Analyzing internal second base options for the A’s

Jed Lowrie had an incredible season in 2018 for the A’s, hitting .267/.353/.448 with a .801 OPS and put up 123 wRC+ and 5.0 fWAR. Still, the team decided to let Lowrie walk and instead hitch their second base wagon to Jurickson Profar in 2019. Profar, who was acquired in a three-way trade with the Rangers and Rays, was a major disappointment and a step back from Lowrie, slashing just .218/.301/.410 with a .711 OPS and a paltry 89 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR. Profar also struggled heavily on defense. Lowrie is no Mark Ellis, putting up just 1 DRS and 5.6 UZR/150 in 2018, but he might as well be compared to Profar’s -10 DRS and -1.0 UZR/150 this past season. This leads the A’s to an interesting question: what do they do at second base moving forward? Do they stick with Profar, or do they replace him? Who would replace him if the A’s move on? The A’s will most likely look for an internal option if they do decide to replace Profar instead of signing a free agent or making a trade. I will try to break down those internal options.

Internally, we saw a few different options to play second base these past seasons already. Franklin Barreto and Sheldon Neuse are probably the most likely internal candidates if the A’s decide to make a change at second base. Barreto has appeared in the majors for the past 3 years, despite never staying for a significant amount of time. His longest stint in the majors came in 2017 where he accrued 76 plate appearances, and he has 209 plate appearances across all three years he’s been in the majors. He hasn’t made an impact in the majors, slashing just .189/.220/.378 with a .598 OPS and a 57 wRC+. Still, he has been decent in triple A. After adjusting to the new level in 2017, he slashed .259/.357/.514 with a .872 OPS and a 125 wRC+ in 2018. In 2019 Barreto did extremely well when the PCL-turned-pinball machine, slashing .295/.374/.552 with a 19th best OPS of .926 and a 21st best wRC+ of 121. That may not sound remarkable, but when you consider that out of everyone better than Barreto in OPS, only one was the same age or younger, and out of everyone better than Barreto in wRC+, only 2 were the same age or younger. Defensively he needs work. In his 350.2 innings at second base in the majors, he has -3 DRS and a -2.9 UZR. If he can put it all together, he can be a highly productive major leaguer. He is extremely talented for being just 23. He just needs to translate his skill to the major league level. However, Barreto is rule 5 eligible and the A’s might prioritize protecting other prospects over him, leaving him available to be drafted by other teams. If Barreto is taken, the A’s would have to look at other options for second base, like the previously mentioned Sheldon Neuse.

Neuse is a third baseman by trade, but Profar’s struggles lead to him getting playing time at second in both the majors and minors. He finished 2019 platooning with Profar at second base, and in his short time in the majors, he, like Barreto, struggled to make an impact. With a slash line of .250/.295/.304 in 61 plate appearances and an OPS and wRC+ of .599 and 63 respectively, his stats don’t jump out at you. His average exit velocity of 90.6 MPH is above the league average of 87.5, and his hard-hit percentage of 47.4% towers above the rest of the MLB’s 34.5%. With his strength and tight swing, he doesn’t need to make great contact to hit the ball hard. His ability to drive the ball well is reflected in his xwOBAcon of .390, which is also well above the league average of .371. When Neuse sees pitching he’s used to, he can rake. In his second year in the PCL, Neuse slashed .317/.389/.550 with a .939 OPS and a 126 wRC+. Yes, the PCL is the equivalent of pre humidifier Coors field, but he was 13th and 11th in OPS and wRC+ respectively. Neuse also possesses the fielding skills to stick at second. Throwing issues won’t be a problem as Neuse was a pitcher in college and had sure enough hands to be drafted as a shortstop. In his 114 innings at second base in the majors, he had 2 DRS and 1.4 UZR. But, say Neuse doesn’t develop as a hitter and doesn’t adjust to the MLB level of pitching, there is another, albeit far less likely option.

Jorge Mateo started the season as a top ten prospect for some people. Yeah, he had a rough first year in triple-A, but he was expected to adjust to the new level of pitching and put up impressive numbers. Unfortunately, that did not happen: Mateo slashed .289/.330/.504 with a .834 OPS and a 96 wRC+. A sub .900 OPS in the PCL is unacceptable for a major league hopeful. After putting up 133 and 147 wRC+ in back to back years in double-A, you would’ve hoped that he would continue to excel in the minors. But it looks like he’ll need at least another year to develop as a hitter. His 80 grade speed is the highest possible designation for a prospect, and he’s good on the defensive side, being a natural shortstop. Unfortunately, defensive stats for the minors are largely unavailable, so we don’t know his DRS or UZR. But even if he was excellent defensively, he would need to improve greatly on the offensive side to justify a call-up. Mateo is rule 5 eligible just like Barreto, but hopefully his lackluster results in the PCL will have him pass under the radar and stay with the A’s.

If I had to rank my preference on who should replace Profar, it would go Neuse, Barreto, and finally Mateo. Neuse is the best defender out of all three of them, and he has had the most success at the major league level. Plus it can’t hurt to give Barreto more time in the minors. He’s the youngest of the bunch. Mateo just hasn’t shown he’s worthy of being called up yet. If he has a good season next year, he has to be considered for one. But as it stands, I think Neuse should be the one to replace Profar come 2020.

Featured Photo: Nhat V. Meyer/ Bay Area News Group

Elizabeth Tsai

A lifelong baseball fan, I've supported the Oakland A's through good times and bad. A numbers geek, I love diving into the stats to find any fascinating stories not obvious to the basic eye test. Proud transgender woman

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