The Athletics have two weeks until the 2023 MLB season starts to resolve their center field battle. As a result, the next few games will be crucial for Esteury Ruiz, JJ Bleday and Cristian Pache.
All three outfielders have started in spring training. Nonetheless, manager Mark Kotsay finds himself in a challenging position regarding who will be the starting center fielder this season.
“It’s tough,” manager Mark Kotsay said (h/t San Francisco Chronicle’s Matt Kawahara). “You’ve got two young players we acquired in the offseason. You’ve also got a guy that doesn’t have options. It’s not an easy decision.”
The trio are looking for a fresh start with the A's after all three players arrived in Oakland via trade.
Ruiz arrived in the Sean Murphy-to-Atlanta Braves trade in December, Bleday came from the Miami Marlins for left-hander A.J. Puk in February, and Pache was a critical piece the A’s received in the Matt Olson trade to the Braves last March.
Pache batted .166 with three home runs and 18 RBI in 241 at-bats last season, though the 24-year-old could use more reps in the minor leagues. However, that option is out of the question for the A’s since he can’t be sent down without being exposed to waivers.
“There’s going to be factors that go into it … not just performance but roster construction, depth at the position,” Kotsay said.
“Both Ruiz and JJ have options. And it’s a great thing but it’s also a hindrance for them, in terms of they may not get an opportunity to start with this club. But again, that is where you say they’re going to impact this club at some point. We saw it last year.”
Meanwhile, Ruiz hit .171 in 17 MLB games and Bleday, the No. 4 overall selection in the 2019 MLB Draft, has batted .167 with five homers in 238 MLB plate appearances.
Whoever Oakland decides to be their starter for Opening Day on March 30 against the Los Angeles Angels will be someone with limited MLB experience but plenty of potential, should they make the most out of their opportunity.