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2018 MLB preview: Oakland Athletics

2018 Oakland Athletics preview

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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