One of the rites of spring is the welcoming of new players into the fold. The small market A's are no strangers to adding new players into the mix. Some of those new faces have already appeared at Papago Park to greet their new teammates.
Alan Embree brings 12 years of major league experience to the A's bullpen in 2007. Embree will be looking redeem himself in the junior circuit after a terrible 2005 season with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, where he posted an ugly 7.62 ERA in 52 innings. Embree is no stranger to pressure situations. He has pitched in 11 playoffs series, including two World Series. He won a World Championship with Boston in 2004. Embree has a career 1.66 ERA in 21.7 playoff innings.
The left-hander spent last season with the San Diego Padres, where he redeemed himself somewhat from that poor 2005 season by posting a 3.27 ERA in 52.1 innings for San Diego. Unlike the A's left-handed relievers of the recent past, such as Ricardo Rincon and Mike Magnante, Embree throws hard, with his fastball sitting in the mid-90s regularly.
Shannon Stewart was a late off-season addition to the Oakland A's roster. The 11 year veteran is coming off of an injury-plagued 2006 campaign where foot problems limited him to only 44 games. Stewart played in 132 games in 2005, hitting .274 with 10 homers for the Minnesota Twins. His best season came in 2000, when Stewart posted an 881 OPS and hit 21 homers for the Toronto Blue Jays.
From 2000-2004, Stewart was one of the best lead-off hitters in the American League. His foot problems may limit him on the base-paths, but he should get on-base at a decent clip for the A's this season. He figures to battle for playing time with Dan Johnson. If Stewart is healthy and hitting well, he will see a bulk of the left-field playing time with Nick Swisher at first. If Stewart struggles, Johnson figures to play at first with Swisher out in left.
Lenny DiNardo is the latest addition to the A's 40-man roster. The left-hander was designated for assignment off of the Boston Red Sox roster when the Red Sox finally completed their deal with JD Drew. DiNardo was claimed by the A's off of waivers and immediately jumped a plane from spring training in Florida to the less humid skies of Arizona.
DiNardo had been in the Boston chain since 2004, when he joined the organization as a Rule 5 draft pick from the New York Mets organization. DiNardo appeared in 22 games for the World Champion Red Sox in 2004, but he then spent most of the 2005 season in Triple-A. He did have eight strong appearances at the end of the 2005 season. His 2006 season was marred by injuries, as he posted a 7.85 ERA in 39 innings. DiNardo is a groundball pitcher who has induced 2.75 groundballs for every flyball. He should benefit from the slick fielding A's infield.
David Shafer is making his first appearance at any major league spring training this spring. The right-hander was added to the Cincinnati Reds' 40-man roster this winter and was traded to the Oakland A's in January for right-hander Kirk Saarloos. Shafer is a minor league closer who saved 26 games at the Double-A level last season.
Despite being the new man in camp, Shafer has a few friends already in the green and gold. Shafer was a collegiate teammate of Rich Harden and Brad Knox at Central Arizona Junior College. The Flagstaff, AZ, native has 269 strikeouts in 246.1 career minor league innings.
Despite the new faces, there is still a familiar look to the A's camp. Most of the A's 2006 roster is returning and many of those players are already in camp.
All eyes have been on Rich Harden since he arrived at the A's training complex in January. The talented right-hander has been looking for the magic formula that will keep him on the mound for 30 or more starts in 2007. Harden appeared in only nine regular season games in 2006 and the A's won all nine of those games. However, they struggled to fill his spot in the rotation for the other 26 starts where he wasn't on the mound.
Harden never had an injury problems during his minor league career and was healthy during his first two seasons at the big league level. However, it has been a struggle for Harden since the 2004 season. He was healthy at the end of the 2006 season, and he is throwing without restriction at camp this spring. Harden said that he spent more time working on his leg strength this off-season and he plans to be careful throwing his change-up this spring.
Bobby Crosby is another Oakland A's regular who is working his way back from injury. The A's starting shortstop missed 66 regular season games and all of the playoffs with a score of injuries, including an injured thumb and an injured back. His back injury was the most serious, and it wasn't until midway through the off-season that he knew exactly what was wrong. He has been rehabbing ever since and expects to be at full strength by the end of camp.
Crosby did not swing a bat this off-season and plans to take it slow with the bat this spring. He hit off of a tee for the first time on Tuesday and reported no problems. He hurt his back on a violent swing, so the A's may tinker with his follow-through to limit the risk of further injury. He may be held out of the first week or so of live game action this spring.
Esteban Loaiza also struggled with injury in 2006. He had a strong second half of the season and is 100 percent healthy at the start of camp this season. Loaiza missed most of the A's spring training camp last year, his first with the team, because he was participating in the World Baseball Classic as part of Team Mexico. Loaiza should benefit from a full spring schedule.
Loaiza joins Stewart, Embree, Mike Piazza, Jason Kendall and Jay Witasick as players on the A's 40-man roster with 10 or more years of major league experience. Loaiza has won 10 or more games in every season since 2003, when he won 21 for the Chicago White Sox.
Nick Swisher arrived in camp 20 pounds heavier than he was at the end of the 2006 season. Swisher lost more than 15 pounds during the season thanks to a bout with mono, so he worked to put that weight back on this off-season. Swisher also added about three inches of hair.
2006 was a coming out party for Swisher. Despite a mid-season tailspin caused in large part by his illness, Swisher still managed to post an 865 OPS in 157 games. He was second on the team in homers (35) and RBIs (95). He also walked 97 times, although he struck-out a team-high 152 times. Swisher split time between the outfield and first base last season and he figures to do the same in 2007.
Joe Blanton has arrived in camp looking to regain his 2005 form. The big right-hander tied with Barry Zito for the team-lead in wins with 16 in 2006. However, Blanton's ERA went from 3.53 in 2005 to 4.82 in 2006.
Despite good minor league strikeout totals, Blanton has struggled to strikeout major league hitters. His K/9 rate fell from 5.19 in 2005 to 4.96 in 2006. His walk rate also went up in 2006. He'll need to improve both ratios dramatically to lower his ERA back into the 3's. Blanton could also benefit from better luck with balls batted into play (BABIP) in 2007, as his BABIP was much higher than one would expect in 2006.
The Non-Roster Players
The A's have a number of non-roster players in camp hoping to land on the 25-man roster. Some of these players are prospects who are in camp to get a taste of major league experience. Others are players with major league experience who are looking for another opportunity on the big stage.
Landon Powell, the A's top pick in 2004, is appearing at his first major league spring training camp. The switch-hitting catcher reported to camp having lost nearly 40 pounds since the end of last season. He is coming off a strong 2006 season that saw him make an appearance at the High-A All-Star Game and in the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Showcase.
Powell hit 15 homers in 2006, all for the Stockton Ports. He was also among the California league leaders in throwing out base-stealers in 2006.
Kurt Suzuki is appearing at his third consecutive major league spring training camp. Suzuki has impressed the A's with his work ethic since he was drafted in 2004 out of Cal-State Fullerton. Suzuki had a strong year in Double-A Midland in 2006, where he led the Texas League in catching fielding percentage. He also threw out more than 40 percent of would-be base-stealers. Suzuki also starred as for Team USA in the Pan-Am games last August. He enters camp as the A's top catching prospect.
Kazuhito Tadano had a nightmare season in 2006. Acquired at the tail-end of spring training from the Cleveland Indians, Tadano was expected to be at the top of the A's depth chart for in-season call-ups from Triple-A. Instead, a knee injury caused Tadano to struggle from the outset of the season. Tadano's ERA had gone over 7.00 before he was placed on the disabled list. He was later dropped from the 40-man roster, but he cleared waivers and remained with the organization. He finished the season pitching much better, mostly out of the bullpen. The Japanese native wound up with 60 strikeouts in 56.2 Triple-A innings and he should play a prominent role in the River Cats' bullpen once again in 2007.