First off, with the promising, and well-received, front page debut of JosephTDeClercq I am finally taking the plunge and officially changing my user name to NiTDecorcq. It's pronounced "Nico" and adding a silent 7 before the "rcq" is optional, because options are good and I wish some of our players had them.
Hope springs eternal, and spring is a time for eternal hope, so when you hear that the A's could win 71, 81, or 91 games this season your proper response is, "A 91 win season -- so you're saying there's a chance?" There may not be a good chance but there's a chance. Meanwhile, even if the team were to sputter 2016 figures to be a season worth watching. Not for Jed Lowrie's 28th pained expression following a called third strike that was well within the imaginary rectangle, no. For everything else...
This is not like Chris Correa's defense, which pleads "Guilty, your honor." How can one not be curious to see how Marcus Semien's play at shortstop progresses with a full season -- following an full off-season -- with Ron Washington?
Watching Semien's transformation from "historically gawdawful" to "maybe a tick above average," all in a couple months, was among the more amazing developments I've seen in my long-and-often-tortured A's fandom. Like, "Did that ball actually bounce off Jose's head and over the wall?" level incredulity.
Not since I saw Ricky Peters jog home after a walk with runners at 2B and 3B, thinking the bases were loaded and getting tagged out by an amused catcher, have my eyes been so widened. Except possibly when Mike Greenwell was forced to catch the 10th inning of an A's-Red Sox game and allowed approximately 17 passed balls as the A's put up a number that was as hilarious as it was crooked.
In any event, whether it's on the way to the ALDS or the #3 draft pick, observing where Wash can get Semien to at shortstop is going to be must-see TV.
A's fans tend to feel like Ernest Hemingway. That either means we're accustomed to saying a farewell to arms or that watching the bullpen makes you want to stick a revolver up your palate. How about neither? Along with a revamped bullpen, the A's have retained -- or in a couple cases acquired -- young starting pitchers worth following.
First and foremost, if he stays healthy Sean Manaea is going to be up at some point in 2016. When was the last time the A's had a #1 overall pick in the rotation? The answer is, "Never and they still won't" because while he was projected as a possible #1 overall pick at one time, Manaea's hip injury dropped his stock on draft day. He still has that kind of stuff, though, and watching him pitch is going to be interesting no matter what digit might be in front of the 1 in Oakland's win column.
We'll see about Jesse Hahn's health, but when healthy Hahn's diving sinker and lollipop curve give him legitimate upside. Chris Bassitt and Kendall Graveman also have enough upside, and tools, to give rise to hopes that the A's might be putting together a solid young core of SPs that could take the AL West by storm sooner rather than later.
Are these young starting pitchers healthy and talented enough to warrant genuine excitement and intrigue? I think so.
Another special gift for fans is when a young, or inexperienced, player enjoys a breakout season that takes them to the next level. No longer are they "contributors" so much as they are the "go to players" around which your lineup is built. In recent years we have watched Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt reach this status, and in 2016 fans will watch, with eager and baited breath, whether a couple new players can bust out to be more than just complementary pieces.
Note: If you are publishing a personals ad on Craigslist, it's probably best not to include "...have eager and baited breath..." However, this same breath is fine if you are describing a baseball fan looking forward to a new season.
One breakout candidate is Mark Canha, whose average defense and pedestrian .315 OBP prevent him from being more than a "nice Rule-5 find" at the moment. But more potential is there. Canha's swing reminds me a bit of Josh Donaldson's, even if Donaldson's is a tad shorter and less violent.
Nothing wrong with being a "poor man's Donaldson" and with his ability to handle RHPs, his facility at taking 2-strike pitches to RF, and legitimate "big time power" to all fields, Canha has the trappings of becoming a force who could put up numbers reminiscent of Brandon Moss circa 2012-13. Will he? Dunno. Does he have a chance? I think so.
Then there's Billy Burns, who has made a career so far of proving me wrong. Yes he can hit LH, yes he can sustain as an every day starter, yes he can make a living beating out eleveteen-kajillion 23-hoppers on the infield. Now to take that next step, Burns will need to trade an inordinate number of infield pop-ups for some line drives, he will need to double his walk rate to where it was in the minor leagues, and he will need to take better routes to fly balls.
Is Mark Kotsay Burns' Ron Washington? No, but he doesn't have to be since as it stands Burns is a decent enough CFer. What Kotsay might be able to do is to help Burns take a step forward (or if the ball is hit hard, perhaps a step back is in order) in his ability to read fly balls quickly and take the most efficient route to the ball. One step forward, for a CF like Burns, is huge and if anyone can help a CFer do it you would have to like Kotsay's chances.
Kotsay was also a good role model for the balance of aggressive first pitch hitting and working deep counts/long at bats. This is Burns' game too. It's ironic, in that Kotsay and Burns are such different types of players, but if Kotsay can infuse Burns with just a little of what made Kotsay special, you might have something pretty special in Burns.
Of course nothing is guaranteed, but that's precisely why it's intriguing to watch. Manaea could struggle with his control at AAA, Hahn could go down with TJS, Bassitt could regress and Graveman could pick up where he left off before he hit the DL. Or Oakland could have 4 kick-a** SPs behind the kick-a**iest of the kick-a**es, Sonny Gray. "Must see TV" right there.
Canha and Burns could go the way of so many players who sniff success their first season and then recoil into being flawed players whose weaknesses are exploited again and again. Or they could continue to develop and give the A's a surprisingly good and stable OF going forward to the end of the decade.
My point isn't that the A's are going to win 91 games this season so much as that there is going to be plenty worth watching. On the heels of 2015, all the layers of "intriguing" and "worth watching" have me plenty excited for 2016. Will the pitchers and catchers please just report already???