MESA, AZ – There is still baseball being played at Fitch Park in Mesa. Learn all you need to know about the Oakland A’s Extended Spring Training program.
You’ve heard about Extended Spring Training but aren’t sure just what it is. We’re here to help.
WHAT IS IT?
Extended Spring Training (also known as “Extended”, “EXT”) is instructional in its function and exhibition in its formality. What does that mean? Basically, these are exhibition games where stats are not recorded and the same player can bat second each inning and a pitcher’s pitch count can limit the inning, if need be.
The EXT Season begins a week or so after the full season leagues have begun and continue through late May/ early June; ending before the MLB Draft (which, this year is on Monday, June 8th). All 30 MLB organizations participate– 15 are in Florida’s Grapefruit League, and 15 are in Arizona’s Cactus League.
Games are played on the minor league (or back) fields at each team’s player development compound and have a first pitch time of 10:30am during the week and 10:00am on Saturdays. Thursdays are generally designated Camp Days, and no games are played on Sundays. However, should the teams choose to move the time of the game, they do so, at will … without needing to alert anyone except for the grounds crew and the driver. It can be a challenge when even a simple change – say moving the game from a practice field to the stadium – can be frustrating to anyone attending; including staff. A couple of the facilities do a good job communicating with their operations staff – unlocking of gates, restrooms, indicating location change, etc., but most do not. Two are notoriously bad [cough, cough – Salt River Fields cough, cough – Camelback Ranch cough, cough.]
The games are scheduled based on ease and travel. East Valley teams play each other, West Valley teams play each other, and everyone plays the Center-ish Valley Brewers Maryvale (51st Avenue and Indian School.)
Although the games are not official, there are rosters. Are they complete and thorough? Nope. But it is understandable and respected as to why. As with all Arizona-based teams for the Oakland A’s, there are no names on the back of any A’s player’s jersey during EXT. The Extended Spring tops don’t even have the player’s number on the lower left front, as they do in Extended’s fall-equivalent: the Instructional League.
Some teams have their minor league players’ names on their jerseys (or “desert-dry” tops) and for that reason, many of us who frequent the Extended Spring “league” greatly appreciate the investment made by the Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres.
NOTE: I’ve been known to play the Powerball this time of year, with the intention of , when I win, putting names on the back and numbers on the front of ALL jerseys…and then I’ll pay-off my mortgage. In that order.
Bottom line: there are lots of “Who’s that? Who’s number is ____; they’re not on the roster?” at these games.
It’s ok, because this isn’t a spectator-league. Those who need to know who’s there, already know. Ya know?
The players assigned to EXT are either rehabbing, working on converting from one position to another (fielder to pitcher, like Oakland’s closer Sean Doolittle did). Or they are pitchers adding a new pitch, arm-slot (like RHP Dominique Vattuone did in 2014, bringing a little ¾ slot), or the like. Lastly, there are a group of newer players, some of which were drafted last year, some are being introduced to the US after playing in the Dominican Summer League (Renato Nuñez, Yairo Muñoz, etc.) and some are newly signed free agents (like Oakland native James Harris). Anything that requires more innings/ at-bats than they would receive if they broke with a full season team is a good enough reason to send a player to EXT.
Of course, every player wants to break spring training with a full-season team, regardless of which level they’re assigned to. I can see their eyes roll when I remind them that it’s warm and comfortable in AZ instead of tornado alley like they have in the Midwest or Texas Leagues. I understand; to the players who are part of the Extended Spring Training roster, they don’t care about the weather; it’s the experience, the brotherhood, the unity of being with your team that matters. This is where players are allowed to baby-step their way into the game without being under the microscope and/ or it affecting their performance numbers. It’s like practice, only more organized and against other teams. The numbers don’t count but the growth and development matter. A lot. Many of these players will suit up for the A’s two short-season squads come June, but others will report to full-season affiliates when those teams have a need or their performance dictates a promotion.
On the initial EXT roster, there are familiar names such as Cody Kurz, Dustin Driver, andChris Kohler, but there are a few additions that make this even more interesting, including 18-year-old SS Carlos Hiciano, from the Dominican Republic, who signed in 2013 for $750,000, and catcher Tom Gavitt, the 19th round pick in 2014 who underwent Tommy John surgery after spending one day in Phoenix last June.
There are also names not listed on the roster, including a certain RHP returning from his own Tommy John surgery, Jarrod Parker. The 26-year-old was limited to a total of three innings, with a max of 15 pitches in each in his first EXT start yesterday. As I reported on Monday, his pitches improved – both velocity and command – each inning.
Ruben Escalera, who manages the EXT team and will serve as the manager of the AZL Athletics, said RHP Cody Kurz threw a very good simulated game earlier Monday morning, and that RHP Dustin Driver and LHP Chris Kohler will both be pitching at Fitch on Tuesday morning against the Giants.
OAKLAND A’S EXTENDED SPRING TRAINING ROSTER
Note: rehabbing players are not included on the official roster
Koby Gauna (note: currently serving 50-game suspension)
ARIZONA EXTENDED SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE