Pitchers That Just Missed The Top-50 List, Part Two
Note: The players below are in alphabetical - and not rank - order.
Omar Duran: Since signing with the A's before the 2008 season, Duran's progress through the A's system has been gradual despite the fact that he is one of the hardest throwers in the system. Injuries have played a large part in preventing Duran from moving up the ranks. He set a career-high in 2013 in innings pitched with 58.1. Command issues have also held Duran back. The left-hander's career BB:9 rate is 5.79.
When Duran is throwing strikes, he is very hard to hit. During his career, he has struck-out 12.67 batters per nine innings. In 2013, Duran K'd 91 in just 58.1 innings. Batters have hit under .200 against Duran throughout his career. Duran spent most of the 2013 season with the High-A Stockton Ports. Cal League batters hit only .200 against Duran and they managed just four homeruns in 53 innings while striking out 83 times. Duran's command issues resulted in an inflated ERA (4.58), however.
Duran spent the fall pitching in the prospect showcase Arizona Fall League, but he struggled in 9.2 innings. He walked seven and posted a 5.59 ERA. His velocity was down from his normal 95-97 MPH range, and he may have been tiring after a full season. The 23 year old not only has a mid-90s fastball, he also has a sharp breaking slider that gives him two plus pitches when he is pitching with confidence. Despite his plus stuff, Duran tends to pitch around the strike-zone rather than challenging hitters at times. Duran doesn't need to try to avoid contact; hitters have trouble connecting on pitches he throws even when the pitches are in the strike-zone. Duran is eligible for minor league free agency at the end of the 2014 season unless the A's add him to the 40-man roster. With a good spring, he could make his Double-A debut at the start of the 2014 season.
Jerad Grundy: Grundy was the A's 10th-round pick in this year's draft. It was the fourth time Grundy heard his name called in the draft. He previously was selected by the Rangers in 2009, the Marlins in 2011 and the Twins in 2012. The left-hander had a winding collegiate career. He began at Miami (FL), went the junior college route, and then pitched at Kentucky for the final two years. He posted a 4.31 ERA and he posted a 124:56 K:BB in 169 innings for the Wildcats.
The A's had seen plenty of Grundy over the years before they drafted him this season. Grundy has average stuff, but the A's were impressed with his ability to mix his pitches and out-think opposing batters. Grundy never got on-track during his pro debut season, however. He had two stints on the disabled list and pitched in only 29 innings. He had a 7.14 ERA and a 14:13 K:BB rate. If healthy, Grundy should be significantly better in 2014 than he showed during his pro debut. Where he starts in 2014 will depend on how he pitches and his health this spring.
Kris Hall: Injuries played a big part in why Hall didn't end up on the top-50 list this season. The right-hander has a live arm and the potential to be a late-inning reliever in the big leagues. However, he was limited by an arm injury early in the season and posted a 7.97 ERA in 20.1 innings during the first half of the season. Hall pitched much better during the second half of the year. He posted a 3.03 ERA and he struck-out 39 in 32.2 innings. Hall did walk 20, however.
The A's sent Hall to their fall Instructional League camp to get more innings after missing time with injury and to work on improving his breaking ball. Hall pitched well throughout camp. The breaking ball improved and he showed mid-90s velocity on his fastball at times. If healthy, Hall should start the 2014 season in the Stockton bullpen. The A's 2012 eighth-round pick will be 22 until early June.
Tyler Johnson: Johnson was one of the leaders of the Stony Brook team that shocked the college baseball world in 2012 when they reached the College World Series. The right-hander won several games for the Seawolves en route to Omaha and helped make program history. Johnson threw a lot of pitches and a lot of innings during that CWS run, and that has taken a toll on him physically during the ensuing two seasons. In 2013, Johnson dealt with a hip injury early in the season that kept him from joining a full-season affiliate staff and limited his innings with short-season Vermont later in the year.
When Johnson has been healthy, he has pitched effectively since turning pro. A sinkerball specialist, Johnson has induced 55% of all batters he has faced to hit groundballs. In 69 innings for the A's two short-season clubs, Johnson has a career ERA of 2.35. He has struck-out just 45, but he has allowed only four homeruns and has a GO/AO of roughly 2.50.
A former starter, Johnson has a deep arsenal for a reliever. He features a sinking fastball, a cutter, a circle change-up and a slider. Johnson doesn't throw hard, but his pitches get a lot of movement down in the strike-zone. The Southern California native is spending the off-season strengthening his lower-half in hopes of avoiding the injuries that stymied him in 2013. If healthy, he should be on a full-season affiliate roster at the start of 2014.
Johnson starred for Stony Brook in college.
Jonathan Joseph: Although just 26 years old, Joseph is one of the longest tenured members of the A's organization. The right-hander signed with Oakland out of the Dominican Republic in 2006. He has been a minor league free agent after each of the past two seasons, and Joseph has re-signed with Oakland both times.
In 2013, Joseph had a solid year pitching for the High-A Stockton Ports. A ‘sometimes starter' earlier in his career, Joseph has made the permanent move to the bullpen, and the role seems to suit him well. In 64.1 innings for the Ports in 2013, he had a 3.50 ERA and a .203 BAA. Joseph struck-out 79 while walking 26 and allowing six homeruns.
Joseph has always had an above-average fastball that can touch 94 and moves well to both sides of the plate. He also features a big bending curveball and a solid change-up. Joseph has struggled at times with pitch sequence, but he showed improvement in that area in 2013. He should be ready for the jump to Double-A in 2014.
Nate Long: In his first season at the Double-A level, Long turned in a solid campaign for the RockHounds in 2013. The right-hander was one of Midland's most consistent relievers, as he posted a 3.86 ERA in 63 innings. Long allowed just two homeruns and he posted a 57:20 K:BB.
It has been a gradual journey for Long through the A's system. A 2009 pick out of UT-Arlington, Long spent two seasons in the short-season Northwest League before making his full-season affiliate debut in 2011. He transitioned from being a starter to being a reliever in 2011 and has primarily pitched out of the bullpen over the past two seasons. Long has a good demeanor for the bullpen; he works quickly and isn't afraid to challenge hitters. He gets a lot of cutting action on his fastball, making him effective against left-handed hitters. Lefties hit only .236 against Long last season.
The A's signed a number of veteran right-handed relievers to minor league deals this off-season, but Long could still challenge for a spot with Triple-A Sacramento this spring.
Junior Mendez: Mendez had a dominant career for the University of Southern New Hampshire Penmen, and he was one of the top pitchers in Division II baseball the past two seasons. The right-hander from Long Island led Division II in strike-outs and was second in K/9 during his junior season. The A's selected Mendez in the 16th round of the 2013 draft.
Mendez pitches off of his low-90s fastball. He also has a solid breaking ball and is making progress with the development of his change-up. Mendez was a reliever during his pro debut, and he posted a 2.75 ERA and a 40:15 K:BB in 39.1 innings for the AZL A's and the Vermont Lake Monsters. He was a starter in college, however, and could return to that role in 2014. Regardless of role, Mendez should make his full-season affiliate debut in 2014. He will be 21 throughout the 2014 season.
Zach Neal: The 2013 season was Neal's first in the A's organization. Let go by the Marlins at the end of spring training, Neal was acquired by Oakland and he spent the entire 2013 season in the Double-A Midland rotation. He led the RockHounds in innings pitched and starts with 165.2 and 28, respectively. Neal had a 4.35 ERA and a 96:38 K:BB.
The right-hander has a starter's build (6'3'', 220) and a four-pitch arsenal (fastball, slider, curveball and change-up). His fastball sits in the 88-92 MPH range and his slider is his best secondary pitch. Neal attacks the strike-zone and pitches to contact. He has mostly found success with this approach, although he occasionally catches too much of the plate (as was evidenced by his 18 homeruns allowed in 2013). The A's were impressed with Neal's ability to make adjustments during the season and seek out the help of the coaching staff in a new organization. He will be 25 throughout the 2014 season.
Gregory Paulino: Paulino looked poised to be part of our top-50 prospect list before injuries robbed him of most of the 2013 regular season. The right-hander spent the first half of the season at extended spring training before being assigned to the Vermont Lake Monsters' roster for the opening of the New York-Penn League. He was a member of the Lake Monsters' starting rotation at the beginning of the season. Paulino made six appearances for the Lake Monsters, posting a 2.57 ERA in 28 innings, before landing on the disabled list after a July 14th outing. He would return during the final week of the season, making a one inning relief appearance on September 4.
Paulino, who will turn 21 in February, has a plus change-up that he uses to keep hitters off-balance. His fastball clocks in at 88-91 MPH, but he projects to add more velocity as he continues to grow into his 6'3'' frame. The right-hander is still working on his breaking ball, but he has good fastball command. If he is healthy next spring, Paulino could make the jump to Low-A, although the A's will have to keep an eye on his innings total after he threw only 29 in 2013.
Brent Powers: For a second straight year, Powers had to deal with a demotion from Low-A to short-season. However, based on how he pitched for the Lake Monsters after his demotion in 2013, he isn't likely to return to that level again. The left-hander was one of the best starters in the New York-Penn League in 2013. He posted a 2.43 ERA and a 69:18 K:BB in 77.2 innings. Powers allowed just three homeruns and opposing batters hit just .243 against him.
Powers was an 18th-round pick of the A's in 2011 out of Sam Houston State. During the first two years of his pro career, Powers struggled to repeat his delivery. This season while with Vermont, Powers worked with pitching coach Craig Lefferts and found a delivery that he could repeat, and that change improved his command significantly. Powers isn't a hard thrower, so he needs to be able to spot his pitches to find success. He has good secondary stuff and can throw his change-up and breaking ball for strikes in fastball counts. A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson compared Powers to A's starter Tommy Milone.
Powers is already 24, so he will need to speed up the pace of his development to reach the big leagues. He should get a much longer look at the Low-A level in 2014.