A's Team Preview: Roller Coaster

A's Team Preview: Roller Coaster

This article is part of our MLB Team Previews series.

2015 Athletics Team Preview:

The 2014 season was a roller coaster for the Oakland A's. The spring started horribly with season-ending injuries to two of their starting five pitchers, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, but the A's showed no ill effects from this blow and found themselves as the unquestioned best team in baseball at the All-Star Break. The All-Star Game was a full-on Oaktown party with seven All-Stars and Yoenis Cespedes winning his second Home Run Derby in an A's uniform. Their run differential at the break was a ludicrous +145 the fourth-highest number in the Majors since 1940.

Early in July, they traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to fortify the rotation and then added ace Jon Lester (at the expense of middle-of-the-order hitter Yoenis Cespedes) to increase their chances in a playoff series. The final two months saw the offense completely collapse as the A's went from the best team in baseball to a squad that needed a Sonny Gray shutout win on the last day of the season to sneak into the playoffs as the second Wild Card. On August 9th, the A's beat the Twins and moved to a season-high 28 games over .500 with an incredible 72-44 record and held a four-game lead over the second-place Angels. In an absolutely incredible turn of events, a mere six weeks later (with a four-game sweep mixed in by the Angels), the A's lost on September 11th to Seattle to fall to only 16 games over .500 and fell an insurmountable 11 games behind to the Angels. After four straight months or at least 15 wins per month, the A's went 12-17 in August and 10-16 in September. It is tough to blame the trades on their collapse as Cespedes was not carrying them in any way and Samardzija and Lester were very good in their time with the A's, but more likely a combination of guys playing over their heads in the first half and a string of crippling injuries that caused the grueling collapse.

As if being an A's fan had not seen enough gut punch playoff losses in the last decade and a half, the A's added to the post-season misery in their Wild Card game against the Royals. After two enormous bombs and five RBI by Brandon Moss, the A's with their new ace Lester on the mound but could not hold a four-run eighth inning lead and then proceeded to blow one-run leads in both the ninth and 12th inning leads. Adding yet another ridiculous loss to the recent library of playoff losses was a perfect way to end an unwatchable and painful two-month stretch of baseball.

General Manager Billy Beane responded in the offseason by dismantling the squad that has seen the playoffs for three straight seasons. Hired gun Lester, Hammel and starting shortstop Jed Lowrie left via free agency and Beane traded Samardzija, MVP candidate Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and the catching platoon of John Jaso and Derek Norris. After depleting their high-end minor league prospects in the Samardzija and Lester deals, Beane acquired young talent for Major Leaguers and then after all the rebuilding trades were complete, he flipped the script and traded for Ben Zobrist to fortify the A's offense. Heading into 2015, the A's are not likely to have Griffin or Parker back until June, and with Parker undergoing his second Tommy John surgery, it is unclear what role or level of effectiveness he will have going forward. The A's have lost a lot of their pop with all the trades, but they have gained a lot of flexibility and acquired players who fit well into platoons, a tactic manager Bob Melvin loves to employ.

Predicting the A's record for 2015 is a tough task with all the new faces that will be on the squad. The Vegas odds seem to not know what to think of them either, opening their over/under for 2015 wins right in the middle at 80.5. Fantasy-wise, Sonny Gray will come off the board fairly early, but there isn't likely to be a single A's hitter selected in the top 10 rounds of 12 or 15-team drafts, with Ben Zobrist usually the first one selected with an NFBC ADP of 153. The A's often have a few surprises on offense so there are likely to be a couple of breakout sleepers from the offense, but with their mixing and matching and platooning, many of the A's lose fantasy value based on the way the team sets daily lineups. They figure to be better on the field than in fantasy lineups and the A's have a way of surprising when not much is expected of them. If they can find a couple of starting pitchers to fill in the back of the rotation they will likely mix and match themselves into contention for a playoff spot into September.

Offseason Moves

It seemed like the A's had a new offseason move every day, to the point that logging into Twitter became an anxiety-ridden exercise. The A's have a whopping 16 new faces on their 40-man roster heading into spring training. We will try and hit them all the moves here.

Lost Jon Lester (Cubs), Jason Hammel (Cubs), Jed Lowrie (Astros), Alberto Callaspo (Braves), Jonny Gomes (Braves) and Luke Gregerson (Astros) via free agency.

Lester and Hammel were expected losses as they were both very clearly rentals acquired by the A's for the second half of the 2014 season. Lowrie struggled in 2014 and the A's decided to not re-sign him after starting at shortstop for the last two years. Callaspo and Gomes were nothing short of horrible for the A's in 2014 and no one will be sad to see them on different teams. Losing Gregerson is a tough loss for the back end of the bullpen after his strong one-year stint in Oakland.

Acquired Ike Davis from the Pirates for international slot money

After a 32-home year in 2012 (even thought it came with a .227 batting average), Davis disappointed fantasy owners once again in 2014, hitting just .233 with 11 homers and 51 RBI in 427 plate appearances. Davis will serve as a platoon starter at first base for the A's as they hope to take advantage of his career .813 OPS against righties and while avoiding his career .577 OPS against lefties.

Traded Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa to the White Sox for Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, Chris Bassitt and Rangel Ravelo

In one of the huge A's trades in 2014, they dealt top prospect Addison Russell in a package to get Samardzija. The Shark was very effective for the A's with a 3.14 ERA over his 16 A's starts, but with one year left before he became a free agent, Beane decided to flip him in the offseason. Semien is currently projected to be the starting shortstop for the A's in 2015 and Bassitt figured to be in competition for the fifth slot in the A's rotation with a rotation spot in Triple-A as a consolation prize. Ravelo, a first baseman, hit .309/.386/.473 with 11 homers and 11 steals in Double-A in 2014 and should start the year in Triple-A. Phegley currently projects to be the right-handed half of a platoon behind the plate with Stephen Vogt.

Signed Billy Butler to a three-year, $30 million contract

Butler will get a fresh start with the Oakland Athletics -- one of the few home ballparks he could have chosen that was actually not a big upgrade from Kauffman Stadium. He'll serve a majority of the time as the designated hitter in Oakland (with some starts at first base), but he could prove to be a steady three-category contributor (average, RBI and homers) if the A's are right about his chances of a rebound.

Traded Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Brett Lawrie, Franklin Barreto, Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman

The A's trade of Donaldson was the offseason move that hurt A's fans the most. Donaldson had become a fan favorite in Oakland, finishing Top 10 in the MVP voting the last two years and racking up the third-most WAR (14.1) in all of baseball since the beginning of 2013. The once-hyped but disappointing and oft-injured Lawrie will slide into Donaldson's third base slot and Nolin and Graveman are both slated to compete for the fourth and firth slots in the A's rotation while also increasing the A's overall pitching depth. Barreto is the upside piece of the trade, as the 19-year-old shortstop sported an impressive .865 OPS in 289 at-bats in Low-A Vancouver. The A's hope Barreto fills the "shortstop of the future" void left by the trades of Daniel Robertson and Addison Russell and will likely begin the year at High-A as he begins his first full minor league season.

Traded Derek Norris to the Padres for Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez

With the lingering rehab for A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker to go with the free agency and trade departures in the rotation, the A's made a move to fill a rotation slot with Hahn. Hahn sports a nasty curveball and posted a 3.07 ERA in his major league debut in 2014 over 73.1 innings. Hahn had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and 2014 was the first time he had thrown over 100 innings. As a result, Hahn appeared to tire out late in the year with a 5.95 ERA over his final 5 appearances in August and September. Alvarez, a third round pick in 2012, had a 12.7 K/9 in 43.1 innings in Double-A in 2014 and figures to be in the mix for a final bullpen slot with the A's.

Traded Brandon Moss to the Indians for Joe Wendle

After an exceptional first half where Moss posted an .878 OPS, he crashed and burned in the second half with only four homers and a .584 OPS. After the season, Moss underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, which explains the second half crash. The A's, showing they may be more concerned about the injury than they let on, moved Moss for second base prospect Joe Wendle. Wendle was a sixth round pick in 2012 and hit .293 with 16 homers in High-A in 2013. Wendle struggled in 2014, hitting .253/.311.414 with eight homers in 87 games before suffering a broken hamate bone. The A's front office appears to be high on Wendle, indicating that they had actually identified Wendle as a target. Wendle does not figure to have a high ceiling, but scouting reports do evaluate him as someone who could be a solid contributor. He should start the year in Double-A or Triple-A assuming his wrist is fully healed with a chance to move up through the system rapidly due to the A's paucity of strong middle infield options.

Traded John Jaso, Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell to the Rays for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar

After a number of offseason trades where the A's appeared to be reloading with younger players and trading away proven major leaguers, they reversed that trend by adding the versatile Zobrist. Zobrist' OPS has declined for the last four years and he drove in only 52 runs in 570 at-bats last year. However, the A's covet his flexibility on defense (and historically solid bat) and will move him around the field as they mix and match lineups. Robertson was the big chip that went to the Rays in the deal as the former 34th overall pick hit .310 with 15 homers in High-A in 2014. Jaso comes off back-back years where concussions ended his season and he will likely serve as a DH for the Rays as it is tough to see him being able to catch on a regular basis.

Traded Yunel Escobar to the National for Tyler Clippard

The Yunel Era in Oakland was a special time, lasting 4 blissful days. Acquired in the Zobrist trade, the A's flipped Escobar to the Nationals to acquire a key bullpen piece in Clippard. Clippard is the favorite for saves until Sean Doolittle gets healthy and then should slot right into the right-handed setup role previously filled by Luke Gregerson. Clippard was exceptional in 2014, posting a 2.18 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with a 10.5 K/9 and has a career ERA under 3.00 with a 10.0 K/9.

Projected Lineup (vs. RHP)

1. Coco Crisp, CF
2. Ben Zobrist, 2B
3. Billy Butler, DH
4. Ike Davis, 1B
5. Josh Reddick, RF
6. Brett Lawrie, 3B
7. Stephen Vogt, C
8. Marcus Semien, SS
9. Sam Fuld, LF

Projected Lineup (vs. LHP)

1. Coco Crisp, CF
2. Craig Gentry, LF
3. Ben Zobrist, 2B
4. Billy Butler, 1B
5. Brett Lawrie, 3B
6. Josh Phegley, C
7. Marcus Semien, SS
8. Josh Reddick, RF
9. Mark Canha, DH

The A's mix and match with their platoons so much that these lineups will be very fluid all year. Zobrist's ability to play infield and outfield further increases their flexibility and they will likely use him all over the diamond. It remains to be seen whether Rule 5 acquisition and local boy (went to UC-Berkeley) Mark Canha makes the team, but if he does, he should play vs. lefties, serving the role filled by Nate Freiman last year. The A's won't roll out the same lineup often and while Zobrist, Crisp, Butler, Lawrie and Reddick should be in there most days, the rest of the slots will be very interchangeable.

Projected Rotation

1. Sonny Gray
2. Scott Kazmir
3. Jesse Hahn
4. Drew Pomeranz
5. Sean Nolin / Kendall Graveman / Jesse Chavez / Chris Bassitt

With the departures of Lester, Hammel and Samardzija and the Tommy John surgeries to Griffin and Parker, the A's rotation is suddenly wide open after the top two slots. Beane has stocked up on young arms, but it is going to be a competition in the spring as to who ends up in the rotation to start the season. Hahn would probably have to lose his spot in spring and Pomeranz likely has an inside track on a spot after his success last year, assuming he can avoid throwing punches at furniture. The fifth slot is totally wide open, which is a bit surprising considering how good Jesse Chavez was in that role in 2014, but by all accounts, the team is looking at many young arms for that spot.

Closer:Sean Doolittle snatched this role in 2014 from the insanely flammable Jim Johnson and never looked back. Doolittle finished the year with 22 saves and a ridiculous 89:8 K:BB ratio to go with his absurd 0.73 WHIP. It is amazing to watch Doolittle dominate while pumping fastballs over and over at batters. He threw his heater 86.4% of the time in 2014, but hitters still could not seem to hit it very often. Doolittle is expected to miss the start of the season after receiving a platelet-rich injection in his sore shoulder in January, but he has reported improvement already since the injections. Melvin has indicated that the closer while Doolittle is out will come from the group of Tyler Clippard, Ryan Cook and Eric O'Flaherty. Clippard would seem to be the favorite, especially with his closing experience, saving 32 games for the Nats in 2012.

Key Bullpen Members: The A's lost solid setup man Luke Gregerson to free agency, but should still have a very deep and strong back end of the bullpen, especially after their acquisition of Tyler Clippard.

Clippard is the favorite for saves while Doolittle rehabs his shoulder and then should serve as the primary setup man once Doolittle returns. Clippard was exceptional in 2014, compiling a 2.18 ERA with a WHIP just under 1.00 while striking out a sparkling 10.5 batters per nine. The other setup guy from the right side will be Ryan Cook, who had an injury-marred 2014 that saw his ERA spike to 3.42. A closer look at Cook's season shows that he came on strong in the second half, even if his ERA did not follow. His WHIP after the All-Star Break was a splendid 0.75 while his K/9 jumped up to 9.9. A healthy Cook will be a nice weapon in the late innings.

The primary bullpen arms from the left side will be O'Flaherty and Fernando Abad. O'Flaherty returned from Tommy John Surgery in 2014 and picked up where he left off, throwing up another ERA in the low 2's. O'Flaherty has now limited lefties to a career .531 OPS against and he will be a key cog in the back-end of the A's pen. Abad had a fantastic 2014 campaign, his first full-season in the majors, putting up a 1.57 ERA. Abad held righties to a .475 OPS in 2014, adding to his value as he can retire batters from both sides of the plate.

The final key arm out of the pen will be Dan Otero. Otero was very valuable in 2014, leading all Major League relievers with 86.2 innings, while putting together a 2.28 ERA. Otero limits homers and does not walk guys which helps make up for his lack of punchouts. Otero has the ability to get more than 3 outs if Melvin needs him too which makes him a strong candidate to pitch a lot for the A's in the 6th and 7th innings.

Notes of Import, Fantasy or Otherwise:

What is the ceiling for Sonny Gray and can he take on the role as the ace of the staff?

Gray had a lot of hype heading into 2014 after his 2013 Major League debut. Gray lived up to that hypewinning 14 games with a 3.08 ERA over 219 innings. His K/9 rate fell from 9.5 in 2013 to 7.5 in 2014, but that was somewhat expected with the large uptick in innings as the strikeouts really dropped off in the second half. Gray appeared to be tiring late in the year after entering August with an ERA of 2.65, but he seemed to find a second wind with a 2.25 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning over his last five starts. Gray also added to his reputation as a fantastic big-game pitcher, throwing a complete game shutout gem on the final day of the regular season to get the A's into the playoffs. Gray greatly increased the use of his slider, throwing it three times as often as he did during his rookie year and it became his best pitch, inducing the highest percentage of swings and misses out of all his pitches. No moment seems too big for Gray and he should have no problem taking on the role as the A's ace and potentially the ace for your fantasy team.

Is it time for Brett Lawrie to finally fulfill his potential?

After a fantastic 150 at-bat debut in 2011 with a .953 OPS and nine homers, the sky appeared to be the limit for Lawrie. The next three years have been a combination of injuries and less than exciting performances when actually on the field as Lawrie has not topped 12 homers or 125 games players in any season. Hidden among the injuries and disappointment is the fact that Lawrie managed 12 homers in 2014 over a mere 259 at-bats. Getting off the turf in Toronto should help, although one of Lawrie's injuries was because of a hit by pitch before he eventually missed the last two months with a lower back injury. If Lawrie can find a way to stay on the field, he has 20 homer upside, even playing in Oakland, and the draft price for Lawrie is finally at the point where he is worth the risk.

Can Marcus Semien do enough to be the every day shortstop?

The A's acquired Semien in the Samardzija trade and aside from a four-day blip after the A's traded for Yunel Escobar, Semien appears to be the starting shortstop for Oakland in 2015. In his time with the White Sox in 2014, Semien played primarily second and third base, but Melvin indicated at the A's FanFest in February that the team is heading into spring with the thought that they will give Semien every chance to be the starting shortstop. Semien has been able to get on base at a very nice clip in the minors (over .400 OBP in 2013 and .380 in 2014), but struggled in his 231 major league at-bats in 2014, hitting .234/.300/.372 while striking out in 31% of his at-bats. Semien's performance in his big league call-ups will keep his draft price low, but it is worth noting that he was much better last year after getting called back up, posting a .818 OPS with three homers over 66 major league at-bats in September. Semien's value is boosted in fantasy leagues by the fact that will be eligible at second, third and shortstop after the first couple weeks of the season. It remains to be seen whether Semien can do enough defensively to lock down shortstop, but if he does enough in spring to win the job, he is a very sneaky middle infielder pick later in drafts, with an NFBC ADP of only 306 as of mid-February.

What can we expect out of Josh Reddick?

After hitting 32 homers in a breakout 2012 season, Reddick followed up with disappointing back-to-back 12-homer seasons. However, there is no doubt that 2014 was a lot better than 2013, and it was really not far off from 2012 (.763 OPS in 2014 and .768 OPS in 2012). His strikeout rate has now dropped from 22.4% in 2012 to 19.5% in 2013 to 15.9% in 2014. Once Reddick got healthy last year, he had a strong second half, hitting .299 with an .869 OPS after the All-Star break, with an impressive jump in his contact rate from 76% before the break to 89% after the break. Reddick will be the A's starter in right field to start the year -- his 38 outfield assists over the last three years rank second in the American League during that span -- and he could be a nice value in drafts if he can finally stay healthy and continue to build on his second-half success.

Who is Billy Butler in the fantasy world now?

As Butler enters his ninth year in the majors, it becomes very clear that his 29-homer campaign in 2012 was a fluke. He was not topped 21 homers in any other year and crashed all the way down to nine homers in 2014 over 549 at-bats. His OPS also dropped all the way down to .702 in 2014, a career low. While his 2012 season is clearly not coming back, one has to expect the 2014 homers to bounce up after his paltry 6.9% HR/FB rate last year, which should normalize a bit in 2015. The A's believed enough in Butler to give him a $30 million contract for the next three years, but home games at O.co is one of the few places that will not give Butler a park factor upgrade over Kansas City. One nice fantasy note on Butler is that he will have first base eligibility to start the year after appearing at 37 games at first base while Eric Hosmer was injured.


On offense, the A's flexibility is their greatest strength. Beane has set up the roster to be able to platoon and take advantage of matchups to an extreme degree. Between the platoons and switch hitters, Bob Melvin will be able to mix and match to his heart's content. On the pitching side, once Doolittle is healthy, the A's should have one of the best bullpens in the majors with the ability to play match-ups with solid righties and lefties.


With the new A's lineup, it appears that power will be the biggest weakness for this lineup. The middle of the lineup will include names like Zobrist, Lawrie, Butler, Reddick and Davis, all guys who could have decent power seasons, but none of which projects to make a serious run at 30 homers. The A's will try and maximize getting guys on base and playing platoon splits, but aren't likely to light the world on fire with power.

Rising:Sean Doolittle – This is actually a tough one on this roster, but an elite reliever who became a closer for the first time in 2014 fits the bill. His rise is complicated a bit by news in January that he received an injection in his sore left shoulder, but all accounts indicate that Doolittle is progressing well and on the road back to full strength. After Jim Johnson imploded in the closer role, Doolittle finally took the reins and was exceptional, racking up 22 saves even though he didn't get the job until mid-May. Once he was the closer, aside from a hiccup in late June where he had back-to-back blown saves, he had only one blown save. The most amazing aspect of Doolittle's season has to be the ridiculous 89:8 K:BB ratio he finished the season with. With a career ERA under 3.00 and career 10.5 K/9 (even higher in 2014 at 12.8 K/9), there is little reason why he can't once again flourish in the ninth-inning role.

Declining:Coco Crisp - After a 20-20 season in 2013, Crisp disappointed fantasy owners in 2014 with an injury-marred season, where he hit only nine homers to go along with 19 steals. Crisp suffered a neck injury after crashing into the wall in center field in early May, and he never seemed to fully recover from the injury, playing just 126 games. Durability has always been a concern, and 2014 marked the fifth consecutive season that he has played between 118 and 136 games. When projecting him, it seems that 125 games should probably be the baseline for his expected workload. Of most concern is the drop-off in steals over the last two years. After a combined 88 steals in 2011 and 2012, he has delivered just 40 stolen bases over the last two years. Crisp will start the season in center field again for the A's in 2015, while the addition of Billy Butler in free agency may limit Crisp's opportunities to stay in the lineup as the designated hitter.

Sleeper:Jesse Hahn - Hahn entered the Padres' organization via trade with the Rays last offseason, but his professional career had yet to progress beyond the High-A level. After 8.2 scoreless innings across five Cactus League appearances, though, he had laid the groundwork for a promotion to the big club, beginning the season at Double-A San Antonio. At the affiliate, his first 10 appearances translated to a 2.20 ERA and 28:11 K:BB in 32.2 innings, which generated his major league debut on June 3 after injury struck San Diego's starters. Thereafter, he oscillated between the majors and minors when his services were required, and while he failed to complete six frames in each of his last four outings with the Padres, he notched a 3.07 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 70:32 K:BB in 73.1 major league innings. Traded to the A's in December, Hahn looks to be a frontrunner for one of Oakland's open rotation spots.

Supersleeper: Jesse Chavez - Chavez was inserted into the rotation to begin the season for the A's due to injuries to a few of the team's other pitchers. He responded to the role exceptionally well, putting up a 3.44 ERA in 21 starts with nearly a strikeout per inning (8.5 K/9). After the A's acquired upgrades for the rotation prior to the trade deadline, Chavez was moved to the bullpen to minimize his workload and to accommodate Jon Lester. Chavez was effective in the move to the bullpen, compiling a 3.54 ERA over 20.1 relief innings. His role in 2015 will likely depend on the health of Griffin and Parker and the readiness of the A's young hurlers obtained in offseason trades, but his success as a starter in 2014 may afford him another shot at the rotation in 2015. His draft price is very low and he could return a lot of value pitching half his games in a great home park if he could lock down a rotation spot.

Top Prospects:

Franklin Barreto, SS - Entering his age-19 season, Barreto has the potential to be one of the biggest risers on prospect lists. He has yet to play in a full-season league, but the hype train has already left the station after his impressive showing at short-season Vancouver. Barreto displayed across-the-board production, hitting .311/.384/.481 with six home runs and 29 steals in 328 plate appearance. He seems to have a plan at the plate and does not simply hunt fastballs, but his approach will no doubt be tested as he moves up to full-season ball in 2015. Barreto's athleticism, quick hands and strong wrists give hope to him tapping into more power, but he could just as easily never be more than a line-drive hitter who has to move off shortstop. He is still a high-risk prospect, but few players in the minor leagues will be more intriguing to watch in 2015, and he'll receive much more attention in prospect circles throughout the upcoming season after being shipped to Oakland in a trade that sent Josh Donaldson to Toronto in November.

Matt Olson, 1B - Olson had a monster 2014 in the power department at High-A Stockton, leading all A's minor leaguers with 37 homers and 97 RBI over 512 at-bats. The 20-year-old also had a nice boost in his batting average, hitting .262 (along with a huge .947 OPS) after hitting merely .225 in 2013. In addition, he added a lot of walks to his resume, walking 45 more times than he did in 2013. The A's sent Olson to the Arizona Fall League after the season to give him a look against other top prospects, but his stint there was cut short by a shoulder injury, suffered in a collision at first base. He's expected to be ready for the start of spring training, and Olson will likely begin the season as the starting first baseman in Double-A, with a legitimate chance to join the A's in 2016.

Matt Chapman, 3B- Chapman was the A's first-round pick in 2014 out of Cal State Fullerton. The third baseman received 207 professional at-bats in 2014, mostly at Low-A Beloit, where he hit only .246 with five homers. His plate discipline still needs to be refined, as he struck out 47 times in 2014 while only walking eight times. There was some concern about the amount of swing-and-miss in Chapman's approach entering the draft, but he could become a good right-handed bat in time. If Chapman fails to stick as a position player, he could eventually surface as a late-inning reliever, as he touches 98 mph with his fastball. As a position player, Chapman profiles as a gap power hitter with solid bat speed and a cannon of an arm at the hot corner. He could move through the system reasonably quickly if he puts the contact concerns to rest, and the A's are likely to assign him to High-A Stockton to begin 2015.

Renato Nunez, 3B- Nunez, still just 20 years old during the 2014 season, continued his impressive power display in the minors, this time hitting 29 home runs and driving in 96 runs over 124 games for High-A Stockton, including a crazy stretch of 20 homers over 64 games after the All-Star break. Over the same number of at-bats from 2013, he also cut 23 strikeouts off his total, a good sign that he is improving his contact skills. With the trade of Addison Russell, Nunez should rank very high on A's prospect lists coming into 2015. He was added to the 40-man roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft and will likely start the year in Double-A with a chance to advance to Triple-A during the season. If he continues to mash following the promotion, Nunez should be on track to arrive in the big leagues in 2016.

Kendall Graveman, SP - Graveman began his 2014 campaign at Low-A Lansing, but progressed through three more minor league levels to earn a callup from the Jays during the second half of the season. A big part of his fast move through the system last season has been attributed to Graveman's discovery of a cutter. He started until he reached the big leagues, showing good control (career 5.3 BB%) and inducing an extremely high groundball rate (58.3%) during his ascent through the Toronto system. The A's acquired him as part of the Josh Donaldson blockbuster with Toronto in November, and their plans for him are not immediately clear. If he's going to remain in the bullpen, he could become a regular part of Oakland's plans in 2015, but if he's going to continue his development as a starter, he's likely a full season away from contending for a rotation spot. In the latter role, Graveman projects as a back-end option capable of chewing up innings.

Sean Nolin, SP - What Nolin lacks in dominant swing-and-miss stuff, he makes up for with pitchability, keeping hitters off balance with a four-pitch mix from the left side. He also appears to be in the discussion for a rotation spot out of camp with the A's in 2015 after coming over from Toronto in the Josh Donaldson trade. At 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, Nolin has the prototypical size to hold up over a full season in a big-league rotation. After posting impressive strikeout totals in the lower levels of Jays' minor league system, Nolin managed just 85 strikeouts in 105 innings at Triple-A Buffalo, and that rate could dip further against big-league hitters. However, he also boasts a 3.17 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP over his stops in Buffalo from 2013 to 2014, which demonstrates how effective he can be without relying on strikeouts.

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Scott Jenstad
Scott Jenstad is a veteran of both NFBC and CDM fantasy games. He has won five NFBC Main Event league titles and finished twice in the Top 10 Overall. Scott is a hardcore fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A's and Golden State Warriors. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenstad.
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