Name: Dustin Driver
Height/Weight: 6’2’’, 210
How Acquired: Selected in the seventh round by the A’s in 2013
Sometimes when creating prospect rankings, you have to take a leap of faith. Dustin Driver landing in the top-10 of this ranking list is a Michael Jordan-sized jump, but Driver’s talent is just that tantalizing.
Driver was a seventh-round selection of the A’s in 2013 out of a high school in Washington. Coming out of high school, Driver was one of the top MLB prospects in the state of Washington. The A’s signed him to an over-slot bonus of $500,000. He turned down the opportunity to pitch at UCLA to turn pro.
Driver didn’t make his professional debut until August 1 that season. The right-hander didn’t throw much after the end of his high school season, and the A’s wanted to be cautious with him as he began his professional career. When he did finally pitch in a regular season game, Driver wasn’t particularly sharp. He walked 11 and struck-out just four in 11.1 innings over seven outings.
The real work began for Driver that fall during the A’s Instructional League. The A’s coaching staff worked with Driver to refine his mechanics and to improve the command of his mid-90s fastball. He showed significant progress by the end of camp and that progress continued the following spring. Driver was being considered for a spot with Low-A Beloit when a back injury popped up. The back injury lingered all season and he wasn’t able to get out to the mound during a regular season game.
"Aside from the fastball velocity – that’s an 8 fastball – but he has the ability to get outs and swings and misses with his off-speed pitches too." - A's scout Rich Sparks
Fortunately, Driver was healthy by the time the A’s 2014 fall Instructional League rolled around. He pitched in several “Instructs” games and was one of the most impressive pitchers in the camp. Driver’s first-pitch strike-rate improved considerably during the camp. His fastball velocity was up a few ticks from his 2013 season, sitting in the 93-96 MPH range with movement. He also flashed a plus breaking ball and a promising change-up.
“Driver was absolutely awesome,” former A’s minor league pitching coordinator and current A’s bullpen coach Scott Emerson said after Instructs. “He did a great job. We are talking mid-90s fastball with movement. A good late biting slider. And a good change-up. He’s a competitor off the charts.”
Longtime A’s scout and instructor Rich Sparks was similarly impressed with Driver.
“Driver, I like that kid,” Sparks said towards the end of Instructs. “If you were to put a gun to my head and ask ‘which guy on that roster is going to make the big leagues?’ it would be him. I would have no issues with that. Aside from the fastball velocity – that’s an 8 fastball – but he has the ability to get outs and swings and misses with his off-speed pitches too. I really like him. Obviously, we all hope he can stay healthy. With that kind of stuff, he has a chance to be an upper-rotation guy.”
Whether Driver can pitch a full and healthy season is the biggest question facing the right-hander at the start of spring training. Driver’s injury wasn’t to his elbow or shoulder, but back injuries can have a tendency to pop-up again and become chronic. Other than the health red flag, the sky is the limit for the 20-year-old. Driver’s improved command, plus breaking ball and increased velocity make him a possible one or two starter in the big leagues, if everything breaks right. Driver has the build to be a workhorse starter and a solid work ethic. Driver’s release point is straight over the top and he gets a lot of push-off from his back leg. His arm is quick through the delivery and he repeats well.
Because of the missed time last season, Driver will be on a short leash in 2015, even if he remains completely healthy. The A’s may choose to send him to Low-A Beloit and make him part of a tandem rotation where he is paired with another starter and each starter makes a three-to-four inning outing each time out. The A’s may also decide to hold Driver back at extended spring training and then send him to short-season Vermont. If he goes to the Lake Monsters, Driver is likely to be allowed to pitch longer outings.
Driver won’t turn 21 until October. The missed season is unfortunate, but it could be a small speed bump for Driver on his way to a big league career.