In part one of this article series, we discussed the rules surrounding the Rule 5 draft and reviewed the Oakland A's position player prospects who potentially could be available in the draft. Below, we look at the A's pitching prospects who could be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if they aren't added to the A's 40-man roster by the late November deadline.
Jose Torres: Of all of the A’s prospects potentially eligible for the Rule 5 draft, the decision on what to do with Torres may be the most difficult. Torres has been eligible for the Rule 5 draft before and went unselected, but his stuff took a significant leap forward this year. Moved from the rotation to the bullpen, the left-hander saw his fastball jump up to the mid-90s. He also flashed a promising breaking ball.
Torres generated significant buzz amongst scouts during his time in the Midwest League and more than held his own during a late-season cameo in the California League. He is currently pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he’s allowed three runs in four innings. He isn’t ready for the big leagues now, but a team interested in his potential as a late-inning weapon could hide him in the back of their bullpen for the year and hope to develop him after that. He just turned 22 in late September. The A's don't have a lot of hard-throwing relief prospects, so they might elect to protect Torres, who is their hardest throwing lefty relief prospect. He is more advanced than Michael Ynoa was when the A’s protected him, although the organization had invested a lot more money in Ynoa.
Tucker Healy: Since they were selected in 2012, Healy and Ryan Dull have had a similar development path. Both dominated Low-A and High-A in 2013, although a late season shoulder injury prevented Healy from joining Dull in Midland at the end of that year. Healy began 2014 in Stockton, but he joined Dull in Midland midway through that season and jumped up to Triple-A ahead of Dull before hitting a speed bump in his development and returning to Double-A in 2015. Both pitchers spent most of the season dominating the Texas League, but it was Dull that got the call to Triple-A this August and, eventually, the big leagues.
All of this is a long way of saying that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Healy is as ready for the big leagues as Dull was last September. Both pitchers have racked up strike-outs and low hits-per-innings rates throughout their careers. Both have fastballs that have remarkable movement and get on hitters faster than the radar gun would suggest. Healy didn’t have quite as many strike-outs this season as he had in past years, but he did a much better job of throwing his breaking ball for strikes. His delivery provides plenty of deception, as well. Healy doesn’t have the high velocity that most relievers who are picked in the Rule 5 possess, but his track record suggests he has a bright major-league future. The A’s may not find room for him on their 40-man roster this off-season and could be crossing their fingers come Rule 5 day that he goes unclaimed.
Kris Hall: Hall is another relief prospect who could pique the interest of teams during the Rule 5 draft if he is left unprotected. The tall right-hander is currently pitching in the Arizona Fall League. His first two outings were a struggle, but he has pitched very well in his last three appearances. That has been the story of Hall’s career thus far. When he is on, he is as dominant as any pitcher in any league he is pitching in. When he loses it, he has a tough time knowing where the ball is going when it leaves his hand, however.
Hall had an interesting year with Midland. He posted a very solid 2.50 ERA in 72 innings and he struck-out more than a batter an inning (74). He also held opposing batters to a .220 average and allowed just four homeruns. Unfortunately, he also walked 53 batters. Hall can touch 98 MPH on the radar gun and he has a breaking ball that can be an out-pitch when he is throwing it well. If a team likes what it sees from Hall this fall, they could take a chance on his talent if the A’s leave him unprotected.
Aaron Kurcz: Kurcz has a similar profile to Hall. The right-hander is a hard-thrower with a good breaking ball and some control issues. He was acquired mid-season in a trade with the Atlanta Braves that sent an international bonus slot the other direction. He spent the entire year in Triple-A and posted excellent strike-out numbers (69 Ks in 59 innings), but he walked 36. His ERA was 3.66. Kurcz has moved around a lot in his career and has overcome Tommy John surgery. He is currently showcasing his talents in the Arizona Fall League. The A’s won’t protect Torres, Healy, Hall and Kurcz, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them add one or two from that list to the 40-man roster given their bullpen struggles this year.
Zach Neal: Over the past two seasons, Neal has been quietly one of the most steady starters in the A’s system. Not overpowering, Neal pounds the strike-zone and is one of the most efficient pitchers in the system. He spent the first part of the season with Midland, but he was in the Nashville rotation for good by late May. In 131.1 Triple-A innings, Neal had a 4.18 ERA. He struck-out just 78, but he walked only 20. In his career, he has walked only 157 in 763 innings. Given the A’s depth in the starting rotation on their current 40-man roster, they aren’t likely to add Neal to the 40-man roster this off-season.
Chris Jensen: In 2014, Jensen had a 3.14 ERA in 160.1 innings with Midland and found himself on the post-season Texas League All-Star team. He was forced to repeat Double-A this season thanks to the number of veteran starters the A’s had at the Triple-A level. He struggled during his second year in Double-A, and he saw his ERA jump to 4.87. His K:BB and innings pitched per start were almost identical to 2014, but his hits allowed and his homeruns allowed jumped up considerably. Given the backslide in numbers, Jensen isn’t likely to be protected by the A’s this off-season.
Seth Frankoff: Frankoff fits in a similar category to Healy, Hall and Kurcz as an experienced reliever with good stuff. Frankoff is a bit older than the rest of that group and will be eligible for minor league free agency at the end of the 2016 season if he isn’t on a 40-man roster. Frankoff was excellent again at the Double-A level in 2015, striking out a batter an inning and posting a 3.24 ERA. He struggled during a three-week stint in Triple-A, however. Frankoff has the stuff to pitch in the big leagues, but he has been eligible for the Rule 5 draft each of the past two off-seasons and he went unclaimed. It is likely that Frankoff would go undrafted again this off-season if he isn’t protected.
Andres Avila: Avila was a starter for a time in the A’s system, but he moved into the bullpen in 2014 permanently and the change has been beneficial. He had a 2.84 ERA and struck out nearly a batter an inning in 2014. In 2015, he reached Double-A for the first time. In 62 innings between High-A and Double-A, Avila had a 3.19 ERA and a 55:16 K:BB. As he has every winter since being part of the A’s organization, Avila is currently pitching in his native Mexico. He is the closer for Caneros de los Mochis. So far he has seven saves and a 2.89 ERA in 9.1 innings. Avila has been a low profile prospect. He isn’t a likely Rule 5 target, although it is always possible that he could catch a team’s eye this winter.
Carlos Navas: Like Torres, Navas took a significant leap forward with his development this season. Pitching in a full season league for the first time, Navas posted a 2.61 ERA in 58.2 innings with Low-A Beloit before earning a late-season promotion to High-A. He struck-out 69 and walked just 18. Navas can get his fastball up to 94 but he sits more in the 90-92 range. He has three pitches and good command, but his stuff doesn’t wow scouts as much as Torres’ does. Navas isn’t likely to be protected this off-season or selected in the Rule 5 draft, but he will be a prospect to watch next season after his breakout 2015 campaign.
Sam Roberts: Roberts was a middle infielder in the A’s system for the first two-and-a-half years of his pro career before he moved to the mound halfway through the 2014 season. He spent the entire 2015 season as a reliever with the Stockton Ports. Roberts had a 3.65 ERA in 69 innings, although his K:BB was a mediocre 47:31. He isn’t likely to be added to the 40-man roster or selected in the Rule 5 draft this off-season.
Jeff Urlaub: Urlaub was on the verge of being considered for the big leagues in 2014 when an elbow injury cut his season short. A setback with his recovery kept Urlaub in Arizona rehabbing for much of the season. He made it back out on the field for the final month of the season, racking up 15.2 innings at three levels. He was his usual effective self. Urlaub has been compared with former A’s reliever Jerry Blevins, but given the lack of innings Urlaub has thrown the past two years, he isn’t likely to be added to the 40-man roster or selected in the Rule 5 draft this off-season. Like Frankoff, Urlaub will be eligible for minor league free agency at the end of this season if he isn’t on a 40-man roster.
Tanner Peters: Like Urlaub, Peters has been severely limited by injuries the past two seasons. He has thrown a combined 48.1 innings over those two years. Peters has an outstanding breaking ball and excellent fastball command when healthy, but health questions will keep him off of the major league Rule 5 radar this off-season.
Chris Lamb: Lamb had a breakout season in 2014, but he back-tracked in 2015. In 33.2 innings with Midland, Lamb had a 10.69 ERA and he struggled badly to command his pitches. He started to make some progress with two good starts for Stockton in late July when his season ended thanks to injury. With his struggles and the injury issues, Lamb isn’t a strong candidate to be protected or selected.
Lee Sosa: Sosa has one of the biggest arms in the A’s system, but he is still learning how to be a pitcher and not a thrower. He split the 2015 season between Beloit and Vermont and had a 6.82 ERA in 31.2 innings. Sosa struck-out 24 and walked 14. Given where he is at in his development, Sosa isn’t a strong candidate to be protected or selected despite his raw talent.
Cody Kurz: Injuries have kept Kurz from throwing a significant number of innings over his four years in the A’s system. He finally made it out of Arizona in 2015, and he posted an 8.24 ERA in 19.2 innings for short-season Vermont. Kurz is too far away from being big league ready to be protected or selected this off-season.