More than halfway through spring training, the Oakland A's have been giving fans glimpses of what could be an even better team in 2013 than they were in 2012. In spite of the 9-10 record in the Cactus League, there are plenty of positives that provide optimism for the season ahead. So let's take it around the horn.
Brandon Moss has done nothing to make A's fans lament the trade of Chris Carter to acquire Jed Lowrie. Moss has been solid defensively and has hit .333 with a home run and five RBI in 13 games. Daric Barton has been, well, Daric Barton. Though he has hit just .238, Barton has drawn seven walks and sports a Moneyball-esque .467 on-base percentage in 21 at-bats.
The battle has commenced! Jemile Weeks, Andy Parrino, Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard have all impressed this spring. Sogard is hitting .500 after Sunday's 4-for-4 performance. Weeks and Parrino are hitting .421 and .400 respectively, and Rosales smashed two home runs in Sunday's game against the Chicago Cubs.
Who should be the starting second baseman?
This was the biggest question mark in terms of position play for the team, and early on, there are no shortage of guys ready to step up and seize the job. Even the recently cut Grant Green (sent to Triple-A Sacramento) was hitting .400 in his own right.
Depth is the name of the game here. Hiroyuki Nakajima has struggled both at the plate (.194 batting average) and in the field (three errors), which makes having Jed Lowrie available all the more of a blessing. Last year, the A's were stuck with Cliff Pennington until August, even as he struggled to hit his weight at times.
This year, Lowrie is a deluxe Swiss Army knife. And it appears as though his first tool may be playing shortstop. I am not giving up on "Hiro," but I'm also not worried if it takes a little longer for the Japanese import to get up to MLB speed.
Josh Donaldson can still hit. If you count the two home runs he hit in a cancelled game, Donaldson has four spring home runs. His defense has been decent, one error aside. And again, Lowrie could play here if there is a slump; another luxury Oakland did not have in 2012.
The biggest carry-over from last year is the swing of Josh Reddick. Three home runs and a .321 batting average are showing that his power bat was not a fluke. Reddick remains huge because whether hitting in front of or behind Yoenis Cespedes, he will get plenty of opportunities to deliver.
Coco Crisp and Seth Smith (expected to do the bulk of his work at DH) have both been solid and productive. As for Cespedes, don't be alarmed about his slow start. Remember, he was hitting just .245 at the end of May last year.
Derek Norris has solidified his hold on the starting job with a pair of home runs and a .304 batting average in 11 games. But John Jaso has shown himself to be exactly what he was advertised to be: a patient contact hitter who will get on base (five walks against just two strikeouts).
Are you concerned about Jarrod Parker's early struggles?
The early worries are about Jarrod Parker's 10.00 ERA and Bartolo Colon's 22 hits allowed in 11 innings. And while there is some room for concern, remember, Jered Weaver and Stephen Strasburg's ERAs of 10.13 and 4.66 respectively aren't harbingers for their 2013s.
What really is important is that aside from Brett Anderson's trapezius muscle, the A's starting pitching is healthy. That means no Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey starting the season in the rotation. And A.J. Griffin is just as solid so far with a run allowed in five innings.
And then there's the relief. Sean Doolittle and Pat Neshek have been largely brilliant. The biggest surprise has been non-roster invitee Mike Ekstrom, who continues to make a surprise bid to make the team. He has posted a 1.69 ERA in 10.2 innings.
What it really gets down to is Oakland's health. Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore appear to be fine in the long term after each suffering an injury. Staying healthy is the biggest concern because this team has legitimate depth. If that continues, success will follow because the talent is there in Oakland (or Arizona).