Everything was new for the Oakland A’s at the Triple-A level in 2015. For the first time since the 1999 season, the A’s hosted their Triple-A affiliate somewhere other than Sacramento. The A’s new affiliate, the Nashville Sounds, opened a brand new ballpark. And the A’s Triple-A affiliate experienced a rare losing season.
By all accounts, the new relationship between the A’s and the Sounds got off to a good start despite the team’s disappointing 66-78 record. First Tennessee Park proved to be beautiful and busy, as the Sounds broke franchise attendance records. The logistics of getting players from Nashville to Oakland also proved to be less cumbersome than one would have anticipated when the affiliation agreement was announced.
The A’s struggles at the big league level were a very big part of the Sounds’ disappointing record. Oakland borrowed heavily from the Nashville roster, especially on the pitching side, and also frequently sent back to Nashville struggling relievers who had difficulty getting back on track in the minor leagues. Injuries also took their toll on the Nashville roster. As a group, the Sounds never really had an opportunity to gel as a team, at least in the early going.
The Sounds were quiet on offense for most of the season. Nashville hit the third-fewest homeruns as a team with 84 and scored the second-fewest runs (591 or 4.10 a game). They had the second-lowest team slugging percentage (.383) and they were 12th of 16 teams in OBP (.331). The Sounds were fifth in the league in walks and middle of the pack in strike-outs. Nashville’s new home park may have had something to do with the Sounds’ lack of offense. First Tennessee Park ranked only behind the A’s old Triple-A digs (Raley Field) in terms of pitcher-friendliness in the Pacific Coast League.
Despite all of the moving parts, Nashville’s pitching staff finished sixth in the league in ERA with a 3.95 mark. They combined on nine shutouts, but finished second-to-last in the league with 26 saves. Nashville pitchers were in the middle of the league in strike-outs (1,037) and had the fifth-most walks (485).
Only hitters with at least 150 at-bats were considered for this article.
The Nashville Sounds had a rough year as a team offensively, but outfielder Jason Pridie was an exception to the rule. The veteran put together one of the best seasons of his career, posting a .310/.380/.515 line with a career-high 20 homers. He also stole 20 bases, becoming the only 20-20 player in the A’s organization this season. Pridie was the first 20-20 player for Nashville since 2003. Pridie’s big season earned him a September call-up with Oakland and a spot on the A’s 40-man roster.
While Pridie is a longtime minor league veteran with major-league experience, second baseman Joey Wendle was in his first season at the Triple-A level in 2015. The former Cleveland Indians prospect put together a fine year, earning a spot on the All-PCL team and setting a Sounds’ franchise record for doubles with 42. Wendle was very good during the second half of the 2015 season. He hit .341/.369/.520 after the All-Star break and will have plenty of momentum going into spring training next year. He still needs to find a way to control the strike-zone (Wendle’s K:BB was 114:22), but he showed good power for a second baseman and the ability to use the whole field. Wendle also played much better defensively than expected. He should have a chance to make the A’s roster next spring.
Veteran infielder Ryan Roberts joined the A’s organization as a minor league free agent in late April. He spent the rest of the season with Nashville and was one of the Sounds most productive hitters. The five-year major league veteran hit .283/.355/.450 with 13 homeruns and a 63:51 K:BB in 114 games. Roberts played all over the field for manager Steve Scarsone, logging time at third, left, short, second and first. He even threw a third of an inning. Roberts will be a minor league free agent at the start of the off-season.
Centerfielder Craig Gentry was expected to be an important part of the A’s roster in 2015. Instead, Gentry got off to a very slow start in April and found himself back in Triple-A in late April. He would get a brief call-up with the A’s in late May but otherwise spent the rest of the minor league season with Nashville. Gentry never really got going with the Sounds. He had a strong June (.316/.374/.469), but he otherwise posted OPSs of 624 or lower the other months. He finished the year with a .256/.319/.327 line. His legs were still effective, as he stole 25 bases in 32 chances. He also played well defensively. With the emergence of Billy Burns, Mark Canha and Jake Smolinski in Oakland, Gentry may face an uphill battle to remain on the A’s 40-man roster all off-season.
Wendle, Pridie, Gentry and Roberts were the only Sounds’ position players to appear in more than 90 games for Nashville this season. First baseman Anthony Aliotti was fifth on the team in games played with 88. He spent the first four months of the season with Nashville before he was sent back down to Midland for the final month of the year. Aliotti was a big part of the RockHounds’ late season push to the title, but he struggled to hit for power with Nashville. In 295 at-bats, Aliotti hit .258/.320/.308. Aliotti has never had the prototypical power of a first baseman, but he is capable of hitting for more authority than he did with Nashville this season. The longtime A’s farmhand will be eligible for minor league free agency this off-season. If he leaves for another organization, the St. Mary’s alum will carry with him a career .282/.381/.398 line in six seasons.
Aliotti appeared in the most games at first base for the Sounds, but Nate Freiman and Max Muncy also saw significant time at the position. Freiman missed most of spring training and the first month of the season with a back strain. He joined the Sounds on a rehab assignment in early May and then the A's optioned him to Nashville a few days later. Freiman got off to a very slow start with the Sounds. In 42 games before the All-Star break, he hit only .158/.216/.173. In July, the A’s designated Freiman for assignment and he cleared waivers. After the All-Star break, Freiman got back into the flow, especially during the final few weeks of the season. He hit .283/.342/.471 post-All Star break. All four of his homeruns came after the break. It’s likely he wasn’t fully healthy until late in the year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Freiman rebound next season.
Muncy had an unusual year. The A’s 2012 fifth-round pick was expected to spend the entire year in Triple-A. Instead, injuries created an opening for Muncy at the major league level in late April. He would spend the rest of the season going back-and-forth between the big leagues and Triple-A. In 60 games with the Sounds, Muncy hit .274/.350/.406 with four homers. He split his time defensively almost evenly between third base and first base. Muncy didn’t play that regularly during his time in the big leagues and he will look to make up for those lost at-bats this winter in Mexico.
After Nashville lost Tyler Ladendorf to an ankle fracture early in the season, the Sounds’ primary shortstops were Andy Parrino and Niuman Romero. Parrino spent three weeks with the A’s and another three weeks playing with Team USA, so he only logged 80 games with Nashville this season. Most of those games (73) came at shortstop. The slick-fielding Parrino had a solid season at the plate, as well. He hit .272/.344/.376 with five homeruns. Parrino will be eligible for minor league free agency this off-season.
Romero joined the A’s as a minor league free agent this past off-season. He appeared in 71 games with the Sounds before he was released by the A’s on August 5. Romero did a good job getting on-base and hitting for average (.278 with a .363 OBP), but he managed just 10 extra-base hits and no homers in 234 at-bats. He’ll suit up for the Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan Winter League this off-season.
Kent Matthes also played with the Sounds for a portion of the season before being released by the A’s. He appeared in 57 games with the Sounds and hit .233/.294/.358 before his release on June 23.
The Nashville catching corps was a bit of a revolving door with only one catcher getting more than 200 at-bats. That catcher was Bryan Anderson, who spent the entire year with the Sounds and is currently in Oakland thanks to a rash of injuries to the A’s catching corps. Anderson hit .202/.273/.288 in 292 at-bats. He struggled to throw out base-runners, catching only 17% of would-be base-stealers. Anderson split his playing time with Luke Carlin during the first half of the year and Carson Blair during the second half.
A broken right foot ended infielder Alden Carrithers’ season in late June. The UCLA alum hit .286/.379/.344 with a 22:17 BB:K in 46 games before the injury. Carrithers has been a minor league free agent each of the past two seasons and he signed with Oakland both of those times. He will be a minor league free agent again this off-season.
Only pitchers with at least 30 innings were considered for this article.
The Sounds had a veteran pitching staff led by 37-year-old former Cy Young award winner Barry Zito. Zito was a surprise member of the Sounds’ staff. Throughout spring training, Zito was expected to leave the A’s organization if he didn’t make the big league team out of camp. Instead, Zito decided to accept the A’s minor league assignment and he would spend the entire minor league season on the Sounds’ roster.
Although Zito was on the disabled list for most of August with a shoulder injury, he led the team in innings pitched with 138. Zito had a solid 3.46 ERA and opposing batters hit only .234 against him. But the left-hander’s impact on the team went well beyond his numbers. He served almost as an extra coach on the team, offering the other Sounds the benefit of his 16 years of professional experience. Zito joined the A’s midway through September and he is expected to make the final start of his career on Wednesday against the Angels.
Fellow veteran lefty Brad Mills finished second on the team in innings pitched with 137.1. Mills had a 4.52 ERA and a 95:55 K:BB. He also made one start for the A’s. Mills got off to a slow start, pitched well in May, June and July, but then he struggled in August and September. He will be a minor league free agent again this winter.
Right-hander Zach Neal began the year with the Midland RockHounds and he spent most of the first two months in Double-A. He joined the Sounds for good on May 20 and spent the rest of the year in the Sounds’ rotation. In 131.1 innings, the right-hander posted a 4.18 ERA. He was the most efficient pitcher on the Sounds’ staff. He averaged 6.1 innings a start. Neal didn’t strike out a ton of batters (78), but he walked only 20 and he allowed only 10 homeruns. In 763 career minor league innings, Neal has walked only 157 and he has allowed only 69 homers.
Nate Long, Cody Martin, Sean Nolin and Chris Bassitt made the majority of the non-Zito/Mills/Neal starts. Long made 13 starts with the Sounds after joining the team from Midland in late June. The right-hander was a mid-season All-Star in the Texas League. He didn’t have that same level of success with the Sounds. He posted a 5.72 ERA in 67.2 innings. Long’s K:BB was 49:36. The longtime A’s farmhand is eligible for minor league free agency this off-season.
Martin joined the A’s organization in a trade with the Atlanta Braves on July 2nd. The right-hander made 11 starts with the Sounds. He allowed 10 runs over his first two starts, but he improved after that. In nine subsequent starts, he posted a 4.02 ERA and a 52:25 K:BB in 53 innings. Martin is currently on the Oakland pitching staff.
Nolin was expected to compete for a spot in the A’s rotation before the start of spring training, but the left-hander never got an opportunity to pitch during the spring because he was still recovering from the after-effects of sports hernia surgery. Nolin returned to the field with Nashville on April 30. He wasn’t at full strength for most of the season and he landed on the disabled list on July 1 with a shoulder injury that likely was caused by changes he made to compensate for not having his normal lower body strength. He returned to the Sounds in mid-August and made a few starts before getting a September call-up with Oakland.
Despite not being 100%, Nolin had a 2.66 ERA in 47.1 innings, which speaks to his pitchability. His velocity was closer to 83-88 for much of the year than his customary 89-91. Nolin should have a full off-season to rest and regain the strength in his lower half. Assuming his velocity is back to normal next season, Nolin should be a strong candidate to be part of the A’s rotation.
Bassitt, like Nolin, was acquired by the A’s last off-season and he entered spring training as a candidate to be in the A’s Opening Day rotation. Unlike Nolin, Bassitt was healthy this spring, but he never got on track and was assigned to Triple-A to start the year. Bassitt righted the ship fairly quickly with Nashville and was the Sounds’ best pitcher the first half of the season. In 69 innings, he posted a 3.65 ERA and a 70:19 K:BB. He allowed only one homerun and Pacific Coast League batters hit just .230 against him. Bassitt has the stuff to be a quality mid-rotation starter in the big leagues. Next season will be a test to see if he can locate consistently from start to start to produce good results over the course of a full season in the big leagues.
The Sounds’ bullpen had a lot of moving parts this season. Despite spending some time in the big leagues, right-hander Angel Castro led the Nashville bullpen in innings pitched with 60.1. The 32-year-old had a good season, posting a 3.13 ERA with a 45:19 K:BB. He induced a ton of groundballs and also saved eight games in nine chances. Castro’s four innings with the A’s were his first in the big leagues.
Right-hander Arnold Leon racked up 58 innings pitched despite six separate stints with the A’s this season. The native of Mexico had an excellent season as a long reliever and occasional starter for Nashville. He had a 2.95 ERA and a 55:19 K:BB. Pacific Coast League batters hit .236 against him. Leon has racked up 26.2 innings with the A’s this season and will likely be in discussion for a spot in the A’s Opening Day bullpen next spring.
During the first half of the season, the Sounds most effective reliever was right-hander Brock Huntzinger. Before the All-Star break, he posted a 2.33 ERA and a 42:23 K:BB in 38.2 innings. Unfortunately, Huntzinger struggled in July and August and was shutdown with an injury late in the season. He should receive plenty of interest on the free agent market this off-season.
If Zito was the biggest story for the Sounds this year, switch-pitcher Pat Venditte was “biggest story 1A”. Venditte was the talk of A’s spring training after almost earning a spot on Oakland’s Opening Day roster in his first season with the organization. He continued to pitch well for Nashville once the games started to count and he would eventually get his first shot in the big leagues. In 40.2 innings with the Sounds, Venditte had a 1.55 ERA and a 40:15 K:BB. As a left-handed pitcher, Venditte held opposing batters to a .130 average. As a right-handed pitcher, he held them to a .220 clip. Venditte hasn’t pitched quite as well since he returned from a shoulder injury he suffered with the A’s mid-season, but it still has been a breakthrough season for the longtime minor league veteran.
The A’s haven’t traditionally built bullpens with pitchers who have plus velocity, but they were hoping going into the season that two relievers with plus fastballs would play a prominent role in their bullpen: right-handers Ryan Cook and R.J. Alvarez. As it turned out, neither were able to pitch that effectively at the big league level and both would spend a significant portion of their season in Triple-A.
Cook, a former All-Star closer, struggled from the start of spring training and opened the season on the Sounds’ roster. The hope was that he would straighten things out in Nashville quickly and return to an eighth-inning role with the A’s. That never really happened, although Cook did get a few opportunities with Oakland early in the season. In 33.1 innings with Nashville, Cook had a 4.05 ERA, which wasn’t terrible, but his K:BB was a mediocre 26:14 and he hit three batters. He also converted only eight of his 13 save opportunities. The A’s eventually traded Cook to Boston at the deadline, and his struggles have continued with the Red Sox.
Alvarez was one of two prospects the A’s received from the San Diego Padres in the Derek Norris deal. The right-hander had a meteoric rise through the minor leagues, reaching the big leagues in his second full season in professional baseball. The hope was the Alvarez could provide the A’s a hard-throwing option in the sixth and seventh innings this season, with the thought that he could slide into a set-up or closer role in a year or two. Instead, Alvarez struggled with location all season and he wound-up only serving a mop-up role during his stints in the big leagues. With Nashville, Alvarez had a 4.11 ERA in 35 innings. He struck-out 41 and walked 17. There is no question that Alvarez has big league late-inning potential. He will need to improve his command considerably to reach that potential, however.
The Sounds didn’t have many lefties in their bullpen this season, with Jim Fuller serving as the main lefty for much of the season. Fuller, who signed as a minor league free agent in the off-season, began the year in Midland. He struggled in five appearances with the RockHounds but, nonetheless, received an early season promotion to Nashville. He pitched well in Triple-A, posting a 2.78 ERA and a 34:13 K:BB in 32.1 innings. Fuller may have received consideration for a big league promotion late in the year, but he battled injuries during the final two months of the season, serving two stints on the disabled list.