Oakland Athletics in Position to Build for Future
By Guy Cresson
With several trade candidates, the Oakland Athletics should continue their youth movement.
After dealing fan Bay Area favorites Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp at last season’s trade deadline, it appeared that the A’s could not get any younger. Should they continue their slide into July, however, the Oakland club will become only more youthful.
Although the Athletics possess a division-worst record and remain 17 games behind the league-leading Astros in the AL West, both the A’s lineup and pitching rotation contain bright spots.
Veteran first-baseman Yonder Alonso has played like an MVP candidate through the first two and a half months of the season, boasting a .303/.398/.635 slash line.
His new fly-ball approach has allowed him to reinvent himself as a hitter, helping him smack 11 2Bs and 16 HRs in only 56 games.
Also impressive are his wOBA and wRC+, which rank 5th and 4th, respectively, in the Majors out of hitters with at least 200 plate appearances on the season.
Another big contributor at the dish has been second baseman Jed Lowrie. In his second stint with the A’s, the switch hitting utility man has smashed 18 doubles and 7 HRs to the tune of a .290/.358/.479 triple slash line, all respectable numbers for a middle infielder.
Despite having career years, both look to be major trade pieces at the deadline as Alonso hits free agency at the end of the season and big-time prospect Franklin Barreto continues to look like the organization’s future cornerstone at second base.
On the pitching side of things, Sonny Gray seems to finally be getting past arm issues that hampered his success last season and were responsible for his month-long DL stint to start to start his 2017 campaign.
Although managing to lower his ERA over his last few starts, Gray has not quite reached the ace-status he once held in 2014 and 2015. His WHIP and FIP both remain slightly higher than his numbers from his dominant 2015 season in which he finished third in Cy Young voting.
Gray, like Alonso and Lowrie, will likely be dealt at the trade deadline to a contender.
On an encouraging note, young hitters Ryon Healy and Chad Pinder have showed promise at the plate this year.
Ryon Healy, who has gotten nods at 1B, 3B, and DH this season, has been on a tear as of late, slashing a quality .282/.310/.532 this season. As displayed by his slugging percentage, Healy has a knack for extra-base hits, smashing 15 HRs and 17 two-baggers in 64 games.
However, the A’s corner-infielder still has a lot to work on in terms of plate discipline as he has struck out in slightly more than a quarter of his plate appearances and possesses a walk rate of only 3.5%, both of which come at the expense of his swinging at 35.2% of pitches outside the zone.
A less-effective but nonetheless promising piece for the A’s has been utility man Chad Pinder. In 39 games this year, the rookie has hit a .219/.280/.491 slash line and has played all over the field, starting for Bob Melvin at 2B, SS, DH, and even the outfield.
Although his batting average and OBP have regressed significantly since his first few starts, the middle-infield prospect has brought unexpected power to the club, hitting 7 2Bs and 8 homers in a little over a month of work at the Major League level.
Pinder looks to be a big part of the A’s future despite an incredibly high strikeout rate (35.2%) and below-average walk rate (6.3%), both of which should improve with more plate appearances.
Other big pieces in the A’s future include slugging left-fielder Khris Davis, who still has two seasons remaining of arbitration, and young pitchers Sean Manaea, Jesse Hahn, Jharel Cotton, and Kendall Graveman, all of whom have had strong 2017 campaigns (except Cotton) and should anchor the A’s rotation for years to come.
Reliever Sean Doolittle and fan-favorite Stephen Vogt both look to contribute down the road but have likely already seen their best years. Over the last three seasons, Doolittle has seen his FIP rise from 2.99 to 3.45 to 3.70, and Vogt’s slash line of .221/.273/.362 no longer looks like that of an All-Star.
On the farm, the A’s still have top infield prospects Matt Chapman, who is set to make his Major League debut Friday vs. the Yankees, and Franklin Barreto, who looks to be a future stud for the club at second base. With the A’s struggles, Barreto’s call-up should come sooner than later.
Pitching prospects Daniel Gossett, Grant Holmes, and A.J. Puk all remain highly touted and should be ready for the Bigs next season, with Gossett being called up to for the first time Wednesday.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference