For sports fans who like to follow Jewish baseball players, it certainly has been worth checking out the Oakland A’s during spring training this year.
The A’s have three Jewish players fighting for roster spots: first baseman Nate Freiman, outfielder Sam Fuld and relief pitcher Jeff Urlaub.
While it’s possible that none will be part of the 25-man roster when Oakland opens its regular season against the Cleveland Indians on March 31, it’s been fun to think about the A’s having three Jewish players in their dugout.
The 6-foot-8 Freiman, 27, is the known quantity in the bunch. In his first taste of the big leagues last year, he had a solid season, getting 190 at-bats over 80 games and hitting .274 with four homers.
But he needed a big spring to make this year’s squad, and it just hasn’t happened (.206 with no homers through March 18). The A’s seem set with Brandon Moss and Daric Barton at first base, and this year, unlike last year, they can send Freiman to the minors without losing him to another team, so they probably will.
Fuld, 32, was signed as a free agent over the winter to add depth in the outfield. The former Stanford star is a veteran of six major-league seasons, and a strong defensive player, but his career batting average is a paltry .234. Last year, in 119 games for the Tampa Bay Rays, he had only 176 at-bats and hit just .199 with two homers. However, because of an injury to Craig Gentry, the A’s No. 4 outfielder, Fuld will probably make the team, at least to start the season.
Urlaub, 26, is a long shot to make the roster. He has never pitched above Double-A (two levels below the majors), but he’s a left-hander, always a desirable commodity.
Urlaub and Freiman were teammates on the Israeli squad that got a lot of attention when it played in the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic in 2012.
LOCAL SPOTLIGHT: Joc Pederson of Palo Alto, who also played on that Israel team in 2012, has been one of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ big stories during spring training. The Dodgers were so impressed with the 23-year-old that they included him among the 30 players they took to Australia, where they are making history this weekend by opening the 2014 season with two games against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Pederson won’t be on the Dodgers’ 25-man opening day roster, but he was expected to play in an exhibition game this week against Team Australia. Pederson, a center fielder, hit .278 with 22 homers for Double-A Chattanooga last season, and is expected to start this year with Albu-querque in Triple-A.
Scott Feldman of Burlin-game has had another change of scenery and so far, so good. Really good. The Houston Astros announced this week that the 31-year-old right-hander will start the opener on April 1 against the New York Yankees. Feldman went 17-8 for the Texas Rangers in 2009, but is only 27-35 since then, and the Astros are his fourth team over the last 18 months.
Aaron Poreda, 27, of Walnut Creek has resurfaced with the Texas Rangers this spring after his career nearly spiraled into oblivion. The 6-foot-6 lefty made a brief but impressive splash with the Chicago White Sox in 2009, but then got traded and suddenly couldn’t throw strikes anymore. He spent 2010-2013 in the minor leagues, but the Rangers need bullpen help and are giving Poreda a long, hard look this spring.
NEW CARD SET: Freiman and Feldman are among the players featured in the latest set of Jewish Major Leaguers baseball cards. Released March 15, the 50-card set includes current and past Jewish players, plus some specialty cards. The updated set is the first since 2010.
It also includes stars such as Ian Kinsler (now with the Detroit Tigers), Kevin Youkilis (now in Japan) and Ryan Braun (back with the Milwaukee Brewers after his 65-game suspension last year for using performance-enhancing drugs). New Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus also has a card.
For information on the set, or to order for $36 plus $5 shipping, visit www.jewishmajorleaguers.org. The website also has the all-time roster of Jewish major leaguers through the 2013 season.