- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
PHOENIX -- While Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick deserved much of the credit for the rejuvenated Oakland Athletics' offense last season, journeyman first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss finished as the team's fourth most valuable hitter, according to ESPN's Player Rater, hitting .291 with 21 home runs. Moss accomplished this in a mere 265 at-bats, while forming an effective platoon with Chris Carter, but with Carter having been dealt to the Houston Astros, Moss figures to play more, with perhaps even better numbers pending.
"I'm certainly capable of hitting 30 home runs, no question," Moss told me in the Oakland clubhouse a few minutes after blasting a home run to center field in Saturday's 6-3 spring training win over the Colorado Rockies. "While I think we'll be even better as a team, my personal goal is to be productive, someone the team relies on. There's just no way to put a number on home runs or batting average. The game is too finicky."
While Moss is confident he can keep improving, the fantasy community seems awfully skeptical. Heck, I've been a bit skeptical, too, but perhaps the situation should be viewed optimistically. Now 29, Moss is a .251 career hitter over parts of six seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies and now the Athletics, but he wouldn't be the first fellow to develop later than most as a hitter. A left-handed batter, the Athletics got the most out of him against right-handed pitching (19 of his 21 home runs, 1.006 OPS), but with Carter gone and no obvious platoon partner on the roster, more than 500 at-bats should be pending for Moss. Is this a good thing or a bad thing for fantasy owners? Well, Moss hit .293 off southpaws in 2012, though in only 58 at-bats. His career numbers would suggest a platoon makes more sense, but those numbers might not tell us much, either.
"I loved my role last year, but I did face left-handed pitching, guys like [Derek] Holland, [Matt] Harrison and [Jason] Vargas," Moss said. "It was basically when Carter and I were hot we played, no matter the pitcher."
Moss is currently being ignored in most ESPN standard leagues, but we know many of you play in deeper formats. Among hitters with 250 plate appearances, only Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista bettered Moss' rate of 12.6 at-bats per home run. Only Stanton delivered a higher isolated power average. I'm not saying Moss would have hit like Stanton had he received 500 at-bats, but he certainly seemed to blossom as a power hitter, delivering 36 for the season, the first 15 for Triple-A Sacramento over 51 games, earning his promotion, upon which he smacked six more in his first eight starts. I asked Moss why people should believe his power emergence should be viewed as real after years of ordinary play.
"It comes down to confidence," he said. "For myself, I wish I had the confidence Reddick had. I was too easily coachable. I'd get in a funk. Hitting coaches panic, too. I was willing to try anything, and that got me to Triple-A for two years. You have to go up there believing in yourself 100 percent."
In AL-only formats, ESPN Fantasy ranks Moss at No. 200, 24th among first basemen (he's also eligible in the outfield), but that does appear to be selling him short. I don't think it's crazy to project 25-30 home runs from him this season, but drop the batting average to around .260 or so, especially if he faces lefties on a regular basis. After all, Moss is not fleet of foot, and his .359 BABIP from 2012 seems likely to regress, as well as his 26 percent HR/FB rate. He also hasn't made strides in terms of plate discipline, as he fanned 90 times in those 265 at-bats, drawing only 26 walks. Still, the potential for 25 home runs would get Moss drafted in more leagues. I'd prefer him to Carlos Pena, Jeff Keppinger, Brennan Boesch, Wilson Betemit and quite a few of the players ranked ahead of him for AL-only purposes, and in a deeper mixed format, he's worth a look, as well.
While Oakland's offseason moves seemed to aid Moss, as Carter left, center fielder Coco Crisp watched the team deal for Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Young. Crisp's playing time is not likely to be in great danger, though the switch-hitter has certainly struggled against lefties in recent seasons. Young hits right-handed and is a terrific outfielder. Expect Young and Seth Smith to form a productive platoon, but I (and likely many other fantasy owners) was interested in Crisp's thoughts on stealing bases, including how his outlook on the craft adjusts if he's not hitting leadoff, which has happened roughly a third of the time since he joined the Athletics in 2010. Colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft has written about how lineup placement has little effect on stolen bases.
"I take the same approach to stealing bases no matter what spot in the lineup," said Crisp, whose 120 stolen bases in his three A's seasons is bested only by Michael Bourn, Juan Pierre and Rajai Davis. "Leading off, you just get more at-bats. Situations may change if you're not leading off the game. I just know I have the green light to run, a few of us have it, like [Jemile] Weeks and C.Y. [Young]. As a base stealer, you need that freedom, gotta have that green light."
Game notes: Reddick, who hit 32 home runs last season, hit a three-run shot off right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who seemed to tire after two effective innings. I'm not considering any Rockies starting pitchers for standard leagues, but Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa have been effective in the past, and their spring numbers do matter. ... This was my first look at shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, the Japanese import who batted seventh. He was twice hit by pitches, he struck out and he stole a base. ESPN Fantasy ranks Nakajima 177th in AL-only formats, behind Stephen Drew and Johnny Giavotella, which says a lot. I'd take Nakajima earlier than that on the premise he could steal 20 bases. ... Hitting cleanup for Colorado was third-base prospect Nolan Arenado, and his third at-bat was his best, as he smacked a three-run homer to left field. Arenado was all the dynasty-league rage for fantasy owners a year ago, but he took a step back at Double-A Tulsa in 2012, and dropped mightily on top-100 prospect lists. Still only 21, I wouldn't expect Arenado to get significant big league time this season, making him worth little even in in NL-only formats, but it does seem a tad odd he's being written off so soon. Don't drop him yet in dynasty leagues.