Aramis Garcia appears to beat out Austin Allen for A’s backup catcher job

One of the few position battles on the A’s roster appears to have been settled. 

The A’s optioned catcher Austin Alllen to Triple-A Las Vegas on Wednesday, clearing the way for Aramis Garcia to begin the season as Sean Murphy’s backup. Oakland still has seven spring training games remaining, so A’s manager Bob Melvin wouldn’t declare Garcia the backup just yet, but the writing’s on the wall.

“It means Austin Allen has been optioned,” Melvin told reporters via video conference. “I’ll have confirmation potentially later on if we’ve made a decision on who’s made it. We just got to a point where we knew it would be one or the other two guys. Some of these guys aren’t getting at-bats and we’re trying to streamline things before we go. Just part of that process.”

The A’s acquired Garcia in the Elvis Andrus-Khris Davis trade, as the Rangers received former backup catcher Jonah Heim. Heim was a great fit for the A’s as a left-handed bat with some pop, but Garcia has fared well in the batter’s box this spring and shown good game-calling skills. Daulton Jefferies and Melvin lauded Garcia for guiding Jefferies through his stellar outing on Tuesday, when he struck out seven and walked none in four scoreless innings.

Garcia is 7-for-20 this spring (.350) with three doubles, four RBIs, four walks and 10 strikeouts. He told the A’s radio broadcast on Tuesday he’s surprised at how well he’s seeing the ball after sitting out last season as a minor leaguer. 

Though Melvin has touted Garcia’s defensive abilities, he also posted some decent offensive numbers in the Giants farm system before they put him on waivers this past offseason. In 89 Triple-A games in 2019, the 28-year-old slashed .271/.343/.488 with 16 homers, 55 RBIs and 20 doubles. He definitely has some holes in his swing, though, as he struck out 114 times but walked 34.

Last week, Melvin said the team was focused on evaluating his at-bats.

“You’ve seen the throws he’s made, you see the framing skills,” Melvin said. “He’s real quiet and confident behind the plate, pitchers love throwing to him. We’re aware of that, it’s just the offensive part and not getting to play last year.“

Assuming Garcia breaks camp with the A’s, he could get some heavy playing time as the A’s ease Murphy back from a collapsed lung. Oakland starts the season with 10 games before its first off-day.

“We’ll see how that works out here,” Melvin said Friday regarding the catcher workload. “I wouldn’t argue that fact based on the fact he’s getting a little bit of a late start. We’ll keep monitoring that.”

Murphy has made 13 plate appearances in five games so far this spring. Melvin said the organization is happy with its depth at catcher this point, saying the A’s like Allen’s bat but his focus will be on defensive development.

“We’re happy with all these guys,” Melvin said. “It is nice to have that kind of depth, depending on what goes on and who makes it. Early in the season, typically we make some adjustments depending on what we’ve seen for a while. You always want depth.”

Assuming Jed Lowrie stays healthy through camp, the A’s still have a spot up for grabs in the rotation, bullpen and outfield heading into opening day.