A's Opening Day outlook

A's Opening Day outlook

Getting, being and staying healthy was the top spring priority for the A's, and viewed in that context, Spring Training was a huge success.

There were a few bumps and bruises along the way as there are every year. But nobody suffered a major injury, and the handful of players who entered camp sore -- Frank Thomas (foot/ankle) and Rich Harden (shoulder) tops among them -- were fit and ready to roll by the end of camp.

Health will remain a front-burner issue throughout the season, as manager Ken Macha juggles the need to win with the need to keep everyone fresh. But as the regular season starts, the A's have every reason to feel good about themselves.

BATTING ORDER
1. Mark Ellis, 2B:
Was 2005 a breakout year or a fluke? The A's are clearly betting on the former being the case.

2. Mark Kotsay, CF:
Brilliant defense, bat control, gap-to-gap power, emotion and professionalism. Kotsay is a complete package.

3. Bobby Crosby, SS:
Third-year man has a lot of responsibility. His steady improvement suggests it's deserved.

4. Eric Chavez, 3B:
A virtual lock for 30 homers and 100 RBIs most years, he might do even more with Thomas behind him.

5. Frank Thomas, DH:
The skills are still there. The big question is whether his foot will let him flash it all summer.

6. Milton Bradley, RF:
Five-tool talent with plenty of baggage had a slow spring. Everyone in camp loved the guy.

7. Dan Johnson, 1B:
The A's hope his 15 homers after a late-May callup in 2005 are indicative of his power potential. He'll DH some when Thomas gets a rest.

8. Jason Kendall, C:
Looking to bounce back from poor first season in AL. Might move back to leadoff if Ellis struggles early.

9. Nick Swisher, LF:
Switch-hitter belted 21 homers as a rookie and has potential for more. He'll play plenty at first when Johnson is DH.

ROTATION
1. Barry Zito, LHP:
Improved slider could lead to a big year for potential free agent. Command is key.

2. Rich Harden, RHP:
Might be the most impressive young righty in the league. Fashionable Cy Young pick.

3. Dan Haren, RHP:
Looked like a front-of-the-rotation talent in the second half of 2005. Also looked sharp this spring.

4. Esteban Loaiza, RHP:
Veteran has a great cutter and gets a lot of ground balls. Should benefit from an outstanding infield defense.

5. Joe Blanton, RHP:
Could have won 15 games as a rookie with better run support. That shouldn't be a problem this year.

BULLPEN
This is the deepest and most versatile this unit has been in years. Closer Huston Street, the 2005 AL Rookie of the Year, looks fresh after getting his first extended time off in two years over the winter. Setup men Kiko Calero (elbow) and Justin Duchscherer (back) are health concerns, but when they're right, they're exceptional. Lone lefty Joe Kennedy lit it up this spring, righty Kirk Saarloos can handle just about any role on the staff and righty Jay Witasick is capable of getting big strikeouts when he's in control of his stuff.

OPENING DELAYED
Everyone appears ready to go.

BURNING QUESTION
Can the A's avoid another slow start? If they can, they won't have to expend so much energy clawing back into the race in June, July and August; their second-half surges of the past few years seemed to leave them gasping down the stretch. A hot start will give Macha more of a chanced to utilize his depth and keep everyone fresh for the playoff push.

ON THE RECORD
"If everyone just does what they're capable of doing -- no more, no less -- we're going to be really tough to beat." -- Swisher

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.