The Oakland A’s have been legitimate title contenders for the past few seasons. Like clockwork, the goal of the organization changed dramatically this year.
Gone are Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Mark Canha, Bob Melvin and probably every shred of anticipation to contend for a division title. No reboot is refreshing for fans of A, who have endured 25 years of heartbreaking cycles in which ownership has forced the front office to pawn stars to keep payrolls low.
The A’s are restarting this year, the big league team is now a mix of new faces and holdovers from a disappointing 2021 season. Who will be the players to watch as the A’s play against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday afternoon begins? Let’s take a look at five of them.
RHP James Kaprielian
After surgery by Tommy John and multiple injuries kept him in the minor leagues for years, the 28-year-old Kaprielian became a mainstay of the rotation last season. He responded with a performance that had him in the rookie-of-the-year talk until his injury late in the season – he finished with a 4.07 ERA in 21 starts.
Joint irritation in his throwing arm, which surfaced on March 25, means he won’t be pitching this season until at least the end of April. But he has what it takes to top his rookie year. His fastball speed was back in the 94-95 mph range — averaging 93 mph last year — and his off-speed pitches were particularly crisp before his injury.
That success and an impressive spring from injury make him a formidable contender for this year’s A rotation. Also, without Manaea or Bassitt in the rotation, there shouldn’t be much competition to keep Kaprieelian from securing a job once he’s healthy again.
INF Kevin Smith
Smith is a big league-capable baller who didn’t have much big league experience. The 25-year-old infielder joined the A’s in trade with Toronto’s Matt Chapman and is expected to fill Chapman’s vacant spot at third base — for the most part.
Smith had a solid spring, hitting .325 with three home runs and should now receive an extended shot to become a mainstay in the majors. While some of the other prospects in the Chapman trade — notably former first-round pick Gunnar Hoglund — have higher caps, Smith’s minor league track record (a slash line of .268/.328/.490) suggests he deserves the opportunity team in the A position is ready to give him.
Catcher Sean Murphy
The catcher is just one hot spell away from becoming one of baseball’s most feared hitters. He has the easy power of being a consistent home run threat with plate discipline to confuse opposing pitchers. He’s also one of the best defensive catchers in the league.
Murphy, 27, who was the subject of trade rumors, had a hot spring and hit .433 with two homers and six doubles. If these Cactus League numbers are any indication, Murphy could be poised for his breakout year in his third major league season. With Chapman and Olson gone, he should be the centerpiece of this A’s offense.
RHP Adam Oller
Oller, a takeover from the Mets in trade Chris Bassitt, is expected to start at the back end of the A rotation this year.
His first appearance marks the 27-year-old’s MLB debut.
Baseball hasn’t been kind to Oller, a 2016 20th-round pick by the Pirates who was cut, worked as a substitute teacher, valet and bartender before serving in the minor league phase of New York’s Rule 5 draft Mets was recorded three years ago.
But Oller has what it takes to make a name for himself, including a spectacular cutter and a hard curveball that peaked in the mid-’80s. He had nine strikeouts and two walks over 6 1/3 innings in the Cactus League this year, although he also gave up seven earned runs.
BY Skye Bolt
With Ramón Laureano still 27 games away from his 80-game ban from last season, the A’s outfield is running a bit flat. Stephen Piscotty, Seth Brown, Cristian Pache – acquired from the Atlanta Braves in trade with Matt Olson – and Bolt will be the key outfielders, with Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder able to step in depending on the matchup.
With limited at-bats and few hits during his tenure as an A, Bolt has struggled to stay in the big leagues: He has just six hits in 67 at-bats in two seasons with Oakland. Open spots in the outfield should give Bolt an opportunity to get those reps. Can the speedy 28-year-old, who has the reach to play in midfield, benefit? At least defensively it should be fun to watch him.
https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/04/07/five-new-and-familiar-faces-to-watch-for-on-the-oakland-as-this-season/ Five Oakland Athletics to watch this MLB season