- The A's have plenty of highlight reel players, but their starting pitching limits the club’s upside in the watchability department.
2018 Finish: 97-65, Second Place in AL West, Lost in AL Wild Card game to Yankees
SI's 2019 Prediction: 84-78, Second in AL West
Key Additions: 1B Jurickson Profar, C Nick Hundley, SP Marco Estrada, RP Joakim Soria, OF Robbie Grossman, SP Brett Anderson (re-signed)
Key Departures: INF Jed Lowrie, C Jonathan Lucroy, SP Trevor Cahill, RP Shawn Kelley, RP Jeurys Familia
1. LF Robbie Grossman
2. 3B Matt Chapman
3. RF Stephen Piscotty
4. DH Khris Davis
5. 2B Chad Pinder
6. 1B Jurickson Profar
7. SS Marcus Semien
8. C Nick Hundley
9. CF Ramon Laureano
1. RHP Mike Fiers
2. RHP Marco Estrada
3. LHP Brett Anderson
4. RHP Frankie Montas
5. RHP Chris Bassitt
RHP Blake Treinen (closer)
RHP Joakin Soria (setup)
RHP Fernando Rodney
RHP Lou Trivino
LHP Ryan Buchter
RHP Yusmeiro Petit
RHP Liam Hendriks
RHP J.D. Wendelken
C Josh Phegley
1B/OF Mark Cahna
INF/OF Franklin Barreto
Injured List: C Chris Herrmann, 1B Matt Olson, OF Nick Martini, RHP Jharel Cotton, LHP Sean Manea (questionable for 2019 season), RHP Daniel Gossett (unlikely for 2019 season)
Movin’ on up! Jurickson Profar. It might be real this time! Profar, the game’s top prospect six years ago, had scuffled ever since through injuries, position switches, and general ineffectiveness. Last year, though, on an unwatchable Rangers team, he had the kind of season he can build on—.793 OPS, 20 homers, 10 steals (against 0 CS). He’ll have to build a bunch on those numbers to give Oakland enough to replace all-star Jed Lowrie (now in New York), but he may well be up to it: He’s only 26.
Sell! The starting rotation. What happened here? Sure, aces are hard to come by, and the arrival and spread of the opener has bushwhacked an easier path to a credible pitching staff, and Jharel Cotton and Sean Manaea are hurt. But the A’s have surrounded a contending core with mediocrities and no-names—Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada are starting the opening games in Japan. There’ll be a lot of pressure on the bullpen and top prospect Jesus Luzardo, who will be up with the big club soon after opening day, if he doesn’t break camp with them.
Appreciate this man! Khris Davis. You’ve gotta love Davis. He does just one thing—hit for power—but he does it awfully well, with the most home runs in baseball last year and over the past three years, despite checking in at a modest 5’ 10”. His Statcast page is a sea of red, with elite exit velocities and barrel numbers and hard-hit percentages. (He has also hit .247 for four straight seasons, which has to be the best piece of useless trivia in the game.)
The thing is, it’s not some swing gimmick. He has power to all fields that comes from raw strength. I suppose I’d start to worry if pitchers stopped throwing him fastballs… but that hasn’t happened yet. Get this man on an All-Star team!
A Modest Proposal from Joe Sheehan: The A’s went 97-65 last year with a rotation held together by chewing gum and children’s wishes. None of Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Edwin Jackson were A’s on March 15, but by the end of the year, they’d combined for 54 starts, 282 innings and a 3.83 ERA, saving the team’s season. Only Anderson returns, which is fine, because the A’s are set to unleash a monster on the league. Jesus Luzardo, picked up two years ago for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, is the game’s top left-handed pitching prospect, and ready to shed the last word of that descriptor. Luzardo throws a mid-90s fastball and a plus change-up, and in 2018 he had an excellent 4.3 K/BB at three minor-league levels. The A’s may manage his innings a bit—he’s just three years removed from Tommy John surgery—but he’ll be a critical part of their attempt to get back to the postseason.
MLB.tv Rating: 6.8
Matt Chapman is a revelation on both sides of the ball, and Ramon Laureano is a human highlight reel in center. Davis, Stephen Piscotty, and Matt Olson can all mash. Even Marcus Semien made himself into a four-win player in 2018. But Oakland’s starters limit the club’s upside in the watchability department. The odds are just too high you’ll be watching a junkballer should you choose to tune in. Then again, at least he’ll give you the chance to see Oakland’s defense shine.
Keep an Eye Out For...: Lefthander Jesús Luzardo had a 2.88 ERA while skyrocketing through the A's minor league system last year at age 20. He struck out Mike Trout in a spring training game last year, and the Athletics think he could be their first true ace since the days of Barry Zito and Tim Hudson more than a decade ago. Outfielder Robbie Grossman is an on-base machine, and even if he does nothing else, the Twins castoff could still be valuable hitting in front of Piscotty and Davis. Catcher Sean Murphy had an .856 OPS with Double-A Midland last year, and neither of Oakland's current catchers—Josh Phegley and Nick Hundley—bring much offense to the big-league roster.
What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?
It’s whether they’ll have the starting pitching to compete. Offensively they’ll be just as good, but Mike Fiers is the opening day guy because he’s their best guy. Don’t even look for A.J. Puk, Jharel Cotton or Sean Manaea for a while as they’re all rehabbing. Jesus Luzardo is finally up and they’re expecting big things from him at some point this year. After that, Frankie Montas is pitching well, Aaron Brooks is pitching well and Chris Bassitt is competing. They picked up Marco Estrada, who is a great fit for the club. He’ll thrive in that thick air and spacious field. He pitches to contact and that ball does not carry at night in Oakland. It was a setback to lose three guys they expected to have in the rotation by now, though.
Who is the most overrated player on the team?
Chris Herrmann. They thought his catching skills and his bat would help carry them after losing Jonathan Lucroy, but there are already whispers that he just isn’t going to be the guy they thought he’d be when they signed him.
Who is the most underrated player on the team?
Stephen Piscotty. He endured an emotional rollercoaster with his mom getting so sick and eventually dying from ALS and you never know how guys grieve in-season. As a player, he’s been in the playoffs with St. Louis and is a really polished hitter. He’ll probably hit third in the lineup and he’s protected with all those big bats like Matt Chapman, Khris Davis and Matt Olson up and down the lineup.
What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?
Matt Chapman. Defensively he was the baddest dude out there and he showed promise with the bat by going to all fields really well and not falling into the launch angle pattern. In my opinion he’s the best in the game defensively at third even more so than Arenado, though some people think I’m crazy to say that.
What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?
That’s hard to put on somebody on this team. The guy who has the most pressure on him is Ramon Laureano. He came into camp a little bigger, which was odd for a guy who plays with his hair on fire. You can’t help but think he might lose a step or two in the outfield, where he’s best.
Who gets the most out of his talent?
Chad Pinder. He could be an everyday guy on a lot of clubs. He can fill in everywhere—short, left, center, first—and he hits for power. He is the true swiss army knife. Versatility is huge nowadays, and he’s as good as they come. He can play all three outfield positions and all four infield positions! The A’s are only going to keep three position players because they rely so heavily on their bullpen, which makes Pinder so valuable to them.
Who gets the least out of his talent?
Josh Phegley. He’s got a reputation for being an offensive guy, but he can’t stay on the field and his production hasn’t met his profile. He was supposed to hit for a little more power than he has.
Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?
Blake Treinen. It’s everything. It all moves. Heck, he can throw a cutter at 93 and a slider at 91 and then he rushes fastball at 97. There is no comfortable at-bat with him. He was incredible last year.
Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?
Piscotty. He handled himself so well last year. He’s a big-time hitter in big-time situation and everybody respects him in the clubhouse. Matt Chapman is probably the mayor because he wears it on his sleeves, some say Pinder is the guy. But Piscotty is just so professional and leads by example.
Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?
Khris Davis. He hits bombs opposite field, moonshots all over the field. How is this guy not properly appreciated? He’s hit 40-something three years in a row, he’s got angle on his swing, he hits them high and he hits them far; he’s cut down on strikeouts. He loves it in Oakland and I think it says a lot about a player willing to take less money to stay.
Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.
Treinen and Chapman. Treinen is one of the best relievers in the game and Chapman is the type of guy you build around. He has a chance to be one of the best third basemen in the game for a long time. Once Treinen left Washington, he retooled his mechanics and the velocity went up. Now he’s borderline unhittable.
Name the guy (or guys)on this teams that you would never want in your clubhouse.
This is such a great group of guys. Perception of players is kind of the wrong way to go about it, I think. This is a group of guys that is really tightly knit. Bob Melvin is such a smart guy. He treats them like men and they don’t want to disappoint him.
Whose effort could use a jolt?
Phegley. He’s just inconsistent. He needs to show the ability to catch everyday when the club needs him to. The club needs to him step up and it’s a good for him to do that.
Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?
I would want Treinen with the ball in his hand. And I would want Piscotty up because of how smart he is up there and he’s tested in the postseason. Just look at Treinen’s number last year, every situation he answered the call. He was so filthy.
Who don’t you want in that situation?
Nick Hundley. I think they might overuse him this year. He’s been a backup and hasn’t had to catch a lot. He was backing up a lot in San Francisco. He might find himself in some situations where he’ll be batting ninth. He’s a stopgap, but they might have to rely on him more than they’ll want to.
Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?
Jorge Mateo. He’s getting a better hold up on his body. Franklin Barreto is another guy who has played well, but there isn’t much room for him. Mateo has got everything, even if the swing is a little big right now and his approach needs to change a little bit. I love his aggressiveness. You feel like you can tame a guy and calm him down. He’ll be in AAA to start the year, but I think he’ll be up in the back half of the season.
Is the current manager one that you would hire to run your club?
Absolutely. He’s the manager of the year and a players’ manager. He’s old-school and new-school. He’s the ultimate hybrid manager and a true professional. All the whispers were that the Yankees wanted him last year and the A’s wouldn’t give him permission. That tells you enough doesn’t it? He’s a perfect fit in Oakland.
What is the ceiling for the team this year? What about the next three years?
It’s still Houston’s division for the next couple of years. If the A’s pitching comes along and they get some aces then maybe, but you can’t win in this game without top of the rotation guys in the playoffs. Those 4s and 5s that they trot out don’t do it come playoff time.
Emptying the Notebook:
This team has pride and is well-prepared. They expect to be as good as they were last year. … Matt Olson has a chance to be the best defensive first baseman in baseball. Marcus Semien was considered a possible gold glove guy last year and Jed Lowrie’s fielding percentage went up. That’s because Olson was over there at first. The amount of runs he saved last year was incredible. … You can’t find five people who thought that Semien would be an everyday shortstop in the majors for the last six years. Marcus gives all the credit to how Ron Washington helped him, but he’s the type of guy you want to marry your daughter. His work ethic is second-to-none. … Dustin Fowler is healthy and he’ll impact the game with his speed. He’s hitting for some nice power and plays with a chip on his shoulder, if Laureano falters then Fowler will be a breakout player for them. … The bullpen is going to be even better if you believe that. To get Joakim Soria to go join Lou Trivino, Treinen and Ryan Buchter is really nice. The starters just need to get them to fifth inning and then it’ll be time for the bullpen to take over.