For the first time since 1999, the Oakland A’s will have their Triple-A affiliate in a city other than Sacramento. The A’s will be helping Nashville break-in a brand new stadium, and there will be plenty of star power at First Tennessee Park. Included on the Sounds’ Opening Day roster is a former AL Cy Young award winner, a former All-Star closer, several players with big league experience and a few top prospects, to boot.
Manager Steve Scarsone returns for his third season as the A’s Triple-A manager. Scarsone, the former big league infielder, joined the A’s system as a manager in 2009. He has skippered A’s affiliates at all four full-season levels. Scarsone’s squad finished one game out of the playoffs last season. He has a 568 wins in his managerial career.
Scarsone will have a new co-coaching staff in 2015. Pitching coach Don Schulze and hitting coach Webster Garrison join the Sounds staff from a Double-A Midland staff last year that defied all odds and led the RockHounds to a Texas League title. Schulze has been in the A’s organization since 2006 and has worked with several current major leaguers, including Sonny Gray, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, A.J. Griffin and Sean Doolittle, among others.
Garrison has served several roles during his 15 years as a coach in the A’s organization. He began his coaching career as a player-coach with Double-A Midland and spent 10 years as a hitting coach, manager or player-coach with the RockHounds. He also served as a manager with the Stockton Ports from 2011-2013. Garrison spent 16 years as a professional baseball player and made his major league debut with the A’s in 1996.
The Sounds’ starting rotation features several names well known around the league. Leading the way is Barry Zito, who is pitching for the A’s at the Triple-A level for the first time since 2000. Zito made his major-league debut with the A’s in 2000 and went on to help lead the A’s to five playoff appearances from 2000-2006. Zito won the AL Cy Young in 2002 and made three All-Star appearances.
The left-hander was out of professional baseball in 2014 after completing his seven-year contract with the San Francisco Giants. After a year away from the game, Zito mounted a comeback, working out at the Texas Baseball Ranch, the same place that Scott Kazmir went to regain his stuff two years ago. Zito signed a minor league deal with the A’s during the off-season and had a solid spring for Oakland. Although he didn’t make the A’s Opening Day roster, he felt encouraged enough to stay with the organization at the Triple-A level. The A’s won’t stand in Zito’s way if another major league team has an opening at the big league level they’d like him to fill, but until a big league team needs Zito’s services, he should suit up for the Sounds. He brings 14 years of major-league experience and 165 wins to Nashville.
Joining Zito in the Sounds’ rotation will be right-handers Chris Bassitt, Arnold Leon and Angel Castro and left-hander Brad Mills. Bassitt was acquired by the A’s during the off-season from the Chicago White Sox. He entered camp with a chance to win a big league rotation spot, but he struggled for much of the spring. Bassitt had an injury-shortened 2014 season, but he pitched well enough to earn a September call-up with the White Sox. He had a 3.94 ERA in 29.2 big league innings. For his minor league career, Bassitt has a 2.97 ERA and a 303:138 K:BB in 318 innings. He has allowed just 19 homeruns during that stretch.
Leon threw more than 200 innings last year between Triple-A and the Mexican Winter League. The right-hander was spectacular during the winter league, and his fastball was clocked as high as 96 MPH. He has an excellent curveball and a solid change-up. At 26 years old, the longtime A’s farmhand is entering his prime and could be in for a big season for Nashville.
Castro joined the A’s late last season, coming over from the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization for the final month of the year. He made four starts at Triple-A for the A’s in 2014 and re-signed with the team as a minor league free agent during the off-season. The right-hander has 12 years of minor league experience and a big arm, but he has yet to make his major-league debut.
Mills will be a familiar name for Sounds fans. The left-hander spent the first half of last season with Nashville as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization. Mills had a 1.56 ERA in 14 appearances (12 starts) for the Sounds before being traded to the A’s. Mills made three starts for Oakland, posting a 4.41 ERA in 16.1 innings before being designated for assignment when the A’s acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Mills would spend the rest of the season in the Blue Jays’ organization. He signed with the A’s as a minor league free agent during the off-season. He has 74 innings of big league experience and 833.1 innings in the minor leagues.
The Sounds’ bullpen is also filled with experienced hurlers. The back-end of the bullpen will be led by Ryan Cook, who will be looking to get back on track after a rough spring training. Cook, a former AL All-Star, had an up-and-down 2014 season with the A’s. He battled some arm issues but still managed a 3.42 ERA and a 50:22 K:BB in 50 innings. Cook is likely to be called back up to Oakland quickly if he strings together a few solid outings. While in Nashville, Cook should get a lot of the save opportunities.
Right-hander Fernando Rodriguez also figures to get plenty of save opportunities. Rodriguez had a 1.97 ERA and a 53:16 K:BB in 45 innings at the Triple-A level for the A’s last season. He also allowed just one run in nine innings for the A’s. Rodriguez missed the entire 2013 season after having Tommy John surgery during the spring of 2013. He isn’t currently on the A’s 40-man roster, but Oakland won’t hesitate to add him to the roster if they have a need at the big league level.
The rest of the Sounds’ bullpen will be making their A’s debuts. Chad Smith (RH) and Eury De La Rosa (LH) joined the A’s this off-season as waiver claims. Both pitched in the big leagues last season, with Smith throwing 11.2 innings for the Tigers and De La Rosa logging 36.2 innings for the Diamondbacks. Smith is a hard-throwing right-hander who moved up the Tigers’ system quickly after recovering from Tommy John surgery. De La Rosa is a crafty lefty who pitches backwards and uses a deceptive delivery to keep hitters off-balance.
Pat Venditte, Ryan Verdugo, Brock Huntzinger and Kevin Whelan joined the A’s this off-season as minor league free agents. Switch-pitcher Venditte was the talk of A’s camp, as he generated a buzz by throwing with both hands in the same inning throughout the spring. Venditte isn’t a hard-thrower with either hand, but he has excellent command and a career 2.46 ERA in 384.2 minor league innings. Before signing with the A’s, Venditte had spent his entire career in the Yankees’ organization.
Verdugo is a lefty who has experience as both a starter and a reliever. He split last season between the Royals’ and Red Sox’s organizations and between the rotation and the bullpen. Verdugo has 558 strike-outs in 531 career minor league innings. He made one appearance at the big league level in 2012, when he was with Kansas City.
Right-handers Whelan and Huntzinger both had strong spring trainings in big league camp with the A’s. A former Yankees’ and Tigers’ prospect, Whelan has 616 strike-outs in 487 career minor league innings. He has three big league appearances under his belt. Huntzinger lasted on the A’s big league spring roster until the final cuts. He is looking to make his major-league debut after seven seasons in the minor leagues with the Orioles’ and Red Sox’s organizations.
The Sounds will likely get several pitching reinforcements off of the disabled list. Top-10 prospect Sean Nolin missed all of spring training while recovering from off-season sports hernia surgery, but he was considered a candidate for the big league rotation before the injury held him back. He should join the Sounds’ rotation once he is healthy. In addition, rehabbing A’s starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin are likely to join the Sounds at some point this summer as they make their way back from Tommy John surgery. Hard-throwing reliever Taylor Thompson is on the A’s 60-day DL, and he could join the Nashville bullpen when he is healthy. A’s closer Sean Doolittle could get a rehab stretch with the Sounds in May, as well.
There aren’t as many major-league veterans on the position-player side of the Sounds’ Opening Day roster, but there is still plenty of talent. The Sounds are led by top prospects Max Muncy and Joey Wendle, as well as former A’s infielder Andy Parrino and current 40-man roster member Alex Hassan.
Muncy and Wendle both make the jump from Double-A and they are the only two players on the Sounds roster without previous Triple-A experience. Muncy was the A’s best hitter in big league camp this spring. A 2012 fifth-round pick of the A’s, Muncy led the Texas League in walks and OBP last season and he hit 25 homers in 2013. He is expected to be the Sounds’ everyday first baseman.
Wendle was acquired by the A’s from the Cleveland Indians this off-season in exchange for Brandon Moss. Wendle had a strong big league camp with the A’s and is an offensive-minded second baseman who hit 16 homers in 2013. He was limited last season by a broken hamate bone. Wendle will get the majority of the playing time at second base.
The Sounds will have several options at shortstop, including the slick-fielding Parrino. Parrino split last season between the A’s and Rangers’ organizations and appeared in 21 games with the A’s at the big league level. He is a plus defender who can play second, short, third and left. The switch-hitter struggled with the bat in the big leagues, but he hit .286 for the A’s in Triple-A in 2014.
Infielders Niuman Romero and Alden Carrithers also have plenty of experience at shortstop, as well as third base and second base. Romero won the Gold Glove at third over the winter in the Venezuelan Winter League. The switch-hitting veteran has 1,041 career minor league games and 12 big league games. He hit .320 with a .417 OBP in Double-A for the Orioles last year. Romero was a bit banged up this spring, but he recovered in time to break camp on the active roster.
Carrithers re-signed with the A’s for a second season after joining them as a minor league free agent before the 2014 season. The UCLA alum has one of the best batting eyes in minor league baseball. He had a .381 OBP for the A’s at the Triple-A level last year and has a career .399 OBP. He doesn’t have much power, but Carrithers has walked more than he has struck-out in his career and he has only 233 strike-outs in 587 minor league games. He is still looking for his first big league opportunity.
East Bay native and St. Mary’s College alum Anthony Aliotti figures to see time at first base, as well as in left field and at DH. Aliotti is another patient hitter who had a .365 OBP last season between Double-A and Triple-A. He is a career .284/.389/.404 hitter in 696 minor league games.
Behind the plate, the Sounds will feature two veteran backstops: Bryan Anderson and Luke Carlin. Anderson joined the A’s organization late last season in a trade and spent all of September on the A’s big league roster as the team’s third catcher. Once a top prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, Anderson is a career .281 hitter in nine minor league seasons. He has 63 major-league at-bats in 36 games.
Carlin signed with the A’s late in the off-season as a minor league free agent after the A’s learned that Ryan Ortiz would be out for awhile dealing with a shoulder injury. Carlin is a veteran backstop who has been known for his defensive abilities throughout his career. He worked well with Zito during spring training and could be Zito’s designated catcher with the Sounds. Carlin has 10 seasons of minor league experience and 56 games in the big leagues.
The Sounds’ outfield will feature two players who can cover all three outfield positions: Jason Pridie and Matt Angle. Pridie spent all spring on the A’s big league spring roster. The 31-year-old was once a top prospect in the Tampa Bay and Minnesota organizations. He has more than 1,200 minor league games under his belt and is a career .275/.323/.426 hitter in the minors. He has good speed and stole 28 bases last season in Triple-A. He has 127 career major league games.
Angle signed with the A’s as a minor league free agent this off-season. The speedy Angle has 208 stolen bases in seven minor league seasons. He played in the Miami organization last year at the Triple-A level. Angle appeared in 31 games for the Orioles in 2011.
Hassan missed some of spring training with a hamstring injury, but he swung the bat well when he was healthy. The A’s claimed Hassan off of waivers twice over the past few months. After initially claiming Hassan away from Boston, Oakland lost him to Baltimore on a waiver claim over the winter, but they re-claimed him early in the spring. He has a very patient approach at the plate and is a career .291 hitter with a .396 OBP. Hassan appeared in three games with the Red Sox last season. He is capable of playing first base as well as left and right field.
Corner outfielder Kent Matthes rounds out the Sounds’ outfield. Matthes was a waiver claim by the A’s last season and he split the year between Triple-A and Double-A. Matthes struggled at Triple-A, but he was a big part of the RockHounds’ championship run in Double-A. He hit 15 homers in 78 games for Midland.
At some point this season, the Sounds should get first baseman Nate Freiman and corner infielder Rangel Ravelo either during rehab assignments or when they come off of the disabled list. Freiman has battled a back injury this spring. He hit 16 homers in 82 minor league games last year and another five in 36 big league games. Ravelo is one of the A’s top prospects and was one of the players acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade. Ravelo was slated to start the season in Triple-A, but he injured his wrist during spring training and had to have surgery. He is likely to join the Sounds roster once he is completely healthy.