After a last-place finish in 2017, the Oakland Athletics are in need of improvement. With a great deal of young talent readying on the horizon, the A’s are more excited than ever about their future. However, for 2018, expectations should be tempered.

General Manager Billy Beane’s vision of constructing a contender on a low budget is once again about to come to fruition. Many players starting the season with the Athletics will most likely be traded before the season’s end. While it’s likely that the Athletics are two more seasons out, Beane’s vision will begin to become clear as the new faces of the franchise make their way to the Bay Area.

It is certain that the A’s will look to improve upon their 75-87 showing in 2017. However, they do play in the American League West. The division is home to the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, who figure to be at-or-near the top of the American League once again. In addition, they must also contend with a pair of formidable teams in the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners. At the very least, the A’s hope to be competitive with their talented core. This should lead to cautious optimism as the season nears.

 

On the Mound

Kendall Graveman (photo cred: The Big Lead)

If Oakland has any hope of making 2018 a sucessful season by the Bay, the pitching staff must step up and have a career year. The A’s rotation will be led by Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea. By mid-August, they are hopeful that AJ Puk will be ready to provide some solid starts down the stretch. In doing so, he would solidify the back end of the rotation. Still, 2018 will be a year of continued development for Oakland’s starters. The pieces are in place to make it happen. Graveman, Manaea, Daniel Mengden, and Jharel Cotton headline a lengthy list of options. At present, it looks likely that right-hander Andrew Triggs would take the final roster spot over fellow-righty Paul Blackburn. However, that could change by the end of Spring Training. Only time will tell if this A’s starting rotation can round into form.

Projected 2018 Rotation:

Kendall Graveman (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Jharel Cotton (R)
Daniel Mengden (R)
Andrew Triggs (R)

 

In the Field / At the Plate

The A’s lineup should once again be anchored by designated hitter, Khris Davis. In 2017, the 30-year-old slugger banged out career-highs with 43 homers and 110 RBIs. Oakland also has Jed Lowrie penciled in at second base. However, he could be on the move based on the development of the highly-touted Franklin Barreto.

Despite impending legal trouble, the A’s see Bruce Maxwell as their starting catcher in 2018. Josh Phegley and Dustin Garneau are also on the depth chart. However, they may be forced to seek outside help should Maxwell’s time in court take a turn for the worse.

Stephen Piscotty (cred. Getty Images)

Above all, the A’s will need a productive year from right-fielder Stephen Piscotty. In 2017, he hit just .235 with a .367 slugging percentage. Piscotty is due for a comeback season, after having to endure the strain of some family health problems last season. If the team expects to contend this year, they need Piscotty to show flashes of his 2015 performance. The former St. Louis Cardinal needs to post career-best numbers to be a central part of the A’s down the stretch. Should he be able to regain his form, the A’s might be a surprising contender for a wild card spot as Fall approarces.

Projected 2018 Lineup:

SS Marcus Semien
LF Matt Joyce
2B Jed Lowrie
DH Khris Davis
1B Matt Olson
RF Stephen Piscotty
CF Boog Powell
3B Matt Chapman
C Bruce Maxwell

 

Player to Watch: Franklin Barreto

Franklin Barreto (cred. Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports)

Barreto will most likely be waiting in the wings at Triple-A Nashville to start the 2018 season. Due to a series of injuries, the A’s top prospect was promoted to the big league club on June 24, 2017. Barreto (who was ranked #43 among Baseball America prospects) hit .197 in 25 games. While those are not exactly eye-opening numbers, he had been impressive in AAA, hitting .290 with 15 HR. If he figures out how to translate that success on the big stage, he will be a key contributor to the 2018 A’s lineup. Should Barreto play a solid first half, it is likely that he assume full-time duties at second base.

 

Pitcher to Watch: AJ Puk

AJ Puk (cred. SF Chronicle)

The 6’7″ flamethrower is hoping to make his Major League debut in 2018. However, Puk will need to be a bit more impressive at the minor league level than he was in 2017. Despite being ranked as #30 among Baseball America prospects, Puk had a 4.03 ERA; splitting time in A+ and AA. He redeemed a somewhat inflated ERA with a 13.2 strikeouts-per-nine ratio. Puk has the talent to be a top of the rotation starter. If the Athletics plan to be contenders in upcoming seasons, they will need him to dominate games by controlling their pace. While its likely that he will debut in 2018, he might be at least a year away from making a significant impact.

 

Final Analysis

2018 will be the beginning of a new era for the Oakland Athletics organization. With the 11th best farm system in all of baseball and many new faces ready to make their Oakland debut, the Athletics have many things to which they may look forward. While prospects AJ Puk and Franklin Barreto will set the table for the future. the A’s will need some of their veterans to make significant contributions. They do have the talent in place to make each game competitive. Unfortunately for the Athletics, they play in a tough division . These A’s might turn a few heads in 2018. However, they are likley at least a couple of years away from serious contention for a league championship.

Predicted Record: 79-83

 

Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC.

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