In Conclusion: The Oakland Athletics and the Cactus League


No that’s not the howling wind of a late March rain storm you hear outside.  It’s not even the sound of the Athletics team charter preparing to descend to the runway at the Oakland International Airport.  That sound you hear is the collective exhale of relief let out by the members of the Oakland Athletics, all of whom are thrilled and relieved to have finally finished off their Cactus League schedule.

It’s always a test of the will for the players to make it through the monotany of Spring Training, you can only play so many games that mean absolutely zilch before you get a little stir crazy.  So tack on another week to make room for the WBC and you can imagine how much fun it would be by week 4, knowing you still had another week of games when normally you’d be packing up to head to your home ballpark.  But alas, the time for exhibitions is almost over.

So as the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants prepare to play the 3 game Bay Bridge Series (In San Francisco Thursday and Friday, Oakland on Saturday), it’s time for us to make sense of what we all saw of the Athletics in Arizona, and also to figure out what, if anything, means anything from all of that.  So if I haven’t lost you already, let’s take a quick look at some of those who excelled this spring.

I’ll forego discussing Eric Sogard for the sake of not being overly redundant, the guy hit .500 for the spring and that’s probably earned him a roster spot.

March 21, 2013; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris (36) celebrates with teammates after hitting a two run homerun in the second inning during a spring training game against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Norris was one player who I had very little faith in down the stretch last season, I expected him to make outs, often unproductive ones whenever he stepped up to bat, and he usually came through.  This year he came into camp trimmed down, and with a retooled swing, designed to eradicate the Derek Norris that drove me mad in September 2012.  So far, it seems like it may have worked.  He posted an impressive .378/.489/.838 line with 5 home runs and a pair of doubles.  He won’t be expected to carry the load behind the plate like he did last year, but if he can turn himself into a productive hitter instead of an automatic out then he’ll certainly do his part in the platoon with John Jaso.

The biggest and most pleasant surprise of the spring not named Eric Sogard would have to be Shane Peterson.  The last remaining piece from the Matt Holliday trade (I still despise him by the way) has emerged as a viable call up option for the Athletics in 2013 with a solid 2012 season in Double and Triple A, and a very nice Cactus League with the big club.  Peterson hit .408/.463/.653 mostly as a sub for one of the Athletics starting outfielders.  Every time you looked it seemed he was getting on base and making things happen.  He’ll head to Sacramento to start the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him called up ahead of Michael Taylor if (when) one of the Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Chris Young foursome winds up on the DL.

I wrote not long ago about Josh Donaldson and the rather unproductive spring he’d been having, and how he was being given the benefit of the doubt despite a very small sample size in the major leagues, and Hiro Nakajima was practically being thrown out the door for posting the same numbers.  Well, Donaldson must have heard me because he tore up Cactus League pitching over the final 10 days or so and wound up with a very respectable, dare I say encouraging .314/.390/.549 slash line.  I have very muted expectations for him during this coming season, perhaps I’m bracing for a little regression, but if he can make adjustments during the regular season like he seemingly did in Arizona, there may be some legitimacy to his bat after all.

Then there are guys who are expected to be cornerstone players in the Athletics 2013 lineup.  Yoenis Cespedes started off very cold, but began to heat up while launching a tape measure home run against Tim Lincecum in the process.  La Potencia will be muy bien.  I’ve been critical of Josh Reddick over the last year for his apparent lack of clutch hitting, and while there’s no real test for that in Spring Training, Reddick did hit fairly well, hopefully he’s fine tuned his approach for the upcoming campaign.  Then there’s my main man Brandon Moss, even though I did write him a Valentine, I can observe him objectively.  He didn’t hit for much in the way of power this spring, but he showed a comfort level in the box against lefties and righties that is encouraging for his continued success.

It wasn’t all good though in the Valley of the Sun.  The pitching staff got knocked around a bit.  The lowest ERA posted by any of the projected members of the starting rotation was 4.82 by Tommy Milone.  I’m not so much worried about them though, pitchers often tinker with things during their starts, or only throw certain pitches to work on them, or do all kinds of weird things.  As long as they feel good then nothing else matters, need I remind you of Bob Welch in 1990?  Travis Blackley may have scared some members of the Athletics organization with his ERA hovering around eleventy-billion, but perhaps he was suffering a tobacco-less withdrawl that affected his performance more than he thought it would, much like we saw with Josh Hamilton last season.  He’s sacrificing his health for the good of the team apparently now, so let’s hope it’ll turn things around for him.

Like I didn’t rehash the Eric Sogard discussion, I won’t do that with Hiro Nakajima and his well documented struggles this spring.  I still think he’ll be just fine, and just needs some more time to achieve a level of comfort stateside.

All in all, with a 15-12 record, the A’s are just about right where they should be as they return to the East Bay late Wednesday.  They didn’t embarrass themselves, and they didn’t tear down the house either.  A record right around the .500 mark is perfectly fine, and not going to excite anyone in either direction.  The meaningless stats are about to disappear, and return to their 11 month hibernation as the regular season commences in just a few days.  The wait for A’s baseball is almost over.