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2017 Oakland Athletics Team Outlook

Senior Expert Shawn Childs preview the 2017 Oakland Athletics from a Fantasy Baseball perspective!

Oakland A’s

The A’s finished last in the AL West in each of the last two years. Oakland scored 41 fewer runs than 2015 (694) while allowing 32 more runs. They ended up last in the American League in runs scored (653). The A’s hit 169 home runs (12th).

There were no major losses in the offseason to free agency. Oakland signed 3B Trevor Plouffe, RP Santiago Casilla, OF Matt Joyce, and OF Rajai Davis. IF Danny Valencia was traded Seattle for SP Paul Blackburn.

The A’s ranked 14th in the AL in ERA (4.51). Their bullpen finished 20th in ERA (4.01) with 26 wins, 26 losses, and 42 saves.

Their offense is full of second tier player with their upside tier to three players – 1B Ryon Healy, SS Marcus Semien, and OF Khris Davis.

They need SP Sonny Gray to have a bounce season. Oakland has multiple upside arms, which may need more time to develop. If the A’s are going to be competitive, it will be the result of growth from their starting pitching. Overall, their bullpen has enough talent to grade above the league average.

1. OF Rajai Davis

Davis led the American League in steals (43) in 2016 while receiving his second highest total in at bats (454). Over his 11-year major league career, Rajai has never been able to secure full time at bats with his best chance for success coming in 2010 (525 at bats). His K rate (21.4) was a career high while trending to the top of his range in back-to-back years. He took a few more walks last year (6.7 percent walk rate). Davis set a career high in HRs (12) due to growth in his AVH (1.558) over the last two seasons (1.705 in 2015). He hit .258 against RH pitching with risk vs. lefties (.235). In his career, Rajai has been a better hitter vs. LH pitching (.288). Even with a bump in success in 2016, Davis only had success in batting average (.321) in June (three HRs, seven RBI, and 10 SBs). Over his other four months after April, he hit only .224. His HR/FB rate (9.6) was the best of his career. Rajai sports a nice combination of HRs and SBs on his 2016 resume, but he’ll be 36 this season. The A’s tend to play matchups so I would place my bet on 450 at bats. His rising K rate is a problem for a player with his skill set. I’m seeing .250 with possible 10 HRs and 35 SBs with exceptional run rate (51 percent in 2016).

2. SS Marcus Semien

Semien was a very good backend middle infielder in the Fantasy market in 2016. He set a career high in runs (72), HRs (27), and RBI (75). His AVH (1.830) was much stronger than his previous two years in the majors while being supported by short success at AAA in 2014 (1.877). Marcus had a shorter CTBA (.315) with a below league average K rate (22.4) leading to his weakness in batting average. His walk rate (8.2) came in at league average. Semien has the most upside against LH pitching (.288 with 20 HRs and 50 RBI over 400 at bats in his career). After hitting 16 HRs with 50 RBI over the first four months of the season, Marcus lost his power stroke in August (one HR and six RBI over 97 at bats). Last year he had a 50 percent spike in his HR/FB rate (14.7) with a slight rise in his fly ball rate (42.9). In his minor-league career, Semien had a more stable K rate (17.2) with an edge in his walk rate (13.1). Oakland has limited options to hit in the top two spots in the batting. Marcus looks ready to make the next step forward, which will help his counting stats. If given a chance to hit second or higher, he could easily be a 20/20 player with a neutral batting average plus 90+ runs. Great value as the 19th shortstop off the table with an ADP of 203 in the early draft season in 15 team leagues.

3. 3B Ryon Healy

Despite hitting .302 with 10 HRs and 62 RBI in 2015 at AA, Ryon had to start at AA again in 2016. He hit the ball at two levels in the minors last year leading to a call-up to the majors. With Oakland, Healy hit .305 over 269 at bats with 13 HRs and 37 RBI. His K rate (21.2) was above his minor-league career (15.5) while his walk rate (4.2) remain short. He had almost equal success against RH (.302) and LH (.313) pitching. After a slow start in July (.241 with two HRs and seven RBI over 54 at bats), Ryon hit .321 over the last two months of the season with 11 HRs and 30 RBI highlighted by an impactful September (.336 with seven HRs and 20 RBI). Over four years in the minors, Healy hit .293 with 46 HRs and 238 RBI over 1579 at bats. Ryon’s swing path showed growth in 2016 leading to his huge jump in HRs (27 over 606 at bats). At 6’5” with a compact swing that produces a high volume of line drives, he looks ready to have continued success in power. Last year he had growth in his CTBA (.392) and AVH (1.720). His floor should be a 20/80 season with an edge in batting average.

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4. Khris Davis

Davis had his best opportunity of his career for at bats (555). His AVH (2.124) has been up with best power hitters in the game over three of his last four seasons. He set a career high in runs (85), hits (137), HRs (42), and RBI (102). Khris had fade in his walk rate (6.9) with weakness in his K rate (27.2). After a poor April (.221 with three HRs and nine RBI over 86 at bats), Davis found his power stroke in May (.260 with 11 HRs, 26 RBI, and a SB over 100 at bats). Over his last 192 at bats, he struck out 66 times (29.8 percent) with 16 HRs and 34 RBI. Khris walks 18 times in September, which was well above his total (24) over the first five months. He had a slugging percentage over .500 against both RH (.517) and LH (.550) pitching. His HR/FB rate (26.6) was in an elite area. No real upside in batting average without a correction in his K rate. With full time at bats again, 30+ HRs with 80+ RBI should be a given.

5. C Stephen Vogt

Vogt struggled to repeat his success in 2015. His production in HRs (14) and RBI (56) regressed by 20 percent even with a 10 percent increase in at bats. Stephen had an improved K rate (15.6) while taking a step back in walks (6.6 percent). His bat lost value against lefties (.196 with one HR and 13 RBI over 92 at bats). Over the first four months of 2016, Vogt had way too many empty nights (eight HRs and 30 RBI over 302 at bats) despite a neutral batting average (.272). His batting average (.218) lost value in August and September while upping his output (six HRs and 26 RBI). Steve regained his fly ball ability (46.5 percent), but his HR/FB rate (7.4) was a career low. Platoon hitter with a bounce back in power expected. I’d set his bar at .265 with 15 HRs and 60 RBI and hope for more upside.

6. 3B Trevor Plouffe

Over the last three seasons, Trevor has become a very good run producer based on his RBI rate (18, 17, and 18). His CTBA (.320) remains in a tight area restricting his upside in batting average. Plouffe had a career best K rate (17.4) in 2016 while falling to league average for most of his career. He had a drop in his walk rate (5.5) after ranking just above the league average over the previous two years. In 2016, he had three stints on the DL – oblique (twice) and cracked ribs. His only month with close to full time at bats was June (.239 with three HRs and 14 RBI over 92 at bats). Trevor had more success in power vs. lefties (.240 with four HRs and 13 RBI over 75 at bats). His HR/FB rate (12.1) was almost identical to his success in 2015 (12.0) when Plouffe had his breakthrough in power. Based on his path over the last three years, he may emerge as the cleanup hitter for the A’s with a potential 20/80 season. His batting average will fall below the league average.

7. OF Matt Joyce

Joyce has been a bench player over the last two seasons while never receiving a full-time job in his career. His bat has no chance of starting against lefties (.185 with 10 HRs over 378 at bats in his career). His walk rate (20.1) was massive in 2016 with strength in most seasons. His K rate (22.9) tends to fall above the league average. Last year he never had over 50 at bats in any month. Over two previous seasons, Matt had a short HR/FB rate (2014 – 7.6 and 2015 – 6.6). Last year that number jump to 22.4 percent (career high). His swing tends to deliver a high volume of fly balls (42.4). Oakland will platoon him against RH pitching. With 400+ at bats, Joyce is capable of delivering a 15/60 season with more upside if he’s in a good rhythm.

8. 1B Yonder Alonso

Over 2103 at bats in the majors, Alonso only has 39 HRs (one every 54 at bats). This is well below expected value for a starting first baseman. He does a nice job controlling the strike zone (13.9 percent walk rate and 8.5 percent walk rate). His HR/FB rate (5.1) faded for the second straight year while producing a low fly ball rate (33.3). Yonder had no value against lefties (.227 with one HR and eight RBI over 66 at bats). Over the first two months of the season, he hit .209 with one HR and 10 RBI over 153 at bats. Boring player who is in a contract year. His bat looked more intriguing in 2010 in the minors (.290 with 15 HRs, 69 RBI, and 13 SBs over 507 at bats). Tough to believe this former first round draft pick will be able to secure full time at bats again in 2017 without some JUICE added to his swing.  

9. 2B Jed Lowrie

Lowrie was nonproductive over 338 at bats in 2016 (30 runs, two HRs, and 27 RBI). He missed a couple of weeks in May due to a shin injury. His season ended in August with a toe issue that required surgery. Jed’s K rate (17.6) regressed for the third straight year with a step back in his walk rate (7.1). He hit for high average in April and May (.309) with no production (no HRs and 18 RBI over 139 at bats). His value was even lower with starting at bats in June and July (.236 with two HRs and eight RBI over 191 at bats). Lowrie had a huge decline in his swing path. For his career, he has a 44.9 percent FB rate and 6.4 percent HR/FB rate. Those two stats fell to 32.0% and 2.3% last year. The A’s have a couple developing options at 2B so Jed isn’t lock to keep the starting job all year with continued failure. Fading player with double digit power with 400+ at bats if he regains his fly ball approach at the plate.

BN: OF Mark Canha

After making a step forward late in 2015, Canha had a tough 2016. He suffered a back and hip injury in early May. By the end of May, Mark was lost for the season with surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. Over his short at bats (41), he did strike out 45.5 percent of the time with no walks. Due to his short season, here’s a look at his 2015 profiles: Canha has never been a fast mover in the minors. He had a solid season at A ball in 2011 (.276 with 25 HRs, 85 RBI, and seven SBs in 384 at bats with strength in his walk rate [13.0]), but the Marlins only moved him to High-A in 2012. The same process happened over next two years in the minors. The Rockies selected him in the Rule 5 Draft in 2014 then proceed to trade him to the A's. Mark drove the ball well in April and May (six HRs and 20 RBI) in limited at bats (133), but his batting average faded in May (.179). Over the last two months of the season, Canha had almost full time at bats leading to nice finish to the year (.280 with eight HRs, 37 RBI, and two SBs in 211 at bats). His bat had the most value vs. RH pitching (.271 with 13 HRs, and 54 RBI in 292 at bats), but it came up short against lefties (.221 with three HRs and 16 RBI in 149 at bat). Both his K rate (19.8) and walk rate (6.8) came in just below league average. Mark has a balanced swing with an 11.4 percent HR/FB rate. He hit .285 in his minor-league career with 68 HRs, 303 RBI, and 18 SBs in 1750 at bats. His ability to drive the ball and his high RBI rate (19.0) points to him getting a middle of the order opportunity in Oakland in 2016. I expected growth in his batting average as well. I'd love to say he's going to get 500+ at bats, but I can't trust the A's. Possible 20+ HRs and 80+ RBI with some underlying speed. Possible bench flier if the A’s give him enough at bats.

Bench Options

C Josh Phegley – Injuries killed Phegley’s chance to work his way into a better satiation in at bats last year. He suffered a right knee injury in mid-May that led to two DL stints and surgery. Here’s a look at his outlook headed into 2016: Phegley did a nice job as the backup catcher for the A's in 2015. His production projected over 450 at bats would deliver solid results in HRs (18) and RBI (68). His K rate (21.0) was slightly above the league average while his walk rate (5.8) came in a short. Josh had an edge against LH pitching (.276 with five HRs and 17 RBI in 116 at bats), which makes him a nice compliment to Vogt at the catcher position. Over 109 at bats vs. righties, he hit .220 with four HRs and 17 RBI. His best run came in June when he hit .277 with four HRs and 11 RBI in 47 at bats. Phegley hit .266 in his minor-league career with 67 HRs, 279 RBI, and six SBs in 1859 at bats. Nice power source at the catching position with a rise in playing time. For now, Josh only has value as a C2 in AL-only leagues. He will get a nice bump in value if Vogt has any issues in 2016. Oakland expected him to be ready for spring training.

2B Chad Pinder – Over four seasons in the minors, Pinder hit .280 with 45 HRs, 200 RBI, and 25 SBs over 1446 at bats. His K rate (22.1) is a bit high with a short walk rate (5.5). He has almost a full season at AAA (.258 with 14 HRs, 51 RBI, and five SBs over 426 at bats) so he should be just about ready for the majors. Chad did struggle over 51 at bats in the majors in 2016 (.235 with one HR and four RBI). Pinder struck out 25.5 percent of the time in the majors with the same walk rate (5.5) as his minor-league resume. Possible starter in 2017 with a 15 HR power and double digit speed. His batting average looks to have some risk early in his career.

2B Joey Wendle – The A’s gave Wendle 96 at bats in the majors last year with minimal success (.260 with one HR, 11 RBI, and two SBs). His K rate (15.4) was above the league average with below par walk rate (5.8). Over five seasons in the minors, Joey hit .288 with 50 HRs, 273 RBI, and 45 SBs over 2084 at bats. He’s stalled at AAA over the last two years (.285 with 22 HRs, 118 RBI, and 26 SBs over 1068 at bats). Better control of the strike zone than Pinder with less power and similar speed. Player to follow as well with a chance at playing time at second base.

OF Jake Smolinski – Oakland gave Jake the most at bats (290) in his major-league career. He hit .238 with seven HRs and 27 RBI, which fell in line with his career path in the majors. Smolinski showed growth in his K rate (13.8) with below league average walk rate (6.0). He hit .268 in the minors with 62 HRs, 331 RBI, and 60 SBs over 2832 at bats. Fourth outfielder with minimal upside.

1. SP Sonny Gray

From his first start of the season, Gray wasn’t the same pitcher. He battled his command in April (15 walks over 28.1 innings), but he pitched well over his first four starts (2.73 ERA). Over his next three starts, Sonny had allowed 18 runs and 28 base runners over 12.2 innings. He landed on the DL for two weeks in late May due to back injury. Gray struggled against both RH (.286) and LH (.286) batters. His only month of value came in June (3.23 ERA). After a disaster July (7.79 ERA), Sonny developed a forearm injury that cost him almost the rest of the season. His AFB (93.7) was a step down from his career average (94.3) leading to losing results (four-seam – .310 BAA and sinker - .380 BAA). Gray threw his slider (.177 BA) and his curveball (.191 BAA) well with decline in his changeup (.343 BAA). He continues to induce a high volume of ground balls (53.9 percent) with huge spike in his HR/FB rate (17.5). His K rate (7.2) fell for the third straight year while walking the most batters of his career (3.2 per nine). His ERA (2.88) was an edge over first 76 games. Tough trusting pitchers will forearm issues as it could easily turn into TJ surgery and cost him another year and half of his career. In 15 team leagues, Sonny will be drafted as an SP3 with an ADP of 203. Pure gamble with a winning resume headed into last season. I must see a positive spring training before even thinking about him.

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2. SP Sean Manaea

Manaea has been a fast mover in the A’s system. In just over two years in the minors (16-9 with 2.85 ERA and 260 Ks over 217.2 innings), Sean was able to make 24 starts in the majors in 2016. His arm was unimpressive over his first 11 starts (5.85 ERA) with Oakland while allowing four runs or over six times. Over his last four starts in July (1.69 ERA with 26 Ks over 26.2 innings), Manaea started to put it together. He tripped up again over his first four starts in August (5.32 ERA) before posting six strong starts to end the year (1.05 ERA with 32 Ks over 34.1 innings). Sean had much better command (2.3 walk rate) in the majors than the minors (3.6) with a step down in his K rate (7.7 – 10.8 in the minors). He had plus value against lefties (.180) with some work to do against RH batters (.263 with 17 HRs allowed over 455 at bats). His AFB (93.3) was about league average while showing risk (.296 BAA). Batters struggled to hit his changeup (.203 BAA) and slider (.122 BAA). He did suffer a minor forearm issue in June and a back injury in September that cost him a start. Upside arm that should make a step forward in 2017. Excellent chance at a sub 3.50 ERA with a chance to pitch 200+ innings with 175+ Ks.

3. SP Kendall Graveman

I still believe there is more upside in this arm. Last year Graveman had growth in his fastball (93.2), but batters drilled his four-seamer (.432 BAA) with success against sinker (.288 BAA). His cutter (.211 BAA) was his best pitch with a serviceable changeup (.246 BAA). Kendall had the best walk rate (2.3) of his young career with short K rate (5.2). His arm had boring value against righties (.270) and lefties (.272). Over his first 15 starts, he had a 4.84 ERA. Graveman was very good over 11 of his next 12 starts (2.82 ERA). His gains were given away in his next two starts in September (12 runs and 23 base runners over 10.1 innings). Over three years in the minors, Kendall went 17-10 with a 2.26 ERA with 154 Ks over 231.1 innings. Flashes of improvement with low value in Ks. Graveman needs better location with his fastball within the strike zone while improving his secondary pitches. Next step: sub 3.75 ERA with low Ks.

4. SP Jharel Cotton

Cotton has shown solid command (walk rate – 2.6) in the minors with an elite K rate (10.0). In addition, Jharel has been tough to hit (367 hits over 447 innings). This combination of stats should lead to more strength in his ERA (3.68). Over five starts in the majors, he went 2-0 with a 2.15 ERA with 23 Ks over 29.1 innings. Cotton did allow four HRs with a shorter K rate (7.1). His AFB (92.9) was about league average with solid success (.232 BAA). Jharel features a plus changeup (.061 BAA) with a developing cutter (.167 BAA). Improving arm with one plus pitch (change). Cotton needs to improve his secondary pitches while doing a better job keeping the ball in the ballpark. The best part of his resume is his WHIP (1.112 in his minor-league career). Not a young prospect, but his arm is developing.

5. SP Daniel Mengden

Mengden had a ton of disaster risk in the majors in his rookie season. He threw the ball well over his first four starts (2.81 ERA with 26 Ks over 25.2 innings) in the majors. He lost his confidence and command in July (9.00 ERA with 17 walks over 23 innings) leading to a trip back to AAA. Over three seasons in the minors, Daniel went 20-6 with a 2.78 with 237 Ks over 240 innings. He had very good command (2.5 walks per nine) with a solid K rate (8.9) in his minor-league career. The A’s called him back up to the majors in September where he had losing results (8.10 ERA). With Oakland, he repeated his K ability (8.9) with his failure tied to a huge step back in his walk rate (4.1) leading to a high HR/9 rate (1.1). His AFB (93.1) was about league average with batters hitting .288 against it. Both his slider (.281 BAA) and changeup (.302 BAA) had losing value with his curveball (.200 BAA) offering the most upside. His ugly stat line in the majors will keep many Fantasy owner away, but he’s worth a flier. Gamer with one plus pitch (changeup) and both his slider and changeup should offer more upside with more experience.

6. SP Paul Blackburn

Oakland acquired Blackburn in November in the Danny Valencia deal. Over five years in the minors, Paul is 29-17 with a 3.24 ERA with 288 Ks over 416.1 innings. He’s a groundball pitcher with a fastball that can reach the mid-90s. Blackburn throws an above average curveball and changeup. His best asset is his command (2.7 walks per nine) while offering low K ability (6.2). Paul is expected to start the year at AAA with mid-summer call being possible.

7. SP Frankie Montas

Over seven seasons in the minors, Montas has a 3.79 ERA with 412 Ks over 398.2 innings. His fastball has triple digit upside with questions about his command (3.7 walks per nine in the minors). In 2016, Frankie missed the start of year due to surgery to remove a rib. The injury developed a setback in June leading to another trip to the DL. He ended up only throwing 16 innings in the minors last season (2.25 ERA with three walks and 22 Ks). His slider offers upside, but Montas really doesn’t have a third pitch of value at this point of his career. He needs to get in better shape or his future lies in the bullpen. Flame thrower with upside when he puts it all together.

CL Sean Doolittle

Doolittle is the arm with the most upside in the bullpen, but injuries have led to multiple trips on the DL over the last two seasons. When he’s healthy, Sean has an elite walk rate (1.8 in 2016 and 1.7 in his career). His K rate (10.4) made a move in a positive direction in 2016. HRs (1.4 per nine) were a problem for the first time in his career. Despite throwing the ball well over the first three months of the seasons (2.93 ERA), Doolittle only had four saves. A left shoulder injury (labrum) led to over two months on the DL. When he returned in September, he threw the ball well (one run over 7.1 innings with nine Ks) apart from his last outing of the season (three runs and three hits over one inning). His AFB (95.6) was back in line with his 2013 (95.6) and 2014 (95.3) seasons, which he threw 86 percent of the time (.217 BAA). His slider (.286 BAA) was less effective than his success in 2014 (.080 BAA). Sean needs to improve against RH batters (.250) if he wants to lock down the 9th inning. Ryan Madsen had plenty of bad outing in 2016 so Doolittle could be poised to steal the closing job. His shoulder issue does scare me, but his price point should be more than fair to make this upside swing. I love his first pitch strike rate (70.7).

Jennifer Nicholson / USA TODAY Sports

RP Ryan Madson

A month into the 2016 season, a Fantasy owner felt like he struck gold with Madson. Over 13 games, Ryan went 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 10 Ks, and eight saves over 12.2 innings. Over the next three months, his arm got progressively worse (May – 3.72 ERA and 1.552 WHIP, June – 4.22 ERA and 1.406 WHIP, and July – 6.55 ERA and 1.364 WHIP). Somehow he held onto the closing job. Madson rebounded in August (no runs over 10.2 innings with five saves). His disaster side remerged in September (6.30 ERA and 1.80 WHIP). His K rate (6.8) was his lowest success since 2006 when he pitched in the starting rotation. In addition, Ryan had regression in his walk rate (2.8). RH batters hit .270 against him with lefties beating him for five HRs over 119 at bats. His AVB (95.4) was his best since 2009 (96.1). Batters only hit .231 vs. his changeup with four pitches leaving the ballpark. His four-seam fastball (.192 BAA) held serve with his risk coming from his sinker (.324 BAA). On the year, he converted 30 of 37 save chances. Possible bounce back, but Madson needs to throw more first strikes (56.1 percent – 66.3 in 2015). Tough to trust if he’s named closer, but his fastball suggests it wasn’t his arm.

RP Ryan Dull

Over four years in the minors, Ryan had a 2.07 ERA with 259 Ks and 42 saves. He had an edge in command (2.1 walk rate) with strength in his K rate (11.2). In 2015 with the A’s, Dull struggled with the long ball (four HRs over 17 innings) with a drop in his walk rate (3.2). His resume shined through in 2016 in the majors when he posted a 2.42 ERA with 73 Ks over 74.1 innings while allowing only 50 hits (.186 BAA). His arm looked closer worthy in April (1.93 ERA), June (0.71 ERA), and July (1.35 ERA). His success in the early summer pointing to a possible chance in the 9th with Ryan Madson struggling and Sean Doolittle on the DL. He pitched poorly in August (4.22 ERA with only five Ks over 10.2 innings). His AFB (91.6) grades below the league average, but batters only hit .213 against it. He dominated with his slider (.129 BAA) and changeup (.188 BAA) as well. Intriguing arm, but his lack the big fastball may leave him a step behind in his quest for saves.

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