Name: Drew Pomeranz
MLB Stats: 5.19 ERA in 137 IP
MiLB Stats: 2.96 ERA in 243 IP
MLB Service Time: 1.050 years
Going into spring training, there are a lot of known commodities in the Oakland A's 2014 big league camp. The A's are returning much of their roster from their 2013 AL West division championship squad. Oakland is also bringing in several veteran players such as Scott Kazmir, Jim Johnson and Nick Punto to enhance the roster further.
Despite all of those known commodities, there are still several players coming into big league camp who could be surprise assets for the A's in their quest to make the post-season for the third straight year. One of those players is left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who comes into camp without a defined role but with one of the best arms in the organization.
Pomeranz joined the A's organization this December when Oakland acquired him and reliever Chris Jensen in a deal that sent left-hander Brett Anderson to the Colorado Rockies. While Anderson was the headline name in that deal, Pomeranz came to Oakland with a high profile of his own. Selected fifth overall by the Cleveland Indians in 2010 out of the University of Mississippi, Pomeranz was one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in all of baseball in 2011 and 2012. Poor results at the big league level with Colorado the past two seasons have taken some of the shine off the future expectations for Pomeranz, but he is still just 25.
The A's have had significant success in recent years with developing other teams' pitching prospects into successful big league pitchers. Anderson himself is a good example, as are current A's pitchers Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone. Pomeranz knows the A's history with developing quality major-league pitchers and he said on Friday that he is excited for the opportunity with his new organization.
This is the second time Pomeranz has been traded despite being in pro ball less than four years. The first time came just a year after he was drafted by the Indians. Despite being touted as a future rotation anchor for Cleveland on draft day, Pomeranz threw just 101 innings as a member of the Indians' organization. He had a lot of success during his short stay with the Indians. Pomeranz had an ERA under 2.00 for Cleveland's High-A and Double-A clubs at the time of the deal, and many pundits believed the Rockies got a steal when they acquired Pomeranz, Alex White, Joe Gardner and Matt McBride for Ubaldo Jimenez.
Colorado wasted no time seeing what they had in Pomeranz. He made just two starts with the Rockies' Double-A affiliate before he was promoted to the big leagues. Pomeranz made four starts for the Rockies in 2011, posting a 5.40 ERA in 18.1 innings.
In 2012, Pomeranz entered the season as one of the top-25 prospects in all of baseball. He began the year in the Colorado rotation, but he was sent back to Triple-A after five starts and a 4.70 ERA. Pomeranz pitched very well for Triple-A Colorado Springs, posting a 2.31 ERA in 10 starts before returning to Colorado for the rest of the season. In 22 starts with the Rockies in 2012, Pomeranz had a 4.93 ERA and an 83:46 K:BB. He struggled to go deep into games, however, pitching past the fifth inning just four times.
Last season, the Rockies assigned Pomeranz to Triple-A to start the year. He didn't dominate the PCL as he had in 2012, but Pomeranz still pitched well (especially considering the offense-friendly nature of his home park). He had a 4.20 ERA and a 96:33 K:BB in 85.2 innings for the Sky Sox. Pomeranz once again struggled to find that same level of success in the big leagues, however. He appeared in eight games with the Rockies and he had a 6.23 ERA and a 19:19 K:BB in 21.2 innings. Pomeranz also missed more than six weeks with left bicep tendinitis.
Being traded twice in four years isn't an easy way to start a career, and Pomeranz is hopeful that he has found a long-term home with the A's after a short stop with Cleveland and an up-and-down tenure with the Rockies.
"I'm hoping for maybe a smoother year this year," Pomeranz said on Friday. "I've had some strange years, starting out with my first and then some of the things that were going on after that. I'm just looking forward to this year with this organization, which is a great organization."
The A's could have two former Ole Miss stars in their rotation in the near future. Drew Pomeranz starred for Mississippi from 2008-2010. His spot as the Rebels' top starter was taken by Bobby Wahl, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft by the A's. Wahl is one of the A's top pitching prospects going into the 2014 season.
Although Pomeranz never played on the same team as Wahl at Mississippi, he got to know Wahl when working out at Ole Miss during the off-season.
With the thin air and the high elevation, Colorado isn't an ideal spot for any pitcher. Many pitchers, even seasoned veterans, have struggled to pitch for the Rockies because of the difficult home pitching environment. Pomeranz refuses to make the pitching conditions at Coors Field an excuse for his 5.20 career ERA at the big league level.
"Everybody talks about [the elevation], but if you can pitch, you can pitch there," Pomeranz said. "You really can't let it take too much control over your thoughts. It's a little bit different pitching there, but if you can get outs there, you can get outs anywhere. That's the way you have to look at it."
Colorado's Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, plays in a similar pitching environment to their big league club. Pomeranz pitched well for the Sky Sox in 2012 and 2013, posting a 3.60 ERA and a 142:53 K:BB in 132.1 innings in the PCL. He knows that it will take more than moving organizations for him to find the magic formula that will allow him to pitch as well at the big league level as he has in the minor leagues. He has been working on developing a more consistent change-up, a pitch he knows he will need to be able to throw for strikes to remain a starter at the major-league level.
"I haven't really had a problem with the minor leagues. It has just been translating that to the big leagues, which I am hoping for this year," Pomeranz said.
At the end of last season, Pomeranz threw five innings in relief over four appearances for the Rockies. Those were the first relief innings of his professional career. He didn't allow a run and he allowed just two base-runners (one hit and one walk) against 17 hitters faced. Pomeranz struck-out six. The A's like Pomeranz's potential as a starter, but they could look to him to replace left-hander Jerry Blevins (who was traded this off-season) in their bullpen this season. Pomeranz has a fastball that sits in the low-90s and can touch 95 and a good breaking ball, so he has the weapons to be a reliever at the big league level now.
For his part, Pomeranz isn't picky about what kind of role he will play for the A's. He is happy to slot anywhere the team wants him at the big league level.
"I'd like to be a starter, but whatever it takes to help the team win, I'm going to do that," Pomeranz said. "I'm not going to say that I'm just a starter. I just want to help the team win and I want to be here [in Oakland]."
Pomeranz is one of 21 pitchers currently on the A's 40-man roster and one of 28 invited to big league camp. Unlike several potential members of the A's bullpen, Pomeranz has options remaining. Given his options status and the fact that the A's starting rotation is deep, Pomeranz could be facing an uphill battle to make the A's roster on Opening Day. However, if he can demonstrate a better feel for his change-up this spring and find initial success in Triple-A, Pomeranz figures to be one of the first options the A's turn to if they have openings in their rotation or their bullpen this season. With Pomeranz under A's team control for at least five more years, he could be a big piece of the puzzle for Oakland for years to come.