As busy as the Oakland A’s have been this off-season, there has been no team more active than the San Diego Padres. New Athletics’ right-handers R.J. Alvarez and Jesse Hahn are two of 17 players the Padres have traded since December, as San Diego has looked to remake its big league roster. Alvarez and Hahn came to the A’s in a deal that sent catcher Derek Norris to the Padres. Now in Oakland, both pitchers are excited to be embarking on a new challenge.
Like so many in and out of baseball, Alvarez and Hahn are amazed with how many high-profile moves the Padres have made this winter.“It’s incredible,” Alvarez said during a post-FanFest media session on Monday. “I watch the news everyday and it’s amazing to see everyone being moved out and being brought in, especially for the Padres, who historically have never really brought in [high-priced players]. It’s kind of nuts.”
Hahn says many of the players he was closest with in the San Diego organization have been moved.
“To be honest, the guys we used to hang out with, there are maybe one or two of them left in San Diego,” Hahn said. “Everyone is pretty scattered around the league now. We were kind of hoping we would get a chance to be traded to the same team, but it didn’t work out that way. It’s been an amazing off-season all around baseball to see all of the big trades.”
Being traded is actually nothing new for both pitchers. This is the second straight off-season that Hahn has been traded (Hahn went from Tampa Bay to San Diego in January 2014 in a six-player deal), while Alvarez went from the Los Angeles Angels organization to San Diego mid-season in the Huston Street deal.
“It’s definitely been crazy,” Alvarez said. “I was just getting settled with the Padres and then I was traded to Oakland, but it’s also exciting knowing that a lot of different teams want you. It’s always good to have a lot of different teams interested in you. It means they have a plan for you.”
Hahn says he learned a lot from his first experience being traded, and that made getting the news that he was on the move again a lot easier to take.
“It was less stressful this time,” Hahn said. “Last time, I kind of panicked like ‘oh, no, they don’t want me anymore.’ This time I understood that it is a business and how it works.”
The A’s certainly aren’t an organization with a reputation for keeping its players long-term, but Hahn and Alvarez could be players the A’s build around. Hahn, a hard-throwing, 6’5’’ right-handed starting pitcher, pitched for half a season in the big leagues last year and won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2018 and won’t be up for free agency until 2021. Hahn had a 3.07 ERA and a 70:32 K:BB with only four homers allowed in 73.1 innings with San Diego last season. Alvarez, a possible future closer for Oakland, will enter next season with rookie eligibility after making 10 appearances for San Diego in September. He had a 1.25 ERA and 61 strike-outs in 43.1 minor league innings before his September call-up.
Both pitchers are ready to build off of their first big league experiences.
“I definitely learned a lot from my short span up there, just how to pitch and how to get better,” Alvarez said.
Hahn says the success he had with the Padres last year gives him a lot of confidence going into spring training.
“Last year was kind of surreal for me,” Hahn said. “I was just enjoying it and didn’t have a chance to learn from it [while it was happening]. Now that I have had a chance to look back on it, I have learned a lot. I want to use that this year to work on baseball part of it. It should be a lot of fun doing that with a new group of guys.”
Although they arrived in Oakland together, Hahn and Alvarez had very different paths to the big leagues. Going into the 2010 draft season, Hahn, a Virginia Tech star, was considered one of the top right-handed starters on the board. A late-season elbow injury dropped Hahn’s draft stock, and he landed with the Tampa Bay Rays in the sixth round. After signing with Tampa, Hahn had Tommy John surgery. He wouldn’t make his professional debut on the mound for another two years, when he spent the 2012 short-season with the New York-Penn League Hudson Valley Renegades.
In 2013, Hahn spent the bulk of the year with High-A Charlotte. The Rays kept his innings’ total low (69 innings), but he was effective when he was on the mound. He had a 2.09 ERA and a 67:18 K:BB. That off-season, Hahn was traded to the Padres, who pushed Hahn to Double-A to start the year. After 42.1 innings with 1.91 ERA in the Texas League, Hahn got the call to San Diego. He finished the 2014 season with a career-high 115.2 innings pitched between the minors and the majors.
Hahn learned a lot from his time rehabbing his injury.
“It was a huge mental part of baseball,” Hahn said. “I had to stay focused and keep in mind the ultimate prize. There were a lot of ups-and-downs with my rehab and my journey here. I kept my mind focused, worked through it and my eye on the prize and I knew I would be able to get to where I am now, which is awesome.”
Last season with San Diego, Hahn’s fastball ranged from 91-95 MPH, and he complimented that pitch with a curveball, slider and change-up. He says that since his first season back from the injury, he hasn’t thought about his elbow when on the mound.
“That first year back, you are obviously going to think about it and whether I am okay,” Hahn said. “Once I got that extra rest and started the brand new year, I didn’t really think about it after that. It was all about pitching and having fun out there. I have never felt anything in my arm after that. I have put it in my rearview and moved on.”
Hahn’s journey came full circle when he made his major-league debut on June 3rd against the team he grew up rooting for, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“It was surreal,” Hahn said of his big league debut. “My family loved it.”
Alvarez’s journey to the big leagues was much more straight-forward. The West Palm Beach, Florida, native was a third-round pick of the Angels in the 2012 draft out of Florida Atlantic. A starter his first two years in college, Alvarez moved to the bullpen his junior season and posted an 0.71 ERA with 47 strike-outs in 37.2 innings. He remained in a reliever’s role as a professional, and he has moved quickly up the ladder of the minor leagues.
After making his pro debut in the Low-A Midwest League in 2012, Alvarez pitched for Inland Empire in the High-A California League in 2013. Despite the hostile environment for pitchers, Alvarez had a 2.96 ERA and a remarkable 79 strike-outs in 48.2 innings. He began the 2014 season in the Texas League with the Arkansas Travelers, and he had an 0.33 ERA with a 38:10 K:BB in 27 innings at the time of the Street deal. Alvarez stayed in the Texas League after the trade, finishing the minor league season with the San Antonio Missions. With San Antonio, he had a 2.76 ERA and a 23:3 K:BB in 16.1 innings. Those numbers earned Alvarez a September call-up.
Alvarez made 10 appearances for the Padres in September. In his major league debut, he allowed a run and walked two in two-thirds of an inning. After that, Alvarez didn’t allow a run in 7.1 innings. He struck-out nine and walked three over that span. Alvarez, who has drawn comparisons to current A’s set-up man Ryan Cook, had his fastball clocked as high as 97 MPH during his time with San Diego.
Although Alvarez can throw in the upper-90s, he isn’t one to get caught-up in radar gun readings.
“Velocity is worth nothing if you aren’t throwing strikes,” Alvarez said. “I have to go out there and throw strikes. I’m going to get a little movement sometimes. If I can throw strikes with a little bit of movement, that’s obviously way more important than how hard I am throwing.”
Both Hahn and Alvarez have had some practice integrating themselves into new situations, and both are confident that the transition to the A’s will be a smooth one.
Hahn says spring training will be more than enough time for the coaches to get to know him as a pitcher.
“Spring training, you don’t throw a lot of innings, but it’s almost two months long,” Hahn said. “You can learn a lot about someone in two months time and you can show a lot. I think this year, with most of us being new, we are worried about making new relationships and remembering everyone’s names and recognizing everyone’s faces.”
The long-haired, bearded Alvarez already sees kindred spirits among the current members of the A’s bullpen.
“Everyone seems like a nice guy and that they have good senses of humor,” Alvarez said. “That’s what I like to do, joke around with the guys and have fun and they all seem like good guys. Historically, the A’s have always been a team with a bunch of characters and that matches me pretty well.”