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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
Indians SP Corey Kluber racks up seven K's in win on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:32 pm ET) Indians ace Corey Kluber picked up his fourth win of the season in Tuesday's 2-0 victory over the Astros. Kluber allowed five hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. He walked two and struck out seven, lowering his ERA to 3.45.

Kluber needed 119 pitches (80 strikes) to get through the 6 2/3 innings, his shortest outing since June 14. 

The seven strikeouts on Tuesday give him 148 on the season, temporarily surpassing Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale for tops in the big-leagues.


Rockies OF Corey Dickerson begins agility drills
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:31 pm ET) Rockies outfielder Corey Dickerson has started running sprints and conducting agility drills, reports MLB.com.

Dickerson is on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis. He has not played since June 16.


Astros SS Jed Lowrie making progress from thumb injury
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:23 pm ET) Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie has begun taking batting practice and fielding ground balls, reports MLB.com.

Lowrie has been out for the last 10 weeks after he tore a ligament in his right thumb which required surgery. His next step is to take a full round of batting practice.

"When he's ready to go out and play, we'll have a game plan for him as he gets into games," manager A.J. Hinch said. "I talk to him every day in some capacity. We've really haven't gotten too specific. He's taken ground balls at short and third. He's watching and he understands. He's played just about everywhere in his career, but having a definitive plan -- until we put a calendar in front of him where he's going to go, [Double-A] Corpus [Christi] or [Triple-A] Fresno, it's nothing that we're discussing."


Red Sox's Travis Shaw collects first hit in 3-for-4 effort Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:21 pm ET) Red Sox rookie Travis Shaw had a big game at the plate on Tuesday in the 4-3 win over the Marlins. Shaw went 3 for 4 with a run scored, as he collected his first big-league hit in the second inning.

Shaw was recalled prior to Tuesday's game for his fourth stint with the big club, and it took seven games for him to collect the elusive first career base knock. And now he has three in his last four at-bats. 

Shaw was Boston's ninth-round draft pick in 2011. 


Rangers SP Martin Perez allows two runs in rehab start Tuesday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:14 pm ET) Rangers pitcher Martin Perez made another rehab start at Triple-A on Tuesday.

Perez allowed two runs on six hits over six innings of work. He also struck out six and did not walk a batter. He threw 56 of his 79 pitches for strikes.

Perez is expected to make at least one more rehab start before he returns from Tommy John surgery.


Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts hits game-winner on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:14 pm ET) Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts went 2 for 4 with a double on Tuesday, and had the biggest of the night in the 4-3 win over the Marlins. Bogaerts came to the plate in the seventh inning with his team down 3-1 and the bases loaded.

He proceeded to rope a single to center field, scoring all three runs and leading Boston to victory. 

Bogaerts is batting .375 with 10 doubles and 13 RBI over his last 15 games, as he tries to become the final man added to the American League All-Star roster.


Marlins' Christian Yelich extends hit streak to nine games Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:07 pm ET) Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich extended his current hitting streak to nine games with a 3-for-4 effort on Tuesday. Yelich had an RBI single in the third inning, and then drove in another run with a double in the seventh, though the Marlins would end up losing 4-3 to the Red Sox.

Yelich is batting a robust .533 (16 for 30) with four doubles and three RBI over the nine-game streak. 


Red Sox RP Koji Uehara gets save No. 20 on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:04 pm ET) Red Sox closer Koji Uehara worked a perfect ninth inning on Tuesday to claim his 20th save of the season. Uehara struck out a pair of batters, preserving the 4-3 win over the Marlins.

After enduring some struggles in the middle of June, Uehara has been lights out lately. He hasn't allowed a run in his last eight appearances, and is 20-for-22 in save chances this year. 


Red Sox SP Wade Miley K's nine on no-decision on Tuesday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(10:01 pm ET) Red Sox lefty Wade Miley was solid on Tuesday against the Marlins. Miley went 6 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits. He walked two and struck nine batters, a season-high.

Miley gave up a run in the second and two in the seventh, but did not factor in the decision, as the Red Sox rallied late in the 4-3 victory. It's his first no-decision since April 10, which was his first start of the season.

Miley has been trying to find some consistency on the mound. Over his last seven starts, he is 4-2 with a 3.89 ERA.


Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin to make Double-A rehab start Friday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(10:00 pm ET) Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin is expected to make his second rehab start Friday for the team's Double-A affiliate, reports Cleveland.com.

Tomlin threw two innings for the team's Rookie League club Sunday.

"It went good," Tomlin said. "The fastball and cutter were where I wanted it. It was the same with the change up and curve ball. I didn't walk anybody, threw strikes and felt better in the second inning than I did in the first. That was the main thing. I wanted to get those two innings in and see how I recovered."

He is expected to throw three or four innings Friday. Tomlin has not pitched this season as he recovers from shoulder surgery.


 
 
 
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