Photo by Kimberly Contreras

OaklandClubhouse Mailbag: 2016 A's rookies, Sean Manaea and Sonny Gray

We opened up our mailbag and answered questions on which rookies might make the 2016 Oakland A's roster, what Sean Manaea has been working on this fall and whether the A's will trade Sonny Gray this off-season.

“Which A’s minor leaguers do you see having a real shot at being on the big league roster in April? And, if not April, by mid-season?”

Thanks.
Peter
San Francisco

It can be hard to project Opening Day rosters this early in the off-season (especially given the A’s history of wheeling-and-dealing), but looking at the A’s current roster, they could have several rookies on the Opening Day squad. Most of them were with the team in September – Sean Nolin, Ryan Dull, Max Muncy, Arnold Leon, Daniel Coulombe and Tyler Ladendorf will all still carry rookie eligibility into next season (note: Aaron Brooks exceeded the rookie cut-off this season, as he now has 58 innings pitched in the big leagues).  

Of the A’s prospects who have yet to play in the big leagues, second baseman Joey Wendle has the greatest chance of making an early-season debut in 2016. Wendle still has work to do with his plate discipline, but he demonstrated the ability to hit for average, showed gap power and played better-than-expected defense at second for Nashville. The A’s have some decisions to make in terms of how they approach second base next year, but if they move Brett Lawrie back to third or trade him, Wendle could emerge as a leading candidate to take over that position.

Aaron Kurcz had his Arizona Fall League stint cut short, but even if he isn’t added to the 40-man roster this off-season, I think Kurcz has a shot to be a non-roster invitee to spring training (assuming he isn’t selected in the Rule 5 draft, of course). Command has been an issue for Kurcz, but he has a big league arm and the A’s will be looking to add some velocity to a bullpen that lacked in that area in 2015. He might face an uphill battle to make the team out of spring training, but a good spring with the big club could get him on that short-list of relievers recalled when the team has a need early in the season.

Another player to keep an eye on is Rangel Ravelo. Ravelo likely would have reached the big leagues this September had he not missed so much time this season with a wrist injury. He is currently putting up numbers in the Venezuelan Winter League that would impress Barry Bonds. Winter League numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt, but there is no question that Ravelo is a talented hitter. I’d be surprised to see Ike Davis still on the team come April, and the A’s would like to move Mark Canha back to the outfield, so Ravelo could be a fit for Oakland at first base at some point early in the season – especially if he has a big spring.

It’s always unwise to project rosters too far in advance thanks to the variance in the development of young players, but the A’s could be looking at a significant roster overhaul late in 2016 or in 2017 as the Matt Olson-Renato Nunez-Chad Pinder-Sean Manaea-Ryon Healy-Dillon Overton-Jaycob Brugman-Tucker Healy-Brendan McCurry-Kris Hall group puts in a full year in Triple-A. If everything breaks right (and, again, it rarely does for any team), the A’s next wave of significant talent to reach the big leagues could follow soon after that with Franklin Barreto, Jacob Nottingham, Raul Alcantara, Matt Chapman, Casey Meisner and Daniel Mengden leading that group.

“I was just wondering if Sean Manaea is working on anything in particular in the AFL (secondary pitches, refining mechanics, etc).”

Thanks.
Sal F.
San Francisco

The biggest reason Manaea is in Arizona this fall is to get his innings up. The left-hander missed most of the first-half of the season while he was still with the Kansas City Royals’ organization. Manaea had an abdomen tear early in the season that limited him to 31.2 innings before the trade. Manaea threw 42.2 innings during the regular season with Double-A Midland and then added 15 more innings in the post-season. He has 16 innings pitched in Arizona right now, plus he threw a three-inning outing at the A’s Instructional League. Assuming that he had 15-20 innings at the Royals’ extended spring training before he officially returned from his injury, Manaea is currently around the 120-125 inning mark for the season.

Why is this number important? There is a prevailing theory that innings increases for pitchers should be incremental to avoid undue stress on the arm/shoulder. If a pitcher throws 125-130 innings one season, he is likely to be able to jump up to 150-170 the next year. Manaea threw 121 innings for the Royals’ High-A squad in 2014. He won’t get to the 150-inning mark this year, but getting him up to 130-140 will put him in a much better position to be able to pitch a full season that could include some big league time at the end of next year.

From a development perspective, Manaea is continuing to work on developing his change-up, which will serve as a compliment to his two best pitches (fastball and slider). The A’s changed Manaea’s grip on the change-up after he joined the organization, so he is working on getting comfortable with the new grip and with using it in different counts. Like many other pitching prospects, Manaea is also continuing to work on location. His ERA thus far isn’t pretty (5.63), but he has struck-out more than a batter an inning (17) and has walked just four. He has also yet to allow a homerun in a hitter-friendly league.

Here is some video of Manaea’s recent outing against Glendale, courtesy of our Arizona correspondent Kimberly Contreras.

“If the A’s are going to be bad next year, shouldn’t they trade Sonny Gray?”

Matt G.
El Cerrito

Peter Gammons quoted Billy Beane yesterday as saying that he just “cannot see” the A’s dealing Gray this off-season. Of course, we have heard that type of thing before with other players, only to see them dealt soon thereafter. With Gray, however, I tend to believe that the A’s won’t deal him, at least this off-season.

Gray is one of the most valuable commodities in baseball right now – a controllable young starter who can match-up with any high-priced superstar veteran in the league. Teams would likely open the prospect vault to acquire Gray, who isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet and isn’t eligible for free agency for many years. The A’s could ask for almost any prospect in baseball and not be laughed out of the room.

There is a reason, however, that Gray commands such a significant haul. Arguably the most difficult thing to develop is a superstar pitcher. Building a pitching staff inorganically is incredibly expensive (see, the New York Yankees of recent years) and allows a team very little flexibility to spend money on the position player side of the ledger. The A’s have traditionally held onto their young starting pitchers at least until they got into their arbitration years (and got expensive) for this very reason. I would be surprised to see them change that track record now.

One of the (maybe not so) “secrets” to the A’s success under Beane’s tenure has been the organization's ability to put together above-average starting rotations made up primarily of pitchers they drafted or acquired as minor leaguers. That has allowed them to allocate what few resources they have into other areas that are easier to “fill” with money. There may be “no such thing as a pitching prospect”, but there is also no more valuable asset than a successful young starter in his pre-arbitration years. Sonny Gray is one of the best in baseball in that category.

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