Was 2018 a turning point for the Oakland Athletics (A’s)? After suffering through three straight seasons (2015-2017) with fifth place finishes in the American League West, the A’s found themselves near the top. Battling a team like the Astros that is loaded with stars can be tough for a team struggling with anonymity. Face it, unless you are on the west coast or a fantasy baseball guru you may be able to recognize some of the A’s players on one hand.
Why is that? The A’s are a founding member of the AL West with a rich tradition dating back to the 1970s. It’s all about the dollar, and with one of the lowest payrolls in the majors ($83 Million), the A’s continue to swim in a pool of obscurity. Once again, general manager David Frost remained quiet during the offseason and manager Bob Melvin will go to work with the players dealt to him.
No Shortage of Sticks
Unlike many other small market teams, the A’s do not lack in offensive power. Oakland ranked third in all of Major League Baseball with 227 home runs. It was the power surge in Oakland that propelled them into the postseason for the first time in three years.
Designated hitter/outfielder Khris Davis (2.9 WAR) returns in 2019 looking to duplicate his major league-leading 48 bombs. When the name Khris Davis is mentioned on the east coast, a fan immediately thinks of the slugger in Baltimore. However, when the name is mentioned around baseball circles, Oakland’s Davis carries the torch. Within a franchise that boasts a duo named the “Bash Brothers” in the late 80’s early 90’s, Davis is the only Oakland Athletic to top 40 home runs in back to back seasons. In fact, he has topped 40 home runs three seasons in a row but has yet to earn a spot on the All-Star team. That’s ridiculous! Time for the spotlight to shine on Davis in the bay area.
Fun Fact: Davis has slashed a .247 batting average for four seasons in a row. Talk about consistency.
Several other players helped the A’s muscle their way to 227 home runs in 2018. 25-year-old slugger Matt Olson will look to improve his totals (29 HR, 4.3 WAR) and insert his name into the team MVP conversation. The young left-handed batter possesses above-average power and is proving that he is more than a Gold Glove-winning first baseman. At the other corner is Gold Glove winner Matt Chapman. He is ready to take the next step into stardom with a breakout season in 2019.
New Faces Add Speed
A major change in the lineup for 2019 will be the addition of speed. The A’s were last in the majors in stolen bases (35) in 2018 but that will could potentially change this season. If Melvin chooses to get some runners moving instead of waiting on the long ball, the A’s could have an added dimension offensively. There are a handful of names that project near 30 feet/second (elite speed) including offseason acquisitions outfielder Robbie Grossman and second baseman Jurickson Profar. Adding these two to a lineup with Marcus Semien and the A’s could be off and running. This trio needs to make positive strides in on-base percentage for the speed to be highlighted.
If the addition of speed doesn’t translate to aggression on the base paths, speed will help close some holes defensively for the A’s, which will solidify an already polished group.
Outfield and Utility
After an emotional 2018, Stephen Piscotty (2.8 WAR) returns to lock down right field for the A’s. Piscotty quietly cracked 27 home runs last season with a smooth swing from the left side. He is hoping to string together consecutive seasons for the first time in his career.
Robbie Grossman hopes to join the outfield after a couple of offseason surgeries. He finds a way to get on base and will look to be a catalyst at the top of the order. Mark Canha could see some time in a platoon role with Grossman.
Ramon Laureano is a human highlight reel in centerfield. Most likely you have seen epic double play, firing a laser to first base after snagging a ball in the left-center gap some 321 feet away. If you haven’t seen this you must check it out! If he can polish his swing and stay healthy, he could be an asset at the lower end of the lineup.
The A’s bullpen arms is a talented group flying under the radar. Hard-throwing All-Star closer Blake Treinen returns as the alpha dog in the A’s bullpen. He brings along with him a 0.83 WHIP and a nasty sinker that perplexes hitters. Treinen will be joined in the pen by former closers Joakim Soria and Fernando Rodney. Although the vets will not challenge Treinen for the closer title, they could provide some much-needed guidance during their set up roles.
Besides Treinen, the most prized piece in the pen is right-hander Lou Trivino. He made his major league debut on April 17, 2018, and shined throughout the season (8-3, 74 IP, 2.92 ERA). The A’s dynamic duo feeds of one another and will continue to develop in 2019. Causing batters headaches and uneasiness late in a game.
The top two spots are held by veteran right-handers Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada. With Sean Manaea starting the season on the disabled list after from shoulder surgery, Fiers is the clear number one. It’s true, Fiers will not overwhelm you with heat but he is able to lull batters into soft contact. He had the lowest line drive percentage allowed (17.3%) in the majors in 2018. Estrada (1.42 WHIP in 2018) joins the A’s after back to back disappointing seasons in Toronto. He is prone to the long ball surrendering 31 HR in 2017 and 29 in 2018. He’s in the twilight of his career and the A’s will try to squeeze out what they can out of him.
The rest of the rotation is up for grabs as Brett Anderson, Frankie Montas, and Aaron Brooks battle to hold down spots. As Opening Day approaches, this trio will surely be looking over their shoulder for top prospect Jesus Luzardo. The youngster from Parkland, Florida is arguably the top left-handed pitching prospect in the game. Luzardo’s approaches the hitters like a savvy veteran, showing command and attacking both sides of the plate. The 21-year-old pitcher has given up just one run in his 9 2/3 innings pitched this spring, striking out 15 batters as opposed to just four walks.
The A’s lineup is impressive at the plate. They have Gold Glove winners at the corners, a solid bullpen, veteran leaders behind the plate (Nick Hundley and Josh Phegley), and defensive gems in the outfield. The problem is the starting pitching. Aging arms will struggle in the offensive driven American League. Once again, the A’s will be looking up towards the Astros. However, fans can be excited for the long ball and for the possibility of top prospects on the mound in 2019.
Final Prediction: 85-77
Team MVP: Matt Olson