MESA, Ariz. — When the A’s sold their star third baseman Matt Chapman to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, the main player they got back could be the guy who took Chapman’s position.
Kevin Smith started Friday at third base in the A’s spring practice opener, which they won 10-8 over the Angels at Hohokam Stadium. Smith went 0 for 2 that day, sitting right in the third and striking in the fifth in what was his first real action in the green and gold.
A shortstop his entire life, Smith said he’s won third base with Toronto over the past year and a half. Last year he played that position in 14 of his 18 big league games with the Blue Jays.
“You look at Toronto, and third base was kind of their question mark, too,” Smith said. “In order to [I’ve been] I work at Third and try to make it more of a home for me and feel a lot more comfortable.”
Smith said he watched “a bunch” of Chapman – the player he and minor league pitchers Gunnar Hoglund, Zach Logue and Kirby Sneed were traded for – as he learned third base (as well as Nolan Arenado and Alex Bregman) . Learning the different setups, angles and routes could come in handy at the sprawling Coliseum, where Chapman used the sprawling foul territory in his former home to make dozens of sensational plays.
“It’s definitely fun,” Smith said of the chance to play defense with the Coliseum’s foul territory. “You’ve got an extra 20 yards over there to make some crazy plays, so that’s definitely going to be cool.”
But third base and shortstop aren’t the only places Smith has played. Even with the Blue Jays, he played in one game at left field and one at first base, leaving Oakland manager Mark Kotsay ready to see him in multiple positions throughout the spring.
“We’re talking about the flexibility and versatility of a roster, that’s what it offers,” Kotsay said. “Shortstop by nature, he and I had a good chat [Thursday]. His preparation throughout the offseason for being in Toronto was to give him a chance at third base. But I can imagine Kevin playing several positions for us.”
Smith fought for the plate in his limited run in the big league last year, going 3-for-32 with a homer. But he said the experience of starting his career on a competing team is something he believes will pay off in the long run.
“I debuted when it mattered most,” Smith said. “They were in a playoff run in the East and they wanted to win and go to the World Series. To be called up at that time when it was so competitive and every game counted was really cool. You know what that culture is like and how it feels to play in it.”
But Smith has a strong minor league pedigree, hitting .285 with 21 homers and 69 RBI for Triple-A Buffalo. He also thinks he fits in with how the A’s like to hit, hitting 97 times and walking 44 times in 410 plate appearances.
And perhaps most importantly for big league manager Kotsay, Smith – as well as Cristian Pache and Shea Langeliers, the players who acquired the A’s when they sold Matt Olson to the Braves – all made strong first impressions with their prompt arrival left in big league camp after trade.
“What’s impressive is that all three players who got into the big league camp through this deal immediately got on a plane after telling them and got here within 24 hours,” Kotsay said. “It says something about all three, their characters and what we want from them.”
Puk gains weight but struggles in spring debut
When he held his first post-lockdown media session on March 11, the only guy that caught Kotsay’s eye was former first-round pick AJ Puk.
“[He] looks really physical,” Kotsay said a week ago of Puk, 26, whose struggles with injuries and inconsistency have limited his impact with the majors. “[He] threw the ball great today.”
Puk confirmed this on Friday, saying he’s gained 25 pounds by eating “a lot of food”.
“I basically ate until I wanted to throw up,” Puk said.
The former top prospect added that he would eat “a few” meals and drink two shakes a day. Rice bowls were a prominent element of the diet, which he admitted made him tire of rather quickly.
Oakland’s 2016 first-round pick has pitched just 24.2 innings in 22 games at the big league level between 2019 and 2021 and missed 2020 entirely with a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery in September 2020. In 2021, he missed time early with a strained left bicep before finally struggling to find his arm placement, posting a 6.10 ERA in 48.2 innings for Triple-A Las Vegas and a 6.08 EERA in 13 .1 innings scored for Oakland.
“Last year it was like surviving with my arm slit,” Puk said. “Arm didn’t feel good so I dropped it and started to feel good again and from there I was trying to figure it out. This off-season has allowed me to really work on my mechanics and figure that out and go.”
Puk said he holds the arm slot slowly, but also crouches more and tries to “take the load off the arm.” Kotsay indicated they wanted to give him a chance to expand as a starter for this season, something Puk would welcome if given the chance to do on a rotation where one starter (Chris Bassitt) was already traded and two more (Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas) could be before today’s opening.
“I’ve always ideally seen myself as a starter, so I’d love to have an opportunity to maybe try and win a job,” Puk said. “You don’t know what’s going on – we had a lot of trades going so I don’t know what the roster will be like. That being said, I’m fine coming out of the bullpen and just trying to help the team, whatever that is.
The 6-foot-7 left-hander struggled on his first outing on Friday, giving up two runs on two hits and two walks. He only got two outs (one strikeout). But with any outing this early in spring, it’s easy to ignore the results and focus on the pitches, such as B. to bring the slider down and better control his fastball.
“Of course you want to go out and dominate every game and that just didn’t work out today,” said Puk. “I was a bit excited on the first outing and tried to show people what I’ve been working on all off season. But that will come as spring moves on.”
Honeywell makes Oakland debut
A’s starter Brent Honeywell Jr., the former frontrunner whom Oakland acquired in an offseason trade with the Rays, allowed three runs and seven hits in 2.1 innings of work Friday. Finally healthy after several injury-related seasons, Honeywell said getting the first spring start meant something to him.
“Good steps to get out and feels good to get back on track,” Honeywell said. “It’s fun to be seen as a starter again.”
Honeywell handed off a first inning home run to the Angels’ Jo Adell, and quipped that Adell “did what he was supposed to do with that field because I threw it right in the shot.” But while he feels he still has a lot of work to do after his outing, the 45 pitches he’s thrown today is a good pace to be ready for opening day.
“I leave it up to them, but I can do whatever they want me to do, that’s the main part,” Honeywell said. “I know they won’t be storming in here with guns. Everyone’s trying to get ready for a 162-game, 23-day season, 19 games, whatever it is. But going on and competing every day is the be-all and end-all here, especially now.”
https://www.thereporter.com/2022/03/18/picked-up-in-toronto-trade-as-kevin-smith-could-replace-matt-chapman-at-third-base/ A’s Kevin Smith, picked up in Toronto trade, could replace Matt Chapman at third base