Pitchers That Just Missed The Top-50 List, Part Three
Note: The players below are in alphabetical - and not rank - order.
Paul Smyth: It didn't take Smyth long to get to the Double-A level, but he was stuck at that level for awhile before finally breaking through to Triple-A in 2013. The sidearming right-hander made it to Midland at the start of his second full professional season (2011). He remained there for all of 2011, 2012 and the first part of 2013. After posting a 2.74 ERA in 23 innings with the RockHounds, Smyth received that long-awaited call to Sacramento. He fared well during his first test at the Triple-A level, posting a 2.45 ERA in 36.2 innings. Smyth followed that up with a solid stint in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he had a 2.95 ERA in 18.1 innings.
Despite Smyth's sidearm motion, he isn't an extreme groundball pitcher. Like many sidearmers, Smyth is significantly more effective against same-side hitters (right-handers) than he is against opposite-side hitters. Smyth throws a two-seam fastball that sits in the 89-91 MPH range, a slider and a change-up. Despite not having elite velocity, Smyth has averaged more than a strike-out an inning throughout his career. He can get a little wild at times when his motion goes out-of-whack, but when he is on, he challenges hitters by filling up the lower-half of the strike-zone. He should be part of the River Cats' bullpen again in 2014.
Lee Sosa: There wasn't a lot of buzz about Sosa when he was selected in the 26th round of the 2012 draft. However, the Bronx native opened a lot of eyes during the A's extended spring training program this season. He flashed plus stuff – a mid-90s fastball with movement and a sharp breaking slider. When he got out on the mound for games that ‘counted' during the New York-Penn League season, Sosa struggled with his pitch sequencing and his command. He improved both during the A's fall Instructional League and Sosa is a strong candidate for a breakout campaign in 2014.
The 6'2'' right-hander can fall in love with his fastball at times, but he is learning to pitch more strategically, throwing his breaking ball and his developing change-up in fastball counts. If Sosa can improve his change-up, he has a chance to be a starter. However, he could move quickly through the system as a reliever with just his fastball/breaking ball combination if he can tighten up his command. Sosa will be 22 until the final week of the 2014 regular season. He should start the year with Low-A Beloit.
Matt Stalcup: The hard-throwing Stalcup was the A's ninth-round pick in the 2013 draft. A southpaw from a small college program (Pittsburgh State in Kansas), Stalcup has good raw "stuff," but he is still refining his game, learning to command his pitches better. Stalcup was limited by minor injuries during his pro debut season that kept him at only 28.2 innings pitched for short-season Vermont. Stalcup proved hard to hit (he held opposing batters to a .222 average), but he struggled with his command at times and he posted a 19:15 K:BB.
Stalcup's fastball can touch 94 and it looks even faster to hitters thanks to his deceptive throwing motion. He also has a good curveball that he can throw in a variety of counts. Stalcup needs to improve his fastball command and his change-up, but he has a strong base to work with. He is likely to start the 2014 season with Low-A Beloit.
Jose Torres: Injuries limited Torres in 2013, but if he is healthy in 2014, chances are he will be securely on the top-50 list. The now 20-year-old left-hander made his affiliate debut this season with short-season Vermont after pitching his first two professional seasons for the DSL A's in 2011 and the AZL A's in 2012. Torres missed all of August with an injury, but he was effective when he was on the mound for the Lake Monsters. In 30.2 innings, Torres posted a 2.64 ERA and a .228 BAA. His K:BB was only 21:12, but five of those walks came in the second-to-last start he made before landing on the disabled list. Torres was able to pitch on September 2nd, tossing a scoreless inning of relief to finish his year on a good note.
The native of Venezuela has the size and the feel for pitching to reach the big leagues as a starter. He is listed at 6'2'', 175, but Torres is starting to fill out that frame even more. Torres' best pitch is his curveball, and he can throw the curve in a variety of counts. He also has improved his change-up, and that is, at times, an above-average offering for the left-hander. Torres' fastball command also improved in 2013, although he still has work to do in that area. His velocity is mostly 87-89 on the fastball right now, but he projects to add some heat as he matures physically. If healthy, Torres should make his full-season affiliate debut in 2014.
A healthy 2014 should land Torres back in the top-50 list.
Lou Trivino: After three standout seasons at Division II Slippery Rock University, Trivino heard his name called in the draft this season in the 11th round. The A's assigned the right-hander to the New York-Penn League, and he put together a solid pro debut with the Lake Monsters. In 60.2 innings, Trivino posted a 3.12 ERA. His K:BB was 47:20, but he did a good job of keeping the ball on the ground, posting a 1.46 GO/AO and allowing just two homeruns.
Trivino has a power-pitcher's frame at 6'5'', 225, and he has the velocity to match his look. His fastball sits in the 91-93 MPH range, and he can touch 95 at times. Trivino also has a cutter, a change-up and a curveball. He was the first player selected out of Slippery Rock since Matt Adams was drafted by the Cardinals in 2009. Trivino is likely to make the jump into the Low-A Beloit rotation in 2014.
Tyler Vail: It hasn't been an easy first four seasons in professional baseball for Vail. Injuries and inconsistent command have prevented the talented right-hander from advancing past the Low-A level. However, he transitioned from the starting rotation to the bullpen in 2013 and he looked comfortable in his new role. In 56.1 innings with the Snappers, Vail allowed just two homeruns and he had a 3.69 FIP. Vail should get the chance to compete at the High-A level in 2014 as a reliever.
"He has good stuff. He has a very good sinker," A's roving minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said. "When you have good movement at such a young age, it's hard to identify your command. He just needs to get out there and pitch as often as he can, so that he can start to identify where he needs to start his baseball and get the movement. He has a ton of movement but sometimes it just leaks outside the strike-zone.
"He did a good job of pounding the strike-zone with his sinker [during fall Instructs]. We were trying to work on his breaking ball. Once he gets his breaking ball – it's not where it needs to be – but when he gets that breaking ball, his game is going to elevate to the next level."
Dominique Vattuone: It isn't always fair, but players taken in the later rounds of the draft often find themselves behind the eight-ball in terms of being noticed even before they enter an organization. Vattuone was the A's 32nd-round pick this season out of UNC-Greensboro. The right-handed reliever didn't come into pro ball with a high profile, but he took full advantage of his opportunities during his pro debut season and will be on the list of pitchers the A's keep close tabs on in 2014.
Vattuone began his pro career in the AZL, but he quickly proved too advanced for that level. He was promoted to short-season Vermont after striking out 21 and allowing just 17 base-runners in 16.1 innings for the AZL Athletics. Vattuone then pitched well for Vermont, not allowing a run until his final two appearances with the team (he threw 11.2 scoreless innings before allowing seven runs over his final two innings of the season). Vattuone struck-out 17 and walked eight (three in his final outing) in 13.2 innings for the Lake Monsters. His performance during his pro debut earned Vattuone a spot in the A's fall Instructional League, where he continued to impress the A's coaching staff.
"He did a very good job. He's not the type of guy who is going to impress you with the velocity on his pitches or the late break to his breaking ball, but he throws a lot of strikes," A's roving minor league coordinator Scott Emerson said. "He throws any pitch in any count and he changes his arm angles a little bit. He's kind of a crafty right-hander who throws strikes with some movement to his ball. He has a decent breaking ball and he puts it over the plate. He has a decent change-up and he puts it over the plate. He's a good competitor and he does the little things – he plays defense and he has a good pick-off move. He put himself in a pretty good position for next year."
Vattuone is likely to be part of the Low-A Beloit bullpen in 2014.
T.J. Walz: After posting a 112:36 K:BB in 99.2 innings for the High-A Stockton Ports in 2012, Walz was expected to do big things in 2013. The right-hander began the year back in Stockton because of a backlog of relievers in the Double-A and Triple-A levels, but it was expected that the Kansas alum would receive an opportunity at the Double-A level at some point in 2013. That opportunity never materialized, as Walz struggled in his return trip to Stockton and remained with the Ports all season.
In 2013, Walz saw his ERA nearly double over his 2012 effort (6.13 ERA in 2013 after a 3.16 ERA in 2012). He still struck-out more than a batter an inning (73 in 61.2 innings), but he walked 4.67 batters per nine innings (he walked 3.25 per nine in 2012) and he allowed a much higher homerun rate. Walz also got a bit unlucky – his BABIP was .404.
Walz struggled to get the easy inning in 2013, but his strike-out total is a good indicator that he still had good stuff. Walz also increased his groundball rate in 2013, so with better luck, he could have had a much lower ERA. He may have to return to Stockton yet again in 2014, but if he gets off to a fast start, he should be one of the first to get a look in Double-A when there are openings.
Walz had trouble getting clean innings in 2013.
Andrew Werner: Werner was acquired by the A's last off-season in a trade with the San Diego Padres. It took the left-hander a little while to get acclimated to his new organization. He struggled during big league camp and those struggles carried over into the first two months of the regular season. Werner's throwing motion was out-of-whack, but he made some adjustments in mid-May and those paid dividends. His ERA before the All-Star break was 6.53; after it was 3.71.
Werner is a classic finesse lefty. If he is locating well, he keeps hitters off-balance and gets a lot of lazy flyball outs. Werner doesn't have a big margin for error, however. If he is missing his spots, he can be hit hard. Werner pitched at his best down-the-stretch for Sacramento, allowing more than three runs in only one of his final six starts. He was removed from the A's 40-man roster this off-season, but he is a non-roster invitee to big league camp. Despite not being on the 40-man roster, Werner should still serve the same role within the organization that he did last season – depth for the A's major league starting rotation or their long relief role. If he can continue to pitch as he did during the final six weeks of 2013, Werner should see the big leagues again in some capacity in the next year or two.
Jesus Zambrano: Zambrano signed with the A's as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela before the 2013 season, and the A's haven't been shy about challenging the right-hander since he joined the organization. After pitching a full season in the Dominican Summer League, Zambrano was invited to the A's US fall Instructional League, where he was the youngest pitcher in camp (he turned 17 in late August). Although the A's haven't made any final decisions about where Zambrano will pitch in 2014, there is a decent chance that he will make his US debut before his 18th birthday.
Zambrano isn't big (5'11'', 170) and he doesn't throw all that hard yet (mostly mid- to high-80s with some 90s late in the summer/early fall), but he has an advanced feel for pitching. He already has two solid secondary offerings (a curveball and a change-up) and his fastball location is above-average for his level of development. Zambrano was hit around a bit during Instructs because he wasn't throwing all that hard, but he made adjustments throughout the camp and showed the ability to learn from his struggles. During his DSL season, Zambrano walked only 12 in 61.1 innings. Over his final 10 starts, he walked just three in 51 innings. He had a 3.35 ERA over that stretch and he struck-out 37.
"Jesus has very advanced secondary stuff and an advanced feel for throwing strikes," A's International Scouting Coordinator Sam Geaney said. "Some of our coaches have noted some similarities between Jesus and Ronald Herrera and I think there is something to it. Both are very athletic righties with excellent deliveries and advanced approaches beyond their years.
"Long-term he's a guy we're all excited about. It can be easy to forget just how young he is and that he made it through a long year healthy, picked up an impressive amount of English and had a nice pro debut on top of it all."