For Oakland A's fans, the term "March Madness" reflects their team's crazy spring training. One major player is out for the season and another isn't hitting. But there is good news: A few guys you might not have expected to hit so well have been pleasant surprises.
Spring training is meant to answer a team's questions.
Oakland's did just that, but the answers weren't exactly what anyone might've thought. The rotation looks completely different than many predicted, and injuries have altered Opening Day plans a tad too.
From surprises to disappointments to key injuries, the roster has been affected.
Michael Taylor has been a bit of a surprise, though I wouldn't say it's 100 percent shocking to see him do well. Taylor has 16 hits in 21 games, including five doubles, one triple, three home runs, 10 RBI and a .320 average.
At this point, though, it would appear he is simply auditioning for a new home:
Expect OF Kent Matthes acquired off waivers from Rox to replace Michael Taylor in @Rivercats OF after Taylor's traded or claimed off waivers— Athletics Farm (@AthleticsFarm) March 20, 2014
Matthes optioned to Triple-A Sacramento; River Cats likely to need OFs if/when Fuld opens season with #Athletics, Taylor claimed/traded.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) March 20, 2014
Billy Burns may have sneaked up on fans unfamiliar with his production in the Washington Nationals organization in 2013, and his fast feet. With a .291 average and nine stolen bases, fans are starting to pay attention:
My deep sleeper pick is waking up. RT @jperrotto: ICYMI: Billy Burns' speed could earn him a spot with the A's.— Brad Johnson (@BaseballATeam) March 16, 2014
Lastly, prospects such as Addison Russell (.280) and Billy McKinney (.455) have impressed. Though they are top prospects after all, so that's more of an expectation than a surprise.
No one expected to see Yoenis Cespedes at the bottom of the stat sheet. Yet, of all everyday players, he has the worst average at .140. And it's not like he hasn't had opportunities to work through it. His 43 at-bats are fourth most on the team.
Yoenis Cespedes has struggled this spring while trying to change his swing; teammate Brandon Moss said he'll be fine. http://t.co/a38Heshcoo— John Hickey (@JHickey3) March 19, 2014
Remember when Eric Sogard almost became the face of MLB?
A's fans would like to see the competition's runner-up hit better than .222 with three RBI. For being the face of the team, at least by fan vote, he's been unrecognizable at the plate.
Looking at the starting rotation, it's hard to pick out just one bust. The unit as a whole has not produced very well.
Would-be ace Jarrod Parker's ERA eclipsed the 10.00 mark—10.61 to be exact. A.J. Griffin nearly matched that. Sonny Gray started OK, but finished with an ERA of 6.30. Dan Straily's is near 5.00 (4.73), and sixth-option Tommy Milone got under 4.00, barely, at 3.86. Scott Kazmir didn't allow any runs but only pitched in seven innings.
You can't judge the impact a spring training performance will have on the regular season. Cespedes could rebound in a huge way. Vogt may not continue hitting as well as he currently is when he goes against consistent, big league pitching.
Injuries, though, will definitely have an impact.
The most notable of course is Parker's. Originally slated to be the Opening Day starter, Parker will now miss the entire 2014 season due to a second Tommy John surgery.
He's out, and Chavez is in. That's not bad, right?
David Forst says the A's really hope AJ Griffin is back early into season and Ryan Cook's hope is opening day but it's all about full health— 95.7 The GAME (@957thegame) March 20, 2014
Add A.J. Griffin and Ryan Cook to the mix of hurt pitchers. According to the A's injury report, Griffin is due back possibly in April. Cook, on the other hand, "feels awesome" (via Susan Slusser of The San Francisco Chronicle) after throwing to live batters on March 19. Parker and Griffin will certainly be missed. The A's have enough quality depth in the pen to make it through a few days without Cook just fine, thankfully.
Lastly, Craig Gentry, the Athletics' fourth outfielder, has been cleared for baseball activities. If he isn't ready by Opening Day, Sam Fuld is the likeliest candidate to fill his shoes until he's ready.
What It All Means
The outfield will certainly be shaken up.
Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Cespedes are still the hands-down starters. If Gentry is healthy, he's the final outfielder on the roster. If not him, then it's Fuld. That means Taylor is gone and Burns reports to Sacramento. McKinney needs time even further down in the system.
That's easy to handle; the rotation is of greater concern.
With Parker and Griffin out, the A's now turn to a sixth and seventh options. Having that much depth is outstanding, but no one wants to lose their top guy, ever. Chavez had a nice spring, so hopefully he can carry it over. And Milone's production is fairly similar to Griffin's, so there shouldn't be much concern there.
But now there are more questions.
Can Gray pick up the slack? How effective will Kazmir be? Will Chavez's spring carry over into the regular season? And who takes Chavez's spot in the bullpen now? Heck, who takes Cook's if he can't make it?
One thing is for sure: The rotation envisioned in February is a whole lot different approaching April.