The A’s enter the new year with quite possibly the best team in the American League West. Of course, refrain from telling fans of the Angels, Rangers, Mariners, and the Astros that.
The division is stacked, but the A’s have a pretty good shot at capturing a third-straight division title in 2014. Three players to watch out for while the A’s set out for a three-peat are:
- Sonny Gray—At 24 years of age, Gray is a promising young player in the A’s organization. He proved last year that he definitely belongs in the majors, going 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA in 12 appearances (10 starts). If his performance in game two of Oakland’s ALDS match against the Tigers last fall is any indication of this young man’s skill set, Gray is destined for big things. Will his success be immediate? Or will he experience the up’s and down’s most young pitchers experience as they break into the league? Gray is likely to have a spot in Oakland’s rotation, but as Tommy Milone found out last season, nothing is guaranteed. Still, Gray is an impressive young pitcher with a good curve and a presence on the mound that is beyond his years. Gray is a face of the future for the A’s and is worth watching in 2014.
- Josh Donaldson—Donaldson broke out in a big way last year. The 28 year old hit .301/.384/.499 with 24 HR and 93 RBI. Not bad, right? The A’s repeated as division champions last year thanks in part to Donaldson’s break-out season. No one and I mean absolutely no one saw Donaldson as a MVP contender. Anyone who says they did are absolutely crazy. The A’s haven’t had much success when it comes to the hot-corner, well, not since the days of Eric Chavez in the early 2000′s, anyway. With Donaldson, however, the A’s may have found themselves some stability at third. Not only did Donaldson drive in runs for the A’s, he proved why he was in the running for AL MVP by mixing in some gold-glove caliber defense. He handled his business on both sides of the game. Entering 2014, the A’s are hoping Donaldson’s 2013 season was no fluke. He stepped up when Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick struggled last year, so having a productive Donaldson is all the more important for the A’s and their chances at winning the west again in ’14.
- Yoenis Cespedes—Cespedes is a player we all like to watch. Remember the HR Derby? If healthy, the Cuban Missile is a threat both defensively and offensively. The A’s are hopeful that Cespedes will return fully healthy this year. As a precaution, the A’s will likely give Cespedes some time at DH to help keep him healthy. The acquisition of Craig Gentry makes the idea of having Cespedes DH from time to time much easier to put into action for Bob Melvin. The A’s saw Cespedes take off in the last month of the season and especially against the Tigers in the playoffs, hopefully that success carries over into the new year.
The A’s have their own set of challenges this year, but they have a legitimate shot at capturing the AL West for a third-straight season. The Rangers will always be a threat and the Angels have far too much talent and money on payroll to settle for third-place again this year. Even the Mariners could make some noise in the division this year if the A’s aren’t careful. Along with the three players mentioned above, however, the A’s do have a roster that is deep is versatility and talent. Bob Melvin and Billy Beane make for a great pair of baseball minds and should have the A’s on the right track for 2014.