AL West Preview: Oakland Athletics
When the boss says jump, you jump my friends. So for today I remove myself from the Peoria spring camp of the Seattle Mariners. Today, I focus on their division rival – the Oakland Athletics.
With a 75-87 record the Oakland Athletics finished last season tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the third worst record in the American League. It was the third straight year the A’s finished at the bottom of the A. L. West Division and the second straight year they finished 26 games back of the eventual division champion. Needless to say, it has been a rough few years.
The positive looking forward for the A’s is the club is composed of young talent. The growing pains are inevitable, but the future could be bright.
"“[At the end of last season] I was thinking about my wrist and if it would hurt instead of just trying to compete against some of the best pitchers in the game. It wasn’t until the offseason that I felt like I was all the way back. Now I’m just able to focus on competing.” -Marcus Semien"
Joining Semien on the left side of the diamond will be 24-year-old Matt Chapman. Logging 84 games last year as a rookie, the 2014 first round draft choice struggled to make contact (68% contact rate with a 28% strike out percentage). This spring hasn’t been much better (5 Ks in 18 ABs). However, his .290 BABIP last year proved when making contact he can hit. Even more encouraging, when he does hit the baseball it tends to go a long way (50.5% fly ball percentage and a 13.9% HR/FB ratio). Needless to say, this boom or bust third baseman will be expected to be a key contributor in the middle of the order right alongside this next first round pick.
In the outfield, elder statesman Matt Joyce (33) is surrounded by a bunch of 20-somethings. Perhaps, none more notable than Dustin Fowler. Acquired in a trade deadline deal that sent Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees last year, Fowler is now the A’s 5th ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline and is slated to be the Opening Day center fielder.
Fowler will be a rookie this year, but will not be making his Major League debut. That took place last June in Chicago while still with the Yankees. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived debut (and season) as he ruptured his patellar tendon crashing into a wall chasing the first ball hit to him – it was the bottom of the first inning and he never got an at bat.
A highly touted prospect since being drafted by the Yankees in 2013, the A’s are hoping Fowler can move past the injury and be the everyday center fielder they were hoping to get in last year’s trade. His spring is off to a slow start (.174/.240/.217/.457 in 23 at bats), but if he can get back to his career minor league numbers (.282/.315/.450/.765), he’ll be a solid piece in the A’s lineup.
As young as this team is, there are a few veterans who will be expected to hold this club together. Lowrie is one with Khris Davis and newly signed free agent catcher Jonathan Lucroy being the others. Davis is coming off of two consecutive 40-plus home run and 100-plus RBI seasons and will be the primary run producer. He has solidified himself as one of the league’s premier power hitters. In fact, this spring he has four hits and three of those have left the yard.
Quick fun fact: Ironically Davis has finished each of the last three seasons with a .247 batting average. That really means nothing here, but a crazy statistic none-the-less.
Lucroy is coming off the worst season of his career (.265/.345/.371/.716 with a 0.6 WAR combined in 2017). The A’s are hoping the two-time all-star can revert back to the player he was while with the Milwaukee Brewers (7 years, .284/.342/.436/.436, 17.1 WAR, and 2 All-Star Game appearances). But even if he only gets half way there, his leadership will be invaluable to the young pitching staff.
This is where most of the growing pains will take place this season. Kendall Graveman (27), Sean Manaea (26), and Jharel Cotton (26) are expected to be the top three starters in the rotation come opening day. Depending on what Cotton finds out about his sore elbow, that top three could get even younger with the likes of Daniel Mengden (25), Paul Blackburn (24), and non-roster invitee A.J. Puk (22) all vying for spots in the rotation.
The starting rotation is very young and lacks experience. In fact, only Graveman has more than two full years in the big leagues:
Graveman: 4 years
Manaea: 2 years
Mengden: 2 years
Cotton: 1 year + 5 games
Blackburn: 10 games
Puk: 0 games
This will no doubt play a major role in the struggles that are inevitably awaiting the A’s this season. The truth is though, Billy Beane is rebuilding this ball club. This year will be huge in determining just how far the A’s have left to go.
In a competitive A.L. West Division, the A’s have the offensive weapons to steal a few games. It will take a lot of runs scored. But if the youngsters in the lineup can live up to expectations, the runs will come. On the defensive side of the ball, it is going to take more than a few break out performances from their young pitching staff to be anywhere close to competitive. And quite honestly, that just seems like a farfetched proposition.
I’d expect another year in the cellar for the Athletics as they continue to build and gain experience. They have averaged just 72 wins over the last three years. I find it hard to imagine anything more than that will find its way into Oakland this season. My final prediction:
69-93, 5th Place in the A.L. West
Next: 5 Trade Packages for Mariners Ace James Paxton
2018 looks to be another year in the dark tunnel for A’s fans. However, with the young talent getting a lot of action this year, you can lean on the hope that you’ll soon be able to see the light… now you just have to hope the team will still be playing in your city when that times comes.