In slightly more than 24 hours the 2013 Cactus League season will get underway as the Brewers host the Oakland A's at Maryvale Baseball Park. It's the first of two meetings between the two teams this spring, as the Brewers also head to Phoenix Muni on March 25.
To help you get ready for tomorrow's game, Nico of Athletics Nation was kind enough to answer some questions about the 2012 AL West Champions.
BCB: I think it's fair to say the A's surprised everyone in 2012 by winning 94 games and finishing with the AL's second best record. In the same division with the Angels and Rangers, is it fair to expect something like that again in 2013?
AN: I don't think it's fair to expect the magical season that was 2012. Don't look for 15 walk-offs or take the "over" on 94 wins. However, that doesn't mean the A's were a fluke or that they are not for real. The roster that they had from June on actually played .600 ball, and while Oakland has lost Brandon McCarthy, Jonny Gomes, Chris Carter, and Cliff Pennington it has gained Chris Young, Hiro Nakajima, Jed Lowrie, and John Jaso, as well as getting back Scott Sizemore and Brett Anderson.
Arguably the gains outweigh the losses and it's just a matter of whether or not last year's "breakout seasons" do or do not sustain. That means Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson, Josh Reddick, Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone are keys to whether or not the A's can pick up where they left off.
BCB: Rickie Weeks' little brother Jemile had a really rough season at second base in 2012, and now it looks like he'll have to fight for his job this spring. Is he still the favorite to start there on Opening Day?
AN: Personally, I think it's (Scott) Sizemore's job to lose. Jemile Weeks didn't show great defensive skills either in 2011 (when he hit) or in 2012 (when he didn't). He has a lot to prove on both sides of the ball, and he has options remaining. Unless Weeks wows in spring training and/or Sizemore looks too rusty or not healthy, I think Weeks opens the year at AAA and Sizemore has the 2nd base job.
BCB: For the second straight spring, A's fans will be watching a player from outside the US attempt to adjust to the American game on the fly, with Yoenis Cespedes joining the team last year and Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima debuting in 2013. What are your expectations for him in his first year in the US?
AN: I suspect Nakajima will hit, perhaps as a "Michael Young lite" (less power). Once he makes the transition, I could see Hiro hitting something like .270/.340/.380. Defensively, I expect he'll be "average" due to good hands and instincts, average range, and a below average throwing arm. Overall that's a good player for the money, but not a star.
BCB: Sticking with the infielder questions, I see 2012 first round pick Addison Russell is in camp despite being just 19 years old and never having played above low-A. He's one of five of the organization's top six prospects (according to John Sickels) in major league camp. Are these token invites, or do any of these guys have a chance to make the team?
AN: I'd say neither. They're not token invites so much as they are being invited so they can taste and absorb a big league camp and so the A's can see what they look like now. So it's not just an honor; it serves a real purpose. But they have no chance to making the team.
BCB: Besides the middle infielders, what are some of the other positions up for grabs on this A's team?
AN: There's really not a lot up for grabs. Daric Barton and Adam Rosales are out of options and are probably vying with Grant Green for one spot. But other than "25th man" and "7th reliever" there doesn't figure to be a whole lot of roster drama unless someone gets hurt.
Thanks to Nico for taking the time, and be sure to check out Athletics Nation for more on the A's!