30. Tucker Healy
|Healy struck-out nearly seven-and-a-half batters for every one he walked this season. b>|
Professional baseball isn't supposed to be easy, but Healy has made it look like child's play in the early stages of his career. In fact, the only thing that has been able to slow him down thus far is a strained back muscle that cost him the final month of the 2013 season.
Healy was a 23rd-round selection of the A's in 2012 out of Ithaca College. The native of Massachusetts starred mostly as a reliever for four years at Ithaca, earning all-conference honors in each of his collegiate seasons. Healy had a solid pro debut season with the Vermont Lake Monsters in 2012, posting a 3.07 ERA and a 45:13 K:BB in 29.1 innings.
Healy topped his 2012 performance easily in 2013. He began the year with Low-A Beloit and he was nearly unhittable in half a season with the Snappers. In 28.2 innings, Healy had an 0.94 ERA and a 43:5 K:BB. After the All-Star break, he earned a promotion to High-A Stockton. Despite moving to a hitter-friendly league, Healy didn't miss a beat, posting a 1.86 ERA with a 31:5 K:BB in 19.1 innings before going down with a strained Teres Major muscle in the back of his right shoulder. His combined K:BB was 74:10 and he had the second-best K/9 (13.9) of any pitcher in the A's system (16th-best in all of minor league baseball).
Although Healy isn't a classic hard-thrower, he is far from a finesse pitcher. The right-hander's fastball sits in the 91-93 MPH range and he can touch 95 when he reaches back for something extra. Healy has good command of his two secondary pitches – a change-up and a slider. With Beloit, Healy relied mostly on his fastball and change-up, but after he allowed two homeruns in one outing early in his Stockton stint, Healy began to rely more heavily on his slider. He didn't allow another homerun the rest of the season.
Although Healy walked only 10 and allowed just four homeruns in 48 total innings this season, he is still working on refining his fastball command. Because he can command his change-up and slider well, Healy is able to pitch backwards (throwing soft in fastball counts), but he does have enough velocity on his fastball to challenge hitters when he needs to. Healy has been a flyball pitcher thus far in his career.
As a senior sign, Healy was old for his level when he was with Low-A Beloit. However, he will be 23 until mid-June and he is likely to be pitching in Double-A at that point in the season. Given that he is a reliever, he should continue to make quick progress through the system.
29. Murphy Smith
|Smith changed his throwing motion in 2013. b>|
Smith is a prospect who tends to fly under the radar, in part because he hasn't always gotten the results one would expect based on his raw stuff. After a solid season with Double-A Midland in 2013, Smith is moving closer to realizing his full potential.
A 13th-round pick of the A's in 2009, Smith opened eyes early in his pro career for his ability to hit 95 MPH with his fastball. He had trouble maintaining that velocity throughout his starts, however, and that, along with inconsistent command, left Smith with uneven results in 2010. In 2011, Smith pitched well for the Ports, helping to lead them to the California League championship. He got off to a fast start with Double-A Midland in 2012, making the Texas League All-Star team, but then fell off during the second half of the year and finished with a 4.82 ERA.
In 2013, Smith worked with RockHounds pitching coach Don Schulze and A's roving minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson on changes to his pitching mechanics in an effort to make his release point harder to pick up. Smith saw his ERA drop by more than a run (3.48) over his 2012 numbers, although many of his peripherals remained the same as they were in 2012. One area that he did improve was his walk rate, which went from 3.66 in 2012 to 2.76 in 2013.
"We tried to give him a little more of a Kevin Brown-type delivery where he is going to rotate a little bit more, so he can get a little more deception," Emerson said. "He's a lot more aggressive down the [pitching] lane. He's just got to put it all together. He's got solid-average major league stuff. He just needs to continue to put that together and hopefully he'll get his opportunity at the next level."
Although he isn't as extreme of a groundball pitcher, Smith does have similar stuff to former A's right-hander Vin Mazzaro. Like Mazzaro, Smith gets good velocity and sinking movement on his fastball, but, at times, he has trouble locating the fastball because of that extra movement. In addition to the two- and four-seam fastballs, Smith has a cutter that sits in the 88-90 range. He also has a hard slider that sits in the mid- to upper-80s and a change-up that is inconsistent but effective at times.
"He's added more deception to his delivery and with that deception, has created more life on his fastball, down in the ‘zone especially, which has resulted in the groundballs," A's Director of Player Personnel Billy Owens said. "His breaking stuff is still solid, although it can improve, and his change-up is getting better. His confidence in his change-up has definitely improved."
As is the case with many sinkerball pitchers, Smith has never racked up a lot of strike-outs, but he is the kind of pitcher who can work quickly and go deep into games when he has a good infield defense behind him. Smith missed a few weeks with a minor injury in 2011, but he has otherwise been very durable during his pro career.
After two full seasons in Double-A, Smith appears poised for a jump to Triple-A, assuming the A's don't fill their Sacramento rotation pitchers who have major-league service time. He will be 26 for most of next year's regular season.
28. Chad Pinder
|Pinder struggled with injuries while with Vermont. b>|
The A's had three picks on the first day of the 2013 MLB Draft and Pinder was their selection with the third pick (71st overall). The infielder had a strong three-year career at Virginia Tech, during which he posted a line of .322/.389/.509 in 556 at-bats. He was a player the A's followed closely, and they were very pleased when he was still on the board at pick 71.
"We were [surprised that Pinder was still available]," A's Scouting Director Eric Kubota said after Day 1 of the draft. "We scouted him and we have some guys on our scouting staff who really, really liked him. We scouted him throughout the spring.
"We were particularly surprised because he really, really played well at the end of the season. We were pleasantly surprised that he was still there when we picked."
Pinder signed soon after the draft for $750,000 and was assigned to short-season Vermont. His pro career got off to a good start initially, as he hit a homer for his first professional hit. However, things went downhill from there and he struggled through the New York-Penn League season. Injuries played a big role in his struggles – he missed nearly six weeks with a shoulder and an oblique injury. Pinder finished his pro debut season with a .200/.286/.293 line in 140 at-bats.
Healthy by the end of the season, Pinder was able to participate fully in the A's fall Instructional League. Todd Steverson, who was the A's minor league hitting coordinator at the time of the camp, pointed to Pinder as the player who made the most adjustments during Instructs. Steverson said that by the end of camp, Pinder had made noticeable improvements with his swing mechanics and his approach, although he was still getting used to the changes.
"The best thing about Chad is his willingness to want to do something to get better," Steverson said after Instructs concluded. "I could throw a lot of different things at him and he'd be like, ‘let's do it. If it makes me better, let's do it.'"
Despite the poor start to his pro career, Pinder still has the confidence of the A's minor league coaching staff based on his collegiate track record and his raw tools. He is an excellent athlete who spent a lot of time at shortstop and third base in college and handled both positions well. Third base is where many scouts see Pinder sticking long-term, but the A's put him out at shortstop with Vermont and they will continue to see how he develops at the position. He has a strong arm and soft hands.
At the plate, Pinder has quick wrists and a loose swing. He has some power, although he doesn't look to pull the ball much and his swing plane leads to more line drives than balls hit over the fence. Pinder was a solid contact hitter with decent plate discipline in college, but he struggled badly in that area with the Lake Monsters, striking out 41 times in 140 at-bats and walking only 12 times. Pinder isn't a fast runner, but he is a smart base-runner who can steal a bag on occasion when teams forget about him.
Given his struggles with the Lake Monsters and the fact that Daniel Robertson and Renato Nunez are ahead of him on the depth chart, Pinder is likely to start next season with Low-A Beloit. He will turn 22 just before the start of the regular season.
27. Ryan Dull
|Dull climbed the organizational ladder quickly in 2013. b>|
Like Tucker Healy, Dull has made professional baseball look easy since turning pro in 2012. The 5'11'' right-hander moved up three levels during his first full season and ended 2013 pitching in the prospect-showcase Arizona Fall League.
A 32nd-round pick as a senior in 2012, Dull didn't receive a lot of fanfare when he was drafted by the A's out of UNC-Asheville. He immediately caught the attention of the A's minor league coaching staff when he struck-out 47 in 31 innings between the A's two short-season affiliates in 2012. He continued to impress that fall during the A's Instructional League camp.
After a solid spring training, Dull was assigned to Low-A Beloit. He would serve as the Snappers' closer for the first-half of the season, and he dominated the Midwest League in that role. He saved 12 games and posted a 35:3 K:BB in 25.2 innings. After the All-Star game, Dull was promoted to High-A Stockton. He would pitch even better for the Ports, saving six games and posting a 31:3 K:BB in 22.2 innings. His ERA was 1.59 and he allowed just 13 hits.
The A's sent Dull up to Double-A Midland for the final month of the season. His numbers slipped some at the higher level. In 11.2 innings, he still maintained an impressive 12:3 K:BB, but he allowed 15 hits and two homeruns and his ERA was 4.83. Fatigue may have played a factor, as it often does during the final month of a player's first full season.
Dull was part of the A's contingent to the Arizona Fall League. He got off to a rocky start in the AFL, but settled down and pitched well in the closing weeks of the AFL season. Over his final five appearances, he allowed only two runs in six innings and both of those came when a catchable flyball fell between two outfielders with two-outs in the ninth inning.
More than one A's minor league coach has referred to Dull as a ‘bulldog' on the mound. His fastball tops out at 93 MPH (sitting in the 89-92 range), but hitters react to the pitch like it is coming at them at 100 MPH. Teammates started calling Dull's fastball the ‘ghost pitch' early in the season because it looked like none of the batters could see it coming. He also throws a change-up and a slider and he commands all three pitches well down in the strike-zone.
"Dully, he's got a good sinker," A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said. "He pitches to both sides of the plate. A decent slider and a good change-up. The kind of guy who pounds the strike-zone."
"He's a strike-throwing machine," 2013 Beloit Snappers manager Ryan Christensen said. "He's not the most imposing guy on the mound, but he's got a good arm and comes after people. He gets out quick in the count."
Because Dull was a senior sign, he was already 22 when he was drafted and he turned 24 in October. Given that he has already reached Double-A and he is a reliever, age isn't as much of a concern for him as it would be for a position player or starting pitcher prospect. The A's have a very deep bullpen in the major leagues, but if Dull continues to dominate at the rate he has thus far in his career, he could be on the radar for a big league job as early as some point next season.
26. David Freitas
|Freitas faced bad luck at the plate in Midland. b>|
It was a strange 2013 season for Freitas. The Sacramento-area native made a strong first impression with the A's in 2012 when he hit .333 with a 916 OPS in 20 games with the Midland Rockhounds after being acquired from the Washington Nationals in a late-season trade. Freitas earned a non-roster invitation to spring training and he hit well in limited plate appearances.
At the start of the regular season, Freitas was assigned to Triple-A Sacramento, but his homecoming was short-lived, as the A's acquired Stephen Vogt during the first week of the season. Vogt's arrival pushed Freitas back to Double-A, and he would spend the next three-and-a-half months with the RockHounds. Freitas posted dismal numbers with the RockHounds, although much of that was because of an almost unbelievably unlucky BABIP of .222. During the month of May, Freitas hit six homeruns, but he had only 12 hits overall in 60 at-bats. His line with Midland was .214/.285/.362 in 224 at-bats.
In mid-July, Freitas got the call back to Sacramento when Vogt was promoted to the big leagues. Freitas' luck improved significantly with the River Cats, as his BABIP normalized to .305. In addition, his K-rate dropped by 3% and his walk rate inched up from 8.1% with Midland to 10% with Sacramento. He would post a .268/.355/.381 line in 97 at-bats with the River Cats.
This fall, Freitas was part of the A's contingent at the Arizona Fall League. He missed the final two weeks of the AFL season so that he could get married, but he did get 27 at-bats before his time with Mesa was up. Freitas hit only .222, but he posted a .382 OBP.
Scout.com's National Baseball Analyst Kiley McDaniel saw Freitas at the AFL, and he had this to say about him:
'A's catcher David Freitas is a big guy at 6'3/225 and is a 20 runner with a solid approach that makes the most of his modest bat speed by being short to the ball, though this approach saps the raw power his strength can create. He's a solid receiver with a good arm.'
Freitas has excellent bat control and he can also work a walk. He is generally a line-drive hitter and he uses the whole field. Freitas has the power to go deep, although he generally looks to make contact rather than gearing up to hit the ball out of the park. Defensively, he does a solid job handling the pitching staff and he has thrown out 26% of all attempted base-stealers during his minor league career.
The A's have re-signed Luke Montz to a minor league deal and they have three catchers on their 40-man roster. Assuming that roster alignment remains the same, Freitas could find himself back in Midland to start the 2014 season. However, it is likely that he will see at least some time with Sacramento next year.