• 2013: 79-65, second place in the Pacific Coast League South Division
• Manager: Steve Scarsone (second season; 79-65)
• Who’s new: LHP Eric Berger; RHP Joe Blanton; RHP Philip Humber; RHP Sean Murphy; INF Alden Carrithers; INF Jose Martinez; OF Kent Matthes
Eric Berger knows Raley Field; he watched games at the Triple-A park while growing up in Roseville. He also knows how to pitch, once striking out an area-tying record 20 batters at Woodcreek High School, where he was The Bee’s Player of the Year in 2004. And he knows comebacks after having Tommy John surgery. Now he wants a promotion after going 6-3 for Triple-A Oklahoma City last season. “So excited to be here,” he said.
The River Cats are the gold standard in minor-league baseball in terms of victories, attendance and Raley Field’s appeal to fans and players. And no major-league team has had more transactions with its Triple-A team than the A’s. The River Cats, who last season missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006, seek their 12th South Division title in their 15th season in Sacramento. The pitching staff has major-league experience with Joe Blanton, Joe Savery and Philip Humber, who threw a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox in 2012 but went 0-8 with the Houston Astros last season. The team leader is catcher Stephen Vogt, who started 40 games for the A’s down the stretch last season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
C STEPHEN VOGT
• Age: 29 • Bats/throws: L/R
• Height: 6-foot • Weight: 215
• MLB experience: 47 games with A’s in 2013; 18 games with Tampa Bay in 2012
• Last season: .252, 16 RBIs with A’s; .324, 13 HRs, 58 RBIs with River Cats
• Comment: Vogt was sent to the River Cats in a last-day move by the A’s, who have two other catchers, and how he’s handled being optioned demonstrates his character. He could return to Oakland, and the sense with the A’s and the River Cats is he will. Vogt is a leader, perhaps the most respected man in the River Cats’ clubhouse, and he envisions a future that includes coaching/managing.
PITCHER TO WATCH
RHP JOE BLANTON
• Age: 33 • Bats/throws: R/R
• Height: 6-3 • Weight: 215
• MLB experience: 10 years, including 2004-08 with A’s; 85 career victories.
• Last season: 2-14, 6.04 ERA, 28 games, 20 starts with Los Angeles Angels
• Comment: Blanton was drafted in the first round by the A’s in 2002 and pitched for five minor-league clubs, including the River Cats in 2004, in his first three seasons. Last season, the Angels sent him to the bullpen at midseason. He was granted his unconditional release last week after posting a 7.08 ERA in five appearances in spring training. He has shed about 50 pounds in recent years, saying he needed to do it for his health and career. Said an upbeat Blanton: “I’m ready to go.”
HITTER TO WATCH
• Age: 27 • Bats/throws: R/R
• Height: 6-8 • Weight: 250
• MLB experience: 80 games with A’s in 2013
• Last season: .274, four HRs, 24 RBIs with A’s
• Comment: Freiman, an eighth-round pick by San Diego in 2009 out of Duke, was claimed off waivers by the A’s on March 23, 2013. He spent the entire season with the A’s and showed some power and promise, but he was squeezed out in a numbers game in Oakland after spring training.
– Joe Davidson