Oakland Athletics 2020 Season Preview

Alex Kielar  | March 18th, 2020

The A’s had a great season in 2019, going 97-65, but because of the Astros winning over 100 games they had to play the Rays in the Wild Card game. They wound up losing that game 5-1 to the Rays and look to avoid that game this year by winning the AL West.

The A’s didn’t have too busy of an offseason, but they certainly have what it takes to build off their 97 wins last year. Without further ado, let’s look at their projected roster and what to expect from them. Check out our A’s season preview podcast on the Too Much Pod Tar podcast here.

Make sure to check out our other Team Previews here.

C/IF Projections

C: Sean Murphy
1B: Matt Olson
2B: Franklin Barreto/Jorge Mateo
3B: Matt Chapman
SS: Marcus Semien

A’s number two prospect Sean Murphy struggled through injuries last year but smashed 11 home runs in 41 games in Triple-A, and four in 20 MLB games. His raw power has been broken into over the last couple of years and should start the majority of games this season. He might not end up hitting for too high an average, but he can still hit for a .250+ average while hitting 15+ homers. Murphy was 24th in our Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings here.

Olson has been mashing the last couple of seasons, and he was our sixth-ranked first baseman in the First Basemen Fantasy Baseball Rankings here. He managed to smash 36 homers and drive 91 runs despite missing 35 games last year. The lefty masher will only be 26 at the end of March and has his prime ahead of him. Olson has some very advanced batted ball metrics with a 50.3% Hard Hit percentage and also has an 18.3 degree launch angle, making him a very dangerous offensive bat.

Barreto looks to be in place to start at second, but prior to spring training being canceled, the A’s had a bit of a competition going there between him and Jorge Matteo. Barreto showed his upside at Triple-A last year, hitting 19 homers and stealing 15 bases in 98 games. Obviously a small sample size, but he had picked up 11 hits and nine RBI in 14 games this spring before the shutdown. Matteo brings the speed, as he even stole 71 bases in one season in the minors. He had solid numbers at Triple-A Las Vegas last year, slashing .289/.330/.504 with 19 HR, 78 RBI, and 24 SB. The 24-year old had six hits, four RBI, six walks, and four SB in 32 plate appearances in the spring.

The argument can be made that Chapman is the best defensive third baseman in the league, and he is definitely top three. He is still just 26 and can get even better, while he slashed .249/.342/.506 with 36 taters last season. His power numbers are definitely sustainable (43.1% fly-ball rate, 19% HR/FB) and he will be right in the middle of a powerful A’s lineup. He will never hit for too high an average, as he pops up a lot with a career 16.1% infield fly ball rate. Chapman’s defense is very solid, he had 34 defensive runs saved last season and a 14.8 ultimate zone rating. He was 14th in our Third Basemen Fantasy Baseball rankings here.

Semien had a career-year last season while finishing third in the AL MVP race. He looks to build off his great numbers, .285/.369/.522 with 33 HR, 92 RBI, 123 R, 10 SB, and 87 BB. All these numbers were career-highs except for stolen bases, but the only question is if his stats are sustainable or it’s just an outlier. The 29-year old had never hit more than 15 home runs in one season besides 27 bombs in 2016. Semien had an increased barrel rate of 8.5%, career-high .495 xSLG and 33.2% hard-hit rate. He could still bash 20+ homers and put up similar numbers, but he may fall off a bit.

OF/DH Projections

LF: Mark Canha
CF: Ramon Laureano
RF: Stephen Piscotty

Cahna had a breakout second-half last season, hitting .301/.415/.528 with 14 home runs, 36 RBI, 44 runs in 67 games. His walk rate went up to 13.5% from 8.3% in 2018 which helped him attain his success. He won’t be able to sustain those numbers for a full season, but he should still give the A’s a solid bat in the middle of the lineup.

Laureano showed five-tool potential last year, as the 25-year-old hit .288 with 24 home runs, 79 runs, 67 RBI, and 13 stolen bases in 481 plate appearances. He missed all of August with a shin injury and has plenty of upside.

Piscotty looks to bounce back from a down year in 2019 after having a career-year in 2018. He struggled through injuries which forced him to play just 93 games, as he hit just .249 and had 13 homers, 46 runs, and 44 RBI. Piscotty could be in danger of losing playing time to Robbie Grossman, and be in a platoon scenario. Piscotty struggles against righties, hitting just .214 against them in 2019, while Grossman hits well against them.

Starting Rotation Projections

Mike Fiers
Sean Manaea
Frankie Montas
Jesus Luzardo
A.J. Puk/Chris Bassit

Ah, yes, the “whistleblower” himself Mike Fiers. The guy who pretty much singlehandedly took down the cheating Astros. Rob Manfred not coming down on them hard enough is a whole different story. Anyway, Fiers was a fairly reliable pitcher in 2019, especially at home. Overall he won ten games, put up a 3.90 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 126 strikeouts, while he had a 2.90 ERA and 1.05 WHIP at home. He should continue to give the A’s some decently productive innings especially at the Colosseum in Oakland.

Manaea missed most of last season after getting arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder and won four of five starts when he returned in September. He allowed just four earned runs in 29.2 innings and struck out 30. That small sample size is obviously not as good as he will be but is a good sign his shoulder is healthy and he could be one of the most reliable pitchers in the league. He doesn’t strike many guys out, as he relies on inducing ground balls; he had at least a 41% GB rate in every season including 2018. The great infield defense behind him will be to his benefit too.

Montas was starting to break out last season before being suspended 80 games for performance-enhancing drugs. Over 96 innings, he held a 2.63 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 103 strikeouts in 16 starts. To help with his breakout, he added a splitter which helped improve results on his sinker and fastball. He had a K-BB% of 20.3% which was the highest of his career. He had career-lows in xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and barrel% which indicate a continued breakout and sustainability.

Luzardo was held out of action last season until June with a shoulder injury and was called up after making 11 appearances. The A’s were cautious with their first-ranked prospect as he threw just 12 innings in relief, and he allowed only five hits and struck out 16. He may not pitch many innings in 2020, but he should be reliable and is also a ground ball pitcher.

Puk is the A’s third-ranked prospect and made 10 relief appearances in 2019 after missing all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He had a 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts and five walks in 11 1/3 innings last year.

Both Luzardo and Puk will be on innings limits this year but Bob Melvin said they will both start out as starters. Bassitt is another rotation option who had a solid 2019 season, making 25 starts and three relief appearances while holding a 3.81 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 141 strikeouts in 144 innings.

Bullpen Projections

Liam Hendriks
Lou Trivino
Yusmeiro Petit
Jake Diekman
Joakim Soria
Chris Bassitt
J.B. Wendelken
T.J. McFarland
Burch Smith
A.J. Puk
Jesus Luzardo

The A’s have a very strong bullpen to go along with their strong starting rotation. Hendricks was a first-time All-Star last year and took over the closing duties in the second half. He converted 25 of 32 saves with a 1.80 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and a 37.4% K% and was a finalist for the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award. Trivino (5.25 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 8.60 SO9 rate), Petit (2.71 ERA, 0.807 WHIP, 7.10 SO/BB rate), and Soria (4.30 ERA, 1.029 WHIP, 10.3 SO9 rate) are all solid hold options while the rest will kind of fill itself out, as Puk and Luzardo could get relief innings as they get close to their limits.

Players to Watch For

Tony Kemp – Kemp was acquired from the Cubs over the Winter for minor league infielder Alfonso Rivas. The 28-year old split 110 games between the Astros and Cubs last year, as he was the return to the Cubs for catcher Martin Maldonado at the trade deadline. He was a former top prospect with the Astros but has struggled to find success at the plate, slashing just .212/.291/.380 with eight homers, nine doubles, four triples and four steals over 279 plate appearances last season. He does add versatility and depth to the A’s as he can play all three outfield positions in addition to second base. Kemp did hit at the minors (.312/.373/.425 career Triple-A slash line), so if he can break out he gives the A’s another solid bat off the bench/platoon.

Sheldon Neuse – Neuse is definitely ready for the big leagues, the problem is he doesn’t have a true defensive home as third and short are blocked by Chapman and Semien, respectively. He has completely torn up Triple-A, hitting 27 homers and holding a .317 average in 126 games last year. He may be the A’s second baseman of the future and should come up this year as at least a utility player or even DH if Khris Davis‘ numbers continue to slide.

Prediction

The A’s will obviously not be able to have a repeat of their 97 wins, as we will not be getting a full MLB season. But they will still compete in the American League West playoff hunt with some of the stud pitching, hitting, and defense they have. I think they will outdo the Astros and win the division, and the short season really kind of helps them even more especially as far as innings limits go.

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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images