Complete Oakland A's 2014 Spring Training Preview
T-minus four days until Oakland A's pitchers report for spring training. Five days after that, the rest of the squad officially opens camp in Phoenix, Arizona. Baseball is upon us.
The 2014 Oakland A's will look familiar.
Four-fifths of the rotation is the same. There are no new faces in the starting lineup. The bullpen and bench saw the most turnover.
Spring training is always entertaining.
It's a time when we as fans and writers see how well guys have rebounded from offseason surgeries and lingering injuries. Prospects have a chance to shine. Others hope to earn a spot on the 25-man roster. And there always seems to be that one guy who, even though we know him already, has a monster spring.
So who's gone? Who's new? Which prospects are worth watching? Who's returning from injury?
We'll take a look at all of these questions, as well as everything else—from the projected lineup to position battles; from the coaching staff to a complete offseason recap.
Kurt Suzuki, C
Chris Young, OF
Pat Neshek, RP
Jemile Weeks, 2B
Michael Choice, OF
Brett Anderson, SP
Jerry Blevins, RP
Pedro Figueroa, RP
Grant Balfour, RP
Bartolo Colon, SP
Scott Sizemore, 2B
Seth Smith, OF/DH
Philip Humber, SP
Nick Punto, IF
Fernando Abad, RP
Jim Johnson, RP
Drew Pomeranz, P
Chris Gimenez, C
Eric O'Flaherty, RP
Sam Fuld, OF
Luke Gregerson, RP
Craig Gentry, OF
Scott Kazmir, SP
As you can see, it was a busy offseason for the Oakland A's and general manager Billy Beane.
First, he let key free agents such as Colon and Balfour walk. He then filled those two spots with the free-agent signing of Kazmir and the acquisition of Johnson.
The bullpen loses veteran leadership from Blevins. In his place, though, Beane has constructed a formidable bullpen with the additions of Gregerson, O'Flaherty and more. When many hoped Beane would add a bat, he continued stacking his hand with relievers. The move does make sense as a counter to the Texas Rangers' stout offense.
There's no better counter to dangerous hitters than top-notch pitchers.
In the lineup, Beane replaces depth guys such as Young and Smith with Punto, Fuld and Gentry. All three guys are versatile and should prove to be quality adds.
The lineup and starting rotation stayed about the same. Depth was added, and the bullpen went through a major overhaul. Beane smartly matched the moves made by his AL West counterparts and upgraded key areas.
Because of the offseason moves, the A's are in a good position to capture a third consecutive AL West title.
On a side-but-related note: Josh Reddick is the final arbitration eligible candidate. He is requesting $3.25 million and the A's have offered $2 million. But the team is working to resolve the issue and avoid arbitration court.
"These things always get done, so it's not a big concern for us," said Beane via Jane Lee of MLB.com.
The only two Athletics listed on MLB.com's official injury report are Sonny Gray and Eric O'Flaherty.
According to the site, Gray underwent thumb surgery on Oct. 18, 2013 and is scheduled to be cleared to participate in spring training. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle noted that Gray, who was at the Feb. 8 Fan Fest event, "has been throwing off the mound for more than a week and he is entirely healthy."
Fans will have to wait a bit longer to see O'Flaherty in green and gold, though.
The former Atlanta Braves reliever underwent Tommy John surgery in May of 2013. He's scheduled to return sometime around July, although the reliever seems to think it could be much sooner. According to Slusser, O'Flaherty is aiming for a return in May 2014, two months ahead of schedule.
A few guys ended the 2013 season banged up.
John Jaso returns to action after suffering a concussion that ended his season prematurely. A wrist hampered Josh Reddick last season, but after successful surgery in October 2013, he should return to full health. Jarrod Parker ended with a forearm strain, but no major damage occurred.
Coaching Staff Analysis
The coaching staff returns and includes the following:
Bob Melvin (manager)
Chili Davis (hitting coach)
Curt Young (pitching coach)
Tye Waller (first base coach)
Mike Gallego (third base coach)
Chip Hale (bench coach)
Darren Bush (bullpen coach)
Ariel Prieto (coach)
Bob Melvin's style is summed up so perfectly in this quote captured by Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com:
It doesn’t bother me if someone doesn’t pick us to win the division. It didn’t last year. I think our expectations for our group are more important than what others are for us. I expect us to be very good again.
That way of thinking has helped Melvin and Co. to two consecutive division titles and Manager of the Year honors when few thought this Oakland club could do it.
The rest of the staff brings their own unique attributes, but specifically a boat-load of experience (both playing and coaching).
For example, the annually overachieving lineup is producing at such a high level thanks in large part to the addition of Chili Davis, who played in Major League Baseball for 19 years before transitioning to coaching. Jane Lee of MLB.com spoke with catcher Derek Norris, who had this to say about Davis back in September 2013:
It could be a coincidence, but ever since he came here, we've hit a lot more home runs, and it's tough to do with the places we play. He's here for a reason. He's a good influence on us. He's a very intelligent person, not just in baseball but in life, and he's a good person for us to look up to.
This will be Curt Young's 30th season in the A's organization, including time spent as a player. Waller returns for an eighth season, and Gallego mans third for the sixth time.
Coco Crisp, CF
Jed Lowrie, SS
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Yoenis Cespedes, LF
Brandon Moss, 1B
John Jaso, DH
Josh Reddick, RF
Derek Norris, C
Eric Sogard, 2B
Craig Gentry, OF
Stephen Vogt, C
Nick Punto, IF
Alberto Callaspo, IF
On the Bubble:
For the most part, the lineup will look similar. All nine guys in the lineup above are regulars from a season ago. The only major difference now is that Seth Smith is gone and Jaso figures to spend time at DH.
"John Jaso figures to get the bulk of playing time here in 2014, while manager Bob Melvin also rotates in Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp occasionally in an effort to keep them healthy," writes Jane Lee of MLB.com. You can count on Gentry in the outfield any time Crisp or Cespedes are in the DH slot.
As for platoons, Melvin is the master.
You'll likely see Punto used all over the infield and Vogt behind the dish. Callaspo will be used at second and third as per usual, but he will also spend some time at first base as well, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Fans who hope to see another bat added to the lineup can give up on that dream.
"GM Billy Beane said that the A’s will not add any big bats before the spring," writes Slusser.
In lineup-related news, the A's extended Crisp for two years and $22.75 million, according to John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group. Additionally, Cespedes told reporters he wants to finish his career in Oakland (via Slusser).
MLB.com recently ranked their top-10 lineups. They list the A's as No. 3.
On the Bubble:
The starting rotation loses Bartolo Colon and adds Kazmir in his place. Will Kazmir be as effective as Colon was a year ago? It's doubtful. Then again, will 2014 Colon be as effective as 2013 Colon? That's also doubtful.
Imagine this: Parker and Gray continue to grow. Kazmir continues his resurgence. Milone rebounds and Griffin holds steadfast. If all of this happens, the A's rotation won't be one to take lightly. The luxury is that if one of these guys should falter, another is immediately available (Straily according to my projections).
This projection assumes a Milone rebound. Again, if it doesn't happen, Straily is the guy. Straily is listed in the fifth spot above for now though, until Milone proves he can take a spot back from someone.
Pomeranz could finally "find it" when it comes to pitching to the potential he was once thought to possess. He never quite caught on in Cleveland or Colorado. Now he'll try in Oakland. There's also super-dark-horse candidate Phil Humber, who once upon a time pitched a perfect game. He's now looking to make the Triple-A roster.
According to Joe Stiglich of CSNBayArea.com, Parker spent the offseason training to improve his physical condition and Gray worked out with David Price.
Hopefully the conditioning and learning experiences translate into success.
MLB.com recently ranked their top-10 starting rotations. They have the Athletics as No. 9.
Jim Johnson, CL
Ryan Cook, SU
On the Bubble:
This is at the very least the bullpen at the start of the season. Johnson, Cook, Gregerson and Doolittle are locks. The remaining spots are anyone's guess really. But one thing is for sure: Scribner, Abad and Chavez are out of options. Hence, they may likely start in Oakland.
When O'Flaherty returns, though, someone will get bumped.
Also, with the way Otero pitched in the latter half of 2013, it's going to be extremely difficult to keep him in Triple-A. If he pitches lights out in Sacramento, then there's little excuse to keep him off the 25-man roster.
It may be Scribner, Abad and Chavez's jobs to start, but it's also theirs to lose. Should they pitch mediocre with other guys waiting in the wings, the A's may have no choice but to make a move.
A bullpen consisting of Johnson, Cook, Gregerson, Doolittle, Otero, O'Flaherty and either Pomeranz, Abad or Chavez would have to be considered one of the best in the business.
MLB.com recently ranked their top-10 bullpens. Oakland came in at No. 9.
Prospects to Watch
As of this article, the A's have invited Addison Russell, Darwin Perez and Bruce Maxwell to big league camp. Prospects such as Raul Alcantara and Michael Ynoa are already listed on the active roster.
Of those five, only Russell has a legitimate shot at making the 25-man roster. Even then, it's a long shot.
Unless Russell seriously overwhelms and puts up insane numbers in spring training, he'll most likely report to Double or Triple-A. If he starts in Double-A, though, expect him to finish 2014 in Sacramento.
Alcantara, Ynoa and Maxwell have yet to advance beyond Single-A.
Perez is already 24 years old, hasn't made it to Triple-A yet and has bounced around the infield. With Russell ahead of him at shortstop, and so many quality depth options on Oakland's roster as it is, don't count on Perez coming close to finding a spot.
In 2012, the A's rolled into spring training with Scott Sizemore slated to play third base. That all changed when he injured a knee and hit the disabled list for the year. Lacking viable options, Josh Donaldson ditched his catcher's glove and tried his hand at the hot corner.
The rest is history.
Last season, Eric Sogard caught on. Though he didn't necessarily explode onto the scene and take over second base with all-star qualities, he still made a name for himself in a big way. Consider the fact that Sogard won the honor of representing the A's in MLB.com's Face of MLB contest. He's already advanced to the next round as well, walloping Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, 57 to 43 percent.
So, who will it be this year?
There aren't many choices seeing as fans across the nation know Donaldson, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie. Jarrod Parker is pretty much there too.
It could very well be that Sogard or Sonny Gray continue to break out even more. That seems plausible.
Or it could be someone entirely different.
Perhaps this is the year that Derek Norris becomes one of the top catchers in baseball. Or maybe Stephen Vogt flat-out outplays Norris. Maybe it's Sam Fuld who not only makes the roster but steals a spot in the lineup, leap-frogging Craig Gentry.
Of those three, the smart money is on Norris because he has the highest ceiling.
It wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see Dan Otero's name become nationally recognized. Sean Doolittle came out of nowhere once. Ryan Cook earned All-Star honors before even being recognized by his own fanbase.
In 2013, Otero pitched in 33 games, none of which resulted in a loss for him. He also kept his ERA at 1.38. If Otero makes the 25-man roster and continues to pitch like he did a season ago, he's going to become a familiar name on a national stage.
Position Battles to Watch
As you saw in the slides prior, there are a couple of key position battles. Here's a final look at each, with a prediction of who wins:
Fifth Starter: Tommy Milone vs. Dan Straily
Milone started 2012 as a quality arm. Straily was not even a thought. Fast forward a year and Milone was inconsistent while Straily might have been one of the most reliable arms in the rotation.
Milone has shown he has the stuff. There's little reason to believe he can't bounce back. But he stands in his own way mentally (assuming 2012 wasn't a fluke and he just isn't as talented as previously thought). And even if he does, management may just be sold on Straily outright.
Winner: Dan Straily
Bullpen Spots (2): Drew Pomeranz, Josh Lindblom, Dan Otero, Jess Chavez, Evan Scribner, Francisco Abad, Francisco Rodriguez, Tommy Milone
Chavez, Scribner and Abad are out of options. Therefore, the initial inclination may be to go with two out of three of them or all three.
It likely starts that way.
As soon as Eric O'Flaherty returns, though, he's going to take a spot, and based on prior work, the best guess is Scribner's. Eventually, Otero has to make his way onto this roster too. It's a coin flip between Chavez and Abad.
Meanwhile, Milone, Pomeranz, Rodriguez and Lindblom should start in Triple-A and remain there unless there's an injury.
Winners: Abad, Chavez, Scribner to start; O'Flaherty, Otero, Milone to finish.
Less Likely Battles: Catcher, Second Base, Fourth Outfielder, Shortstop, DH
It may seem like quite a few battles, but these are less realistic.
Stephen Vogt would have to wildly outplay Derek Norris and the A's management would have to give up on the latter for now. It's possible, but not probable.
Eric Sogard is the primary second baseman, for now. But it's his job to lose. If he hits near the Mendoza Line, the A's may be quick to swap him out in favor of Alberto Callaspo or Nick Punto on a more permanent basis.
Craig Gentry is slated as the fourth outfielder. He will also get time at DH. It'd take quite the miracle, but Sam Fuld could storm into spring training and make many within the organization rethink their position on Gentry. Again, it'd take a lot to sit the guy Oakland acquired for the hefty price of Michael Choice.
Addison Russell has such high potential, he could push Lowrie at shortstop. Lowrie would simply slide to second base. But in order for this to occur, Russell would have to hit .800 in spring training or something similarly ridiculous.
For now, Jaso is the DH.
If he doesn't hack it, though, there are all kinds of guys that could give it a shot including Fuld, Callaspo, Michael Taylor and more.
All of this, of course, is purely speculation.
The A's should open the season with Norris at catcher, Sogard at second, Lowrie at short, Jaso at DH and Gentry in the fourth outfield spot.
Want to chat A's baseball? Hit me up on Twitter (@nick_houser).