1. What shape will the rotation take?
Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir project as the top three entering spring training with the final two spots up for competition between A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone and possibly Drew Pomeranz. There’s also the question of whether the A’s have a true No. 1 starter after the departure of Bartolo Colon. The A’s say they’re content with the depth of their rotation and don’t feel they need to designate one or two pitchers as staff “aces.” But somebody has to take the ball on Opening Day against Cleveland. Kazmir was a remarkable story last year, going 10-9 for the Indians, but he’s just two years removed from pitching in independent ball. Gray started Game 5 of the American League Division Series, but he’s made just 12 major-league starts, including the playoffs. The best bet might be Parker, who battled elbow soreness late last year but still went 6-2 in the second half and benefited from offseason rest.
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2. Who forms the infield platoons?
Third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Jed Lowrie have the left side of the infield secured. From there, it gets more complicated. Brandon Moss will play first base against right-handers, but despite his 30 home runs last season, the A’s still could favor a platoon with Alberto Callaspo or Nate Freiman from the right side of the plate. Daric Barton will fight for a role as well, while Callaspo also can play second base along with left-handed-hitting Eric Sogard. Throw in veteran Nick Punto – who can play second, shortstop and third – and the A’s have a crowded infield for manager Bob Melvin and the front office to whittle down before Opening Day.
3. Will the A’s carry three catchers?
Stephen Vogt was a pleasant surprise last season platooning with Derek Norris after John Jaso was sidelined for the second half of the season by concussion issues. Vogt quickly earned the trust of A’s pitchers and batted .252 while contributing a couple of dramatic offensive moments. Jaso says he’s 100 percent recovered, though he’ll have plenty of rust to shake off . Melvin said Jaso could be used as a designated hitter, but Jaso said he wants to make the 25-man roster as a catcher. Melvin didn’t rule out the possibility of taking three catchers into the season, especially with the A’s planning to rotate their DH regularly to give players days off from the field and to get others into the lineup for matchup purposes.
4. Can Josh Reddick begin to put 2013 behind him?
Reddick played his typical strong defense last season and admitted that probably kept him in the lineup while he batted .226 with 12 home runs a year after hitting a career-high 32. An early season wrist injury may have hampered the right fielder for the rest of the year, and Reddick had surgery shortly after the season ended. One thing to watch will be whether Reddick is showing early signs of returning to his 2012 form at the plate. Meanwhile, the A’s and Reddick still have not settled his arbitration case – Reddick reportedly has asked for $3.25 million, while the A’s offered $2 million – and could be headed for a hearing.
5 . Is there any room for a roster surprise?
The big-league depth in the A’s camp suggests no, and general manager Billy Beane nearly confirmed as much at FanFest when he said the A’s have a pretty good idea already of their 25-man roster. Still, there’s the possibility of a lesser-known name putting together a spring too good to ignore – or at least making a strong case for a mid- or late-season callup, like outfielder Michael Choice last year. Touted young shortstop Addison Russell will be in camp as a non-roster invitee, while seasoned players Michael Taylor, Sam Fuld, Shane Peterson and Chris Gimenez will be fighting for attention.
– Matt Kawahara