MESA, Ariz. –- If the A’s are looking for motivation, they can draw some from the national predictions that place them at the bottom of the American League West.
Despite some noteworthy offseason additions, especially in the bullpen, multiple national media outlets have picked the A’s to finish in the division cellar for the second consecutive year. ESPN and CBS Sports both ranked Oakland last in the entire AL during their preseason power rankings.
As the A’s prepared for their first full-squad workout Friday, a message from manager Bob Melvin to his players was to disregard such outside chatter as the A’s try to rebound from last year’s AL-worst 68-94 record.
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“We had some really good personnel here last year, we just didn’t really mesh and play as a team,” catcher Josh Phegley said. “That’s what he’s saying. There are some teams out there picked ahead of us, but they could do what we did last year. He thinks we have some good guys in this clubhouse. We’re just kind of preparing for the year. Hopefully we mesh and play well together.”
Fellow catcher Stephen Vogt is well aware of where the A’s are being picked to finish.
“It’s not necessarily a good thing when you’re getting picked to win mid-60’s games , but I think that this team is a lot better than what it might look like,” Vogt said upon his arrival in camp. “I like our additions offensively, I like our additions in the bullpen and I like our starting rotation. That’s the beauty of spring training, we feel like the sky’s the limit. As long as the 25 to 35 guys in this room that are gonna have an impact this year believe that, then we’re the only ones that can” prove the predictions wrong.
PROSPECT WATCH: The first full-squad workout was highlighted by A’s top pitching prospect Sean Manaea’s impressive performance against established big league hitters. Manaea showed good stuff against a hitting group that included Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien. The 6-foot-5 lefty remains a longshot to make the club out of camp, but may very well be up with Oakland at some point this season.
He said the adrenaline was pumping as he took the mound, and he was happy overall with the way his day went.
“I felt really good,” Manaea said. “I was kind of getting a little tired toward the end. But for the most part, everything was going great. My fastball was locating, changeup was good. My slider could use a little refinement.”
Melvin continues to be impressed.
“The pitchers are going to be way ahead of hitters right now, (but) it just feels like an uncomfortable at-bat, and you have to work to get a good swing off him.”
This camp is marked by several highly touted prospects getting their first exposure to major league spring training. The position-player crop includes shortstops Franklin Barreto (the A’s overall No. 1 prospect), Richie Martin and Chad Pinder and third baseman Matt Chapman. All are ranked among Oakland’s top 10 prospects as is first baseman Matt Olson, participating in his second big league camp.
STOCK RISING: Reliever Ryan Dull got singled out by Melvin for his sharp form Friday. Dull is competing for what likely is just one available job in the bullpen. He put himself in the organization’s thoughts with an impressive September, and now is trying to carry over that momentum.
NOTEWORTHY: Closer Sean Doolittle looked particularly sharp in live batting practice. He was spotting his fastball low in the zone but Doolittle himself was most impressed with his off-speed pitches. He’s working on a split-change this spring, but that doesn’t mean he’s putting his slider on the shelf. Doolittle snapped off a couple good sliders while facing a group that included Lowrie and Billy Burns.
“That was the best day I’ve had with my secondary stuff. That’s probably what I’m most pleased about,” he said.
Added Melvin: “He just looks like the Sean Doolittle we’ve seen in the past, so that’s always good to see.”
LIGHTER SIDE: As expected, Vogt added some levity to the morning’s team meeting, bringing back his impersonation of motivational speaker Matt Foley, a character made famous by Chris Farley.
“He’s always a professional when he does that stuff and pours his heart and soul into his characters,” Phegley said. “I’ve seen it before but it never gets old.”