Complete Oakland Athletics 2015 Spring Training Preview

Nick HouserCorrespondent IIFebruary 13, 2015

Complete Oakland Athletics 2015 Spring Training Preview

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    Coco Crisp looks forward during spring training in 2014.
    Coco Crisp looks forward during spring training in 2014.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Oakland Athletics' FanFest is in the books, which means the next big event is the beginning of spring training.

    It's been a hectic offseason, so whether you've lived under a rock or paid full attention, you'll probably need a refresher course regardless.

    The team made plenty of additions. That, of course, was to fill the myriad losses. Oakland made some coaching changes. The farm system has been shaken up. All in all, the A's have changed—big time.

    As we head into spring training, let's take a look at all of those changes and preview the lineup, rotation, bullpen, potential breakout candidates, prospects to watch and likely position battles.

Offseason Recap

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    Josh Donaldson has tagged Billy Butler in to the A's lineup.
    Josh Donaldson has tagged Billy Butler in to the A's lineup.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Buckle in. I'm not sure any other team has this many losses and additions.

    Key Losses

    • Jon Lester
    • Alberto Callaspo
    • Jed Lowrie
    • Jonny Gomes
    • Luke Gregerson
    • Jason Hammel
    • Geovany Soto
    • Josh Donaldson
    • Kyle Blanks
    • Brandon Moss
    • Jeff Samardzija
    • Derek Norris
    • Nick Punto
    • John Jaso
    • Daniel Robertson (top prospect)
    • Yunel Escobar*

    *Escobar is a "big name" acquired but traded four days later.

    Analysis

    We all knew there was slim to no chance Lester would re-sign with the A's as one of the biggest free-agent pitchers on the market.

    The same goes for Gregerson.

    The loss of Callaspo, Gomes, Hammel, Soto, Blanks, Punto and Jaso won't necessarily hurt the A's after the team made additions to replace each guy. However, these seven players did make up about a quarter of the 25-man roster.

    Lowrie had one solid year followed by a disappointing one. Rather than guess which year he'd more likely duplicate, Oakland allowed him to leave via free agency. Time will tell if that was a smart decision.

    The hardest loss to swallow will be Donaldson.

    He hit almost 20 percent of the entire team's home runs and knocked in a team-leading 98 RBI. He also had a 7.4 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com, a number more than double the next best. Simply put, the A's traded their best player. 

    They followed that up by trading arguably their second-best hitter in Moss.

    Moss and Donaldson made up 25 percent of Oakland's RBI and nearly 37 percent of the team's home runs. 

    The Athletics also traded Samardzija. The move wasn't unexpected, though, and netted a quality return. Still, it's tough to replace a "shark" in any rotation.

    We may have expected the Samardzija trade, but few could have predicted Norris being traded. With a crowded backstop, Oakland decided to part ways with still-budding Norris, shipping him to the San Diego Padres. Stephen Vogt now takes over as the primary catcher, so A's fans should be confident that the spot will still produce.

    The team traded Jaso, Robertson and a second prospect to the Tampa Bay Rays for Escobar and Ben Zobrist. Oakland then flipped Escobar to the Washington Nationals.

    Jaso represented a nice insurance policy at catcher and designated hitter. Luckily, the A's can use multiple players at DH. The loss of a No. 1 prospect always hurts, but at the same time, if they're used to bring back a quality bat, then it's a trade worth pulling the trigger on (and hoping it works). Escobar could have been a quality replacement for Lowrie. Instead, we'll have to see what a new face below can do.

    Key Additions

    • Billy Butler
    • Ike Davis
    • Brett Lawrie
    • Kendall Graveman
    • Sean Nolin
    • Chris Bassitt
    • Marcus Semien
    • Josh Phegley
    • Jesse Hahn
    • R.J. Alvarez
    • Ben Zobrist
    • Tyler Clippard

    Analysis

    The Butler signing was one of the first moves made and at the time it looked like a great pickup to add to Moss and Donaldson. Now that they're gone, Butler is expected to be the majority of the power in the lineup. He had a down year, but there's plenty of belief that he can return to the big bat most know him as.

    Davis is looking to rebound after a down year as well. He takes over for Moss as the first baseman-possible-outfield-option guy with power potential. He's shown before he has 30-home run potential. It's not out of his realm to come close once again.

    Lawrie is an interesting add.

    He's shown to be talented when healthy. And he's still young (25) with a high ceiling. Lawrie has the potential to effectively replace Donaldson sooner rather than later—if healthy.

    New guys such as Graveman, Nolin, Bassitt, Hahn and Alvarez all enter spring training hunting for a spot. They're all on the cusp and not familiar faces, but they're listed as key additions because of the competition in spring. It will be interested to see which of them makes the 25-man roster.

    Semien is a wild card at this point.

    He has few Major League Baseball games under his belt. That said, Billy Beane is super high on the guy, and there must be a reason. But at this point he could produce Eric Sogard numbers, 2013 Lowrie numbers or 2014 Lowrie numbers. Just keep in mind, he's the guy Beane felt such confidence in that he let Lowrie walk and traded Escobar quickly.

    Zobrist is a massive upgrade at second base.

    The great thing about him is his ability to play multiple positions. So if he's needed to fill the left field vacancy, he can do that. Zobrist has four consecutive years of near .270 hitting and a lifetime .354 on-base percentage. He also has some pop to boot.

    Zobrist, Butler, Davis and Lawrie certainly can make up for numbers lost by Donaldson, Moss, Lowrie and Norris.

    Lastly, there's Clippard, who joins the bullpen.

    He could easily slide into the role left by Gregerson in the bullpen. And now Clippard will become especially important now that Sean Doolittle will miss time for an injury. Clippard is a two-time All-Star who's good for about 70 innings per year (if needed).

    The additions won't replace the losses in the rotation. But the farm system is healthy and the lineup additions should keep the A's competing still.

Injury Updates Entering Camp

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    Sean Doolittle became the A's closer a few months into 2014. He'll take it back over a few months into 2015.
    Sean Doolittle became the A's closer a few months into 2014. He'll take it back over a few months into 2015.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Sean Doolittle (Closer)

    The A's closer has a shoulder injury that will keep him sidelined to start the season. Initial reports said Doolittle had a slight tear, which led to a debate on the definition of "slight."

    However, after Doolittle spoke at FanFest, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "There is no specific timetable for his return, but it’s possible Doolittle won’t miss much of the regular season if he continues to respond well to treatment."

    With Tyler Clippard, Ryan Cook, Dan Otero, Fernando Abad and potentially Jesse Chavez in tow, the bullpen should survive without Doolittle temporarily.

    Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin (Starting Pitchers)

    Parker will return in 2015 after having a second Tommy John surgery. Not much has changed with Parker's status; he is slated to return around midseason.

    Griffin is also recovering from Tommy John surgery. Like Parker, he is scheduled to return around midseason. Because this is Griffin's first TJ surgery, he will likely return to the rotation before Parker.

    Coco Crisp (Outfielder) and Stephen Vogt (Catcher)

    It's worth noting that Crisp and Vogt both finished the season banged up—Crisp with a neck injury and Vogt in need of ankle surgery.

    Many expected both to be fully healthy entering spring training. However, Slusser paints a different picture.

    On the neck, Crisp told Slusser: "It’s something I’m going to have to deal with my entire career."

    On Vogt, Slusser said, "Vogt won’t catch spring games initially, though he will catch bullpen sessions."

Coaching Staff

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    Bob Melvin (right) and Curt Young return to the fold in 2015.
    Bob Melvin (right) and Curt Young return to the fold in 2015.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Manager Bob Melvin returns for his fourth full season. The A's skipper has led the team to a winning record and playoffs each of the last three seasons. Now he has a new team—much like 2012—to see if he can do it all again.

    Veteran coaches Tye Waller, Mike Gallego and Curt Young return to their roles as first base coach, third base coach and pitching coach, respectively. Gallego is lucky enough to get his own promotion in 2015.

    The A's promoted Scott Emerson to bullpen coach. He has been a pitching coach in the organization for more than a decade.

    The most interesting change is at hitting coach.

    Chili Davis joined the Boston Red Sox. The A's filled that role by promoting Darren Bush. As you may or may not know, Bush is a former bullpen coach, which makes this move a bit unforeseen. However, Bush has experience managing a team; he managed the Sacramento River Cats in the past.

    On Bush's experience with hitters, Susan Slusser of SFGate.com wrote:

    Bush spent six years as a minor-league manager, but he also has been a hitting coach, with two years as Stockton’s hitting coach, 2005-06.  And you might recall that when Brandon Moss was first called up in 2012 and made such a huge splash, he credited Bush with tweaking some things with his swing before his callup; Josh Donaldson also has raved about the work Bush did with him and his hitting (and the mental game) while at Sacramento.

    Former bench coach Chip Hale accepted the managerial opening with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The A's in turn hired Mike Aldrete, who spent last season in the same role with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Lastly, the A's hired Marcus Jensen to the newly created position of assistant hitting coach. He will also work specifically with catchers, according to Slusser.

Lineup Preview

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    Reddick is one of the few faces to survive the overturn this offseason.
    Reddick is one of the few faces to survive the overturn this offseason.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Projected Starting Lineup

    1. Coco Crisp, S
    2. Ben Zobrist, S
    3. Stephen Vogt, L
    4. Billy Butler, R
    5. Ike Davis, L
    6. Brett Lawrie, R
    7. Josh Reddick, L
    8. Marcus Semien, R
    9. Craig Gentry, R

    Analysis

    Crisp leads off as he always does.

    In Tampa Bay last season, Zobrist spent the most time hitting from the No. 2 spot. With a transition to a new team, it might be wise to make it as seamless as possible and thus keep him in the same spot in the lineup.

    The meat of the order is where the power hitters go. I'd put Vogt, Butler and Davis in that order to switch up the left-handed and right-handed hitters with power. Based on 2014 numbers, I'm taking Vogt over Davis in the No. 3 spot with Butler on cleanup duties.

    Lawrie hit seventh with the Toronto Blue Jays. Hitting him sixth here keeps him around the same portion of the order he's used to and keeps the lefty-righty switches alive.

    Reddick remains in the seventh spot as he did for the majority of last year.

    Semien makes sense in the eighth spot with Gentry behind him. Gentry can be the "second leadoff" guy, and Semien can get comfortable hitting in an every-day role with the least amount of pressure possible.

    Whether it's actually Gentry or Sam Fuld in left field, we don't know yet. I'd put Gentry in left because over the course of his career he has hit better than Fuld, period.

    Projected Bench

    • Josh Phegley, C
    • Eric Sogard, IF
    • Sam Fuld, OF
    • Mark Canha, UTIL

    Analysis

    Derek Norris and John Jaso are gone. Vogt is the starter, so Phegley slots in as the sole backup catcher.

    Sogard went from starting second baseman to utility infielder. He can play shortstop and third base and plays defense well, which makes him valuable to the team. If Semien hits below .200 or Lawrie gets hurt, Sogard could see plenty of playing time.

    See the discussion above, omit Sogard and insert Fuld. He can play all over the outfield and may see plenty of time if Crisp or Reddick is injured or gets a day off.

    Canha is likely to make the team because of his ability to play first base and the outfield. Last year, we saw a spot go to Nate Freiman, who backed up Brandon Moss. Freiman, however, is pigeon-holed because he can only play one spot.

    Jake Seiner of MiLB.com said, "Rule 5 pick Mark Canha can play first base and left field, and Steamer predicts average offense, making him a valuable bench or platoon option..."

Rotation Preview

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    Sonny Gray has shot up the rotation from exciting new guy to clear ace.
    Sonny Gray has shot up the rotation from exciting new guy to clear ace.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Projected Starting Rotation

    1. Sonny Gray
    2. Scott Kazmir
    3. Jesse Chavez
    4. Drew Pomeranz
    5. Jesse Hahn

    Analysis

    Gray is the ace, no doubt about it. Kazmir with the veteran presence is a lock for the second spot.

    Chavez and Pomeranz spent time in the rotation in 2014 and did well until fatigue (Chavez) and injury (Pomeranz) knocked them out as starters. Until Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin return, these two should hold down the fort. We've seen that they can do it.

    The fifth spot is up in the air.

    It could be a multitude of new, young players. For now, I'm going with Hahn. He pitched in 14 games, starting 12 and finishing two while keeping a 3.07 ERA. He also finished with a 7-4 record in those 12 starts. That amount of playing time in Major League Baseball is more than the other options, which will be listed now.

    Other Options

    • Kendall Graveman
    • Chris Bassitt
    • Sean Nolin
    • Arnold Leon
    • Brad Mills

    Analysis

    It's anyone's guess at this point. Leon has experience pitching in the World Baseball Classic. The other three have limited exposure in Major League Baseball.

    AthleticsFarm.com captured assistant general manager David Forst's thoughts on many of the young pitchers.

    On Bassitt, Athletics Farm said:

    Forst started out by praising right-hander Chris Bassitt, who arrived with Semien from the Sox, saying, 'Bassitt pitched really well against us in September last year. He’s shown what he can do in the big leagues.'

    Athletics Farm had this tidbit on Graveman:

    But of all the A’s new arms, the A’s assistant GM sounded most intrigued by righty Kendall Graveman, who came over from the Blue Jays in the deal that sent third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto: 'Kendall is the guy who moved up as quickly as anybody in the game last season and dominated almost every level. So you sort of hope that the projection on him continues to go in that direction.'

    Lastly, according to Athletics Farm, Forst said he doesn't intend to use Graveman, Bassitt and Nolin out of the bullpen. That means whoever does not make the 25-man roster will report to Triple-A.

    Oh yes, then there's Brad "Dolla" Mills.

    The A's acquired Mills in 2014 for one dollar. He gave up eight runs in three starts. Now he's back as a non-roster invitee.

Bullpen Preview

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    Otero
    OteroEd Zurga/Getty Images

    Projected Bullpen Options

    • Sean Doolittle*
    • Tyler Clippard
    • Eric O'Flaherty
    • Ryan Cook
    • Fernando Abad
    • Dan Otero
    • Evan Scribner
    • Eury De La Rosa

    *Doolittle has a shoulder injury with no current timetable.

    Analysis

    I've gone with what the A's depth chart lists here.

    With Doolittle sidelined, Clippard could step into the closer role temporarily. He's done it before with the Washington Nationals, finishing with 32 saves. O'Flaherty, Cook and Otero nabbed at least one save a season ago, and those three plus Abad and Scribner finished plenty of games in 2014.

    The A's had the third-best ERA among reliever groups in 2014.

    That included Luke Gregerson's solid year and Jim Johnson's abomination. Take out those two and add in Clippard, and we may see an even better year from this group in 2015.

    Other Options

    • R.J. Alvarez
    • Arnold Leon
    • Jesse Chavez
    • Taylor Thompson
    • Fernando Rodriguez
    • Pat Venditte

    Analysis

    Between guys listed on the 40-man roster, non-roster invitees and guys in the minor leagues who could surprise, a slew of guys are not even listed. That said, this group represents the most likely bunch who could make the team.

    Alvarez has been involved in two major trades now. The first sent him to San Diego in exchange for Huston Street. The other shipped him to Oakland for Derek Norris.

    If anyone hijacks a bullpen spot, it's Alvarez.

    In Double-A last season, he pitched in 43.1 innings, finishing with a 1.25 ERA and a 4.69 strikeouts-per-walk ratio. At his last stop in Double-A (with San Diego), the K/BB ratio was 7.67. His work earned him a call-up to MLB, where he kept a 1.13 ERA over 8.0 innings in four games.

    Leon has gone through the minor leagues effectively and could be ready for an elongated shot in the majors. Rodriguez is in a similar position. He's done well in the last few seasons in the minors and in a limited role in the majors.

    Chavez is listed here on the assumption he does not pitch out of the rotation. If he doesn't, he's a lock for a spot in the bullpen.

    Venditte is the famed ambidextrous hurler.

    He has yet to pitch in MLB, but has done well for himself in the minors to this point. With two minor league teams in 2014, he finished with a 2.64 ERA, 83 strikeouts and 22 walks. Here's what Yahoo Sports' Mark Townsend said:

    As for how Venditte is generally viewed by scouts, his stuff from both sides is considered below average. His fastball has topped out in the low 90s from the right side and upper eighties from the left. His secondary pitch as a right-hander is his curveball. From the left, he works in a slider. Again, the scouts aren't usually blown away, but his numbers suggest he's crafty enough to consistently get outs.

    Lastly, Thompson progressed well through the minors throughout his career. In 2014 he received a call-up from the Chicago White Sox, but the 5.1-inning performance in five games is quite forgettable.

Prospects to Watch

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    Jesse Hahn worked a dozen MLB games for the Padres in 2014.
    Jesse Hahn worked a dozen MLB games for the Padres in 2014.Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

    This year should be especially exciting because the A's have so many quality prospects who could make an impact this season.

     

    Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman, Chris Bassitt, Sean Nolin

    All four of these guys are going to fight for a spot. All four will be stretched out as starters. And whomever does not make it should go to Triple-A to continue the starting pitching routine. The great thing about this group is not only youth but also the fact that each has pitched at the major league level.

    Keep in mind also that Beane targeted these guys for a reason.

    Beane traded huge names like Jeff Samardzija, Derek Norris and Josh Donaldson for these young men. That alone should get you juiced to see what they can do.

    Mark Canha

    This is the prospect I'm most excited about.

    Because of his versatility, we should actually see Canha in action a decent amount. He'll play some first base and a bit of left field.

    So why the excitement?

    The Colorado Rockies selected Canha as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Colorado then traded him to the A's for Austin House. Due to the nature of how he was drafted and traded, Canha must remain on the Oakland A's 25-man roster; otherwise, he's offered back to the Miami Marlins (the original team before Colorado nabbed him).

    The moral of this story is that the A's traded a talented reliever for a guy they have to make room for. Again, as is the Beane modus operandi, there must be a reason for that.

    R.J. Alvarez

    You can check out what Alvarez brings to the table on the bullpen preview slide. But there’s more.

    On Alvarez, Melissa Lockard of OaklandClubhouse.com wrote:

    In his major league debut, he allowed a run and walked two in two-thirds of an inning. After that, Alvarez didn’t allow a run in 7.1 innings. He struck-out nine and walked three over that span. Alvarez, who has drawn comparisons to current A’s set-up man Ryan Cook, had his fastball clocked as high as 97 MPH during his time with San Diego.

Breakout Candidates

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    Marcus Semien appeared in a limited role last season with the White Sox.
    Marcus Semien appeared in a limited role last season with the White Sox.David Banks/Getty Images

    Marcus Semien

    The A's new shortstop could possibly be one of the most exciting guys to watch this spring and into the 2015 season.

    So far in his young career, he's played in a combined 85 games across two seasons. Now in 2015, he has an opportunity to start the entire season. This year will be his true test to show everyone what he can do.

    Mostly, though, I'm excited because Billy Beane is clearly excited.

    According to Athletics Nation, Beane said: "We've liked him for a long time. One of the unique skill sets he has is that he's got power in the middle infield, and that's hard to find at the shortstop position. We had targeted him early, and once he was on the table we were having quite a bit of conversation."

    Oakland has targeted him multiple times now and in the past. And if he's being compared to Tony Phillips (see link), then what's not to be stoked about?

    Brett Lawrie

    Can a player who's been in the league for four years and flashed plenty of talent be a "breakout" candidate? Sure, if it's Brett Lawrie, who has been injured quite a bit.

    In four seasons, he's appeared in over 100 games twice and in no more than 125 games in a season. Most have chalked it up to the turf in Toronto. Perhaps it's just flukes.

    Now he's in Oakland.

    It's a new beginning, plenty of foul-ground territory (read: no walls to crash into) and most importantly, no turf.

    Assuming Lawrie remains healthy for close to a full season and puts up his projected 162-game average numbers (per Baseball-Reference), we could see a .260 to .280 batting average, an on-base percentage well over .300, 20 home runs and 80 RBI.

    This could be Lawrie's career year.

Position Battle Predictions

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    Can Super Sam earn a full-time or an evenly split platoon role?
    Can Super Sam earn a full-time or an evenly split platoon role?Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    No. 5 Spot, Rotation

    In the rotation slide, I covered the candidates for the fifth spot.

    There are two scenarios I did not cover. The first is that the A's use Jesse Chavez in the bullpen permanently, hanging onto him as an insurance policy if the rotation is depleted. The second involves a new guy beating out Drew Pomeranz.

    Hypothetically, if both scenarios occur, we could see Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and three new faces.

    I don't think that happens.

    Chavez pitched so well in the first half last season. Pomeranz was on a roll before punching an object and breaking his hand. If the A's are not sure what they'll get from the new guys and know what they'll get from the veterans, use them now and see where the team is at when Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin get back.

    That leaves the final spot.

    In that rotation slide, I predicted Jesse Hahn would win it based on his experience and proven talent at this level. He spent more time at the major league level and did well.

    Of course, if and when a Kendall Graveman or Chris Bassitt earns a spot, I—like many, I would guess—won't be too terribly shocked.

    Final Spot, Bullpen

    I covered this in depth on the bullpen slide as well. It appears O'Flaherty, Cook, Otero, Abad and Clippard have spots locked up. Doolittle gets one of those spots when he returns.

    So for now, two spots are available, and of those two, one will get bumped at some point.

    Because of the ceiling and talent he's shown, Alvarez will win a spot. He won't be bumped when Doolittle returns. The second and final spot could go to Scribner based on status (he's been with the organization the longest and has the most MLB experience).

    Looking at all A's relievers in 2014 (besides Jim Johnson), Scribner easily pitched the "worst." I put it in quotations because his stuff wasn't bad, but everyone else just pitched so much better.

    Left Field

    Is it Sam Fuld, Craig Gentry, a platoon or a fourth scenario?

    Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today wrote:

    Left field figures to be one of the spots where the A's platoon heavily, mixing speedy Gentry — a right-handed hitter — with lefty swingers such as Sam Fuld and possibly Vogt. Left field figures to be one of the spots where the A's platoon heavily, mixing speedy Gentry — a right-handed hitter — with lefty swingers such as Sam Fuld and possibly Vogt.

    Platooning seems to be the most popular opinion of writers, but if I'm Bob Melvin, I use Gentry as a full-timer. Simply put, he hits better against right- and left-handed pitchers than Fuld does. That leaves Fuld as a solid fourth outfielder.

    Gentry would have to come out of spring training hitting the stuffing out of the ball for this to happen.