Oakland will be reintroduced on Saturday to its Athletics, a group that finished 2017 among the league’s top-performing clubs down the closing stretch.
Of the many faces that will be on display at Jack London Square, three will be brand new. And of those three, two will be replacing fan favorites — among the same spectacle’s marquees just one year ago.
Dustin Fowler and Emilio Pagan understand that replacing Sonny Gray and Ryon Healy will not be easy. Both realize that they are replacing players many fans filing into the Oakland Coliseum day in and day out wished would never play in anything other than green and gold. But both are confident that their play will speak for itself, though letting their play speak may be easier said than done.
Fowler, a 23-year-old outfielder acquired from the Yankees in a 2017 deadline trade that sent Gray to New York, told SFBay that replacing an All-Star can occasionally weigh on a player’s psyche:
“A lot of guys get caught up in that, so I am going to do everything I can not to think about it too much.”
The Georgia-born lefty was an 18th round selection of the Yankees in 2013 before serving as the grandest prize in the move that sent the A’s former ace to the Big Apple. Fowler grades out on the high-end of the comparative scale offensively, defensively and athletically — a career .282 hitter in the minor leagues with double-digit home run and stolen base potential and pluses attached to his arm and glove.
Those tools, he said, are the key to overcoming a torn patella tendon in his major league debut last season, and helping guide Oakland back to the postseason promised land:
“You do want to perform and say that you were worth the trade, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I want to go out there and play like I always play. I think if I do what I always do, and don’t overthink and try to do too much, I think everything will be good and it will pay off in the end.”
Pagan, 26, also made his major league debut in 2017. Appearing in 34 games with the Seattle Mariners, the right-handed reliever overcame tough outings in his first two big league appearances (five earned runs in 2-2/3 innings pitched) to finish his rookie campaign with a very respectable 3.22 ERA. How? He surrendered just 13 earned runs over his final 47-2/3 innings (2.45 ERA).
Now he faces a new job: making A’s fans forget about Healy, something he admitted to SFBay will not be easily handled:
“I don’t think they’ll ever forget about him. He’s a special player — hit 25 home runs, he’s 26 years old, that’s a lot to like. But I’m going to bring the best I have every chance I get.”
Pagan features a low- to mid-90s fastball, changeup and slider. That tool belt helped the South Carolina native to a 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (58 strikeouts, eight walks). By comparison, Liam Hendriks finished the season as the A’s leader with a 3.39-to-1 ratio (78 strikeouts, 23 walks).
And it’s not just the quality of his pitches and how he uses them against the opposition that will draw fans to the hurler, he feels. He describes himself as a very passionate guy on the mound, something that Oakland fanatics previously enjoyed in guys like Grant Balfour and Dallas Braden:
“I’m going to wear my heart on my sleeve and sometimes I’m going to push that red line on the mound, that’s the kind of person I am — the kind of pitcher I am.”
Teams change. Rosters change. And no one understands that quite like an A’s fan. But this is a group that both of its newest members believe will be good enough to crest a hill the franchise has been climbing since 1989. Both are ready to do their part — pull their weight. And, as Fowler said, the league may not be ready for it:
“I’m really excited. With New York, everyone knows everyone, but here, you don’t hear of Oakland much. When you get here and see how great of talent we have, I think it’s a secret — I don’t think people really understand how good this team is and can be. I’m ready to be a part of it.”