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Oakland DFA’s Dustin Fowler

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Outfielder Dustin Fowler has been designated for assignment by the Oakland A’s

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s designated outfielder Dustin Fowler for assignment today in order to open up a 40 man roster spot for newly signed reliever Trevor Rosenthal.

Fowler is not, incidentally, Clint Frazier, even though I tend to get the two mixed up. Frazier was the 5th overall pick in the 2013 draft, selected by the Cleveland Indians, and was sent to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline in 2016 for Andrew Miller, and is a 6’0” righthanded hitter who can play all three outfield positions but is best suited for a corner outfield spot, and whose career has been hindered by injury issues. Fowler, on the other hand, was an 18th round pick of the Yankees in the 2013 draft, was sent to the A’s by the Yankees at the trade deadline in 2017 for Sonny Gray, and is a 6’0” lefthanded hitter who can play all three outfield positions but is best suited for a corner outfield spot, and whose career has been hindered by injury issues. Fowler is the one whose career was de-railed by a wrecked knee, Frazier is the one whose career was de-railed by concussions.

Fowler suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his knee in the first inning of his first major league game, on June 29, 2017, when he crashed into an electrical box along the wall in foul ground in Chicago. Fowler was on the injured list when he was traded to the A’s a month later — as was James Kaprielian, the Yankees’ first round pick in 2015, who had undergone Tommy John surgery three months earlier — in the Sonny Gray deal.

Fowler slashed .341/.364/.520 in 55 games for AAA Nashville in 2018, but put up a .224/.256/.354 slash line in 55 games for the A’s that year. Fowler spent all of 2019 in AAA, and while his .277/.333/.477 slash line in 606 plate appearances for Las Vegas looks good on the surface, it was an incredibly hitter-friendly environment he was playing in — the whole Las Vegas team put up a .298/.371/.531 slash line. Fowler was at the Alternate Training Site for the A’s in 2020, but didn’t get any major league time.

Fowler is out of options, and with camps opening and teams having added free agents, Oakland may feel like now is the time to try to see if they can run him through waivers. That said, he’s also the sort of player a rebuilding club like the Rangers would potentially have interest in — a former well regarded prospect who just turned 26 and who could still have some upside.

Eric Longenhagen said earlier this month that Fowler hits the ball hard, but is “a free-swinger with a relatively flat bat path,” which, as we know from Nomar Mazara, is not a great combination when it comes to tapping into power. Fowler has never really walked much — 8 times in 203 major league PAs, and 131 times (6 of them intentionally) in 2639 minor league plate appearances. If you’re going to have a 30-40 point spread between your batting average and your OBP, you’ve either got to make a ton of contact or hit the ball hard, and in the air, a lot to have much offensive value. Fowler has done neither as a pro thusfar.

That being said, if Fowler is a capable defensive center fielder, he is someone who the Rangers could potentially take a look at. Leody Taveras appears to have the inside track for the center field job right now, but it is just Delino DeShields and Eli White behind him, and it isn’t out of the question Leody could use some time at AAA to start the year. Fowler played center field about 75% of the time in 2019, with most of the rest of his starts in right field, and with no game action in 2020 I’m not sure how confident anyone is about his ability to handle center. If he is limited to a corner outfield spot, then I’m not sure he would be a fit in Texas, barring a Joey Gallo trade or a Willie Calhoun or David Dahl injury.