BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
As the Oakland A’s prepare to return home from spring training in Arizona, many questions remain about what to expect from them in the 2017 season. While the prospects are strong for a noticeable improvement over last season’s 69-93 last place finish, the American League West is expected to once again be one of Baseball’s strongest divisions with stiff competition in the Rangers, Astros and Mariners.
With an anemic offense featuring only two batters with more than 75 RBI’s in 2016, the Athletics will need to see continued progress and maturity from their batting order if they hope to still be competitive once September rolls around. Without any significant additions to the pitching staff with the exception of Giants closer Santiago Casilla moving from across the bay, the A’s will also need to stay healthy, something they were unable to achieve last year.
Defensively, the left side of the infield looks strong. Third Baseman Ryon Healy showed significant promise solidifying the hot corner while hitting .305 with 13 home runs and 37 RBI’s in the first 72 games of his career. Shortstop Marcus Semien rebounded from a horrendous 2015 in the field by almost cutting his major league leading error total in half, while also demonstrating power at the plate with 27 home runs and 75 RBI’s. Stephen Vogt can again be expected to show his reliability both at catcher and in the field as playing in over 135 games for the second season in a row demonstrated.
Manager Bob Melvin’s outfield has added depth with the addition of Matt Joyce and Rajai Davis. Davis was a solid addition as the teams lead off hitter. Returning to the Bay Area for the first time since establishing a career high with 50 stolen bases for the A’s in 2010, Davis is coming off a season where he led the American League with 43 stolen bases in Cleveland last year. Davis also blasted one of the most dramatic home runs in recent World Series history to help nearly bring the Indians their first championship since 1948. Khris Davis will again supply the lumber following a break out season where he tied for third in the American League with 42 home runs along with a team leading 102 RBI’s while playing 150 games.
On the mound, Sonny Gray needs to both stay healthy and return to the form that made him the A’s ace almost immediately after his arrival in 2013. Kendall Graveman also showed great promise in 2016, throwing a solid 186 innings in his 31 starts. Sean Manaea and Daniel Mengden are unproven question marks in the rotation, but Manaea showed signs of developing into a solid pitcher if he can harness his control. Ryan Dull looks solid in middle relief. If Dull can bridge the gap between the starters and the back end of the bullpen, and Sean Doolittle can regain his All-Star form of 2014 while Santiago Casilla reestablishes himself as the closer he was for the World Series champion Giants, it could be a strong step forward towards returning to serious contention.