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Powell, not Fowler, named A’s Opening Day center fielder

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Houston Astros vs Oakland Athletics
Oakland Athletics center fielder Boog Powell (3) hits a home run in the ninth inning as the Houston Astros face the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, September 8, 2017.

Dustin Fowler will wear the green and gold of the Oakland Athletics in 2018. He just won’t be in them on opening weekend.

Neither will Mark Canha or Franklin Barreto. All three will open the season with Triple-A Nashville.

Fowler made a run at the starting job late in spring, stringing together what manager Bob Melvin called “good at-bats” in bulk. But in the end, he didn’t do enough to set himself apart from Boog Powell who was incredibly impressive in the role down the stretch with Oakland last season. Powell’s .321/.380/.494 slash in 29 games with the A’s in 2017 has earned him an Opening Day assignment. Here are the rest of the position players who will be on the field for the A’s Thursday.

Catchers

Jonathan Lucroy: The 31-year-old two-time All-Star was a very late spring addition to the roster — signing with the club on March 12 — which means that he was afforded just 20 Spring Training at-bats. While that may breed a slower start than Lucroy, Melvin and the A’s would like, the eight-year veteran’s career .281/.343/.433 slash says that he is capable of overcoming any possibility of a subpar open.

Bruce Maxwell: Maxwell, 27, was supposed to assume the everyday catcher role this season, but with the addition of Lucroy he will accept the back-up spot. He slashed .237/.329/.333 with three home runs and 22 RBIs in 219 at-bats (76 games) last season. Lucroy signed a one-year deal with Oakland so this season could be opportunity for significant growth for Maxwell.

Infielders

Matt Olson: The 23-year-old slugger mashed his way into the hearts of every A’s fan last season, swatting 24 bombs in 59 games last year. It is a definite possibility that Olson takes a small step back this year — Sophomore Slump and all — but his rock solid defense at first will go nicely with the 20-plus homers he will still log. He is a heart-of-the-lineup guy for years to come.

Jed Lowrie: After an incredibly impressive 2017 (.277/.360/.448 slash), Lowrie, 33, would be the first Athletic on the trading block should this season turn south for any reason. That being said, as long as the 10-year vet is in Oakland will be in the middle of its lineup.

Matt Chapman: Like the Matt on the other side of the diamond, Chapman burst onto the scene last year mashing 14 homers in 84 games. Even the least generous of projections makes Chapman, 24, a 20-home run man, giving Oakland a group of what could be as many as eight. “Chappy” is also among the top contenders for the AL Gold Glove at third, which went to Evan Longoria, now in the National League, last year.

Marcus Semien: Two years ago, Semien, 27, hit 27 homers. Last season, he appeared in just 85 games — missing almost three months after requiring right wrist surgery — and thus saw his power numbers decrease. But the time missed did not prevent him from setting a career-high in stolen bases (12). Putting the two together — 20 homers, 20 steals — vastly improves his value to the club.

Chad Pinder: The 25-year-old super-utility man appeared in 87 games last year — including 31 in right field, 21 at shortstop and 15 at second base. He will do even more of the same this year, which will only increase his offensive production. He hit 15 home runs last season and could reach the 20-mark this time around. He is also an average or better defender at four different positions.

Outfielders

Khris Davis: In his first two seasons with the club, “Khrush,” 30, became the first Athletic since Jimmie Foxx to slug 40 or more homers in back-to-back seasons. So, there is no reason to expect any less from him in 2018. His on-base percentage also rose 29 points (from .307 to .336) between 2016 and 2017. Now serving as the primary designated hitter, it is not unfathomable to believe that all Davis’ metrics could see another bump in 2018.

Matt Joyce: Joyce broke the 20-home run barrier for the first time in his 10-year career last year (25). Like Lowrie, he would be on the block if things land on their ear for the A’s in 2018. Unlike Lowrie, he will be one-half of a platoon, splitting time with Pinder in left field.

Powell: The 25-year-old second-year outfielder will experience a big league Opening Day for the first time this week, but, like Joyce, will be in a platoon situation.

Jake Smolinski: The right-handed side of the center field platoon belongs to the 29-year-old Smolinski, who missed the first five months of the 2017 season following right shoulder surgery. “Smol” averages 12 homers per 162 games played but has never played more than 99 games (2016) in the major leagues in a year. Given the opportunity, he has the skills both offensively and defensively to be a productive member of this club, but that will not prevent him from being the first man down when Renato Núñez returns from a hamstring injury — only actual production can do that.

Stephen Piscotty: The lone outfielder not slotted as a platoon-er, Piscotty is looking to recapture the success of his first full big league season hen he homered 22 times and drove in 85 runs for the Cardinals in 2016. Moving back into the comfort of his own backyard, the East Bay native may be just what the doctor ordered for the 27-year-old.

Núñez (10-day DL), Josh Phegley (10-day DL), Barreto (minor leagues), Canha (minor league), Fowler (minor leagues), Dustin Garneau (minor leagues), Ramón Laureano (minor leagues) and Jorge Mateo (minor leagues) round out the 20 position players on the A’s 40-man roster.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.

 

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