Photo: Ben Margot, AP Photo
As winter draws to a close, temperatures rise—Ann Arbor aside—and Spring Training gets underway it can only mean one thing: Baseball is (almost) here! Welcome back to M-SABR’s Season Preview 30 Teams in 30 Days series, where our staff writers share their insights on what to expect from your favorite team and players in 2018 and get you ready for that very first first pitch. Today Jordan Jachens takes on the Oakland Athletics. Enjoy!
by Jordan Jachens
2017 Record: 75-87
2017 Payroll: $50,698,333 (29th)
Projected 2018 Lineup:
- SS Marcus Semien .249 AVG/.325 OBP/.398 SLG, 1.1 WAR
- LF Matt Joyce .243 AVG/.335 OBP/.473 SLG, 1.7 WAR
- 2B Jed Lowrie .277 AVG/.360 OBP/.448 SLG, 4.0 WAR
- DH Khris Davis .247 AVG/.336 OBP/.528 SLG, 2.5 WAR
- 1B Matt Olson .259 AVG/.352 OBP/.651 SLG, 2.8 WAR
- RF Stephen Piscotty .235 AVG/.342 OBP/.367 SLG, 0.6 WAR
- CF Boog Powell .282 AVG/.358 OBP/ .402 SLG, 1.0 WAR
- 3B Matt Chapman .234 AVG/.313 OBP/.472 SLG, 3.6 WAR
- C Bruce Maxwell .237 AVG/ .329 OBP/ .333 SLG, 0.0 WAR
Projected 2018 Rotation:
- Kendall Graveman 105.1 IP/4.19 ERA/1.38 WHIP, 2 WAR
- Sean Manaea 158.2 IP/4.37 ERA/1.4 WHIP, 1.7 WAR
- Jharel Cotton 158.2 IP/3.22 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 1.5 WAR
- Andrew Triggs 165.1 IP/4.27 ERA/1.33 WHIP, 0.0 WAR
- Daniel Mengden 143.0 IP/3.14 ERA/1.05 WHIP, 1.6 WAR
Key additions: The winter months were topped with the acquisition of Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty, whose Mom was diagnosed with ALS just a year ago, was traded from the Cardinals to Northern California in an act of goodwill to be closer to his family. The Athletics also attempted to strengthen their bullpen with Emilio Pagan, Yusmeiro Petit, and Ryan Butcher, all of which are coming off good 2017 campaigns.
Key losses: Ryon Healy was dealt to the Seattle Mariners in a deal that landed the A’s Emilio Pagan. After a solid season hitting .271, he will definitely be missed. The Athletics dealt Jesse Hahn in a move that helped acquire Buchter and Moss, but after a poor 2017 performance where he had a 5.31 ERA, it’s hard to imagine that an A’s fan will miss seeing Hahn on the bump.
2018 Season Preview
The Oakland Athletics spent the off-season in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, from stagnant talks about a new stadium to newly hired Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden making inflammatory comments against the Athletics organization. When talks aren’t about catcher Bruce Maxwell’s national anthem protest, they’re about his off-the-field behavior, and with three consecutive last-place finishes in the AL West, the Oakland A’s have all the intangibles of doing it all over again.
That said, 2018 will be the beginning of a new era in the Athletics organization. With the 11th best farm system in all of baseball and many new faces ready to make their Oakland debut, the Athletics have many things to look forward to in 2018. AJ Puk and Franklin Barreto will set the table for the future. However, if the Athletics plan on shocking anyone this year, they will need Stephen Piscotty to have a comeback season after a disappointing 2017 campaign. Unfortunately for the Athletics, they’re stuck in a division with the reigning World Series champions and the Trout/Ohtani/Upton-led Angels. This is not an easy division to compete within.
The A’s rotation will be led by Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea. With these two leading the pack, it is more than likely that pitching will be the team’s Achilles heel. The good news for Athletics fans is the pieces are starting to fall in place elsewhere within the organization. General Manager Billy Beane’s vision of constructing a contender on a low budget is starting to come to fruition, but it’s still a few seasons away. Many players starting the season with the Athletics will most likely be traded before the season’s end, and while it’s likely the Athletics are two more seasons out, Beane’s vision will begin to become clear as the new faces of the franchise make their way to the Bay Area. 2018 will likely be a dud, but I’d urge fans not to lose faith; the Athletics are poised to see brighter days 2020 onward.
Best case scenario for the 2018 campaign is the pitching staff steps up and has a career year. By mid-August, Puk gets called up and gives some solid starts down the stretch solidifying the back end of the rotation. Matt Olson, Marcus Semien, and Khris Davis form a very underrated core of the lineup. The Athletics make a Billy Beane styled run and go on to win the 2nd Wild Card with a record a few wins over .500. Piscotty is a high power and average guy, while Barreto is an asset on the defensive end while providing hits in the top part of the order. Should the Athletics accomplish this, they will be in the conversation for an ALCS or a World Series in the near future.
Worst case scenario, Franklin Barreto has another disappointing season and spends most of it in the minors. AJ Puk continues producing a high volume of strikeouts but can’t stop people crossing home and never appears in the majors. Stephen Piscotty continues to struggle and becomes a payroll liability within the Oakland organization as hopes he will live up to his rookie season dwindle. Jed Lowrie remains an Athletic all season and does not provide future prospects to the Athletics in a deadline trade. That said, even in the worst case scenario, Matt Olson is still a stud.
Predicted Record: 73-89
Player to Watch: Franklin Barreto
The #43 Baseball America prospect had a disappointing stint in the majors a year ago. He hit .197 in 25 games. The good news for Athletics fans is he is 21 and hit .290 with 15 HR in AAA. If he figures out how to translate that success on the big stage, he will be one less piece the front office needs to fill. Although his success likely won’t be the determining factor in the 2018 season, he does hold the key to 2B Jed Lowrie’s future. Should Barreto play a solid first half, it is likely Lowrie will be dealt at the trade deadline. So Barreto’s performance could also improve the already stacked 11th ranked farm system in the MLB.
Player to Watch: AJ Puk
The 6’7″ flamethrower could have a 2018 debut, however, Puk needs to put together a better season. The Florida Alum and #30 Baseball America prospect had a 4.03 ERA splitting time in A+ and AA. Having a 13.2 K/9, if Puk can only learn to lower his ERA, he can be a top of the rotation guy. If the Athletics plan to be contenders in upcoming seasons, it’s hard to see it without Puk leading the pitching staff. In the 2018 campaign, expect Puk to be in the majors at some point. If he can learn to slow down games and be more dominant, he may bring happier days to the brighter side of the bay.
Player to Watch: Stephen Piscotty
After a fall from grace in 2017, Stephen Piscotty can only go up from here. Hitting just .235 with a .367 SLG, Piscotty is due for a comeback season. Should the Athletics expect to shock the league this season, they need Piscotty to show flashes of his 2015 performance. After struggling with the sickness of his mother just a year ago, Piscotty had more to worry about than just the grueling baseball season. With a clear mind and a new year upon us, he has every opportunity to start anew. If the A’s plan to even be in the race for the Wild Card, Piscotty needs career-best numbers and be a central part down the stretch in September. Best case, Piscotty will return to form and be a key part of the future of the Oakland organization. Worst case, Piscotty doesn’t forget his 2017 form and remains a liability contributing to another last place finish.