Prospects Pushing For A's Rotation Spot

Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin has made it clear that the final two spots in his club's rotation are there for the taking come April. With so many young starters in the mix, the battle is shaping up to become an interesting subplot in a spring training with no shortage of storylines.


Oakland has plenty of options when it comes to filling out the rotation. There are the familiar faces of Graham Godfrey, Tyson Ross and non-roster invitee Edgar Gonzalez, or a mix of promising rookies acquired in the Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill deals.

Right-hander Jarrod Parker headlines the A's latest bevy of high-ceiling young starters. Acquired from Arizona as part of the Cahill trade, he is currently the team's highest-rated pitching prospect and the No. 13 pitching prospect in baseball, according to Scout's rankings.

Last year was Parker's first season back after undergoing Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss all of 2010. Like many players returning from tendon replacement surgery in the elbow, he struggled initially to regain the feel in his pitches.

"Early in the year, I struggled," Parker said at his first introduction to Oakland's fans at the team's Fan Fest event on Sunday.

"I was brutal. Just wasn't the same and fought through a lot of things. I definitely learned a lot and was able to take what I learned from the failures and turned them into a pretty good second half."

Despite his poor start, Parker went 11-8 with a 3.79 ERA while maintaining his status as the Diamondbacks' top-prospect and spent the entire season at Double-A Mobile. He yielded just 112 hits in 130.2 innings and struck out 112 hitters to 55 walks. On September 19, after winning the Double-A championship with his team in Mobile, he made his Major League debut in a start against the Dodgers.

Parker went 5.2 innings while giving up four hits and a walk without yielding a run. He left the game with no score as his team would go on to win 7-6 in extra innings. He also made a relief appearance against the Brewers in the Division Series where he gave up a run, two hits and a walk in 0.1 innings.

It appears that the former ninth-overall pick in 2009 is back to pre-surgery form. This year, he's looking forward to preparing with a full offseason for the first time since the operation and says he's 100 percent healthy and recovered. He also added a pitch to his repertoire since going under the knife.

"I actually started throwing a two-seamer now, opposed to throwing all four-seamers," Parker said. "It makes games a lot easier, more efficient."

Parker has a power fastball that sits in the low–to mid-90s that could get up to 97 or 98 when needed. His slider is his most effective off-speed pitch but he also throws a curveball and a changeup.

The A's have the luxury of bringing back pitching coach Curt Young, who resided over the team's outstanding pitching staffs of recent years before spending last season with the Red Sox. While he returns to a bunch of new faces, his philosophy remains the same. He played a major role in the development at the big league level of players such as Gonzalez, Cahill, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden.

"We're all here to win. Whether they're young or veterans, they're here to win games and expectations of these guys is going to be real high right from the get go," Young said.

"It was really kind of satisfying to all of us in the pitching department when you have young people come from the organization and do well. Hopefully as a pitching group here we can help these guys and make them understand what they need to do, and help them get to the level that those guys go to."

Another promising righty looking to crack the team's rotation is Brad Peacock. While Peacock wasn't recognized as an outstanding prospect as early on in his career as Parker was, he did make three appearances with the Nationals last year, going 2-0 with just a 0.75 ERA in two starts and one relief showing.

Peacock was drafted in the 41st-round in 2006 and signed just before the 2007 draft as a "draft and follow." But he improved his status dramatically and became Washington's Minor League Pitcher of the Year and Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2011.

Between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, Peacock combined to go 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA while holding hitters to just a .188 average. Those numbers improved dramatically from 2010, where he had a 4.66 ERA in Double-A Harrisburg.

"In spring training, me and my pitching coach were wondering why I was getting hit so hard the year before and he just changed one little thing in my delivery and it's all said and done from there," Peacock said at Sunday's Fan Fest.

"It just clicked. I had a good season last year."

Peacock remains a bit less refined than Parker, but is still ranked as the No. 44 pitching prospect in Scout's rankings and Oakland's fourth-best pitching prospect. He has three pitches and relied mostly on a hard fastball and changeup that sits at 82 to 83 with a curveball he also mixes in. He walked 4.5 hitters per nine innings on average, meaning his control still needs work if he wants to work into the starting rotation to start the year.

Other top prospects who will be in the running for spots in the starting rotation include Tom Milone and Sonny Gray.

Milone, acquired with Peacock in the Gonzalez trade, is not one to light up the radar gun but relies on his outstanding control. Without having overpowering stuff, he averaged more than nine strikeouts per nine innings over his last two seasons in the minor leagues before making five appearances with the Nationals last year. In the majors, Milone threw 26 innings with a 3.81 ERA while walking just four.

Gray, Oakland's first-round pick last year, made it Double-A Midland in just his first summer with the organization and he threw the ball very well for the Rockhounds. In five starts, the right-hander threw gave up just 15 hits in 20 innings while striking out 18 and having a 0.45 ERA. Scout has him ranked as baseball's No. 18 pitching prospect. It's likely that Gray will be allowed some more time for seasoning in the minor leagues, but an outstanding spring could vault him into the team's starting rotation.

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