The Oakland Athletics finally gave fans a glimpse of their future on July 14th, when top prospects Zack Gelof and Tyler Soderstrom made their major league debuts together.
The move was long-awaited, and Gelof wasted no time making an impact, launching a deep fly ball that bounced just off the top of the wall for his first major league hit, double, and RBI.
Gelof's talent is undeniable. He is likely to be a great player. However, as the Athletics prepare for the second half of a disappointing 2023 season, the question remains of where he fits on the roster right now.
Tony Kemp, the Athletics' starting second baseman, has struggled at the plate this season. His batting average is below .200, and he has not been able to produce much offense.
This is a far cry from his previous seasons when he was a reliable contributor to the team. However, as mentioned in my last article, Kemp has played significantly better over the past month and a half and brings a rare and valuable dose of veteran leadership to an extremely young Athletics team.
Additionally, Kemp's performance often takes an exponential leap in the second half of the season. Considering this, would partnering with Gelof or potentially being replaced by him hinder Kemp's resurgence?
Kemp also has seen plenty of time in the outfield, though, which feels like an easy move. But who has been playing second base while Kemp is in the outfield? That would be Jordan Diaz. Diaz is even younger than Gelof, but he has already seen action for the Athletics in both of the past two seasons. With 36 hits in just 48 career games, he has been seen as a reliable option at second base, especially considering his tremendous play in the field.
While Diaz played one game at first base last season, it is clear that position is currently being locked down by Ryan Noda and Soderstrom. If the point of calling up Gelof is to show off young talent, what does that mean for his even younger teammate?
Could the Athletics move Gelof to another position? Potentially. Although Gelof played mostly second base in the minors, he did play 60 games at third base, which was his primary position in college. However, his time in the minors showed that he is a much better second-baseman than a third-baseman.
Gelof's fielding percentage at second base was an excellent .974, while it was only .893 at third base. He made 15 errors in 130 games at second base and almost as many (13) in his 60 games at third base.
Additionally, the Athletics have heavily favored Jace Peterson over youth at third base. Peterson, a 33-year-old journeyman, has not been able to produce much offense, but he has been a standout defender at third base. His fielding percentage of .980 is second in the American League, trailing only Texas rookie sensation Josh Jung.
In addition, the notoriously frugal Athletics front office signed Peterson to a two-year $9.5 million deal this offseason. It’s clear that they see something in him, and will likely want to continue playing him at third.
So where does Gelof fit in? Probably a combination of all of the above. He’ll surely see a few games at third to give Peterson some rest. In addition, his arrival will likely lead to less playing time at second for both Tony Kemp and Jordan Diaz.
It’s clear that what the Athletics have been doing is not working, and that change is certainly needed. But is it worth sacrificing play time for three solid contributors to show off under-developed young talent? Time will tell. Fortunately, this is one issue for the Athletics that is actually a good one to have.