OaklandClubhouse Minor League Pitcher of the Month: April
Zach Neal, Midland
Stats: 2-0, 2.25 ERA, 21:5 K:BB ratio in 28 innings, more than 1 walk in a start just once.
Neal was acquired by the A's as a minor league free agent just days before the start of the regular season. He has quickly made a strong first impression on his new organization. The Oklahoma alum made five starts in April and allowed two earned runs or less in all but one of them. In the one start in which he allowed more than two runs, he pitched into the eighth inning in a game the RockHounds won handily.
The right-hander continued to pitch well in his first start in May, allowing only a run in seven innings on Wednesday night. Neal has had impeccable command, a competitive approach to pitching and an excellent array of secondary pitches.
Neal edged out several worthy candidates for the Pitcher of the Month award.
Dan Straily, Sacramento: 3-0, 0.96 ERA, 20:6 K:BB ratio
Had Straily spent the entire month of April in Triple-A, he probably would have won this award, but being limited to three starts left him behind Neal. Straily was outstanding in his stint with the River Cats, commanding the strike-zone and keeping hitters off-balance. Straily has replaced the injured Brett Anderson in the A's rotation. If he pitches well for Oakland over the next three weeks, he may not be eligible for another minor league award this season.
Murphy Smith, Midland: 3-3, 2.04 ERA, 25:10 K:BB ratio, 1 HR allowed, one start allowing more than one run.
Smith has teamed with Neal to form a formidable one-two duo at the top of the RockHounds' rotation. A Midland starter last year, Smith has handcuffed Texas League hitters this time around. He has pounded the strike-zone, mixed his pitches well and has held the opposition to a .238 average. Smith has also allowed only one homerun and has been the model of consistency, allowing more than one run just once in six April starts.
Sean Murphy, Midland/Stockton: 2-1, 2.61 ERA, 30:8 K:BB ratio.
Murphy had a breakthrough season in 2012, when he reached a career-high in innings pitched and struck-out a batter an inning (159). He has continued to develop this season and has already earned a promotion from High-A to Double-A. With the Ports, Murphy struck-out 19 in 18.2 innings and walked four. His numbers have been similar since his jump to the Texas League, with 11 strike-outs and four walks in 12.1 innings. Murphy can be prone to the homerun and he did allow four with Stockton, but he has yet to allow one with the RockHounds.
Danny Otero, Sacramento: 0.00 ERA, 9:1 K:BB ratio, 6 SV
Otero joined the A's organization in early April after a journey through the waiver wire. He has quickly become the River Cats' most reliable reliever. The right-hander has yet to allow a run in 12.2 innings. He has given up just seven base-runners and has struck-out nine. His six saves are tops in the organization.