2018 Oakland Athletics preview

2018 MLB preview: Oakland Athletics

2017: 75-87

Last postseason apppearance: 2014

Last World Series title: 1989

2017 Recap

2014 was the last year in which the A’s finished above .500. They won 88 games with players like Sonny Gray, Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Jon Lester, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija, but ultimately lost to the Kansas City Royals in the AL Wild Card Game.

2018 Oakland Athletics preview

Matt Olson hit 24 home runs in just 59 games. (Photo from Athletics Nation)

Gray was the only player named above that was on the 2017 team, and he was traded at the deadline. With that said, not much was expected from the low-payroll A’s, who finished 27th in batting average with runners in scoring position and in runs on the road. They were 25th in bullpen ERA, and only three teams had more than Oakland’s 25 blown saves.

 

However, Oakland had the fifth highest OPS in baseball after the All-Star break, so they do have some momentum, and clearly some pop as they head into 2018.

Khris Davis enjoyed his second straight season with at least 40 home runs as he clubbed 43, which was fourth in baseball. He also finished seventh in RBIs.

Jed Lowrie had a career year, as the second basemen led the team in WAR while finishing second in the MLB in doubles, with a career best .360 OBP. Oakland’s 2014 first-round pick, Matt Chapman, was seventh in defensive WAR and hit 14 home runs in just 84 games.

The biggest surprise was first baseman-outfielder Matt Olson. The 47th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft hit 24 home runs, with a .352 OBP in just 59 games. His 13 September home runs was a rookie record, and the 23-year-old also managed to hit a home run in five straight games. The 24 home runs was tied for the third most home runs in a player’s first 65 games.

The other Matt, Matt Joyce, hit a career-high 25 home runs, and crushed righties, posting a .509 SLG. Yonder Alonso, now with Cleveland, made his first All-Star team, and hit 22 home runs with a .369 OBP in 100 games for Oakland.

2018: Around the Diamond

No Alonso and no Ryon Healy means we will be seeing a full season of Matt Olson at first base. Jed Lowrie will remain at second, while Marcus Semien, who played in just 85 games last year because of a wrist injury, will hold down shortstop. In his 85 games, Semien was able to hit 10 home runs and steal 12 bases. Don’t forget, in 2016, he slugged 27 home runs.

2018 Oakland Athletics preview

Khris Davis has hit 85 home runs over the last two seasons. (Photo from Bleacher Report)

Matt Chapman will continue to play great defense at the hot corner, but he desperately needs to get his strikeouts down. He struck out 28.2 percent of the time with the major league club in 2017, but an even worse 30.9 percent in his 49 games at Triple-A.

Catcher will be a platoon job between Bruce Maxwell and Josh Phegley. Khris Davis, who played 116 games in left field last year, will be the primary DH, so look for his numbers to possibly go even higher.

Playing in left, in place of Davis, will be a mix of Matt Joyce, Chad Pinder and Brandon Moss. Moss was acquired from the Royals and hit 22 home runs last year and 28 in 2016. Obviously, Joyce will be the starter, but he is terrible against lefties, hitting just .186 last year, so Pinder (.247 against lefties) and Moss (.271) will see some action.

As of right now, the 23-year-old rookie, Dustin Fowler, is in line to start in centerfield. Fowler, who was traded in the Sonny Gray deal, made his MLB debut for the Yankees on June 29, but it was as rough of a start to a career as you can expect.

While chasing down a fly ball, Fowler ran into the wall and hit his knee on an electrical box. He was carted off the field and diagnosed with an open rupture of the right patellar tendon. He did not even get to step in the batter’s box. To make matters worse, he was due up first in the next inning.

Fowler hit .293 with 13 home runs in 70 Triple-A games and expects to play by the end of February.

Boog Powell, .358 OBP in 52 games, will also get some time in center field.

In right field will be former first-round pick, and California native, Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty was acquired from the Cardinals in a trade in December. Not only is this a great baseball move, but Piscotty is also able to now be closer to his mother, who is battling ALS.

Although he struggled in 107 games last year, Piscotty still posted a .342 OBP. In 2016, he hit 22 home runs with a .343 OBP, so expect a nice 2018 season from him as he is able to ball and be close to his family.

On the Bump

Unfortunately, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson will not be suiting up for Oakland in the year 2018. This is a staff with a lot of question marks, but also has some guys who could surprise people.

This may sound crazy, but Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea are really the only locks to be in the rotation. Six guys, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Daniel Gossett, Paul Blackburn and Chris Bassitt, will be fighting for the last three spots. Realistically, you have to imagine Mengden will make the rotation after posting a 1.54 ERA in five starts in the second half.

Cotton and Gossett pitched the most innings out of these six, but combined to allow 49 home runs in 220 1/3 innings. Still, Cotton has one of the best changeups in the game, and will make this rotation because of his upside. But don’t sleep on Blackburn, who posted a 3.22 ERA in 10 starts.

Blake Treinen, who was acquired in the Sean Doolittle trade, will be the closer. As a member of the A’s in 2017, Treinen thrived, posting 13 saves, as well as a 2.13 ERA. Oakland still has former Giants closer, Santiago Casilla, as well as Liam Hendriks, who struck out 78 batters in 64 innings in 2017.

The Future

Oakland has four players who cracked MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. Headlining the list is the No. 32 prospect, and second-best LHP prospect, A.J Puk. Puk has arguably the best slider among any prospect, and was taken sixth overall by Oakland in the 2016 draft. Puk’s fastball fires between 93-97 mph and he strikes out batters with ease. In 125 innings between A+ and Double-A, Puk struck out 184. He is a giant at 6-foot-7, and is seen as a legitimate No. 2 starter.

2018 Oakland Athletics preview

A.J. Puk is the future for the A’s. (Photo from Mercury News)

Behind Puk is Jesus Luzardo (No. 60), Franklin Barreto (No. 66), and Jorge Mateo (No. 72). Luzardo, a LHP like Puk, has dealt with injuries and Tommy John surgery in 2016. In Rookie ball and Class A short-season, Luzardo posted a 1.66 ERA in 43.1 innings.

Barreto, shortstop-second baseman, played in 25 games for the A’s in 2017, but struggled, hitting just .197. Still, the middle infielder has put up solid numbers in the minors, hitting .290 with 15 home runs in 111 games at Triple-A in 2017. He will ultimately need to cut back on the strikeouts in order to see some consistent time at the MLB level.

Jorge Mateo is widely regarded as the fastest runner among all prospects. The shortstop-outfielder had 82 steals to lead the minors in 2015, and 52 more in 2017. Shortstop is his main position and he is a nice all-around player who scouts believe has a ceiling of about .275 with 15 home runs.

2018 Prediction: 71-91

With the amount of power the lineup possesses, this team could be fun to watch, but the lack of overall talent is concerning. Graveman can never seem to stay healthy, and the rest of the guys are highly suspect.

A full season of Matt Olson will be fun, and Khris Davis is almost a lock for 30 home runs. But in a division with the Astros, Angels and Mariners, the A’s will have a hard time creeping up in the standings.

 

Featured image by MLB.com

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NL East: Draft Needs and Potential Picks

As the season nears the halfway point and many players continue to get more experience under their belts, Thursday’s MLB Draft brings in a new class of young guys, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, just starting what they hope to be long and storied professional baseball careers. Of course, the stories about these guys will differ dramatically based on where they end up, and where they end up relies a lot on what they bring to the table, along with what a specific team needs. Here, I’ll try to diagnose what the teams in the National League East should be looking for, based on what they’ve displayed thus far in 2016, and try to make some predictions on who they’ll end up taking in the first round. We’ll look at the teams in the order they’re drafting on Thursday.

Philadelphia Phillies (#1 Overall)

As we’ve seen from the offense this year, a few young hitters with some more pop in the bat could, theoretically, be great for the Phillies organization. However, some of the younger guys on this team: namely Tommy Joseph, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera, have shown that the Phillies do have some of the pieces they seem to need on offense already. Joseph is proving to be a more consistent hitter than his comrade at first base, Ryan Howard, has been in recent years, while Maikel Franco is providing good pop at the plate with ten homers on the year so far. Herrera has hit well, with a .319 average, and shows good potential as a leadoff hitter. They aren’t the only young guys who have hit well, but they’re an example of the offense to come in the Phils organization.

A.J. Puk is currently the favorite to go first overall in the 2016 draft. Photo courtesy of desmoinesregister.com

With that said, and with the way many other experts see it, the Phillies may very well be looking to grab a pitcher with the first overall pick this year. While there isn’t a clear favorite in the draft this year, like in years past with Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg, Florida’s A.J. Puk is currently the name being thrown around the most as the favorite to go first overall. While it may seem strange for the Phillies to be looking for starting pitching, as the pitching is what kept them competitive in the MLB for so long this year, strong starters are always a hot commodity in today’s MLB. Just look at the Atlanta Braves farm system, considered to be the best in the MLB. The Phillies rotation has also looked a lot more human as of late, especially with Vince Velazquez leaving his latest start after just two pitches with bicep soreness, and Puk could hopefully be another rock in that rotation, similar to what Aaron Nola has been so far. Puk also has the vitals to draw the attention of Big League scouts, at 6’7″ 230 lbs. with a high-90s fastball and a nasty breaking slider, Puk looks to have the stuff for the MLB too.

 

Atlanta Braves (#3 Overall)

The Braves are having an off year in the MLB, yes, but that doesn’t take away from the enviable talent they have down on the farm. The Braves have a plethora of young pitching talent, along with two of the better young middle-infield duos in the Minor Leagues. This year has made it even more evident that what the team really needs is power, and a lot of it. Freddie Freeman and Mallex Smith are the only guys on the team with at least three home runs on the year. Austin Riley currently seems to be the Braves best bet at a potential slugger in the current system, but he still needs some work on his approach at the plate to avoid becoming the next incarnation of Adam Dunn.

With a lot of current mock drafts listing Nick Senzel, the third-basemen out of Tennessee as the projected number two pick by the Reds, a lot of people see the Braves taking a chance on the southpaw straight out of Barnegat high school in New Jersey, Jason Groome. There is a lot of talk about Groome being arguably the most talented player in the draft, with a killer arsenal of pitches at his disposal. With the unpredictable nature of pitchers coming straight out of high school, a this pick is considered a gamble the Braves would be willing to take, given their willingness

Kyle Lewis, out of Mercer, may be the draft’s top power prospect this year. Photo courtesy of d1baseball.com

to spend money on more picks and abundance of available pitching prospects if he doesn’t pan out.

If the Braves do end up going for a batter, and Senzel is taken by the Reds at #2, then Mercer Bears outfielder, Kyle Lewis, is another guy the Braves may lean towards. Lewis has some of the best power of all hitters in the draft, hitting 20 homers this year with Mercer, and 39 in his three-year baseball career there. Corey Ray is another tempting batter, as he offers a little less power than Lewis, but a lot of speed to compensate. The Louisville outfielder hit 15 homers this year, but also swiped 44 bags, for career totals of 27 homers and 82 steals.

 

Miami Marlins (#7 Overall)

Matt Manning could be the Marlins’ newest draft pick. Photo courtesy of perfectgame.org

 

Aside from Jose Fernandez, the Marlins are still lacking in the arms department. They’ve shown with Fernandez, however, that their system has the ability to develop some of the best pitching in the MLB. Given that and the team’s ability to hit this year, we should see Miami chase the best available pitching prospect still available by the time their number is called.

Following the thought processes of other mock drafts, the best available pitching prospect by that time will most likely be Matt Manning, out of Sheldon High School in California. Manning is another kid who is a bit of a risk, since he’s coming straight out of high school, but has a lot of upside given the stuff he throws. His breaking ball already looks like it’s ready for The Bigs, whenever it’s on, and you can’t argue with mid-to-high 90s on a fastball either. If, by some travesty, Groome is still on the board when the Marlins come up, he’s also a potential pickup for Miami, but realistically we’ll see Manning headed to Miami (and no, we’re not talking about the NFL).

 

New York Mets (#19 Overall) 

Will Craig hit 37 homers and drove in 160 RBIs during his career at Wake Forest. Photo courtesy of baseballamerica.com

The Mets don’t need pitching, I think that’s abundantly obvious to everybody who follows baseball at this point. Their rotation is still considered one of the best in baseball, so the offense is where they’ll look to improve in the draft.

The Mets have apparently voiced a lot of interest in Wake Forest third-baseman, Will Craig, who will probably be the best bat left on the board by this point. The Mets interest in Craig has become quite apparent to the baseball public, whether intentional or not, so barring something mind boggling happening earlier on in the draft, expect to hear Craig’s name called when the Mets’ time to pick finally rolls around. He hit 16 homers this year, in a very strong Atlantic Coast Conference, to bring his career total to 37.

 

Washington Nationals (#28 and #29 Overall)

The Nationals don’t get an official first-round pick in this year’s draft, as they expended it to sign Daniel Murphy in the offseason, (which appears to have paid off nicely) but they do receive two compensatory picks for losing Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond to the Tigers and Rangers respectively. With that said, by this point in the draft all of the big names will have been taken, especially with the apparent lack of them in this year’s draft, so the Nationals will just look to fill the gaps where they see them, and acquire the best talent still available to them.

With that in mind, the Nats may look to grab guys like Matt Thaiss, a catcher out of Virginia, and TJ Zeuch, a pitcher from Pittsburgh, according to mock draft sites. I think Thaiss is a guy who is very similar to Wilson Ramos at the plate, a consistent hitter with some potential power to boot and a solid glove behind the plate. He has a career .986 fielding percentage and a .387 caught stealing percentage behind the plate for Virgina. Zeuch, meanwhile has the vitals of an MLB pitcher, at 6’7″ 225 lbs. and a career 205 strikeouts in 213 innings.

 

Information from ESPN.com and CBSsports.com were used in this report.

NL East Roundup: Philadelphia Phillies

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Aaron Nola might be one of the few bright spots in Philly this season. Photo: Getty Images

Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at the NL East, diagnosing team offseason moves, and predicting how the team will perform in the division.  I’ll be starting at the bottom of the division last season and work up from there, so we start today with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies past few offseasons had been fairly quiet, which was not an auspicious look for the ever-aging team. There was a lot of house-cleaning during the 2015 season, however, trading away many staple Phillies like Chase Utley to the Dodgers, Ben Revere to the Blue Jays, and Cole Hamels to the Rangers.  These transactions have brought much-needed new blood to the team, and the 99 loss season did secure them the #1 pick in the 2016 Draft, so the future is looking brighter a few years down the road in Philly.

This season, though, will be another lame duck year for the Phillies, with a lot of offensive players only a few years into their pro careers.  One player worth keeping tabs on this season is left fielder Odubel Herrera, who led the team in his rookie season with a .297 batting average and .344 on-base percentage.

What the team is missing right now is a young guy who offers some power at the plate.  Ryan Howard definitely provides the veteran presence needed to help out a young and developing team, but he struggled immensely at the plate last year, posting just a .229 average and 23 home runs (the 23 HRs still led the team, which shows how little power the Phillies had at the plate last season).

The top of the Phillies batting order shows some promise with the likes of Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis showing marked improvement in their BAs and OBPs from the 2014 to 2015 season.  If they can continue their improvement, Herrera may be able to find more RBIs in the 3-hole this season.  If the team can find some power in the lineup, or Ryan Howard can return to his monstrous mid-2000s season numbers, the Phillies could be set up with a solid lineup down the road.

The Phillies unfortunately do not have a much better story on the mound, with no clear ace in the rotation. Currently, second year pitcher Aaron Nola is slated in the #1 hole of the rotation this year.  Nola posted a respectable 3.59 ERA through 13 starts and 77.2 IP.  Being in the 1-slot means you will have to face the opponent’s ace pitcher frequently, though, and in a division sporting the likes of Jacob DeGrom and Max Scherzer, Nola may find himself outclassed on the mound.

A couple of other notables on the Phillies’ roster include Jeremy Hellickson and long-time Pirate Charlie Morton.

Hellickson generated a lot of buzz upon his arrival into the League back in 2010, and posted an impressive 2.95 ERA in his first full season with the Rays on his way to a Rookie of the Year season.

The past three seasons, two with the Rays and last with the Diamondbacks have all seen ERAs of 4.5 or higher. Hellickson provides some veteran experience and I still believe he still has the chance to return to form.

Morton may not have the most glamorous career numbers, but he is a consistent arm to have in the middle of the rotation, which is never a bad thing to have for a team in rebuilding.

The Phillies aren’t slated to be making any miracle runs into the postseason.  They are in the midst of the rebuilding process and they and their fans should realize this when coming into the season.  This season they should look for continued improvement in several young players and maybe hope for Ryan Howard and Jeremy Hellickson to return to past forms.

Realistically, I think ending the season under 90 wins would be a solid finish for the team.  While it may not be the most glamorous of seasons, when you have a team that is in the midst of rebuilding with players only a few years into the scene, the goal is to get those players more comfortable in their roles, or potentially increase their trade stock in hopes of getting more established players.

It will also be interesting to see what Philadelphia does with their draft pick.  While they have declared interest in a pitching prospect, most likely AJ Puk or Alec Hansen, I think if they were able to find a big bat, they definitely shouldn’t overlook it.