Thursday, February 28, 2013

2013 Preview: Oakland Athletics

Oakland Athletics
(2012: 94-68, 1st Place AL West)
(2013: FC Prediction: 3rd place AL West)

The A's surprised everyone when they passed both the Angels and the Rangers and won 94 games on route to an AL West crown.  The A's rode impressive performances from their young pitchers and strong power numbers from some surprising sources all year long and were able to hold off the heavily favored divisional opponents.

Perhaps the best story from 2012 for the A's was the performance of Yoenis Cespedes.  Despite battling some nagging injuries all season long, Cespedes put up some big numbers in his first season in the US to solidify the A's lineup.

The A's should continue to succeed due to strong pitching and timely hitting, but they will again face strong opposition from their divisional opponents.  The Rangers and Angels are both primed for big years, and the AL West will be an absolute dog fight down to the end.

Let's examine the A's roster a little to take a look at their chances:

The A's pitching staff is very young, but incredibly talented, even with the loss of Brandon McCarthy.  Brett Anderson will be the ace of the staff and the lefty has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter if he can stay healthy.  Bartolo Colon will miss the first 5 games of the year due to a PED suspension, which amounts to no more than a start.  The rest of the rotation will be rounded out by youngsters Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, and Dan Straily.  All four should struggle a bit with consistency, but should keep the A's in contention.

The bullpen is a strong point for the A's.  Closer Grant Balfour is a stud at the back end when healthy and should close out a fair amount of games in 2013.  2012 All-Star Ryan Cook should repeat his success from 2012 due to a power fastball and strong breaking ball.  Guys like Jerry Blevins and Jordan Norberto are quality middle relief guys.  Middle reliever Pat Neshek, perhaps one of the best guys in baseball is fun to watch because of his goofy motion and his ability to get hitters out.

The A's have graduated quite a few good prospects to the big leagues in the last couple years, leaving Sonny Gray as the best prospect down in the farm.  The A's 2011 first round pick should be ready by 2014, but because he was a college pitcher, he might be able to step in and help if called upon this year.

Brandon Moss will play first this year for the A's, and should get his share of homers, but won't hit for a high average.  Second base will be a battle between Jemile Weeks and Park Ridge native and Maine South grad Adam Rosales.  Personally, due to his speed, I think Weeks will step up his hitting a bit and take the job.  Hiroyuki Nakajima will play short, and while mostly being known for his defense, should enjoy a decent first season in the big leagues.  The third base job is between Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie.  If Lowrie can stay healthy, it's his job to lose, as he has much more talent than Donaldson.

The catching duties will be split between John Jaso and Derek Norris.  Both are only average defensive back stops, but both should be able to stick a bit.  The designated hitter role will be interesting, with Daric Barton, Seth Smith, and Chris Young all getting their chances, but I see a platoon between Smith (against righties), and Young (against lefties).  Young will get a chance to resurrect his career in a new city after struggling the last few years in Arizona.

Across the outfield the A's have Yoenis Cespedes in left, Coco Crisp (Do the Bernie Lean!!) in center, and Josh Reddick in right.  This is one of the most underrated outfield in baseball.  Reddick has enormous power and one of the best arms in baseball.  Crisp is a high on base guy who can steal bases and play excellent defense in center.  Cespedes is the definition of a five tool player, and should only get better in his second season in the Major Leagues.

The A's have some solid positional prospects that could be on the way.  Shortstop Addison Russell is by far their best prospect, but he probably won't be ready until 2015.  Outfielder Michael Choice is a stud power hitter, but he still might be a year away.  Considering second base isn't a strong position for the A's, the guy with the best shot of being with the club this year is Grant Green.  Green doesn't have a ton of power, but he can hit for average and is extremely athletic.

A bunch of the prospects will be with the team in the Spring, but Hideki Okajima is probably the guy with the best shot to make the team.  A solid lefty is always a need, especially in the pen.  If Okajima can stay healthy, he has a decent shot to make the team, as he is a deceptive and crafty lefty.

I love this A's team, I really do.  It just so happens that they are my favorite AL team.  I just can't get myself to pick them this year though, due to the division that they play in.  In a lot of other divisions, I would probably pick the A's to make the playoffs, but the Rangers and Angels are both very strong teams.  The A's will surely be able to compete with them, and hopefully some of the magic they had last year will carry over, but I just don't see that happening.  To make yourself feel better A's fans, ignore my pick and do the Bernie Lean.

With Brandon McCarthy gone, this is a very tough choice.  Probably the funniest guy to follow is Brett Anderson, @BrettAnderson49 but I never pass at the opportunity to give one of my favorite guys in baseball, Pat Neshek, some love, so follow him @PatNeshek With the heartache he went through last year, he deserves all the attention in the world.