There's been a lot of gloom and doom expressed this season about the present and the future, and many of my posts have been no exception. However, some important positive signs are emerging that could -- not will, but could -- allow the A's to be quite competitive again as soon as 2013.
Why 2013 and not 2012? Brett Anderson's Tommy John surgery kind of helped to set that clock because one thing that seems clear with the A's is that their ticket to being really good is to have an "embarras de riches" (please read that with the proper French accent) of "front of the rotation" starting pitchers, and even if Oakland holds onto Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill their 2012 rotation doesn't figure to be great enough to support the position players the A's can hope to field.
But by 2013 the rotation could be great again, and recent trends suggest that a lot could be coming together for 2013 to support Gonzalez, Cahill, Anderson, and perhaps a couple other important young "core pieces" the A's might add as soon as the end of this month, without compromising their rotation.
As I see it, Oakland's avenue to becoming competitive again within two years lies in hitting not once, not twice, but three times in a row with their first round draft pick. That's not easy to do, but...
With each passing day it is becoming clearer that the A's hit once with Jemile Weeks who, while still quite raw defensively and on the bases, can flat out hit and seems only to thrive on the backdrop of the big stage. In other words, he has the skills and he has the "X factor". It is, frankly, exciting to have a position player on the A's who looks so good offensively as he looks. It's the "X factor" as much as his physical skills that have me believing that he is only going to get better.
Grant Green has made an important move to CF, one that it is far too early to call a success but which suggests the A's are willing to accept that his best chance to get to the big leagues soon, and stick there, is to move to another important defensive position where he may be a much better bet. Given Green's defensive strengths and weaknesses, it seems likely that he has a much better chance to thrive in CF than he had at SS, where his footwork and arm consistently got him into trouble.
Green has been described by scouts as having a major league bat that may or may not be derailed by his defensive limitations as a SS. Now he projects as a player whose bat plays well in CF, and the move likely fast-tracks him to Oakland compared to his status just a week ago. Granted (pun intended) he is not having a terrific offensive season in AA (.287/.350/.398), so it will be important to monitor his hitting with the hope that moving off SS, a demanding position he struggled to conquer, will only help allow him to relax, focus on and reach his offensive potential.
Meanwhile, it's hard to find enough superlatives to describe Michael Choice's progress in single-A Stockton this year. Just 21, Choice entered tonight's game 25 for his last 49, leading the league in HRs (25), having cut down his "K rate" steadily throughout the season. Oh, an update: He has already hit his 26th HR tonight.
A's long time scout Grady Fuson just raves about Choice's bat speed, and while he's a raw enough talent that the A's are probably being wise to resist moving him up too quickly, Choice is forcing Oakland's hand in a good way and it's no longer a stretch to think he may force his way to the show by 2013.
Don't get me wrong: It's hard to hit on three straight first round picks and a lot can happen on the way to the big leagues. But suddenly, two OF spots and 2B could soon be manned by three very legitimately talented young players who are progressing well. Add maybe a more aggressive and confident Chris Carter at DH, and you might have the core of a strong lineup.
As long as you can throw a "front of the rotation" starter 60% of the time, you have a solid foundation. That's why I hope the A's will deal other pieces to continue rebuilding but will hold onto Gonzalez and Cahill while awaiting Anderson's return.
I'm not saying Weeks, Green, and Choice will all thrive in the big leagues or that if they do they'll do it by 2013. What I am saying is don't count the A's out in 2013 just yet because the most important signs are all good right now, and they begin with these three first round picks. In a disappointing 2011 season, "good signs" are most welcome. And at the moment, I'd say those good signs are real.