With multiple middle infield prospects in the pipeline, what is Marcus Semien’s place on the Oakland roster looking forward?
When Bay Area native Marcus Semien came over to the Oakland Athletics franchise in a multi-player swap for Jeff Samardzija I personally was filled with more than a few question marks about how he would fit into the depleted Oakland roster.
At the time, Samardzija, who was acquired with Jason Hammel (lets never speak his name again A’s fans) from the Chicago Cubs in a mad dash for postseason glory, had one more season left on his contract and had slowly grown into one of my favorite players on an increasingly frustrating team.
Semien, on the other hand, was touted as a high-ceiling prospect for the Chicago WhiteSox, who failed to live up to the hype in his first few stints in Chicago. following the devastating 2014 postseason collapse General Manager David Forst and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane seemingly believed that the Athletics’ playoff window was closing quicker than expected and the trigger was pulled to bring Semien over to his hometown team.
The trade made sense and Semien seemed like a fit for the rebuilding Oakland Athletics. But some three years later, with the Athletics still embracing a rebuild mentality, I’m left wondering where Semien’s stands on the Oakland roster, or if he will still be in the green and gold come 2019.
Marcus Semien is an Enigma
Lets start off by taking a look at Semien’s time with the Athletics up to this point. His 2015 season, his first full season in the majors, was blemished with historically bad play in the field, the kind of fielding that made Derek Jeter look like Omar Vizquel.
In 155 games, Semien committed a staggering 35 errors, the most for any shortstop that season. In 2016, he improved slightly, but still committed a head-shaking 21 errors. Semien was able to shake the field issue bug slightly thanks to some private instruction from Ron Washington but to say Semien is an above average fielder is something I can not co-sign. Servicable? Sure. Gold Glove? Not even close.
Despite his struggles in the field, Semien has shown flashes of brilliance. Built in the mold of a power hitting, low-average middle infielder akin to Dan Uggla, Semien put up his best numbers in 2016 when he hit 27 home runs and 75 RBIs on a .237 clip.
Things were looking up for Semien; then 2017 hit. Semien’s season was marred by injury. After a debilitating wrist injury kept him off the field for all but 15 games in the first half of the season, Semien bounced back in the second half, hitting .262, nine home runs and 37 RBIs in 70 games played.
Semien is a conundrum, and his performance in 2018 is less than predictable at this point in his career. At 27 years old, Semien is reaching that pivotal point in a players career where we learn whether the past seasons are the norm, or if their are more improvements to be had. Heading into the 2018 season, Semien has the potential to break out into a threat in the bottom half of the lineup or fall off into a low-average liability.
However, I fear the writing is on the wall at this point for the University of Berkely-alum.
The Oakland Athletics avoided arbitration by coming to terms for a one-year, $3.125 million deal over the offseason. Not the potential long-term deal that some A’s fans may have wanted, the contract continues Oakland’s trend of balking at extending players past their arbitration years, instead deciding to stick with a short-term option, with further team control.
In July, Susan Slusser with the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Athletics have discussed long-term contract extensions with both Khris Davis and Marcus Semien. In Semien’s case, Slusser reported that the deal was likely in the ballpark of a five-year deal. How in-depth those talks were at the time remains unclear, but the fact that Oakland opted to go with a single contract year does not spell confidence for this A’s fan.
Despite being under team control until 2020, Semien is facing a slew of incoming middle infield prospects who might supplant Semien in the field if he’s not able to play up to his once palpable potential.
A logjam in the middle infield
The Athletics top shortstop prospects Franklin Baretto and Jorge Mateo are projected to reach the major leagues at some point in the 2018 season but likely won’t stake claim to a full-time roster spot until 2019 if they flounder in the majors.
The Athletics received a glimpse, albeit brief, look at Baretto last season. In 25 games played, Baretto hit a paltry .197 with two home runs and six RBI. The 21-year old struck out 33 times in 76 plate appearances. Suffice it to say, Baretto didn’t set the baseball world on fire.
Despite the struggles, Baretto remains Oakland’s No.1 prospect heading into the 2018 season and will certainly recieve a second crack at the major league lineup sooner rather than later. If Baretto can match his potential this season, it can give the Athletics reason to cut Semien loose without losing much in the way of production.
Mateo, on the other hand, has yet to make his major league debut but is starting to garner the type of buzz that you would hope for a player included in a deal for Sonny Gray.
Last season, Mateo batted .292 with four home runs and 20 RBIs in 30 games played for AA Midland after arriving from the Yankee’s organization. Recently pegged as the fastest prospect in baseball (80 Grade), he topped it off with 13 for 16 in stolen base attempts.
Possible position changes
Its worth noting that both Baretto and Mateo are strong candidates for position changes by the time they reach the majors for good. Multiple analysts see Baretto’s best shot at a playing time coming from a move to second base. If doubles machine Jed Lowrie does not finish his season with Oakland as expected, Baretto will likely hold down the fort at the cornerstone.
Mateo has split time in 2017 between the middle infield and the outfield. Multiple sources have reported that Mateo will likely make a fulltime shift to the outfield for the 2018 season.
Currently sitting at No. 72 on the MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list, Mateo has the speed to cover plenty of ground with above-average arm strength to get the job done in center. With just 29 games played in centerfield in the Yankees farm system before being traded to Oakland in the Sonny Gray deal, he’ll certainly need more time in the outfield if that is indeed where he is expected to ultimately end up.
Further out, there is also Nick Allen to consider. Drafted in the third round of the 2017 draft, Allen is a pure shortstop prospect with the range to command the position. Allen is expected to be MLB ready by 2021, the season after Semien becomes free agency eligible. If the A’s wish, a scenario where Semien sticks on at Shortstop until 2020, Mateo moving to the outfield and Baretto manning second base is a real possibility and something that I wouldn’t put past the Athletics brass. However, with their current crop of infield talent, and Oakland’s propensity to cut costs when production doesn’t match the paycheck, the possibility of a deadline move remains.
The A’s proved that they are they aren’t against trading a player to make room for incoming talent when they moved Ryon Healy this offseason; to the division rival Seattle Mariners no less. Either way, the Athletics have options moving forward, and evident by his current contract, I’m not so sure that Semien factors into those plans longterm.