OAKLAND -- There's a good amount of intrigue surrounding the A's in 2018, with plenty of storylines to monitor as they trudge through the desert this spring.
Fans have much to be excited about when watching this group; the blend of a powerful lineup and a deep bullpen should make for improved marks, and a rotation loaded with upside has potential to push these A's into contention.
Spring Training camp will offer a window into it all, showcasing competition among a slew of starting candidates. Everybody loves a good competition; it makes for good fodder among fans, the media eats it up and even players involved embrace it because it typically brings out the best in them.
"One of the messages we're going to make sure we get across is that nobody can take anything for granted going into Spring Training," A's executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane said this winter. "I'm not a big Spring Training performance guy. I might turn into that this spring."
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Only Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea are considered locks for the rotation, leaving three spots for more than three candidates: Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, Daniel Gossett and Andrew Triggs headline the list.
Among them, Cotton and Gossett logged the most innings last year but were done in by the long ball, surrendering a combined 49 of them in 220 1/3 innings. Mengden battled through two different injuries that cost him more than three months of the season, but he rebounded to post a 1.54 ERA in five second-half starts, which could give him a leg up on his competition entering camp.
Blackburn and Triggs also succumbed to injury, and at unfortunate times. Blackburn was riding a 3.22 ERA when he suffered a deep bone bruise in his right hand during a start in late August. Triggs, meanwhile, made just 12 starts before his fledgling career as a starter was halted by hip surgery. Both were mostly excellent when healthy, and they'll have to prove such stretches were no fluke.
This group is packed with potential, but execution will be key after inconsistencies and injuries plagued A's starters last year. But a heap of faith remains in them.
"It's not a straight line," A's general manager David Forst said. "These guys don't just get better start after start. But I think we've seen enough out of a lot of these guys to think they'll improve. There is talent. These guys are young and inexperienced, so with age and experience, we think they can get better."
Though Graveman figures to be the favorite to make a second consecutive Opening Day start, Manaea also could be in the mix for the job. The lefty staged a 3.76 ERA in 16 starts leading up to the All-Star break last season, an encouraging stretch that was briefly interrupted by a two-week stint on the disabled list because of shoulder issues. Though the advent of August brought struggles, with Manaea finishing the month with a 9.17 ERA, he rounded back into form and posted a 3.54 ERA in his final five starts.
"I think a healthy Sean Manaea is a guy that's going to pitch at the top of anybody's rotation," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. "I think the upside is still there. For the first time in his career, he went through a tough period. I think he's going to be better for it."