The A's try to turn things around 

Will Sheets hold up for an entire season?

The biggest story when A’s pitchers and catchers conduct their first workout Sunday will be Ben Sheets. The health of Sheets, whom the A’s signed to a one-year, $10 million contract after he missed all of last season and has a long history of injuries, is key to the A’s turning things around. If he is in top form, the former Milwaukee Brewers ace has some of the top stuff in the game. He can give the A’s a steady presence atop their rotation. Tracking Sheets’ development this spring will tell a lot about the upcoming season. It will also be interesting to see if GM Billy Beane tries to move Sheets around the deadline if he is having a productive season.

Who’s on first?

The A’s thought Jason Giambi would stop the revolving door that is first base for the A’s last year, but it didn’t quite work out. It appears youngster Daric Barton will get the first crack and stabilizing the position. Barton is a player the A’s have had high hopes for, but he has yet to realize his potential. In 212 career games, Barton is hitting just .249. He needs a solid spring to show the organization his troubles are behind him. Until Barton proves his worth, Eric Chavez is expected to see some time at first this season with Kevin Kouzmanoff set at third. Newcomer Jake Fox swings a dangerous bat and could also be in the mix at first. One sleeper to watch for is prospect Chris Carter. Carter has shown huge power potential in the minors.

Can the young staff take the next step?

At points of last season, the A’s starting rotation was made up of four rookies. While a lot of the youngsters took their lumps, the A’s still finished with a very respectable 4.26 team ERA last season, third best in the AL. Now, it’s time for the hurlers to take the next step. Assuming Justin Duchscherer’s health issues are behind him, he’ll begin the season as the No. 2 starter. Left-handers Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden are near locks to start the year in the rotation. Vin Mazzaro, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez will all be battling for the No. 5 spot. Spring will obviously be key for the trio to sort out who is capable of becoming a quality big league starter.

A’s at a glance

Manager: Bob Geren (fourth season)
2009: 75-87, last place
Key dates: Pitchers-catchers first workout, Sunday; full squad workout, Feb. 26
He’s here: RHP Ben Sheets, OF Coco Crisp, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, INF Jake Fox, INF Adam Rosales, OF Gabe Gross
He’s outta here: INF Bobby Crosby, INF Nomar Garciaparra, INF Adam Kennedy, RHP Brett Tomko, RHP Santiago Casilla, OF Aaron Cunningham, OF Scott Hairston, OF Willy Taveras
What to watch for: The health of Sheets and RHP Justin Duchscherer. The two former All-Stars spent all of last season on the disabled list. They will be counted on to strengthen a rotation that featured rookie starters in 116 games last season.

New faces

Coco Crisp: The A’s wanted to improve their defense this offseason and one of the first steps they took in order to do that was to sign the veteran outfielder. Crisp is as good as they come with the leather and should help the A’s save a few runs in the spacious Coliseum. He will never be confused with Hank Aaron at the plate, but Crisp is a career .277 hitter who can steal a few bases, too.

Kevin Kouzmanoff: The 28-year-old gives the A’s something they’ve desperately need at third base: stability. Oakland knows it can’t count on Eric Chavez to be healthy, so the move to acquire Kouzmanoff from the San Diego Padres by Billy Beane was a savvy one. Kouzmanoff is solid defensively and can drive the ball. He is coming off consecutive seasons of driving in more than 80 runs at pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

Player to watch

Acquired as an offshoot to the Roy Halladay trade this winter in exchange for highly touted prospect Brett Wallace, outfielder Michael Taylor has all the physical tools to be a superstar. The former Stanford standout is a 6-foot-6, 250-pounder who can mash. He hit .320 with 20 homers in the minors last year and is just scratching the surface of his potential. Whether Taylor begins the season in the big leagues or not remains to be seen, but at some point this year, expect Taylor to make a major impact.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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