Athletics

Fowler, Mateo highlight young players to watch on A's spring roster

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Fowler, Mateo highlight young players to watch on A's spring roster

The A’s report to spring training in five weeks, and they’ve announced the group they’ll bring to Arizona with them.

Along with their official 40-man roster, Oakland will have 17 non-roster invitees in camp. That’s a smaller spring roster than recent seasons, which means a little better chance for new guys to make an impression.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of some noteworthy players taking part in their first big league camp with Oakland. We’ll focus on young guys you need to know about, starting with those on the 40-man …

OF Dustin Fowler: His physical condition holds the key as he’s coming back from surgery following a devastating right knee injury last year. Acquired from the Yankees in the Sonny Gray trade, Fowler, 23, is viewed as the possible starting center fielder if he’s full strength. Reports have been that he’s progressing well in his rehab, though he’ll likely be broken in slowly as far as game action this spring. He’s ranked as the A’s No. 3 prospect by mlb.com, but Fowler remains a question mark until he shows he’s 100 percent.

SS Jorge Mateo: A speed burner who also came over in the Gray deal, the 22-year-old Mateo will be one of the most closely watched players in camp. He’s rated the A’s No. 4 prospect, and he’s a player that team officials have pegged as part of the big league future. Will it be at shortstop, perhaps center field? That remains to be seen. But Mateo will be one of the best all-around athletes to set foot in team facilities in Mesa. He’s played just 60 games as high as Double-A, so Mateo won’t factor into the big league plans right away.

RHP Heath Fillmyer: If you’re looking for the next under-the-radar guy who could impact the big league rotation soon, Fillmyer fits the bill. A fifth-round pick out of junior college in 2014, the 23-year-old Fillmyer is making a good impression as he climbs the ranks. He went 11-5 with a 3.49 ERA with Double-A Midland last season and features a mid 90’s fastball with sinking action that generates ground balls.

OF Ramon Laureano: It didn’t generate much buzz when the A’s acquired him in November from the Astros for minor league pitcher Brandon Bailey, but Laureano began the 2017 season as the No. 13 prospect (Baseball America) in a stacked Houston farm system. The tools are there, including good speed, a strong arm and the ability to handle all three outfield spots. But Laureano, 23, had a poor year at the plate last season in Double-A (.227/.298/.369). He did steal 24 bases, and the A’s thought enough to add him to the 40-man roster.

NON-ROSTER INVITEES

RHP Grant Holmes: Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas have logged time on the big league staff since arriving from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade of 2016. Holmes, just 21, is the third right-hander that was acquired in that deal, and some pegged him as the brightest prospect of the trio. He’s got a nice fastball/curve combo but needs to throw more strikes. Remember when Sean Manaea drew attention two spring ago with the curly mop of hair that spilled out from his hat? Holmes is the red-headed answer to that.

RHP Logan Shore: You might remember Shore, 23, from last spring, when he came over from minor league camp and struck out Mike Trout in an emergency spot start. He’s a full-time invite to big league camp this year, joining Holmes as another righty starter ranked among Oakland’s top 10 prospects. A college teammate of top A’s pitching prospect A.J. Puk at Florida, Shore missed two months with Single-A Stockton last season with a lat strain. His changeup impresses, with A’s special assistant Grady Fuson saying Shore “almost makes the baseball stop” with that pitch.

3B/SS Sheldon Neuse: It’s pronounced “noisy,” let’s get that out of the way. Neuse made a splash after coming over from the Nationals in last summer’s Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madson trade, hitting .380 with 28 RBI in 40 games split between Single-A and Double-A. Then he impressed in the Arizona Fall League. Neuse, 23, is better suited for third than short. So where does he fit in considering Matt Chapman’s presence? If this guy keeps hitting, the A’s will find a position for him.

A's 2019 projections: Mike Fiers looks to repeat strong performance

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USATSI

A's 2019 projections: Mike Fiers looks to repeat strong performance

Editor's note: Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports California will be analyzing a different A's player each day to project their numbers for next season.

When the A's non-tendered Mike Fiers in November, it seemingly marked the end of his tenure in green and gold. But just a few weeks later, Oakland re-signed the veteran right-hander to a two-year, $14.1 million deal, addressing their need for starting pitching.

Fiers performed well last year after coming over from the Tigers. The 33-year-old made 10 appearances with Oakland, including nine starts, going 5-2 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. For the season, Fiers went 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 172 innings. In eight career seasons, he has an ERA of 4.04.

Fiers was especially effective at the Oakland Coliseum, going 3-0 with a 2.91 ERA in six starts. While he is not necessarily a strikeout pitcher, he does a great job limiting walks and should benefit from the A's solid defense behind him.

Baseball Reference projects Fiers to go 10-9 next season with a 4.22 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. They also predict 139 strikeouts in 160 innings.

We expect better numbers than that for Fiers, who will anchor the A's rotation, especially during the first half of the season. Although he allows a high percentage of fly balls, pitching at the Coliseum will benefit him, as will Oakland's stellar defense.

[RELATED: Fiers' two-year contract makes A's look like geniuses]

Last year marked Fiers' best season since 2014 when he posted an ERA of 2.13 with Milwaukee. He seems to be getting better with age as he continues to hone his command and mix his pitches. We see no reason for that to change next season.

Projection: 13-8, 3.69 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 141 K, 171 IP

Source: A's unlikely to re-sign reliever Shawn Kelley in free agency

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USATSI

Source: A's unlikely to re-sign reliever Shawn Kelley in free agency

Shawn Kelley played a significant role in the A's stellar bullpen last season, but NBC Sports California has learned the veteran right-hander is unlikely to re-sign with Oakland.

Kelley, 34, has reportedly been in talks with about 10 teams, and his agent Mike McCann confirmed to NBC Sports California that the A's are not among those clubs.

The two sides did have conversations earlier this offseason but have not spoken since Oakland signed right-hander Joakim Soria to a two-year, $15 million deal nearly a month ago.

Kelley earned $5.5 million last season and is projected to get a similar amount next year. As much as the A's would like to bring him back, they have identified starting pitching as a higher priority.

After joining the A's from the Washington Nationals last year, Kelley went 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in 19 games. Overall, he finished the season 2-0 with a 2.94 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 54 appearances.

He has a career ERA of 3.67 in 10 big league seasons.

Even without Kelley, the A's will boast one of the strongest bullpens in baseball next season. Oakland will bring back All-Star closer Blake Treinen, as well as setup men Fernando Rodney, Lou Trivino, J.B. Wendelken, and Ryan Buchter.

The addition of Soria will add even more depth to the group.

The A's would ideally like to sign another left-handed reliever to join Buchter in the pen, but again, starting pitching is the top priority.

Veteran starters Edwin Jackson and Brett Anderson are both still in the mix to return, though nothing appears imminent.