Tyler Ladendorf Is The Oakland Athletics’ Likely Backup Third Base Option
When the Oakland Athletics acquired utility player Chris Coghlan from the Chicago Cubs, it seemed like all of the Athletics’ starting and backup infielders were set for the 2016 roster. However, one player whose season was shortened by injuries last season has flown relatively under the radar, but he may be a solid candidate for the A’s backup third base situation.
Tyler Ladendorf suffered an ankle injury early last season, and spent most of the remainder of the season recovering from surgery. Now that he is healthy, there are a few reasons to believe he will make the 25-man opening day roster despite the acquisitions of some proven infield talent.
It’s no less than a foregone conclusion that Danny Valencia will emerge as the starting third baseman out of spring training, but his backup remains unclear. Backup third baseman will be an important component of the 2016 A’s, because Valencia’s bat will certainly earn him more appearances in the DH slot than it will entire days off.
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Eric Sogard has been floated as a possible backup at third base. The Athletics haven’t asked him to play at third very often, but he has shown that he has the defensive chops to hold his own at the hot corner when they did. He has appeared at third in 25 games for 194 innings throughout his career, and sustained a .965 fielding percentage, which comes in seven points above the league average of .958. On the other hand, the A’s understandably look at his career .239 average and .609 OPS and wonder if they can reasonably expect more production out of their second string.
The speculation surrounding what Coghlan’s role with the A’s will be continues to run wild, but don’t expect him to be asked to play third base. The Miami Marlins experimented with Coghlan at third base for eight games in 2013, where three errors in 23 chances amounted to an abysmal .870 fielding percentage. If the A’s use Coghlan in an infield capacity, expect him to be put at second.
With Jed Lowrie expected to be the every-day starting second baseman, Ladendorf has a clear path to be the A’s reliable backup third baseman.
The A’s system has been grooming Ladendorf for a variety of positions since his days with Stockton in 2010, where he played five different positions. He didn’t get routine experience at third base until 2013, when Midland started him there 27 times for a total of over 230 innings. Although he struggled at third in Midland, he made strides to show his improving comfort level at the position last year in Nashville. At all levels of play throughout his career, he owns a cumulative .957 fielding percentage at third base, which is exactly one tick below the MLB league average of .958 as noted previously.
2015 was essentially a lost season for Ladendorf, but his 2014 season in Sacramento showed a lot of promise on the offensive side of the ball. He finished that season slashing .297/.376/.407, which was the third highest batting average among regular starters for the River Cats that season. This performance propelled him to a standout performance in 2015 spring training, where he appeared in 27 games and made an impression with his .318/.328/.455 line during that time. If he returns to form this spring training, there is little doubt that Melvin will prefer Ladendorf over Sogard for backup duties at third base.
Lastly, it is important to note that the A’s front office was high on Ladendorf last season. The A’s were supposed to be contenders last season; A’s spring training was excited by the prospect of another possible division win. And even with the high expectations they had for last season, they still allowed the inexperienced Ladendorf on the opening day 25-man roster. He is clearly a prospect that the A’s organization likes, and they are likely looking forward to giving him another opportunity to prove himself.
Expectations: The front office will be paying a lot of attention to spring training performances in order to determine the proper backups for the every-day infielders. If Ladendorf repeats his 2015 spring training performance, he will easily make it onto the Athletics’ opening day roster. He certainly has the ability to be a quietly effective utility infielder, but he may have extra value at third base in 2016.