2012 MLB Season Preview: Oakland Athletics

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2012 Season Outlook

2012 could be a long year for the A’s. While they won’t compete with the two-time defending AL champion Rangers or the newly minted Angels powerhouse for the division title, there are some players who could make Oakland watchable despite looking unlikely to match their modest 2011 win total.

On offense, the team contains a number of young studs with the potential to take a step forward and provide some hope for a brighter future. Jemile Weeks, the team’s second-year second baseman, provides explosive speed at the top of the lineup as well as an ability to handle the bat. At only 25 years of age, Weeks has room to grow. Brandon Allen, 26, has had a number of supporters push for him to get a true major league shot, especially in the sabermetric community. Allen’s failed to bear out his zealous advocates by looking terrible in parts of the last three major league seasons, but if he can gain a little comfort against major league pitching and drop his strikeout rate, he could be poised for a breakout. Finally, Chris Carter, also 25, has looked overmatched in 39 big league games over the last two seasons, hitting well below the Mendoza Line and failing to really translate his prodigious power at the highest level. However, Carter was ranked second in a (relatively bad) Oakland system by Baseball America as recently as last year, and has 170 minor league home runs over his 7-year professional career. 50 games into the season, these bats will be complimented by offseason signing Manny Ramirez after he serves his suspension for a positive drug test. The Rays’ Manny experiment failed miserably after just five games, but the A’s hope that at 40 Manny’s mostly done “Being Manny” and is ready to help mentor and develop the young players around him by using his talents and knowledge as one of the best righthanded hitters of the modern era. Manny might also have some thunder left in his lumber as well, but that remains to be seen.

Finally, the highest-paid player on the team, and as a result almost certainly the one with the most eyes on him, is 26 year old Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. The A’s were the surprise winner in the Cespedes sweepstakes, giving him $36M over the next four years, and in a reversal of general free agency operation seem to have won the rights to Cespedes by giving him less years. Most other teams, wanting a standard period of initial player control, were willing to guarantee Cespedes more money if he’d sign for 5 or 6 years. However, by signing for only four seasons, Cespedes sets himself up for free agency after the 2015 season and a much more lucrative contract if he’s able to show the same hitting ability stateside that he did in breaking the Cuban league home run record.

On the mound, the A’s clearly take a big step back from 2011 in losing two of their best young starters and their All-Star closer. However, they added two-fifths of their potential rotation in the Gonzalez trade, and Brandon McCarthy’s continued progression could at least allow him to cushion the blow of losing most of the top end of their 2011 staff. Coming back from the Nationals were Brad Peacock and Tom Milone, both of whom could see big innings for the major league team in 2012. Peacock’s stock has skyrocketed since signing as a 41st rounder in 2006 out of high school under the old draft-and-follow system. The first few years of Peacock’s minor league career gave the pitcher a dose of reality, although those seasons need to be put in context of the fact that the high school graduate was a college-age pitcher playing against older competition. However, over the last two years he’s become a true prospect, culminating in his being named the Eastern League (Double-A) Pitcher of the Year for 2011. Peacock got a quick 12-inning taste of the big leagues in 2011, and I expect him to see much more of the big show this year as a possible cog in Oakland’s rotation. Milone isn’t much of a prospect, but the soft-tossing lefty is a serviceable fifth starter, and could carve out a career similar to former Nationals teammate John Lannan. In the pen, Bailey will be replaced by the winner of a thoroughly uninteresting position battle featuring Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour. Those veterans will be supported by a number of live young arms, led by Fautino De Los Santos, whose sparkling rookie year has given many in the organization hope that he could finish games for the team down the road. Overall, though it seems unlikely that Oakland will register its first winning season since 2006 in 2012, the future is bright and help is on the way.

2012 Prospect to Watch

The A’s 2012 prospect to watch is the centerpiece of the Gonzalez deal, but he’s also the furthest from the majors of any of the four players Oakland received. A.J. Cole, 20, is basically the definition of a projectable starter. Standing 6’4,” 180 lbs, Cole’s already throwing in the mid-90s and can reach back for 98, with developing secondary stuff. Cole’s still learning to command his curveball, which is his best secondary pitch, and is also developing a changeup that could be the key to his remaining a starter long-term. If Cole’s able to continue progressing as a pitcher at High A in 2012, especially in his secondary stuff, he could leap up prospect boards as he solidifies his status as a potential future ace.

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