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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
Rays' Alex Colome still not in camp
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:26 pm ET) Rays pitcher Alex Colome still hasn't reported to camp due to a visa issue, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Colome was a candidate for the fifth spot in the team's rotation, at least until Matt Moore was able to return from Tommy John surgery. He's been able to put in work at the club's facility in the Domincan Republic, and manager Kevin Cash doesn't want to rule him out just yet. 

"Colome is getting his work in. We know that. We’ve had communication on that," Cash said. "As I’ve said the whole time, we’d like to have him here. I don’t think it’s fair to punish a guy for being held up, so he’s still very much a factor."

Colome, 26, posted a 2.66 ERA over 23 2/3 innings last year. 


Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia 'I knew I was back to normal'
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:21 pm ET) Red Sox infielder Dustin Pedroia is over last season's wrist injury, according to the Boston Herald

Pedroia got to prove that on Thursday, going 3 for 3 with a grand slam. Following the game, Pedroia told the media that his performance proves he's feeling good right now. "I knew I was back to normal in the offseason," he said. "Obviously I told you guys that, but you can only believe me if you see it. So there you go." 

The 31-year-old hit .278/.337/.376 over 551 at-bats last year. 


Mets' Juan Lagares taking it easy with his elbow
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:14 pm ET) Mets outfielder Juan Lagares is taking it easy with his elbow thus far, according to MLB.com.

Lagares missed the final two weeks of 2014 due to an elbow injury, but said he doing well now. "I feel great right now," Lagares said. "I feel 100 percent. I just want to take it easy -- not easy, but I don't want to throw everything I've got right now."

Lagares has had opportunities to throw out some base-runners this spring, but has erred on the side of caution. Manager Terry Collins said he's completely fine with that strategy. 

"He did it the right way and I'm real proud of him," Collins said. "He could have sent a message to everybody -- 'Look, I'm fine.' And he was smart enough to say, 'I'll worry about it in April.'"

Lagares, 25, hit .281/.321/.382 over 416 at-bats last year. 


Tolleson, Feliz, Scheppers likely to make Rangers
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:09 pm ET) The Rangers are likely to put Shawn Tolleson, Neftali Feliz and Tanner Scheppers in the bullpen this season, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Manager Jeff Banister implied that all three players would make the team out of camp. That's not necessarily a surprise for Tolleson, who led the team in relief appearances last year, but both Feliz and Scheppers had been mentioned as fringe candidates thus far. 


Padres' Wil Myers hoping to prove the doubters wrong
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:43 pm ET) Padres outfielder Wil Myers is hoping he can prove the doubters wrong this season, according to MLB.com.

Myers not only has a lot to prove at the plate, but he also wants to show that he can handle his new defensive position. "Going into this year, I have a lot of doubters out there. I not only want to prove them wrong but prove to myself that I can play a good center field," Myers said.

He continued, "I've played a lot there in the minor leagues. And hearing everyone say, 'I don't think he can play center field,' is going to motivate me to play a great center field."

Manager Bud Black seems encouraged by Myers' defensive play thus far. "He's looking good, good angles, good routes, good hands, athletic," Black said. "His speed is fine. His strides look good tracking fly balls. He's an athletic guy. From what we've seen so far [it's been] all good."

The 24-year-old hit .222/.294/.320 over 325 at-bats last season. 


Red Sox SP Kelly on spring debut: 'I know what I need to work on'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:04 pm ET) Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly surrendered four earned runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings in his spring debut Thursday, striking out two and walking none.

"Stuff wasn't as crisp as it usually is," Kelly said after his outing. "88 mile fastball, don't think I've done that since I was 13. I know what I need to work on. ... I threw 44 pitches, will look to build up to 100 pitches. I'm not going to beat myself up. Will watch some video, work on things. ... Four-seam not as crisp as I would like. Just not there yet, but that will come. I threw all four pitches today, that's a plus."

Kelly said during the offseason that he planned on winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015. He went 6-4 with a 4.20 ERA and 66:42 K:BB ratio in 96 1/3 innings between the Cardinals and Red Sox last season.


P Yoan Lopez to make debut for Diamondbacks on Saturday
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:03 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Yoan Lopez will make his spring training debut this Saturday, according to MLB.com. 

The 21-year-old Cuban right-hander is competing for a spot in Arizona's rotation this spring. Lopez signed a deal that included a signing bonus of over $8 million. 


Twins' Michael Tonkin hoping to catch on with the club
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:03 pm ET) Twins pitcher Michael Tonkin is hoping to break camp on the 25-man roster, according to MLB.com.

Tonkin has been up and down the past two seasons, but is competing for a bullpen spot this spring. He has one option year left on his contract, but he's hoping he can break camp with the major-league club.

"It would be huge," Tonkin said. "It's a pretty important year for me. Just the business side of it, having just one option left. It's important to show them I can be a big leaguer. I feel like I'm ready."

Tonkin, 25, posted a 4.74 ERA over 19 innings last season. 


Black: Shawn Kelley 'brings talent' to Padres bullpen
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:56 pm ET) Padres pitcher Shawn Kelley was traded to San Diego this offseason, and manager Bud Black spoke Thursday about the talent and experience the lefty brings to the Padres bullpen, U-T San Diego reports.

"You've got some guys now who are starting to get some tenure, some experience, in (Dale) Thayer and (Nick) Vincent and (Kevin) Quackenbush," Black said. "Shawn brings a little bit of that service time, but more importantly, he brings talent. He's got a good arm, he's got a good, live fastball, he's got a good slider, he's pitched at the backend of bullpens, he's been around some good closers, he's been in good bullpens."

Kelley threw his slider 57.7 percent of the time last season, second among all qualified relievers, but has confidence throwing his pitches in any situation.

"I have no problem throwing both pitches (fastball and slider) of the plate, up and down to lefties," Kelley said. "I think with the advanced scouting reports and all the information we have, every lefty has at least one hole or two against a righty, and I feel like I have something I'm comfortable doing to match that. ... I'll do whatever I have to do to exploit a lefty's weakness."

Set to become a free agent after the season, Kelley went 3-6 with a 4.53 ERA and 67:20 K:BB ratio in 51 2/3 innings with the Yankees last season.


Diamondbacks encouraged by Yasmany Tomas
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:54 pm ET) The Diamondbacks were encouraged by Yasmany Tomas' play at third on Thursday, according to azcentral.com.

Tomas didn't make every play, but was able to convert on five of his six chances at the hot corner. Manager Chip Hale said the team was "encouraged" by what Tomas showed during the game. 

Hale also complimented Tomas at the plate, even though the infielder doesn't have a hit yet this spring. "He's much lighter on his feet than you would think he is," Hale said. "Even running down the line, he doesn't get hits every time but when he hits it, he hustles down the line and looks like he can get down there pretty good."

Tomas is attempting to win the third base job during camp. He's expected to open the year in the majors even if the team converts him back to the outfield. 


 
 
 
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