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Fantasy Baseball 2012: Ranking the Oakland Athletics' Best Options

Nathaniel JueSenior Writer IIMarch 28, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: Ranking the Oakland Athletics' Best Options

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    The Major League Baseball season opener is upon us: Opening Day came and went, in Tokyo, Japan. Yes, the Oakland Athletics squared off against the Seattle Mariners last night (this morning).

    As we squeeze out the final minutes of the MLB preseason, it leaves baseball managers with little time to finalize their rosters, lineups and pitching staffs. Oh, and it also leaves fantasy baseball owners with no time to figure out their drafts.

    But for those of you who are staying up late to determine their draft picks, have studied the numbers and perused all the mock drafts on the Internet, here is a last-second preview of those Oakland Athletics players who might be of value to your fantasy team.

    Let’s rank the potentially draftable Oakland A’s players and project how they’ll perform in 2012.

Jemile Weeks, 2B

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    Second base is a surprisingly deep position in fantasy drafts. At the top of the class are obvious choices like Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, with Dan Uggla not too far behind. After that there are a handful of players who are ranked based on a mix of previous experience and future potential.

    And that includes Oakland’s Jemile Weeks.

    Tristan H. Cockcroft of ESPN.com has ranked Weeks as the 15th-best second baseman in the MLB, right behind Ryan Roberts of the Arizona Diamondbacks and just ahead of Kelly Johnson of the Toronto Blue Jays.

    But what Cockcroft seemingly doesn’t realize is that Weeks will turn out to be one of the top 10 second basemen in baseball.

    After churning out an impressive rookie season, one in which he only played 97 games, Weeks begins 2012 as the Athletics’ full-time starting second baseman. Last year, Weeks was pretty darn amazing in his first segmented season, registering a .303 batting average, with 50 runs scored, 36 runs batted in and 22 stolen bases.

    Those numbers projected to a full 162-game season would have been 83 runs scored, 60 RBI and 36 stolen bases—not bad for a rookie.

    With a big league season under his belt, Weeks looks to put up even more extraordinary numbers, especially as Oakland’s permanent leadoff hitter. But without true power hitters to stack the heart of the order, the new-look A’s will be a running-and-gunning lineup, trying anything and everything to produce run-scoring opportunities.

    Look for manager Bob Melvin to let his young second baseman fly on the basepaths, so long as Weeks is able to better recognize and study the tendencies of opposing pitchers’ moves. The more Weeks is in motion, the better for the mostly dormant A’s offense.

    Weeks is a prototypical switch-hitting middle infielder in that he sprays the ball to all fields, can beat out bunts and doesn’t draw walks very often. Though he has below-average power, he can knock the ball to the gaps, which, with his speed, allows him to accumulate extra-base hits the hard way—or in his case, very quickly.

    Weeks will be a solid pick for any fantasy owner. Most mock drafts project him to be a late-round pick, definitely beyond the 12th round.

    Eric Mack of SportsIllustrated.com has him going in the 13th round (146th overall), which is a farce. Weeks will certainly project better than Danny Espinosa (Washington Nationals), Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians) and Dustin Ackley (Seattle Mariners).

    With a full season in store for him, Weeks can definitely be a steal by the double-digit rounds. In fact, if you were to pick him in the eighth or ninth round, you’d be doing yourself a favor.

    Projected Stats: .289 batting average, 166 hits, 88 runs scored, 55 runs batted in, 42 stolen bases

    Where he’ll be picked: 10th round

    Where he should be picked: Eighth round

Coco Crisp, OF

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    The Oakland Athletics’ best all-around player in 2012 will be Coco Crisp. The 32-year-old center fielder is a steady hitter with a decent eye at the plate, able to demonstrate clutch situation-hitting and a bona fide stolen-base threat. The only asterisk throughout his 10-year career has been whether he can stay healthy for a full season.

    Last year, Crisp churned out a respectable 140 hits, 40 of the for extra bases—including 27 doubles—with 54 runs batted in and 69 runs scored. Oh, and he led the American League with 49 stolen bases, in just 136 games played.

    Unfortunately for Crisp, he’s falls into the light-hitting outfielder category, as his batting average was a modest .264 last season. Though he has decent pop given his size, he doesn’t gain a lot of points in power-hitting categories. Where he’ll excel is scoring runs, stolen bases and total hits.

    However, 2012 will be a different year, as Crisp is temporarily slated to be the Athletics’ No. 3 hitter. With slugger Manny Ramirez suspended for the first 50 games of the season, manager Bob Melvin has decided to use Crisp more toward the middle of the order in an effort to utilize the team’s best hitter in run-scoring situation.

    Hopefully Crisp will be able to cash in on some runs batted in and drive the likes of Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington home.

    Crisp is ranked on ESPN.com as the 44th-best outfielder, behind Martin Prado (Atlanta Braves) and ahead of Andre Ethier (Los Angeles Dodgers). SportsIllustrated.com projects Crisp as a 14th-round pick.

    There are two problems concerning Crisp: whether or not he can adjust to his new position (left field) and if he will be able to stay healthy for the entire season.

    Though defense does not directly play a factor for fantasy owners, there is some preseason speculation as to whether Crisp will be able to focus after having been forced to resign his natural center field position to newcomer Yoenis Cespedes.

    Only time will tell, but Crisp—if healthy—should put up some fairly decent numbers this season. If he can commit to playing left field, he’ll be able to focus at the plate and drive in more runs.

    Projected Stats: .271 batting average, 154 hits, 29 doubles, 70 runs scored, 66 runs batted in, 41 stolen bases

    Where he’ll be picked: 13th round

    Where he should be picked: 10th round

Yoenis Cespedes, OF

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    How exactly do you evaluate a 26-year-old free-agent outfielder from Cuba? You can’t. It’s really a coin flip.

    Yoenis Cespedes was the surprising hot free-agent acquisition by the Oakland A’s last winter. Though he is scouted to be a dynamite five-tool player, it’s not easy to anticipate where he could land in this year’s fantasy draft.

    Somehow, based on Cuban scouting reports or something, ESPN.com has been able to forecast Cespedes as the 64th-ranked outfielder in the majors, behind Brandon Belt (San Francisco Giants) and ahead of Alejandro De Aza (Chicago White Sox).

    Fantasy owners aren’t really sure where to pick him, as SportsIllustrated.com lists him as a 16th-round selection.

    His 2012 season will be an interesting one. Can he handle MLB pitching? Can he additionally handle the rigors of a full 162-game big-league schedule? Who really knows?

    Cespedes, though, has great speed, and power to all fields. Though he won’t bang out 30 home runs, he can certainly produce hits to the gaps and use his speed to grab extra bases. His problem will be striking out and not driving in runs in clutch situations.

    It will be a terrific opportunity for Cespedes to showcase his skills. But only time will tell if those skills will translate to strong fantasy baseball numbers. If he pans out, he could be a true sleeper pick for anyone's fantasy team.

    Projected Stats: .259 batting average, 61 runs scored, 51 runs batted in, 19 stolen bases, 133 strikeouts

    Where he’ll be picked: 16th round

    Where he should be picked: 16th round

Manny Ramirez, DH

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    Not much to anticipate for a once-retired 39-year-old slugger who has twice failed drug tests and will be serving out a 50-game suspension as a result of the more recent failure. But here is Manny Ramirez, the Oakland Athletics’ latest, greatest—and weirdest—gamble.

    From a fantasy baseball perspective, there won’t be much ado over where Ramirez should be picked. After all, he won’t be eligible to play in the majors until June, so there’s no need to fight over his selection.

    However, if you’re anxious for a midseason pickup at the designated hitter position, Ramirez is still a long shot to produce any significant numbers. And yet, ESPN.com has projected him to be the fifth-ranked designated hitter on the board. Crazy.

    There’s no real point in evaluating or projecting how he’ll project, as his absence and re-emergence is a somewhat unprecedented situation. He could hit 20 homers, he could hit four. He could hit .300 or he could bat .222. He could be a really awesome steal if someone picks him off the waiver wire or he could retire by July after realizing Oakland is simply not the place to be.

    Thus, it’s also irrelevant to figure out where he’ll be picked in the draft, if at all.

    Projected Stats: .255 batting average, 10 home runs, 39 runs batted in

    Where he’ll be picked: Undrafted

    Where he should be picked: Waiver Wire

Cliff Pennington, SS

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    Wow, ESPN.com doesn’t even have Cliff Pennington among baseball’s best 25 shortstops. That’s saying something. And SportsIllustrated.com doesn’t have him selected among its 25 rounds of drafting.

    But somehow, some way, Pennington might be able to squeeze himself into relevancy, a late-late-late-round pick at least. After all, is Pennington really a worse option than Rafael Furcal, who looks older than his actual 34 years.

    Pennington is going into his third full season as the Athletics’ shortstop. He is a lifetime .259 hitter, with a .695 OPS. But this season will be a different one for the 27-year-old.

    Having hit in the No. 9 hole for most of his career, manager Bob Melvin is moving Pennington all the way up to the second spot in the batting order—at least for the interim, while Manny Ramirez serves out his suspension. This will give Pennington more at-bats and provide him more run-scoring opportunities.

    The light-hitting middle infielder won’t wow any fantasy owners in the power categories, but his runs scored, hits and runs batted in will surely increase in the No. 2 spot in the order. Thus, Pennington certainly should be considered as a backup shortstop for some owners, certainly in the same milieu as Furcal, Zack Cozart (Cincinnati Reds) and Jed Lowrie (Houston Astros).

    You may overlook Pennington, but don’t sleep on him. He could be of value down the road, as he is hitting his prime and has been relatively healthy for most of his career. Look for some personal bests for Pennington in 2012.

    Projected Stats: .269 batting average, 166 hits, 77 runs scored, 52 runs batted in, 20 stolen bases

    Where he’ll be picked: Undrafted

    Where he should be picked: Anywhere

Brandon McCarthy, SP

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    It’s amazing how much can change in a short 12 months.

    Last season, Brandon McCarthy was regarded as an undervalued potential starter after being signed as a free agent by the Athletics during the 2010 offseason. With a crowded starting staff featuring Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez, McCarthy was just hoping to find his way into the back end of the A’s rotation.

    A full year later, McCarthy is the ace of Oakland’s young staff, influenced by the departures of Cahill and Gonzalez, and injuries to both Anderson and Dallas Braden. But after posting career highs in wins (nine), games started (25), innings pitched (170.2) and strikeouts (123) last season, look for McCarthy to improve upon those numbers in 2012.

    Fantasy rankings on ESPN.com have McCarthy listed as the 48th-best starting pitcher, right behind Wandy Rodriguez (Houston Astros) and ahead of Doug Fister (Seattle Mariners). SportsIllustrated.com’s mock draft finds him being taken in the 15th round.

    But what these two sites might be overlooking is the fact that he is the Athletics’ No. 1 starter, which means his numbers will inevitably increase. The only problem will be whether he’ll tally enough wins against opposing No. 1 starters. But all signs indicate that with his stuff, McCarthy can tally a dozen wins or so, as long as he remains healthy.

    Drafting him up earlier would be a sleeper pick for fantasy owners. Certainly ahead of other starters like Rodriguez, Jhoulys Chacin (Colorado Rockies) and Cory Luebke (San Diego Padres). And if you choose, you’ll be surprisingly rewarded down the road.

    Projected Stats: 12-12 record, 3.30 ERA, 220.2 innings pitched, 146 strikeouts, 45 bases on ball

    Where he’ll be picked: 15th round

    Where he should be picked: 12th round

Grant Balfour, RP

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    Though Grant Balfour was named the Oakland Athletics’ fulltime closer, ESPN.com doesn’t have him ranked among baseball’s top 40 relievers for fantasy drafts. SportsIllustrated.com, however, has Balfour going deep in the draft—the 19th round.

    While Balfour certainly has the stuff and skill to provide some success for the Athletics, the questions surrounding his draftability are related to a) this being his first time in his career that he’s been a team’s closer and b) Oakland won’t really have any leads to save.

    After all, if the A’s are projected to lose anywhere between 85 to 95 games, how in the world will a closer accumulate a significant number of saves?

    Good point. Especially considering it’s not a 100 percent guarantee that Balfour will have the job the entire season.

    But Balfour is the team's most reliable member of the bullpen. And, if you are in the mood of gambling or wanting to be desperate in the saves category, Balfour is a viable selection in the late rounds.

    Last season, Balfour notched a couple saves and five wins. Look for him to improve upon those numbers immensely, vaulting him into the stratosphere of below-average closers.

    Projected Stats: 4 wins, 5 losses, 20 saves, 4 blown saves, 65 strikeouts

    Where he’ll be picked: 19th round

    Where he should be picked: 19th round

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