What did we learn at FanFest? We learned that there are only 3 viable options for a new stadium and that even though all 3 are not viable for different reasons the A’s still intend to open a stadium in one of those places by 2023. We learned that despite having a classically Hispanic last name, Emilio Pagan looks and talks like he hails strictly from the island of Carolina. We learned that Billy Beane is incredibly charming and entertaining while saying virtually nothing, but we already knew that. And we learned that excitement and optimism is high as a team predicted to finish low in the division intends to “surprise people”. I love spring.
I don’t know if these 2018 A’s will win 75, 81, or 90 games, but there are story lines that promise to make this by far the most interesting season of the last 4. No longer will the most anticipated question be, “Will Trevor Plouffe hit into more double plays than Billy Butler did,” a running scorecard that was reflected in the number of marble-sized dents appearing on my TV screen.
Today, let me profile the “creme de la creme,” which I believe is Tagalog for “1/2 and 1/2,” of the many compelling unknowns that will unfold — for better or worse — this season.
#1: Dustin Fowler
There is a cavernous gap between the A’s apparent confidence that Fowler can be their every day CFer and the lawsuit in which Fowler claims “severe and permanent damage” from his short but intense romance with an electrical box in Chicago. The truth is, of course, in between, but so many questions abound that can only be answered in the spring.
Is Fowler in fact 100% recovered from the grisly knee injury, surgery, and 6 month rehabilitation? If so, does he have the skills to excel in CF? Despite his lack of patience at the plate, is he a good big league hitter worthy of the hype that preceded his injury?
Fowler could be the A’s long-term answer in CF. He could start this season at AAA in resignation that few beat Father Time’s close relative, Cousin Health. He could prove to be a corner outfielder in center fielder’s clothing. He could find that patience is not just a virtue, it’s a necessity at the big league level. He could be an All-Star stolen from the Yankees thanks to circumstance, or a bust limping from LF to the DL.
Will the real Dustin Fowler please stand up? Can the real Dustin Fowler stand up? Stay tuned.
#2: The Matts
They are welcome Matts indeed. Cornerstones at the corners, Chapman and Olson are incredibly exciting and strangely comparable to the duo of 6 years ago who helped the A’s emerge from nowhere to capture the AL West crown: Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss.
In Chapman, the A’s already saw a .785 OPS with a gold glove in his 84 game debut, and watching him you could see that this was the raw version of a talent whose upside is significant. If Chapman never takes a step forward, just the status quo of those 84 games would make him an excellent player, but this is a guy with tremendous natural baseball acumen and instinct and if he figures things out to take his game to the next level, the next level for Chapman puts him in Donaldson territory.
Olson was a marvel, launching 24 HRs in 59 games and turning in a Ruthian 1.003 OPS. No one expects Olson to continue bombing a HR every 2.5 games, but with no question that the glove, eye, and power are real the only one remaining is “Once regression sets in, how good can he be?”
If you’re not eagerly waiting to see what the Matts settle into being, you’re not an A’s fan. If you’re nervously waiting to see, you’re probably on one of the other AL teams.
#3: The Next Wave
As compelling as it will be to watch Fowler, Chapman, Olson, and the rest of the April crew, the season will begin with some significant talent just, as Beane put it at FanFest, “a phone call away”.
A.J. Puk, with a blazing fastball and #1 SP upside, Jorge Mateo, with 80 speed and electric athleticism, and Franklin Barreto, with a sweet swing and exciting speed/power combination, headline this group slated to open in the minors but possibly reach Oakland sooner rather than later in 2018. Grant Holmes and, if he picks up where he left off in 2017, even Sheldon Neuse are intriguing talents who could potentially make a splash in Oakland this season.
#4: Young Starting Pitching
In the mix for the rotation are pitchers who have a combination of question marks and exclamation points. Daniel Mengden was terrific down the stretch and if he were to pick up where he left off it would go a long way to making the A’s competitive in 2018. Jharel Cotton struggled but brings a good fastball and great changeup to the party. Paul Blackburn strikes batters out at a “can’t sustain success” rate yet has never yet failed to sustain success and has an elite feel for pitching.
I don’t include Jesse Hahn or Andrew Triggs due to their being in their late 20s, even though by service time they are also relative ‘pups,’ and I exclude Sean Manaea because sadly by Oakland A’s math he rates as an ‘elder statesman’ — just as Marcus Semien is the veteran of A’s veterans for having played all of 3 consecutive seasons with Oakland.
Watching to see how Mengden, Cotton, and Blackburn fare will be more than just fascinating; it will also probably tell us what kind of a season is in store for the A’s.
#5: Stephen Piscotty
Piscotty is, unfortunately, a story in so many ways, from the disparate 2016 and 2017 seasons he had on the field to the tragic family distraction of his mom’s ALS that may have contributed to his 2017 funk.
After a 2017 season interrupted by injury and family illness, where Piscotty will be physically and mentally, and what kind of a hitter and fielder he proves to really be, is anybody’s guess including his own.
What I do know is that Piscotty, born and raised in Pleasanton growing up an A’s fan whose family were already season ticket holders prior to the trade, is incredibly easy to root and pull for both on a baseball and human level.
Those are my suggested “top 5 story lines” that will make 2018 nothing short of a fascinating year to be an A’s fan. Feel free to add suggested entries that might not have made my list or to explain which of these most compels you and why. Good recipes for paella are also encouraged as this is an all-purpose blog. Go rice!
Which story line is most compelling to follow with the 2018 A’s?
This poll is closed
The Matts Chapman and Olson
The next wave of talent about to come up
The young starting pitchers
None of the above (explained in comments)