A's eyeing big progress as they head into 2023

March 28th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- The A’s were expected to go through some struggles in 2022 after a roster deconstruction that took place during Spring Training. After enduring a painful 60-102 campaign, the expectations are raised entering year two of a rebuild under second-year manager Mark Kotsay.

Taking a big step forward in their current rebuilding process is the main goal for 2023. Part of the optimism for a brighter future comes in the development of top prospects such as , and , all of whom will begin the season with Oakland. Others such as No. 1 prospect , No. 3 prospect  and No. 11 prospect  left a strong impression in big league camp this spring and could very well get their first call to the Majors later this year.

The A’s will get an early chance to see how they stack up in a tough American League West on Opening Night when they host Shohei Ohtani and the Angels on Thursday night at the Oakland Coliseum.

What needs to go right?
An offense that ranked last in MLB in OPS (.627), batting average (.216) and on-base percentage (.281) in 2022 will need to improve. The A’s made an attempt to address that need through the additions of proven Major League veterans , and , all of whom will have a regular presence in the middle of the lineup.

is looking to build off a career-best year in which he logged 25 home runs and 73 RBIs. , who graduated from No. 1 prospect status as a rookie last year, enters his first full season in the Majors with high expectations as the successor to catcher Sean Murphy, who was traded to the Braves this offseason. The A’s could really use a bounce-back season from , and also hope to generate more offense by utilizing the elite speed of Ruiz, their No. 6 prospect who led the Minor Leagues with 85 stolen bases last season.

Great unknown
’s signing with the A’s from Japan this offseason came with a lot of fanfare. The right-hander was considered a prospect on the scale of Ohtani when both were first-round selections in the 2012 Nippon Professional Baseball Draft, and it’s easy to see why there was so much hype around Fujinami based on the electric stuff he’s displayed so far in Spring Training.

Through four Cactus League starts, Fujinami has touched as high as 99 mph with his fastball, shown off an impressive 92 mph splitter and thrown two different variations of a slider -- one a sweeper and the other a mix between a cutter and slider. But the tantalizing stuff has not come without some cause for concern. Over his first 12 2/3 innings pitched this spring, Fujinami walked 13 batters in addition to striking out 17.

Control issues were a common theme for Fujinami during his 10 seasons in Japan. He will get a chance to begin the season in Oakland’s rotation pitching on a schedule similar to the one he followed as part of a six-man rotation with the Hanshin Tigers. If he can get his command in check, Fujinami has ace-level potential. If not, his long-term future in MLB might come in the bullpen.

Team MVP will be…
Langeliers. While learning the nuances of catching at the big league level from experienced backstops in Murphy and Stephen Vogt in 2022, Langeliers improved as the season went along and appeared to be playing his best baseball, both offensively and defensively, over the final two weeks of the season. The A’s are counting on him to handle a young and inexperienced pitching staff, and Langeliers seems up for the task with an ability to make an impact on both sides of the ball. If he can perform up to his projected capabilities in the Majors, the drop-off from Murphy should be minimal, if any.

Team Cy Young will be…
has shown flashes of brilliance over an inconsistent first three big league seasons with Oakland that saw him deal with a few different arm issues. After undergoing a cleanup surgery of his ailing right shoulder this offseason, he is now pitching free of pain for the first time in a few years. It wasn’t too long ago that the right-hander was the 16th overall pick by the Yankees in the 2015 MLB Draft and projected as a future ace. Having just turned 29, Kaprielian is excited to be entering a Major League season with a fully clean slate of health for really the first time in his career.

Bold prediction
The A’s will lead the Majors in stolen bases. Baserunning has not traditionally been a strong suit, but MLB’s new rules for 2023 encourage more stolen-base attempts, and the A’s have the speed on their roster to take advantage of that development. Ruiz has the potential to challenge for the stolen base title, while players like Laureano, Brown, and should also finish with double-digit totals.