A’s Opening Day lineup inspires confidence

In hopes of rebounding from a 94-loss season, the Oakland Athletics made key additions and will look to improve upon last the American League’s No. 9 run scoring offense from a year ago.

With the only real question heading to Arizona being in the back-up outfielder role – answered easily with a shoulder injury to Sam Fuld – there is much more certainty surrounding this year’s Opening Day lineup than doubt.

Catchers

Stephen Vogt

A 2015 All-Star and team leader, Vogt is coming off a campaign in which he was second on the team in homeruns (18) and RBIs (71) and third on the team in batting average (.261). The 31 year-old has been the model of consistency in the A’s offense since becoming a regular part of it in 2014. He does, however, face questions heading into the regular season. After experiencing some elbow discomfort in his throwing arm this spring, the backstop may have be limited in his time behind the plate in the early season.

Josh Phegley

More a defensive specialist than a big bat, Phegley is coming off a season that saw him finish with a very respectable .249/.300/.449 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). The big question with Phegley has more to do with Vogt and his throwing arm, as the former is a reliable back-up but not a guy the A’s want to slot in at catcher on a daily basis.

Designated hitter

Billy Butler

After enduring his worst season in the majors (.251 batting average, 15 homeruns, 65 RBIs) Butler has played an inspired spring, batting .314 with a homer and seven RBIs. If the 29 year-old is able to capture the productive mastery of seasons past, he would single handedly improve the lineup. A career .290 hitter, it is a safe bet Butler will rebound.

Infielders

Yonder Alonso

Alonso is not the homerun threat that is normally expected from the first base position. He is, however, an exceptional extra base talent – averaging 30 double per 162 games played. As is the case with so many others on the roster, Alonso’s greatest issue is health, as he has only played in more than 100 games twice in his career (155 in 2012). He is, though, coming off a season in which he played 103 games.

Jed Lowrie

Following a stellar 2013 season as a member of the A’s, Lowrie scuffled in 2014 then, after returning to the Houston Astros, saw his struggles continue in 2015. If he is able to perform to a level anywhere near his 2013 season (.290 average, 15 homeruns, 45 doubles, 75 RBIs and 80 runs) Lowrie could go a long way in shoring up the bottom of the Oakland batting order. If his struggles continue, however, the organization would not be able to wait long before calling up a Tyler Ladendorf or Eric Sogard.

Danny Valencia

The third baseman was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in August. He proceeded to bat an exceptional .284 with 11 homeruns and 37 RBIs in 47 games with his new club. While it is bold expectations, stretched out over 150 games that rate would prove to bring 35 homeruns and 118 RBIs. Problem is, he has reached 150 games only once in six seasons. If the 31 year-old can put together 140 starts and a .270-20-85 line the A’s would be happy with their production at the position, and he is lending credence to those hopes with his .366-5-13 this March.

Marcus Semien

After flying out of the gate offensively in 2015, Semien re-focused his defensive abilities upon the arrival of fielding guru coach Ron Washington and saw a fallback in his offensive. While his bat slumbered, though, his glove was awakened, committing only eight errors after June (27 prior). Over the final two months Semien combined reliable defense and thunderous offense, posting his best month in August (.299, 3 homeruns, 13 RBIs). Washington expects that late-season growth to continue through 2016, although it has been a slow March (.220-0-2).

Mark Canha

One of two breakout rookie bats from a season ago (.254, 16 homeruns, 70 RBIs), Canha also provides an athletic defensive player at several positions – five positions last season. Though Canha may not get consistent starts he has proven to be a guy who can step in whenever, and wherever, needed. Now a part of a drastically improved reserve unit, Canha provides a power threat off the bench.

Outfielders

Khris Davis

When the A’s treaded for the former Milwaukee Brewers slugger they added significant reinforcement in the heart of their lineup. Though he does not bring a massive batting average (a career .250 hitter) he brings the power the A’s were lacking in 2015. After hitting only 146 homeruns as a team a year ago (No. 9 in the AL), Davis’ 30 homeruns per 162 games adds a much needed power threat.

Billy Burns

Along with Canha, Burns’ rookie performance made a 68-win season bearable for the A’s. A quality on-base percentage (.334) coupled with base stealing speed (26 stolen bases on 34 attempts) and solid defense make Burns a potential All-Star centerfielder. Having worked with former Oakland great and Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, Burns should see improvements in both OBP and stolen bases in 2016.

Josh Reddick

Fresh off a season in which he reached a career high in on-base percentage (.333), while adding team-highs in homeruns (20) and RBIs (77) in 149 games played, Reddick will have a solid base from which to improve. He has endured issues with injuries and high strikeout totals since joining the A’s in 2012, however. But when healthy he is a mainstay – deservedly so – in the heart of the Oakland lineup.

Coco Crisp

Like so many others on this roster Crisp has suffered through recent injury problems, playing only 44 games a year ago with neck, back and arm issues. Now serving as a fourth outfielder, Crisp should be able to maintain his health much better, though he will likely be used primarily as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement. His 33 stolen bases per 162 games played and Gold Glove caliber defense will greatly improve the A’s bench depth.

Chris Coghlan

Traded from the Chicago Cubs to Oakland mere days before the start of Spring Training, it took the 30 year-old a strong exhibition performance to win a spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster. Posting a .279 batting average with two homeruns and eight RBIs, Coghlan beat out Jake Smolinski for the final spot on the roster. A career .268 hitter, and coming off his greatest homerun output (16) in 2015 the former Chicago Cub, like Crisp greatly improves the bench.

 

After bragging MLB’s best record for much of the 2014 regular season, the 2015 A’s suffered through the franchise’s worst winning percentage (.420) since 1997 (.401). This past offseason Oakland management addressed the problems – primarily in the bullpen – and went to great lengths to remedy them.

Although there is a massive question mark looming over the overall health of the A’s roster, players like Sogard and Fuld, who were forced into significant playing time (120 games played apiece) a year ago, will be at the ready awaiting major league call ups.

Improvements to the back of the bullpen, roster depth and extra base production will be the guiding light in the A’s return to the postseason race in 2016.