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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Oakland Athletics

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After two straight American League West titles and two straight ALDS losses to the Tigers, it appears that Athletics general manager Billy Beane's "stuff" still doesn't work in the playoffs. It may not work particularly well in Fantasy either. Though Beane's squad had more than enough power and pitching to earn a postseason berth, they were short on elite players and well-rounded talents who are sought out by Fantasy owners.

Consistent with their reputation for exploiting market inefficiencies, the A's were led by an overlooked 27-year-old catcher-turned-third baseman (Josh Donaldson), a 33-year-old outfielder who finally turned in his first 20-20 season (Coco Crisp), an injury-prone shortstop who managed to deliver a full season's worth of games (Jed Lowrie), a platoon first baseman (Brandon Moss) and a 40-year-old contact pitcher (Bartolo Colon). Yoenis Cespedes, probably the most recognizable Fantasy entity coming into 2013, couldn't clear the bar he set as a rookie, when he was a top 20 Rotisserie outfielder. Difficulties in making contact helped to shave 52 points off Cespedes' batting average, as he languished with a .240 mark and No. 33 ranking among Roto outfielders.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

Despite the team's collective success, you could easily get through the first three or four rounds of your upcoming mixed league drafts without seeing a single Athletic go off the board. Still, Donaldson and Cespedes are legitimate early-round options (if not the very early rounds), and Crisp and Moss can be targeted in the middle rounds, particularly in Roto leagues. Colon is out of the picture, having signed with the Mets this offseason, but Sonny Gray and A.J. Griffin are solid candidates for your mixed league rotation. New closer Jim Johnson is also an appropriate pick for the middle rounds. Lowrie, outfielder Josh Reddick, catcher John Jaso and starting pitchers Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily are all players worthy of late-round fliers.

The A's did lose a few key pieces from their 96-win team, but they found solid replacements during the offseason. Colon and closer Grant Balfour departed via free agency, but Beane signed Scott Kazmir and traded for Johnson to take over for them. Kazmir is another name to add to your late-round sleeper list after completing a successful campaign with the Indians last year. The team also added bullpen depth by trading outfielder Seth Smith to the Padres for Luke Gregerson, and they maintained their outfield depth by acquiring Craig Gentry from the Rangers.

Fantasy teams don't usually face the same payroll constraints that the A's do, so they don't have to mimic the franchise's no-stars approach. That said, the organization still offers plenty of players who can help Fantasy owners win a title this coming season, if not the centerpieces to build a team around.

Injury-risk sleeper No. 1 ... Scott Kazmir, starting pitcher

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Coco Crisp CF
2. Josh Donaldson 3B
3. Jed Lowrie SS
4. Yoenis Cespedes LF
5. Brandon Moss 1B
6. Josh Reddick RF
7. John Jaso DH
8. Alberto Callaspo 2B
9. Stephen Vogt C
Bench Nick Punto IF
Bench Craig Gentry OF

Kazmir gave us a nice comeback story last year, just by virtue of cracking the Indians' rotation and staying there through the end of the season. What he accomplished, especially from late June on, was actually much more impactful than simply winning and keeping a job. Kazmir gave owners strikeouts all year long, and his 4.04 ERA and 1.32 WHIP obscure how dominant he was over his final 18 starts. Over that three month-plus stretch, he posted a 3.06 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, as he threw more than two-thirds of his pitches for strikes and recovered from poor early luck with hits on balls in play. As long as Kazmir doesn't revert to his prior history of injuries and wildness, he has a shot at pitching like a top 30 starter.

Injury-risk sleeper No. 2 ... John Jaso, catcher

Jaso's first season in Oakland got off to a slow start, as he hit just .252 with one home run through the end of May. His Fantasy owners didn't get to enjoy the fruits of a midseason revival for long, as Jaso's year was done for good on July 24 when he was concussed as a result of taking foul tips off his mask in back-to-back games. Any time a player returns from a concussion, it's a risk to assume they can pick up where they left off, but Jaso is in a situation that is as close to ideal as possible. He will spend most of his time as the designated hitter, spared from the rigors and injury risks of catching, and assuming he is healthy, Jaso should be able to amass more than his previous career high of 404 plate appearances. Given that you may be able to get the likes of Geovany Soto, Alex Avila or Welington Castillo off waivers in a two-catcher mixed league, it's worth giving Jaso a try with a late-round pick, as there is minimal cost if he doesn't work out. If all goes well, he could provide a decent batting average and power with a high on-base percentage.

Bust ... Jed Lowrie, shortstop

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Jarrod Parker RHP
2. Scott Kazmir LHP
3. A.J. Griffin RHP
4. Sonny Gray RHP
5. Dan Straily RHP
ALT Drew Pomeranz LHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Jim Johnson RHP
2. Luke Gregerson RHP
3. Ryan Cook RHP
4. Sean Doolittle LHP
5. Jesse Chavez RHP

As part of a crowded infield situation a year ago, Lowrie headed into spring training looking poised for a utility role, but he emerged as the starting shortstop. Then Lowrie did something unprecedented, turning in a full season in a regular role. He finally answered the question, "What could Lowrie do if he could just stay healthy for a full season?", and the answer was to his owners' liking. Hitting .290 with 15 home runs, 75 RBI and 80 runs, Lowrie finished fourth in standard Head-to-Head scoring among shortstops and seventh in Rotisserie value. Lowrie was aided by his career-high batting average and 45 doubles, which were partially boosted by a drop in strikeouts but also by a 28 percent line drive rate. That's more than 10 percentage points higher than his rates from each of his three previous seasons, and it has regression written all over it. Health permitting, Lowrie should be able to provide 15-plus homers for the third straight season, but don't be surprised to see his batting average and doubles total plunge. Despite his lofty rankings from 2013, Lowrie is best viewed as a late-round option this spring.

Prospects Report

Addison Russell's stock has been enhanced by his rankings on top prospects lists, and he put up stats in the California League that back up the hype. Then again, lots of hitters do in that hitter-friendly circuit, but Russell's home park in Stockton is not an especially favorable environment. The 20-year-old shortstop could bring his power-speed combination to Oakland sometime this season, making him worthy of a flier in deeper leagues. ... Michael Ynoa may be the best known of the A's current pitching prospects, but Raul Alcantara is younger, fared much better after making the jump from Class A to Advanced Class A, and doesn't have Ynoa's history of elbow injuries. Both pitchers should be targeted in deeper dynasty leagues. ... Other than Russell, first baseman Maxwell Muncy is probably the prospect closest to the majors, but he may not arrive this year, and when he does debut, he may not hit for much power. ... Outfielder Billy McKinney and third baseman Renato Nunez are still working through the lower minors, but both have sufficient promise to merit a pick in dynasty formats.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Tigers LF Yoenis Cespedes lacking power, but not hits in 2015
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(9:48 am ET) Tigers left fielder Yoenis Cespedes reached base in all five plate-appearances in Thursday's win over the Astros. He went 3 for 3 with a double, walked twice and scored twice in the victory. That makes back-to-back three-hit games for the first-year Tiger, and four such performances in his last seven games. 

In fact, Cespedes has hit safely in nine of his last 12 games, and all nine games have been multi-hit performances. 

He also stole a bag for the second consecutive game, giving him threesteals on the season, all coming in the past week. 

Cespedes has had a rather interesting start to his tenure in Detroit. He hasn't hit for much power, with just five home runs on the year. But his 15 doubles are tops in the American League and he has an even .300 batting average entering play on Friday, despite his career .266 mark.


Red Sox P Matt Barnes adjusting to life in the bullpen
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(9:33 am ET) Despite the fact that Red Sox rookie pitcher Matt Barnes was drafted as a starter, he has made 11 relief appearances in his brief Major League career, which started in 2014. Barnes has yet to start a big league game, and he may wind up being a reliever long-term for the Red Sox. But Barnes would be just fine with that.

“Right now, I’m not sure about (starting) because I’ve been doing one thing and I’m satisfied with what I’m doing right now,” said Barnes, per the Boston Herald. “I’m available to do anything and I’ll do anything the team needs me to do.”

Barnes, who was drafted 19th overall in 2011, is 2-0 and has allowed just one earned run in six appearances this year. And though he is currently blocked by Koji Uehara as a potential closer, manager John Farrell hasn't shied away from using Barnes as a late-inning option out of the bullpen.

“We brought him into high-leverage situations and there’s a reason we brought him into those situations," Farrell said. "Late in the game, you are looking at guy who can ideally control the running game and he’s got the ability to get a strikeout.”


Rays' Matt Moore to pitch in extended spring training Saturday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:47 am ET) Rays pitcher Matt Moore is scheduled to throw 35 to 40 pitches in two innings of work during an extended spring training game on Saturday, the Tampa Tribune reports.

Moore had no issues after Wednesday's bullpen session, putting him line to take the next step on Saturday. He was limited to just two starts last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery.


Braves' Cameron Maybin provides spark in No. 2 spot Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:08 am ET) Braves center fielder Cameron Maybin batted second for the first time this season on Thursday, going 1 for 4 with a walk, two RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base in his team's 10-1 win over the Brewers.

"It was cool, man," Maybin said of hitting second after the game, per MLB.com. "I didn't really change my approach, tried to keep the same approach -- be a tough out, get a good pitch to hit and just make sure I'm on base, somehow, someway. Whenever I can do that good things happen, and good things happened tonight."

Maybin has excelled since taking over the full-time starting role in center field on May 2, going 17 for 54 with nine runs and 21 RBI.

"My confidence is high," Maybin said. "I've been able to put in some really good work with [hitting coach Kevin Seitzer] in the cage. And every day is a competition. Every day I feel like you have to fight to keep the job, win the job. So my mentality is to come out and go hard everyday and things will work out."

Maybin has hit .255/.352/.426 with four home runs, 17 RBI and five stolen bases in 94 at-bats.


Red Sox's Clay Buchholz takes fifth loss Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz was stuck with a loss on Thursday, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits and two walks in 7 1/3 innings while striking out four in his team's 3-1 defeat against the Rangers.

Buchholz (2-5) delivered his third straight quality start but continues to be plagued by little run support, as the Red Sox have scored just one run in five of his nine outings. He gave up two runs in the first inning, with one coming on an error, and then surrendered a solo home run in the fourth.

"I've been trying to mix my pitches each time out and each time through the order," Buchholz said after the game, per MLB.com. "It's a little bit easier whenever you have your pitches working. It's the times you go through when you've got one or two pitches working and you have to filter out the other pitches."

Buchholz owns a 4.58 ERA and 58:15 K:BB ratio in 53 innings. He's slated to face the Twins in Minnesota on Tuesday.


Rangers OF Josh Hamilton goes 1 for 4 in Triple-A rehab game
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton went 1 for 4 in a rehab assignment game with Triple-A Round Rock on Thursday. 

Hamilton's lone hit of the game was a double. 

It's possible that Hamilton could return to the majors next week. He hasn't been able to play in the majors yet since he's been recovering from shoulder surgery. 

When Hamilton was with Double-A Frisco, he slashed a .387/.424/.516 with four doubles and three RBI. 


Royals' Erik Kratz drives in two runs in rehab debut Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Royals catcher Erik Kratz began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Omaha on Thursday, going 1 for 4 with two RBI in his team's 9-6 win.

Kratz played all nine innings at catcher in the game in addition to driving in two runs. He's working his way back from a foot injury.


Rangers 1B Mitch Moreland hits 3rd HR of year
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland hit a solo home run in the fourth inning of Thursday night's 3-1 win over the Red Sox. 

For Moreland, this is the third home run he's hit this season. He finished the game 3 for 4 and also hit an RBI single. He now has drove in 14 runs this year. Moreland has now recorded a hit in five consecutive games and has hit a home run in two of his past four. 

Moreland holds a slash line of .312/.382/.506. 


Rangers P Shawn Tolleson gets save in win over Red Sox
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Rangers reliever Shawn Tolleson picked up his second save of the season in Thursday night's 3-1 win over the Red Sox. 

Tolleson struck out two batters and gave up just one hit. His ERA is now 3.26 for the season. 

This was Tolleson's second career save opportunity and he came through once again. It's only the fourth time this year Tolleson has entered a game in the ninth inning.  


Cubs' Addison Russell knocks third home run on Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/21/2015) Cubs second baseman Addison Russell went 2 for 4 with a solo home run in his team's 3-0 win over the Padres on Thursday.

For the first time in their major-league careers, rookies Russell and Kris Bryant smacked home runs in the same game, while pitcher Kyle Hendricks did his part by delivering a complete-game shutout to give the Cubs a win. Russell has hit .253/.302/.434 with three home runs, 11 RBI and one stolen base in 99 at-bats.


 
 
 
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