A’s need Semien at second, not short

Marcus Semien was sitting back watching baseball Wednesday afternoon, soaking in the sun with a Gatorade in his hands and sunflower seeds at his feet.

For many people, this is the life. In this instance, though, Semien was riding the bench for a routine day off, something that could become more frequent as the season wears on.

It was only Semien’s second day off this season, 49 games in, playing shortstop in every one he’s appeared. It’s a position he loves playing but has never been particularly good at, evidenced all the way back to his start in the minors.

This season, Semien leads the majors in errors with 17, four more than the next man in baseball, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond.

Shortstop is arguably the toughest infield position, and the number of errors committed tells the tale. Not one starter is without a defensive wrongdoing in less than one-third of the season, with major league shortstops averaging about five errors. Semien joins three others with errors climbing into the double digits.

What’s important for the A’s, who also lead the league in team errors, is that they get it fixed. Manager Bob Melvin would love it for the trend to stop, do an overnight 360-degree turn, and finish that way. But Melvin acknowledges it’s likely going to take some time, if it does change this season.

Oakland has brought in former coach Ron Washington, who also led the Texas Rangers to back-to-back American League championships in 2010 and 2011, to aid Semien and others with their defense.

But a simpler approach might be the best solution: Move Semien to second base, slot utility man Ben Zobrist in at short, and keep Brett Lawrie at third. Or another similar switch.

Zobrist is a more than competent middle infielder, and is capable of playing any position on the left side of the pitcher. He can also play outfield, and though he came off the disabled list Monday, he may not yet have his normal range as he continues to recover from a medial meniscus tear.

Why Semien at second base?

Semien played 26 games there for the White Sox in 2014 and committed only four errors. The sample is small, and a full season at that pace still puts him up for 24 or so errors.

But he’s not looking the part of a competent shortstop.

ESPN baseball scout Keith Law put together a brief scouting report on Semien when he was acquired, and wrote:

“… at shortstop you’re merely hoping he’s Jed Lowrie, and probably should expect a good bit less given his footwork and reactions.”

Law noted that Semien could be an average defensive second baseman.

Of course, Semien a player the A’s need in their lineup. As he was riding pine Wednesday, he pinch-hit for Sam Fuld, and tripled. He scored after the next batter sacrificed him home on a fielder’s choice.

The run brought Oakland to within one run, though Semien later struck out looking to end the game. He’s got room to grow as a player, offensively and defensively. There’s no questioning that. And the A’s would be wise to let him grow in Oakland.

But they need to know what else he can do. And though they’ve seen him at second to a degree, they should take a closer look. Because he’s simply not fit to be a shortstop. Not this year, anyway.


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