Like the A’s front office, I will never give up on a season before it starts. You don’t think the A’s can take the league by storm in 2017? You also conceded that in 2016 the Astros were going to be in middle of their stretch of dominance, a stretch it turns out is so dominant that right now Houston is on the outside looking in on both the AL West and both wild cards.
That being said, my realistic hopes for the near future are for the A’s to be both interesting and exciting in 2017 as they start showing the crop of young guns who will blaze Oakland to glory as the decade winds down.
Is that table in fact being set? Oakland’s up-and-comers will not remind anyone of Carlos Correa or George Springer, and even my mother can tell Chad Pinder and Jose Altuve apart. However, following the latest draft and deadline dealing a road map is beginning to emerge. It may currently still be two Ryan Sweeneys short of an outfield, but there is increasing depth — depth in the all-essential area of pitching, depth in "potential star talent" as well as in "good bets to contribute in the big leagues".
Perhaps as importantly, some of that talent is now close enough that they may be up in time to get their feet wet in 2017, graduate from the school of hard knocks, and enter 2018 poised to excel. Here’s how it looks at the moment...
I can get genuinely excited about an infield of Matt Chapman at 3B, Marcus Semien and Franklin Barreto up the middle, and Ryon Healy at 1B (where he is best suited, as his recent spate of pasta-diving at 3B can attest). Add Chad Pinder as versatile insurance at 2B, SS, and 3B should injury or ineffectiveness plague of the fab-4, and you have some depth to go with a considerable amount of legitimate talent.
By 2018, Semien will be entering his 4th full season and Healy will have 1.5 years under his belt. Chapman and Barreto have a chance to push their way to the big leagues sometime in 2017, making 2017 more intriguing and also setting up 2018 to be a breakout out year for one or both, with 2018-2020 pretty much set on the infield. While fans may have a tendency to over-rate their own prospects and neglect that there is also ample talent on rival teams, I think it’s fair to say that the group of Chapman-Semien-Barreto-Healy + Pinder offers considerable pedigree (only Semien, a 6th round pick, was drafted below the 3rd round) and upside, and could potentially stack up with any infield around.
One thing to note about the aforementioned quintet, though, is that all five bat right-handed, meaning that the A’s will need to get a lot of production out of LH bats elsewhere. (I hear the Dodgers’ RFer is a free agent at the end of this season. Maybe we can make a bid.)
Meanwhile the A’s fortified their pitching depth last week in a big way, after drafting starting pitchers with their first three picks in June. Don’t expect all these guys to still be with the organization by the start of 2018, but the current depth is pretty impressive even before the A’s make inevitable off-season additions:
Raul Alcantara (2017)
Daniel Gossett (2017)
Jharel Cotton (2017)
Frankie Montas (2017)
Chris Bassitt (post-ASB 2017)
Grant Holmes (2018)
Logan Shore (2018)
A.J. Puk (2018 or 2019)
Dalton Jeffries (2018 or 2019)
This does not even include Dillon Overton, whose cup of coffee with Oakland is suggesting that his high-80s fastball may not play at this level, or wild cards such as Heath Fillmeyer and Dylan Covey who are quietly gaining relevance on the depth chart.
You can never have too much pitching, but if I’m a betting man I think the A’s will move Jesse Hahn this off-season based on the combination of his arm being a ticking time bomb and his head being a case of which the A’s are growing weary. I also think that despite his terrible season, Hahn will have some value due to his good stuff, age,
current health (update: Or......not), and the possibility that he could easily be the next Tyson Ross or Drew Pomeranz to harness his excellent stuff upon changing scenery. Add a free agent and subtract Hahn and the depth, along with the talent and upside, still looks awfully solid.
At catcher, whether it’s the duo of Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley, or Bruce Maxwell and Josh Phegley, the A’s can probably cobble together an above-average mix given the rather sad state of catching around the league these days. Whether with Oakland or elsewhere, I see Vogt moving into a DH/third catcher role by 2018 (his age 33 season), able to give a team good production at the plate without enduring the rigors of catching. With Josh Reddick traded and Coco Crisp retiring, I could see Oakland keeping Vogt around as the primary veteran leader for a young club, but more likely as a DH than as an every day position player.
And then there’s the outfield. That’s the work-in-progress still to be figured out between now and 2018. I feel like the A’s have half of it set and half of it very much in turmoil. The half that is set is Khris Davis and an excellent platoon partner in Jake Smolinski.
If you haven’t taken note of Smolinski’s platoon splits, by the way, here they are:
vs. LHP: .357/.419/.696
vs. RHP: .256/.315/.329
You don’t get a whole lot more splitty than that. One candidate to provide production from the left side is Three True Outcome prospect Matt Olson. Like Chapman and Barreto, Olson is a strong candidate to make it to Oakland sometime in 2017 with the hope of settling in and claiming RF against RHPs by 2018. At age 22, Olson is now batting .244/.351/.455 against RHPs at AAA Nashville. Another possibility is Jaycob Brugman, but given the lack of certainty or depth I imagine it is in CF/RF that the A’s will be most active in bringing new talent aboard sooner rather than later.
2017 could be a fun audition year for Chapman, Barreto, Olson, Brugman, Cotton, Montas and others either to get their feet wet or try to lay their claim to a spot on a 2018 team that could finally be that squad that "grows up together, gels together, wins together" for a while.
That’s Plan A, anyway, and I think there’s enough there now to warrant excitement — even for a 2017 season that may or may not be competitive in the standings but could be highly competitive in determining who earns a chance to be part of that good thing the A’s are aiming to build. Sure, the Astros and Rangers also have some impressive talent on their rosters and in their farm systems, but it’s Oakland’s turn to get a few breaks in an area where success is so oft determined by health and chance. Right? Right. Because I say so.