There Will Be Lots of Rookie Time With A's This Season

John Hickey

Everything you need to know about the A’s faith in Sean Murphy is reflected in one roster move the A’s didn’t make this off-season.

Oakland management decided not to tender a contract to veteran catcher Josh Phegley, who subsequently signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs.

The facts that Murphy has just 60 Major League plate trips to his name and only 53 games in 2019 combined between the minors and the majors didn’t dull the A’s belief in him as their next full-time catcher. 

Neither did the fact that he spent two cycles of 2019 on the injured list with knee issues and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery about a week after the season ended.

So, the A’s are poised to enter the season with Murphy, 25 and a right-hander, and 26-year-old lefty Austin Allen and his 71 career plate appearances as their catching options. As things stand, Murphy is the starter. Backstop could be a weak link for Oakland to open the season, but the A’s don’t seem to see it that way.

For one thing, Murphy is healthy again, entering spring training saying he has “no complaints” about his knee and that he’ll be “good to go, no question,” come April.

That’s good news, to be sure, but not good enough to keep the A’s from holding him out of spring games until the first week of March. He’s going though regular workouts, but the games will have to wait just a bit.

While Murphy has goals, some of them aren’t the kind of goals you’d typically get from a rookie.

He jumps on the fact that Oakland enters the season with two potential Rookie of the Year candidates in the rotation in lefties A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo. His eyes light up when he talks about it.

“I hope one of them wins it,” Murphy says, “because I want to catch those guys.”

In actual fact, he wants to catch all five members of the rotation, with returning veterans Mike Fiers, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas seemingly poised to make the front end of a stellar rotation.

“We have depth, for sure,” Murphy says. “You go one through five, and every guy has a chance to be an ace. I don’t think there is any doubt that we’re going to win a lot of games on the backs of our pitching staff.”

Bob Melvin, himself a catcher for a decade in the mid ‘80s and ‘90s, has a need for a reliable catching group. While there’s a chance that the A’s will make a move for a backstop – 34-year-old Jonathan Lucroy, who was with the A’s in 2018, was available until a Wednesday, Feb. 19, signing with the Red Sox and 37-year-old Russell Martin remains unsigned – for the moment, the best guess is that the A’s are set behind the plate.

“It’s an inexperienced group, but it’s a talented bunch,” Melvin said. “You look at what Murphy did, especially at the beginning, right after he got here, has us excited.”

Murphy, who hit 11 homers in 171 minor league at-bats once his injury problems were behind him, came to the A’s with a .293/.384/.580 slash line that didn’t prepare the A’s for what they first saw. The 2016 third-round draft pick out of Wright State homered four times in his first seven games, the only A’s player in history to do that – Mitchell Page, Yoenis Cespedes and Kurt Abbott had done it three times.

“We have been waiting for Murphy for the better part of a year plus now, and now he’s finally here,” Murphy said. “And he’s shown he’s capable of handling it.”

What Murphy has to do now is learn the pitching staff. He already loves it.

As Murphy puts it, “We like our chances.”