YSTL: Can A's win third-straight AL West Championship?
Josh Reddick hit .242 with 32 home runs and 85 RBI in 2012. Those numbers dipped to .226 with 12 home runs and 56 RBI in 2013. (USATI)
Josh Donaldson finished 4th in AL MVP voting last year after hitting .301 with 24 home runs and 93 RBI. (USATI)
The A’s did their part to keep the news wire buzzing with a busy offseason of roster moves.
With pitchers and catchers reporting Friday, the focus now shifts to what happens on the field. There are bound to be some surprises over the A’s six-week stay in the desert, but here are five prominent storylines to watch as they arrive in Phoenix for the start of spring training…
1) How does the starting rotation take shape minus Bartolo Colon?
The A’s are loaded with starting pitching options, but how will the five-man staff come together? Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir should hold down three of the spots. Will one of them emerge as the clear-cut No. 1 starter? All eyes will be on Kazmir, who signed to a two-year $22 million deal over the winter, to see if he’s ready to help fill the veteran shoes of Colon, an 18-game winner last season who departed for the New York Mets. A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone and Dan Straily are the leading contenders for the final two starting slots and all bring strong credentials. Newcomers Josh Lindblom and Drew Pomeranz will be watched closely to see if they’re ready to help the big club.
2) Are Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick ready to rebound?
Each of Oakland’s starting corner outfielders begins this season with something to prove. Cespedes hit 26 homers last season, but even he admits he didn’t make the impact he was hoping for in his second major league season. He lacked plate discipline last season and nearly came out of his shoes with his mighty swings. He’s worked to shorten his stroke, which in theory should cut down his strikeouts and make him a more consistent run producer. After offseason surgery on his right wrist, Reddick is healthy. The right fielder told 95.7 The Game that he should be able to turn on inside fastballs better now that he’s 100 percent. If Reddick improves on last season’s 12-homer, 56-RBI output, this lineup looks a whole lot stronger.
3) How does the crowded infield work itself out?
This team could carry as many as six infielders, and that leaves some sorting out to do. Eric Sogard appears in line to play second base against right-handed pitchers. Does newcomer Nick Punto play second against left-handers over fellow switch hitter Alberto Callaspo? Manager Bob Melvin said he plans to use Callaspo some at first base against left-handers, but the left-handed hitting Brandon Moss – a 30-homer man last season in a platoon – will try to prove he belongs in the lineup regularly. Punto is a great defender at second, short and third, so watch how much Melvin spreads him around the infield during Cactus League play. 4.
4) What does Josh Donaldson have in store for a second act?
The fourth-place finisher in last year’s A.L. MVP voting, Donaldson insists he won’t be pressing to top last year’s numbers (.301, 24 HRs, 93 RBI). But let’s face it, his breakout season set the bar high. Can he replicate that performance with more scouting reports aimed at stopping him? The A’s need him to be as good as last season – or pretty darn close – because they didn’t acquire any big-time hitters over the winter.
5) How do the bullpen roles shake out?
The A’s bullpen could be special because there are so many effective, and interchangeable, pieces. But Melvin will want to establish some sort of usage pattern with each guy. It will start with Jim Johnson solidifying himself as the closer and work backward from there. Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle have formed a good eighth-inning setup combo in the past, but newcomers Luke Gregerson and (when he’s healthy) Eric O’Flaherty also have to be worked into the mix along with Dan Otero and whoever else wins a spot in what should be a seven-man ‘pen. It’s a great problem to have for a manager – carving out job descriptions for a surplus of quality relief arms.