Name: Tucker Healy
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 195
How Acquired: Drafted in the 23rd round in 2012
For the first time in his professional career, Tucker Healy ran into a speedbump on his way to the big leagues. The reliever dominated at every level until reaching Triple-A midway through last season. In 2015, Healy will set out to prove that his difficulties in Triple-A were an aberration.
A 23rd-round pick of the Oakland A’s in 2012, Healy caught the eye of the A’s minor league coaching staff and front office when he struck-out 45 in 29.1 innings in his pro debut with Vermont. In 2013, Healy improved on those numbers, striking out a remarkable 74 batters and walking just 10 in 48 innings between Low-A and High-A. Only a late-season shoulder muscle strain kept Healy from moving up to Double-A at the end of his first full professional season.
Because of the time missed late in 2013, Healy began 2014 where he ended the previous season – with High-A Stockton. It didn’t take long for Healy to prove too dominant for that level, however. He allowed just two runs on nine hits and four walks in 17.1 innings for the Ports, striking out 29. That earned Healy a promotion to Double-A in mid-May.
"He's exciting to watch pitch because he's aggressive with his fastball." - A's bullpen coach Scott Emerson
Often the transition between A-ball and Double-A can be tricky, but Healy continued to rack up impressive numbers once with Midland. He made 12 appearances for the RockHounds, allowing five runs in 19.1 innings. Healy struck-out 29, walked six and saved four games in four chances. He made the jump to Triple-A soon after the All-Star break.
Once in Triple-A, Healy found his first challenge in professional baseball. He appeared in 20 games at that level. In nine of those outings, Healy allowed runs. Amongst those nine outings, Healy had four appearances where he allowed three or more runs. As a result, Healy posted an ugly 8.14 ERA in 24.1 innings.
Healy’s time in Triple-A wasn’t as bad as the ERA would suggest, however. His FIP was significantly lower than his ERA (4.88) and his strike-out rate was still encouraging (10.36 per nine innings). However, his walk rate jumped to 5.18 per nine innings and his homer rate was nearly 1.5/9.
The elevated walk- and homer-rates are indicative of what went wrong for Healy in Triple-A. He learned the hard way that if he fell behind batters, he wasn’t able to pitch off the plate to get opposing batters to chase their way out of a good at-bat. Instead, hitters were able to zero-in on his fastball when ahead in the count, and they were able to walk or do damage. When Healy got ahead of batters, he was extremely difficult to hit.
Although Healy’s velocity isn’t in the upper-90s, his fastball is still one of the best in the A’s organization. It generally sits 92-95 and gets a lot of movement. That movement got him in trouble in Triple-A at times, as hitters who were taking early were able to get ahead in the count. Healy’s slider and change-up were effective at times, but he will continue to need to improve those two pitches to give him some better options when he falls behind in the count.
“He throws a lot of fastballs. He has a lot of movement. He needs to continue to develop that breaking ball, but when you have that kind of movement and you are a one-, two-inning type short reliever, you are going to have a lot of success if you pound the strike-zone,” former A’s minor league pitching coach and A’s bullpen coach Scott Emerson said. “He comes right at you, mostly with two-seamers. He'll throw an occasional four-seamer, but when he's on and throwing strikes down in the ‘zone, he can beat you with his velocity, but he can also beat the ball to make it move away from the barrel of the bat to get his groundballs. He's exciting to watch pitch because he's aggressive with his fastball.”
Healy should get another crack at the Triple-A level in 2015. If he can re-establish his command, especially early in counts, Healy could force his way into the A’s bullpen picture by the end of the season. He will turn 25 midway through the season.