Name: Bobby Wahl
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 210
How Acquired: Selected in the fifth round by the A’s in 2013
Based on the numbers, it may be a surprise to some to see Bobby Wahl amongst the top-10 prospects in the Oakland A’s system. However, talk to anyone who has seen Wahl pitch in person, and there isn’t any doubt that he is one of the elite talents in the A’s system.
Wahl joined the A’s organization in 2013 as a fifth-round pick out of Mississippi. One of the most successful pitchers in the SEC during his time with the Rebels, Wahl was a projected first-round pick going into the 2013 collegiate season. However, he missed time with blister issues and rumors about the health of his shoulder caused him to slide in the draft.
The A’s were thrilled to be able to pick up Wahl in the fifth round. The A’s signed him to an above-slot bonus worth a reported $500,000 (the slot value for his pick was roughly $280,000). Wahl spent most of his pro debut season pitching for short-season Vermont. A poor final start inflated his ERA, but Wahl was impressive with the Lake Monsters, striking out 27 in 20.2 innings.
"I think Bobby Wahl is an exceptional pitcher." - A's bullpen coach Scott Emerson.
Wahl began the 2014 season in the Low-A Beloit starting rotation. A starter his final two seasons at Mississippi, Wahl was projected to remain in the rotation for the entire year. He got off to a slow start with the Snappers, however. He had a 7.71 ERA in three starts in April and a 6.43 ERA in four May outings. As it turned out, Wahl was battling an oblique strain for much of the early part of the season. He initially tried to hide the injury from his coaches, and eventually spent some time on the disabled list.
Although the injury certainly played a role in Wahl’s early-season struggles with Beloit, the A’s also felt that his approach on the mound was better suited for a bullpen role. Wahl is an intense competitor and they felt he had some difficulty channeling that energy on the days in-between his starts. Wahl was also able to go all-out in shorter stints instead of having to hold back something early in longer outings. The A’s moved Wahl to the bullpen in June, and the results were immediately positive. In 17 relief innings with Beloit, Wahl posted a 2.12 ERA with a 23:6 K:BB and 11 hits allowed.
Wahl made the jump to High-A Stockton late in the season. He appeared in nine games in relief for the Ports. In 10.2 innings, he allowed five runs, although all five came in two outings. He struck-out 19 and walked six.
The A’s feel that Wahl can be a dominant late-inning reliever in the big leagues and plan to keep him in a bullpen role moving forward.
“I think he could probably adapt to starting, but his stuff, his mentality, his aggressiveness, his competitiveness and willingness to be out there everyday, it can make him a special reliever,” former Oakland A’s minor league pitching coordinator and current A’s bullpen coach Scott Emerson said. “I think he fits the mold of an end-of-the-game type reliever, but he has three plus pitches, so he could fit into pretty much any role, in my opinion. I think the back-end of the game will be his future.”
To make up for the innings he missed early in the season, Wahl participated in the A’s fall Instructional League. He impressed everyone during his time at Instructs. Emerson called Wahl’s Instructs performance “lights-out” and longtime A’s scout and instructor Rich Sparks came away from Instructs feeling that Wahl was a future big leaguer.
“He can be dominant out of the bullpen,” Sparks said.
Wahl is a three-pitch pitcher. His fastball ranges from 93-97 and he has a hard breaking ball that is a swing-and-miss out-pitch. Wahl also has a change-up that can be plus at times. Fastball command is Wahl’s biggest weakness at the moment and something he will need to improve on as he climbs the A’s organizational ladder.
“I think Bobby Wahl is an exceptional pitcher,” Emerson said. “You have a guy who throws mid- to upper-90s and who throws strikes with a powerful breaking ball and a good change-up. Those are the guys we are looking for if they can command the baseball. Velocity isn’t everything, but when you have it, if you can command the baseball, that makes you special. The sky is the limit for this guy. If he does what he is supposed to do and lives up to his potential and maximizes his potential, he’s going to be a great big leaguer.”
Wahl got only a taste of the California League last season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return to the Ports at the outset of the season. However, he is the type of prospect who can move quickly through levels if he is on his game. Wahl will be participating in the A’s spring mini-camp, which begins on February 21. He will get plenty of one-on-one time with A’s minor league coaches and, depending on how he fares this spring, could even convince the A’s to start him in Double-A instead of High-A. No matter where he starts, Wahl is a candidate to finish the year on the doorstep of the big leagues if his fastball command is improved. He will turn 23 next month.