Inside Pitch: Oakland’s future has arrived

The future is now for the Athletics. Following something of a painful move by the front office, six of the organization’s top 10 prospects now make their baseball home in Oakland.

Among the top four of those 10, as rated by Baseball America, only 2016 first-round draft pick A.J. Puk awaits the life-altering call.

Whether the A’s (34-42) continue their winning ways following a sweep of the Chicago White Sox (32-42) or not, the promise of the franchise’s immediate future reached rock bottom via four straight losses to the Houston Astros (52-25) at home. That was the low point — the hit, at the hands of a team built through homegrown talent development, which forced the Oakland organization to make such a drastic move toward a successful tomorrow.

Fastball: Youth movement

The dismissal of All-Star catcher and team leader Stephen Vogt was undoubtedly a difficult one, from the clubhouse to the bleachers and on to the front office. But Bruce Maxwell, who has gone 7-for-14 since the move, has done his part to soften that blow directly.

Along with Maxwell (No. 10), who is working through his third big league stint of 2017 following 33 games in 2016, the franchise’s No. 1 prospect Franklin Barreto has since been called up. Hurlers Jharel Cotton (No. 4) and Daniel Gossett (No. 8) are both on the current 25-man roster while Matt Chapman (No. 3) and Chad Pinder (No. 7) are each on the 10-day disabled list.

Oakland could not have put on a more impressive display of youth than it did the first game in Chicago, when Barreto joined fellow high-level prospects Matt Olson and Jaycob Brugman in collecting their first major league home runs — the first team to have three separate first-career homers in the same game since 1914.

When Chapman and Pinder return from the DL, A’s fans will get a clear glimpse of what is to be. And with Ryon Healy already announcing his presence with authority, putting together an All-Star-worthy first half, Oakland will have the ability to throw nine future pillars on the diamond at once.

Changeup: Gossett the big winner in a day of massive firsts

Gossett (1-2, 4.50 ERA) was the starter reaping the benefits of Oakland’s Chi-town rookie showcase. The benefit was big league win No. 1.

The 24-year-old right-hander made two starts in the week that was, following his shaky major league debut — surrendering seven runs (six earned) in 3-1/3 innings. Gossett led the way for the Oakland pitching staff through the third full week of June, holding the Astros and White Sox to four combined runs (two earned) over 12-2/3 frames (1.42 ERA), striking out 11 and allowing just 12 base runners — 11 hits and one walk.

He went unrewarded for his holding Houston’s American League-leading offense to two runs over 6 strong. But it was the performance that showed he was ready to step into the rotation of today and tomorrow, potentially joining Sean Manaea (6-4, 4.05) and Cotton (5-7, 5.02 ERA) as the faces of that group.

Curveball: Not-so-soft Cotton

Through 76 games this season, the A’s have shut out their opponent just twice. Those two shutouts came 66 games apart, but on the same shoulder.

Cotton, who tossed seven zeroes in Kansas City on April 10, posted five in Chicago on Friday.

The A’s, who came into the season expecting to be led by their pitching staff, is tied for the second-fewest shutouts in the AL — besting only the league’s greatest disappointment in the Detroit Tigers (33-42). In the two they do have, though, Cotton has shown, through his constant up-and-down battle with 2017, the potential necessary to fill a top-of-rotation role.

Sinker: RISPy business

The Oakland offense went an anemic 12-for-61 (.197) with runners in scoring position in their 3-4 week.

Through their first 75 games of the season, the A’s are an MLB-worst .225 with runners in scoring position, leaving the success of their offense dependent upon home runs, of which they have hit 107 — ninth-most in baseball.

This power dependency is largely to blame for the extremes of the team’s ebbs and flows. When the power is there, the green and gold can compete with any and all comers — sweeping four from the AL East-leading New York Yankees (40-33). When it isn’t, they struggle against beatable teams — dropping three of four to the Tampa Bay Rays (40-38).

Recently called-up outfielder Brugman tops the club with a .357 mark in those situations, albeit in limited opportunity. Veteran outfielders Rajai Davis (.167) and Matt Joyce (.182) find themselves at the tip of the spear when it comes to the shortcomings, begging the question: do they fit into the team’s plans going forward?

Slider: Healy hits another speed bump

Since a two-homer performance on June 17 against the Yankees, his third multi-homer game of his career and the month, Healy has gone 5-for-33 (.152) with 12 strikeouts. In the week passed, he hit .172 and was a major source of the team’s struggles with runners in scoring position, going 1-for-8.

Overall, Healy has largely avoided the dreaded “sophomore slump” through his ability to adapt. The 25-year-old slugger has gone into freezes in this his first full season, but has yet to go more than eight games without a multi-hit performance — going 4-for-33 (.121) from April 25 to May 3.

When he emerged from that slump he did so vociferously. Healy hammered homers in the next three games, and collected hits in 16 of the next 18 games batting .306 (22-for-72).

That is quickly becoming a talent of his: breaking out of slumps with lots of loud contact. So, considering his 2-for-5 afternoon in Sunday’s win, it could be that the end of Healy’s latest slide has already come and gone, with an onrush of knocks fast approaching.

Pitch-out: Quickly to the test

There is no better way for a team to test its new weapons than by allowing them to square off with an opponent boasting similar weapons.

The Astros are the new face of self-built ability. Like the A’s hope is on their own horizon, Houston’s infield is made up of four young stars given a chance to grow together. For good measure, both their pitching staff and outfield is anchored in the same way — with youth at the top of the rotation and in center field.

After going 1-9 through their first three series’ against the Astros, the A’s invade Houston with an entirely different group staring down a monumental test.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.