The 2022 MLB season is set to be a developmental year for the Oakland Athletics, rather than a competitive one. The A’s future is going to be highly dependent on the development of their young players. The ones in the majors along with the ones in the farm system. The front office is going to have a lot of decisions to make based on the development of the young talent in the A’s organization.
There have been bright spots, but more often than not there have been glaring question marks for the A’s this season. The A’s have been ineffective at the plate, and the numbers only back this up. Coming into Tuesday’s action against the Houston Astros, the A’s were sporting a team batting average of .213, with a .278 OBP. Despite their strong offensive series against the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers recently, the A’s are still dead last in both of these categories. With offensive firepower being widely regarded as the most attractive aspect of baseball to watch, these numbers aren’t going to help bring more A’s fans out to the ballpark.
The team’s pitching has done a better job this year. The A’s rank 21st in ERA and 15th in WHIP. These rankings won’t take the team on a World Series run, but they are encouraging, given the A’s current rebuild state. The rotation and the bullpen have each shown signs of effectiveness, which is what the A’s, along with their fans, want to see.
The A’s don’t have a whole lot of certainty when it comes to the future of the starting rotation. Paul Blackburn has been sensational for the A’s so far this season. The 28-year-old right-hander has started the year 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA. Some people didn’t even expect him to make the Opening Day roster, and here he is putting together a dominant season. If Blackburn can keep this up look for the A’s to try to hang on to him for the future.
Frankie Montas is currently the most proven guy in the A’s rotation. Montas, who has spent the last six seasons with the A’s is set to hit free agency in 2024. The A’s are expected to try to move Montas before the August 2 trade deadline this year.
When it comes to the minor leaguers, J.T. Ginn and Gunnar Hoglund are the guys to keep your eye on. Ginn is currently having a rough go of it in Double-A Midland, while Hoglund has yet to fully recover from Tommy John surgery that he underwent last May.
Perhaps what’s helped the A’s put a few more games in the win column (20-31) this year, is their bullpen. Dany Jimenez has managed to establish himself in the closer’s role. Jimenez has pitched 20 innings, and has only given up five earned runs to go with ten saves.
AJ Puk has also had a terrific season. He’s pitched 19 2/3 innings this year and has only given up three runs. Puk’s great start to the season this year has to come as a pleasant surprise to A’s fans. The former sixth overall pick had struggled with injuries and inconsistency on the mound for some time. Many people wondered if he’d ever be able to establish himself at the big league level. It was unclear whether the path forward for Puk would be in the rotation or out of the bullpen. Puk has now seemed to find a home in the back part of the A’s bullpen. We’ll see if he’s able to maintain his early season dominance moving forward.
Zach Jackson has been another guy that’s been able to give this A’s team a lot of consistent innings. Jackson, a rookie, has a 3.27 ERA with 22 innings pitched to start the year. Until last Wednesday in Seattle, Jackson hadn’t given up a run in 7 2/3 innings.
Bullpens are the easiest position pieces in baseball to flip. Nobody has the same relief corps for back to back years. The next time the A’s are playing competitive baseball they will have a completely different set of relievers than their current one. This said, it is nice to see the A’s have some young consistent pieces out of their ‘pen. Maybe these are the guys they will retain for years to come.
The most intriguing position moving forward in terms of the A’s future is the one behind the plate. The three players that could hold this spot are Sean Murphy, Shea Langeliers, and Tyler Soderstrom. Murphy and Langeliers are both regarded as exceptional defenders of their position. Soderstrom, 20, on the other hand doesn’t have the same backstop talent. At High-A this year, he’s played 18 games at first base, 11 at catcher, and 12 as the designated hitter. Soderstrom’s ability to play first base is a great asset for the A’s. The team doesn’t want to have too much talent at one position.
Langeliers’ imminent 2022 season call up is going to bring some difficult decisions upon first-year manager Mark Kotsay. Murphy has four years of big league experience under his belt, so it would be tough to immediately boot him from the catcher spot. He’s also got pop in his bat. Murphy’s hit five home runs to this point, but the batting average (.206) isn’t where it needs to be. Langeliers, on the other hand, had a red-hot start to the year in Triple-A before cooling off a bit. The A’s seem to be waiting for him to get hot again before bringing him to Oakland.
What the A’s will probably have to do is utilize the DH position once Langeliers gets the call up. Murphy and Langeliers will likely switch time between catcher and DH. The A’s future likely consists of Langeliers as the long term catcher with Soderstrom at first base. Soderstrom is still a couple of years off, but the vision is already in place for the A’s.
Murphy will have to drastically improve either his batting average or his home run total in order to be a long term answer for the A’s at the catcher position.
The A’s 2021 second round pick Zack Gelof, 22, has developed well over his first two years in the minors. Gelof, the University of Virginia product, now resides in Double-A Midland. The third baseman has put together a productive year. He’s batting .316 to go with four homers and 26 RBI through his first 39 games. Gelof currently ranks as the A’s twelfth best prospect, but the top third baseman according to MLB.com’s prospect rankings. This site also says Gelof isn’t expected to make his major league debut until 2024, but based on his current production in the minors, don’t be surprised if Gelof gets the call to the big leagues sometime next season.
It remains to be seen what the A’s long-term plan in the outfield is. Nothing seems to be set in stone at any position for this team. This year will be an audition for a few different guys that are hoping to hold one of these three spots. Cristian Pache certainly remains as the A’s biggest hope, but he is off to an atrocious start. Pache is coming into Tuesday’s action in Oakland with a .170 batting average. It’s time for Pache to flush his first 47 games of the year and start playing like the highly touted prospect that many saw him as. Pache is still young, which means the A’s must give him time to develop. He’s also under team control for years to come which means the A’s won’t have to worry about him testing the market.
The A’s will be hoping Ramon Laureano can resemble the bridge between the prior A’s team and the one that’s to come. Laureano is a guy that can make a highlight-reel play in each position of the outfield. He’s also been a guy that’s shown he can do a lot of damage at the plate. Laureano, 27, is just getting back into form now after missing a lot of time. The outfielder is still under team control through the 2024 season. The A’s will certainly be looking to put together another return to October with Laureano as a core piece of the team.
There’s still a lot of baseball to be played before the A’s decide who they want as another long term option in the outfield. Luis Barrera has been a guy that has shown some ability at the plate this year. Barrera had what was definitely the highlight of the A’s season so far with a two-out walk-off three run homer in the bottom of the ninth vs the Los Angeles Angels when the A’s were down by two. Barrera, 26, who has minimal big league experience will need to continue to prove himself in the A’s lineup before the team would be able to consider him as a long term option.
Stephen Piscotty is another guy that’s gotten some playing time in the A’s outfield this year. Unfortunately, Piscotty suffered a left calf injury in early May and hasn’t played since. Piscotty is set to be due a lot of money next year, so the A’s will likely decide not to pick up his option. Piscotty was an essential part of the A’s team in 2018 and 2019, but has struggled with injuries and consistency at the plate since.
There are a lot of question marks moving forward for the A’s. We aren’t even sure where the team is going to reside. There will also be a lot of roster decisions this team will have to make. What does seem clear is the team wants Pache roaming center field, Langeliers behind the plate, and Soderstrom at first base. Gelof could be a guy that could lock down third base for a number of years if he continues developing the way he is.
The A’s don’t have a lot of future starting rotation pieces that are deep in the minor league system. Ginn would be the deepest along, residing in Double-A. Hoglund is another guy to be optimistic about. He went in the first round last year for the Blue Jays, even after his Tommy John Surgery. The A’s biggest hope is that Blackburn can turn into an ace. He’s pitching like it so far this year. He’s yet to go past the seventh inning in a game this season, so if the A’s want to see if he’s a real number one, they’ve got to cut him loose at some point. Aside from these three guys, the A’s future rotation has a lot of unknowns.
The front office for the A’s will have a lot of figuring out to do over the next couple of years. Expect them to be active sellers at the trade deadline. Accumulating young pieces is what the A’s need right now. Patience is necessary, but the results should be worth the wait.
FINAL: OAK 1 | HOU 5 pic.twitter.com/4G89m605aw
— Oakland A’s (@Athletics) May 30, 2022
Paul Blackburn, Frankie Montas, J.T. Ginn, Gunnar Hoglund, Dany Jimenez, Zach Jackson, Sean Murphy, Shea Langeliers, Tyler Soderstrom, Mark Kotsay, Zack Gelof, Cristian Pache, Ramon Laureano, Luis Barrera, Stephen Piscotty