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It Ain't Easy Being Green

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

By "green" I mean inexperienced, which is different from "young". The A's have quite a few players this season who are not especially young but they are still especially inexperienced. They include Kendall Graveman (24), Marcus Semien (24), Billy Burns (26 today!), Chris Bassitt (26), Mark Canha (26), and Josh Phegley (27). The way you know that the number in parentheses is age, and not errors, is that Semien's number is too low.

Those players are not young by rookie standards, yet what they all have in common is that they have less than a year of major league experience and so a lot of what might look like "physical limitations" is in fact the growing pains of "figuring it out at the big league level," a process that cannot really be rushed.

Is Graveman inherently an inconsistent pitcher? Is .254/.307/.418 "as good as it gets" for Canha? Will Semien always struggle with runners in scoring position? The answer to these questions is an emphatic "No." If you saw these problems with a 22 year old you would simply chalk it up to their youth. Well, in a sense these guys are 22 -- they are just having their "age 22 season," that is their first full big league season, later in life.

Should a 27 year old, in his first season, be more mature and less "rookie like," in his inaugural major league season? I suppose you could make a case for it, but really the more common quality old rookies have in common is that they're usually not that talented -- if they were they would have been called up sooner.

As we've seen recently, however, with Brandon Moss, with Jesse Chavez, and others around the league, sometimes it's less a matter of talent and more one of opportunity. There are late bloomers and there are players blocked within their own organization, and so it can come to pass that a player has the talent and just needs the platform to show what he can do.

Oakland tends to covet these players and so not coincidentally you will often find quite a few players whose age belies their lack of big league experience. If you're a fan it's easy to look at Canha as a hitter in his mid-20s and not as a hitter seeing major league pitching for the first time. Yet that's exactly what he is and in that context he has had a good season with a chance to breakout next year.

My own perspective is that the A's outlook, on paper, for 2016 has going for it that so many players are "breakout candidates". (I'm sorry. I know the period is "supposed" to go inside the quotation marks but that just looks dumb in a case like this. I opt for aesthetics and I thank you for your understanding.)

I think Semien has a chance to relax into a breakout season at the plate in 2016. If he bats .270/.340/.420 next season, you heard it here first. (If he doesn't, then please note that I never actually said he would do that.)

I don't have any illusions that Canha is the next Nelson Cruz, but I do think that if given the every day DH job he would be a big upgrade over the current mess. As a pretty solid 1Bman and versatile defensive player, he has a chance to be a valuable player going forward.

I can't say that I see "top of the rotation" potential in Graveman, but a solid #3 SP seems like a reasonable goal and a very solid #4 -- which is still extremely valuable -- seems likely. As for the consistency, that's a huge part of being a rookie and I expect Graveman to figure a lot out between now and next April.

Bassitt has been one of the bright spots in an exasperating season, and like Phegley has exceeded expectations. Could they be figured out only to peak early and then fade into obscurity? They could -- baseball history is littered with such examples -- but given their age they are just as likely to have better years ahead before peaking.

As for Burns, I would start with telling him that when he is trying to steal a base stop looking back at the batter. See, Billy, you already improved just by reading the last sentence! Just as Burns is often exhilarating he is sometimes exasperating, such as when he has a "4 at bats, 6 pitches" game or breaks back on a flair to CF. Again, though, these are traits typical of rookies and if you remember that this is Burns' first full season in the big leagues one can hope that with experience, he can improve his plate discipline, his reads and his routes, his fundamentals on the bases.

One small but specific example: All season I have wondered why Canha doesn't stretch more effectively for throws at 1B. Perhaps it's the addition of Ron Washington, but just this week I have noticed a big improvement. Suddenly, Canha is going out to get the baseball and it has saved the A's on a couple of close plays. That's when you step back and realize how new 1B is to Canha and how these problems are not necessarily "just who they are".

I guess what I'm saying is that even though the A's have a lot of players in their mid-to-late 20s, most of them have little to no prior experience in the big leagues and so you are going to see more mistakes and failures and shortcomings that are generally more typical of players in their early 20s.

Will each and every one of these guys take a step forward in 2016? Undoubtedly, no. But is it quite possible that many to most of them will? Absolutely. Experience is a great teacher and class is very much in session.