OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Five things to know about the Oakland Athletics as they start spring training camp:
NO PRESSURE: Yoenis Cespedes has no problem making a bold prediction at this early stage: The A's are headed back to the playoffs in 2014. Somehow, he says, the overachieving, small-budget club will find a way to do it again — even if they're not the favorite.
These guys thrive on the underdog role, even as defending division champion for the second straight year.
"I think we're still trying to prove people wrong," center fielder Coco Crisp said.
A BULLPEN TO BEAT: With last season's AL saves leader, Jim Johnson, joining an already stout bullpen, manager Bob Melvin realizes how good he has it once his starter is done.
With All-Star Grant Balfour gone to Tampa Bay in free agency, the A's would have been comfortable having Sean Doolittle or Ryan Cook handle the ninth-inning duties. Then, they were able to acquire Johnson in a December trade with Baltimore.
"This was one of the places I wanted to be," Johnson said.
He converted 50 of 59 save opportunities in 2013, going 3-8 with a 2.94 ERA, and was tied with Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel for most saves in the majors.
"Bullpen depth is something that every team strives for," Melvin said. "Not only do we have it, we have it in numbers."
CESPEDES' SWING: The slugging Cuban defector is determined to make more consistent contact with a shortened swing he insists won't take away much of his power, if any. Cespedes is determined to forget a frustrating second big league season in which he batted .240 with 26 homers and 80 RBIs. He hit .292 with 23 homers and drove in 82 runs as a rookie.
"It's trying to maintain a certain approach for the entire season that's going to make him more consistent," Melvin said. "No one goes through the season with the same stroke all the time."
Cespedes made big strides in September and had another impressive playoffs, another five-game division series defeat to Detroit.