February 25, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics left fielder Josh Reddick (16) smiles during spring training at Papago Park Baseball Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Crystal Ball: Who Will Surprise Us In 2012?

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Every Friday, Swingin’ A’s will make a prediction about the A’s 2012 season with the help of our “crystal ball.” The series, appropriately titled “Crystal Ball Fridays,” will continue through the week before Opening Night. This week, we ask our Crystal Ball for a little help when picking several players who might surprise us all this year. Enjoy. 

The A’s are having themselves quite a spring, aren’t they? Entering Friday, the Athletics have gone an impressive 10-3 this spring. The Rangers (3-8) and Angels (7-5) are expected, though, to get things going once the real season starts. Spring training games are meaningless, unless of course, you’re an A’s fan. Seriously, though, the young Athletics team, while not boasting the best team out West, may surprise a few fans this year.

Oakland’s latest rebuild attempts may be unfavorable among the team’s dwindling fan-base, but the team’s front office has done a nice job at stockpiling on some young (inexpensive) talent this winter. The A’s fared extremely well in the Gio Gonzalez trade and did okay in the Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey trades, too. Guys like Jarrod Parker, A.J. Cole, Tom Milone, Brad Peacock, Derek Norris, and Josh Reddick are only a few reasons why A’s fans shouldn’t hang their heads so low this year.

The A’s figure to finish well behind the Rangers and the Angels this year, but I’m thinking the A’s will surprise us this year. A true under-the-radar team, the A’s have assembled an interesting young pitching core and have several young hitters on offense who could make a lasting impression this year. Hitters like Reddick, Norris, Jemile Weeks, Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Carter, and Michael Taylor could all, at some point this year, make an impact on the offense this year.

Bob Melvin’s squad is not going to win the division or anything, but a promising pitching staff and an interesting lineup could have the A’s playing .500 baseball for a majority of the season. Playing .500 ball may not sound that great, but for the A’s, a team that has missed the playoffs five straight years, .500 is a step in the right direction.

So, Crystal Ball, who will be surprising us this season in Oakland’s run for .500?

Who To Watch Out For: 

  • Jarrod Parker: Parker, 23, enters this spring as a likely candidate for one of the vacant spots in Oakland’s starting rotation. The top-pitching prospect was acquired in the Cahill deal this winter and the A’s have some high hopes for the starting pitcher. Parker had Tommy John Surgery and missed the 2010 season, but put the questions about his health to rest last year with an 11-8 record and a 3.79 ERA in 26 starts in Double-A Mobile last year. Some skeptics remain, but the young righty definitely has the potential to be a No.1 or No.2 guy if his development pans out. His fastball, slider, and curveball combo may help find his presence on the mound in the very pitcher friendly O.co Coliseum. Watch out for Parker this year.
  • Tom Milone: Milone is Dallas Braden ver.2.0. Milone, who was acquired in the Gonzalez deal, comes to Oakland having dominated in every league he’s pitched in. He went 12-6 with a 3.22 ERA (2.24 FIP) in 24 starts with Washington’s Triple-A team. Even more impressive was Milone’s 9.40 SO/9 and 0.97 BB/9 rates last year in Triple-A. That amazing control is nothing new, though. The A’s newest pitcher may not impress you with his high-80s fastball, but he will win you over with his superb control and decision-making. He’s a likely candidate to land the No.3 or No.4 spot in Oakland’s starting rotation.
  • Josh Reddick: Reddick, who came over in the Andrew Bailey deal, will do his best to help the A’s offense this year. In 87 games last year with the Red Sox, Reddick hit .318/.280/.327 with 7 HR and 41 RBIs. The outfielder will join a new look outfield that will likely include the likes of Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes. The A’s are hopeful that their new look outfield will produce some new look results.
  • Oakland’s Top of the Lineup: Jemile Weeks and Coco Crisp could be a very dynamic duo this year. The two figure to sit atop the Athletics’ lineup this season and the two speedsters could help ignite Oakland’s anemic offensive attack. Add in a guy like Cespedes in the No.3 spot and suddenly you have an interesting lineup in the making. The A’s offense as a whole could, in more ways than none, surprise you this year.

Who’s Flying WAY Under The Radar:

  • Chris Carter: Carter’s stock as a top-hitting prospect in Oakland’s system seems to be fading a bit these days. He’s dominated the minor leagues throughout his career, but that success hasn’t led to big league success. In Carter’s defense, the A’s haven’t given him much of a shot to prove himself in the big leagues (70 at-bats in 2010, 24 at-bats in 2011). 2012 remains Carter’s best and perhaps final shot at showing the Athletics why he deserves to be a big league starter. Cutting down on strikeouts and improving on defense would do wonders for Carter’s chances, but don’t hold  your breath.
  • Michael Taylor: Like Carter, Taylor’s window of opportunity is closing up fast. The A’s have a log-jam in the outfield with Crisp, Cespedes, Reddick, Seth Smith, and Colin Cowgill all vying for playing time in the outfield and Taylor may find playing time hard to come by. He’s got the size and the talent, though, to surprise us. Perhaps he makes his grand entrance to the big leagues this year after posting so-so results in the minors.

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Tags: Chris Carter Jarrod Parker Jemile Weeks Josh Reddick Michael Taylor MLB Oakland A's Oakland Athletics Tom Milone Yoenis Cespedes

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