MESA, Ariz. (AP) — The often-rebuilding Oakland Athletics are leaning on young talent again in 2018, maintaining a philosophy of developing prospects from within their organization and acquiring them from other teams for more expensive veterans.
It’s become the norm for manager Bob Melvin and his staff, and while the process has yielded three straight last-place finishes in the AL West, Melvin feels his team turned a corner with a strong finish to the 2017 regular season, giving him optimism for 2018.
The patience might also have produced a core group of players that could be with the club for years.
Several players the organization has cultivated are now deemed ready to make the full-time jump to the majors, headlined bv third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson, a pair of A’s draft picks.
Olson made a big splash with 24 home runs in 59 games last season.
Utility player Chad Pinder hit 15 home runs in 87 games last season, pitcher Daniel Mengden threw a shutout and posted a 3.14 earned run average in seven starts and heralded 22-year-old left-hander A.J. Puk is in camp with the big-leaguers and could make his major-league debut in 2018.
“It’s great to see all the young guys get a chance to show what they can do at the big league level,” Puk said.
The group of homegrown A’s has come up through the minors together over the past few seasons. All are at spring training now though the first official full squad workout has yet to take place.
“We have our guys here that have been in our system and have had success,” Melvin said. “It’s a very upbeat camp ... I think it’s a good feeling at this point even though the last three years have been a struggle for us.”
Mengden, who turns 25 on Monday, noted the benefit of having pitching coach Scott Emerson, who has worked his way up through the organization to his current position and has coached some of the pitchers when they were in the minors.
“Everybody brings something different to the table,” Mengden said. “Some guys might be better defensively or offensively. You might see guys hitting 500-foot home runs. You might see a guy like Puk throwing 100 (mph) in the bullpen.”
Melvin will be around to continue watching his young players blossom, at least through 2019 after signing a one-year contract extension near the end of last season. Now entering his eighth season as A’s manager, he is working with plenty of youth and inexperience every year the way the organization has built its roster.
“I’ve said often that we were kind of waiting for this group that’s had success, the Chapmans and the Olsons and the Pinders and (Franklin) Barretos and those guys. But it’s my job to acclimate to them,” Melvin said. “We enjoy young players here and like I said, the younger players that we have here are very passionate and have played together as a group. It’s an exciting time here.”
Whether the A’s are ready to contend in a division that features the 2017 World Series champion, Houston, is still to be determined. But after years of trading veterans for prospects, Oakland might have found a young group of core players to hang onto.
Melvin was asked if a fan can buy a Chapman jersey without concern that he will be traded soon, and if the club has a potential core in place.
“I would think,” he said. “That’s the plan. Therefore, as far as the front office and us dealing with the players, the focus is the guys that are here now that we want to keep for a while should be here for a while.”
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