Athletics

2019 A's Projections: Can J.B. Wendelken produce with bigger workload?

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USATSI

2019 A's Projections: Can J.B. Wendelken produce with bigger workload?

Editor's note: For the past few weeks, NBC Sports California has been analyzing a different A's player each day to project their numbers for next season.

J.B. Wendelken was arguably the most pleasant surprise on the entire A's roster last season.

The 25-year-old began the year in Triple-A after missing the 2017 season due to Tommy John surgery. When he was called up to the big leagues, he dominated hitters in his limited opportunities, allowing just one run and eight hits in 16 2/3 innings, good for a 0.54 ERA.

Wendelken relies on his plus fastball, throwing it 61 percent of the time last season, according to FanGraphs. He mixes in a curveball and changeup to keep hitters off balance. Last year he struck out 14 and walked five in his 16 2/3 innings of work.

[RELATED: Yusmeiro Petit's projected 2019 numbers]

Wendelken performed so well, he even made the A's 25-man roster for the AL Wild Card Game against the Yankees. He figures to have an expanded role this season as a setup man for Blake Treinen, joining Lou Trivino, Joakim Soria, Fernando Rodney, and Ryan Buchter in that role.

Baseball Reference projects Wendelken to go 2-1 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 33 innings next season. They predict him to strike out 32 and walk 12.

We expect Wendelken to pitch significantly more innings and perform better than those projections. The A's will rely heavily on their bullpen once again and Wendelken should be a primary option in the sixth and seventh innings.

Projection: 4-2, 2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 54 K, 17 BB, 51 IP

Baseball America releases new top 10 A's prospects for 2020 MLB season

Baseball America releases new top 10 A's prospects for 2020 MLB season

The A's top three prospects virtually are set in stone. Wherever you look, you likely will see the same three names in the same order: Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk and Sean Murphy. 

That's a pretty talented trio right there. It's the same top three that led off Baseball America's list of top A's prospects going into the 2019 season. The same goes for 2020

Luzardo and Puk are regarded as two of the best left-handed pitching prospects in all of baseball. With a high-90s fastball and nasty changeup, Luzardo has all the ingredients to one day be a perennial Cy Young candidate. Puk's fastball-slider combination has him right up there with Luzardo, too. 

Murphy is expected to make a big impact on the A's this upcoming season, and the catcher is regarded as one of the best defensive prospects in the game. The 25-year-old made his MLB debut last year and hit four homers in limited time, too. 

The real change for the A's, however, is at No. 4. Going into last season, Baseball America had a Heisman Trophy winner as Oakland's fourth-best prospect. That's right, we're talking about Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyle Murray. 

While Murray claims he still believes he can play both sports in a calendar year, and the A's still own his baseball rights, it's highly unlikely the elusive QB ever wears an A's jersey. So, who's the A's new No. 4 prospect? Cal product Daulton Jefferies made a huge leap in the rankings. 

Jefferies, 24, entered 2019 as the A's No. 18 prospect on Baseball America's top-30 team rankings. The low ranking wasn't due to his talent, though. It was all because of injury risks. Jefferies missed a chunk of his junior year at Cal with a shoulder injury and then had Tommy John surgery in late April 2017. 

Prior to the 2019 season, Jefferies had only pitched 20 1/3 innings since being drafted by the A's with the 37th pick overall in 2016. He was healthy last year and showed his potential that always has intrigued front offices. The 6-foot right-hander went 2-2 with a 3.42 ERA and had 93 strikeouts to only five walks in 79 innings pitched between Advanced Class A and Double-A. 

[RELATED: A's Reed hopes to reunite with Florida teammate Puk in '20]

Jefferies is expected to start the season in Triple-A Las Vegas. He throws everything for strikes and sits in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball. The A's will be safe with his workload, but don't be surprised if the former Cal Bear makes it to Oakland this season. 

There's no doubt the A's have one of the best young trios in Luzardo, Puk and Murphy. Don't forget about Daulton, though -- even if he does spell his name wrong.

MLB rumors: A's free-agent target Matt Wieters returning to Cardinals

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AP

MLB rumors: A's free-agent target Matt Wieters returning to Cardinals

The A's could use a veteran catcher on their major league roster, but Matt Wieters will not be that guy.

The veteran catcher will be returning to the St. Louis Cardinals, MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported Sunday.

A little over a week ago, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported, citing sources, that Wieters was drawing interest from the A's and Cardinals.

Wieters to the A's would have made sense because both catchers on Oakland's big league depth chart, Sean Murphy and Austin Allen, are rookies.

Instead, Wieters decided to stick with the team he played for in 2019. In 67 games last season, the 33-year-old slashed .214/.268/.435 with 11 homers and 27 RBI.

[RELATED: Buddy Reed hopes to reunite with Puk]

With Wieters reportedly off the board, there still are several attractive veteran catchers on the free-agent market for the A's to consider: Russell Martin, Caleb Joseph, Nick Hundley, Jonathan Lucroy, Bryan Holaday and Welington Castillo, just to name a few.

The A's have been relatively quiet this offseason, so we'll see if they make any more additions before pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz. on Feb. 12.