Not too long ago, the Oakland Athletics looked to be on the upswing, winning 97 games in back-to-back seasons (2018-2019) and taking the AL West crown during the truncated 2020 season. Despite their success, however, they never made it out of the Wild Card round, continuing to play second fiddle to the Houston Astros in a division that has been locked down for more than half a decade now. Because of this, following an 86-76 2021 that saw them finish behind the Astros and Mariners, Oakland decided to blow it all up.
Starting in the winter of 2021-2022, the Athletics have since shipped out Matt Olson, Chris Bassitt, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, and Sean Murphy...and that’s just the big names. Needless to say, they did not improve on their 2021 record last year, and instead, became the first AL team eliminated from the postseason on September 7th.
2022 record: 60-102 (5th, AL West)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 70-92 (5th, AL West)
If anybody is looking for major improvement from the A’s this year, go turn on MLB: The Show. ZiPS has just one member of the starting lineup — catcher Shea Langeliers — projected to accrue more than 2.3 fWAR (and he’s projected for 2.5 in 119 games), while former Yankee prospect Ken Waldichuk leads the A’s pitching staff with 1.5 projected fWAR. As recipes for success go, lacking good players is not one of them.
What the Athletics do have in abundance, however, is youth. Their current starting lineup, according to FanGraphs Depth Charts, has four players with less than a tenth of a year’s worth of service time.
As young lineups go, the A’s are in a bit of a weird spot. Out of these four youngsters, none of them currently rank in FanGraphs’ Top 100 prospects (although Shea Langeliers did come in at 70 a year ago). Reinforcements are en route. FanGraphs ranks first baseman/catcher Tyler Soderstrom as the the 30th overall prospect heading into 2023:
His Trackman data makes clear why his offense is so worthy of this line of development. More than 51% of his contact comes off his bat at 95 mph or higher, and 21.1% of that is hit at a launch angle within the sweet spot range for power production...His semi-aggressive approach may lead him to have a merely average hit tool, but he has 70 power and might end up hitting 50 annual doubles at his peak. He’s going to be a middle-of-the-order anchor in Oakland fairly soon.
Also pounding on the door of the big leagues is infielder Zack Gelof, who cracked MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects a year ago (94th overall). Although FanGraphs has not yet updated their prospect rankings for the Athletics this spring, they described him last year as a David Freese without the defensive ability at the hot corner.
Of the veterans in the batting order, there’s not a ton that can be said. Outfielder Ramón Laureano is now three years removed from the 2018-2019 that put him on the map, during which time he slashed .288/.345/.509 with 29 home runs and 41 doubles across 171 games (good for a 129 OPS+). His .225/.310/.400 and 33 home runs and 47 doubles in 236 games since makes it very fair to wonder just how much help he got from the juiced ball. To some extent, the A’s are probably hoping that at least one or two of Laureano, Tony Kemp, Seth Brown, and Jesús Aguilar puts together a strong enough first half to be able to be flipped at the trade deadline.
The pitching staff is led by Paul Blackburn, who carried a 3.62 ERA and 1.196 WHIP into the All-Star Break (becoming Oakland’s lone representative in the All-Star Game in the process) before injuries limited him to just three starts after the break, and being hung out to dry for 10 runs against the Rangers on July 24th destroyed his stat line. After him, the rotation is filled with question marks. Former Yankees top prospect James Kapriellian has flashed potential, but has struggled to gain any consistency in the pros. Another former Yankees prospect, Waldichuk, is expected to win a spot in the bottom of the rotation; he provides the most upside for this staff, ranking 86th in FanGraphs’ top prospects.
A big-league ready, mid-rotation starter, Waldichuk’s arsenal also includes a changeup that he finishes with remarkable precision, but which he reserves almost exclusively for right-handed opponents (he’s only thrown one changeup to a big-league lefty)...His delivery is freaky loose, particularly in his upper back and shoulders, which we think portends better future command than he’s shown so far in Oakland. He seems the most likely to start the season as the A’s fourth or fifth starter.
Shintaro Fujinami, signed out of Japan to a one-year, $3.25 million contract this past January, has looked good early, and should hopefully bring some stability to this staff, but at this point, time will tell.
Both this lineup and pitching staff come together to create a team that is projected to compete for the worst record in baseball. There are some building blocks for the future, but the future isn’t the present.
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