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A's try to stay a step ahead in much-improved AL West

Oakland has upgraded, but so have the other teams in the division

PHOENIX -- A's pitchers and catchers will file into Phoenix Municipal Stadium for reporting day Friday, in advance of their first Spring Training workout the following morning.

They're technically not required to show up to the facilities until Saturday, though a handful have already been working out at the park for several weeks.

Of the 55 players anticipated in A's camp this year, all 35 pitchers and catchers -- a group that includes 10 non-roster invitees -- are expected to report on time. Position players, meanwhile, are scheduled to report by Wednesday, with the team's first full-squad workout slated for the next day.

This marks manager Bob Melvin's third Spring Training at the helm of the green and gold.

"We won the division last year, we won it the year before, and we have higher expectations this year," Melvin said recently. "Everybody here feels like they're part of it, and we've had some success the last two years, which is a big reason why we're confident."

The A's mean serious business in a division that's widely been improved, top to bottom. Texas, in particular, will run out an enviable lineup that has added Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. An equally powered lineup resides in Anaheim, where the Angels seek better days with a strengthened pitching staff in tow. The Robinson Cano-led Mariners and Astros have also gotten better.

But Oakland has upgraded, too, and the club's new talent -- headlined by Jim Johnson, Scott Kazmir and Craig Gentry -- will be on display in game action beginning Feb. 26, when the A's christen the Cactus League schedule on the road against the Giants.

Oakland will play its first of 15 home games at Phoenix Muni the following day vs. the Brewers, before moving its spring home to Mesa, Ariz., beginning in 2015.

Along the way, the A's will have several tough decisions to make.

Over the next six weeks, Oakland will have to fill out a rotation from a bevy of deserving candidates, along with a bullpen brimming with competition. A lineup will have to be created, and from a roster that's far from settled, particularly when looking at a crowded infield.

The A's Cactus League schedule will wrap up in Arizona on March 26, after which they'll travel back to the Bay for a pair of exhibition games against the Giants at AT&T Park. The A's will then host the Giants at the Coliseum for one final exhibition game. All this leads up to March 31, when Oakland will open the 2014 season with a 7:05 p.m. PT game at home against the Indians.

Jane Lee is a reporter for
Read More: Oakland Athletics, Craig Gentry, Scott Kazmir, Jim Johnson