingly thin .083 ISO. This might have been tolerable if he’d been as adroit a fielder as Ellis, but he wasn’t; his arm wasn’t strong enough to make his range relevant.
The A’s cobbled together a solution that worked for the rest of 2012. They traded for Stephen Drew, and moved Cliff Pennington–an excellent defender with a longer track record than Weeks–to second base. But both of those players were gone by 2013. Scott Sizemore–my favorite for the job–was quickly and sadly lost to injury.
So far, the A’s have basically punted the second base position, plugging in a variety of AAA regulars–Andy Parrino, Adam Rosales, and Eric Sogard–while occasionally moving Jed Lowrie to second while one of those plays short. Sogard and Rosales have emerged as defense-first solutions whose bats are just good enough to remain playable.
Is there a solution? And, if so, is his name–as many seem to believe–Grant Green?
Green was, like Weeks, a first-round pick out of a top-tier baseball school–this time, the University of Southern California. During college, Green played shortstop, but concerns about his potential to stick at the position emerged quickly, and the A’s proactively moved him to second–and then third, then outfield (echoes of Upton’s), and finally, with Weeks’ failure, back to second.
However, the point was rarely his defense, because Green is a line-drive machine. In college, he led USC in average and OBP, and his hitting skills led him to be ranked the A’s #4 prospect in 2012 (#98 overall). After college, he won the Cape Cod League’s 2008 MVP award. His 2010 season in high-A–his first full season as a professional–put scouts on notice, as he slugged 20 HRs and posted a .260 ISO that was far above anything he’d posted before.
That was probably (mostly) the product of an offense-boosting environment, as scouts note his power is more of the gap-hitting, doubles variety. One went so far as to compare Green to Michael Young. If he has a weakness, it may be impatience (walking only 6% of the time last year), but that’s a skill one can learn; every indication is that he has the natural-born-hitter part already down.
Projection systems believe Grant would be an immediate upgrade to the team’s offense. ZiPS suggests a .270/.311/.404 line for a 98 wRC+, which is certainly an upgrade on Eric Sogard’s 68 wRC+ so far this year. For that reason, Green has snuck into JP Breen’s 2013 Second Base Tiered Fantasy Rankings, slotting into the sixth tier with the possibility of “double-digit homers and stolen bases” if promoted to the Bigs.
Given that there’s not much to suggest that either Sogard or Rosales has much unrealized potential with the bat, it stands to reason that the main reason Green is being held back could be defense. Check out Green’s baseball-reference page, scroll down to the fielding stats, and you’ll see what I mean: the man has only played 46 games at second base as a professional (and presumably very few in college or high school).
It’s understandable that the A’s would want to give him some more seasoning, especially considering that defensive limitations were the reason he was moved from short in the first place. However, the A’s are in the playoff hunt this year, and will be looking for any edge they can get. There’s a crowded picture in the infield right now, but Green’s offensive potential makes him stand out from the rest. Once the A’s think Green is ready to play second base at the major league level, we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.