Young starters' growth key to A's in 2017

Manaea, Mengden and Cotton's development just as crucial as offseason moves

Young starters' growth key to A's in 2017

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's A's squad each day this week. Today's topic: What's the difference?

OAKLAND -- The typically busy-bee A's kept mostly quiet this offseason, their biggest change coming not in a roster move but off the field in the form of management changes.

Former managing partner Lew Wolff passed the torch to a new leadership group -- majority owner John Fisher and president Dave Kaval, who replaced Michael Crowley -- that brought with it promises of an invigorated effort to build a new stadium.

How has each MLB club changed for 2017?

Meanwhile, executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst looked to improve upon a squad that succumbed to a second straight last-place finish in the American League West with 69 wins in 2016. They did so through short-term moves that won't compromise the organization's long-term outlook of fielding a contending team when a new stadium opens.

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Offseason additions include outfielders Matt Joyce and Rajai Davis, third baseman Trevor Plouffe and reliever Santiago Casilla. But perhaps the biggest difference in the 2017 A's will come not from this group but the many returning players who now have experience under their belts.

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That alone could prove crucial to the continued development and subsequent success of young pitchers like Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton and Daniel Mengden, each of whom are candidates to fill a rotation headed by Sonny Gray and Kendall Graveman.

The A's will rely heavily on their starting pitching to help them escapte the cellar this year, and there's plenty of room for improvement after the rotation recorded a 4.84 ERA in 2016. Manaea, Cotton and Mengden -- all of whom joined the organization in deals ahead of last season's non-waiver Trade Deadline -- will be essential to this.

Expectations need be tempered, though, as they work through growing pains. Manaea has already proven able to handle this process with ease, having made several adjustments on the big league stage last year. After posting a 6.02 ERA in his first nine starts ahead of a trip to the disabled list, the lefty compiled a 2.74 ERA the rest of the way and was one of the best pitchers in the league in the second half.

Manaea to build off strong 2016

"He has the ability to be right up there with Sonny and Kendall at the top of the rotation," Forst said. "The most encouraging thing about Sean was the adjustments he made."

Cotton showed great promise in September, and Mengden enjoyed spurts of success amid rough patches that should only help him improve. All three should be seasoned big leaguers by year's end, forming the young core of a potentially formidable staff that could turn out to be one of the best in the division.

A's pitchers and catchers are due to hold their first workout at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 15. The first full-squad workout will follow on Feb. 19.

Jane Lee has covered the A's for since 2010. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.