Injuries have plagued the Oakland A's minor-league system this spring, but at least one top pitching prospect is on the comeback trail and on the verge of being the same productive player he was as a top prospect in the 2013 amateur draft.
Beloit right-hander Bobby Wahl missed nearly a month of the season with an oblique injury and has been on a limited workload since his return from the disabled list on May 12th. His latest outing saw him pitch three perfect innings, but a fourth-inning two-run homer by Clinton's Austin Wilson put a damper on an otherwise positive performance.
"I felt good, like I was locating the ball really well," said Wahl, a fifth-round selection last year out of Ole Miss. "I was able to throw all three pitches for strikes. But that's baseball – you have one bad pitch and it was a change-up. Austin's a great hitter, has a lot of power and he got the bat to it.
"Other than that one pitch, I was throwing the ball where I want to and it was coming out good. You've got to learn from and move on."
"...being able to locate all your pitches whenever you need is what I'm stressing on," - Bobby Wahl
Wahl ended up throwing 3.2 innings against the Lumber Kings and allowed the two earned runs on two hits, striking out one batter. The outing came six days after he returned from the injured list. In his first start back, Wahl went three innings, allowing one earned run on two hits while striking out two at home against Kane County. In the two outings since his return, Wahl has yet to issue a walk.
Wanting to get Wahl back into the fold as soon as he was healthy, the A's activated Wahl with the knowledge that he would be on a pitch count for the next several starts.
"We're trying to get his pitch count back up again, so he's starting back down at that 50-pitch limit and there's no new pitches after a certain amount above that ceiling," Snappers manager Rick Magnante said. "We'll get him back to a pitch count that allows him to maybe give us a solid six or seven innings here very shortly.
"He's made some big strides and his velocity has spiked again. We're starting to build him back up and see the velocity that we'd seen when we scouted him as a [draft pick]. His curveball has looked good, as well as his change. He's using his arsenal and competing well."
Oblique injuries often force pitchers to compensate while throwing their array of pitches, and it was no different for Wahl, who said he had problems with his breaking ball and fastball.
"It was frustrating with the oblique injury," Wahl said. "At first it was throwing breaking balls, because you're trying to get that extension down. Your front side is coming down as well. It was also mentally [an adjustment] and not letting that injury affect you.
"Even my fastball was affected, because it was hard getting it down in the 'zone because you're so conscious of being sore. It's hard to get that extension toward the plate."
As one of the A's highest picks in last season's draft, a junior selection out of an SEC program, Wahl feels he is back on what he hopes is the fast track.
The 6'2'' right-hander felt he was prepared for the professional transition after pitching in a high-profile conference. After throwing one game with the A's rookie league squad last year, Wahl moved on to short-season Vermont where he started four of his nine games and allowed nine earned runs on 20 hits in 20.2 innings. His 27:6 K:BB ratio also stood out amongst the Lake Monster pitching staff.
"I had a successful college career and pitching in the SEC prepared me from a mental standpoint," Wahl said. "It's such a tough conference in college baseball. You're facing guys like [Seattle Mariners' catcher and former Florida Gators' star] Mike Zunino, who is already in the big leagues. Having all that experience prepares you."
Wahl said he continues to strive for more consistency with his fastball, change-up and breaking ball.
"The biggest thing is throwing strikes with all my pitches," he said. "When you can throw a curveball 1-0, or throw a change-up behind in the count – being able to locate all your pitches whenever you need is what I'm stressing on."