Down years are an inevitability in sports at large but particularly baseball, a sport that moves in cycles dictated by its unique aging curve and contract structure. The A’s were terrible from 2015-2017. On its face, it’s acceptable, but what was so nerve-wracking about the A’s down years was that it required even the most optimistic of fan to question whether the front office still had the ability to craft a successful team.
Things look much better thus far in 2018, and while a half season isn’t enough to speak to a front office’s competence, we’re finally reaching a point where we can judge the talent they’ve selected as it matriculates to the big league level. So far, things are looking positive.
-The team gave up two interesting prospects to acquire a longer term asset in Stephen Piscotty. Those two facts combined show the team believes in Piscotty, and there was ample skin in the game to make it a reasonably risky investment. Piscotty started off slowly and understandably, it took time to find his comfort zone.
Lately? He’s looked like a star, hitting more home runs in this half of the season than any half of a season so far in his career. That’s in spite of that slow start and while it’s hard to guess where his season line will end, he’s definitely someone you want on your team.
-More often than not, Rule 5 draft picks are returned to their original team without any big league time. Sadly, most are incapable of staying in the bigs for more than a brief cup of coffee, and most that are successful are in a part-time role, niche role.
Mark Canha is a Rule 5 draft pick. He’s has shown flashes of being a valuable player before, but as a full time player this year he’s looked like a solidly above average regular. His value goes beyond his numbers as his versatility has given the A’s a huge lift in terms of lineup construction while also letting Dustin Fowler acclimate to the big leagues. Canha has been an absolute steal from one of the most unlikely sources.
As with everything in a half a season of play, the small sample caveat applies. That’s doubly true for Canha who has shown flashes before only to slow down. That’s still a possibility here, though I do think there’s something to be said about full time play.
-The A’s made two major trades at the 2017 deadline. Trades are hard to evaluate and often take years to fully bake out, at which point their still subject to subjectivity.
That said, the two trades the A’s made last year look like strong moves. Blake Treinen has been an absolute star at the back of the pen and one of the most important A’s so far. Down on the farm, Jesus Luzardo has been one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues, shooting as high as #13 on top prospect lists. Sheldon Neuse has been poor thus far in 2018, but he’s young and just look a the other guys in the trade instead.
The Sonny Gray trade isn’t quite the same level of slam dunk, but Dustin Fowler has held his own at the start of his big league career. If he’s able to bring that bat to a league average level like it certainly looks like he can do, the move will be easy to swallow even without considering those other prospects.
Dissecting trades is no easy feat, but the takeaway here is the A’s were able to snag serious talent just last year.
Eric Kubota and his staff are under appreciated. You could put together a competitive big league lineup from the 2012-14 drafts alone: Olson (1B), Robertson (2B), Russell (SS), Chapman (3B), Pinder (RF), Powell (CF), Muncy (LF), Maxwell (C)— Melissa Lockard (@melissalockard) July 14, 2018
Being at the cutting edge of analytics is still vital, and it goes hand in hand with talent acquisition. But there’s still good old fashioned scouting and the A’s have been damn good at it as of late.
It’s suboptimal that some of those guys are out of the org, but it’s nice to see legit home drafted talent succeed. The guys running the draft should stick around even after the potential front office changes, and the trope that the A’s can’t draft and develop hitters is looking weaker.
That’s not to say that trope is false, though judging the draft is hard and often leads us to binary conclusions. Even if it was true that the A’s were bad at drafting hitters (which again, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), it’s a positive sign to see that shift.
There’s a lot that goes into creating a contender in 2018 and the A’s aren’t guaranteed success this season or beyond. Some of the most important moves are yet to be made, and those will help determine where exactly the A’s land in the standings.
Still, it’s nice to see ample examples of the quality decisions from the front office in the past few seasons. Now go get some arms.