Oakland A's: How 6 Little-Known Heroes of 2012 Factor in Next Season

Nick HouserCorrespondent IINovember 19, 2012

Oakland A's: How 6 Little-Known Heroes of 2012 Factor in Next Season

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    The thing that stunned most within the baseball world about the Oakland Athletics' incredible 2012 season was the fact they did it with relative no-namers.

    Well, it's time to start learning their names, because according to general manager Billy Beane, he's keeping the team intact for another run in 2013.

    The San Francisco Giants won the World Series on the backs of nationally-known talent such as NL MVP Buster Posey, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. The Detroit Tigers got there with big names like AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander.

    Before the season started, the most familiar face in Oakland was Coco Crisp.

    But 2012 made superstars out of guys like Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Jarrod Parker. While they'll certainly enter 2013 with much more of a spotlight (and many more fans), some of their counterparts—who played nearly an equal role in producing 94 wins and the AL West title—remain unknown outside of the Bay Area.

    Now that they've cemented their status on the roster, they'll have the opportunity to establish a name for themselves.

    Here's a look at the biggest little-known heroes of 2012—without them, the A's wouldn't have gotten it done—and how they project to fit in next season.

Honorable Mentions

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    Realistically, the entire bullpen consisted of many unknown heroes. Two will make the list moving forward, but it wouldn't be right to leave two others out of the equation.

    Here are the honorable mentions.

    Ryan Cook

    The reliever took over closer duties for a short time and was named the A's All-Star representative.

    With 73.1 IP in 71 games, Cook maintained a 2.09 ERA and saved 14 games. Definitely a hero, he doesn't make the list because of the "little-known" aspect. Sure, he began the season that way, but earning All-Star honors eliminates the idea of being unknown and unsung.

    Cook falls somewhere in between Jarrod Parker (unknown, but made a name for himself) and the guys on the list (played important roles and are still little-known).

    In 2013, Cook should remain the setup man for closer Grant Balfour, and occasionally close himself.

    Pat Neshek

    Another bullpen arm, Neshek definitely identifies as a "little-known" guy, but it's the hero portion he doesn't fully qualify for.

    Neshek was wonderful in 2012.

    He kept an impressively low 1.37 ERA. Unfortunately, he was only utilized in 19.2 innings during the regular season.

    It's difficult to call a guy who pitched 1.3 percent of the season (19.2 innings of a possible 1,458) a hero. However, it's worth spotlighting one particularly heroic effort: Three days removed from the loss of his newborn son, Neshek took the mound in Game 1 of the ALDS, getting the A's out of a jam.

    Next season, Neshek will certainly be used more often, but expect his stats to come back down to Earth.

Travis Blackley

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    Before the 2012 season, pitcher Travis Blackley was all over the map.

    He entered Major League Baseball with the Seattle Mariners in 2004, but then he did not play in MLB again until 2007 with the San Francisco Giants. Even that was short-lived, as he again was out of the majors until 2012.

    Come to think of it, Blackley was still all over the map during the 2012 season.

    After being designated by the Giants, he joined the Oakland A's as a reliever. Blackley appeared out of the bullpen three times before the A's asked him to join the rotation. He remained a starter through June. In fact, Blackley bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen a total of nine times.

    His stats weren't overwhelming.

    However, one must consider the fact that he was constantly asked to start, then pitch in relief so often. And though his stats might not have been All-Star material, he got the job done as an effective stopgap in times of injury.

    Throw in Game 161 against the Texas Rangers, an important win that set up the real possibility of a sweep that would crown the A's as AL West champions, and his 2012 performance becomes all the more special.

    Any time the A's needed someone, Blackley stepped up.

    2013 Projection: Not much should change for Blackley next season. He has shown his all-around value and provides pitching depth in the rotation and bullpen. With Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, Brett Anderson, Bartolo Colon and Dan Straily ahead of him, Blackley should remain in the bullpen for the majority of the season.

    Projected Stats: 5-4 record, 68 IP, 4.25 ERA, 23 BB, 48 K

Josh Donaldson

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    Spring training 2012 began and the Oakland Athletics were set at third base with Scott Sizemore. That is, until he tore his ACL.

    With Sizemore out for the season, the A's were forced to decide quickly on how to fill the hole.

    Oakland was short on options within the organization and in free agency, so they tagged Josh Donaldson as the guy. It worked out well for him and the team. The minor-league catcher—who played third in college—caught on in spring training and started the season as the everyday third baseman.

    He did have one minor hiccup, though.

    In the first three months of the season, Donaldson was plain awful. In June, he was average at best. It was bad enough for the A's to bring in Brandon Inge.

    But when Inge went down in August, all was not lost.

    Donaldson returned from Triple-A Sacramento with authority. In August, he hit .344 with six doubles, four home runs and 14 RBI in 17 games. The following month—during the final push toward the postseason—Donaldson tacked on another four home runs and 12 RBI.

    He was also one of the few guys that hit consistently in the ALDS.

    Though he didn't hit a clutch home run, or even score a run at all, Donaldson did his part to get on base, posting a .294 BA with a .333 OBP. It's just that no one ever brought him home.

    2013 Projection: Look for Donaldson to have a legitimate shot at manning third for the entirety of the season. After a strong finish last year, he has general manager Billy Beane's support. The only way he loses it is with a setback in performance and strong showings from Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore (both are penciled in at second, so if they both succeed and Donaldson does not, Sizemore could move back to third).

    Projected Stats: 114 hits, .228 BA, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 27 BB, 89 K

Sean Doolittle

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    Sean Doolittle was drafted by the Oakland Athletics as a first baseman, but ultimately transitioned to the bullpen as a reliever.

    In his first taste of action in the majors, Doolittle appears to have found the right role.

    During the 2012 campaign, he earned a 2-1 record with a 3.04 ERA. He walked just 11 batters, struck out 60 and allowed only three home runs.

    2013 Projection: After showing consistent talent throughout 2012, expect Doolittle to be a go-to guy out of the bullpen more frequently next season. His 47.1 IP was 20-30 fewer than guys like Ryan Cook, Grant Balfour and Jerry Blevins. Doolittle is a left-handed specialist, but he should still be called upon more often.

    Projected Stats: 4-2, 3.33 ERA, 63 IP, 21 BB, 76 K

A.J. Griffin

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    Perhaps the least-known hero of 2012, A.J. Griffin's story is simply amazing.

    Griffin arrived in Oakland at the end of June, receiving the call-up straight from Single-A. Doing so may have worried many, but Griffin quieted any doubts, going 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 15 starts. Additionally, he started his Major League career with six consecutive wins.

    The 24-year-old rookie was asked to start Game 4 of the ALDS, with the A's already down 2-1 in the series. Again, one might be nervous about Griffin's ability to keep his cool. But once more Griffin pitched well, allowing two runs in five innings.

    He came up because of injuries and suspensions, and he legitimately earned the right to stay in the rotation.

    2013 Projection: Towards the end of 2012, Griffin was the No. 3 starter. When Brett Anderson returned from an oblique injury, Griffin moved to No. 4. Absolutely nothing should change in 2013. Griffin has cemented his spot as the No. 4 starter.

    Projected Stats: 12-8, 3.72 ERA, 142 IP, 36 BB, 104 K

Tommy Milone

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    Pitcher Tommy Milone pitched just as well as fellow rookie starter Jarrod Parker.

    Both had 13 wins. Parker maintained an ERA of 3.47, while Milone's was 3.74. The pair pitched around the same number of innings and games too. Parker allowed fewer home runs, and Milone had a better K/BB ratio.

    Yet it was Parker who was frequently talked about. In the ALDS, it was Parker who ultimately was named the "ace" in Oakland's playoff rotation. By going toe-to-toe with Justin Verlander in Game 1, Parker shined and will be expected to repeat his brilliance again in 2013.

    But again, Milone is just as good.

    It may be the fact that he's pitched in the majors before. It may also be that Parker is just 23 years old, while Milone is 25. Pulling off the same feat is generally more "unbelievable" the younger a player is. Or maybe it's because Parker was the centerpiece of the Trevor Cahill trade, while Milone was just a piece of the return package for Gio Gonzalez (Brad Peacock was the centerpiece).

    Milone pitched very well, holding the most wins by an A's pitcher for most of the season.

    In one start in the postseason, Milone allowed only one run in six innings, walking one and striking out six. Clearly, he has the chops for this Major League pitching thing. Next year, not much should change.

    With experience, he should hypothetically get better.

    Milone and Parker are somewhat similar to Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. All four men are exceptional pitchers. However, in the early years of their careers, Cain was overshadowed a bit by Lincecum (not an overwhelming amount, but Lincecum was recognized early on a lot more than Cain).

    Right now, Milone is equally talented, but a bit overshadowed.

    2013 Projections: Just like the San Francisco duo, as these young men in Oakland continue to pitch together and develop, they have the potential to rise to become one of the most feared one-two punch in the league. It started in 2012, and it should only get better in 2013. Milone is solidly the No. 2 starter next season.

    Projected Stats: 12-11, 3.94 ERA, 190 IP, 41 BB, 128 K

Brandon Moss

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    When Brandon Moss arrived in early June, 50-plus games into the season, not many A's fans even knew who he was. After 2012's unbelievable stats, many learned his name quickly.

    In 84 games, he hit .291 with 21 HR and 52 RBI.

    Moss platooned with Chris Carter for most of the season, but as the season progressed, Moss continued to get better. After hitting .274 in August, he hit .369 in the last five weeks of 2012.

    Baseball is a team sport, but honestly, would the A's have won 94 games and the division without Moss? One could make the argument that they could not.

    2013 Projection: Unfortunately for Moss, the A's enjoyed the platoon's success enough to bring it back next season, according to Jane Lee of MLB.com. However, it is going to be very difficult to ignore what Moss did down the stretch. The pair will platoon, but it won't be 50-50. Moss should start more like 75 percent of the time.

    Projected Stats: 101 hits, .269 AB, 21 HR, 74 RBI, 41 BB, 125 K