Last year, the Oakland A’s used their eighth-round pick on a hard-throwing high school pitcher from the state of Washington. While Branden Kelliher still has plenty of refinement needed with his game, he has the potential to join the long list of major-league pitchers developed in the A’s organization.
Kelliher came to the A’s armed with a mid-90s fastball and a track record of mowing down high school opponents in Washington. Since turning pro, Kelliher has had to learn that sometimes with pitching, less is more. In 28 innings in the Arizona Rookie League last season, Kelliher struck-out 37 batters. However, he walked 29, which led to a 4.82 ERA.
This spring, Kelliher has focused less on the radar gun and more on pounding the strike-zone and looking for the quick outs.
“I have mostly been working on consistency with location,” Kelliher said. “I’m trying to dial it down a little bit. Since I’m in a starter role, I’m trying to build it up and then let it go a little bit and not really strive for strike-outs and groundouts and look for the big innings.”
Kelliher took that game plan into the A’s intra-squad game on Sunday and had an effective, hitless outing. He says that he is feeling strong as spring training nears its end.
“[Sunday] my arm felt really good,” Kelliher said. “My body feels really good. I have had had the usual soreness but overall it has been really good.”
Although the A’s have drafted a handful of high school pitchers in recent years, the majority of their minor league hurlers went to two- or four-year colleges. Kelliher has had to grow up quickly in professional baseball. He has leaned on his older teammates for advice during his first year as a pro.
“It’s definitely a maturing experience,” Kelliher said. “Since I didn’t go to college and most of these guys went to college, I have talked a lot with those guys about college and I feel like I made the right choice. It’s been a lot of fun.”
One of the other high school pitchers in the A’s system is right-hander Dustin Driver, who also hails from Washington. Although a year younger than Driver, Kelliher squared off against Driver’s team several times in high school. Kelliher was happy to see a familiar face in the organization when he was drafted.
“Every year, we played his high school team,” Kelliher said. “We knew each other and knew where each of us was going and how good we both were. It’s awesome that we ended up in the same organization.”
Kelliher turned 19 in December. With the A’s depth at starting pitching, Kelliher may begin the year at extended spring training. Depending on how things evolve during the season, Kelliher could make his 2015 debut with Low-A Beloit or short-season Vermont. Armed with a mid-90s fastball, a promising curveball and a circle change-up, Kelliher will be a pitcher to watch whenever he makes his regular season debut.