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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
Report: Orioles in 'continuous dialogue' for Chris Tillman's extension
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) The Orioles and pitcher Chris Tillman are reportedly engaged in "continuous dialogue" for a long-term extension and have been for the past several weeks, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Tillman signed a one-year, $4.315 million deal in January to avoid arbitration and the discussions for a new deal are still considered preliminary, according to the report.

Tillman posted a 13-6 record in 2014 with a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts.


Tigers bullpen decision coming down to Ian Krol, Kyle Ryan
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is running out of time to finish off his bullpen for Opening Day. The final bullpen role will likely be a left-handed pitcher and is expected to come down to Kyle Ryan and Ian Krol, according to MLB.com.

"If I'm there, hopefully it's a good situation, whether it's long or short," Ryan said. "For them to have enough confidence in me to go into Spring Training as a reliever, and actually for them to believe that I might be able to make the team as a reliever, that makes me proud."

Ryan has given up seven runs on seven hits in 11 innings of work this spring. 

"When he throws it right, it's good," Ausmus said of Krol. "He has a tendency to occasionally slow his arm down on his cutter and curveball. He did it a couple times today. But when he doesn't slow his arm down, it's very good."


Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson continues to make his case
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson still doesn't know what his role will be when Opening Day rolls around, but he's showing he belongs on the roster, reports MLB.com.

"There's always stuff I need to work on, and I need to continue to impress," Pederson said after launching his fifth home run of the spring Saturday, boosting his batting average to .373.

Manager Don Mattingly remains quiet on what he will do when the decision has to be made, but Pederson is doing what he can to impress.

"[Opening Day] is out of my control," Pederson said. "It's something you dream about as a kid, playing in the big leagues, and you do anything you can to make that dream come true."


Angels P Matt Shoemaker gives up three runs in loss to Dodgers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) After pitching six scoreless innings in his last start, Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker struggled a bit in the team's 5-4 to the Dodgers, reports MLB.com.

Shoemaker gave up three runs on four hits in six innings, striking out two. One of the hits he surrended was to Joc Pederson on a two-run homer.

The 28-year-old completed last season with a 3.04 ERA, 124 strikeouts and only 24 walks.


Reds third baseman Todd Frazier feels ready for Opening Day
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Reds third baseman Todd Frazier feels his swing has come back and is ready to tackle the long haul ahead of the regular season, reports MLB.com.

"It comes quick, like usual," Frazier said on Saturday morning. "I get goose bumps thinking about it right now -- another year, it's crazy."

Frazier struggled early in spring training, but has rebounded to go 8 for 23 in his last seven games.

"I hit in the Minor Leagues for about 10 at-bats [on Friday], just to try and feel it back-to-back. I do, and I feel really well," said Frazier, who is batting .262 in 14 games this spring. "I feel like if I had to play tomorrow [in the regular season], I'd be ready to go. It's all about preparation, and offseason stuff. I feel like it's so far, so good."


Angels OF Mike Trout homers in loss to Dodgers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Angels outfielder Mike Trout homered in Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Dodgers, reports MLB.com.

Trout, 23, robbed the Dodgers' Alex Guerrero of an extra-base hit in the first inning, making it a successful day for him, despite the loss. 

This spring he has a batting average of .477 with four home runs and 14 RBI. 


White Sox hope to have David Robertson, Jake Petricka back by Opening Day
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Two key members of the White Sox bullpen are working their way back from forearm injuries, but manager Robin Ventura is confident he'll have both back by opening day. 

Closer David Robertson is scheduled to pitch on Sunday. 

“We’re trying to make sure we’re extra careful with him,” Ventura said, per Comcast's Dan Hayes. “He doesn’t seem to be concerned about it as much as we do."

Setup man Jake Petricka isn't as far along as Robertson. He played catch on Saturday for the first time in five days.

The Sox are taking it slow, so that the team will have both pitchers for Opening Day as well as the rest of the season. 

"You’re just making sure you’re cautious enough that you feel good about when (they go) out there that there won’t be any setbacks,” Ventura said. 


Indians pitcher Zach McAllister fans nine in outing Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Indians pitcher Zach McAllister went five innings Saturday against the Brewers, allowing two runs on six hits with nine strikeouts. McAllister, who is expected to make one more start before Opening Day, touched 97 mph with his fastball in the appearance, according to Cleveland.com.

"He's been impressive and he's been doing it all spring," said Francona. "He's not just throwing strikes, he's down in the zone when he wants to and then he can elevate with some velocity. I think his hard work is really paying off."

McAllister has felt he always had the added velocity.

"Throughout my career I've always felt I've had a little more (velocity) in there if I could maintain it," said McAllister. "For whatever reason, whether it's being more consistent with my delivery or my arm action, I'm just trusting that when I let it go it's going to go where I want it to go. I'm not trying to place anything."


Pirates Pedro Alvarez looking to stick at first base
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez is hoping to stick at his new position after converting from third base, reports triblive.com.

On opening day, Alvarez will be the team's 54th first baseman in its 129-year history.

“It's a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view,” Alvarez said. “I need to get the reps in so the responsibilities that come with playing that position become second nature to me.”

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talked about the team's past efforts of platooning the position.

“You can't develop something you don't have. You can't buy something you can't afford,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “That's why we've tried to platoon. Over the last couple of years, we've realized that's a challenge for a National League manager. Platoons are much harder here than they are in the American League, especially with a one-dimensional player who can only play one position.”

The hope around the organization is that they can get quality production from Alvarez.

“Our hope that is between Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart, we'll get quality major league production,” Huntington said.

The 28-year-old is batting .306 with two home runs, nine RBI and eight strikeouts this spring.


Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton can't find a rhythm Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton tossed six innings Saturday against the Blue Jays, allowing six hits, including two home runs and no strikeouts. Morton, who is fighting for a spot in the starting rotation, is still recovering from labrum surgery six months ago.

"Physically, Charlie is in a good place," manager Clint Hurdle said to MLB.com. "He is trying to make some mechanical adjustments in his delivery, but we don't have any health concerns about him."

Morton isn't worried about fixing mechanical issues just yet.

"Now is a tough time to put a lot of emphasis on mechanics," said Morton. "I gotta go pitch, adjustments or no adjustments."


 
 
 
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