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Young A’s hoping to exploit powerful potential in 2018

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Khris Davis has had plenty of practice with his home run swing and salute since joining the A's prior to the 2017 season. He leads all American Leaguers with a total of 85 homers in his two years with Oakland.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Khris Davis has had plenty of practice with his home run swing and salute since joining the A’s prior to the 2017 season. He leads all American Leaguers with a total of 85 homers in his two years with Oakland.

BY STEVEN LUKE

Expectations are low for the Oakland Athletics entering the 2018 season after back-to-back last place finishes, but a few key additions in the offseason and a young core could surprise the league.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Matt Chapman looks to be a fixture at third base for the A's for many years to come. In just over half a season in 2017, the rookie had 23 doubles to go along with 14 home runs and 40 RBI's.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Matt Chapman looks to be a fixture at third base for the A’s for many years to come. In just over half a season in 2017, the rookie had 23 doubles to go along with 14 home runs and 40 RBI’s.

The 2017 season was not one that will be remembered for many Athletics fans, but it did have its upsides. The first of those was the debut of Matt Chapman. He first appeared in the lineup June 15 and became a staple at third base, turning heads with his defense and quickly becoming a leader on a team filled with young players. Chapman’s dazzling plays and leadership covered up what was a light bat on the season, but where he failed offensively his counterpart on the other corner, fellow rookie, Matt Olson made up for it.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Matt Olson quickly announced his arrival at the Major League level in a big way last season, slamming 24 home runs in just 59 games after being called up .
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Matt Olson quickly announced his arrival at the Major League level in a big way last season, slamming 24 home runs in just 59 games after being called up .

Another one of the few upsides, Olson made multiple trips between Oakland and Nashville in 2017 coming up to spell an injured Yonder Alonso before returning for good August 8th after Alonso was traded to the Seattle Mariners. Olson had already proven that he could hit for power at the major league level earlier in the season, hitting two home runs in one game against the White Sox, but in the final two months of the regular season he showed superior power. Olson put up 20 home runs for the Athletics in 138 at bats to close the season. His 24 total home runs in 2017 was good for fourth on the team, and it only took him 59 games to do it.

The corners aren’t the only place on the roster with youthful potential. The outfield will feature two young players as well. Dustin Fowler was acquired in the trade of Sonny Gray to the Yankees at the trade deadline and if healthy will start the season in center. Stephen Piscotty will man one of the corner outfield positions after coming over in an offseason trade with the St. Louis Cardinals.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Pleasanton's Stephen Piscotty returns to the Bay Area after coming over in a December trade with St. Louis. Piscotty hopes to approach the numbers he put up in 2016, his first full season in the Majors, when he hit 22 homers with 85 RBI's.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Pleasanton’s Stephen Piscotty returns to the Bay Area after coming over in a December trade with St. Louis. Piscotty hopes to approach the numbers he put up in 2016, his first full season in the Majors, when he hit 22 homers with 85 RBI’s.

Fowler has virtually no experience at the big league level after suffering a gruesome injury in the first inning of his debut with the Yankees. Piscotty has the big league experience, but he was made available because of a sophomore season slump and an excess of outfielders on the Cardinals roster. Piscotty will have to recover from last season to make a true impact. Both players have the ability to both improve the offense and upgrade the defense.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Strongly rumored to be on the block at the trade deadline, the A's held onto Jed Lowrie and he rewarded them with a career high 49 doubles, the second most in the Majors.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Strongly rumored to be on the block at the trade deadline, the A’s held onto Jed Lowrie and he rewarded them with a career high 49 doubles, the second most in the Majors.

Youth isn’t the only key to the Athletics roster offensively. Khris Davis and Jed Lowrie both return as veteran pieces of the club. Davis is coming off his second consecutive 40+ home run season and Lowrie has been a doubles machine while donning the green and gold. They will not be alone as veterans on offense. Matt Joyce is currently slated to start in the corner outfield opposite Piscotty and will provide experience from the left side of the plate. Joyce is coming off his best season power wise posting career highs in doubles and home runs.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Matt Joyce hit a career high 25 home runs to go along with 68 RBI's in his first season in Oakland. Similar numbers would go a long way towards helping the A's climb out of the AL West cellar in 2018.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Matt Joyce hit a career high 25 home runs to go along with 68 RBI’s in his first season in Oakland. Similar numbers would go a long way towards helping the A’s climb out of the AL West cellar in 2018.

The final batter to be excited about was the one big off-season signing, catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy was available because he regressed offensively over the two previous seasons, but the two-time All-Star will bring something the team badly needed, experience behind the plate. His offense may not be what it once was, but his ability to lead a pitching staff remains and that alone will be a major upgrade for the team if he can reign in some of the young pitchers.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Two time All-Star catcher  Jonathan Lucroy's free agent signing gives the A's a veteran presence behind the plate that should pay dividends with the teams young pitching staff.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Two time All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy’s free agent signing gives the A’s a veteran presence behind the plate that should pay dividends with the teams young pitching staff.

If the Athletics are going to climb out of the cellar in the AL West, it is going to take improvement from the pitching staff. The rotation is far from set at this point with only the top two spots set in stone. Kendall Graveman will take the mound opening day and Sean Manaea will follow him, but the three spots behind them are up in the air as Andrew Triggs, Daniel Gossett, Chris Bassit, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn and A.J. Puk will all battle to make the roster.

The most likely rotation would be Graveman, Manaea, Triggs, and Blackburn with either Gossett or Mengden in the final spot, but if Bassit can prove he has fully recovered from his injury or Puk continues to dominate in spring training they could steal a spot, but what this rotation will lack to start the season is experience.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Kendall Graveman is expected to be the A's opening day starter. The 27 year old who came over from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade is emblematic of Oakland's young staff, unproven, but with loads of potential.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Kendall Graveman is expected to be the A’s opening day starter. The 27 year old who came over from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade is emblematic of Oakland’s young staff, unproven, but with loads of potential.

Graveman has the most experience of the eight potential starters and is only entering his third season at the major league level. The one wild card in the rotation is the recent signing of Trevor Cahill. Cahill was once the ace of the Athletics rotation, but has since bounced around the league and found more success as a reliever than as a starter, so he could fill in at either spot. If he is added to the rotation it would give one of the younger guys time to grow in the minors and add some needed veteran experience.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER Lefty Sean Manaea showed significant promise in 2017, leading the A's staff with 12 wins in just his second season in the big leagues. He opens the year projected to be Oakland's number two starter.
©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Lefty Sean Manaea showed significant promise in 2017, leading the A’s staff with 12 wins in just his second season in the big leagues. He opens the year projected to be Oakland’s number two starter.

The bullpen portion of the pitching staff has the edge in experience by a long shot, but that experience does not bring as much consistency as one would like. The two pitchers in the pen with the most experience, Santiago Casilla and Liam Hendriks, have had up-and-down careers and their 2017 seasons were on the down side. Key acquisitions left hander Ryan Buchter (via trade with the Kansas City Royals) and right hander Yusmeiro Petit (via free agency) will bring some stability, Buchter as a quality left hander and Petit as a serviceable long man.

The main question mark will be closer Blake Treinen. Treinen was acquired in the trade that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madsen to the Washington Nationals and was thrust into the closer’s role shortly after. While his numbers with the Athletics looked solid, his saves were a roller coaster ride that A’s fans didn’t want to be on.

The A’s are not going to catch the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros even if everything breaks their way this season. In all likelihood they will spend a third straight season at the bottom of the standings. But if this group of veterans and youngsters is the perfect mix on offense, if the pitching staff lives up to its potential, and if Treinen can lock down that closers role and everyone else fills their role then these Athletics could remind fans of the 2012 team that surprised everyone by winning the division on the last day of the season. But that’s a lot of “if’s”.

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