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November 17, 2014

Fantasy Team Preview

Oakland Athletics

by Keith Cromer

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What started out as such a promising 2014 for the A’s, a season that saw Oakland sitting at 72-44 on August 9th, and four games up in the AL West, ended in disaster, as they lost 30 of their last 46 games and finished 10 games behind the Los Angeles Angels. The historic collapse culminated in a 9-8, 12-inning loss to the Royals in an epic AL wild card game—a game they lead 7-3 in the eighth inning with their ace, Jon Lester, on the bump.

After that disappointing end to the 2014 season behind them, the Oakland A’s are looking ahead to 2015, and certainly have several question marks heading into this offseason. he A’s will need to address their middle infield - Lowrie and Callaspo are free agents- and the void in left field after the departure of Yoenis Cespedes. The A’s will also need to find some stop-gaps early on in the back end of their starting rotation while A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker both continue to rehab from their respective Tommy John surgeries.

It’s unknown if the A’s plan to address some of these concerns via free agency or trades over the winter, or if they will just go with their current options on their 40-man roster. In any event, Oakland should have several useful fantasy options in 2015, but this is not a team that will have many fantasy stars.

A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.

Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.

Studs

Josh Donaldson – 3B
I struggled with this one, as I do not think the A’s have any fantasy studs, but in the context of the article, Donaldson is the best fantasy option on the A’s. He was not as productive in 2014 as he was in 2013, but did improve in four of the five traditional 5x5 fantasy categories and remains a reliable 3B option. He probably will not duplicate his .301 BA from 2013, but his 2014 second half (where he hit .280 and put up similar OBP and SLG numbers to his 2013 season) shows hope he will improve on last year’s .255 average. My big concern is the (lack of) protection he will have in that A’s lineup. Donaldson may not get the opportunities unless the A’s can find a bat to protect him in the order (i.e. Brandon Moss; see X-Factor below).

Up and Coming

Sonny Gray – SP
There is a lot to like about Sonny Gray. The former first-round pick started 33 games in his first full big-league season in 2014 and ranked in the top 10 in eight AL pitching categories, including ERA, strikeouts, H/9, and HR/9. In the middle of a pennant race, he showed the make-up of a future ace, putting up an amazing July, going 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA and only 31 total bases allowed. He seemed to be tiring in August, but followed up with a strong September, including a complete game six-hit shutout on the last day of the season. He works fast and throws strikes, with a mid-90s fastball and big-time curve. If he can develop a third plus pitch, look out.

Duds

Eric Sogard – 2B
Just as I struggled with identifying a “stud” for the A’s, I did the same when trying to pick “duds.” Again, while the A’s do not boast a roster full of fantasy stars, most have value. Sogard played the most games at 2B for the A’s last year, and as of right now is their top 2B on their depth chart. He did steal 11 bases last year, but he is not a fantasy option in any format.

John Jaso – C
It pains me to write this, as I have been a Jaso owner in multiple leagues the past few years. He still qualifies at catcher for 2015, but he was shut down the last month of 2014 when he showed little progression from post-concussion issues. That's now two seasons in a row for Jaso that have been ended by concussions. I would assume with what we know about concussions and the long term affects, his catching days may be over. This ranking is based solely on his inability to stay healthy over his career. If Jaso passes his concussion tests and is deemed fine for 2015, he might see time at DH again, and would have AL-only value for the catcher eligibility. We all hope that is the case.

X-Factor

Brandon Moss – 1B/OF
Moss was having a fine season heading into the All-Star break, sporting a .268 average with 21 bombs and 66 RBI. However, the wheels fell off in the second half as Moss dealt with a hip injury. He hit just .162 with a .575 OPS from August on, and eventually had hip surgery last month. The reports are he should be healthy for the start of the 2015 season, but there still are concerns. Since he burst onto the fantasy scene in 2012, here are his slash lines:

  • 2012: .291/.358/.596
  • 2013: .256/.337/.522
  • 2014: .234/.334/.438

The positive news is that during that same time, his K:BB rates have improved each year, morphing into a “Moneyball” player. The A’s really need Moss to produce so Donaldson will not be pitched around in pressure situations. He just turned 31 and has hit 76 home runs over the last two-and-a-half seasons, so if he recovers from the hip surgery, he could be a fantasy factor.

Jeff Samardzija – SP
I have been a Samardzjia guy since I saw him pitch in his 2011 rookie season. That said, in reality he was not a fantasy factor coming into last season. However, after so-so 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Cubs, he began 2014 with a bang, and flashed the ace potential the Cubs gambled on when they drafted him out of Notre Dame. He sported a sparkling 1.68 ERA heading into June, yet had just one win due to the Cubs ineptness. Dealt to the A’s in July, Samardzjia had a solid resume for Oakland in 16 starts, but a couple of stinkers skewed his overall numbers .

Samardjizia has the swing-and-miss stuff to be a fantasy stud. Over his last seven starts of the season, these were his swinging-strike totals: 19,13,17,18,18,9,11. Coming off back-to-back 200-strikeout seasons, and combine that with his improved command shown last year (4.7 K:BB), Samardjizia could take that next step forward again in 2015.

Scott Kazmir – SP
The A’s rolled the dice on the 30-year-old after one solid comeback season with the Indians, and were rewarded nicely. Kazmir lead the A’s with 15 wins and made his first All-star appearance since 2008. Kazmir had a tremendous first half: 11-3, 2.38 ERA, .0980 WHIP, and 4.0 K:BB ratio. He may have tired in the second half, and struggled through a terrible August mostly because of back-to-back dreadful starts against the Angels, where he allowed 13 earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. Despite that, he still proved to be a solid fantasy pitcher in mixed leagues. His velocity seems to be back and his command has improved, so if he can continue this trend, Kazmir could put up similar stats to last year.

Derek Norris – C
The converted third baseman continued to show improvement while behind the plate in 2014, posting a .294/.402/.477 first half that resulted in his first All-Star game. He projects to be the primary catcher for the A’s to begin 2015, and what makes him an X-Factor is his vast improvement against RHP. Norris feasts off LHP, but seemed to figure out right-handers last year. In 114 AB against RHP in 2013, Norris posted a .144/.261/.184 slash line. Last year, in almost double the AB (234) he improved those overall numbers to .249/.340/.349. Those numbers by themselves are not awe inspiring, but when you combine with Norris’s prowess against southpaws, baseball folks take notice. You should as well.

Sean DoolittleRP
Following Jim Johnson’s implosion to begin the season as the A’s closer, Bob Melvin went to a closer by committee in April. By late May, Doolittle emerged as Melvin’s best option for ninth-inning duties and was named the team’s closer. Doolittle took advantage of the opportunity and never looked back. He relies on his mid-90s fastball and pinpoint control and it’s hard to argue with his results, as put up gaudy K/9 rates (12.8) and K:BB rates (11.1). He should be the A’s closer to begin the season, so if last year is what to expect from him going forward, he’ll be a closer you will want to target with those K rates.

What You See Is What You Get

Coco Crisp – OF
Crisp was an intriguing fantasy player heading into 2014 drafts, as he was coming off a season where he smacked a career high 22 home runs to go along with his 21 steals. However, the 2013 power surge seemed unlikely to be repeated based on his career scans (he hit 12 home runs and slugged .558 after August first that year), and it was not. Most of Crisp’s value is tied up in speed, and he simply does not run as much as he used to. He has only attempted 26 and 24 stolen bases the past two years, respectively, and entering his age-35 season, you should not expect those attempts to increase. If you expect a repeat of 2013 you will be disappointed. What we saw from Crisp last year is what you should expect to see next year (which includes his annual trip(s) to the DL).

Craig Gentry – OF
Gentry is a fourth outfielder who works his way into games due to his speed and plus defense. Mark him down for 230-250 AB, a season with no power, but a solid BA and will steal enough bases to get you around $10 in earnings in standard 5x5 AL-only formats. That’s about all you can expect, but he typically proves to be a nice endgame play in that format.

Sleeper

Drew Pomeranz – SP
The former fifth-overall pick in the 2010 draft was traded to Oakland in the offseason for Brett Anderson. The change of scenery seemed to help. Pomeranz began the season in the bullpen, but was inserted into the starting rotation on May 7th, and preceded to rattle off three consecutive wins without allowing an earned run. The big lefty was 5-3 with a 1.90 ERA heading into his June 16th start against the Rangers…then the wheels fell off the bus. After getting tagged for eight runs in just 3 2/3 innings, Pomeranz broke his right hand in a fit of frustration and was placed on the DL. He returned in late August and had three solid outings before being shut down for the year. Pomeranz has all the tools to be a solid big league starter, and should be given the shot to crack the A’s rotation to begin the season. He’s a ground-ball pitcher with nice K/9 rates and could surprise in 2015.

AL-Only

Kyle Blanks – 1B/OF
The A’s have some question marks at 1B and at the corner OF spots. Blanks has a ton of power, and could see time at DH as well. He played well for the A’s after being traded by the Padres. The potential playing time and ability to hit the ball over the fence gives him some value in AL-Only formats. He is best suited as an endgame play.

Stephen Vogt – 1B/C
Similar to Blanks, Vogt should see playing time at multiple positions for the A’s next year. What brings additional value to Vogt is that in leagues that require 15 games played for position eligibility, he qualifies at C, 1B, and OF. He’s not a bad $1 option as your second catcher.

Jarrod Parker/A.J. Griffin - SP
Both missed all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but the A’s are hoping to have both back at some point during the first half. High risk/high reward, but both pitchers could still have value in 2015 for your championship run. They will both have additional interest in keeper leagues and will be targeted in those formats.

Prospects for 2015

Billy Burns – OF
Burns is a younger and faster version of Gentry. Burns does not possess the skills to be an everyday player in the big leagues, but can certainly provide value because of his speed. Burns stole 179 bases - while only being caught 23 times - in 385 career minor-league games. With the A’s OF situation, Burns could see playing time and be a nice speed play.

Raul Alcantara - P
The International free agent signed in 2009 out of the Dominican Republic made some strides last year, playing at three levels of the minors and putting up a solid showing in Double-A ball in his three starts. He is not a strikeout pitcher, yet despite not having overpowering stuff, his pitching style could fit well in Oakland. The A’s do not have many prospects in the high minors, so Alcantara has a shot to make his big-league debut at some point in 2015.

Matt Olson – 1B
Olson and Daniel Robertson were teammates at High-A Stockton this year, and both were given the opportunity to showcase their talents in the AFL. Olson hit 37 HR, which was fourth among all minor-league players this past season, and four more in the AFL. The lefty first baseman does strike out a lot, but showed patience at the plate drawing 117 walks. The reports are he is a plus defender at 1B, so if he is able to produce at Double-A, there is a good chance he can see some time in Oakland in 2015.

Daniel Robertson - SS
Robertson, a former first-round pick in 2012, had a breakout year in 2014 putting up a .310/.402/.471 at High-A. Yes, the California League is hitter friendly, but the scouting reports think he could be a 10-15 home run hitter in the majors. He also possesses solid K:BB rates, but it could be his glove that will be his ticket to the big leagues. Again, considering the A’s questions at MI and 1B, both Robertson and Olson could make the jump to the Oakland later in 2015.

Tyler Ladendorf – 2B/SS
Really not much of a prospect, but with the A’s middle-infield situation, the former Rule 5 pick has a decent shot to make the team out of spring training. Ladendorf does not have an impressive minor-league resume, but did hit .297 with a .376 OBP in Triple-A last year. He could be a MI play in the deepest of AL-Only leagues if he can get some playing time.

Keith Cromer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Keith's other articles. You can contact Keith by clicking here

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