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Oakland Athletics Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 74-88 Manager: Bob Melvin

The Athletics are embarking on yet another rebuilding job on-the-fly. The A’s were hoping to be a surprise contender last season with a good, young starting staff high in potential, but that staff was beset by injuries and never realized their potential. With the Angels and Rangers gearing up for a huge showdown in the AL West, GM Billy Beane has recalibrated the A’s roster with an eye on hitting the ground running in 2013.

Player in the spotlight: Yoenis Cespedes CF

The A’s uncharacteristically broke the bank in signing Cuban defector Cespedes in the winter to a 4-year, $36M contract. Cespedes brings some big power to the table and has good speed. He stands to be a major contributor and all-star candidate for years to come. He’ll be the key to a rejuvenated lineup that Beane hopes will be ready to compete next season.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: Manny Ramirez DH/Flake

Manny’s back and he’ll join the A’s after sitting out 50 games after getting his 100 game suspension shortened. Who knows what Manny has left, but the A’s are a perfect last chance for his career and if he proves that he can still hit well, then Beane might be able to swing him for a borderline prospect at the trade deadline.  Otherwise, Ramirez will just get in the way of the development of the A’s younger players who need major league at bats.

Pitcher in the spotlight: Brandon McCarthy

McCarthy enters 2012 as the ace of a depleted starting staff that consists of retreads and prospects. McCarthy was able to rejuvenate his career last season after not pitching in the big leagues since 2009. The A’s need McCarthy to make his starts consistently and hold down the fort until Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden comes back. McCarthy will be a free agent at the end of the season so that means that he could be moved somewhere to help this team retool for 2013.

Biggest pitching question mark: Tom Milone

Milone came over from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez deal where he won 12 games in each of the past 3 minor league seasons. Milone also added another win in his decent September call up last year. His development is in the spotlight because he might be the only starter among the current staff that will be around when they’re ready to compete for the AL West title next year or 2014.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Jarrod Parker SP

Parker was the key piece of the Trevor Cahill deal with the Diamondbacks in the winter. Parker was the D’backs top prospect before the trade. The A’s should have Parker in the rotation by midseason at the latest. .

Prediction: 3rd in AL West

This is an intriguing group of players that Beane has assembled. They’re not built to win this year, but who knows?  Beane has put together overachieving rosters before. But if all goes as planned, this team should get Braden and Anderson back and develop a couple more starters while getting their young lineup experience for next year. Then they should be looking at an 85 win team going into next season with the potential for more if things go well. This year, .500 is a more realistic goal.

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Arizona Diamondbacks Opening Day Overview

April 1, 2011 1 comment

Arizona Diamondbacks Opening Day Overview

Manager: Kirk Gibson    GM: Kevin Towers

  Lineup:
1 2B Kelly Johnson
2 CF Chris Young
3 SS Stephen Drew
4 RF Justin Upton
5 LF Xavier Nady/Gerardo Parra
6 1B Russell Branyan
7 3B Melvin Mora
8 C Miguel Montero
9 Pitcher

 

Johnson had a career year with 26 homers and he posted a career high with a .866 OPS. The D’backs might consider dropping Johnson in the order if Parra can develop into a leadoff hitter.  

Young bounced back with a good year and reached a career high with a .257 average. He also increased his walk total and could be poised for a monster season if he improves his pitch selection even more. Look for him to take it up a notch with his best season with a good possibility of reaching 100 runs and RBI.

Drew is battling injuries going into opening day, but needs to develop more consistency to create runs if he is to remain at the top of the order. He was better than 2009 last year but was still far off his 2008 production when he hit .291 with 21 HR, 11 3Bs, and 44 2Bs.

Upton looked like a budding superstar in 2009 and took the “Upton” step back in 2010. His strikeouts increased to 152 and his HR total decreased to 17. That K total is a lot more palatable if Upton is hitting .300 with over 30 HR. It’s going to take a better year than 2009 for Upton to help the D’backs attempt to get back to .500 this season.

Nady was brought in as a veteran to provide stability but his production has been way off his earlier years with the Pirates. The D’backs have to be hoping that Parra eventually can wrestle at least a platoon with Nady and develop into a solid leadoff hitter. That would enable them to drop Johnson lower in the order to take advantage of his power.

Branyan looks to be a one year stopgap until one of the prospects is ready at first. He’s coming off his two best HR seasons and could provide some nice production. If the D’backs are not in contention, there’s probably a good chance that he will be traded before July 31.

Mora is 39 and, like Branyan, is a stopgap for this season only. His days of double digit HR totals are over and Geoff Blum will probably share a bunch of at-bats with Mora as well.

Montero is solid, but needs to get back to the mid teens for his HR total and get the average back near .300. If he does that, then Gibson will most likely move him up in the order since that kind of production would certainly be better than what Mora and maybe Blum would do. 

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Ian Kennedy
2 RHP Dan Hudson
3 LHP Joe Saunders
4 RHP Barry Enright
5 RHP Armando Galarraga

 

Kennedy pitched really well in his first full season after coming over from the Yankees last season. He could be very good this season if he improves his control and get his walk ratio under 3 per game and reduce his league leading 16 wild pitches. If he can do that and get a little more run support, he can win 13-15 games. He’ll start opening day.

Hudson was outstanding in his 11 starts after coming over from the White Sox for Edwin Jackson. He showed pinpoint control as he had 70 strikeout and 16 walks in 79 innings. He looks like he could be special if he can continue with that kind of command of the strike zone.

Saunders disappointed after coming over from the Angels for Dan Haren and the D’backs hope that he rediscover his 2008 form when he won 17 games with an ERA under 4.00. Coming over to the NL from the AL usually helps pitchers, but Saunders didn’t benefit last year. The D’backs have to be looking for a half run better on his ERA and a decrease in his HR given up. He could be traded if he’s not able to improve on last year as there are plenty of average arms in the organization that are cheaper than Saunders.

Enright skipped AAA and pitched all right as a rookie in the majors last year. He’s going to have to increase his strikeout percentage and decrease the HR rate to improve this season. A slow start might get him sent to Reno since he hasn’t spent any time in AAA.

Galarraga threw the most famous no hitter of the regular season last year with Detroit. While his numbers improved over 2009, he was nowhere near the 2-1 K-BB ratio that he was in 2008. Without an improved K-BB ratio, the ERA will remain high and Galarraga will be the first candidate to be replaced by Zach Duke when he returns from a broken hand in May.

  Bullpen
CL RHP JJ Putz
SET RHP Juan Gutierrez
  RHP David Hernandez
  RHP Sam Demel
  RHP Kam Mickolio
  LHP Joe Paterson
  RHP Aaron Heilman

 

This unit was historically bad last season and a few of the offenders return. The key will be new closer JJ Putz in the 9th. If he can shut the door consistently late, then it makes it easier for Gibson to address the 7th and 8th innings. If not, it could be another extra long season in the desert.

Gutierrez closed last season but struggled with giving up homers. The key for him being an effective setup guy is increasing his K-BB ratio to 3-1 and cutting the homers in half. If he does that, the D’backs could really surprise some people by eliminating last year’s major late inning problem.

Hernandez came over with Mickolio for 3B Mark Reynolds. Neither are great prospects but will provide more depth for the bullpen. One question that comes to mind is who will strikeout more? Will it be Reynolds or the batters that Hernadez and Mickolio face?

Demel came over in the Conor Jackson deal during last season. He can bring the heat but will need to improve his control to be utilized in late inning situations with a lead.

Heilman missed out on the 5th starter spot and could reclaim that if there’s problems in the rotation or he could return to a 7th or 8th inning role that he’s performed in the past.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 RHP Jarrod Parker
2 LHP Wade Miley
3 RHP Bryan Shaw

 

Parker is recovering from Tommy John surgery and might be up after the All Star break. Miley looks like a potential early season call up if they need a starter, or if they feel the need for a quality lefty in the bullpen. Shaw was drafted as a closer and could get a shot if the bullpen reverts to last year’s form.

Three Questions:

1. Can JJ Putz lock down the 9th inning and provide stability to the bullpen?

  • Nothing had a more detrimental effect on the D’backs season than the inability of their bullpen to get hitters out. A stable bullpen might have been worth at least 10 more wins for them last season.

2. Will the young potential hitting stars finally fulfill their potential?

  • Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, and Chris Young have been teasing the D’backs and their fans for a few years now. If they can ascend to consistently hitting at an All Star level, this team could be a surprise factor in the loaded NL West.

3. Can the starting pitching staff evolve into one of the top 5 or 6 rotations in the NL?

  • Daniel Hudson looked like a future #1 starter and Ian Kennedy was solid all season. If they can get Barry Enright to strikeout more hitters and keep the ball in the ballpark and get Joe Saunders to pitch like he did a few years ago, this staff could be above average to very good.

 

Projection

The Diamondbacks should be much better in the 9th inning with Putz and should be able to challenge for a .500 record. The D’backs traded away 200 strikeouts at the plate when they dealt 3B Mark Reynolds to the Orioles over the winter. Playing in a larger home ballpark at altitude, the D’backs need to be better than their middle of the pack run scoring numbers of 2010. Look for constant competition with LF, 1B, and 3B until a consistent, long-term solution is found. Also, it will be interesting to see what happens if they are within striking distance of a playoff spot after the All Star break. They have lowered payroll significantly and could be able to take on salary if they are in the hunt.