PHOENIX -- Depth, power and pitching. Easy to conceptualize. Difficult to fashion into a major league roster.
That difficulty seems to have been conquered by the A's. Heading into spring training -- pitchers and catchers report Monday and have their first workout Tuesday -- the A's have improved their depth and power while keeping much of their pitching together.
It was that combination that enabled the A's to win the 2012 American League West on the final day of the season, and Oakland enters spring training in much better shape than a year ago. Brett Anderson, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin combined to go 20-5 the last six weeks of the season. Bartolo Colon also returns, though he will miss one start as his 50-game suspension over the use of a performance-enhancing drug winds down.
"We have a lot more certainty in our starting pitching than the last time around," manager Bob Melvin said Friday, the day he arrived in Arizona. "Tommy Milone has a full season. So does Parker. We've seen both Straily and A.J. Griffin pitch well in pressure games.
"Colon is the guy who gives us presence, the experience. But now the other guys have a little bit of a track record. We are six (starters) for five (positions), and that doesn't even include Travis Blackley, who will get a look, too, so it's really seven for five."
Melvin is a big fan of numbers. He couldn't help referring to them time and again in assessing the spring. He and general manager Billy Beane will have to craft a 25-man roster out of spring training, and it's going to be all about the numbers.
In the outfield, for example, "we have five for three," he says. The A's have three returning starting outfielders in Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick, a backup in Seth Smith who has averaged 440 plate appearances and 15 homers the last four seasons, and a newcomer in Chris Young who was an All-Star with the Diamondbacks in 2010.
Crisp comes in as the starter in center, flanked by Cespedes in left and Reddick in right, but Young's best position is center, although he can play any of the three. Smith will have to serve notice this spring if he's not going to be marginalized in terms of at-bats once the season starts. Even with the designated hitter available, Smith seems in position to get squeezed out.
Coming into the spring, Reddick is saying he expects to be the right fielder, Crisp says center belongs to him, and Young says he'll do whatever the team wants.
"Obviously who plays where is up to the manager," Cespedes says.
He followed that up by saying he expects to be in left field. It should be a comfortable fit, because at this time a year ago, he was the center fielder and Crisp was in left. It remained that way until mid-June, when the two basically switched positions.
That was about the time when the A's were bottoming out. They were battling with Seattle for the A.L. West cellar and fell as many as 13 games out of first place by early July before things kicked in.
That would be the Oakland power kicking in. After averaging less than one homer per game through the end of June, the A's averaged more than 1.4 homers per game over the last three months of the season.
Now first baseman Brandon Moss, who hit 21 homers in barely half a season, will play every day with the trade of Chris Carter to the Houston Astros. And third baseman Josh Donaldson (nine homers in 75 games) should get at least twice as many at-bats.
More than that, Oakland added power in Young, shortstop Jed Lowrie and catcher John Jaso. Even shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, best known for his glove, has averaged 18 homers the last five seasons in Japan.
"That sort of defined us," Melvin said of the homers. "When the power kicked in the second half of the season, that's when we started to feel good as a team. And we're in a situation where we have power up and down the lineup. There's an intimidation factor involved."
Now the A's come into this spring as the defending A.L. West champions.
To combat that, the Angels added Josh Hamilton this winter after picking up Albert Pujols last year. That gives the Angels three of the most dangerous in the game counting Rookie of the Year Mike Trout.
And while the Rangers lost two impact bats in Hamilton and D.H. Mike Young, they added a middle-of-the-lineup bat in Lance Berkman and an everyday catcher in A.J. Pierzynski.
Cespedes didn't dismiss the changes made by the Angels and Rangers, but he said they should not dismiss the A's, either.
"Other teams made a lot of improvements, traded some players, but that doesn't mean we can't have a similar season," Cespedes said through an interpreter.
Said Melvin: "Last spring, the guys didn't know exactly what was expected of them from the manager and the coaches. They know now, and we'll be the better for it this spring.
"But we've got some work to do. There are a lot of moving pieces. We have to settle on who plays left and right, who plays second, how the catching shapes up. The thing is, we have a better handle on our personnel and where they'll fit."
A's roster breakdown, training camp issues and everything you need to know about spring training. Page 3