MLB Preview: Oakland Athletics

With baseball season fast approaching, it is time for TheWaiverWire’s inaugural Baseball Preview package. We will look at every division in baseball, starting in the American League and moving from East to West by division. Also, we each team by who will finish last to first. So, the first team you read about from each division is in the basement, and the last is who we determine to win the division.

American League West 

Third Place – Oakland Athletics

Fourth Place - Seattle Mariners (read preview here)

Starting Line-Up – 

Catcher: Kurt Suzuki (28) – 134 games, .237/.301/.385 14HR 44RBI

First Base: Brandon Allen (26) – 41 games, .205/.259/.356 3HR 11RBI

Second Base: Jemile Weeks (25) – 97 games, .303/.340/.421 2HR 36RBI

Shortstop: Cliff Pennington (27) – 148 games, .264/.319/.369 8HR 58RBI

Third Base: Josh Donaldson (26) – Did Not Appear in MLB in 2011

Left Field: Seth Smith (29) – 147 games, .284/.347/.483 15HR 59RBI (with Colorado Rockies)

Center Field: Coco Crisp (32) – 136 games, .264/.314/.379 8HR 54RBI

Right Field: Josh Reddick (25) – 87 games, .280/.327/.457 7HR 28RBI (with Boston Red Sox)

Designated Hitter: Chris Carter (25) – 15 games, .136/.174/.136 0HR 0RBI

The Good News…

The Oakland Athletics seem to be in a rebuilding mode every season. So, why should 2012 be any different? 

Weeks has performed at every stop in his baseball career

Much of the A’s higher ceiling talents will be in finishing school at AAA, including Cuban outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, who was the big-name addition general manager Billy Beane brought to the organization in the off-season. As for what will be on the team come this year, second baseman Jemile Weeks seems to be a future All-Star at second base. He flew under the radar with such a loaded rookie class that included Jeremy Hellickson, Eric Hosmer, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda. But, Weeks carried himself well once he was promoted full time to the big leagues, hitting over .300 and swiping 22 bags along the way. His speed will play well in the massive Oakland Colisuem, and can easily double the 26 doubles he recorded in only 97 games last year. As long as Weeks continues to get on base, the A’s will never have a problem scoring runs from the top of the order.

Josh Reddick was the prize of the Andrew Bailey trade with the Boston Red Sox, and the A’s are hoping he continues to play at least the same level he maintained under a much larger microscope in Bean-town. The power potential is there for Reddick, but the dimensions in Oakland are not as friendly as they are in Boston. While I don’t think Reddick will ever project as a middle-of-the-order run producer, he does add plenty of depth to any Major League line-up, and can hit comfortably either from the two-hole or the six-hole.

With the suspension for Manny Ramirez keeping him out of action for the season’s first 50 games, the team has the benefit of letting Chris Carter and Brandon Allen battle for the permenant first base job well after Spring Training concludes. There is no questioning the power either player maintains, but its how each handles themselves around the bag and who can limit their strikeout totals better that will prove to be the long-term option for the team. The leader in the clubhouse is probably Carter, who is still one of the team’s top young prospects after posting strong numbers in the Minors in 2011. Allen was given a chance to be “the guy” last year, but let the opportunity slip through his hands. Either way, in a year a team isn’t expected to compete with the big boys at the top of the division, it is certainly nice to let the young players battle it out in games that matter.

The Bad News…

While its nice to have an injection of youth into the team, there isn’t a lot of strong, veteran leadership for the young kids to learn from. With that said, I will admit that Kurt Suzuki is a good voice to have in any clubhouse and certainly know how to handle and groom young pitching staffs. But, his bat has never been anything more than replacement level and he can’t be relied upon for any sort of run production on a team that has no defined slugger.

What does Crisp have left in the tank?

Coco Crisp is a hard player to rely on to stay healthy. Year in and year out, Crisp has seemingly pulled up lame at some point and sat out significant chunks of the season rehabbing nagging injuries. In fact, his inability to stay healthy has probably hurt his standing on this team more than anything else, with Weeks ready to take over in the lead-off spot and Cespedes ready to take over center field duties within the next year or less. Crisp, like Jason Vargas on the Mariners, may prove to be most valuable to the A’s as a trading chip, should he prove to be healthy and productive early on this season.

The A’s have never been able to replace the production Eric Chavez used to give this team offensively and defensively since he left the organization. This year, the plan is to play Josh Donaldson at third to begin the season, but Donaldson hasn’t appeared in a Major League game since ’10 and is a converted catcher. Its anybody’s guess how well he will be able to play in a full-time assignment. Likewise, while Cliff Pennington is a nice piece a lot of teams would like to add in a trade this season, I don’t know if he’s necessarily a full-time starter. Instead, he’s probably best used in a 400 at-bat, super utility-type role. Along with Crisp, I wouldn’t be surprised to start hearing trade rumors surrounding Pennington once the season gets underway and teams start experiencing injuries.

But, while Crisp and Pennington could be traded, they can no longer bring back huge hauls. So, while the A’s will get something back for them, it would be nothing more than a B or C level prospect or two. Nothing that would get a fan base truly excited.

Starting Rotation –

Ace: Brandon McCarthy, RHP (29) – 25 starts, 9-9, 3.32ERA, 170.2 IP, 123 Ks, 25 walks, 1.13 WHIP

#2: Dallas Braden, LHP (28) – 3 starts, 1-1. 3.00ERA, 18.0 IP, 15 Ks, 5 walks, 1.28 WHIP

#3: Brett Anderson, LHP (24) – 13 starts, 3-6, 4.00ERA, 83.1 IP, 61 Ks, 25 walks, 1.33 WHIP

#4: Brad Peacock, RHP (24) – 2 starts (3 games total), 2-0, 0.75ERA, 12.0 IP, 4 Ks, 6 walks, 1.08 WHIP (with Washington Nationals)

#5: Jarrod Parker, RHP (23) – 1 start, 0-0, 0.00ERA, 5.2 IP, 1 Ks, 1 walk, 0.88 WHIP (with Arizona Diamondbacks)

The Good News…

Once upon a time, Brandon McCarthy was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball while with the Chicago White Sox organization. People there thought they saw shades of Jack McDowell in McCarthy, and the belief was he would lead the White Sox rotation for years to come along with Mark Buerhle and Jon Garland. 

McCarthy turned his career around in Oakland last season

Well, that didn’t go as planned for the White Sox.McCarthy has bounced around the league since then, and wasn’t able to reach his complete potential. But, 2011 was certainly a promising year for McCarthy. He posted career highs in all major categories and refined his control. The A’s were so impressed with his performance last year that they announced him as their Opening Day starter well before the beginning of Spring Training. 

The Oakland A’s have a habit of trading for acquiring top pitching prospects in trades throughout the Billy Beane administration. There’s a sense throughout baseball that the A’s have found two more gems in Brad Peacock and Jarrod Parker. Peacock made an impressive two start debut with the Nationals at the end of last season and was widely viewed as a top prospect behind the super-kid Bryce Harper.

As for Parker, he was the Diamondbacks top pitching prospect before the team drafted Trevor Bauer in last June’s amateur draft. While Parker’s Major League experience is lower than even Peacock’s, both have the making of potential top of the rotation arms that have graduated from the Minor Leagues. In fact, if the A’s want to be remotely competitive in 2012, they’ll need both these young righties to make a smooth transition to the big show.

The Bad News…

While the A’s have a history of acquiring good arms in trades, that’s also a result of them trading away some high talent pitchers. They’ve traded the likes of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Dan Haren. Last off-season, the team traded arguably their best two pitchers in Gio Gonzalez (to the Nationals) and Trevor Cahill (to the Diamondbacks). And though Parker and Peacock may one day be top flight starters, they won’t be in 2012. There is no pitcher on this staff that can put up the type of numbers Cahill or Gonzalez could.

Will Brett Anderson step up and perform this season?

Though Brett Anderson is just 24 years old, he is yet to tap into his true potential. He has been derailed by both injuries and, at times, poor work ethic. If the A’s want to have any sort of success next year, Anderson will need to become the ace the organization thought he could be. I truly believe Billy Beane and company don’t see Brandon McCarthy as their ace, just their Opening Day starter. Instead, they see Anderson becoming “the guy”. But, they can only do so much teaching. At some point, Anderson will need to put all the pieces together himself in order to reach the next level.

Dallas Braden needs to bounce back from injury. In an ideal situation, Braden would probably be pitching closer to the rear of a starting rotation. Instead, Braden is viewed as the elder statesman among the crowd of young arms. Its strange to think of a veteran leader in a rotation being only 28 years old and five years experience. Also, Braden has only pitched 30+ games once in his career. And he only has 26 career wins. Wait, how is this guy the anchor of the staff? There is a lot of growing up to do in Oakland. They’re very green in the starting rotation. While that may bode well for the future, it hurts them heading into next season because there isn’t a pitcher they can turn to out of the gates that they can count on to win the big game.

Bench – 

DH Manny Ramirez (39) – 5 games, .059/.059/.059 0HR 1RBI (with Tampa Bay Rays)

C Anthony Recker (28) – 5 games, .176/.333/.235 0HR 0RBI

OF Jonny Gomes (31) – 120 games, .209/.325/.389 14HR 43RBI (split with Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals)

IF Adam Rosales (28) – 24 games, .098/.162/.197 2HR 8RBI

IF/OF Daric Barton (26) – 67 games, .212/.325/.267 0HR 21RBI

The Skinny…

Manny Ramirez is on the bench because, again, he’s suspended for the season’s first 50 games. However, once his suspension is over, Man-Ram will have a spot in the A’s everyday line-up. How he fairs there, well, that’s another story. He was dreadful in his very brief stint with the Rays last year, but that’s hardly a sample size. Performance-enhancing drugs aside, Manny is a pure hitter. I find it hard to believe he lost it that quickly, even at his age.

As for the rest of the bench, there isn’t much here to get excited about. Daric Barton was the A’s starting first baseman going into the 2011 season. But, he got hurt, and has been passed by both Brandon Allen and Chris Carter on the organizational depth chart. He never developed the power that is common at the position, so the A’s would probably benefit having Barton come off the bench and play a myriad of positions.

Jonny Gomes has been with a lot of teams in his career, and he will be a good righty compliment to Seth Smith in left or Josh Reddick in right. The A’s will find ways to get Gomes’ power into the line-up depending on the pitching match-up. Of course, come the trade deadline, Gomes will most certainly be on the move again as a bat off the bench for a contender somewhere.

Bullpen – 

Closer: Brian Fuentes, LHP (36) – 67 games, 58.1 IP, 3.70ERA, 12 saves, 6.5 K/9, 20 walks, 1.23 WHIP

8th Inning Reliever: Grant Balfour, RHP (34) – 62 games, 62.0 IP, 2.47ERA, 2 saves, 8.6 K/9, 20 walks, 1.03 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Joey Devine, RHP (28) – 26 games, 23.0 IP, 3.52ERA, 7.8 K/9, 11 walks, 1.26 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Fautino de los Santos, RHP (26) – 34 games, 33.1 IP, 4.32ERA, 11.6 K/9, 17 walks, 1.32 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Jerry Blevins, LHP (28) – 26 games, 28.1 IP, 2.86ERA, 8.3 K/9, 14 walks, 1.34 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Neil Walker, RHP (28) – 6 games, 5.0 IP, 7.20ERA, 7.2 K/9, 3 walks, 1.80 WHIP

The Skinny…

Brian Fuentes isn’t a sure thing to be the A’s closer in 2012, but he has the most experience of any reliever in the Oakland bullpen. Last year, the A’s thought they were solidifying their bullpen when they signed Fuentes and Grant Balfour, who were Type A free agents and cost the team their first round draft pick. While both pitched rather well, they weren’t the final pieces to the puzzle that the front office had hoped. 

In fact, the strength of this Oakland team is their bullpen. They have plenty of options at the end of games, with Fuentes, Balfour and Joey Devine among the best relievers in the American League West. The problem for the A’s won’t be the end of the games. Instead, its a matter of getting to that point with the lead. 

Top 10 Prospects (courtesy of MLB.com) -

#1: RHP Jarrod Parker (23) – Expected 2012 Level – MLB

We’ve gone over Parker already. He has top of the rotation potential, and he seemed to put the Minor Leagues behind him with a stellar second half in the Diamondbacks farm system. He should earn a spot in the starting rotation out of Spring Training and have a full season in the Majors.

#2: OF Michael Choice (22) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

The A’s took Choice 10th overall in the 2010 draft based largely off his raw power he flashed in high school. So, what did Choice do in his first full season of professional baseball? He hit 30 home runs and slugged .542. Yeah, the power seems absolutely real. What’s even more valuable, Choice has handled himself quite well in center field. If he proves to be able to play a sustainable center, his value sky rockets. I love the patience Choice has shown those far, drawing 61 walks and compiling a .376 on-base percentage. However, he needs to make some more contact, as shown with the 136 strikeouts. Nonetheless, he’s the best bat in the A’s system, with a very bright future.

#3: RHP Brad Peacock (24) – Expected 2012 Level – MLB

Another piece of the Oakland starting rotation in 2012, Peacock has a similarly high ceiling like Parker, and the two can help bring this team to the promise land. They might not do it in 2012, but getting a full season at the Majors will only benefit them for the long run.

#4: RHP Sonny Gray (22) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

The A’s first round pick in 2011 out of Vanderbilt is profiled as a fast mover through the farm system. He will likely start the year in High-A ball, but will certainly make the jump to AA at some point sooner or later. He throws a mid-90s fastball and has worked hard to improve his command of the strike zone. Along with Peacock and Parker who are already in the show, its only a matter of time until Gray joins them. The trio makes up one of the best pitching futures any baseball team has to offer.

#5: OF Yoenis Cespedes (26) – Expected 2012 Level – AAA

Cespedes was the A’s prize of the off-season, signing him to six-year deal. While many thought that Cespedes was destined to make the jump directly to the Major Leagues, it would be smart for the A’s to welcome him to American baseball with a stint in AAA. The Reds did the same with another highly-touted Cuban import in Adrolis Chapman. Should Cespedes have a monster spring, its absolutely within the realm of possibility that he could break camp with the parent club. But, it would take a massive spring. Instead, the A’s will likely give him the first two months of the season to adjust and make a decision from there.

#6: RHP A.J. Cole (20) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

Cole was a strikeout machine in Low-A ball last year in what was his first full season of professional baseball. Cole has a lot of growing to do, both physically and mentally. He projects as a stud in the rotation with mid-90s fastball, and his secondary pitches need some refining before they become Major League-ready. But, with three college arms ahead of him in the organization, time is on the side of Cole. 

#7: OF Grant Green (24) – Expected 2012 Level – AAA

Green was moved from shortstop to outfield in order to speed up his development and because he was fringy at the position to begin with. Offensively speaking, he can be a strong Major Leaguer should he become just a smidge more patient at the plate. However, it is interesting to see where he fits into the A’s plans now, with Cespedes ahead of him and Choice sneaking up behind him. Green could use a full season in AAA to put Minor League pitching behind him, but it will be interesting to see if the A’s look to promote him should one of their outfielders get injured or not meet expectations.

#8: C Derek Norris (23) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Let’s review what Norris does incredibly well. He has plus power for a catcher, hitting 20 home runs last season. He draws an incredible number of walks, posting a .367 on-base percentage last season. He even plays a decent defense behind the plate. Now, let’s review what Norris doesn’t do well: hit for average. Should Norris improve from the .210 clip he maintained last year in High-A ball, even if he gets it to .250, his value doubles. You’ll live with a low batting average from a good defensive catcher that can put balls out of the park. But, he’ll need to hit. Starting immediately.

#9: SS Yordy Cabrera (21) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Cabrera didn’t exactly put High-A ball behind him, but there isn’t a real reason for him to repeat the league. There is a chance that Cabrera outgrows shortstop in the future and has to move to third base, but that’s a decision not necessary for next season. Cabrera has good speed, and should be able to develop his power more as he grows into his body. 2012 will only be his second full season of professional baseball, so it will be interesting to see how Cabrera handles the next level.

#10: 1B Chris Carter (25) – Expected 2012 Level – MLB

Carter is yet another player we’ve covered. He’s graduated from Minor League ball with his 21 homers and .544 slugging percentage. Its time to see what Carter can do at the next level for a full season.

Give it to me straight, Greg…

The A’s seem to have the pieces to be moving upward. Unlike the Mariners, they are a little more balanced in both their starting rotation and batting order. There is clear potential here for greener pastures, and some of their young talent could be in the show come later this year.

A lot of their success will depend on how quickly their young arms adapt to Major League hitters. Should Peacock and Parker prove to be forces, the team won’t miss the production Gio Gonzalez or Trevor Cahill were to provide.

But, at the end of the day, this team will not come close to competing with the Angels or the Rangers. They’ll be a step ahead of the Mariners because of experience and depth, but that’s about it.

2012 Season Projection – 75-87, 3rd place American League West

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