AJ Puk

What makes Matt Chapman is so confident in self, A's for 2020 season

What makes Matt Chapman is so confident in self, A's for 2020 season

OAKLAND -- There was a sense of confidence among A's players and manager Bob Melvin as they trickled into media day.

BoMel said it was the most excited he has been about the team since he has been with the A's, and it's no different for two-time Platinum Glove Award winner Matt Chapman, but he had to embrace the tough ending to 2019 first.

"We were really sad, and then for a while, it was pretty quiet," Chapman told NBC Sports California at the end of January. "But then, we all kind of turned the page a little bit and started appreciating everything accomplished -- and we were getting excited for next year."

Chappy made it clear the one-and-done post-season experience the team faced over the past two years is not going to become a trend. He is adamant there will not be a repeat of that in 2020.

"We're going to take it to the next level," he said. 

And it'll begin with the young arms, he went on.

"I think it starts with all of our young pitching that is getting more mature," Chapman added.

Top left-handed pitching prospects A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo likely will be a part of that starting rotation this upcoming season.

Luzardo, although limited to a small sample size, posted a 1.50 ERA and 0.667 WHIP over six games and 46 batters faced in 2019. Puk, who also made his highly-anticipated MLB debut last season, came out of the bullpen and in 11 1/3 innings posted a 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts.

Oakland will also get a full season of Frankie Montas, who missed a chunk of time in 2019 after violating MLB's Joint Drug Agreement for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Veteran Mike Fiers and Sean Manaea are set to join the starting rotation as well.

"It's like the first time we've had a set rotation, and it's guys we really trust, guys that have been tested," Chapman said. "We've had rotations, but we've always had guys go down, or this or that, it's like -- we have a five-man rotation with [Chris] Bassitt in there as well as a sixth, or a bullpen guy, whatever we need."

"They all have insane stuff," Chapman added. 

Chapman included the defensive and offensive game as two additional things for the team to have confidence in.

"Our pitching is only getting better, and I think our hitters are only going to get more polished, we're just going to be more mature -- we have more experience," he said. "The more at-bats you can give those guys, the better. The bullpen is only going to get better."

[RELATED: Fiers feels 'ahead of schedule,' despite distractions

"I think we're just a really, really good young, well-rounded team."

It was also something new and exciting for Chappy to be able to look around the clubhouse and recognize most of the players this time around.

"I just have the confidence in our whole team -- we know what to expect," Chapman said. "Instead of starting from scratch, we can kind of just build on what we have, the momentum."

A's farm system ranked No. 15 in MLB by Baseball America before season

A's farm system ranked No. 15 in MLB by Baseball America before season

A's pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday with a sense of excitement to start the season. And not only because legendary pitcher Dave Stewart called the rotation future superstars.

Although, that certainly helps.

Baseball America published its annual farm system rankings with the A's landing right in the middle at No. 15 overall.

What they said: "It’s always better to have stars than depth. Stars win titles, while depth can often be found on the free-agent market at an inexpensive price. The A’s have potential stars in Jesús Luzardo, A.J. Puk and even Sean Murphy. The depth? The front office will have to keep being creative to fill holes."

Baseball America has three A's on its top 100 list with lefties Luzardo and Puk and Nos. 9 and 21 overall, respectively, and Murphy, a catcher, at the No. 41 spot.

Both Puk and Luzardo should make for great additions to the pitching rotation after a brief cup of coffee in 2019. 

Puk is beautifully recovering from the Tommy John surgery he had in April of 2018, and in 11.1 innings out of the bullpen last season, he posted a 3.18 ERA with 13 strikeouts.

Luzardo, also limited last season, posted a 1.50 ERA and struck out 16 over 12 innings.

Behind the plate will be Murphy who, at the moment, is in the lead to start at catcher, a position important to manager Bob Melvin.

"[He] did enough last year, and certainly in his minor-league career, to have us excited," Melvin told NBC Sports California at the end of January.

[RELATED: A's contacted MLB on Astros cheating before Fiers interview]

In 60 plate appearances last season, Murphy slashed .245/.333/.566 with four homers and eight RBI. 

Before the 2019 season, the A's were ranked by Baseball America as the 11th-best farm system, so they've fallen back a bit. But that could mean there's just a spike in production across other organizations.

Dave Stewart confident in A's rotation filled with 'future superstars'

Dave Stewart confident in A's rotation filled with 'future superstars'

The A's vocalized how confident they are in their rotation prior to Wednesday's spring training report date.

That confidence stretches beyond the coaching staff and all the way to former A's pitcher Dave Stewart.

Stewart, now an analyst with NBC Sports California, sees bright spots in the young arms for the 2020 season.

"I do like the rotation that we could possibly be seeing in the upcoming year," Stewart told NBC Sports California back in December. "It'll be pretty dominant if the kids that pitch in the rotation that we think are."

Stew mentioned the combination of lefty power arms in A.J. Puk, Sean Manaea, and Jesús Luzardo. Adding right-handers Mike Fiers and Frankie Montas, has the A's pitching squad looking very promising.

"In my opinion, that now brings your rotation that's respectable, and will probably be, if you really look at the rotation, assuming that they're going to be successful," Stewart added.

Stewart admitted, despite the exciting times ahead with this group, "today's baseball" isn't something he's used to -- especially with piggy-back starters. He's asked often if any of the pitchers on the staff remind him of his younger self. 

"Today's brand of baseball is way different from my brand of baseball, so there are no reminders of me," he laughed.

Stewart, who recently had his No. 34 jersey retired by the A's, is often around the team to offer advice on anything they might need.

"We have to be careful of innings pitched because most of the kids that are coming to the big leagues, at this point in time, they have not logged major league innings," Stewart said. "They haven't pitched 100, 175 innings in a season."

You always have to look to the future organizationally. And how you can best keep these kids healthy so that a year from now, two years from now, three years from now, they've adapted and now they've become mainstays."

The 6-foot-7 Puk underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2018, and by the looks of it from his throwing sessions on Wednesday, he fortunately looks healthy and strong. He came out of the bullpen last season during his 10 games in the bigs, but is slated to be a starter this season.

[RELATED: A's couldn't be more excited about pitching this year]

Despite a few setbacks, Luzardo made his highly anticipated debut in 2019 and was sensational, finishing his short campaign with a 1.50 ERA and 0.67 WHIP over 12 innings. The A's also will get a full season of Frankie Montas after missing a chunk of time last year due to a PED-related suspension

"It'll be a rotation that has depth from one through five, capabilities of winning on any given day, because all those kids, they're, in my opinion, future superstars as starting pitchers," Stewart said.